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Hyena
   Hyena eating a snake,
   bas-relief,
   Abomey Historical Museum

Hyena plays dead

In earlier times, the animals had a king. They had as their king a man named Hyena. One day the animals were told Hyena died. He was not really dead, he was alive. He pretended to be dead to get food, because when he was alive the other animals did not come near him. He wanted them to come within reach, so that he could test them.

He had a sub-chief named Squirrel, and he was the one who assembled all the animals of the bush when their king had something to tell them. So now he brought all the animals together. They made a grave, and Squirrel named the animals who were to take care of the burial.

When Squirrel went to look at the body, he saw that Hyena's eyes were open. They had bought cloth to cover him, and since Squirrel was cunning, he had one of his friends, Rabbit, who is as cunning as he, come. He said to Rabbit, "Now that Hyena is not dead. He wants to eat us. I have seen his two eyelids move".

When Rabbit heard these words, he said, "We need only sing to tell the other animals. This will let the others know quickly that Hyena is going to get up and eat them".

Is it the way of a man lying dead,
To get up and strike us dead?
A blow from a stick will not kill me,
I dance far off;
Lightly, lightly,
Far away will I dance.

After hearing the song, the animals ran away. Hunter was in a nearby tree, and he saw and heard everything that happened.

As the other animals ran away, Hyena ran after them. Hunter fired at him and killed him. From then on, Hunter became the eyes and the ears of the forest. And this is why, if there is something secret that happens in the bush, it is the hunter who sees it.


Adapted from: M.J. & F.S. Herskovits: Dahomean Narrative, Northwestern Univ. 1998.

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