(a South African tale)
Once upon a time, the land was devastated by drought, and even insects and beans disappeared. Monkey traveled to another part of the country where his Great Uncle Orangutan lived. His uncle offered him shelter and work, but after he had stayed a while, Monkey became homesick.
“I must go home,” Monkey said.
So his uncle gave him a fiddle and a bow and arrow. “With this bow and arrow,” Uncle Orangutan said, “you can kill anything to eat.”
“Thank you,” Monkey said, raising his eyebrows at the sight of the fiddle. “What will I do with this?”
“Ah, with this fiddle, you can force anyone to dance,” his uncle said.
Monkey thanked his uncle and began his journey home. The first fellow he came upon was Brother Wolf. “How are you, old friend?” Monkey asked, and Brother Wolf explained that he had worked all morning stalking a deer, but he had failed.
“Look at my bow and arrow!” Monkey proudly pointed to the tools on his back. “If I see this deer, I’ll bring it down.”
“Quiet,” said Brother Wolf, and they stood silently, side by side, staring out into the bush.
“There he is,” Brother Wolf whispered, and sure enough, Monkey saw the deer. So he aimed his arrow, shot and killed it.
Brother Wolf and Monkey then shared a fine meal together.
But Brother Wolf was jealous and wished he had the bow and arrow for himself. “Give me that bow and arrow,” he said, softly. “I’ll make good use of them.”
But Monkey naturally shook his head. “It’s mine. My uncle gave it to me,” he explained. “And I could never give away such a gift.”
“Very well, then,” Brother Wolf growled, “I guess I’ll have to take it from you,” and he began to pounce upon his friend, but just then Brother Jackal happened to pass by, and when he saw the two beginning to tussle, he stopped and asked what was going on.
“Monkey has stolen my bow and arrow,” said Brother Wolf. “I was only trying to take back what is rightfully mine!”
“That’s not true!” Monkey protested. “This is my bow and arrow. My Uncle Orangutan gave it to me, and Brother Wolf tried to steal it.”
Now Brother Jackal was known to be thoughtful, so naturally he thought about all he had heard.
“Tell me again,” Brother Jackal said after he had thought a while and had come to the conclusion that he had no conclusion at all.
Monkey once more explained that his uncle had given him the bow and arrow, and once again, Brother Wolf insisted it belonged to him and Monkey had tried to steal it.
“Well, I propose we bring the matter to court,” said Brother Jackal. “We’ll ask the other animals to judge. But in the meantime, I’ll hold on to the bow and arrow to keep them safe.”
Monkey thought this sounded wise, and Brother Wolf could not argue, and so he handed over the bow and arrow to Brother Jackal, who called upon the other animals to set a date for court.
In the meantime, while Monkey and Brother Wolf awaited their day in court, Brother Jackal used that bow and arrow every hour of every day and took down so many deer, leopards, mongoose, cats, weasels, zebra, hyena, kudu, eland and other creatures that everyone grew afraid of him.
Then at last came the day in court, and Monkey and Brother Wolf testified. Once again, they told the same story they had told Brother Jackal.
The lions and tigers and buffalo and giraffe listened closely, but Monkey’s evidence was weak, and Brother Jackal turned against him. When it was his turn to testify, he said it had appeared to him that the bow and arrow must belong to Brother Wolf. You see, he believed he might be able to strike a deal with Brother Wolf to keep the bow and arrow half the time.
At long last, the animals broke for judgment, and when they announced their verdict, it was Monkey who was called the thief.
“You must hang!” the animals announced.
Monkey was terribly upset, but just then he remembered his fiddle, which could force any creature to dance. “May I ask one last favor of the court?” Monkey asked.
“Of course!” said Elephant, for he was fair.
“I’d like to play a tune on my fiddle,” Monkey said, and he picked it up and began to play a waltz. Before he had struck three notes, the animals were on their feet. A moment later, they were waltzing. Elephant’s trunk was around Giraffe’s neck, whirling, while Lion and Tiger, Zebra and Kudu, and Wolf and Jackal began to twirl.
Monkey changed the tune — something jazzier and faster. The dancers began to dance faster, dipping and swinging, bobbing and weaving, unable to stop moving their feet.
Monkey was dazzled by the sound of his music. He leaned his head against the instrument and closed his eyes and played on, while the others cried, “Please stop! We’re tired.”
But Monkey played on.
Lion was delirious with exhaustion, and as he and his wife passed by Monkey, he cried, “I’ll give you the kingdom if only you’ll stop playing!”
“Who needs your kingdom?” Monkey said. “Give me back my bow and arrow. Brother Wolf, confess you are the thief. Only then will I stop playing!”
Monkey played faster still, and the animals whirled and twirled faster than ever. Brother Wolf could barely catch his breath.
“I stole the bow and arrow! I’m guilty!” he huffed.
“Then we must withdraw the sentence!” said the other animals.
Monkey smiled and stopped playing his fiddle, gathered up his bow and arrow and climbed to the top of a tree to stare down at all those he had conquered. The other animals of the land learned to respect him and knew never to question him again.