African Folk Tales (Andrew Lang)

Week 8: African Traditions - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images


The Heart of a Monkey

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

So remember as you read the story of the donkey and the hare and the lion that this is a story that the monkey is telling to the shark! What do you think the monkey is trying to get the shark to understand? What is the moral of the story that the monkey wants to convey to the shark by telling this long story about the foolish washerman's donkey? Think about that - and see if the monkey supplies the moral that you are expecting.

'Two or three weeks passed, and only bare places on the donkey's back showed where the lion's claws had been, while, on his side, the lion had recovered from his illness and was now as strong as ever. He was beginning to think that it was almost time for him to begin hunting again, when one morning a rustle was heard in the creepers outside, and the hare's head peeped through.

'"Ah! there is no need to ask how you are," she said. "Still you mustn't overtire yourself, you know. Shall I go and bring you your dinner?"

'"If you will bring me that donkey I will tear it in two," cried the lion savagely, and the hare laughed and nodded and went on her errand.

'This time the donkey was much further than before, and it took longer to find her. At last the hare caught sight of four hoofs in the air, and ran towards them. The donkey was lying on a soft cool bed of moss near a stream, rolling herself backwards and forwards from pleasure.

'"Good morning," said the hare politely, and the donkey got slowly on to her legs, and looked to see who her visitor could be.

'"Oh, it is you, is it?" she exclaimed. "Come and have a chat. What news have you got?"

'"I mustn't stay," answered the hare; "but I promised the lion to beg you to pay him a visit, as he is not well enough to call on you."

'"Well, I don't know," replied the donkey gloomily, "the last time we went he scratched me very badly, and really I was quite afraid."

'"He was only trying to kiss you," said the hare, "and you bit him, and of course that made him cross."

'"If I were sure of that," hesitated the donkey.

'"Oh, you may be quite sure," laughed the hare. "I have a large acquaintance among lions. But let us be quick," and rather unwillingly the donkey set out.

'The lion saw them coming and hid himself behind a large tree. As the donkey went past, followed by the hare, he sprang out, and with one blow of his paw stretched the poor foolish creature dead before him.

'"Take this meat and skin it and roast it," he said to the hare; "but my appetite is not so good as it was, and the only part I want for myself is the heart. The rest you can either eat yourself or give away to your friends."

'"Thank you," replied the hare, balancing the donkey on her back as well as she was able, and though the legs trailed along the ground she managed to drag it to an open space some distance off, where she made a fire and roasted it. As soon as it was cooked the hare took out the heart and had just finished eating it when the lion, who was tired of waiting, came up.

'"I am hungry," said he. "Bring me the creature's heart; it is just what I want for supper."

'"But there is no heart," answered the hare, looking up at the lion with a puzzled face.

'"What nonsense!" said the lion. "As if every beast had not got a heart. What do you mean?"

'"This is a washerman's donkey," replied the hare gravely.

'"Well, and suppose it is?"

'"Oh, fie!" exclaimed the hare. "You, a lion and a grown-up person, and ask questions like that. If the donkey had had a heart would she be here now? The first time she came she knew you were trying to kill her, and ran away. Yet she came back a second time. Well, if she had had a heart would she have come back a second time? Now would she?"

'And the lion answered slowly, "No, she would not."

* * * *

'So you think I am a washerman's donkey?' said the monkey to the shark, when the story was ended. 'You are wrong; I am not. And as the sun is getting low in the sky, it is time for you to begin your homeward journey. You will have a nice cool voyage, and I hope you will find the sultan better. Farewell!' And the monkey disappeared among the green branches, and was gone.


Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • how did the hare persuade the donkey to visit the lion a second time?
  • how did the hare manage to take all of the meat for himself?
  • why did the monkey tell this story to the shark?


Source: Andrew Lang, Lilac Fairy Book (1910). Weblink. [Lang notes: From 'Swahili Tales,' by Edward Steere, LL.D.]


Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM