Oral Literature – The Dance for Water

There had been a terrible drought, with intense heat that had dried up the rivers, streams, and springs, until there was no water anywhere. The animals wandered far and wide in search of water but could not find any. Nowhere was water freely flowing.

The animals held a meeting, and all the large animals attended, the Elephant, the Lion, the Tiger, the Jackal, and the Wolf, plus the small animals too. “What should we do?” asked the animals.

A few animals made some suggestions, and these were passed back and forth amongst the group. None of the suggestions seemed viable. Finally, the Jackal said: “I have an idea, let all of us go to the dry river bed, and dance; by the weight of us all trampling on the ground, we will tread out the water.”

All of the animals thought this was a splendid idea, and everyone was ready to get started instantly, as all were very thirsty and in need of a drink. The Rabbit, however, was scornful and dismissive of their plan. He said arrogantly: “I have no intention of going and dancing! All of you are crazy, to think that you will get water from the ground by dancing!”

The other animals took no notice of the sour and untrusting rabbit. They danced and danced, and the water did rise to the surface. They were all enormously pleased, and each animal drank as much water as they could. Because Rabbit did not dance with them, it was decided that he would not be allowed to drink. Rabbit laughed at them scornfully and cheekily with defiance said: “I will nevertheless, drink some of the water.”

That evening, the Rabbit took a leisurely walk down to the river bed, where all the other animals had danced furiously for a long time. He drank and drank from the river until he’d had enough. The following morning, the animals saw his footprints in the mud, and all muttered to themselves that he should not drink when he would not help in raising the water. The Rabbit taunted them, by shouting: “Aha! See, I did have some of the water! It was so cool and refreshing and tasted delicious!”

The animals called a meeting. They wondered what they could do, and how they could get hold of the Rabbit. Some animals suggested one method, others suggested another. Finally, the old Tortoise moved forward and said: “I will catch the Rabbit?”

The other animals were a bit puzzled by this because the Tortoise was one of the slowest creatures around, and certainly not up to the speed of the rabbit. “How will you catch the Rabbit, by yourself?”

Tortoise replied, “I will rub my shell with a pitch, which is black and sticky. I will then go near the edge of the water and lay down. To the Rabbit, I will resemble nothing more than a stone. When Rabbit steps onto my back, his feet will stick fast.”

The other animals had to agree this was a clever and cunning plan.  “Yes, this is a great idea”, they agreed in unison.

After a while, the Tortoise had smothered his shell with a pitch and had slowly step by step made his way down to the river bank. He laid down as he had suggested, and pulled his head into his shell so that he looked like just a round stone. That evening, the Rabbit arrived and had gone to the water to get a drink.

“Ha!” he laughed to himself sarcastically, “They are quite decent. They have placed a stone here so that I do not need to get my feet wet.” The Rabbit stood with his left foot on the stone, it stuck fast. The Tortoise then popped his head out.

“Ha! Old Tortoise! It is you that has tricked me, and is holding me by one foot. But I have another foot here to give you a good kick with.” The Rabbit, did what he said, and kicked the Tortoise with all his might, but it stuck fast to the black sticky pitch on the Tortoises shell, so now he was held there by his two feet.

“I still have my hind feet, and I will kick you with them!”  threatened the Rabbit menacingly.

The Rabbit kicked with all his might, but they also stayed stuck on the Tortoises shell where it had made contact. “Still another foot remains – said the Rabbit adamantly -. I shall stomp on you!”

The Rabbit stomped his final foot on the Tortoise and became even more stuck. The Rabbit tried to use his head to head-butt the Tortoise, and his tail to whip him. But both became stuck fast.

The Tortoise slowly turned himself around, and step-by-step headed back towards the other animals, with the Rabbit stuck on his back.

“Ha! Rabbit! This will teach you to be so insolent!” shouted the other animals. The animals tried to decide the Rabbit’s fate. They decided that he should be killed, but could not decide how. They were discussing this in the Rabbit presence. The cunning rabbit started to scream, “Please do not give me a shameful death!”

“What would be a shameful death?”  they asked.  “Please do not take me by the tail, and dash my head against a stone. Please, I beg you do not do this.”

It was decided by the animals that a fitting punishment for the Rabbit, would be to do exactly what he had asked them not to. Therefore, they decided that the Rabbit would be taken by his tail, and his head dashed against a stone. What they could not yet decide, was who would do this. The animals decided that the Lion should because he was the strongest.

The Lion walked to the front of the group, and the poor Rabbit was brought to him. The Rabbit begged and pleaded that he did not want to die such a terrible death. The Lion took the Rabbit firmly by the tail and started to swing him around. A white fluffy skin slipped off from the Rabbit’s bottom, and the Lion stood there clutching the tail in his paw. The Rabbit was wounded but free, his tail fur would soon grow back with time.

(Folktale from South Africa)

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