How the Hippo Lost his Hair

I’ve always loved folktales, but surprisingly had never heard any hippo stories until recently. Well, maybe not so surprising, since I grew up in America where there are no free-ranging hippos whatsoever and not even any American folktales, now that I think of it. I guess early Americans were too busy fighting the Brits and exterminating Native Americans to create folk tales. All our folktales are borrowed from Europe. I immersed myself in Anderson and Grimm and thrilled to the idea of evil stepmothers and handsome princes. When I got a bit older I discovered Native American folktales like “How the Rabbit Got his Long Ears.” I loved these creation tales so I was delighted to run across this hippo tale from Africa. It goes something like this:

Long ago Hippo lived on the open savanna. He had long silky fur and a bushy tail, which he was very proud of. He especially like to admire himself in the water’s reflection.

One day the Hare became annoyed at Hippo’s vanity and decided to humble him. He led Hippo to a large bed of dry grass, exclaiming, “Such a handsome hippo should sleep upon the finest bed!” Hippo stretched out and fell asleep.

Then Hare lit the grasses on fire and leaped back as Hippo’s fine fur was set ablaze. Poor Hippo threw himself into the river to stop the flames. When he climbed out, his fur was burned away, leaving only naked skin and a stubby tail. From then on, the humbled hippo was too ashamed to show his scorched body, and kept to the water ever since.

If you’d like to read more stories like this, visit Lutterworth Press for the books, “When Hippo Was Hairy” and “When Lion Could Fly”. Or read “When Hippo Was Hairy” online at Google Books.