This is an ancient story from the San people of Africa (slightly adjusted) that can be read as a parable for our present times and troubles.
Elephant and Rain got married. The animals were excited: this was a real power couple. They both enjoyed the attention, paparazzi and all, but it wasn’t long before their egos got in the way of their relationship.
Elephant insisted that he was the original Big Man of Africa, that he was the most powerful. Rain, elegantly dressed in a rainbow, in turn insisted that she was the real Giver of Life, and without her everything died. That would make her more powerful than her husband. Couples therapy got them nowhere.
They were again having one of these arguments when Elephant decided to prove a point. He curled his powerful trunk around a huge tree and pulled it out of the ground, roots and all. He flapped his ears, raised his trunk and trumpeted – he wanted all the animal kingdom to witness his strength and to see how scared his wife was.
Rain looked at the withering leaves of the big tree and got an idea. She told Elephant that she didn’t care for his attitude and announced that she was going back to her own people. “See if I care!” retorted Elephant and trumpeted some more.
Elephant’s hubris lasted a while longer. But then the veld and the trees started dying, because Rain wasn’t there to nourish them. Elephant got thinner and thinner as the dried bark he was chewing brought him little nutrition. Eventually he had no drinking water, and we know that elephants have to drink a lot. He got weaker and weaker, eventually lying down in a hole in the ground.
Elephant then summoned Secretary Bird and ordered him to go find his wife and tell her to come back; he wanted to talk to her. Secretary Bird flew as fast as he could and eventually got to Rain, relaying Elephant’s pleas. “Tell him to go jump in the lake!” was Rain’s response, and then she chuckled wickedly, “Oh, I forgot, the lake is dry…”
Secretary Bird got back to Elephant and told him his wife wasn’t interested. Elephant was so incensed, he mustered the little strength he had and whacked Secretary Bird with histrunk. “Eish!” muttered Baboon, watching this from a big rock nearby, “Talk about shooting the messenger!”
But Rain later decided to go and see for her self how Elephant was doing. As she arrived, water started soaking the parched landscape. Elephant drank and drank, but it didn’t help: the water just flowed out of him. Tortoise, who acted as the leader of the animals so long bullied by Elephant, took pity on him and had his friends plug the elephant with a log so the water wouldn’t run out. Eventually Elephant was strong enough to stand up.
Rain addressed her now estranged husband sternly: “You see where your arrogance got you? If I hadn’t come back, you would have been dead by now,” she said. “I hope you have learned that a little humility and less selfishness are required of leaders.” Elephant felt stronger now with all the water in his body and said: “I don’t need advice from you, woman, I am Elephant, the Big Man of Africa!”
Rain decided to leave again, but as an act of compassion she left a hollow in the mountain full of water for him. Elephant was hungry, very hungry. He ordered Tortoise to look after his water while he was looking for a nice juicy tree to eat. “Don’t let anyone take a sip of my water,” he told Tortoise.
Much later Elephant returned for a drink of water. The hollow was dry. He turned angrily to Tortoise and said, “What happened to my water? Didn’t I tell you to look after it?” Tortoise said softly, “But Elephant, the animals were thirsty, how could I deny a thirsty animal a sip of water? This land belongs to all of us, you know!” said Tortoise. The mongoose, the duiker, the zebra and the porcupine watched this encounter from the shrubs, fearing for Tortoise’s safety.
Elephant lost his temper and swallowed Tortoise. It wasn’t very comfortable inside Elephant’s stomach, so Tortoise, also a little bit peeved by now, started scratching the inside of Elephant’s stomach. Come out through my mouth, Elephant shouted. No, said Tortoise, then you will trample me. Then come out the back door, said Elephant, becoming a bit desperate. No, said Tortoise, that would be humiliating, and I would smell badly, and the other animals would avoid me.
The situation was deadlocked. Elephant couldn’t get rid of Tortoise, and Tortoise refused to leave Elephant’s body. Tortoise kept on scratching, deeper and deeper. Eventually Elephant dropped dead.
The news of Elephant’s demise soon spread and animals from all over gathered around the carcass.
“Now we have meat for a year!” shouted Baboon.