THERE was a frightful drought. The rivers after a while dried tip and even the springs gave no water. The animals wandered around seeking drink, but to no avail. Nowhere was water to be found. A great gathering of animals was held: Lion, Tiger, Wolf, Jackal, Elephant, all of them came together. What was to be done? That was the question. One had this plan, and another had that; but no plan seemed of value.
Finally one of them suggested: “Come, let all of us go to the dry river bed and dance; in that way we can tread out the water.”
Good! Everyone was satisfied and ready to begin instantly, excepting Rabbit, who said, “I will not go and dance. All of you are mad to attempt to get water from the ground by dancing.”
The other animals danced and danced, and ultimately danced the water to the surface. How glad they were. Everyone drank as much as he could, but Rabbit did not dance with them. So it was decided that Rabbit should have no water.
He laughed at them: “I will nevertheless drink some of your water.”
That evening he proceeded leisurely to the river bed where the dance had been, and drank as much as he wanted. The following morning the animals saw the footprints of Rabbit in the ground, and Rabbit shouted to them: “Aha! I did have some of the water, and it was most refreshing and tasted fine.”
Quickly all the animals were called together. What were they to do? How were they to get Rabbit in their hands? All had some means to propose; the one suggested this, and the other that.
Finally old Tortoise moved slowly forward, foot by foot: “I will catch Rabbit.”
“You? How? What do you think of yourself?” shouted the others in unison.
“Rub my shell with pitch (black beeswax), and I will go to the edge of the water and lie down. I will then resemble a stone, so that when Rabbit steps on me his feet will stick fast.”
“Yes! Yes! That’s good.”
And in a one, two, three, Tortoise’s shell was covered with pitch, and foot by foot he moved away to the river. At the edge, close to the water, he lay down and drew his head into his shell.
Rabbit during the evening came to get a drink. “Ha!” he chuckled sarcastically,” they are, after all, quite decent. Here they have placed a stone, so now I need not unnecessarily wet my feet.”
Rabbit trod with his left foot on the stone, and there it stuck. Tortoise then put his head out. “Ha! old Tortoise! And it’s you, is it, that’s holding me. But here I still have another foot. I’ll give you a good clout.” Rabbit gave Tortoise what he said he would with his right fore foot, hard and straight; and there his foot remained.
“I have yet a hind foot, and with it I’ll kick you.” Rabbit drove his bind foot down. This also rested on Tortoise where it struck.
“But still another foot remains, and now I’ll tread you.” He stamped his foot down, but it stuck like the others. He used his head to hammer Tortoise, and his tail as a whip, but both met the same fate as his feet, so there he was tight and fast down to the pitch.
Tortoise now slowly turned himself round and foot by foot started for the other animals, with Rabbit on his back.
“Ha! ha! ha! Rabbit! How does it look now? Insolence does not pay after all,” shouted the animals.
Now advice was sought. What should they do with Rabbit? He certainly must die. But how? One said, “Behead him“; another, “Some severe penalty.”
“Rabbit, how are we to kill you?”
“It does not affect me,” Rabbit said. “Only a shameful death please do not pronounce.”
“And what is that?” they all shouted.
“To take me by my tail and dash my head against a stone; that I pray and beseech you don’t do.”
“No, but just so you’ll die. That is decided.”
It was decided Rabbit should die by taking him by his tail and dashing his head to pieces against some stone. But who is to do it? Lion, because he is the most powerful one.
Good! Lion should do it. He stood up, walked to the front, and poor Rabbit was brought to him. Rabbit pleaded and beseeched that he couldn’t die such a miserable death.
Lion took Rabbit firmly by the tail and swung him around. The white skin slipped off from Rabbit, and there Lion stood with the white bit of skin and hair in his paw. Rabbit was free.
South African Folk Tales, by James A. Honey, 1910, Baker & Taylor Company.