Oral Literature: Tug of War

Hare was angry with both the elephant and the hippopotamus, for they lived on the same island as he did and ordered him about in the most officious way. The trouble with living on a small island was that they could hardly help meeting each other, since there was not a great deal of room. So Hare decided to play a trick on the elephant and the hippo which would make them respect him.

First of all he went into the centre of the island, where there were large trees with thick creepers growing up their trunks and over their branches. Hare spent a whole morning twisting some of these creepers into a strong rope; then, laughing softly to himself, he sought out the . elephant. He found him on the eastern side of the island squirting water over his back and trumpeting with pleasure.

“Good afternoon Elephant – called Hare -. Which of us would you say is the stronger?’

The elephant laughed loudly and squirted Hare with water, knocking him flat on his back. “What a question to ask!’ – he said -. Of course I am stronger than you. Shall I prove it by trampling you to death?”  “Oh no! – Exclaimed Hare – But you could prove it by having a tug of war with me”.

The elephant laughed indulgently and said there was no doubt that he would soon win a tug of war.

“ Here is the rope – said Hare – Tie it round your leg while I go to the forest in the middle of the island. But do not pull until I give three sharp tugs. Then do your worst!”

Hare left the elephant tying the rope round his leg, and seizing the other end of the rope he dashed through the forest and came out on the other side of the island where the hippo lived. Sure enough, the hippo was lying at the edge of the water, sunning himself.

“Good afternoon Hippo  – shouted Hare from a safe distance -. Which of us would you say is the stronger?” The hippo opened his huge red mouth and yawned showing his strong white teeth. “What a question to ask! – he said -. Of course I am stronger than you. I could eat you in one mouthful. Shall I try?” “Oh no! – cried Hare – But you could prove it by having a tug of war with me.”

The hippo said it would be a waste of his energy since it was obvious that he could pull Hare into the water in no time at all. But at last Hare persuaded him to tie the end of the rope round his body, and the hippo promised not to begin pulling until Hare gave three tugs on the rope. Hare scampered off into the forest until he was well hidden from both animals, and then gave three sharp tugs to the middle of the rope.

How the elephant tugged and bellowed, while the hippo groaned and heaved! But as they were so equally matched, neither could move the other far. First of all, the hippo found himself being dragged out of the water a little way up the beach, so he pulled even more frantically until he got back to the water’s edge, when it was the elephant’s turn to be dragged from the sea.

They continued like this for some time, making more noise than had ever been heard on the island before. Hare, who could hear it all, was thoroughly enjoying himself, and the elephant and the hippo would have gone on with their tug of war for days, had not the wicked hare seized a knife and slashed through the middle of the rope.

Immediately tremendous roars of rage reached his ears and two loud splashes told Hare that his trick had been a success. But he kept out of the way of the elephant and the hippo for a long time afterwards, as you can well imagine. (Folktale from Tanziania)