One day, a long time ago when there was a famine in a certain part of Africa, Hare met Hyena. “How thin you are looking,” said Hare. “You look as though you would not say No to a good meal either,’ replied Hyena.
The two animals continued on the road together until they came to a farmer, who was grumbling because all his servants had left him. “We work for you if you will feed us,” suggested Hare. The fanner willingly agreed, and, giving the two animals a pot of beans to cook, showed them the part of his farm where they must weed.
First of all they made a fire, and fetching three large stones, they rested the pot on them to cook their meal while they set to work. When the sun was high in the sky and it was time for the mid-day rest, Hyena told Hare to keep an eye on the cooking-pot while he himself went down to the river to wash.
Hare sat by the pot, stirring it with a stick and longing to begin his meal, while Hyena, as soon as he was out of sight of Hare, stripped off his skin. He looked the most horrible spectacle, and ran back to Hare uttering strange cries. Poor Hare was terrified.
“Help! Help! – he squealed, as he ran for his fife -. Never have I seen such a terrible creature! It must be a very bad juju.”
Hyena quickly sat down and ate all the food, which was scarcely enough for one in any case, and then he went back to the river, found his skin and put it on again. He strolled slowly up the bank to the place where the cooking-pot stood, and found Hare returning cautiously. “Oh, Hyena! – Gasped Hare -. ‘Did you see it too? “See what?” asked the deceitful animal.
“That terrible demon,” explained Hare. “I saw nothing. But come, let us eat now,” said Hyena calmly, as he walked towards the cooking-pot and looked inside it. “Where is it? Where is my food? What has happened to it?” cried Hyena, pretending to be in a fine rage. Hare looked at the empty pot.
“It was that horrible demon – he explained – . It frightened me away so that it could eat our food.” “Rubbish! You ate it yourself while I was washing at the river,” shouted Hyena, and no amount of protestations by poor Hare had any effect.
“Well, – said Hare – . I know what I shall do. I shall make a fine bow and arrow and if the creature comes again I shall shoot it.”
The next day the farmer again gave them a pot of beans, but instead of working while it cooked, Hare took a supple branch and began to make himself a bow. The cunning hyena watched him as he shaped the wood with his knife, and when it was almost finished, he said: “Give me your bow, Hare. My father taught me a special way of cutting bows to make them better than any others. I’ll finish that for you.”
The unsuspecting Hare gave up his bow and knife and Hyena began cutting it in a special way, making it so weak in one place that it was bound to break as soon as it was used.
“There you are! Keep this beside you while I go and wash, in case that creature comes again,” said Hyena, as he bounded off to the river, to remove his skin once more.
Hare, waiting beside the pot of food, was just considering whether he could take a mouthful, so great was his hunger, when once again the most repulsive-looking animal he had ever seen bounded towards him. Seizing his bow, he put an arrow in it and pulled. Snap! It broke in his hands, and as the horrible creature came closer and closer, Hare fled.
So, of course, Hyena had all the food once more, and then went back to the river and put on his skin. He returned to accuse Hare of stealing the beans. Hare denied having even a taste of food, but looking closely at Hyena he thought he saw a little piece of bean stuck in his teeth as he spoke. “Ah! – said Hare to himself -. If that’s the way it is, I shall be ready for you tomorrow, my friend.”
That night while Hyena was sleeping, Hare made another bow. It was a good strong bow with no weak spots at all, and had three sharp arrows to go with it. Then the hare, feeling ravenous by now, crept to the spot where they cooked their food, hid the bow and arrows in some nearby long grass and, returning to find Hyena still asleep, he lay down close by him.
The next day, everything happened as Hare had expected. The two animals worked hard all the morning while the cooking-pot boiled nearby, and at mid-day Hyena went to the river to wash. Hare waited, his new bow in his hand. Presently the loathsome-looking creature came towards him. Hare raised his bow and shot. Straight into the creature’s heart went the arrow and Hyena fell dead on the ground. Hare bent over the body and was not surprised when he saw it really was Hyena.
“Oh well – he remarked, as he ate the first good meal he had had for days, -, my mother always told me that greed did not pay, and now I know she was right.”
(Folktale from Central Africa)