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Home :  African Legends :  The cleverness of the squirrel

The cleverness of the squirrel

Bura Folktales Legend (Nigeria)

ONE year there was a great famine. When the next planting season came round, the elephant and the wart hog and the hyena and the squirrel held a council., They decided to plant a very large farm so as to make sure that they would have enough to eat.

The elephant said, "I will break down the trees and shrubs." The wart hog said, "I will plow the ground." The squirrel said, "I will get the seed." The hyena said, "I will do the planting and the hoeing." And they all went away happy.

Soon the elephant was busy breaking down and pulling up trees. The wart hog set to work after him to plow the ground. The squirrel was off for seed. A woman was buying guinea-corn and beans and peanuts in the market. The squirrel decided to keep his eye on her. When she started home, he ran ahead and pretended to be dead in the road ahead. The woman said, "Here is a squirrel. God has given it to me, so I will take it," and she put the squirrel on top of her load. When she put her load down to get some leaves for soup, the squirrel made off with all of the guineacorn, beans and peanuts. When she came back and saw that all of her food was gone, she looked everywhere but she could find nothing but squirrel tracks, and the tracks were soon lost on a great rock. Finally, the woman went on home, crying.

The squirrel brought the seeds to the hyena, who set to work to plant them. Soon everything was up. All through the summer the hyena tended the farm with care. When fall came, all came to help gather in the crops. They dug the peanuts and picked the beans and cut the guinea-corn and put them in three granaries. The peanut granary, the guinea-corn granary and the bean granary were each separate.

All were happy as they closed the large granaries of provisions. The squirrel suggested that he had a word to say, if they wanted to hear it. "Let us hear what it is," they said. "I think that it would be best for us not to eat any of this food now. This is the time of year when food is easy to get in the woods. If each of us goes off now and gets his own food, then when food is hard to find we can come and eat this. When the first thunder is heard let us return here, for then food will be more difficult to find." They all agreed that this was wise, and each chose the direction in which he wanted to go. The elephant went north, the wart hog east, the hyena south, and the squirrel west.
The squirrel, however, did not go far. He hid himself in a large deserted ant-hill. When he was sure the others were well away, he began to take the beans and the guinea-corn and the peanuts out of the granaries and put them in his ant-hill home. When he had taken all of the peanuts out of the peanut granary, he put hog manure in it. In the bean granary he put hyena manure, and in the guinea-corn granary he put elephant manure.

After some months, the thunder came and all hurried back to their granaries. As they reached the place where they had left their crops, they were panting and dripping wet with sweat. The squirrel fell into a water hole on the way, and when they saw him, they said, "My! you must have come very far to be so wet with sweat."

The elephant asked the wart hog to get out some peanuts for them. But when the wart hog opened the granary, there were no peanuts left, only hog manure in the bottom of the granary. He did not know what to do or say, for there was his manure where the peanuts had been. Then the elephant said, "Hyena, get us some beans." When the hyena opened the bean granary, there were no beans left, only hyena manure in the bottom of the granary. The elephant became angry and tore open the guinea-corn granary. But, to his dismay, it was half full of his own manure.

Immediately the squirrel was suspected, but no one mentioned his name lest he flee and escape. The elephant turned to the hyena and said, "You are the fellow that did this." While the hog pretended to be catching the hyena, who denied knowing anything about the loss, the elephant caught the squirrel. "I know your cleverness. You are the fellow that did this dirty work," trumpeted the elephant in rage.

Off the three went to roast the rascal. The squirrel said nothing until they came to the shade of a big tree under which they planned to roast him. "If you are going to roast me," said the squirrel, "wait a minute until I can climb this tree and get you some wood." Hardly had the squirrel climbed the tree when a shrill whistle was heard. The squirrel had quickly cut a whistle from a branch and was blowing it with all his might. The elephant whispered to his friends, "Be still and listen." The squirrel promptly gave another loud blast. "What is that?" urged the elephant. "The chief's men are on a hunt," said the squirrel. "They want a hyena skin and the tusks of an elephant and a wild hog." "Let's run," said the uneasy elephant. With one bound the squirrel landed safely in the ear of the elephant and they were off. They ran and ran. Finally, the great elephant became very weary and, with a big sigh, said, "I'm tired." "Even 1, who have been riding here in your ear, am very tired, let alone you who have been running for both of us squeaked the squirrel. "But this is no place to rest," said the elephant. So off they went again.

Before they had gone far, the elephant fell dead with a clash. The squirrel crawled spryly out of the dead elephant's ear and started for the village to get men to come and skin the elephant. On the way, the squirrel saw a dead pigeon. The pigeon's head was cut off and placed on a stump, and the squirrel hastened on his way. Under the shadow of a tree near the road, the squirrel saw a hyena weaving a grass mat. "Cousin, may I take a nap on your mat, please?" said the squirrel, as he stretched his tired self and went to sleep. When he got awake, he jumped up excited and said, "I have just had a dream. I dreamed that I found the head of a pigeon on a stump. But you, cousin, I dreamed that you found something big." The hyena said, "Are you sure? Lie down and sleep and dream for us."

The squirrel slept and dreamed the same dream over again. They were soon up and off. Before they had gone far, the squirrel squeaked, "There is my pigeon head, just as I dreamed." "Why, cousin," said the hyena, "you are straight." The pigeon was divided and quickly eaten so that they could get on. A little way ahead, the hyena saw the dead body of the elephant and, with a yelp, leaped onto it and said, "Cousin, I have found something big indeed." They both set to skinning as fast as they could. They had hardly started when they heard footsteps and voices. To their dismay, the mother's two baby elephants were following her tracks. Even baby elephants were not to be played with, so the squirrel and the hyena needed to find a place to hide quick. The squirrel said, "I will go into the stomach of this carcass." But the hyena said, "Are your hips larger than mine? I am going into the stomach." In a moment the hyena was safely inside the stomach and the squirrel inside the bladder. All was as quiet as death.

Up came the young elephants and, with a great trumpet, they began to mourn. After a few minutes of counsel, they decided to carry the corpse home. They cut out the bladder, not knowing that the squirrel was inside it, and threw it into the grass. Immediately the squirrel began to cut thatching grass, and cried out, "Oh! who poured water on me?" The sad baby elephants looked up and said, "We are sorry, friend. We did not know that you were in there." Then the squirrel came nearer the corpse and said, "What has happened to my aunt?" "We don't know," moaned the elephants. "If you will get me some guinea-corn and some water," said the squirrel, "I can tell you what has killed her." Guinea-corn and water were brought, and the guinea-corn was put into the water and stirred about. After having watched it carefully for several minutes, the squirrel said, "The thing that killed your mother is in her stomach. Get large clubs and beat her stomach."

Clubs were brought and the shouting and beating began. The hyena cried out, "I did not kill her alone; it was the squirrel and I." But the squirrel kept up the crying and shouting, "Beat! beat! shut that mouth! " until the hyena was dead. When the voice was still, the children picked up the mother's body and started off. The squirrel politely suggested that if they wanted him to, he would bury his aunt's head at his house. But he really wanted to cook it and eat it. The head was left to the squirrel, and he took it home. As soon as he arrived home, he put the head in a great stone boiling pot and put it on the fire.

As the squirrel left for the crying at the home of the elephants, he told the children to watch the fire. "If the fire goes out, come and tell me, 'The grass is finished before the horse,' " he said. Then be was off to the crying. After a little, the fire went out, and the squirrel's son went and told him, "The grass is finished before the horse." Mr. Squirrel left the crying and went home to build more fire under the pot. Then he returned to the crying. When the elephant's head was well done, the son of the squirrel hurried to the crying place and said to his father in great glee, "The head of your aunt is well boiled," The young elephants heard, and quickly asked,"What? are you boiling our mother's head? Catch him!" And after him they went.

Down the road, another squirrel was busy weaving cloth. "Run," shouted the fleeing squirrel, and the squirrel who had been quietly weaving a moment before was now bounding down the road with the elephants after him. The rogue squirrel had slipped into the weaving stand and was passed without a suspicion. The foolish squirrel was caught by the elephants and the clever squirrel went free.


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