In South Africa you will find the historic ethnic culture called Xhosa. These people have very strong oral lore traditions, and for centuries they have passed down spoken tales of myth and folklore.
These folktales, or ‘intsomi’, are often told in exciting and imaginative ways, and more often than not involve animals. One animal which takes the stage on a number of occasions - often as the villain - is the hare. This particular hare raising story involves a pot of fat, and a crafty wolf-like creature known as the Inkalimeva.
Once upon a time the animals got together and hid a large pot of fat. The rock rabbit was appointed to guard the treasured pot, and the other animals left.
Now, the rock rabbit, or dassie, was notorious for being lazy, and by the time the Inkalimeva came sniffing along the trusted guard was asleep on the job. The Inkalimeva simply crept over and gobbled down the whole pot. On discovering this, the other animals were unforgiving and killed the poor lazy dassie.
The skunk was given the onerous task of guarding the next pot of fat. He was known for having a very sweet tooth, and knowing this the Inkalimeva turned up again, but this time he brought with him his own pot… of honey! And so whilst the skunk was doing his best impression of Winnie-the-Pooh, the Inkalimeva had his own head in a pot of fat. Once again the animals were furious, and the poor skunk was sentenced to death.
Three more animals, the duiker, the porcupine, and the blue buck fell victim to the crafty nature of the Inkalimeva, and with the animals running low on ideas - and guards - they turned to the hare. The hare viewed the appointment as a death sentence, and the animals had to promise that they would not kill him if he failed.
Recognising the hare to be a canny critter, the Inkalimeva set out to make friends with the hare so he would eventually drop his guard, and the two of them were soon messing around like the best of companions.
The hare boasted that he could escape from having his tail tied to anything, and the Inkalimeva, being very competitive, was soon singing praise of his own tail escaping skills. It wasn’t long until the hare was tying the Inkalimeva’s tail to a tree, and once the fat thief was stuck fast, the hare bashed him over the head with a club.
The story takes an even darker turn when the hare eats the Inkalimeva’s tail. Despite the hare saving the pot, this angers the chief of the animals, who wanted the tail for himself, and the hare has to flee. The hare then goes on a rampage, which involves killing an antelope by conjuring a deadly hail storm, and massacring a group of monkeys with weapons he’s fashioned on the forrest floor.
You may find it hard to pin-point a meaningful message to this story, but I guess the main thing I’ve learnt is that on no account!! do you mess with the hare!
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With the exception of artists, inventors, and teenagers - we humans are diurnal daytime creatures on the whole, and although it’s one thing to be out and about during the night in a street lit urban environment, it’s a very different scenario if you find yourself in, say… oh, I don’t know, a forest per se. Where, if you’re lucky, you may hear the unmistakable cry or hoot of an Owl: natures very own nocturne, a stark reminder of the unknown peril of night, and a creature that has featured heavily in myth and folklore throughout the ages.