THE STORY OF A DAM
South African Folk Tale
by James A. Honey
There was a great drought in the land;
and Lion called together a number of
animals so that they might devise a
plan for retaining water when the rains fell.
The animals which attended at Lion's summons
were Baboon, Leopard, Hyena, Jackal,
Hare, and Mountain Tortoise.
It was agreed that they should scratch a large
hole in some suitable place to hold water; and
the next day they all began to work, with the
exception of Jackal, who continually hovered
about in that locality, and was overheard to
mutter that he was not going to scratch his
nails off in making water holes.
When the dam was finished the rains fell, and
it was soon filled with water, to the great delight
of those who had worked so hard at it. The
first one, however, to come and drink there,
was Jackal, who not only drank, but filled his
clay pot with water, and then proceeded to
swim in the rest of the water, making it as muddy
and dirty as he could.
This was brought to the knowledge of Lion,
who was very angry and ordered Baboon to
guard the water the next day, armed with a
huge knobkirrie. Baboon was concealed in a
bush close to the water; but Jackal soon became
aware of his presence there, and guessed its
cause. Knowing the fondness of baboons for
honey, Jackal at once hit upon a plan, and
marching to and fro, every now and then dipped
his fingers into his clay pot, and licked them
with an expression of intense relish, saying, in
a low voice to himself, "I don't want any of
their dirty water when I have a pot full of delicious
honey." This was too much for poor
Baboon, whose mouth began to water. He soon
began to beg Jackal to give him a little honey,
as he had been watching for several hours, and
was very hungry and tired.
After taking no notice of Baboon at first,
Jackal looked round, and said, in a patronizing
manner, that he pitied such an unfortunate
creature, and would give him some honey on
certain conditions, viz., that Baboon should give
up his knobkirrie and allow himself to be bound
by Jackal. He foolishly agreed; and was soon
tied in such a manner that he could not move
hand or foot.
Jackal now proceeded to drink of the water,
to fill his pot, and to swim in the sight of Baboon,
from time to time telling him what a foolish
fellow he had been to be so easily duped, and
that he (Jackal) had no honey or anything
else to give him, excepting a good blow on the
head every now and then with his own knobkirrie.
The animals soon appeared and found poor
Baboon in this sorry plight, looking the picture
of misery. Lion was so exasperated that he
caused Baboon to be severely punished, and to
be denounced as a fool.
Tortoise hereupon stepped forward, and offered
his services for the capture of Jackal.
It was at first thought that he was merely joking;
but when he explained in what manner he
proposed to catch him, his plan was considered
so feasible that his offer was accepted. He
proposed that a thick coating of "bijenwerk"
(a kind of sticky black substance found on beehives)
should be spread all over him, and that
he should then go and stand at the entrance
of the dam, on the water level, so that Jackal
might tread upon him and stick fast. This was
accordingly done and Tortoise posted there.
The next day, when Jackal came, he approached
the water very cautiously, and wondered
to find no one there. He then ventured
to the entrance of the water, and remarked how
kind they had been in placing there a large black
stepping-stone for him. As soon, however, as
he trod upon the supposed stone, he stuck fast,
and saw that he had been tricked; for Tortoise
now put his head out and began to move.
Jackal's hind feet being still free he threatened
to smash Tortoise with them if he did not let
him go. Tortoise merely answered, "Do as you
like." Jackal thereupon made a violent jump,
and found, with horror, that his hind feet were
now also fast. "Tortoise," said he, "I have
still my mouth and teeth left, and will eat you
alive if you do not let me go." "Do as you
like," Tortoise again replied. Jackal, in his
endeavors to free himself, at last made a desperate
bite at Tortoise, and found himself fixed,
both head and feet. Tortoise, feeling proud of
his successful capture, now marched quietly up
to the top of the bank with Jackal on his back,
so that he could easily be seen by the animals
as they came to the water.
They were indeed astonished to find how cleverly
the crafty Jackal had been caught; and
Tortoise was much praised, while the unhappy
Baboon was again reminded of his misconduct
when set to guard the water.
Jackal was at once condemned to death by
Lion; and Hyena was to execute the sentence.
Jackal pleaded hard for mercy, but finding this
useless, he made a last request to Lion (always,
as he said, so fair and just in his dealings) that
he should not have to suffer a lingering death.
Lion inquired of him in what manner he
wished to die; and he asked that his tail might
be shaved and rubbed with a little fat, and that
Hyena might then swing him round twice and
dash his brains out upon a stone. This, being
considered sufficiently fair by Lion, was ordered
by him to be carried out in his presence.
When Jackal's tail had been shaved and
greased, Hyena caught hold of him with great
force, and before he had fairly lifted him from
the ground, the cunning Jackal had slipped
away from Hyena's grasp, and was running for
his life, pursued by all the animals.
Lion was the foremost pursuer, and after a
great chase Jackal got under an overhanging
precipice, and, standing on his hind legs with
his shoulders pressed against the rock, called
loudly to Lion to help him, as the rock was falling,
and would crush them both. Lion put his
shoulders to the rock, and exerted himself to
the utmost. After some little time Jackal proposed
that he should creep slowly out, and fetch
a large pole to prop up the rock, so that Lion
could get out and save his life. Jackal did
creep out, and left Lion there to starve and die.