Baganda Tale

“One day Hare chose to host a dance. Elephant was one of the guests he invited, and Hare danced with him, though it was obvious that Hare was a better dancer. Elephant was upset about this and asked Hare how he could improve his dancing ability.

‘You are too large to be able to move well,’ replied Hare. ‘You should let me cut some of your meat off your hips so will be lighter and able to move better.’

Elephant took some time to think about this, but then agreed because he wanted to be able to dance as well as Hare and the other animals. Hare sharpened his large knife and cut away at Elephant’s flesh. When he was done, Elephant thanked Hare and went home.

The next morning Elephant was feeling horribly, so he called his friend Cow to help him. ‘I must get my flesh back from Hare, for I will die without it. Please go and fetch it from Hare.’ Cow agreed and set off for Hare’s home. When he arrived, he noticed Hare was cooking. Cow asked him to return the flesh from Elephant’s hips, but Hare brought out a plate of meat to Cow and asked him to quickly eat first. The meat was really Elephant’s flesh, but Cow did not know this. He thought it was delicious and asked Hare were he could get more.

‘I know a hill where many of this kind of animal graze. We shall go there together and hunt enough to prepare a feast.’ Cow agreed, and the two set off for the hill. Hare spotted a large bush at the bottom and instructed Cow to hide in it while he went to the stop of the hill to chase the animals down towards Cow where he would jump out and catch them by surprise.

‘When you hear a small rumbling, keep your head in, but when it is loud, stick your head out.’ Cow waited as he was told, and then heard the rumbling. He held his head in the bush until it got louder, and louder, and louder. He quickly stuck his head out from the bush and was killed by a large boulder rolling down the hill.

Hare found Cow’s body, took it home, and cooked it. Meanwhile, Elephant was worried that his time was short and thought it best to send others to retrieve his flesh. All met the same fate as Cow. Finally, Elephant asked Leopard to talk with Hare. Leopard was presented the same meal as all the other animals and also asked to go hunting for more meat with Hare. However, Leopard was too smart for Hare, and instead of sticking his head out from the bush, he let the stone roll past and then pretended to be dead. Hare carried him back home and began to prepare another meal. As he was about the cut into the body, Leopard leapt up and accused Hare of murdering the foolish animals.

Hare ran as fast as he could, crossed a river, and then ran back across to meet Leopard just approaching the other side. Leopard couldn’t see that it was Hare, since he was wet and looked completely different. Leopard asked if he had seen Hare.

‘No, I haven’t, but I have heard that leopards are being hunted today. Ten have already been killed.’ Leopard was scared by this and ran to take refuge at Elephant’s house.  But by the time he got there, Elephant was dead.

My friend and I agree on this tale’s interpretation: this tale reveals the effects of trickery and wit. Unfortunately, the story ends with these two characteristics being victorious over nobility and friendship. Like many Baganda narratives, it demonstrates the importance of reality to their society and not always assuming that life will unfold according to plan. It additionally hints at the idea that we should accept ourselves for who we are and not try and alter nature for our own benefit. This is seen with Elephant, and how his discontentment with himself and desire to dance as well as Hare and the other animals ultimately led to his death, as well as the death of his close friends. The narrative thereto contains the values of natural ability and beauty versus seeking to refine oneself to fit into a perhaps exaggerated idea of what is beautiful or idolized.