Today I have another story retold by Elphinstone Dayrell in Folk Stories from Southern Nigeria, 1910. “The Affair of the Hippopotamus and the Tortoise” tells why the hippopotamus is always in the water. I found the story at worldoftales.com.

Many years ago the hippopotamus, whose name was Isantim, was one of the biggest kings on the land; he was second only to the elephant. The hippo had seven large fat wives, of whom he was very fond. Now and then he used to give big feasts for everyone, but a curious thing was that, although everyone knew the hippo, no one, except his seven wives, knew his name.

At one of the feasts, just as they were about to sit down, the hippo said, “You have come to feed at my table, but none of you know my name. If you cannot tell my name, you shall all of you go away without your dinner.”

As they could not guess his name, they had to go away and leave all the good food behind. But before they left, the tortoise stood up and asked the hippopotamus what he would do if he told him his name at the next feast. So the hippo replied that he would be so ashamed of himself, that he and his whole family would leave the land, and for the future would dwell in the water.

Now it was the custom for the hippo and his seven wives to go down every morning and evening to the river to wash and have a drink, which the tortoise knew. The hippo used to walk first, and the seven wives followed. One day when they had gone down to the river to bathe, the tortoise made a small hole in the middle of the path, and then waited. When the hippo and his wives returned, two of the wives were some distance behind, so the tortoise came out from where he had been hiding, and half buried himself in the hole he had dug, leaving the greater part of his shell exposed. When the two hippo wives came along, the first one knocked her foot against the tortoise’s shell, and immediately called out to her husband, “Oh! Isantim, my husband, I have hurt my foot.” At this the tortoise was very glad, and went joyfully home, as he had found out the hippo’s name.

When the next feast was given by the hippo, he made the same condition about his name; so the tortoise got up and said, “You promise you will not kill me if I tell you your name?” and the hippo promised. The tortoise then shouted as loud as he was able, “Your name is Isantim,” at which a cheer went up from all the people, and then they sat down to their dinner.

When the feast was over, the hippo, with his seven wives, in accordance with his promise, went down to the river, and they have always lived in the water from that day till now; and although they come on shore to feed at night, you never find a hippo on the land in the daytime.

The thing I don’t understand is why the hippo wouldn’t let them eat if they didn’t know his name, but at the same time didn’t seem to want them to know it. Seems silly. The hippo brought the whole thing on himself.

Some hippo facts:

Hippos are the third largest living land mammals, after elephants and white rhinos. The average female weighs around 3,000 lbs. while males weigh 3,500 to 9,920 lbs.

A hippo eats about 80 lbs. of grass each night. They travel up to 6 miles in a night to get their fill. They also eat fruit that they find.

Hippos are very aggressive creatures and are very dangerous. They have large teeth and tusks that they use for fighting off others that they see as threats, including humans.

Though hippos move quite quickly through the water, they can’t swim. They move through the water by pushing themselves off other objects.

The word “hippopotamus” comes from the Greek word for “water horse” or “river horse.” However, hippos and horses are not closely related. The closest living relatives to hippos are pigs, whales and dolphins, according to the San Diego Zoo.

A hippo must stay moist, because if its skin dries out, it will crack. Its skin also secretes a red fluid that is thought to be an antibiotic, sunscreen and skin moisturizer.

Hippos can stay underwater for up to 5 minutes without coming up for air. When they sleep in the water, their bodies automatically bob up to the top of the water so that they can take a breath, and then they sink back to the bottom.

Hippos are fast for their size. They can run up to 14 mph.

Hippos are very loud animals. Their snorts, grumbles and wheezes have been measured at 115 decibels. Hippos also use subsonic vocalizations to communicate.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.

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