[From Kiungani, or: Story and History from Central Africa by Arthur Madan, 1887. See item #130 in the Bibliography.]

There was once an elephant, and he made a brew of beer and said, “I should like to have a dance for my friends, but at my drinking-bout I will have none who have not horns. I want all who have horns, but no one else.”

So one day he collected together all his friends who had horns, but no one else. And they all assembled. And he asked his friends, “Whom shall we appoint policeman to keep the door for us?”

They all said, “Perhaps the hyena would do.”

Someone was sent to go and find the hyena. The hyena was soon found, he and a very little cub of his, and they were brought to the elephant. And the elephant said, “I want you to be our policeman and just keep the door for us.”

“Oh, certainly,” said the hyena. “Very well. Agreed.”

The arrangements were made for the dance. It was a dance called “Njipa.” First they conversed, and presently beer was brought, a jar and a half full, and they drank. When they had done drinking, they fell to dancing, and the song to which they danced was this — “Njipa, mwiwale zale? Uwanywo hatupiyakao mwanyi pwanabwa ngoo” — which means, “This dance, where did you hear of it? And we are by no means at home yet, oh, no!” That is what it meant.

Well, while they were dancing away and highly delighted because the dance was a very good one, suddenly they saw a very handsome young person coming with antlers like a stag. They called the stag and asked him, “Is this a relation of yours or not?”

The stag replied, “I do not know. Possibly it is a relation of mine.”

The elephant said at once, “Give this young person a place and let him dance. It is alright; he has horns.” A place in the dance was given him at once. But he would not dance in the sun, as he was afraid his horns would come off — for he was only a rabbit really and had no horns at all, just horns of wax.

So they danced till they began to be tired. Presently they went to have another pull at the beer, just by way of refreshment. When they had refreshed themselves, then at once they fell to dancing again. And then the rabbit got in a sunny place, and in a moment both his horns melted off, and one horn flew off and hit the elephant near the nose. “Collar that fellow there!” exclaimed the elephant to the hyena.

“Where?” answered the hyena. “I have not got sight of him yet.” The rabbit had not got out; he had hidden himself near where the hyena was. The very moment the hyena went out of the door, the rabbit bolted out too.

When the hyena saw him, he went after him at full speed. Suddenly the rabbit dived into a hole. The hyena and his young cub dug away with a will but could not get at him. Presently the hyena said, “Wait here and don’t let him out. Stuff grass into the hole; I will go and get fire.”

“Very well.” said the cub.

As soon as the hyena was well on his way to fetch fire, the rabbit rose up from inside, and while the cub was gathering grass, the rabbit came out. As soon as he was safe outside, he came up from behind and asked the cub who was gathering grass, “Where has your father gone?”

“He has gone to get fire,” answered the cub.

“What is the fire for?” the rabbit inquired.

“To smoke the rabbit out,” said he. “He’s there inside the hole. I will stuff grass in the hole.”

“Oh!” said the rabbit. “It is no good stuffing grass in. He will get out. Don’t use grass! Put your paw in, and keep singing like this: Too-oo tee-ay-lar, too-oo tee-ay-lar.” After the cub put his paw in the hole, the rabbit said, “Now then, begin singing. And go on till you see your father coming with the fire; then stuff the grass in. Do you understand, you little cub?”

“Oh, yes!” said the cub. The rabbit was off in a moment, and the cub never saw where the rabbit went to.

And the cub attended to what the rabbit had said to him and did exactly as he was told: he put his paw in the hole and kept singing, “Too-oo tee-ay-lar, too-oo tee-ay-lar.” And as soon as the cub saw his father coming, he stuffed the grass into the hole.

Presently his father came up and asked his cub, “Is the rabbit in there?”

“Yes, father, he is there.”

So they lighted a fire and put it in the hole and puffed away at it till the hole was quite full of smoke. Then they fell to digging again. They dug and dug till they came to the end, and not a thing did they find inside it after all.

The father promptly asked his child, “Why is the rabbit not in there inside the hole? Where has he gone to? I know you have let him out.”

The young one answered at once and said, “Well, I did see a rabbit. He came up behind me, and he said to me, ‘What are you waiting for here?’ And I replied, ‘I am waiting for a rabbit. He is here in this hole.’ And he said to me, ‘If you are waiting for a rabbit, it is no good stuffing grass in the hole; he will be out and away in a moment.’ And I answered, ‘Well, what am I to stop the hole with?’ ‘With your paw,’ said he, ‘and besides, keep singing like this: Too-oo, tee-ay-lar, too-oo tee-ay-lar‘” — which means “stopping up and letting out,” that is its meaning.

When the cub’s father heard this, he was very angry, for he was afraid the elephant would kill him.

Well, the hyena hunted for the rabbit but could not find him, as the rabbit had gotten clean away. Then the hyena and his cub went back to the elephant and found them all dancing away just as before. And the dance was in full swing, too. The hyena went up to the elephant and said to him, “I have not caught the rabbit.”

“What rabbit?” said the elephant hastily.

“The one you told me to collar,” said the hyena.

“I never told you any such thing,” said the elephant. The fact was, the elephant denied it because the dance was quite delightful; the dancing and the singing were quite exquisite. So the hyena went back to his post and kept the door again as before, he and his cub with him.

The company continued to dance and drank up the beer. The beer was not quite so good at first, but now there were the dregs at the bottom, and they were particularly nice — nicer than all the rest together. Then they made up another dance, and presently they saw a young person with the horns of a buffalo, and very fine horns indeed they were. They welcomed him at once in high good-humour, and the rabbit (for it was the rabbit again) joined in the dance without more ado.

At first, he took great care not to get into the sun for he was afraid his horns would melt off at once. So he danced in the shade. Presently the elephant called out, “Stop dancing. Now let us finish off what is left of our beer.” They lost no time in gathering together, and very soon the beer was brought, and they drank till they had finished it all up, and the rabbit with them.

When they had done drinking, they stood up to dance, and they danced away vigorously, and the dance got into a famous swing. And the rabbit got into the sun, because he was so taken up with the dancing. And in a moment, while the rabbit was dancing, both his horns melted right off and flew up and hit the buffalo. And the rabbit made a rush for the hyena, who was keeping guard at the door, and the hyena entirely failed to collar the rabbit. And the rabbit bolted into a cemetery, and the hyena tried to hunt him down but could not catch him, for in the cemetery there were a great many footmarks, so he did not know which was the track of the rabbit.

And the hyena went back and said to the elephant, “I could not catch him for he ran into the cemetery, and I do not know the track which he made for there are a great many footmarks there.”

“Well,” said the elephant, “what are we to do? He has contrived to drink our beer, and he has joined in our dance, and he has got off scot-free. And he has hurt us, too, with those beastly horns of his.”

But the company danced and enjoyed themselves, and then they took leave of each other, and everyone went away highly delighted. So the dance came to an end.

As for the rabbit, he took care not to appear a third time.


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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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