Was Hippo Once Hairy?
Hippo’s Vanity; an African Folktale
Long, long, ago somewhere in Africa… When all the people and animals were new… Is the story of how hippo lost his hair. Hare. No, not that hair, this Hare! As I said, Hare, had become pretty tired of Hippo’s vanity.
Oh yes, don’t laugh, Hippo was once very handsome indeed. That once was when Hippo was hairy. In fact, hairy all over and very silky was his hair, from his head to his long fluffy tail. Well, irrefutably so, but was it necessary to be overcome by your own beauty?
For instance, Leopard is beautiful, and so is Lion, not to mention Kudu, Bushbuck and of course Sable in his fine tuxedo, Impala and surely, we can’t forget Giraffe. Lanky, yes but ever so graceful. Now is there anything wrong with graceful? Undeniably, no.
You see, Hare – not hair – was such a graceful creature too. And it was he, that is Hare, who was most offended at Hippos’ self-aggrandizement. After all, he was little and he naturally blended into the veld… well, most of the time. It is as a result of Hare’s habits of going unnoticed, that led to Hippo being taught an everlasting lesson.
Hare, as you know, crawls and hops about the scrub, hidden from all, including Hippo. So Hare had the-best-seat-in-the-house so as to say, when it came to the vanities of Hippo. Hare saw Hippo gazing at his image in the water’s reflection nearly all day, everyday. Then he would mumble his own praises to himself, like how he was the most handsomest animal of the whole animal kingdom.
Starting with Lion, Hippo would compare his mighty mane of hair, whilst looking at his fine reflection in the waterhole.
“Lion is a wimp, aside of me. Surely, I am the king of the beasts? He looks like a shaggy dog, no match to my beauty”
Then Hare heard how he mocked Leopard, as well.
“Oh Leopard. Look at me and my silky shiny fur. Not all pock marked, like your messy patch of pajamas.” Said Hippo, barreling with laughter.
And Hare alone heard this too.
Then it was Waterbuck’s turn and that, Hare also heard.
“You Waterbuck, how you make me laugh, with those stupid ugly horns stuck forward on your head and that target painted around your tail and everything in-between ugly, ugly ugly.”
In this way, Hippo’s malice and repartee continued on, insulting all the animals Hippo could remember.
And as always, Hare was there to hear.
Once again, as before, Hippo would stare into the waterhole to admire his great beauty, stroking his silky ears while Hare watched in secret. After stroking his silky ears, he remembered Hare and his ears. The thought of Hare’s ears had Hippo rolling about with raucous laughter. No sooner had he done this, when he remembered his own beautiful chestnut fur and smartly straightened up, shaking himself off. As was his custom, he once again stared back into the waterhole, to admire his extreme good looks.
And Hare was there, watching and listening, with ever increasing wonder.
“Well now Hare! There’s a funny looking creature. Hop.” Said Hippo out loud. So he did, hop that is. You should have seen Hippo hop! Hippo fell over laughing all over again.
Then he stood up and did it again. Hop that is. And so once again Hippo fell over laughing and rolling in the dust.
In the meantime, Hare was taking mental notes of this performance of Hippo, with ever increasing anger.
“Can you hear me Hare, with those silly-looking, long, bald ears of yours? Come and watch me hop” Cried out Hippo.
“I am right here Hippo.” announced Hare, standing not three paces away, behind this larger-than-life, egomaniac.
Hippo actually jumped with fright! Well, that was funny.
“Oh, so now you’re into scaring me too. Shame on you Hare.”
“Shame on me? After all your utterances and nastiness to every animal in the kingdom? I have heard it all. No. Shame on you, you self-opinionated blob” Exclaimed Hare, hopping up and down with anger and a bit sorry for what he had just said. “Shame on me? We’ll see about that!” Exclaimed a very ruffled Hare, who disappeared into the undergrowth.
Now Hare, thought it not unjust to tell all the other animals he should happen upon, how he had heard Hippo mocking every one of them, in detail as well.
This stirred up a great fuss amid all the animals, who were not unfamiliar with the sort Hippo had turned into. Then before a lynch mob could be formed, Lion spoke out with a mighty roar, to address the crowd.
“Before you all take the law into your own hands, listen to my plan.” Lion, as you will remember, was wise.
“We will have a beauty parade and include Hippo, to see who is the handsomest of us all.” Declared Lion to everyone there.
“What will be the prize?” Asked a puzzled Hare, himself thinking, if Hippo should win, we will be worse off than before.
“I know what you’re thinking Hare!” Remember Lion was wise.
“To the one that wins, it will be the duty of all the others to serve that one, from one new moon until the next.” Hare could see Lion had a plan.
The beauty parade took place with much fuss and ado. Needless to say, Hippo won.
Lion had hatched a plan, which he revealed to all.
“We will make Hippo a great big, comfortable bed, with much grass under the great baobab tree, that looks like it was planted upside down. Then, every morning we will bring Hippo his food and worship him from new moon to new moon. Our purpose is to shame Hippo into not acting so almighty over us. We will wash him, clean him and brush him down until he shines.” As you can tell, Lion was wise and all the animals agreed to listen to his wise counsel.
Everyone set about to do all Lion had said, as well as doing all of Hippo’s bidding too.
Life went on and Hippo got worse in all his vanity, insisting that everyone should bow when he passed by. This caused a stir amongst many and Lion was approached.
“You must do something Lion. I am not given to bowing to anyone and least of all to Hippo.” Came Elephant’s indignatious comment to Lion.
“Tomorrow I will approach Hippo with all our complaints.” Assured Lion.
That night was full moon and everyone felt much better about the next day.
At some time before midnight, a huge African-type storm arose with lightning everywhere. Suddenly, lightning struck the giant tree under which Hippo slept. Hippo woke to fire all around him. His bed was burning. His beautiful hair was burning. The veld around him was burning. Hippo knew the waterhole and he ran for his life, straight into the water. And there he stayed all night, with only his now-short, hairless ears, eyes and nose showing above the waterline, until morning.
Once the sun rose, Hippo went early to the edge of the pool to see his reflection, as he had always done. This time, he was shocked almost out of his skin, when he saw not only small ears but a stumpy, hairless tail as well. As for the rest of his pink and hairless body, Hippo was so shocked that he dived into the water, never to show himself again, except for his nose, eyes and ears.
And from that day to this, all Hippos only go out to graze at night and sometimes, only well-tanned Hippos show themselves on the banks of rivers or waterholes. This you will see is done by all Hippo’s descendants to this day.
And that is how Hippo lost his hair.
The moral of the story, you say?
Vanity is an enemy of the good and a true leveler of the bad.