There was a time, long ago, when the dog and the jackal lived together in the wilderness as brothers. Every day they hunted together and every evening they laid out on the grass whatever they had caught, making sure to divide the meal equally between them.
But there were evenings when they both returned from a day’s hunting empty-handed, and on these occasions, they would curl up side-by-side under the stars dreaming of the bush calf or the plump zebra they had come so close to killing.
They had never gone without food for longer than two days, but then, without warning, they suffered a long spell of bad luck and for over a week they could not find food to eat. On the eighth day, although they had both searched everywhere, they returned to their shelter without meat, feeling exhausted and extremely hungry.
To add to their misery, a bitterly cold wind blew across the bush, scooping up the leaves they had gathered for warmth, leaving them shivering without any hope of comfort throughout the long night ahead. Curled up together, they attempted to sleep, but the wind continued to howl, and they tossed and turned despairingly.
“Jackal”, said the dog after a while. “Isn’t it a terrible thing to go to bed hungry after all the effort we have put in today, and isn’t it an even worse thing to be both hungry and cold at the same time?” “Yes, it is brother”, replied the jackal, “but there’s very little we can do about it at the moment. Let’s just curl up here and try to sleep now. Tomorrow, as soon as the sun rises, we will go out hunting again and with any luck we will be able to find some food to satisfy us”.
But even though he snuggled up closer to the jackal, the dog could not sleep, for his teeth had begun to chatter and his stomach rumbled more loudly than ever. He lay on the cold earth, his eyes open wide, trying to recall what it was like to be warm and well-fed. “Jackal”, he piped up again, “man has a village quite close to this spot, doesn’t he?” “Yes, that is true”, answered the Jackal wearily. “But what difference can that make to us right now?” “Well”, replied the dog, “most men know how to light a fire and fire would keep us warm if we crept near enough to one”.
“If you are suggesting that we take a closer look” – said the Jackal – “you can forget about it. I’m not going anywhere near that village. Now go to sleep and leave me in peace”.
But the dog could not let go of the idea and as he thought about it more and more he began to imagine the delicious meal he would make of the scraps and bones left lying around by the villagers. “Please come with me” – he begged the Jackal – “my fur is not as thick as yours and I am dying here from cold and hunger”. “Go there yourself, growled the Jackal, “this was all your idea, I want nothing to do with it”.
At last, the dog could stand it no longer. Forgetting his fear, he jumped up and announced boldly “Right, I’m off, nothing can be worse than this. I’m going to that village to sit by the fire and perhaps I’ll even come across a tasty bone. If there’s any food left over, I’ll bring you some. But if I don’t return, please come and look for me”.
The dog slowly walked towards the village, slowing down when he had reached the outskirts and crawling on his belly so that nobody would notice him approach. He could see the red glow of a fire just up ahead and already he felt the warmth of its flames.
Very cautiously he slid along the earth and had almost reached his goal when some fowls roosting in a tree overhead began to cackle a loud warning to their master. At once, a man came rushing out from a nearby hut and lifting his spear high in the air, brought it down within an inch of where the dog lay.
“Please, please don’t kill me”, whimpered the dog. “I haven’t come here to steal your chickens or to harm you in any way. I am starving and almost frozen to death. I only wanted to lie down by the fire where I could warm myself for a short while”.
The man looked at the wretched, shivering creature and could not help feeling a bit sorry for him. It was such a cold night after all, and the dog’s request was not so unreasonable under the circumstances. “Very well”, he said, withdrawing his spear. “You can warm yourself here for a few minutes if you promise to go away again as soon as you feel better”.
The dog crept forward and lay himself down by the fire, thanking the man over and over for his kindness. Soon he felt the blood begin to circulate in his limbs once more. Slowly uncurling himself, he stretched out before the flames and there, just in front of him, he noticed a fat and juicy bone, thrown there by the man at the end of his meal. He sidled up alongside it and began to devour it, feeling happier than he had done for a very long time. He had just about finished eating when the man suddenly reappeared “Aren’t you warm enough yet?” – he asked, rather anxious to be rid of his visitor from the bush.
“No, not yet”, said the dog, who had spotted another bone he wished to gnaw on. “Just a few more minutes then”, said the man, as he disappeared inside his hut once more. The dog grabbed hold of the second bone and began crushing it in his strong jaws, feeling even more satisfied with himself. But soon the man came out of his hut and asked again “When are you going to get up and go? Surely you must be warm enough by now?”.
But the dog, feeling very reluctant to leave the comfort of his surroundings, pleaded with his host “Let me stay a little while longer and I promise to leave you alone after that”. This time the man disappeared and failed to return for several hours, for he had fallen asleep inside his hut, quite forgetting about his guest. But as soon as he awoke, he rushed out of doors to make certain that the dog had left him as promised. Now he became angry to see the creature snoozing by the fire in exactly the same position as before. Prodding him with his spear, he called for the dog to get up at once.
The dog rose slowly to his feet and summoning every ounce of his courage, he looked directly into the man’s eyes and spoke the following words “I know that you want me to go away, but I wish you would let me stay here with you. I could teach you a great deal of things. I could pass on to you my knowledge of the wild, help you hunt the birds of the forests, keep watch over your house at night and frighten off any intruders. I would never harm your chickens or goats like my brother, the jackal. I would look after your women and children while you were away. All I ask in return is that you provide me with a warm bed close to your fire and the scraps from your table to satisfy my hunger”.
The man now stared back into the dog’s eyes and saw that the expression was honest and trustworthy. “I will agree to this” he replied. “You may have a home here among the villagers if you perform as you have promised”. From that day onwards, the dog has lived with man, guarding his property, protecting his livestock and helping him to hunt in the fields. At night when the dog settles down to sleep, he hears a cry from the wilderness, ‘Bo-ah, Bo-ah’, and he knows that it is his brother, the jackal, calling him back home. But he never answers the call, for the dog is more than content in his new home, enjoying the comforts Jackal was once so happy to ignore.
– From the Bushongo people, Congo