[From The Flame Tree and Other Folk-Lore Stories from Uganda by Rosetta Baskerville, 1900. See item #23 in the Bibliography. The illustration is by Mrs. E. G. Morris.]

Once upon a time, the King of the Animals, the big grey elephant, gave a great feast and invited all the animals in the Mabira Forest to come to a beautiful glade that no man had ever seen, and there they feasted in the moonlight and sang songs and made jokes and danced. There was one little hare who danced better than any other animal, and the big grey elephant said, “Little hare, you are a marvel; you dance like a sunbeam.”

There was a foolish young elephant at the feast, and he watched the hare dancing to and fro and up in the air, and he wished he could dance too. He thought so much about it that for some days after the feast he was quite ill and did not sleep at night, and at last his mother asked him, “Have you any sorrow, my child?”

He did not like to tell even his mother what was worrying him, but he went off alone to the hare’s house and implored him to teach him to dance. The hare was very surprised and did not know what to say at first. He looked at the elephant’s heavy legs, and he said kindly, “One must begin very young to dance; you elephants can do so many clever things which the other animals cannot do. I don’t think it would suit your figure to dance.”

So the young elephant went sorrowfully home. When the other hares heard of his visit, they laughed very much, for who had ever heard of an elephant dancing?

A week passed, and the young elephant invited the hare to his house. He gave him a beautiful dinner and then said, “I must learn to dance. I think of this all day, and I dream of it all night. You must teach me to dance.”

The hare looked at him in despair. “Your legs are too heavy,” he said at last. “Your hind legs are much too heavy.” Then he went home, rather annoyed. Again the elephant sent for him, but this time the hare would not go. He sent a message, saying, “If you can get a doctor to cut off some of your heavy flanks so that you will be lighter on your feet, I will try and teach you to dance.”

The foolish elephant called in an ape who professed to be a great doctor, and the ape cut all the flesh off his hind legs until only the bones were left, and then he sewed the skin up again. The elephant sent the meat to the hare with a message: “Now you will see that I am in earnest. When my legs have healed up, we will begin the dancing lessons.”

The hares laughed and laughed when they got the message, but they said, “Well, we will have a good feast anyway. ” So they sent for all their relations and had a big dinner of elephant steak with sem-sem sauce.

A few days afterwards, the elephant sent an antelope with a message: “I am very ill indeed; my legs do not heal up, and my doctor thinks he had better sew on the flesh he cut off, so will you please send it back by the antelope?”

What was to be done? Some of the steak remained left over from the feast, but they could not send it back for it had been cooked. The dancing hare said to the antelope, “Stay here and dine with us, and afterwards we will talk over the business.” He said this to gain time and think of a plan.

When the antelope tasted the elephant steak, he said, “This is very good meat. What is it?” And the hare said, “Little rock conies that we catch on the hillside; if you like, we will hunt some before you go home.”

The antelope was delighted and they set off, but the hare led him to a pit trap, and the antelope fell in and was killed. When the antelope did not return, the elephant sent a buffalo with the same message, and the hares played the same trick on him.

The young elephant was very ill indeed, but when the buffalo did not return, he made a last effort and sent a crafty old leopard. None of the Forest animals like the leopards very much, for they have such bad manners, and the leopard would not have carried any message for anyone, but he was a little afraid to refuse the young elephant who was a relation of the King of the Forest, so, very grumpily, he agreed to go.

The hares were terrified when they saw him coming, and the old mother hare said, “I suppose we must give him dinner, but I don’t like it a bit; his table manners are awful.”

The leopard gave the young elephant’s message, sniffing and snuffling as he spoke and stopping every now and then to give a little grunt, and the hares kept up their courage all through dinner, and the dancing hare led him to the trap.

The leopard had seen many traps, and he sniffed suspiciously round this one. Then he snarled at the hare, “You young villain,” he cried, “I can see what you have done to the other messengers.” He turned suddenly round in great anger, all his teeth bared, and would have caught the dancing hare, but the hare slipped away and ran down the hillside.

There was a river at the bottom of the hill, and the hare ran in and out of the papyrus clumps where the leopard could not follow him, and then the hare let himself down into a water hole till he was quite wet and ran back again.

Meanwhile, the leopard had lost the scent entirely and was running up and down the bank, sniffing and grunting. When he saw the hare so wet that his fur looked like a black rag, he thought it was some queer creature that lived in the swamp. “Little wet animal,” he cried, “have you seen a hare anywhere about?”

“No,” answered the hare. “They seldom come here; they live in the Forest.”

“I know that! You are stupid,” said the leopard rudely, and as the sun was setting and he was very hungry, he hurried back to tell the elephant his story, but when he arrived near home, he found much sorrow in the Forest, for the poor foolish elephant was dead. And though the hares were really very sorry — for they loved their King, the big grey elephant, whose relation the young one was — yet they felt it really was his own fault for being so silly and for believing anything an ape said, for no one in the Forest who has any sense takes the advice of an ape.





hare dances; elephant tries to dance


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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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