[From Where Animals Talk: West African Folklore Tales by Robert Nassau, 1912. See item #147 in the Bibliography.]

Kudu the Tortoise had formerly lived in the same town with several other animals. But after a while, they had decided to separate, and each built his own village.

One day, Tortoise decided to roam. So he started and went on an excursion, leaving his wife and two children in the village. On his way, he came to the village of Mbalanga the Antelope. The latter welcomed him, killed a chicken, and prepared food for him, and they sat at the table, eating.

When they had finished eating, Antelope asked, “Kudu my friend, what is your journey for?”

Tortoise answered, “I have come to inquire of you, as to you and me, which is the elder?” Antelope replied, “Kudu! I am older than you!” But Tortoise responded, “No, Mbalanga! I am the elder!” Then Antelope said, “Show me the reason why you are older than I!” Tortoise said, “I will show you a sign of seniority. Let us have a race, as a test of speed.” Antelope replied derisively, “Aiye! How shall I test speed with Kudu? Does Kudu race?” However, he agreed and said, “Well, in three days the race shall be made.”

Tortoise spoke audaciously, “You, Mbalanga, cannot surpass me in a race!” Antelope laughed, having accepted the challenge, while Tortoise pretended to sneer and said, “I am the one who will overcome!”

The course chosen, beginning on the beach south of Batanga, was more than seventy miles from the Campo River northward to the Balimba Country.

Then Tortoise went away, going everywhere to give directions, and returned to his village. He sent word secretly to all the Tortoise tribe to call them. When they had come very many of them together, he told them, “I have called my friend Mbalanga for a race. I know that he can surpass me in this race unless you all help me in my plan. He will follow the sea-beach. You all must line yourselves among the bushes at the top of the beach along the entire route all the way from Campo to Balimba. When Mbalanga, coming along, at any point looks around to see whether I am following and calls out, ‘Kudu! Where are you?’ the one of you who is nearest that spot must step out from his place and answer for me, ‘Here!’ ”

Thus he located all the other tortoises in the bushes on the entire route. Also, he placed a colored mark on all the tortoises, making the face of every one alike. He stationed them clear on to the place where he expected that Antelope would be exhausted. Then he ended, taking his own place there.

Antelope also arranged for himself and said to his wife, “My wife! Make me food, for Kudu and I have agreed on a race and it begins at seven o’clock in the morning.”

When all was ready, Antelope said to the one whom he supposed was Kudu, “Come! Let us race!” They started. Antelope ran on and on, and came as far as about ten miles to the town of Ubenji, among the Igara people. At various spots on the way Tortoise apparently was lost behind but seemed to reappear, saying, “I’m here!”

At once, Antelope raced forward rapidly — pu! pu! pu! — to a town named Ipenyenye. Then he looked around and said, “Where is Kudu?” A tortoise stepped out of the bushes, saying “Here I am! You haven’t run very fast.”

Antelope raced on until he reached the town of Beya. Again looking around, he said, “Where is Kudu?” A tortoise stepped out, replying, “I’m here!”

Antelope again raced until he reached the town Lolabe. Again he asked, “Where is Kudu?” A tortoise replied, “Here I am!”

Again Antelope raced on as far as from there to a rocky point by the sea named Ilale-ja-moto, and then he called, “Wherever is Kudu?” A tortoise, ready, answered, “Here I am!”

From thence he came on in the race another stretch of about ten miles, clear to the town of Bongaheli of the Batanga people. At each place on the route when Antelope, losing sight of Tortoise, called, “Kudu! Where are you?” promptly the tortoise on guard at that spot replied, “I’m here!”

Then on he went, steadily going, going, another stretch of about twenty miles to Plantation Beach. Still the prompt reply to Antelope’s call, “Kudu, where are you?” was: “I’m here!”

As he started away from Plantation Beach, the wearied Antelope began to feel his legs tired. However, he pressed on to Small Batanga, hoping for victory over his despised contestant. But, on his reaching the edge of Balimba, the tortoise was there, ready with his “I’m here!”

Finally, on reaching the end of the Balimba settlement, Antelope fell down, dying, froth coming from his mouth, and then he lay dead, being utterly exhausted with running. But when Tortoise arrived, he took a magic medicine and restored Antelope to life, and then exulted over him by beating him, saying, “Don’t you show me your audacity another day by daring to run with me! I have surpassed you!”

So, they returned separately to their homes on the Campo River. Tortoise called together the Tortoise tribe, and Antelope called all the Antelope tribe. And they met in a Council of all the animals. Then Tortoise rose and spoke. “All you Kudu tribe! Mbalanga said I would not surpass him in a race. But this day I have surpassed him!”

So the Antelope tribe had to acknowledge, “Yes, you, Kudu, have surpassed our champion. It’s a great shame to us, for we had not supposed that a slow fellow, such as we thought you to be, could possibly do it, being able to out-run a Mbalanga.”


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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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