One year the sun shone hotter than ever, there was no rain, and all the pools and rivers dried up. The animals gathered together, wondering what they should do. Then the Intelligent Elephant, who has the largest brain, addressed them: “I know where we can dig for water. But you must all help me. We will start at once, and each of you will take his turn digging. It is hard work, but it must be done.”
All the animals did their stint, one after the other, except the Hare, who thought to himself: “I do not have to work. I can rely on my cunning to get my share of the water, if they find it.” When he heard that the other animals had succeeded in digging a well and had actually struck water, he appeared on the scene, armed with two empty water-bottles and one jar filled with honey.
Now the elephant knew very well that the hare would turn up sooner or later, but he did not want him to get any water. His rule was: ‘No work, no water.’
So, the elephant had left the giraffe in charge of the waterhole. When the hare arrived, the giraffe asked him what he was doing there. Hare said: “I have just collected some sweet water that God gave me.”
Giraffe said: “Let me taste it. Hare replied: “This is not a good place, let us go somewhere where it is cool and shady.”
The giraffe agreed to be led away. When they were under the trees, the hare said: “Now lower your neck so that I can let you taste this divine water.” The giraffe lowered his neck and the hare quickly shoved a noose over his head. Now the giraffe was caught: the hare descended quietly into the well, filled his water jars and went home.
The next morning the elephant arrived to inspect the waterhole and found the giraffe tied to a tree. “How did you get into that position?” “Oh, eh, I saw a beautiful she-giraffe who came along, and I tied myself to this tree lest I should relinquish my post, the giraffe said.
So, the elephant dismissed him and appointed the buffalo as his night watchman. He was a little harder to mislead, so the hare gave him a little of the honey. Having tasted it the buffalo bellowed: “Give me more!’” Then he agreed to be led away from his post. The hare said: “In order to enjoy this divine water better, you must look upwards and close your eyes. I can then pour it down your throat more easily, and it will taste sweeter.” So the hare could slip a noose over the horns of the buffalo and tie the other end to a tree. Then he went and took a bath. The buffalo could not stop him, for he felt the string round his neck.
The next morning the elephant came round and found the buffalo tied up. He also saw that the water was polluted. He rebuked the buffalo, who invented an excuse like the giraffe’s, because he did not want to admit that he had been humiliated either. After that the elephant put one animal after another in charge of the well, and each of them was deceived by the hare and tied up, and then blamed for the pollution of the water.
The elephant’s last watchman was the lion, who certainly should have been strong and fearless enough to frighten the hare. But cunning is not to be frightened even by lions. The hare told the lion when he arrived: “You have a pimple on your head.” So the lion said: “Scratch me.”. That, of course, was fatal for the lion. The hare possessed magic powers, so by scratching the lion he bewitched him, and the lion fell asleep.
After that, everything was easy for the hare. He slipped his noose around the lion’s neck and fastened the other end to a tree. The hare then filled his water-jars at the well, after which he bathed again. Finally, to enjoy his victory completely, he went to the lion and woke him up, saying: “Goodbye, old man, have to go now, sorry you can’t come with me, anyhow thanks for the water. See you perhaps!”. The lion, roaring with indignation over so much cheek, and contempt for his rank, wanted to jump at him, but the rope jerked him back and tightened around his neck.
When the elephant came for his daily inspection, he found the water fouled and the lion all tied up. He asked : ‘What happened?’ The lion muttered something like: “Oh, eh, there was a lovely lioness, she came and fell in the water and when I saw her beauty I was so overwhelmed that I tied myself up . . .” The elephant said: “You are as stupid as all the others. Now go away. Since you have all failed, I will now keep watch myself and see what happens”.
Towards evening the hare reappeared and found the elephant himself on duty. Unperturbed, he called: “Hodi hodi” , and the elephant said: “Karibu, come near.” Then the elephant asked: “What are you doing here?”. The Hare replied: “ I am just returning from my well which God made for me; in it there is delicious, divine water, very sweet.”.
The elephant demanded to taste some of it. When he had, he wanted to have it all, and said: “Let us exchange: I will give you some of my water if you give me yours.”.
The hare refused, saying: “As you are our chief, I will give it to you for nothing. Let us go and sit in the shade; there we can enjoy it in peace.”
As soon as they were sitting under the trees the hare said: “Now, if you look upwards and shut your eyes, I will pour it down your throat, and that will ensure you maximum enjoyment.”
The elephant was effectively deceived by the hare’s magical powers of persuasion. He raised his trunk upwards and shut his eyes. The hare had brought an iron chain for the purpose, which he now slipped down over the elephant’s trunk, tusks and ears. Then he went to the well, filled his jars, had a bath and left his droppings behind in the water, just to spoil it for everybody else. After which he quietly went on his way.
When the animals arrived the next day, they found the water fouled and their great chief in chains. They asked the elephant: ‘How did you get chained?’ He answered: “Well, you see, I am a big animal; when I fall down I don’t get up easily, so I decided to chain myself to this tree, for I was feeling rather sleepy and I might have dozed off and rolled over.” But all the animals agreed: It was the little hare who tricked us all. He made you sleepy by witchcraft.
At that moment the tortoise appeared, who had at last caught up with the other animals. He said: “Tonight, I will keep watch and prevent the hare from fetching water and getting away with it.” All the animals laughed heartily and said: “You, Mr Slow, do you think your brain works quicker than that of the hare who has outwitted us all? Do you really think that you are more intelligent than the lion and the elephant?”
But the tortoise showed quiet determination: “You might as well give me a chance. I am the only one who has not done a night watch yet, and if you do not expect me to be more intelligent than yourselves, I could hardly be more stupid.” The elephant said: “All right, let him try, he might after all find a way. You never know how a tortoise may catch a hare. If there is no one with two eyes who can see, we have to call in a one-eyed man to look for us.” The animals bowed to the superior wisdom of the elephant, and the tortoise was appointed watchman for the following night. The animals went home without any hope of having clean water the next morning.
The tortoise, who is at home in the water, descended into the well, dived and lay down quietly on the bottom to wait. Soon the hare arrived and called: “Hodi hodi.” But there was no reply. So the hare concluded: “Now they have all been defeated, so the water is mine.” He came out in the clearing and, seeing nobody, he undressed and took a long bath. Finally, he wanted to jump out, but suddenly he found that his leg was caught in a hole in the bottom of the well. He wanted to pull it out but could not.
The hare pulled and pulled, trying to scramble on to the firm ground, but all his efforts were in vain: the tortoise held him as fast as in a foot-iron. At dawn, all the animals arrived, together with the elephant, and there to their unspeakable surprise they found the hare himself, with one leg in the water. They pulled him out, but the tortoise did not let go, so they pulled out the tortoise as well.
The elephant admired and praised the tortoise for having caught the nimble hare. Then he said: “It’s all right now, you may let him go, he can’t escape.” The tortoise looked round the group of animals with his beady eyes and said: “If I let him go you will let him go too. But all right, as you wish.” He let the hare go free and walked away.
At that, the hare regained his confidence and said: “Now, before you take any harsh and hasty measures, remember that I am too small to be killed, it is just not worth the effort. You see, all you have to do is to tie me up and lay me down at the crossroads and leave me there for the night. The next morning, I shall have transformed myself into a much larger animal; then you can kill me.” “Then we will kill you,” said all the animals, and tied him up carefully with his own strings. Then they put him down on the crossroads and left him there for the night.
After nightfall, there arrived the hyena, the hunter-by-night, and found the hare lying on the road, all tied up. He asked him why he was there, and the hare answered: “You see, I told the elephant I could eat a whole ox alone and he said I could not. So we betted and the elephant decided to tie me up because he wants to see me eat that ox alone. He will bring it here tomorrow morning.” The hyena said: ‘I would like to have a whole ox, I could eat it alone, and I am sure you could not.’ The hare said: “All right, if you insist, I will give you your chance to try. All you have to do is to lie here and wait, and tomorrow morning the elephant will come with an ox and he will be surprised to find you here instead of me, but all you have to do is to convince him that you are indeed the hare and that you have only transformed yourself during the night.” The hyena agreed eagerly, untied the hare’s strings and sat down to wait. As soon as the hare felt free he leapt away and vanished.
The next morning the elephant arrived with all the animals and when they found the hyena sitting there, they asked him who he was. The hyena answered: “I am the hare; I have transformed myself during the night.” As this statement tallied with what the hare had said he would do, the animals believed the hyena to be the hare.
So the elephant ordered the animals to bring firewood. When it was brought, he had it piled up near the hyena, who found this an encouraging sight, for he was sure that the next moment the ox would be brought and roasted for him, after which he would devour it whole in their presence. But when the pyre was quite high the animals seized the hyena, put him on top of it, tied him there with ropes, and finally lit the fire.
The hyena started howling and cried: “ No, I am not the hare, it is all a mistake, I want my ox, the hare said I could eat it, I only had to say I was him, it is the ox you want to roast, not me. . . “Some of the animals thought he had gone mad, but the majority just called him a liar: “You are the hare and we are going to kill you”.
When the hyena was burnt and dead, the hare appeared from behind a termite hill and cried triumphantly: “No, I am the hare, you have made a mistake.” Then he was gone. They ran after him but never caught him. The tortoise did not run. He stayed where he was and said: “It takes a tortoise to catch a hare, again.”
(Folktale from Uganda)