[From Tales, Customs, Names and Dirges of the Tigre Tribes by Enno Littmann, 1915. See item #128 in the Bibliography.]

The lion and the hyena traveled together, and on their way the lion found a bull, and the hyena a cow; the cow was far advanced in pregnancy. And they put the bull and the cow together, and the hyena tended them.

But afterwards, when it was time for the cow to bring forth, the lion said to the hyena, “You stay at home today; I shall tend the bull and the cow.”

The hyena knew that her cow was about to give birth but, being afraid, she stayed at home.

And when the lion had gone away with them to the pasture, the hyena’s cow gave birth to a calf. And the lion, wishing to take the calf for himself, took the placenta of the cow and stuck it into the behind of his bull. Furthermore, he let the calf suck milk from its mother in the field so that afterwards the hyena should not see the calf sucking.

And in the evening when he came home, he said to the hyena, “My bull has given birth to a calf, and this is his placenta.”

The hyena said to him, “Does a bull give birth to a calf like a cow?”

The lion said to her angrily, “Yes, certainly he does!” and he sought to kill the hyena. But the hyena was afraid of him and sat down crying.

The next morning the lion took the calf and his bull and the cow and went away with them, and the hyena stayed at home, crying.

And while she was crying, the fox came to her and said, “What has happened to you, hyena?”

She said, “My cow gave birth to a calf, and the lion said to me, ‘My bull birthed the calf; your cow did not calve,’ and he took it from me.”

And the fox said to her, “Be silent! Do not cry; tomorrow I shall make him give it to you.”

And the next day when the lion and the hyena were together, the fox, carrying a waterskin, passed by them.

When they saw him, the lion said to him, “Where are you going, fox?”

The fox answered him, “Last night my father gave birth to a boy, and I am going to ask for the milk of his child-bed.”

The lion asked him, “Does a man give birth like a woman?”

And the fox said to him, “If a man does not give birth like a woman, give the hyena her calf.”

The lion jumped upon him to kill him, but the fox ran swiftly away from him into a certain place.

Now the lion hid himself in the hole of the fox to kill him by craft.

Then, when it grew evening, the fox came to his hole, but he saw the tracks of the lion at the mouth of his hole and said to himself, “Perhaps the lion is hidden here in my hole,” and he said, standing at the mouth of his hole, “O my house, good evening to you!”

But the lion kept silent.

Again the fox repeated, “O my house, good evening to you! Previously you used to answer me, ‘May your evening be good!’ and that is how I know you are my house.”

The lion, thinking that the fox’s house had formerly talked to him, said to him with a disguised voice, “May your evening be good!”

And the fox said, “My house! You are not my house; you are really the lion!” and he fled from him.

The lion looked for the fox, seeking to kill him, but as he did not find him, he returned to the hyena and gave her her calf. In this way the fox, by his craft, made the lion give the hyena her calf.

And men say as a proverb, “‘Give the hyena her calf,’ said the fox.”


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A Reader's Guide to African Folktales at the Internet Archive Copyright © 2022 by Laura Gibbs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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