When Cheetah First Cried

When Cheetah First Cried is a retelling of an African folk story that explains why cheetahs have two vertical lines on their faces.

When Cheetah First Cried is a retelling of an African folk story that explains why cheetahs have two vertical lines on their faces.

When Cheetah First Cried

Each day at dusk or dawn, when even the sun looked away and the wind only whispered, a cheetah left her nest hidden in the tall, dry grass to go hunt food for her cubs. She would give each one a gentle nudge, press her soft nose against their fluffy heads, take in their sweet scent, like any mother would, purr a quiet warning, then tiptoe across the grassland.

And each day at dusk and dawn, when the sun looked away for the cheetah went hunting, a man stooped by a tree and watched. He was a hunter too, from his own tribe.

The man watched with narrow eyes how cheetah lazily pranced across the field, how she seemed to stretch, careless, then lick her mouth at the sight of the Impala herd. How she lowered her head, watching the beautiful gazelles, choosing well and picking only the juicier one. ‘Hmph!’ the man-hunter often exclaimed, spitting in the sand at his feet, near a hunting bag filled with air. ‘Ever since our tribe was forced in this dry corner of grassland we’ve been beggars. And beggars can’t be choosers, like this wa chini.’ Then he pressed his fists in the small of his back and stretch, mimicking the cheetah. And just as the cheetah was now craning her neck, the man extended his and held his breath for he knew what came next.

The chase.

Impala and cheetah sprang at once. The gazelle, racing for its life, dashing, jumping, floating above the earth as if its life depended on it. The cheetah accelerating at an angle, its feet four times as strong, as fast; its tail swishing and swiping from behind, closing in and sprinting for victory.

‘Argh!’ exclaimed the man-hunter. The hunt never lasted much. The cheetah always won. There was always food to take home to her cubs. Unlike him. ‘Pshaw,’ he spat again, then picked up his empty bag and dragged it after him, almost crawling towards his village. But after two steps he stopped. He lifted his head and straightened his spine. No one saw his face, for none was around, but a bird. There was a snigger on it that pulled the corners of his thin, cracked lips upwards, in a non-human mask.

He knew what he had to do.

To allow for a steady supply of food for his village, of course.

Cheetah, in Afrikaans is Jagluiperd,   Direct translation: Hunting lazy horse
Cheetah, in Afrikaans is Jagluiperd – direct translation: hunting lazy horse

The next day, when the cheetah went hunting, the man was waiting. Yet not by the tree, but hidden in the dry grass, not far from the cheetah’s nest. Yet far enough to be out of the wind’s way.

And after cheetah nudged her pups, sniffed their soft heads, and left in search of food, the man closed in, keeping as low as the grass. Without thinking twice he picked the three cheetah cubs and pushed them in his hunter’s bag, stuffing them inside, then closing the flap over, squeezing the bag to his chest to muffle their cries and running back to his village. Always bent over, always looking over his shoulder. Will the cheetah know? Will she hear her brood crying? Will she come after him? Is she at his heel already?

Goody, he’s made it!

That evening when cheetah returned with dinner for her cubs she found the nest empty. She sniffed around, the scent of her cubs still strong, yet no downy heads popped up to welcome her; no tiny, raspy tongues; no hungry yelps of joy, no tugs of war. And, like any mother, the cheetah cried. And she cried. And when the sun went up it found her crying, and when the moon came up it found her crying still.

Meanwhile, in the man’s village, the three cubs were tied to a pole for all to see the great plan of the man-hunter.

‘They will hunt for us,’ he would strut around, explaining his grand idea. ‘Three gazelles a day. There will be food aplenty,’ he would say, looking taller than anyone had ever seen him before.

The cheetah was still crying when a thin man approached her. He was so skinny and so old that he had no fear of being hunted, for he had no fear of death. Besides, he knew all too well that he looked like a wandering pile of sticks rather than a human being.

The skinny, old man approached the crying cheetah and asked what has happened. For nobody has ever seen a crying cheetah before, nor has anyone ever heard of one. On hearing what happened to her cubs the man made it for the village right away and the wind even stirred, they say, to give the old man a gentle push, to aid him reach the settlement sooner.

Three things happened next.

The man-hunter lost his right to hunt for having dishonored his people’s honest hunting tradition, that honored skill and respect for other hunters.

The man-hunter was sent to return the cubs to mother cheetah, while all the time crying and praying he won’t end up a prey himself. He didn’t, for the cheetah was too happy to be reunited with her cubs to even think of revenge.

The cheetah stopped crying, but having cried for so long two vertical dark lines remained along her face, from the inner corners of her eyes to the sides of her mouth.

This is the story of when the cheetah first cried and why the cheetah has two dark lines down her face.

© Patricia Furstenberg, inspired by an old African legend

cheetah and dog can become friends - when cheetah first cried, a story
A cheetah and a dog can become friends

Why cheetahs need to live in the wild?

If a cheetah was born and raised in captivity, when released in the wild will hunt smaller giraffes, her hunting instinct having been altered. A cheetah growing in the wild will learn from her mother to hunt a bigger prey.

Yet not too big either.

At times, a cheetah born and raised in captivity, when released in the wild was observed trying to attack a buffalo. This is wrong and it will never be a success, as cheetah’s jaws and teeth are not designed to deal with such a large prey.

Discover the story of how the cheetah and the dog became friends:

the cheetah and the dog, best children's books

Read inside also how were cheetahs built to live in the wild and why carnivore animals are seldom seen together?

the cheetah and the dog. Read inside also how were cheetahs built to live in the wild and why carnivore animals are seldom seen together?
Image preview from The Cheetah and the Dog

How the Snake Lost Its Legs

how the snake lost its legs

A recent discovery of snake fossils proved that snakes used to have limbs, so let’s imagine how the snake lost its legs in a short story from the series Babadiertjies van Afrika, baby animals from Africa.

The colors of the desert were red, its tall dunes were red, punctuated by green grass clumps. These were the colors the boy knew best. Oh, and the sky’s bright blue that the dune’s sharp crests profiled against.

These were the shades the boy knew best, darker under the first blinking of the sun, as if they still carried the night spirits on their backs. Paling when the sun yawned over the skyline, as if the boiling star sucked their vigor too, together with that of all moving life forms. And finally, turning into long stretching shadows that chased after the slaying sun, like snakes dancing along the dunes, snakes that never learn.

His favorite shade was that of the dunes before nightfall, the same as his mother’s skin. The grains of sand felt just as fine between his fingers, and the evening’s snake-like shadows reminded him of her braids framing her smile, tickling his face while she spun bedtime stories for him.

He missed hearing them, hearing the soft clicks of her speech, the dance of her hands as they became, in turn, elephant ears, horses, and beetles, and bucks… As soon as he measured taller than a hyena, his father, who was so tall that could look over a lion’s mane, took him hunting.

Days were long in the desert, among the shift changing dunes, the hot-hot sand, and him, alone with his thoughts. ‘A hunter with a loud voice will sleep hungry at night,’ was the first lesson his father taught him.

So the boy listened, kept quiet, and at night told himself his mother’s stories.

Tonight, after seeing the long snakes dancing in the sunset along the spines of the dunes, after spotting Mother Moon shedding a tear – one he had followed with his skinny finger all the way from there to there, knowing that ‘a hard day will come soon for one of the San’, and hoping it was not him – tonight, he will spin himself his favorite yarn.

Namib desert at night - How the Snake Lost Its Legs. Photo by Sergi Ferrete for Unsplash
Namib desert at night – How the Snake Lost Its Legs. Photo by Sergi Ferrete for Unsplash

How the Snake Lost Its Legs

‘Mother Moon, who was always watching over her brood, had shed a tear that night. But only those who looked, saw it. And from them, only those who believed, knew what it meant,’ his Mother once started this story.

‘During those times, Mother Moon, from her height in the sky, often looked into the future to see, learn and better protect her children. She does so today too, but – alas – her children know not how to listen to her anymore. Except for a few,’ his mother whispered further, with a nod towards his dad.

‘The Godly Mantis was one of them, arriving as soon as Mother Moon summoned. Putting her front legs together, bowing her head in respect, the Mantis listened then jumped, before the leaves even settled after Mother Moon’s speech, jumped to warn all. All the birds, all the animals, all the insects; warn them about the drought, urge them to pack food for the road, grab their young under their wing, and fly, crawl, run to safety. To water. To life. Before the desert will stretch its raspy hands and take over their land. Before it will be too late.

‘Had the creatures listened to Mantis? Yes. Had they listened because they thought of her as a leader? No. But because Mantis had warned them before, and with good cause.

‘All but one left. The one that led a solitary life. A long and rather bulky creature, whose snout was almost as long as a crocodile’s, but narrower; whose tail was as long as a kangaroo’s, but thinner, and whose four short legs had claws, although he never climbed a tree. Too much effort.

‘It was Snake, who in those times, still had legs.

‘So Snake, basking in his sunny spot, on lush, soft grass, kept his cool and chose to remain. ‘Why worry about tomorrow,’ he thought, gulping one of the juicy frogs hopping by. As a snack, but also to prove a point, that life was sweet here, where he lived.

‘And life was, indeed, sweet for Snake, until all the fat frogs hopped away right past him. Life remained sweet until the rain stopped falling and the grass stopped growing. Until even the land under his belly dried out and his skin, once smooth and shiny, was now raw and flaky from scraping against dry rocks.

‘I better move away,’ thought Snake one day when his tongue, so dry now, could smell nothing but dust and nearly stuck to the outside of his snout. ‘This land does not suit me anymore,’ he added, for he would never admit to be wrong.

‘So he hopped away on his feet, left then right, he hopped along the hot sand that had taken over the plains, left then right, under the boiling sun, left – right. Yet the more he advanced along those dreary dunes, the more he sank into their scorching sand. And the more his feet sank into the fine, fiery gravel, the more difficult it was to pull them out again, and place them on top of the slippery, searing soil. Until it became impossible for Snake to move.

‘And this was how night found Snake. Not at the end of his journey, but rather, stuck at its beginning, alone in the ever changing, slippery sand. Far from being warm and cozy, for the dunes were now as cold as ice. And Snake was chilled to the bone, after having being cooked during the day.

‘This is it,’ thought Snake, closing his eyes. Yet he could shed no tears, for all was dry; outside as well as inside.

‘Only, Mother Moon had other plans for him as she watched from her palace in the sky, her face round with affection, her eyes underlined with worry. And as she sang over the dunes that night, the sand rolled away opening a path for snake to slid away in the morning. Although, with the grains of sand that slipped away something else rolled too, never to be found again. Snake’s legs, all dried out and shriveled by now.

‘Had he missed them in the morning when he opened his eyes and discover a smooth path for him to wriggle on? Had he missed them further on, when he slithered away at top speed? Or when he finally caught up with the other animals, joining them through one final skilled slide?

‘He never said. At least not out loud. But I do hope that he thanked Mother Moon, at least in his heart,’ the boy’s mother had smiled.

That night the little boy fell asleep, feeling his mother’s hand over his forehead, thankful in his heart for her stories.

© Patricia Furstenberg, after a San legend.

Read further on The Conversation: Extraordinary skull fossil reveals secrets of snake evolution.

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Die Kameelperd and The Giraffe Who Reached for God, Story-time

Die Kameelperd . The Giraffe Who Reached for God OR Why Giraffes Have such Long Necks

Die Kameelperd and the Giraffe Who Reached for God is the next story-time installment in die babadiertjies van Afrika, baby animals from Africa series you can enjoy here, on my blog.

Jump to:
Die Kameelperd
The Giraffe
The Giraffe Who Reached for God OR Why Giraffes Have such Long Necks

Die Kameelperd


Die kameelperd is die hoogste dier ter wêreld. Hy is ‘n herkouer en hy verkies om die oop veld tussen doringbome rond te loop waar hy na hartelus die sappige blaartjie bo van die toppe af kan pluk.

Die klein kameelperdjie staan by geboorte al klaar amper twee meter hoog. Wanneer hy volgroeid is, kan hy tot selfs ses meter hoog wees.

Die kameelperd het lang, dun bene, gesplete hoewe en twee knoetsies bokant sy oortjies wat later in langer, velbedekte horings ontwikkel.

Die koei het gewoonlik net een kalfie, en die klein kameelperdjie moet maar buite sy gesinskring vir hom ‘n maat gaan soek wanneer hy die gewilde stoeispel van die kameelperde wil speel. Hierdie speletjie is ‘n eienaardige skouspiel: die twee kameelperdjies probeer om mekaar met hulle nekke onderstebo te stamp. Dit is egter alles sommer speletjies en niemand kry in die proses seer nie.

Hulle aartsvyand is die leeu, en wanneer hulle hom gewaar, maak die jong kameelperd op sy voorkoms staat om hom te beskerm. Hulle velkleur dmelt byna volmaak met die ligen skadukolle tussen die bome saam, en bied hulle goeie beskerming.

Daar is aansienlike kleurverskille onder kameelperde: die een is bleek van vel met klein, verspreide vlekke, terwyl ‘n ander weer ‘n donkerder vel en meer en groter kolle het.

Die kameelperd het egter ‘n baie lang tong (tot veertig sentimeter lank), waarmee hy boomblaartjies kan afstroop. Hy kan baie goed sien en hulle reuk – en gehoorsintuie is ook baie goed ontwikkel. Hulle kan ook vinnig hardloop. Dis juis omdat die kameelperd hierdie fyn sintuie het, dat bobbejane en ander boksoorte baie graag met hulle saamtrek en hulle as brandwagte gebruik.

Alhoewel jong kameelperdjies net vir die pret met mekaar stoei, sal ouer kameelperde tog ‘n geveg tot die dood toe aanknoop om die leierskap van ‘n trop.

The Giraffe – Did You Know?


Die Kameelperd and The Giraffe Who Reached for God, Story-time
A giraffe with long eyelashes reaching the tree top leaves. Photo by Slawek K, Unsplash

The giraffe is the tallest animal in the world. It is called a ruminant who prefers to walk around the open field between thorn trees, where it chooses, to its heart content, all the juicy leaves growing only on the tree tops.

The calf, the giraffe’s baby, is already almost two meters tall when it is born. When fully grown, it can reach a height of up to six meters.

The giraffe has long, thin legs, split hooves and, when it is born, two lumps above its ears that later develop into longer, skin-covered horns.

The cow, the giraffe mom, has usually only one calf, and the little calf has only to look outside his family circle when he wants to play a game of wrestling with another calf. For a spectator, this game can be a strange spectacle as the two giraffes will push each other using only their muscular necks. However, this is just a game and no one gets hurt in the process.

Their arch-enemy is the lion, and whenever they spot him, the giraffes rely on their appearance to protect themselves. Their skin color blends in almost perfectly with the light and shady spots twinkling between the trees.

There are significant differences between the skin patterns of various giraffes: some have pale skin with small, scattered spots, while others have darker skin with more numerous, larger spots.

But above all, or perhaps to match her neck, the giraffe has a very long tongue, up to forty centimeters long, with which it can even peel off petals. Giraffes can see very well while their smell and hearing senses are also very well developed. They can also run fast. It is precisely because the giraffe has such well tuned senses that baboons and other antelope species like to congregate with the giraffes and use a tower of giraffes, as a group of giraffes is called, as defense.

Sadly, although young giraffes wrestle with each other just for fun, older giraffes will still fight to the death for the leadership of a herd.

Giraffes are well-known throughout Africa for their natural curiosity.

The Giraffe Who Reached for God OR Why Giraffes Have such Long Necks


Die Kameelperd and The Giraffe Who Reached for God, Story-time
The Giraffe Who Reached for God OR Why Giraffes Have such Long Necks. Photo by Gareth More, Unsplash

Word of mouth among the Baobabs, these upside down trees, and among Marula trees, these magical African trees, and, of course, among the Thorn trees… well, rumor on the grapevine goes that long ago, one bright morning, God spoke to His brand new created animals as to their purpose on this earth. 

Now God had called Giraffes thus, in His own words, but on earth, unaware, His different tribes were calling the giraffes on their own mother tongue. The Zulus and Xhosa called it indlulamithi, the Sotho called it thuhlo, while the Shona people called it Twiga.

So when the Giraffe’s turn came, God addressed it softly and so the loving Twiga stretched her neck to heaven to hear Him more clearly. 

She stood on her tiptoes, her round, brown eyes large and focused, her long eyelashes reaching up to her eyebrows, her ears twitching and quivering, giving God her full attention.

God was so pleased with her eagerness that He decided, right then and there, to reward her so He bestowed upon her a long, elegant neck. So she could hear Him better, but also so she could reach the tops of the tallest trees, where He knew that the sweetest of the leaves grew.

And to this day, all animals know that God rewards the extra effort. In Africa.

Die Reusagtige Olifant, The Giant Elephant and the Rain

Die Reusagtige Olifant, The Giant Elephant and the Rain

Die Reusagtige Olifant and The Giant Elephant and the Rain are the next chapter in die babadiertjies van Afrika, baby animals from Africa series you can enjoy here, on my blog.

Jump to:
Die Reusagtige Olifant
The Elephant
The Giant Elephant and the Rain, a Folktale Retold

Die Reusagtige Olifant


Die geboorte van ‘n olifantkalfie is ‘n besondere gebeurtenis in die olifantwêreld. Die hele trop kom kyk gewoonlik hierna, en die moeder het regte olifant – “vroedvroue” wat haar bystaan.

Wanneer hy in die wêreld kom, kan die kalfie ‘n massa van tot ‘n honderd kilogram hê. ‘n Volgroeide olifant het ‘n massa van nagenoeg vyf duisend kilogram, wat hom die wêreld se grootste landdier maak.

Die jong olifantkalf word met ‘n slurpie gebore, maar vir die eerste paar weke van sy lewe is dit ‘n nuttelose liggaamsdeel . Hierdie slurp is eintlik net ‘n lang neus wat die olifant het. Hy gebruik dit om voedsel mee in sy mond in te voer. ‘n Olifant se tande slyt baie gou af omdat hy so ‘n groot hoeveelheid kos moet fynkou.

Hierdie kos is grof en gevolglik word sy maaltande gedurigdeur deur nuwes vervang. Die oues skuif geleidelik meer na agtertoe en dan groei splinternuwe tande in hulle plekke uit. Wanneer hy sestig jaar oud is, het die olifant gewoonlik al ses stele tande gehad. Dan kry hy ook nie weer nuwe tande nie.

Die pragtige voortande van die olifant is sy sierlike wapens wanneer hy om die leierskap van die trop meeding.

Die olifant kan allerhande toertjies geleer word.

Sy oë is swak, maar hy kan baie fyn hoor en ruik. Verder help sy sensitiewe slurp hom om sappige takkies en blaartjes bo van die boomtoppe af te pluk.

In droogtetye grawe olifante met hulle voorpote gate in rivierbeddings en dan slurp hulle die syferwatertjies op.

The Elephant

Die Reusagtige Olifant, The Giant Elephant and the Rain
A matriarch and two elephant calves by a water hole. Photo by Matthew Bradford, Unsplash

The birth of an elephant calf is a special event in the life of a herd of elephants. The entire herd usually comes to assist, and the mother has real elephant – midwives who assist and support her.

When he is born, the calf can weigh up to a hundred kilograms. It sounds like a lot, but an adult elephant has a mass of almost five thousand kilograms, which makes it the world’s largest land animal.

For the first few weeks of its life the baby elephant is quite helpless, and he doesn’t even uses his trunk. Elephants use their trunk, that’s nothing but a long nose, to pick up food and deposit it into their mouth.

Interesting, because the food an elephant eats is pretty coarse, his teeth wear out very quickly as he has to chew such large amounts. So his molars are constantly being replaced by new ones. The old ones gradually move backwards and then brand new teeth grow in their place. By the time he is sixty years old, the elephant can have up to six sets of teeth. After this age he will get no more new teeth.

An elephant’s tusks, his beautiful ivory front teeth, become graceful weapons when he competes for the leadership of his herd.

Elephants are very intelligent and can learn all kinds of tricks, although their eyesight is weak, but they can hear and smell very well. Furthermore, their sensitive trunk helps them to pick juicy twigs and leaves from the tops of the trees. Much like giraffes do.

In times of drought, when water is scarce, the elephants dig holes in riverbeds using their front paws and then swallow the seepage water.

The Giant Elephant and the Rain, a Folktale Retold

A herd of elephants splashing by a water hole. Mist in black and white..Die Reusagtige Olifant, The Giant Elephant and the Rain
A herd of elephants splashing by a water hole. Mist in black and white. Photo by Richard Jacobs, Unsplash

Long ago, when the Sun and the Moon were the best of friend and none even thought to compete over the blue skies, when man still lived in caves and had just learned to make fire, long ago the Elephant was one of the greatest powers of the world. All animals accepted him. Even the African Crowned Crane. And Elephant was a good king. A powerful one too. Except that the Spirit of Rain, was just as powerful.

But although he was kind, being the only leader among all the animals, men included, the Elephant was quite boastful. He enjoyed to remind everyone what a great leader he was. And everyone agreed, over and over, except for the Spirit of the Rain.

Quite often, the boastful Elephant and the Spirit of the Rain fought. It was very noisy. The Elephant, never losing an opportunity to try convince the Spirit of the Rain into agreeing to what a wonderful leader he, the Elephant, was. The Spirit of the Rain, never giving in.

One hot morning, while they were arguing, again, the Spirit of the Rain burst with anger like never before. He sounded like a cascade throwing its waters over the rocks and into the ocean, not like the young spring he once had been.

‘How dare you?’ The Spirit of the Rain bubbled. ‘How dare you, but an Elephant, to think of yourself being more than me? Me, who quenched your thirst. Me, who made the trees grow to feed you. Me, who cooled your skin and that of your entire herd?’ he plummeted further, from the celestial height of its clouds.

At this, the Elephant lifted his trunk, trumpeted twice, then turned around and left, only his little tail swishing, nonchalantly. After a few steps he slowed down and replied, throwing the words over his shoulder, ‘You do not feed me and thus you are wrong in presuming that you do. For I feed myself. With my trunk.’ And to prove his point he picked a bunch of soft leaves from the heights of the closest tree and swallowed them. ‘Hmm, tasty.’

The Spirit of the Rain let out a low rumble that rolled along the entire length of the horizon, then frowned with the darkest clouds one had ever seen. Then he exhaled the chilliest blow, turned and stormed away.

Die Reusagtige Olifant, The Giant Elephant and the Rain. A bull elephant against stormy clouds. Photo by Geran de Klerk, Unsplash
A bull elephant against stormy clouds. Photo by Geran de Klerk, Unspla. Photo by Geran de Klerk, Unsplash

And life went on. Sunny days came, turned into moon-lit nights that rolled into more bright mornings, hotter as the days became weeks, weeks baking into months. And soon, the only smile left was that of the stars. At night.

Had they seen it all? Is that why they beamed? For no one else was.

The land animals were boiling on the hot slopes, water sources reduced to meager ponds not enough to house two fishes. The sea animals were crowded worst than a mall on Christmas Eve would be today. The birds suffered too, out of heat, thirst, withered trees and lack of fruits and insects.

Everyone suffered. Some even pretended they forgot the sight of clouds, the feel of the breeze, the taste of fresh water. Had it even existed? Had it all been a dream?

So they went to see the Elephant. After all, he was their leader. He was the only one who could make it right. Make it rain.

The Elephant did not like to be cornered like that, from the land, from the air, from under the ground. So he tried to shake them off as quickly as he could. And once alone, he called for the majestic Eagle. Who, among others, could make it rain by using only its powerful beak and strong wings.

But the Eagle just shook his head. He was powerless without the clouds.

The Eagle said ‘no more’, he just gave the Elephant a side glance, no more clouds without the Spirit of the Rain.

At this, the Elephant turned red in the face – if this was possible since he was already burning hot. But he shrugged and turned towards the White-breasted Crow, wise old Crow, a bird of many tales…

Crow shook his head, twice left, not in negation but as a twitch he had developed a while back, after the Snaked lost its legs – but this is a story for another time. So Crow shook his head, twice left, and flew away. And no one knew how, but that evening it rained. A bit. Yet it rained.

How animals partied! How they thanked Elephant who was rather full of himself. Again. Basking in the general attention, not for once mentioning Crow’s help.

Until… until one day (actually three days later) when the water that rained was all gone, drank, sipped into the ground, evaporated, and the animals came to Elephant again. To ask for more rain. And the Elephant turned to Crow. But the spot where Crow always stood, the branch he called his own, was empty.

Elephant scratched his head with his trunk. He looked left, searching for Crow, he peered above, he even bent on his front knees and to seek below. But no sign of Crow. Not even a feather. Where was Crow? And what was he to do now? He was alone. Alone he could not make it rain. Alone he could not face all the angry animals. Alone was just that, alone. Cold and lonely, abandoned amidst all the animals that once were his friends.

You might ask about his herd. Well, truth is that Matriarch had taken control over it long ago.

So Elephant did what he should have from the beginning. He turned around and headed for the horizon. And for an opportunity to say he is sorry.

Well, the Spirit of the Rain was not that far away, just at the end of the Savannah. And was very happy to accept Elephant’s apologies, for he, too, was missing the animals, the sea creatures, the green forests and the tiny insects.

But Matriarch, she never abdicated the leadership of the herd. To teach Elephant a lesson or perhaps, perhaps because she quite enjoyed it.

As retold by Patricia Furstenberg, after a Bushman story

More elephant stories:

The Elephant and the Sheep

When a lamb meets an elephant calf the two are happy to share a small patch of grass and a tiny water puddle available during the Big-Bad Thirst.

die Olifant en die Skaap

Twee klein stertjies het een dag ontmoet,
Heel per ongeluk onder warm sonstrale het hulle gegroet:
“Hallo, kom ons speel!” met swaaiende sterte wat wys.
Hulle was nie dieselfde nie, tog albei was grys.
Een het groot voete, die ander was korter;
Een glimlag wyd, die ander se mond was kleiner.

Die Mahem and the Legend of the African Crowned Crane

Mahem Crowned Crane. A story fromAfrica

Die Mahem and the Legend of the African Crowned Crane is the next story in die babadiertjies van Afrika, baby animals from Africa series you can enjoy here, on my blog.

Die Mahem

Mahemvoëls bly verkieslik lewenslank in groot reoppe by dieselfde poel of watersloep saam.

Die mahem, of gekroonde kraanvoël, is ‘n pragtige, kleurvolle voël met ‘n flyn kroontjie van goud en swart veertjies wat ‘n mens aan ‘n speldekussing laat dink, op sy kop. Daar is ‘n halfsirkel syagtige swart vere reg onderkant sy snawel. Agter sy oë en onderkant sy kroontjie is daar ‘n gladde helderooi en ‘n spierwit kol.

Die mahem hen bou haar nes tussen die digte riete waar sy dan gedurende Augustus of September haar eiers lê. Pas nadat hulle uitgebroei is, lyk die mahemkuikens net soos klein eendjies, met sulke klein klossies op hulle koppe.

Elke jong mahemkuiken moet sy besondere kolonie se kenmerkende ‘taal’ aanleer, omdat elke trop mahems sy eie besondere manier van gesels het wat waarskynlik vir ander voëls onverstaanbaar is.

Wanneer hy feitlik volgroeid is, word die mahemvoël die tradisionele huweliksdans geleer. Hierdie dans is seker een van die uitsonderlikste skouspele wat mens maar kan sien! Dis ‘n gebuig en edraai dat dit ‘n aardigheid is! Vorentoe en agteruit, dit trippel, die knieë buig, die vlerke word geklap en dan wip die danser skielik hoog die lug in – en alles lyk of dit op die maat van musiek gedoen word! Aan die einde van die dans, bied die een mahem die ander gulhartig geurige stukkies mos aan.

Die mahem eet graag grond, paddas en insekte. Hy jaag gewoonlik die insekte uit hulle skuilplekke deur met sy poot op die grond te stamp.

Wnneer die herfstyd aanbreek, verlaat die mahems hulle tuiste in groot swerms om na warmer woonplekke te gaan soek. Hulle vlieg op ‘n hoogte van tot vyf duisend meter in die tradisionele V – formasie oor die woenstyn, en het slegs hulle instink om hulle na hul bestemming te stuur.

Die Mahem and the Legend of the African Crowned Crane, babadiertjies van Afrika
The African Crane wears his head feathers like a crown. Photo by Peter Neumann, Unsplash

The African Crowned Crane

The African Crowned Cranes are birds that prefer to stay together at the same pool of water for most of their life in large herds of cranes, or a dances of cranes.

The Mahem, or Crowned Crane, is a beautiful, colorful bird with a flying crown of gold and black feathers that reminds one of a pincushion perched upon its head. There is a short brush of silky black feathers just below its bill too. Behind his eyes, towards its temples, towards the crown there is a smooth bright red spot near a pure white one.

The Mahem hen builds its nest between the dense reeds; there she lays eggs during August or September. Just after they have hatched, the Mahem chicks look just like little ducklings, with tiny tufts on their heads.

Every Crowned Crane chick must learn its colony’s distinctive ‘language’, because each herd of mahems has its own particular way of talking that is probably unintelligible to other birds.

When he is almost fully grown, the Mahem chick is taught the traditional wedding dance. This dance is probably one of the most exceptional spectacles one can see, full of bending and twisting! Then forward and backward it goes, the bird bends its knees, it flaps its wings and then the dancer suddenly swings high into the air – while everything seems to be executed to the beat of a happy music! At the end of the dance, one Mahem bird offers the other one a generous, fragrant piece of moss.

The Crowned Crane likes to eat grass seeds, frogs and insects. He usually chases the insects out of their hiding places by bumping the ground with his foot.

When autumn arrives, the Mahems leave their homes in large flocks in search for warmer lands. They fly at an altitude of up to five thousand meters in the traditional V – formation over the desert and across great distances with only their instinct to guide them to their destination.

Their Afrikaans name, Mahem, is a good imitation of their call.

The Legend of the African Crowned Crane, a story

Long, so long ago, when the clouds still held hands with the foamy tips of the waves and the sun and the moon still smiled at each other all day long, an African king found himself separated from his companions while they were all out hunting in the hot, dry, inhospitable grasslands.

Had the king strayed away while watching some small game? Had his men moved on, presuming the king was following them? Nobody knew. Fact was, the king found himself all on his own on this side of the grassland. And his men found themselves without their ruler – on the other side of the savanna. Unable to spot one another, no matter how high his men jumped.

When the king realized he was lost he gasped for air, even if he was a king. And he felt his heart beating faster, a lot faster, like he’d been running, although he hadn’t. And his palms turning sweaty on his spear. He felt like this all of a sudden and then he felt his mouth dry and reached for his water. Which he had none of, for being a king he carried only his kingly spear, and nothing else. His men carried his water. And his soft blankets to set upon the dry grass for rest. And the tents to make good shade. And the food.

But mostly the water, that he craved now more than ever. And so the king, lost and alone, looked left and right, front and back, and all he saw was dry grass stretching forever. And realized he did not know how to find the oasis where the royal court had set up camp. He did not know it for he never cared for such things, such findings, he always had his men which he paid to do it.

Which were not with him anymore.

And the day was hot, suddenly even hotter, the sun right above his head, and the king was lost and alone, with not even his own shadow for company. Later, when he thought back on that day, the king remembered stomping his foot and thinking that he might die of thirst if he did not find water soon enough. Only that on that precise moment, lost in the grassland, all alone, without not even his shadow for company, the king just thought of water and how he’d even trade his famous spear for some.

Then he saw some movement in the distance. ‘What was that?’ thought the king. ‘His court?’ He better get there. ‘But what if it’s lions?’ So he used his hunting skills, approaching without being known. It took him a while, and half way through it he realized he was stalking Zebras, not his men. But Zebras were horses with stripes, right? Zebras were friendly, Surely they will help the king.

Eventually he reached the Zebras, who were swishing their tails, their ears perched, grazing nearby. They knew well he’s coming and they knew he was alone.

‘Please help me,’ said the king to the zebra that looked like a chief, for it ate the most abundant spot of grass. ‘I am all lost and without my court. I want to find my men. Can you lead me to them?’ But the zebra chief just munched quietly. Eventually it turned away from the king, snorted a message to its herd, then replied, ‘Why should we help you, since you and your men have hunted us, chased us from our waterhole, taken away our weak and our old?’

The king sighed and looked down, for he knew he’d done wrong and had no answer to the zebra’s words. Except that he was sorry. But by the time he opened his mouth the zebras were already far away.

When a trumpeting reached the king’s ears and a thumping shook the ground… The elephants! Surely they will carry him to his men. Surely.

So the king approach the matriarch, the elephant queen, and asked her, like from one royalty to another, asked her for help. Yet she, too, refused! ‘We do not help those who want to kill us,’ she said while gently, ever so gently touched, with her gigantic trunk, the ivory necklace the king carried around his neck. The king gasped and lost his words, for he thought that was the end of him, but the elephant slowly moved away, taking her herd with her. Leaving but a cloud of dust behind. And a lost and lonely king.

Next, the king saw a herd of antelopes and, although he suspected their answer, he asked them too. Of course they refused, had he forgotten that the majestic antelopes were a king’s favorite hunting pray?

The Legend of the African Crowned Crane. Photo by Charl Durand, Unsplash
The Legend of the African Crowned Crane. Photo by Charl Durand, Unsplash

The king let himself drop to the ground, not minding the prickly grass. He even let go of his spear, for what use will he have of it? And let his head drop on his knees and shut his eyes tight. What went through his mind? Remorse? Fear? Thoughts of a final, desperate plan to reach his men again?

The king was so lost in thought that he did not feel the shadows circling overhead. He did not feel the flutter of the wings. He did not hear the ‘mahem-mahem-mahem’ sudden chatter. He did feel, however, a soft brush against his arm just as he was dreaming he was in his kingly tent again, with his men.

When the king looked up, he saw that he was surrounded by a flock of long-legged, long-necked birds. The king could not remember their names, for he felt so weak and so thirsty. Yet he tried, for he was still a king, skilled in fighting for survival, he tried once more and, with his voice barely a whisper, he begged the big birds to help him.

Can you imagine? The birds did not turn away. The king thought he’s surely dreaming.

Can you believe it? The big birds made shade for him, while a few only flew away, shortly to return with water in their strong beaks, which they gave to the king. The king was sure he’s imagining.

And, can you picture it? The big birds led the king to his court. No, they did not picked him up, using their strong beaks to hold onto his garments and they did not flew him to his court. That would have been a sight! They simply walked near him, nudging him, pushing him, dragging him slightly, to the oasis, the nearest one at that, where his court was.

As soon as he saw his men, as soon as he felt safe, as soon as he drank and sat in the thick shade of his kingly tent, the grateful king ordered his personal goldsmith to make a crown of gold for each one of the crane birds. He had remembered now what they were. Of course, he ordered a feast for them too. A feast fit for kings.

And the following day, the entire dance of cranes flew off wearing their shiny, gold crowns gleaming in the sun so bright that the king had to shade is eyes. Calling good-bye, ‘mahem-mahem-mahem.’

The king and his court waved good-bye and the cranes called back, ‘mahem-mahem,’ till they were out of sight. The king smiled and felt his heart filled with gratitude, wondering if he’ll ever see his saviours again.

He saw them, sooner that he imagined, for the following day the cranes returned with bare heads, telling the king and his men that the other animals had become envious and angry when they saw the golden crowns upon their heads, and heard how they got them. From whom they got them! So the animals, the zebras, the elephants, the antelopes, had ambushed the cranes and stolen the crowns. Not for themselves, but to destroyed them and what they stood for.

The king bowed his head and thought. Then he gave two orders.

One, that no zebras, no elephants, no antelopes, no rhino, no hippos… ever to be hunt again.

And second, that new crowns made, but not of gold, like his kingly symbols, but of golden feathers, as light as the freedom, feathers that could not be removed. And as soon as the new crowns were made, each crane flew off wearing its gold-feathery diadem. Never to be taken away.

This is the story of how the African cranes received their beautiful, shimmering crowns of gold that they still carry today, perched upon their heads, and became known as the Crowned Cranes.

(as retold by Patricia Furstenberg)

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