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The Rabbit Steals the Elephant's Dinner
A Central African Tale


Kalulu the rabbit was one day watching the children of Soko the monkey playing in the trees, and saw one monkey reach out his tail and catch his brother round the neck, holding him a helpless prisoner in mid-air.
Kalulu thought that this was splendid, and though he had no long tail, he could twist forest creepers into a noose. During the next few days numbers of animals were caught in this way and held fast in the forest thickets, only escaping with difficulty. They thought that it was only an accident, but had they known, it was Kalulu who was experimenting with his noose.

At last Polo the elephant decided to make a new village, and, being king of the animals, he called every living thing in the forest to come and help him build it.

All came with the exception of Kalulu. He had caught a whiff from the delicious beans which Polo's wives were cooking for his dinner, and when the beans were cold Kalulu came out of the bushes and ate them up.

Polo was furious when he reached home and found that his beans had been stolen. Whoever could have taken his dinner?

Next day he told the lion to lie in wait nearby, and to pounce upon the thief if one appeared. Now Kalulu was hiding in the bushes and heard the plan, so he spent that night in twisting a big noose, which he set in a side path close to the cooking pots.

Next morning, when the animals had gone to work on the new village, Kalulu strolled out into the open and began to eat Polo's beans, with one eye on the place where he knew that the lion was hiding. Having finished his meal Kalulu ran off, when, as he expected, Ntambo the lion leapt out in pursuit. Kalulu bolted through the noose that he had set, and when Ntambo followed he was caught and swung into mid-air, where he wriggled and squirmed till evening, when the animals returned to the village and set him loose. Ntambo was too ashamed to saythat he had been fooled by a little rabbit, so simply said that some unknown animal had ensnared him.

Next day Mbo the buffalo was set to watch the beans of his chief, but Kalulu had set a great noose between two palm trees. When Kalulu had finished his meal of the chief's beans and was strolling away, the buffalo burst out at him, but the rabbit ran between the two palm trees, and when the buffalo followed he was caught by the noose and swung into mid-air, where he wriggled and squirmed till evening, when the animals returned to set him loose.

Mbo the buffalo was so ashamed that he would not say how he had been outwitted, merely remarking that there must be some misdoer dwelling among them.

The leopard, the lynx, the wart-hog and the hunting dog were all fooled in the same way, and still Kalulu stole Polo's daily bowl of beans.

At last Nkuvu the tortoise, wiser than the rest, went privately to King Polo the elephant and said, "If your wives will smear me with salt and put me into your dinner of beans tomorrow, I will catch the thief."

Next day Nkuvu was secretly smeared with salt and hidden in the beans. The worthless rabbit again determined to get his dinner without working for it, and having set his noose, he sauntered up to the cooking pots when all the animals were out at work and began to eat. He thought that the beans were even nicer than usual. They were so deliciously salty. But before Kalulu could finish, Nkuvu had bitten tightly on to his foot.

The rabbit screamed, he pleaded, he threatened and offered bribes, but all to no purpose. Nkuvu said nothing, but simply held on to Kalulu's foot, and when the animals returned from the building of the new village Kalulu was still a prisoner.

At once the animals saw who the thief really was, and they determined to pay him back exactly as he had treated them. For six days he had to do without any dinner, and every day they went off to work leaving Kalulu tied by a noose to a tree. By the time that this punishment was finished the rabbit was so thin that the animals took pity on him and let him go, warning him that it was better to work for his food than to steal it, and that though a thief may escape for a time, he will at last surely be caught.

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