Oral Literature: Why does the Hippo live in water?

A very long time ago in Africa, when all the animals lived together in the bush with the Creator, most animals lived on the land, and only a very few lived in the water.

The hot sun baked the earth every day, and all the animals suffered one way or another. But the animals had strong skins to protect them against the sun, either fur, feathers or scales.  Only poor Hippo’s skin was not that strong. As he grew bigger, his skin begin to stretch, and become thinner as he become bigger and bigger. By the time he turned into an adult, his skin was so thin, that it got burned easily by the sun.

Every day Hippo suffered, as his skin dried and cracked, causing him a lot of pain and discomfort. One day when Hippo could not endure it anymore, he went to the Creator and asked: “Please, may I go live in the river?”

The Creator looked with kindness at Hippo and said: “Yes, my friend you may, but as with all things, you must first ask the permission from the river animals.”

So, Hippo asked the river animals, Fish Eagle, Crocodile and Otter: “Please may I come and live in the river with you. Look at my thin skin! It is cracked and very painful. The cool water will bring great comfort to me.”

The river animals were a bit selfish, and also worried. After thinking about it for a short time, they said to Hippo: “No, we cannot allow this! Look at you! You are so big and will eat all the fish in the river. There will be no more food for us.”

Hippo said to the river animals: “You do not have to worry, as I do not eat fish. I will only eat the grass and river plants.” The river animals were very sceptical and did not believe this.

So Hippo told them: “I promise: Every day I will open my mouth wide, so that you all can see there are no fish bones or scales in my mouth. And I will spread my dung with my tail, so that you can see there are no bones”

This convinced the river animals. So, from that day, the river animals allowed Hippo to live in the river, and Hippo would open his mouth always wide open, and spread his dung with his tail. (A Lozi legend – Zambia)

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