Oral Literature: The Crocodile & The Cockerel

Once upon a time, the crocodile was king of the animals. He was holding court one day. He sat majestically on his throne as he received petitions from his subjects and issued orders. A large crowd had gathered at the court on that day.

His large size alone elicited awe. His large teeth elicited fear. His huge, powerful tail commanded respect. He was not one to get entangled with. The cockerel was late. He swaggered in right in the midst of the court proceedings. As he walked between the animals in the crowd to look for a vantage place to sit down he naturally disrupted the court proceedings.

Some animals took strong exception to the behaviour of the cockerel. He was showing utter contempt for the dignity of the court. He was also showing a healthy disrespect for the majesty of the crocodile.

“Where are your good manners, cockerel?” they asked him indignantly. “Can you not see that King Crocodile is holding court and we must give him proper respect and courtesy?”

“Oh, him?” the cockerel said dismissively as he looked at king crocodile, “do not worry about him. He is my brother. The crocodile is my brother. If he is king then I am a prince”, he boasted loudly enough for everyone to hear him.

The court was hushed into immediate silence. The cockerel had committed intolerable insolence and discourtesy. His act bordered on treason. Not only had the cockerel disrupted the court proceedings but had also claimed kinship with the king crocodile. The security people jumped on the cockerel on the spot. He was put on summary trial on two charges. He was charged with contempt of court for his disruptive behaviour. He was also charged with causing injury to the dignity of king crocodile by claiming royal blood. They started with the more serious charge of kinship. “Cockerel, you are a bird by any definition, you have feathers; you walk on two legs; you have two wings; you have a beak and you have no teeth.

“The king crocodile on the other hand, is an animal by any definition. He has a thick skin with tough scales and has no feathers; he walks on four legs instead of two legs; and he has no wings while you have two wings. He has a proper mouth which is full of big teeth while you have a beak without any teeth.

“On what basis can you dare to claim any kinship with king crocodile? A bird cannot be a brother to an animal. You have insulted the king crocodile. You have gravely injured the dignity of his majesty king crocodile. You must be punished,” the prosecutor concluded.

All the other animals concurred with the prosecutor. Birds are birds and animals are animals, they said. They resented the arrogance of the cockerel in claiming any kinship with the king crocodile, who was their fellow animal. However, in the interests of justice, the court gave the cockerel an opportunity to defend himself.

“I do not know about the rest of you”, the cockerel started, “but know about my brother, the king crocodile. It is true that I look completely different from the king crocodile but brotherhood transcends appearances. The king crocodile may be an animal, by any definition. He is, indeed an animal. I may be a bird, by any definition. I am, indeed, a bird. However, what you should all know and take into consideration, is that his mother laid an egg for him to be hatched. What you should also know and take into consideration, is that my mother, the hen laid an egg for me to be hatched. While all of you were born alive, both the king crocodile and I were hatched from eggs. You may be animals, just like the king crocodile is an animal. But you were not hatched from eggs. He is not your brother. He was hatched from an egg, just as I was hatched from an egg. He is my brother. It is true that I am a bird. It is also true that I do not look like the king crocodile. But he is still my brother. Both of us were hatched from eggs. We are brothers. He is my brother”, the cockerel concluded, amid wild applause.

King crocodile himself stepped forward from his throne. He was beaming a big smile. He shook hands with the cockerel. He then embraced the cockerel publicly for all to see. That was the happy ending of the summary trial of the cockerel Instead of receiving punishment for insulting and injuring the dignity of king crocodile; the cockerel received a seat of honour. He was seated next to the throne. He had proved that he was brother to king crocodile. He was therefore a prince.

Sam Mpasu – Folktale from Malawi

Subscribe to our mailing list!

Recent Posts