“The Lion, the Hare, and the Hyena” is a story from Kenya. The version I read in Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales was told to Phyllis Savory by Gwido Mariko and illustrated by Tamsin Hinrichsen.
A lion who lives alone in a cave has an injured leg and cannot hunt for good, but luckily for him a hare, Sunguru, who was passing by realized the lion need his help and stayed to take care of him. The lion gained strength and was soon well enough to catch food for them to eat.
One day a hyena smells the bones that are left from the two friends’ meal. The hyena, wanting the delicious bones tries to convince the lion that he had been truly concerned about the lion while he was injures. The lion, being fairly smart, doesn’t buy it and the hyena shuffles away. The hyena, though can’t forget about the bones, so he comes up with another plan.
“Nevertheless, what I have told you is true,” confided the hyena. “It is well known throughout the countryside that Sunguru is purposely giving you the wrong treatment for your wound to prevent your recovery. For when you are well, he will lose his position as your housekeeper – a very comfortable living for him, to be sure! Let me warn you, good friend, that Sunguru is not acting in your best interests.” (pg. 42)
Sunguru the hare, learning of the lies, thinks quickly and comes up with quite a clever plan, retaining the lion’s confidence and getting revenge on the hyena at the same time.
Hares feature prominently in several stories in the collection. In “Mmutla and Phiri,” a hare disposes of a rival medicine man, and in “The Hare’s Revenge” it’s a buffalo that wishes he hadn’t tried to take advantage of a hare.
The hare is not the biggest animal, nor is he the strongest. He’s not the scariest or the most talented, but he’s smart, clever and a quick thinker. Like in so many folktales and fairy tales told throughout the world, it’s cleverness or kindness that wins in the end. To be honest, though, I don’t think the hare was entirely unselfish when he started nursing the lion back to health. I think he knew what benefits being friends with a lion could provide and being known as a healer couldn’t hurt either.
It’s interesting that although settings change and characters vary, the lessons folktales tell are universal. We can find the same meanings in stories from cultures everywhere. I will say, though, that the folktales I read in this collection have were enchanting. I liked Mandela’s introduction:
“It is my wish that the voice of the storyteller will never die in Africa, that all the children in the world may experience the wonder of books and that they will never lose the capacity to enlarge their earthy dwelling place with the magic of stories.”
Just a comment, there’s aren’t many illustrations to the stories in this book, but they are still perfect to read aloud. Most of the fables are only two or tree pages long with the addition of one bright, colorful, full-page illustration.
Sorry I’m a day late, but Tif, from Tif Talks Books, is the hostess of this great feature, Fairy Tale Fridays. Head over there to see what she has to say and to share your own thoughts. Next week, we’ll be looking at an Indian fairy tale.
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Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales was first published in 2002.
I borrowed my copy from the library and the above is my honest opinion. I am an Amazon associate.