The Tortoise and the Eagle

After A VERY long break, I’ve found the time to go back to my notebooks from the Congo and carry on writing up the folk tales I collected … (and to notice, incidentally, that most of the photo’s I posted have been lost when the website was changed – must do something about that!)

Camping on the banks of the Congo

Camping on the banks of the Congo

This story was told to me in the village in the village of Samba by the chief’s son. It’s more like the kind of thing we’re used to in Europe, with it’s happy ending and traditional fable structure. Readers of African folk tales will be familiar with Tortoise the trickster – always one of my favourite characters from folk tales and myth. In this one, he teaches a friend a lesson about the differences of others.. The eagle, as you can see, was a bit stupid, but personally if I’d been him, I might have been tempted to drop our shelly friend on the way back home ….

The Tortoise and the Eagle

The Eagle and the Tortoise were the very best of friends – so much so that every single day, the eagle flew down from the high mountain where he had his eerie, across the steep cliffs, down past the stony slopes, over the trees, across the river, and past the meadows until he came the scrubby wilderness where tortoise made his home.

Tortoise was always there to meet him and make him welcome, and the two friends would have lunch together.

This went day after day, year after year, and the friendship between the two never wavered, until one day, the Tortoise noticed that his friend was quieter than usual. He asked him why.

“Have you ever noticed that its always me who comes to visit you?” the Eagle said. “In all these years, I don’t think you’ve ever come to my house even once.”

“But you live so far away!” replied the Tortoise. “There are mountains to climb, ravines to get over, rivers to cross. The forest is full of tangled roots, the way is littered with boulders and stones. It would take me forever, if I got there at all.”

” Still,” said the Eagle. ” I think you might have managed it just once, if you cared for me as much as I care for you.”

The Tortoise was hurt and shocked that his friend felt this way, but the journey was far, too difficult and dangerous for a stumpy legged little thing like him to ever attempt.

“Don’t be like that,” he begged.  “I’m sorry you feel let down. Give me time. Let me try find some other way of proving my loyalty to you.”

Months past and the Eagle sadly thought that the Tortoise had forgotten his promise. But then came his birthday, and he forgot about his doubts, looking forward to the big day. Every year, the Tortoise prepared a special lunch for his friend and always began the meal with a splendid present.

On the day, the Eagle excitedly made the flight down from the mountain to the desert in double quick time, he was so excited. But when he got there – what’s this? No table spread with goodies, no group of friends – no Tortoise. All there was a package and a card.

The Eagle opened the card and read.

“My friend, I’ve tried for months to think of a way to repay you for all the visits you’ve made to me over the years, but I’ve failed. So today, on your birthday, I’ve decided to come to visit you at your house. It’s a long journey for me, so I’ve decided to take several days to get there, to make sure I’m on time. As you can see, I was unable to carry your present as well. I hope you won’t object to carrying it yourself to your house – where I shall be ready to greet you and help you celebrate this special day!”

“Wow,” thought the Eagle. “Finally – he’s actually doing it!” He took the present in his talons and set off – over the desert, across the meadow, over the river, which he noticed today was very full and strong … Above the forest that was as the tortoise had said, full of tangled roots breaking up the ground, as well as sharp thorns in the twigs and branches. Then up, up he soared, up the slopes of the mountain, beyond the stony slopes and towering cliffs back to his eerie home.

The Tortoise wasn’t there.

“Never mind,” said the Eagle. “It IS a long way for someone who can’t fly.  He’s probably still walking. I can wait”

The Eagle waited … and waited … and waited.

After a bit he began to worry. The mountain certainly was very steep. The Tortoise had such tiny legs – there were a million places where he could slip and fall to his death.

“I’ll find him and give him a lift,” the Eagle thought. He flew off over the mountain, up and down, up and down. But there was no sign of the tortoise. He asked his friends the other eagles to help, and they all flew to and fro, but none of them saw anything.

“Maybe he fell into a ravine,” one of the other eagles said.

“Unless he’s crept past us and is waiting for you at your place, ” said someone else. The Eagle dashed home, full of hope, but the tortoise still wasn’t there.

“Maybe he’s still at the river. But that’s ludicrous – he can’t swim with that shell. He’ll drown! He stupid I’ve been! I must stop him,” thought the Eagle.

He flew off down the mountain side to to river and searched and searched – he even got one of the crocs that lived there to help him … But no one found anything

“Maybe one of my cousins found him first,” suggested the croc.

Off the Eagle flew, in a panic now .. back home , then to the forest, then to the desert, then to mountain again, then back home, then off again … back and forth and to and fro, until his wings ached. But of the tortoise, there was no trace …

It was getting late now. The Eagle realised that what for him was a simple journey on the wings of the wind, was a terrible ordeal for his little friend – an ordeal that had surely killed him. He flew wearily back home, full of guilt. He had lost the best friend in the world, and it was no one’s fault but his own.

He got back and – who should be there to greet him, but  the Tortoise himself,  looking comfortable and rested as he raised a glass to his friend.
The Eagle too one look and said…

‘HOW!!??”

“Can’t you guess?” said the Tortoise. “You gave me a lift! I was hiding … inside the parcel you so kindly carried here for me. I AM your birthday present!”

When he realised he had been tricked the Eagle was at first angry … then relieved … then angry again … and then at last he began to see the funny side and started to laugh … and laugh … and laugh.

Finally, they had their party.  At the end of the day, the Eagle carried the Tortoise safely back home and dropped him gently  at his front door. ”

“Just promise me one thing,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“Don’t EVER come to visit me again! I don’t think I could stand the stress!”

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