The Jackal and the Lion (an African folk-lore tale)

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Poet and community leader in Louisville, Kentucky, Cotter was raised in poverty with no formal education until the age of 22. He later became an educator and an advocate of black education. He is the ... [+]

The Jackal and the Lion were hunting in the jungle. "Brother Lion," said the Jackal, "the young elephant we seek is a good distance away. Well, it is not so far away either, but you see it will run around and around and in and out, and that will make the distance long. I see that you have a sore foot, and so long a journey might cost you your life. It would be a pity to lose your great head and pretty voice."

"It would, indeed," said the Lion. "I am glad to find someone who understands my worth."

"You see, Brother Lion," said the Jackal, "if I should get lost or killed the world would not miss me, but you, Brother Lion—you——!"

"Yes, Brother Jackal," broke in the Lion, "my place could not be filled; but do not take my greatness too seriously. You are worth a little, and that little should be saved."

"Brother Lion," continued the Jackal, "I would gladly give my whole self for your pleasure. You lie down here in the shade, keep cool and think great thoughts, while I take your spear and run down and kill the elephant that you have long desired to eat. When I have done so I will return and take you to it!"

"Very good," said the Lion. "You are kind and thoughtful. Take my spear and best wishes and be off. I can almost taste the feast now."

The Jackal took the spear, and in a short time had killed the elephant and covered the body with leaves. It then ran to another road, cut its finger and let the blood drip here and there for a great distance. Then it returned to the Lion and said: "Brother Lion, I almost lost my life in killing the elephant. Just go through yonder forest until you come to the straight road. By the elephant's blood you can trace it to the spot where it fell. As soon as I rest I'll be with you, I charge you now that to taste the meat before I come will mean death to you. This is a new law of the jungle."

The Lion went in search of the bloody path, and the Jackal returned to the elephant and began to eat. Now it happened that the Lion hurt his foot and, while binding it up, saw the Jackal eating and looking around.

When the Lion came up to the Jackal he said: "You little rascal, I have a notion to eat you for deceiving me."

"Be patient, Brother Lion; I am doing you a favor. Unless a Jackal eats of a young elephant first, its meat will kill a Lion. This is a new law of the jungle, and I am still in love with your great head and pretty voice. You remember I gave you a charge to this end."

"Yes," said the Lion, "I remember, and I thank you for saving my head and voice; but since you have tested the meat, what keeps me from eating my fill?"

"Just another new law of the jungle," said the Jackal. "This new law says that such meat must be put upon a high stone tower where the sun's rays may strike it. Then all may eat it unharmed."

"Oh, Brother Jackal," said the Lion, "how can I ever pay you for saving my head and voice?"

"In this way," replied the Jackal. "According to the law, my wife and children must be masons upon the wall, and you and yours must hand up the stones; and you see there are plenty of them about here. Of course, I remain on the ground to direct. I have told my wife and children, and they are coming. You go and bring yours."

"That suits me quite well," said the Lion. "I'll be back with mine in a short while."

When the Lion and his family had returned, the Jackal and his family had eaten half of the elephant and were dancing.

"You little rascal!" roared the Lion, "have you deceived me again?"

"Not a bit of it," replied the Jackal. "See that little bird lying dead there? That is the messenger of the new laws. By accident I killed it. The new law requires that the one who kills such a bird, and his family, must eat half the meat present as a punishment; and such a punishment as it has been! But for this new dance my wife invented we should all be dead. This means that you would be dead, too. The life of the Jackal in such a case goes into the bird. It becomes ten times as powerful as a Lion and kills everyone it meets. See?"

"I do," replied the Lion, "and thanks again for my head and voice. Let me remind you, Brother Jackal, that my wife and family are not likely to die at present from over-eating."

"Let me remind you, Brother Lion, that one more speech like that from you will put life into that bird, and you will never eat another dinner."

"Thanks, Brother Jackal, for your wisdom and kindness. Let's build the tower."

In a short time the tower was erected.

"How are we to get the meat up?" asked the Lion.

"Oh," said the Jackal, "my wife, who invented the dance, has invented a rope to pull the meat up with."

"I am glad to hear that, Brother Jackal," said the Lion, "for my wife, who is rather dull, may learn many things from yours."

"Brother Lion," said the Jackal, "when a Lion passes a compliment like that upon a Jackal's wife he had better roar it far and wide, or he will be counted a flatterer, and flattery puts life into that little bird."

The Lion roared the compliment until every beast in the jungle heard it. The Jackal's wife and children let down the rope and pulled the meat up.

"Brother Lion, there is one precaution we must take. That little bird lying there must never be allowed to come back to life, and there is but one way to do it."

"Brother Jackal, pray what is that?"

"Pick up that rock lying there by the bird. When my wife has pulled me to the top of the tower, throw it to me. If I catch it, the bird is dead forever. We will then pull you and your family up, and what a feasting there will be!"

"My dear Brother Jackal," roared the Lion, "you are all wisdom. Now you are up, and I am ready with the rock. Shall I throw it?"

"My dear Brother Lion," said the Jackal, "I am so high up I fear I shall not be able to catch it. There is one way to keep me from missing it. Put your wife right under my hands as I hold them out."

"She is there," called the Lion. "Now catch the rock." The Lion threw up the rock. The Jackal withdrew his hands, and it came back, striking the Lion's wife and almost killing her.

"You've killed Ma! you've killed Ma!" cried all the little Lions, and scampered off into the forest.

"That was a terrible mistake, Brother Lion," said the Jackal. "It was all your fault. You didn't ask me whether or not I was ready. That bird is coming to life! I feel it. Unless I can get you up here in five minutes it will be on wing and right after you. Now throw up the rock. That's right. I have it. Good for you. Here, wife, heat this rock and hand it back to me when I ask for it. You understand?"

"Yes, Mrs. Jackal," called the Lion, "hand your husband the rock when he asks for it, for that is indeed a precious rock."

The Jackal let down the rope, telling the Lion to tie it tightly around his body below the forearms. When this was done the Jackal began to pull the Lion up.

"Brother Lion," called the Jackal, "that little bird down there is moving."

"Sister Jackal," cried the Lion, "have you the rock?"

By this time the Jackal's wife was holding the rock with a pair of tongs, for it was very hot.

"That's right," shouted the Lion, "hold that rock carefully."

"That terrible bird!" mourned the Jackal.

"Ha, ha!" said the Jackal's wife, "I'll drop this hot rock into your mouth, and then how you'll kick and claw the air!"

She tried to drop the rock, but the tongs would not open. She then tried to drop both tongs and rock, but could not. The tongs soon began to burn her hands. In trying to throw them from her, she fell from the tower and killed herself.

The Jackal dropped the rope and so freed the Lion. The tower trembled and fell.

The little bird that the Jackal thought dead was the cause of the change. It was the spirit of the jungle and believed in fair play. It sang a sad song while the wife of the Jackal was being buried. It then sang joyously while the Lion and his wife and children, who had come back, ate the rest of the meat.

The Jackal was badly hurt and crippled by falling with the tower, yet he had to wait on the Lion and his family while they were feasting. And ever afterwards the Jackal was an outcast among animals, despised by all because of his evil and deceitful spirit.

This story was told to me by a native African who was lecturing in this country.
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