long ago, when the world was new, the Great Mother made all the plants and
animals out of the clay outside her door, and breathed on them so they came to
life, and threw them out on the veldt so that they could run and play around.
Time passed, and the Great Mother saw that
the animals were all alike, so that she could not tell them apart.
“Suppose one of them needs something, or
causes an injury to another,” she thought to herself. “How can I ever identify
which is which?” So she thought that she must give them different looks and
abilities so that she could distinguish between them.
So, one day, she called them all together
to the gate of her kraal, so that she might give them abilities which would
suit them and which they wanted. From all over the veldt, they came in a crowd
to the gates of her kraal, and she called them one by one and asked them to
choose what they wanted. To the lion, she gave majesty and courage, to the
giraffe height, to the elephant wisdom, to the buffalo valour and bad temper,
to the gazelle grace and agility, and so on.
The tortoise was late, because he was lazy and did not want to leave his
home in the river bank, so she gave him a home which he had to carry about with
him at all times.
And so, little by little, all the animals
had new forms and abilities. When they hopped, ran, flew or stampeded away from
the kraal, the Great Mother saw they were now different, and could easily be
told apart, and she was content.
Now one of the animals was Rhino, who at
that time did not look at all like what he is like now. No, back then, Rhino
was one of the most handsome-looking animals in the veldt. He was slim-bodied,
slender-limbed, and had long soft fur which shone like gold in the sun. He was,
in fact, quite the best-looking of all the animals, without exception, and this
was because he had stood first in line at the kraal and had had his pick of all
that was on offer.
This aroused the jealousy of some of the
other animals. Hyena was sly and vicious by nature, and she had been consumed
by a violent hatred of Rhino ever since she had first seen him gliding smoothly
over the veldt while she could only gallop along clumsily, with her high
shoulders and sloping back. She decided that she must harm him somehow, in
whatever way she could. But she also realised that she could not do it alone,
because everyone knew how sly she was and nobody believed anything she said.
So one day she went to visit Baboon. He had
seen her coming from a distance and taken the precaution of climbing on to a
thorny acacia tree, where she could not reach him. But Hyena had no intention
of hunting Baboon, at least not on this occasion.
“Baboon, my brother,” she said in her
sweetest tones, “don’t worry, I’m not here to harm you. I want your help
against Rhino, whom I hate because he is favoured by the Great Mother for no
other reason than he was first in line. I, on the other hand, must fight for my
meals and live off scavenging if the hunting is poor.”
“I agree entirely,” said Baboon, who had
his own grievances against Rhino, as Hyena well knew. “Everyone praises his
slender limbs and golden fur, but they laugh at my doglike face and my red
“So shall we ally together and bring about
Rhino’s downfall?” Hyena asked.
“We shall,” Baboon agreed, and although he
was careful not to come down from the tree, he and Hyena talked far into the afternoon.
Then Hyena went to Warthog, who, because he
was as ugly as cracked mud, had just as much reason to hate Rhino, and she
talked to him too. Warthog agreed to help, just as Hyena had anticipated. Then
she went back to her den, satisfied.
The next day, Hyena came to where Rhino was
drinking at the waterhole.
“Oh, how beautiful you are, Rhino,” she
gushed. “I just have to look at you to admire every line of your body.”
Rhino looked at her with surprise, because
he had never heard her saying anything good about anyone before. “Thank you for
your kind words, Sister Hyena,” he said warily.
“Have you thought about taking a wife,
Rhino?” Hyena asked. “With your wonderful good looks, you shouldn’t be alone.
The Great Mother would want you to have a family.”
“Well,” Rhino said shyly, “I have
sometimes, but I really wouldn’t know what to say to a female, you know.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Hyena said. “With
your wonderful golden fur, and those lovely slender limbs of yours, you won’t
have a problem. As soon as they see you, the females will fall head over tail
in love.” She paused a moment to let Rhino preen at his reflection in the water.
Rhino looked at her. “What?”
Hyena hesitated. “I just had a thought. No,
it’s probably nothing. Just let it go.”
“What is it?” Rhino demanded. “Tell me.”
“It’s just that I wondered what your
prospective in-laws would say. After
all,” she licked her fur delicately, “they’ll want a son-in-law who can feed
and take care of their daughter well, and the grandchildren too, of course. Isn’t
“So?” Rhino bristled indignantly. “Do you mean
to say I can’t feed and take care of them?”
“No, no, Brother Rhino,” Hyena hastily
assured him. “I don’t mean anything of the sort. I merely meant that they’ll
look at that slender frame of yours, and think that you’re all skin and bones.
Obviously, they’ll say, you don’t get enough to eat. So they’ll refuse to give
their daughter in marriage to you. That’s what I was thinking. But then I’m just
a silly hyena, and I don’t really know anything of these matters.” Bowing low,
she turned away. “It was great talking to you, Brother Rhino,” she said over
Rhino looked at her retreating back, and
told himself that she was right when she said she was only a stupid hyena who
knew nothing of these matters. Still, as he went about his daily business, the
thought came more and more to dwell on his mind. He would look at the birds on
the trees with their families of chirping fledglings, and the meerkats with
their babies sitting beside them, and he would think that he really should get
himself a wife. But as soon as he thought that, he would remember the hyena’s
words, and he would begin to wonder just what the in-laws would say. By the time he met Warthog, who was sitting half out of
his burrow enjoying the sunshine, he could think of nothing else.
“What’s the problem, neighbour?” Warthog
asked. “You look worried.”
“It’s nothing,” Rhino assured him. “I was
just thinking of starting a family.”
“Good, good,” Warthog said. “That’s a very
good idea, neighbour. So, whom are you going to marry?”
“I’m sure I’ll find somebody,” Rhino said. “I’m
told a female just has to look at my wonderful golden fur to fall head over tail
“Of course, of course.” Warthog casually
ground his tusks together, as though thinking of something else. “I hope your
in-laws won’t cause a problem though.”
“About what?” Rhino asked sharply. “About what
would they cause a problem?”
Warthog wrinkled his snout deprecatingly. “I’m
just a stupid ugly pig,” he said, “so I don’t know much about these matters.
But I thought that the in-laws might
just ask themselves how a stick-thin...um, I meant svelte...creature like you could possibly keep their daughter fed
and healthy. Not to speak of the kids you’ll be having, either.”
Rhino was silent a long time. “Do you know,”
he said finally, “you’re the second person to tell me something like this
today. What do you suppose I could do about that?”
“Well,” Warthog said, shrugging his mane. “You
could give up the idea of marriage and a family. Or else...”
“You could go back to the Great Mother’s
kraal and ask her to make you big and heavy, so that the in-laws will have no
doubt about your ability to take care of their child.” He ducked his head
obsequiously and began backing into his den. “That’s just a suggestion, but
then I’m a stupid ugly pig, and it’s time I turned in. Good night, neighbour.”
Rhino did not get any sleep that night. The
next morning he turned up at the Great Mother’s kraal. She was sweeping the
yard, and looked up at him in surprise.
“Great Mother,” Rhino said, “I need a
favour, I want you to make me big and heavy.”
“Whatever for?” the Great Mother asked in
astonishment. “Aren’t you happy as you are?”
Rhino felt far too shy to say that he was
afraid of what his prospective in laws might say. So he merely shook his head. “No,
Great Mother. I’d just like you to make me big and heavy.”
The Great Mother looked at him, perplexed.
But she had a long day ahead of her, with little time to waste, so she
shrugged. “If you’re sure...” She took away his slim body, and gave him one
which was as heavy and round as a barrel. Since it was too large for his thin
legs to support, she took them away and gave him thick sturdy limbs like
pillars. And then because his small elegant head was now far too small for his new
body, she took that away too, and gave him one which was huge and heavy and
“There,” she said at last. “Are you happy
“Thank you, Great Mother,” Rhino said, and
went off to search for a mate, lumbering slowly along because he could no
longer glide effortlessly through the grass as he had been wont to do. His
beautiful golden fur began to snag on the thorn bushes and brambles, so that it
ripped and tore away in clumps, and after that the brambles began ripping at
his soft exposed skin, and gnats and flies gathered, biting at him. Soon he
started looking very bedraggled indeed, patchy and bloodstained.
Then Baboon saw him. “Ha ha,” he shouted,
from the top of an acacia tree. “Just look at you, Rhino. Fat as a barrel and
ugly as a hippopotamus. You’re a
sight.” And all day he kept following Rhino along, keeping up a stream of
mockery. “Find a wife, will you?” he
jeered. “They’ll be dropping dead of laughter
when they see what you look like now.”
Finally Rhino had enough. The next morning
he turned up at the Great Mother’s kraal. “O Great Mother,” he said. “I can’t bear
this any longer. Please give me my old form back again.”
“I can’t do that,” the Great Mother said
sadly. “I’m afraid you’re stuck as you are. But I can remove what’s left of
your fur, so that it doesn’t stick in the bushes, and I can make your skin
thick to protect it from the thorns and biting insects. That’s the best I can
“Do it,” Rhino said miserably.
So the Great Mother took away what was left
of his lovely shimmering golden fur, and gave him thick naked skin tough enough
to withstand the brambles and the biting insects. She then sat back to look at
him. “I’m afraid you aren’t very good-looking any longer,” she said. “Could you
tell me just why you wanted to change from the way you used to look like?”
So Rhino, weeping bitterly, told her the
“I see,” the Great Mother said grimly. “It
was all a conspiracy hatched by Hyena and the others, to destroy you. The way
you are now, you’ll be helpless against Lion and Leopard, and Hyena intends
that they hunt you and kill you.” She thought a moment. “I think I know what to
do,” she said. “I’ll give you weapons to defend yourself with.”
So she took the remnants of the fur and
twisted and bent the hairs together until they became matted and hard as bone,
and she fashioned horns out of them and stuck them on Rhino’s nose. “Never
forget,” she told him, “that those animals are your enemies. Never trust
anything that they say again.”
So Rhino lumbered away from the kraal, not
just completely different from the way he used to look but filled with anger
towards all the rest of the animal world. And that is why, to this day, he is
always bad-tempered and aggressive.
As for Hyena, she was disappointed that
Rhino was not eaten by Lion and Leopard. But then he was no longer the most
beautiful animal on the veldt, and she had to be satisfied with that.
1. This is a story by me. There is no place called Korangustan, and never was.
2. The illustration of the rhinoceros is a watercolour by me as well.