Oral Literature: Why Goats Live with Man

The goat and his mother lived alone in their village. He said to her, “I have here a magic-medicine to make one strong in wrestling. There is no one who can overcome me, or cast me down; I can overcome any other animal.”

The other beasts heard of this boast; and they took up the challenge. First, house-rats, hundreds of them, came to the goat’s village, to wrestle with him. He overcame two hundred of them one by one. The rats, then, went back to their places, saying that they were not able to overcome the goat.

Then the forest-rats came to wrestle with the goat. He overcame them also in the same way. And they went back to their own place defeated.

Then the antelopes came to wrestle with the goat. He overcame all the antelopes, every one of them; not one was able to throw the goat to the ground. And they also went back to their places disappointed. Also, the elephant with all the elephants came on that same mission. The goat overcame all the elephants; and they, too, went back to their place defeated.

Thus, all the beasts came, in the same way, and were also overcome by the goat, and went bad surprised at the goat’s strength. But there still remained one beast, only one, the leopard. He had not made the attempt. He said he would go, as he was sure he could overcome. He came, but the goat overcame him also. It was proved, then, that not a single beast could withstand the goat. This made the goat think that he was king.

Then the father of all the leopards said: “I am ashamed that this beast should overcome me. I will kill him!” And he thought of a plan to do so. He went to the spring where mankind got their drinking water and stood, hiding at the spring. When men of the town went to the spring to get water the leopard killed two of them.

The people went to tell the goat, “Go away from here, for the leopard is killing mankind on your account.” The mother of the goat said to him, “If that is so, let us go to my brother, the antelope.” So, they both went to the uncle antelope.

When they came to his village, they told him their errand. He bravely said, “Remain here! Let me see the leopard come here with his boldness!”

They were then at the antelope’s village about two days. On the third day, about eight o’clock in the morning, the leopard came there as if for a walk. When the antelope saw him, the goat and his mother hid themselves; and the antelope asked the leopard, “What is your anger? Why are you angry with my nephew?”

At that very moment, while the antelope was speaking, the leopard seized him on the ear. The antelope cried out, “What are you killing me for?” The leopard replied, “Show me the place where the goat and his mother are.”

So, the antelope, being afraid, said, “Come tonight, and I will show you where they sleep. And you may kill them; but don’t kill me.” While he was saying this, the goat overheard, and said to his mother, “We must flee, lest the leopard kill us.”

At sundown, then, that evening, the goat and his mother fled to the village of the elephant. About midnight, the leopard came to the antelope’s village, as he had been told, and looked for the goat, but did not find him. The leopard went to all the houses of the village, and when he came to the antelope’s home, in his disappointment he killed him.

The leopard kept up his search and set out to find where the goat had gone. Following the footprints, he came to the village of the elephant. When he arrived there, the elephant demanded, “What’s the matter?”

And the same conversation followed, as at the antelope’s village, and with the same result. The elephant was killed by the leopard, for the goat and his mother had fled, and had gone to the village of the ox.

The leopard followed, and came to the village of the ox. There all the same things happened, as in the other villages. The goat and his mother fled, and the ox was killed by the leopard. Then the mother, wearying of flight and sorry that she had caused their friends to be killed, said, “My child! if we continue to flee to the villages of other beasts the leopard will follow, and will kill them. Let us flee to the homes of mankind.”

They fled again, then, and came to the town of man, and told him their story. He received them kindly. He took the goat and his mother as guests, and gave them a house to live in. Not long afterward the leopard came to the town of man looking for the goat.

But the man said to the leopard, “Those beasts whom you killed failed to find a way in which to kill you. But, if you come here, we will find a way.” So that night, then, the leopard went back to the village. The man then made a big trap for the leopard, with two rooms in it. He took the goat and put him in one room of the trap.

Night came. The leopard left his village, still going to seek the goat; and he came again to the town of man. The leopard stood still, listened, and sniffed the air. He smelled the odour of the goat, and was glad, and said, “So! this night I will get him!”

He saw an open way to a small house. He thought it was a door. He entered, and was caught in the trap. He could see the goat through the cracks of the wall, but could not get at him. The goat jeered at him, “My friend! you were about to kill me, but you are unable.”

Daybreak came. And people of man’s town found the leopard in the trap, caught fast. They took machetes and guns, and killed him.

Then man said to the goat, “You shall not go back to the forest; remain here always. Some friend or relative of the leopard may try to kill you.” This is the reason that goats like to live with mankind, through fear of leopards.

(Folktale from Zambia – Photo: C.C./ Tsaag Valren)