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A Story, a Parable, a Whimsy

Coen van Wyk

Posted on September 28, 2018 13:42

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Divine love, a children’s fable, a lover’s tale or a warning to bullies: You choose. This little tale from the San people of Africa teases with the question: Is there a moral message? Or is it just meant to amuse?

In the dusty, dry African bush a honeyguide (Indicator indicator) led Mantis to a hollow tree where Coti had hidden a fat beehive. Mantis broke the hive open and gave a fat comb with bee grubs to the bird, then called his darling, the klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus) to share the bounty.

This most dainty of antelope danced up on the tips of its toes and licked the dripping honey off Mantis’ hand. But a grumpy bull elephant (Loxodonta Africanus) demanded its share, and when Mantis refused, grabbed the klipspringer in its trunk and swallowed it whole.

The honeyguide offered a tailfeather, and Mantis, handing a fat honeycomb to the elephant, allowed it to swallow him too. Mantis comforted the frightened, honey-besmeared antelope, and began tickling the elephant’s insides with the feather.

Honey-colored klipspringer


Soon the animal, already queasy from the unaccustomed sweetness, vomited Mantis and the klipspringer forth, and since then the klipspringer has a beautiful honey-colored coat, and the bull elephant is bad-tempered. 

Elephant at the bath

Notes: The praying mantis is a personification of the San deity /Kaggen. The San did not confuse the insect with the god, but nevertheless considered it lacking in respect to point a finger at a mantis, it was indicated by a knuckle or bent finger. Other legends have Mantis feeding honey to the eland (Taurotragus oryx)

Humorless scientists might point out that neither the klipspringer nor the eland are likely too eat honey, and tell us that the klipspringer’s coat is composed of a darker, dense undercoat that can protect it from bruising, and long, lighter guard hair. An elephant might eat honey, but bees scare the great animal away. Farmers in Kenya place hives around their fields to discourage thieving elephants.
 
What is the meaning of the story? San stories do not follow modern ‘teaching’ storylines, with a good character, a bad character, a romantic lead or a moral message, but I took a few liberties to make it more palatable to the modern reader.
 
This little tale may hide a shamanistic message, or may just be a whimsical entertainment. The egalitarian San people may have intended to poke gentle fun at the big, bullying elephant, or they may have told this story to a romantic interest while feeding him/her some hard-to-find honey.
 
Gentle postmodernist reader, you are welcome to your reading of this ancient tale, please share it here with me.

Coen van Wyk

Posted on September 28, 2018 13:42

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Source: Phys.org

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