How Mantis Gave Bushman Fire
An African Folktale of Mantis Giving Bushman Fire
Long, long ago somewhere in Africa… When the earth and all the people and animals were new… There lived a people, amongst all the creatures. They were skilful hunters, crafty and clever and as they would hunt only what they needed for food, their labours were always fruitful. But when they would take the meat back to the tribe, it was eaten as the lion and the leopard would eat, always raw. You see… the people had no fire, nothing to light the dark of a moonless night or warm them when the cold came and certainly no fire to cook their food.
The clever Mantis would go about and everywhere he went, he would watch, observing all he saw. He was very curious, ponderously pondering problems encountered by his fellow creatures for hours. Sometimes Mantis would dream the dreams that wise-ones dream and in those dreams, he would see remedies for many dilemmas encountered by his fellows. Mantis oft would ponder on the plight of the people and how their lives might be brightened.
Where Did Ostrich Get His Fire?
Now Mantis had, long ago, observed that Ostrich would go a little bit away off to eat his food. And Mantis had often wondered why the food that Ostrich ate would smell so different and delicious. So one day, as Ostrich went off alone with his food, Mantis followed close behind but out of sight.
He watched with amazement as Ostrich stealthily reached beneath his wing for some fire and dipped his food into it. When he had finished this repast, Ostrich tucked the fire back under his wing and walked away.
Ostrich Loves Jackalberry Fruit
Mantis knew that Ostrich would not share his fire, so he concocted a plan. He would have to resort to trickery if he was to get any fire for the people.
So it came to pass that one day Mantis went to visit Ostrich.
“Come,” he called, “I have found a Jackalberry tree full of sweet and juicy fruits.”
Ostrich was overjoyed and eagerly followed Mantis’s lead to the Jackalberry tree. Sure enough, there was the tree, just as Mantis had said and it was full of fruit. Ostrich began to eat as Mantis danced above him.
Mantis Gets Some of the Fire
“Higher, higher!” urged Mantis. “The sweetest ones are at the top!”
Ostrich struggled and strained but he just wasn’t tall enough.
“Why not stand on that stone there?” said Mantis, pointing out a rock, next to the tree.
Gratefully using the rock, Ostrich reached up on tiptoe and spread his wings to balance himself. This was just the opportunity the cunning Mantis had been waiting for. Quick-as-a-wink, he grabbed some of the fire from beneath Ostrich’s wing and with a whirr and a click, he was gone.
Mantis took the fire directly to the people who lived amongst the creatures and that is how the Bushman got fire.
Ever since then, Ostrich, greatly embarrassed, has never flown. He keeps his wings pressed to his sides, to preserve the little fire he has left.
Eggs Now Keep the Mark
And as any Bushman will tell you, Ostrich and his wife have become a little absent minded and distracted since the theft of his fire. Even when she lays her beautiful, creamy eggs in a warm hollow in the sand, they place one egg out on the sand to remind them they are sitting on a clutch of eggs, lest they forget and wander off.