|Bukusu Folktales (Kenya Literature Bureau, 1986, 134 p.)|
Long, long ago all animals lived together in a state of harmony and mutual brotherhood. When rains failed to come and a long dry spell descended upon the country the animals held an emergency meeting and deliberated on what steps to take in order to survive the prolonged drought. A bright idea that came to their minds was the need to dig a communal well.
Very early in the morning just as the sun was rising the animals assembled on the meadow and started taking turns to kick at a spot where they hoped to strike a fountain of water. Each animal that took the challenge had to say something in praise of either its special physical characteristics, incisive knowledge, or fighting prowess.
Larger animals like Elephant preceded small ones in kicking at the selected spot.
When Elephant took his turn he said:
I am Elephant the mighty crasher,
Whenever I walk the earth trembles
And no other animal dares fight with me,
For I can trample anyone under my foot.
Having boasted like that Elephant kicked at the spot Tuuu! But no water came out except for a cloud of dust that rose very high up.
Next to take the turn was Buffalo. He said:
I am Buffalo who carries around Strong and sharp horns.
I defy human beings who constantly hunt for game.
'Tuuu!' He kicked out but only dust rose up.
Next was Lion, who boasted:
I am Lion the mighty killer,
I am King of the Jungle whose
Mighty roar scares enemies
And sends bongos and kudus scampering for safety.
'Tuuu!' Lion kicked out but only dust rose up.
Next was Giraffe. He said,
I am Giraffe the tallest of all the animals;
I can see where others do not see.
'Tuuu!' He kicked out but only dust rose up.
Next was Leopard who said,
I am Leopard the spotted cat.
I am sleek and can run swiftly.
I can pounce on anyone who faces me
And tear him into shreds with my sharp claws.
'Tuuu!' Leopard kicked out but only dust rose up from the ground.
Next was Hyena who said:
I am Hyena the scavenger,
Whose strong teeth can break any bone.
Give me a cow or calf and I will
Just rip out its udder.
'Tuuu!' Hyena kicked out but only dust rose up from the ground.
After Hyena had tried his luck many other animals also came forward to try, such as Gorilla, Baboon, Monkey, Warthog, Buck, and so on. But their attempts likewise ended in vain. Bat who was well known for laziness protested saying:
I cannot engage in this foolish sport
That is only fit for animals like you fellows.
I am a bird that flies in the air, 'Puruuup!'
And there Bat flew away without trying.
On hearing that saucy remark the rest of the animals were so enraged that they clamoured to have him killed. Bat had already sensed the violent reaction to his remark and so he disappeared into a thick forest where he hid himself the whole day.
The last animal to try his luck after all others had tried and failed was Hare. He said:
I am Hare, the cleverest of all the animals.
I depend on my wits and not on clumsy weight
Like Brother Elephant;
Neither do I carry around crooked horns
Like Brother Buffalo.
Today therefore I will demonstrate to you
My unmatched skills,
For I always find solutions to every problem
That comes up.
Having boasted thus, Hare kicked at the hard-beaten spot and suddenly to the amazement of the other animals a jet of wet mud spewed into the air followed by a gush of clear water that flowed for hours and hours until it formed a large pool.
At the end of the day's task the animals resolved to protect their new well from marauding intruders especially against the lazy Bat who had deserted them in the hour of great need. Agreeing that no stranger should be allowed to drink from that well the animals arranged to post a sentry at the well for the purpose of ensuring that their resolutions were enforced. Elephant was the first animal detailed to keep watch.
On the first day when the rest of the animals had gone out to look for food a thirsty intruder came round. He was Bat who had disguised himself so thoroughly that no-one would easily detect his true identity. He had covered his whole body with a mountain of clay and mounted a grotesque horn on his head. He moved about ponderously and his eyes were blood-red. On coming closer to Elephant he posed such a dreadful sight that Elephant trembled feverishly. As Elephant gaped speechlessly Bat said to him,
I am a Mighty Killer who sits on backs of elephants and breaks their bones like brittle sticks killing my victims momentously. I can pull off your tusks and throw them far away. Twuub-twuub! Yesterday I drank some water. Today I am thirsty; shall I drink water or you want me to poke you with my mighty horn?
Elephant tremulously replied:
No, no, please! Do not poke me with your horn. Just drink the water to your fill, and spare my life.
Bat entered the well, drank some water and then urinated in the well after churning it into a dirty pool. When the rest of the animals returned and noticed that their well had been interfered with they asked Elephant what had happened.
Elephant excitedly told them:
You know, just after you had gone out, an enormous animal came here and threatened to kill me if I did not allow him to drink water from this well. So I told him to drink the water and go away. He is the one who polluted the water in the well.
The next day the animals appointed Bufallo to guard the well. Soon after they had left Bat came and gutturally addressed Buffalo:
I am the Mighty One who wrings Buffaloes' necks by twisting their horns. Twuub-twuub-twuub! Yesterday I drank some water. Today I am thirsty; shall I drink water or you want me to poke you with my mighty horn?
Buffalo tremulously replied:
No, no, please! Do not poke me with your horn. Just drink the water to your fill and spare my life.
Bat entered the well, drank some water, urinated into the well and churned the water into a dirty pool before he left. When later on the other animals returned they asked Buffalo what had happened, and he also described an episode of a thirsty intruder similar to what Elephant had previously narrated.
The next day the animals appointed Lion to guard the well. Soon after they had left, Bat confronted Lion growling,
When killing Lions I always first tear their hideous jaws apart. Twuub-twuub-twuuub! Yesterday I drank some water. Today I am thirsty; shall I drink water or you want me to poke you with my mighty horn?
Lion tremulously replied:
No, no, please! Do not poke me with your horn. Just drink to your fill and spare my life.
No sooner had the animals left than Bat came round yet again addressing Leopard arrogantly thus,
I am the Mighty One who kills leopards by first pulling out their vicious claws. Twuub-twuub-twuub! Yesterday I drank some water. Today I am thirsty; shall I drink water or you want me to poke you with my mighty horn?
Leopard tremulously replied:
No, no, please! Do not poke me with your horn. Just drink water to your fill and spare my life.
Bat entered the well, drank some water, fouled the pool with urine and then churned it into a ditty mess before going away. When the other animals came back and noticed that there was no improvement to their strategy they really fumed with anger. Hare jumped up and suggested that Tortoise be appointed to guard the well because of his renowned wisdom which he considered should excel the quality of valour. All the animals agreed on that idea and so Tortoise assumed responsibility over what had become a risky assignment in the animal world.
Soon after the rest of the animals had gone out, Bat, the notorious thirsty intruder arrived. Believing that Tortoise was only a timid creature he sneered at him boastfully:
I am the Mighty Killer
Who can at one stroke peel off
Shells from tortoises
Exposing their natural deformities.
Twuub-twuub-twuub! Yesterday I drank some water.
Today I am thirsty; Shall I drink water or you want me to poke you with my mighty horn?
Tortoise nonchalantly eyed the grotesque figure of Bat without uttering a single word. Bat became so agitated that he started shouting invectives at Tortoise hoping to cow him as he had previously scared the other animals. Unmoved by the taunts and gross provocations Tortoise calmly said to Bat, Yes....you go ahead and poke me with your horn!
But before Bat realised what was happening Tortoise reached for his horn in a lightning speed and pulled it off. Next, Tortoise peeled off the heavy clay layers, exposing a tiny creature who was only an imposter. Shivering in great fear Bat pleaded with Tortoise for mercy saying that he was just a harmless bird who intended no harm to the animals. However, Tortoise held fast on him until the rest of the animals arrived.
As all the animals assembled around the well, Tortoise narrated to them how he had captured the thirsty intruder, who was the imposter that he was holding by only one hand.
On realising that the whole episode had been a classic comedy, the animals burst out into a hilarious laughter. Finally, they ordered that Bat be thrown into the bush with a stern warning that his life would next time not be spared if he played similar pranks on them.