At the beginning of time, before people lived on the earth, all the animals of the bush lived together under one king. That king was Elephant.
King Elephant was fair to his subjects. He was able to maintain his authority without too much grumbling from them. There were, of course, several characters on whom Elephant had to keep a close eye. Hare was one of these. His mischievous nature had to be carefully watched. But it was Lion who was Elephant’s main rival for the position of king. Lion made all kinds of attempts to become king, but no one took his efforts seriously. They all knew that it was Elephant who possessed all the qualities of genuine leadership.
One year disaster struck. There was no rain and the animals soon ran short of water. One by one, the water holes began to dry up and their plight became very severe. Such was their distress that King Elephant called a council of all the animals, where they were all invited to come up with suggestions.
Even Hare had something to say and, as the situation was so desperate, he was allowed to approach the platform and speak. Everyone was so eager to find a solution that thousands of pairs of eyes silently watched him, many having forgotten Hare’s disreputable character.
“Ladies and Gentlemen”, Hare began, “I wish to officially offer my solution to our terrible problem. My solution is one that will allow us all to survive these thirsty nights. I suggest that everyone bites his or her own wrist so that we can all drink the blood left within our own bodies …”
The sentence went unfinished as the angry crowd pelted Hare with sticks and stones. This was without doubt one of the most stupid of Hare’s devious tricks and some of the animals even chased him into the bush.
King Elephant decided that their short-term solution to the lack of drinking water was to dig a large, new well in the nearby river bed. The water table had dropped drastically and the animals had to work day and night without resting. King Elephant worked hardest of all, using his enormous tusks to dig deep into the river bed, while the others carried away the soil, mouthful by mouthful.
Eventually, Elephant reached water and the animals rejoiced, praising the strength and hard work of their wise king. Then Elephant made rules about the water hole so that the water should be shared equally and everyone could quench their thirst. He decided that the animals could only come and drink at sunrise and sunset.
Lion was jealous of all the praise the other animals gave Elephant. He devised a plan to destroy Elephant’s image and become king in his place. After all, the animals had agreed to Elephant’s drinking schedule and they went off for a well earned sleep. In the dead of night, Lion crept down to the well and drank.
After he had drunk, Lion had a bath and muddied up the water. He then gathered up some mud which he carried to the sleeping Elephant and smeared over his feet. Elephant did not wake up, but continued to sleep soundly, tired from his labours.
However, Lion’s plan was neither well thought-out, nor cleverly executed. The next morning, the animals discovered the muddy water hole and were very angry. Who could be so thoughtless as to disobey the King’s orders and ruin the precious water hole? When everyone gathered together, it soon became clear that Lion was one of the culprits, as he had forgotten to clean the mud from his coat and paws. But Lion, who was still determined to implicate Elephant and make him lose face with his subjects, pointed to Elephant’s muddy feet. The animals stared aghast, not wanting to believe their king might also have deceived them.
Elephant was not worried by the accusation. He told Hyena to check around the pool and see whose spoor was left as evidence in the soft mud. Hyena obeyed and was soon back to tell everyone that Lion’s was the only fresh spoor at the water hole.
“See, I do not fly, so how could I have been at the water hole?” Exclaimed Elephant. All the animals now saw through Lion’s plan and in rage, they banished him from Elephant’s kingdom. King Elephant won back the trust of his subjects and reigned over them for a long time. The rains returned soon after and life was good again.
By the time the old elephant died many years later, he was the most respected animal in the land. Lion now had his chance and proclaimed himself to be King of the Beasts. After his takeover, many things changed and the animals of the bush were no longer ruled by a fair and just leader. There was much grumbling and you would often overhear statements such as, “If only things were like they used to be, when Elephant was King!”.
– A Shona legend. South Africa