Buffaloes and Rabbits
‘Once upon a time,’ I began, ‘a long time ago, the
‘An old dinosaur as king,’ laughed Nawiti, ‘what a silly idea!’
‘Not in those days,’ I explained. ‘Those were the days when huge fat animals ruled all the smaller ones.’
‘Why?’ asked Nawiti.
‘This was in the days of the jungle, when might was right, and power went to the high and mighty, and smaller mortals had to do as they were told.’
‘Why?’ Nawiti persisted.
‘In those days, when a naughty little monkey asked her Mummy Why?, her Mummy would reply saying This is the way it has always been, or We have to support the government of the day, or We’re not supposed to ask questions like that!
‘My Mummy says it’s good to ask questions.’
‘But in the
,’ I said, ‘asking questions was seen as a threat to the power of Nyamasoya, and he could send his hyena to eat you.’ Kingdom of Mfuwe
‘But were these large animals in power because they were large,’ Nawiti wondered, ‘or were they large because they were in power?’
‘It’s hard to say,’ I admitted.
‘You’re a Grandpa!’ Nawiti scoffed. ‘You’re supposed to know these things!’
‘It’s not that simple,’ I tried to explain. ‘The large animals always claimed that they were in power because they were larger and stronger, with bigger brains.’
‘But did the small animals believe that?’
‘Their large powerful leaders had always told them so. Their mummies and daddies had always told them so. Their teachers and priests always told them so. It seemed like the natural order of things. The lords of the jungle were born to lord it over the smaller animals. Big animal superior, small animal inferior. This was the only commandment in the Jungle of Mfuwe.’
‘This story,’ said Nawiti, ‘is crying out for a hero.’
‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘And so it happened that along came a cobra called Cycle Mata.’
‘Who upset everything?’ suggested Nawiti.
‘Yes,’ I replied.
‘Oh good,’ she laughed, rubbing her little hands with glee.
‘He told the small animals that the dinosaur and the elephants and the hippos were all excessively large and fat because all the monkeys and rabbits and duikers have to pick the masuku fruit and take it to their leaders, who grew too fat because they were overfed.’
‘And all the animals were too small because they were starving?’
‘So Cycle Mata was really saying that the rich were stealing from the poor!’
‘Exactly. So Nyamasoya was furious, saying that stealing only happened when the poor took from the rich, but when the rich took from the poor it was called taxation.’
‘Then Cycle Mata said that taking all the masuku fruit was corruption. This caused Nyamasoya to get into a rage, saying the leaders were entitled to eat all the masuku, because they were larger and needed the extra energy to power their huge brains, and that there was no such thing as corruption in Mfuwe.’
‘What is corruption?’ asked Nawiti.
‘Corruption,’ I explained, ‘is when everything goes rotten.’
‘And was everything going rotten?’
‘The elephants and hippos had so much extra masuku that they were letting it go rotten, and making it into kachasu. While their subjects were starving, the leaders were over-fed, over-weight and completely drunk.’
‘Drunk with power?’ suggested Nawiti.
‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘That was what Cycle Mata said. But at first the obedient little animals didn’t believe him, for they had been brought up to respect their leaders, who always did their drinking in private.’
‘But then they saw one drunk?’
‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘One day, when Cycle Mata was holding a meeting, there was a great crashing and trumpeting, and out of the forest stumbled a great she-elephant, the dreaded Dolla Tujilijili. She staggered right into the meeting, insulted everybody, urinated all over the elders, and then fell down flat in a drunken stupor.’
‘That was when they really lost respect for their leaders?’
‘Exactly. That was when Cycle Mata led all his followers into the
, and established democracy.’ Land of Zed
‘What is democracy?’
‘It means that rich animals assist poor animals, and not the other way round. The large assist the small, the strong assist the weak, and so on. All animals are declared equal.’
‘So did all the small animals follow Cycle Mata to the
?’ Land of Zed
‘Only the rabbits ran away to join Nyamasoya, after they were offered larger rations of masuku.’
‘And did they get their extra rations?’
‘No. It was the hyenas who got the extra rations when they ate the rabbits.’
‘And did any big animals join Cycle Mata?’
‘Only the buffaloes,’ I said, ‘because they were promised leadership positions.’
‘And were they given?’ asked Nawiti.
‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘They were all given the job of pulling ploughs to till the land.’
‘Was that fair?’ she asked.
‘Of course,’ I replied. ‘In a democracy, leaders are servants of the people.’