The Greedy Hyena
M.K. O 'Brian
A hare and a hyena became friends, but one day the hare overheard her friend telling another hyena that once she trusted him enough to sleep at his place, he would eat her. Of course, the hare was worried about this and knew she had to think of a plan to save herself from the hyena’s jaws.
After a lot of thinking, the hare decided to pay a visit to the local badger and share her troubles. The badger listened carefully until the hare had finished her story.
“I will help you,” said the badger, “because all the animals are tired of getting their food stolen by the hyenas, who are too lazy to work for their own. Follow me and I’ll get what we need to teach this hyena a lesson.”
They left the badgers burrow and headed into the forest until they came to a tree where honey bees were nesting.
“Stay back here, so that you don’t get stung,” said the badger.
The badger climbed the tree, ignoring the furious stinging bees, and took a piece of honeycomb from the nest, along with some grubs.
As they were walking back to the burrow, they came across a small antelope that had died of old age.
“Here, hold the honey,” said the badger, “I need to get some meat before the hyenas find the body.”
She took a hind leg from the antelope and they returned to the burrow.
Back inside the den, the badger broke up the honeycomb and put aside the grubs. “We’ll need these to pay the ants,” she told the hare, who could only wonder what for.
Then the badger divided up the antelope leg and smeared it with honey, before placing the pieces in a sack.
When, on the next occasion, the hyena arrived to call on the hare, he noticed that his friend had a sack and asked what was inside it.
“The sweetest meat you ever tasted, my friend,” said the hare. “Here, take a piece.”
The hyena chewed the meat greedily before swallowing, “Yes indeed, it is the sweetest meat I ever tasted. Can I have some more?”
“This meat is so sweet it should only be eaten a little at a time, but you shouldn’t waste its sweetness by going to the toilet,” said the hare.
“How can you do that?” the hyena asked, looking puzzled.
“By having your bottom sewn up, that’s what everyone who eats this meat does. I can get it done for you, if you wish.”
“I will, if you show me where the meat is,” said the hyena. Such was his greed.
“Up there.” The hare pointed at the cloud-shrouded mountain top. “There’s lots of it on mystical Kirinyaga, I’ll take you there, if you wish, and we’ll get your bottom sewn up before we go.”
They arranged to meet later and the hyena wandered over to talk to some of his sisters. The hare was having doubts about following the badger’s plan, till she overheard the hyena say to his sisters, “I’ll eat the hare, once she has shown me where to find the sweet meat.”
So, when the hyena returned, eager to be off, they went to see the ants. The badger used the bee grubs as payment for the ants' work. The ants soon had the hyena’s bottom sewn up tightly and off they went to climb the mountain.
When they reached the misty mountain top, the hare showed her companion a hole in the rocks, covered with a stone. “There it is – that hole fills up with meat all the time, just move the stone.”
The hyena rolled the stone away and his eyes lit up at the sight of so many chunks of sweet meat. Greedily, he gulped down the meat till nothing was left. After letting out a big burp, the hyena turned and leapt at the hare with open jaws - but she was ready for him and ran away. The hyena chased the hare down the mountain but wasn’t quick enough to catch her.
Later on, the hyena found the body of a large buffalo and ate till his swollen belly could hold more. The hyena soon became bloated from not being able to go to the toilet, and drinking water only made it much worse. The other hyenas were far too clumsy to remove the stitches. He lay beneath a tree by the water hole, feeling like he would burst and die.
Eventually, a vulture landed to drink. The hyena pleaded with the vulture, as a brother scavenger, to remove the stitching in his bottom, telling him all about how the wicked hare had led him up the mountain and played a terrible trick on him.
“I agree to help you,” said the vulture, “on the condition that you don’t chase me away anymore when I find food.”
The hyena swore to honour the agreement, so the vulture moved round to his bottom. The vulture used the sharp point of his beak to undo the stitching, only to have the contents of the hyena’s bowels burst out and bury him up to the head. The hyena gave out a great gasp of relief but refused to help the vulture get out of the mound of poop. As the hyena wandered off to find some food, the vulture swore to get revenge on him.
Eager for more sweet meat, the hyena travelled back up the mountain, but found the hole empty and left scratching his head.
The vulture had to wait for the rains to come before the mountain of poop washed away and freed him. He flew around till he found the hyena and landed beside him, asking if he’d found anymore sweet meat. When the hyena said no, the vulture told him to collect all his family together and he’d show him where more could be found.
The entire hyena clan gathered and were looking forward to feasting on the sweet meat. When the vulture arrived, everyone wanted to know where they were going.
“I’m taking you to a magical cloud above the sacred mountain,” said the cunning bird. “It’s where the sweet meat comes from and you can get it before anyone else does.”
The hyenas laughed joyfully at the thought of getting all the sweet meat to themselves and were ready to do anything the vulture said. They were told to hang on to his tail, oldest first and youngsters last. Up soared the vulture, until the last hyena was free of the ground, climbing till the mountain peak was just a speck below them. Before long, they had passed a great white cloud and were hovering above it.
“That’s the cloud,” the vulture said to the first hyena, the one that had pooped all over him. “Let go now, and when you land on the cloud, you’ll find all the sweet meat you can eat.”
The hyena let go of the tail and the whole clan went falling down to the cloud, but when they got there – they found that they just kept falling through it. Before long, they hit the side of the mountain and went tumbling down the slope, head-over-heels. By the time they reached the bottom of the mountain, they could not walk without limping. That’s why hyenas walk funny, to slow them down so that other animals get a chance to eat their food before they arrive.
An original reworking of a traditional Kikuyu folk tale from Kenya.