Hippo and the Ostrich - A Bushman Tale
This tale 'Hippo and the Ostrich' explores many of the themes of Bushman Creation Mythology. Although it may not make much sense to our rational minds, it is indeed deeply profound and abstract symbolism.
Mrs Ostrich was sitting on a large clutch of eggs in the hot desert sand when she heard the most dreadful wailing and bellowing coming from the edge of the swamp. Forgetting all about the eggs that she was incubating she leapt up and raced towards the source of all the hullabaloo.
Families of hippos were lying in the sand crying mournfully.
“What is wrong” she asked the biggest and fattest Hippopotomous “We are so hot, grumbled the old grandfather, and we love the water more than the stars, more than the moon, more than the earth, and more than the burning sun.”
“I will go and find Kaggen the Mantis, said the Ostrich in a self important tone in her voice.
"I will bring him back here so he can see your plight and maybe he will let you live in the water.”
Mrs Ostrich kicked up her heels and raced across the desert sand towards a little stream where the Mantis had made the Eland.
After a day and a night she found the tiny insect riding on the head between the horns of his beloved Eland bull.
“Mantis, Mantis come quickly. The Hippos are crying and bellowing at the swamp.
“Follow the Ostrich” commanded Mantis to the Eland and they galloped over the sand.
Many animals had gathered around the Hippos.
Baboon was there.
Crocodile was lurking in the water
Fish Eagle sat hunched on a branch.
Even Porcupine had crept out of her burrow and visited the scene to find out what all the commotion was about.
The Mantis stood proud and erect on the head of the Eland and spoke in a soft and gentle voice.
“Yes Hippopotomous, what is all this din? We could hear you moaning and groaning from afar”
“ Mantis,” said the large fat Hippo to the tiny little insect. "We love the water more than anything else that the first spirit made. More than the sun, more than the stars and more than the moon. Please let us live in the water so that we do not die in the heat of the sun.”
Mantis quietly surveyed the scene and folded his arms as if in prayer.
The fish eagle stamped his legs on the branch with impatience.“I will not have it. I will not have it”, he screeched flying off the branch and flapping his wings angrily. He returned to his branch and glared down from his perch muttering..
“That cannot be! Their mouths are so wide and with such long, big teeth they will eat all the fish in the water”.
Old Grandfather Hippopotomous shook his head solemnly.“No. No. We would not do that”
He turned to his family.
“No. no” they whispered in unison. “We would not do that”
All the animals stood watching in silence waiting for the Mantis to speak and then Mrs Ostrich interupted.
“I will stand guard. I will see to it that they do not eat a single fish” she said with an arrogant tone. (She felt herself to be the most important and intelligent of birds because of her large size).
Mantis still remained silent.
Eventually he spoke.
“All right you may enter the water, but, only on condition that not a single fish bone is found in your dung. Furthermore, every evening when the sun sets you will leave the water and graze on the grass."
“It shall be done” agreed grandfather Hippo and the family and smiled happily rushing into the warm wet water, grunting with pleasure.
Just then Mr Ostrich appeared.
He had followed his wife’s footsteps and was wondering why she had left her clutch of eggs baking in the hot desert sand. What was she doing gathering with all the animals at the swamp?
As soon as Mrs Ostrich saw him she shouted across to her husband running towards her.
“We have a very important work to do.
We must stand guard. We must make sure that Hippopotomous and his family do not eat any of the fish with their large mouths and their big, long teeth.”
Mr Ostrich quickly forgot about the clutch of eggs baking in the Kalahari desert too and he held his head erect and sniffed the air with disdain.
“We shall see to it then my dear.”
Baboon dropped out of the tree. “A tasty egg breakfast is waiting for me in the sand,” he whispered with a mischievous grin and scampered off into the desert.
Xau, a bow and arrow hunter, had already found the eggs in the sand, and carefully removed three of them.
“I will not take them all, otherwise Mrs Ostrich will forget all about laying eggs completely. I will leave a few to remind her “
He wrapped the eggs in a leather hide and took them back to his wife. She carefully made a small hole in the top, scrambled the contents with a forked stick and cooked a very large omelette in the fire.
Baboon was very hungry when he arrived and saw more than a dozen huge ivory coloured eggs resting in the sand. He took one and smashed the egg against a rock, until he made a crack in the hard shell and then gulped down the contents. Once he had satisfied his appetite he sat a little way away from the eggs guarding his evening meal like a sentinel.
Mr and Mrs Ostrich were still pacing back and forward along the edge of the river, keeping their important eyes on the doings of the Hippos.
That evening as the sun slipped behind the trees they commanded the Hippos to come out of the water.
“Night is falling, single file please,” shouted Mrs Ostrich, waving her wing at the hippos to come out of the water.
One by one the hippos lumbered out of their beloved water.
“We will inspect your dung to make sure there are no fish bones.All turn around and drop it here.”
Each Hippopotomous dropped their dung on the grass. Ostrich wrinkled her nose at the large piles of their droppings on the ground.
“I can only see what is on top, and there are no fishbones on top. But, how do we know that there are none in the middle or at the bottom? She turned to her husband and Mr Ostrich agreed.
“That is so my clever wife and what is more we are not going to soil our beautiful long toes by flattening the dung, so that what might be seen, might be seen.”
“Precisely” said his wife fluffing out her feather dress getting distressed at the very thought.
Grandfather Hippo summonsed his family to a meeting and they whispered together in the dusk light.
“The blanket of darkness will soon fall on the land, he said in a hoarse voice. In the morning we will scatter our dung like so and they shall see that not a single fish has passed our jaws.”
The two Ostriches looked on curiously, straining their necks for a better view as the old grandfather Hippo demonstrated the technique in the dusk light to his family.
Unlike any other animal before, Hippo wriggled his tail vigourously, scattering his dung as it fell to the ground.
Mr and Mrs Ostrich batted their long eyelashes and looked at one another. "We had better stand guard through the night otherwise they could creep back into the water and eat all the fish" whispered Mrs Ostrich.
In the morning, all the animals gathered at the waters edge for the inspection of the droppings.
Fish eagle watched miserably from the tree expecting mounds of fish carcasses to be found.
Mrs Ostrich rushed forward. “We shall be first” she shouted raising her wing at the crowd.
She strode over to the scattered dung, wrinkled her nose, blinked her long eyelashes and peered through half closed eyes, scanning the contents.
“No fish bones here. You may return to the water” she instructed.
The Hippo family plunged into the cool green water while the rest of the animals stepped forward to analyse their droppings.
“No fish bones…” they agreed with one another.
Fish eagle leapt off the branch and rose up into the air.
“Keep a watchful eye on them hippos, he squawked, flapping his wings and disappearing over the water.
Mrs Ostrich turned to her husband.
“We should stay a few more days. We should make sure that the Hippos keep their side of the contract.”
Every evening as the sky began to turn red, Mr and Mrs Ostrich would gaze down their long necks at the Hippos' scattered dung on the ground.
Indeed the Hippos did keep their word and not a single fishbone was ever found in their droppings. At night they would leave the water and graze on the juicy green grass on the riverbank.
“Time for us to return home then, our work is done” said Mr Ostrich and their long legs took them speeding back into the desert. On their way they passed baboon returning to the swamp.He looks very pleased with himself thought Mrs Ostrich as she sped past. I wonder what mischief he has been up to.
The Ostriches were aghast when they reached the nest.
“How foolish we were…exclaimed Mr Ostrich. All the eggs have gone! Only broken eggs shells remain…”
They began to weep, wiping their tears with their large wings.Ratel the Honey Badger appeared.
"I saw baboon drinking from the eggs. In future you had better roll one of the eggs a little way away from the clutch that you are sitting on in order to remind you just what you are sitting on, exactly."
He flicked up his tail and stalked off with an air of contempt.
Mr and Mrs Ostrich looked at one another, it was a sound idea, even if it did come from a Honey Badger...
Mrs Ostrich summonsed a meeting of all the local hens in the area. It was unanimously agreed that communial nesting would be of great advantage in protecting their young and one egg would be rolled a little way away from the nest to remind them what they were sitting on.
Hippos still loaf about in the water during the daylight hours, climb onto the river banks at night and eat the sweet grass and wriggle their tails vigorously when they scatter their dung.
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