Märchen – Batswana


How the Elephant Learned Patience

“The Elephant, called Nelly, didn’t have a trunk, it had a normal nose.  He was very demanding because he was the biggest animal in the savannah of the Kalahari Desert.  He used his size to make people do what he wanted. He would tell the anteater to leave if he wanted to bask in the shade provided by the ant mount.  When he wanted to eat grass of off the greenest patch on the savannah, he told the zebras to leave; he threatened them with his size.  One day, he went to the watering hole and there was a crocodile basking in the only area which was available for drinking.  So, the elephant was scared because he knew the crocodile was dangerous.  At first, he just asked the crocodile to move and he said no. So the elephant got mad and stomped his feet, but the crocodile still chilled there. And then the elephant shouted and yelled at the crocodile; he wanted to be able to do what he wanted to do.  He went up closely to the crocodile and shouted.  The crocodile suddenly jumped up and bit the elephant’s nose and held on to his nose.  The elephant started freaking out and told the crocodile to leave him alone.  The elephant tried to pull away but the crocodile hung on.  Then they began a tug-of-war.  As they began to tug, the elephant’s nose started to grow and grow until it grew like 6 feet when suddenly the crocodile let go, leaving the elephant with a long trunk.  Every time the elephant sees the long trunk, it reminds him to be patient.”

Ruchira told me that he first heard this märchen when he was seven or eight years old.  He heard it from a village elder, Serowe, who was the chief of the village.  Ruchira said that there are several tales similar to “How the Elephant Learned Patience” regarding other common animals in Africa, such as there is a märchen that involves a moral lesson with why zebras have stripes.  Ruchira said that these types of märchen are common and often told to children.  These märchen teach children important qualities, such as the importance of having patience and not to be too demanding.

This märchen is similar to the tales for Aesop’s fables, using animals to teach children the importance of having certain personal qualities.  “How the Elephant Learned Patience” reminds me of the story of Pinocchio and how his nose was also elongated, however, not for not having patience, but for lying instead.  By making the physical consequence of having no patience being a permanent severely elongated nose, the märchen highly stresses the importance of patience because the audience would view a six foot long nose to be a highly undesirable characteristic to have.  “How the Elephant Learned Patience” reminds me of Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare”, where the arrogant hare learned an important lesson that slow and steady can win the race.  Just like the hare, who learned his lesson when he lost the race, the elephant learned a moral lesson through a misfortunate event.

“How the Elephant Learned Patience” may be more popular in Africa than in America because the elephant and the other animal characters are more common in Africa than the rest of the world.  Moreover, the tale is set in the savannah, a place that the African audience recognizes and is familiar with.