Would you rather have super physical strength or super intelligence? The African folklore story of Tortoise and Leopard examines the true meaning of strength.
Tortoise and Leopard Fighting for Love
As the elders say, in the time when Mankind and all other Animals lived together, to all the Beasts the news came that there was a Merchant in a far country, who had a daughter, for whom he was seeking a marriage. And he had said, "I do not want money to be the dowry that shall be paid by a suitor for my daughter. But, whosoever shall do some difficult works, which I shall assign him, to him I will give her."
All the Beasts were competing for the prize.
First, Elephant went on that errand. The merchant said to him, "Do five impossible tasks and you shall marry my daughter. More than that, I will give you wealth also." Elephant went at the tasks, tried, and failed; and came back saying he could not succeed.
Next, Gorilla stood up; he went and the merchant told
him, in the same way as to Elephant, that he was to do impossible tasks. Gorilla tried, and failed, and came back disgusted.
Then, Hippopotamus advanced, and said he would attempt to win the woman. His companions encouraged him with hopes of success, because of his size and strength. He went, tried, and failed.
Thus, almost all beasts attempted, one after another; they tried to do the tasks, and failed.
At last there were left as contestants, only Leopard and Tortoise. Neither was disheartened by the failure of the others; each asserted that he would succeed in marrying that rich daughter. Tortoise said, "I'm going now!" But Leopard said, "No! I first!" Tortoise yielded, "Well, go; you are the elder. I will not compete with you. Go you, first!" Leopard went, and made his bid. The merchant said to him, "Good! that you have come. But, the others came, and failed. Try you." Leopard said, "Very well." He tried, and failed, and went back angry.
Tortoise then went. On the day that Tortoise started on the journey to seek the merchant's daughter, Leopard had been heard to say, "If Tortoise succeeds in getting that wife; I will take her from him by force."
Tortoise greeted the merchant, and told him he had come to marry his daughter. The merchant said, "Do so; but try to do five impossible tasks first."
The first task was that of a calabash dipper that was cracked. The merchant said to Tortoise, "You take this cracked calabash and bring it to me full of water all the way from the spring to this town." Tortoise looking and examining, objected, "This calabash! cracked! how can it carry water?" The merchant replied, "You yourself must find out. If you succeed you will marry my daughter."
Tortoise took the calabash to the spring. Putting it into the water, he lifted it. However, the water all ran out before he had gone a few steps. Again, he did this, five times; and the water was always running out. Sitting, he meditated, "What is this? How can it be done?" Thinking again, he said, "I'll do it! I know the art how!" He went to the forest, took gum of the Okume tree lighted a fire, melted the gum, smeared it over the crack, and made it water-tight; then, dipping the calabash into the spring, it did not leak. He took it full to the father-in-law, and called
out, "Father-in-law! This is the calabash of water." The merchant asked, "But what did you do to it?" He answered "I mended it with gum." The father said, "Good for you! The others did not think of that easy simple solution. You have sense!"
Tortoise then said, "I have finished this one task; today has passed. Tomorrow I will begin on the other four." The next morning, he came to receive his direction from the merchant, who said, "Tortoise, you see that tall tree far away? At the top are fruits. If you want my daughter, pluck the fruits from the top, and you shall marry her.'' Tortoise went and stood watching, looking, and examining the tree. Its trunk was all covered with soap, and impossible to be climbed. He returned to the merchant, and asked, "That fruit you wish, may it be obtained in any way, even if one does not climb the tree?" He was answered,
"Yes, in any way, except cutting down the tree. Only so that I get the fruit, I am satisfied." Tortoise had already tried from morning to afternoon to climb that tree, but could not. So, after he had asked the merchant his question, he went back to the tree; and from evening, all night and until morning, he dug about the roots till they were all free. And the tree fell, without his having "cut" the trunk at all. So he took the fruit to the Merchant, and told him that he had not "cut down" the tree, but that he had it "dug up." The merchant said, "You have done well. People who came before you failed to think of that. Good for you!"
On the third day, the merchant said to the spectators, "I will not name the other three tasks. You, my assistants, may name them." So they thought of one task after another. But one and another said, "No, that is not hard; let us search for a harder." Finally, they found three hard tasks. Tortoise was ready for and accomplished them all. Then the merchant announced, "Now, you may marry my daughter; and tomorrow you shall make your journey."
They made a great feast; an ox was killed; and they had songs and music all night, clear on till morning. But, while all this was going on, Leopard, who was left at his town, was saying to himself, "This Tortoise! He has stayed five days! Had he failed, he would not have stayed so long! So! he has been able to do the tasks!"
When Tortoise was ready to start on his return journey with his new wife, the father-in-law gave him many fine things; slaves and goats and a variety of goods, and said, "Go, you and your wife and these things. I send people to escort you part of the way. They are not to go clear on to your town, but are to turn back on the way."
Tortoise and company journeyed. When the escort were about to turn back, Tortoise said, "Day is past let us make camp here. We sleep here; and, in the morning, you shall go back." That night he thought, "Leopard said he would rob me of my wife. Perhaps he may come to meet me on the way!" So, he swallowed all of the things, to hide them,—wife, servants, and all.
While Tortoise was thus on the way, Leopard had planned not to wait his return to town, but had set out to meet him. So, in the morning, the two, journeying in opposite directions met. Tortoise gave Leopard a respectful "Hello!" and Leopard returned the salutation.
Leopard asked, "What news? That woman, have you married her?" Tortoise answered, "That woman! Not at all!" Leopard looking at Tortoise's style and manner as of one proud of success, said, "Surely you have married; for you look happy, and show signs of success."
Tortoise swore he had not married. Leopard only said, "Good." Then Tortoise asked, "But, where are you going?" Leopard answered, "I am going out walking and hunting. But you, where are you going?" Tortoise replied, "I did not succeed in marrying the woman; so I am going back to town. I tried, but
"But," said Leopard, "what then makes your belly so big?" Tortoise replied, "On the way I found an abundance of mushrooms, and I ate heartily of them. If you do not believe it, I can show you them by vomiting them up." Leopard said, "Never mind to vomit. Go on your journey."
Leopard went on his way. But, soon he thought,
"Ah! Tortoise has lied to me!" So he ran around back, and came forward to meet Tortoise again. Tortoise looked and saw Leopard coming, and observed that his face was full of wrath. He feared, but said to himself, "If I flee, Leopard will catch me. I will go forward and try to outsmart him." As he approached Leopard, the latter was very angry, and said, "You play with me! You say you have not married the woman I wanted. Tell me the truth!"
Tortoise again swore an oath, "No! I have not married the woman! I told you I ate mushrooms, and offered to show you; and you refused." So Leopard said, "Well, then, vomit." Tortoise bent over, and vomited and vomited mushrooms and mushrooms; and then said triumphantly,
"So! Leopard you see!" Leopard looked, and said, "But, Tortoise, your belly is still full,—go on vomiting." Tortoise tried to excuse himself, "I have done vomiting." Leopard persisted, "No! keep on at it." Tortoise went on retching; and a box of goods fell out of his mouth. Leopard still said, "Go on!" and Tortoise vomited in succession a table and other furniture. He was compelled to go on retching; and slaves came out. And at last, up was vomited the woman!
Leopard shouted, "Ah! Tortoise! you lied! You said you had not married! I will take this woman!" And he took her, sarcastically saying, "Tortoise, you have done me a good work! You have brought me all these things, these goods, and slaves, and a wife! Thank you!"
Tortoise thought to himself, "I have no strength for war."
So, though anger was in his heart, he showed no displeasure in his face. And they all went on together toward their town. With wrath still in his heart, he went clear on to the town, and then made his complaint to each of the townspeople. But they all were afraid of Leopard, and said nothing, nor dared to give Tortoise even sympathy.
There was in that country among the mountains, an enormous Goat lived. The other beasts, all except Leopard, were accustomed to go to that Goat, when hungry, and say, "We have no meat to eat." And the Goat allowed them to cut pieces of flesh from his body. He could let any part of the interior of his body be taken except his heart.
All the Animals had agreed among themselves not to tell Leopard
know where they got their meat, lest he, in his greediness, would go and eat the heart. So they told him they got their meat as he did, hunting.
Tortoise, angry because Leopard has taken his wife, said to himself, "I will make a cause of complaint against Leopard that shall bring punishment upon him from our King. I will cause Leopard to kill that Goat."
On another day, Tortoise went and got meat from the Goat, and came back to town, and did not hide it from Leopard. Leopard said to him, "Tortoise! Where did you get this meat?" Tortoise whispered, "Come to my house, and I will tell you." They went. And Tortoise divided the meat with him, and said, "Do not tell on me: but, we get the meat off at a great Goat. Tomorrow, I go; and you, follow behind me."
So, the next day, they went, Tortoise as if by himself, and Leopard following, off to the great Goat. Arrived there, Leopard wondered at the sight, "O! this great Goat! But, from where do you take its meat?" Tortoise replied, "Wait for me! You will see!"
Tortoise said to the Goat, "We are hungry: we come to seek meat from you." The Goat's mouth was open as usual; Tortoise entered, and Leopard followed, to get flesh from inside. In the Goat's interior was a house, full of meat.
Leopard wondered at its size; and Tortoise told him, "Cut where you please, but not from the heart, lest the Goat die." And they began to take meat. Leopard, with greediness, coveting the forbidden heart,
went with knife near to it.
Tortoise exclaimed, "There! There! Be careful." But Leopard, though he had enough other flesh, longed for the heart, and was not satisfied. He again approached with the knife near it: and Tortoise warned and protested. Leopard wanted to have his own way and his greediness overcame him. He cut the heart: and the Goat fell dead!
Tortoise exclaimed, "Eh! Leopard! I told you not to touch the heart! Because of this matter I will inform on you." And he added, "Since it is so, let us go." But Leopard said, "Goat's mouth is shut. How shall we
get out? Let us hide in this house." And he asked, "Where will you hide?" Tortoise replied, "In the stomach." Leopard said, "Stomach! It is the very thing for me, Leopard, myself!" So Tortoise consented, "Well! take it! I will hide in the gallbladder."
So they hid, each in his place. Soon, as they listened, they heard voices shouting, "The great Goat is dead! A fearful thing! The Goat is dead!"
News spread, and all who had been accustomed to get flesh from the great goat, came to see what was the matter.
They all agreed the great Goat was dead, it was best to cut and divide him. They split open the belly, and said, "Lay aside this big stomach; it is good; but throw away the bitter gallbladder."
They looked for the heart; but there was none! A child, to whom had been handed the gallbladder to throw it away into some bushes. As he did so, out jumped Tortoise from among the bushes; and the child asked, "Who are you?" Tortoise replied, pretending to be angry, "I am Tortoise; I come here with the others to get meat, and you, just as I arrived, throw that dirty gallbladder in my face!"
The other people pacified him, "Do not get angry. Excuse the child. He did not see you. You shall have your share."
Then Tortoise called out, "Silence! Silence! Silence!"
They all stood ready to listen, and he said, "Do not cut up the Goat till we first know who killed it. That stomach there! What makes it so big?" Leopard, in the stomach, heard; but he did not believe that Tortoise meant it, and thought to himself, "What a fool is this Tortoise, in pretending to tell on me, by directing attention to the stomach!"
Tortoise ordered, "All you, take your spears, and stick that stomach! For the one who killed Goat is in it!"
They all got their spears ready but Leopard did not speak or move; for, he still thought Tortoise was only joking. Tortoise began with his spear, and the others all thrust in. Leopard holding the heart fell out of the great Goat’s stomach dead! All shouted, "Ah! Leopard killed our Goat! Ah! He’s the one who killed it."
Tortoise taunted Leopard," Asai! Shame for you Leopard for you took my wife; and now you are dead!" Tortoise returned to town, took again his wife and all his goods now that Leopard was dead and was happy that his intelligence beat Leopard's strength.