Oral Literature: The Hippo and the Elephant

Once upon a time it so happened that there was a Hippopotamus and an Elephant living in the same ancient forest, in the same ancient land which had been called home by all manner of bird and beast since a time beyond counting.

Although they came from different families, the Hippo and the Elephant were true friends, having known one another for as long as they or anyone else could remember. In the manner of all good friends, they played together, they joked together, they teased one another and they supported one another. But in the way of all creatures, there were days when they engaged in bouts of rivalry, in trials of strength and it is upon such a day as this that we join our two friends, the Hippopotamus and the Elephant.

“Have you any idea of just how strong I am?” Hippo asked Elephant, proudly flexing his muscles. “I’ve never noticed any more muscles on you than on anyone else. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that you look overweight rather than strong,” replied Elephant, beginning to relish the argument.

“Are you calling me obese? Seeing as you mention it, I think you should go and have your weight checked. I’ll ignore your rudeness and get back to my original question. Do you understand just how strong I am?  Asked Hippo, struggling to control his anger. “So it’s a tug of war you want then,” replied Elephant very confidently.

“Good idea. The first one to pull the other into the river is the winner,” asserted Hippo, equally if not more confident. “Fine! Let’s go then. β€œ

They set off at a good pace, eager to show their prowess. Bragging to all they passed on the way, each gathered a band of supporters willing to cheer their chosen hero and boo his opponent. Half an hour’s steady trot brought them all to the river bank where they prepared for the great trial of strength. Hippo attempted a few unconvincing press-ups while Elephant chose head and leg stretching, again rather unconvincingly.

Urged on by their impatient and rowdy supporters, the two protagonists squared up to one another, locked limbs and started to pull with all their might. First Elephant was pulled into the water and then Hippo was dragged in and so it continued, backwards and forwards.

The cheers and boos got louder and louder as more and more creatures joined the crowd, eager to enjoy the spectacle. The contest drew to a climax as Elephant, of to his chest in water but not down, summoned up a last almighty display of strength and pulled himself back onto the land where he did a quick half turn and catapulted himself backwards into the river. Back, back, back, he went, dragging his rival after him at such speed that poor Hippo, taken completely off his guard lost his footing and disappeared under the water.

His fickle supporters quickly deserted him and joined in with the cheering for the victorious Elephant who began his triumphal song: β€œIt’s me the Elephant, it’s me the Elephant. You’ll never pull me in, you’ll never pull me in. It’s me the Elephant, it’s me the Elephant. You’ll never ever see me living in the water. It’s me the Elephant, it’s me the Elephant. You’re not as strong as me, you’re not as strong as me. It’s me the Elephant, it’s me the Elephant. You’ll never pull me in, you’ll never pull me in.”

Meanwhile, poor Hippo, the once-proud Hippo, eventually regained his footing but not his pride as, hoping to make his escape unnoticed, he tried to leave the water further downstream, away from the crowd. But his horror was when he discovered that the rope had become wound round his body and had snapped under his own weight, under the very weight he had refused to recognise.

Full of shame, Hippo remained concealed in the river and that is where you will probably find him still, safer and more at ease in the water than on dry land. As for the rest of the rope, it remained with Elephant who decided to wear it as a badge of honour. Where? Well, where do you think the Elephant’s magnificent tusks come from? (Folktale from Ghana)