How Zebras Came from Donkeys

SP is a first generation Korean American who was born in Anaheim but moved to and lived in Nairobi, Kenya for 15 years. She is a third culture kid and went to an international school there. Currently she is an International Relations major at USC.

“So basically there are a bunch of donkeys…and um they used to work hard every day carrying bundles for miles and miles across long distances. They were always working hard day in and day out, and they got really tired because all they wanted to do was lie on the grass and be like little free-spirited cute animals that didn’t do any work at all. So they found a wise old man sitting on a random hill or something, and the wise old man had an idea and said “Hey, why don’t I paint you so nobody can tell that you guys are donkeys? And then you won’t have to work anymore!” So then the donkeys were super happy about that and lined up to get painted first white, and then black stripes over that. And the old man said “Now you can run off and I will call you zebras and you will not be donkeys anymore.” Soon enough, other donkeys saw these weird ass animals roaming around with black and white stuff on them but they weren’t doing any work and they became jealous. So they also went to this old man and created a huge line all wanting to become new, reformed, beautiful zebras that played and rolled in the grass. But they got super impatient and kicked over the freaking paint pots and like kicked and stirred about so there was no more paint and the old man couldn’t turn any more donkeys into zebras. That’s why today, there are BOTH donkeys and zebras on the earth, and this is also a really important lesson from the Ugandan people about PATIENCE AS A VIRTUE.”

When I asked her where she learned this story from, she told me she learned it from children’s book when she was younger, and she re-read it recently, which is why she remembers it pretty clearly.

This Ugandan myth not only tells the story of how zebras came to be, but also has a moral to be learned from it. One thing I found interesting about the story was that it taught patience as a virtue but did not seem to make a comment on the laziness of the zebras (or the donkeys for that matter). I can imagine that myths such as this one arose from people’s curiosity about the physical similarity between two species, in this case the donkey and zebra.