There was a certain hunter who used to go out with his dog searching for a quarry to bring back to his wife and children. One day he said: “I’m going deep into the bush because the quarry has become very scarce these days.”
He set off with his bow, arrows, spear, and dog. When he had gone some way, he heard a voice saying, “Oh, you, hunter, help me over the crossroads, and I will help you another day.” He looked round without seeing who had spoken to him, then stopped, and said, “Who is it who’s talking? Speak again, so that I can see what you are?”
Then he heard again: “Oh, sir, help me over the crossroads and I’ll help you some other time – I, a muskrat.”
The man looked down and saw the animal, and said, “I would help you across the road only you stink so and will make me smell likewise.” The muskrat replied, “Oh no, sir, just help me across the road, because if I don’t get over, I shall die. If you do help me, I will save you one day.”
The man said, “What! You who are so small will save me who am so big? Whatever could beat me that you would be able to cope with? You’re lying, you little animal!” The muskrat replied, “Oh, no sir, just lift me with your bow if you’re afraid I will make you stink, and throw me so that I fall on the other side of the path, and one day I will rescue you from a great trouble!”
The hunter took his bow and lifted the muskrat over the path, dropping him on the other side. “Thank you very much for having pity on me,” said the muskrat. Then both went their separate ways. That was all that happened on that day.
In the evening, the man returned home and told his wife about his encounter with the muskrat and what it had told him. His wife said scornfully, “What nonsense! How could a rat help you!” The husband replied, “Well, I thought that, too, when he said he would save me one day, but that’s what he promised.” And then he went to bed and slept until morning.
He got up and stayed in the village, saying that the next day he would go hunting in the bush. When darkness returned, he slept again. Came the morning, he said to his wife, “Oh, wife, prepare some food so that I can eat, because today I am going farther than I have ever gone before.”
His wife heated some relish, grilled some flour, and prepared millet porridge. Her husband ate and was satisfied. Then he took his customary hunting equipment, called his dog, and set out.
He kept going until he had covered a great distance. It was the wet season, at that time, and the sky was heavy with rain, with vast clouds obscuring the view. He said to himself, ‘Yes, today I’m going to get soaked, but what can I do?’
He thought, ‘Just let me find somewhere to shelter’, and then he killed three guinea fowl.
He kept going and then, luckily, he noticed a cave and got inside with his dog just as the rain began pelting down. Well, there hidden in the darkness was the muskrat, too.
Now, it happened that a certain lion, who had also been hunting, was himself seeking shelter from the rain, and he came to that very cave. The man glanced up and saw the lion had come in. Fear gripped him, and his dog began to bark, but the man silenced him by holding his muzzle. Then he said, “Yes, Lion, you may eat me, but I want to say that I am not a thief, I have not stolen people’s goods, nor taken from their granaries, nor have I ever killed anyone. I am just a man of the bush, a poor man with a wife and children, and like you, I was looking for food, and the rain has brought you here, so now you can eat me.”
Then the lion began to roar until the tears fell from the man’s eyes, plop, plop, plop. He gripped his weapons with courage, but the lion set to roaring even more until the cave shook and seemed about to collapse.
Then the lion said to the man, “Oh, sir, give your dog those guinea fowl there, and when he has eaten, you can eat the dog, and finally I’ll eat you. What do you say?” The man, whose insides had by this time turned to water, said, “Yes, today I’m going to die because of this hunting business of mine!”
The lion told him again, “You sir, give your dog the guinea fowl, and when he has eaten, then you eat the dog, and then I’ll eat you. How about it?”
At that moment, they heard a voice coming from somewhere in the cave, saying, “Yes, sir, give the dog those guinea fowl, and when he has eaten, you can eat the dog, and Mr. Lion can eat you, and when he has eaten, I’ll eat him.” When the muskrat had finished saying this, he added, “Well, my boys of the royal bodyguard, what do you say?”
And the termites in the cave wall replied, “Mmmmmmm.” At this, the lion and the man were amazed, wondering who was speaking in there. Then they heard again, “You sir, give me dog the guinea fowl, and you eat the dog, and the lion will eat you, and then I will eat the lion. All right, men of the royal bodyguard?” The termites replied, “Mmmmmmmmm.”
Now, the lion was thinking more about being eaten than about eating anyone else, and the man said to him, “Hold up the cave so it doesn’t collapse, and I’ll go and cut some timber so we can shore it up.” The lion agreed. The man then left, with the lion still holding up the cave, thinking it would fall. The man hurried off as fast as he could go, and his dog likewise, and they didn’t stop until they reached home.
One day, he met the muskrat again, and the rat said, “Did you know who it was speaking in the cave, saying, ‘Oh, sir, give the dog the guinea fowl and you eat the dog and the lion can eat you, then I’ll eat the lion?’ Did I not say I would save you when you helped me across the path? And indeed, I scared the lion and rescued you.” The man thanked him very much, then went home and told his wife, and they were all happy. (Folktale from Zambia) – (Photo: 123rf.com)