Ever wonder how the hyena got its reputation? An old Samburu tale could have the answer.
Once upon a time in northern Kenya in a place called Samburu, a great elephant bull set off on his way to visit his family-in-law. On his back he carried two large pots of honey, a well-loved traditional gift when visiting family in Samburu.
Every animal knows this fact very well. And so a little way down the beaten track a hare who had seen the great elephant set off on his journey decided to lie on the ground and wait for the elephant to come down the path.
In Africa, since the beginning of time humans and elephants have always shared a close relationship. Some even say that we must be related to them because they are such kind and compassionate creatures and have many other human qualities too. The Samburu people have even seen them showing respect to our deceased. But that’s another story for another time. When the friendly elephant came upon the hare lying not far off the path, he got worried and stopped to find out what the trouble could be.
—Hello Hare, why are you lying down in the middle of the path, is something wrong? —he asked.
—Hello Elephant…funny that you ask, because actually I am in a lot of trouble. You see my eyes have stopped working and I can no longer see where I am going. All I want to do is go home, but it is impossible as I keep losing my way!
“Well”, thought the elephant, “I cannot leave this poor little hare out here on his own”, and so he decided to help Hare and gently lifted him up with his trunk, placing him carefully in-between two large pots of honey on his back. After making sure that Hare was solidly sat he continued on his journey.
Things worked out just as the hare had planned and as soon as Elephant started walking again he began to gobble up the honey as fast as he could. After eating as much honey as his little belly could hold, he shouted out to Elephant:
—Stop Elephant, please stop! I feel rather sick.
Elephant stopped right away.
—Please give me some sand to put on your back —said hare—. I’m very sorry Elephant but I could not stop myself and was sick everywhere!
The elephant scooped up a large pile of dusty sand and gave it to Hare, who used it to refill the now empty honey pots. Once Hare was sure that the honey pots were about the same weight, he asked Elephant to put him back on the ground:
—Elephant, please may you put me back on the ground now, as my home is not far from here and I think I can easily make it back on my own.
Happy to have helped a new friend Elephant carefully put the hare back on the ground and asked:
—When are you coming back Hare? I can come and give you a lift again.
—Oh, thank you Elephant, you are too kind. I will be waiting for you next to the path. Thank you and goodbye Elephant.
Once the elephant was out of sight Hare started laughing, delighted with his clever and ever so cunning scam until he realized that a hungry looking hyena had stalked dangerously close and so Hare immediately began to cry!
—Why are you crying —said Hyena to the hare.
—Well you see, an elephant asked me to stay here because he was on his way home to fetch a pot of honey and will return very soon. The thing is Hyena, I don’t like honey…and I know the elephant will force me to eat all of it!
The hyena began to drool with excitement!
—Hare, I will be most happy to help you out and take all the honey for you! —he said.
—Ah, thank you hyena, this is very kind of you. If you want the honey you must let me tie you to this tree, then the elephant will think that you are me and will be happy to give you the honey —suggested the hare.
The thought of all that delicious honey was too much for the hyena, and so he hastily agreed to let Hare tie him to the tree. As soon as Hyena was tightly bound, Hare disappeared.
Poor kind Elephant arrived at his in-laws and after greeting them he carefully lowered down the honeypots only to find that they were full of sand and that all his delicious honey was gone. It had all been a scam! Without being able to control his temper, Elephant charged back up the path to where he had left Hare and found the skulking hyena tied firmly to the base of the tree.
—Hare!!!! —screamed the elephant at the top of his lungs.
—Here I am, it is me tied to the tree —replied the greedy hyena.
—You are a hyena! What are you doing here and where is that hare!
—Well you see, Hare told me to wait here for you because he doesn’t want your honey. But I do!
Poor Hyena. Elephant screamed and trumpeted in a state of rage and started trampling on him with all his might. You see, some stories have happy endings. Others don’t. But these are usually the ones which teach us our most valued lessons. This particular tale ended with a very dead hyena who, this is what the Samburu people say, should have known better. But greediness leads people and animals to make terrible mistakes. And this is why nowadays Samburu people believe that hyenas are the greediest animals in the bush and that greed never gets you anywhere in life.