Oral Literature: Spider’s Web

The animals were lonely. They stood in the forest talking to one another, wondering how they could each get a wife to keep them company and to cook their food for them.

When Hare joined the group, he was soon able to tell them what to do. “I have heard that there are plenty of wives up in the sky, beyond the clouds, he said. “But how shall we get there?” they asked.
“I will spin a strong web and fasten it on to a cloud -, said Spider -, and then you will be able to climb up it, and find wives.”

So Spider began to spin, and very soon he was lost to sight high above them all with only the ladder of silver thread to show them the way he had gone. Presently Hare declared that all was ready and, leading the way, he began to climb up into the sky followed by all the other animals.

How the silken thread trembled as the elephant, the buffalo, the lion, and the monkey climbed higher and higher, while Hare turned back from time to time, urging them onwards. At last they reached the country above the clouds and began to bargain for wives with the people there, Hare had been quite right when he said there were plenty of wives to be had, and soon most of the animals had chosen a wife and paid the agreed dowry.

Not so Hare. He chose his wife and made some excuse to her mother so that he did not pay the price immediately. Then he crept round the back of his future mother-in-law’s hut, to see what he could find to eat. There was a large pile of beniseed, and Hare made a most satisfying meal of it while everyone else was busy talking about their new wives. Even Hare was surprised a little later, to see how small the beniseed heap had become, and felt somewhat apprehensive as to what the owner would say when she found out.

Of course, he soon thought of a way to get himself out of trouble, and taking a handful of beniseed he ambled across to where the animals were still busy talking and rubbed some seeds on to Spider, pretending to brush off some dust.

He was only just in time as the next moment a woman came stamping up to the group of animals, shouting angrily: “Who has been stealing my beniseed? It’s always the same. When you folk come up from the earth something always gets stolen. Now, who did it this time?”

Of course, all the animals protested and said they were innocent, which indeed they were. Then the cunning Hare stood up and went towards his mother-in-law, putting on a kind, patient voice and saying: “There is only one way of finding out who stole your beniseed. Let us search every animal and look for signs of seeds or leaves which are bound to have clung to the fur of the thief.”

The woman agreed and together she and Hare began to search the animals, none of whom objected since they knew they had stolen nothing. Suddenly Hare gave a cry. Oh nor he exclaimed: “Not you, Spider! How could you have done such a thing?”

“What are you talking about?” asked Spider, as the other animals crowded round him, and the woman seized him to have a closer look.

“Yes -, she said angrily – . You have some beniseed clinging to your body. You must be the thief! Don’t try to deny it.” The other animals were angry too, telling Spider what a stupid thing he had done to steal from Hare’s mother-in-law, and they would not listen when he swore he had done no such thing.

At last he managed to get away from them all, and calling out in disgust: “I got you up here, but you can get yourselves down again”.  He began his descent to earth, rolling up his web as he went.

Now the animals were in a fix, for their ladder had gone, and it was a very long way down to earth. They shouted to Spider and begged him to come back and spin another web for them, but he would not answer and at last they lost sight of him among the far-distant trees of the earth.

“Now what shall we do?” they asked one another, for they had no desire to stay in the clouds for the rest of their lives. “I’m going to jump”, said the monkey, suiting the action to the words, and with a mighty leap he dropped like a stone towards the earth.

“So am I”, exclaimed the antelope, and he gave a bound after the monkey, and was followed by a number of other animals, all encouraged by Hare.

“That’s right! That’s splendid!”, he kept saying, as animal after animal jumped from the clouds. But he did not tell them that they were jumping to their deaths, and as each one hit the ground he was killed outright.

All except Hare, of course. He stood back and waited beside the elephant, telling that large and cumbersome creature to wait until last in case he fell on one of his smaller brothers. Eventually, when all the animals had gone, Hare told the elephant it was safe for him to jump too.

“I’ll come with you”, said Hare, leaping on to the elephant’s head and clinging tightly as they sped through the air. The poor elephant landed with such a crash that he was killed at once, but his huge body saved Hare from striking the ground and he was not injured at all. So the cunning animal ran off into the bush to look for Spider and to try to make friends with him again, simply because he hoped for Spider’s help at some other time.

But since that day nobody has ever been able to climb up into the sky, and those who have heard this story have no wish to try. (Folktale from Zambia)