Why the Warthog Goes About on His Knees (A Traditional Zulu Story)
"Oh, Gogo," little Sipho asked one evening, "could you tell us the story of clever Jackal again?" Sipho, whose nickname was Mpungushe "jackal," never tired of hearing tales of his beloved namesake.
"Hawu, Sipho," moaned several of his siblings, "Not again, little Jackal! You will wear out our ears with stories of Mpungushe!"
Gogo laughed her deep, round laugh. Soon each of her grandchildren were laughing along with her.
"I, too, love the stories of the Jackal!" Gogo looked at Sipho. "But we do not want to cause your brothers and sisters to become deaf. I think there is another tale that I can tell you of an animal who tried to be as clever as Jackal!"
Kwasuka sukela . . .
Wart hog had made himself a lovely, spacious home in an old termite mound that an aardvark* had cleared out. He had built it up and made a wide entrance. He thought it was the most magnificant home in Africa and would often stand at the entrance of his dwelling with his snout in the air as the giraffe, wildebeest** and zebra passed to the watering hole. "Hah," he thought to himself, "no one has such a fine home!"
One day as he looked out from the entrance of his cave he was horrified to see a huge lion stealthily stalking toward him. He started to back away, but because he had made the entrance to his place so grand, the lion would have no difficulty in following Wart Hog right in. "Ahhhh," panicked Wart Hog, "Bhubesi will eat me in my own lounge! What will I do?"
Wart Hog decided to use an old trick he'd heard Jackal bragging about. Wart Hog pretended to be supporting the roof of his hole with his strong back, pushing up with his tusks. "Help!" he cried to the lion, "I am going to be crushed! The roof is caving in! Flee, oh, mighty Bhubesi, before you are crushed along with me!"
Now Lion is no fool. He recognized Jackal's old ploy straight away ("Do you remember that story, children?"), and he wasn't going to be caught out again. He roared so fiercely that Wart hog dropped to his knees, trembling. Wart hog begged for mercy. Luckily for him Lion was not too hungry. So he pardoned the wart hog and left, saying, "Stay on your kness, you foolish beast!"
Lion laughed to himself and shook his shaggy head as he walked away. Imagine, slow-witted Wart hog trying to copy Jackal's trick! Wart hog took Lion's order to heart. That is why, to this day, you will see Wart hog feeding on his knees, in a very undignified position, with his bottom up in the air and his snout snuffling in the dust.
*"aardvark" comes from Afrikaans and literally means "earth pig." It is a South African eutherian mammal which is nocturnal and feeds mainly on termites.
** "wildebeest" is a South African antelope that has a large ox-like head. It is often also referred to as a "gnu" because its call sounds like "gnu...gnu...gnu."