The tortoise who humbled the hippopotamus

tall tales story banner desktop tall tales story banner tab tall tales story banner mobile
It may be foolish to underestimate the significance of a waterhole. It is more than water, dirt and mud. It is a safe place where the rules of the savanna must be obeyed. Because at the waterhole, all are equal.

A lion cannot hunt by the waterhole. A crocodile, likewise, cannot attack those who drink by the waterhole. And a tortoise, no matter how small or how slow, has a right to drink with no fear—just like everyone else. It was a sacred rule set by the spirit of the savanna. Her name was Osun. She proclaimed that any who lived by the divinity of her power, through rivers and sacred water, could do no harm to those who chose to drink from the waterhole. This is where our tale begins…

The air was dry, and the red sun was blistering, a cloudless sky beamed down on a great brown shell moving ever so slowly through the savanna. Step by step, a tortoise with a crackling sunburned back sauntered towards the waterhole. The silver-haired monkeys bounced on his shell, the orange-faded lions with their large furry paws brushed him aside, and the dishevelled black vultures landed on his shell, bearing weight upon him.

“So slow!” screeched one vulture.

“So useless!” screeched another.

The tortoise finally found himself at the water’s edge. As he bowed his long neck, he began to drink. It was then the tortoise heard a grunt and felt the ground beneath him quiver.

With a turn of his long neck, he saw an enormous hippopotamus racing towards him. The tortoise widened his chestnut eyes in horror as Gulsige The Greedy knocked him out of the way and into the water. All the animals stopped and watched on as Gulsige bellowed in laughter.

“Tortoises have no business here!” he bellowed.

The tortoise, with his head bowed to the ground and water dripping from his enormous shell, began to leave the waterhole and Gulsige The Greedy. That was until the once cloudless sky saw rolling grey clouds gather ominously in the distance. Lightning cracked and thunder drummed, the elephants all stopped bathing in the water, the zebras leapt onto their hind legs and chortled. Gulsige The Greedy peered up at the mass of grey clouds. A white lightning bolt struck the centre of the rocks gathered in the waterhole. And with it appeared the spirit of the Savanna.

Osun, with white irises, was dressed in a sapphire silk gown. Her arms were dressed in gold bracelets, her nose pierced with many gold pieces. She gently placed her feet on the surface of the water. All the animals looked on as she spoke.

“You! Greedy hippopotamus, along with many others, have broken my decree,” she said, pointing at Gulsige. “You have treated this tortoise as someone who is inferior to you. And thus, is no equal at my sacred waterhole.”

Gulsige grunted, “fair spirit, such a creature does not deserve to be equal to me. I am superior in every way. My tusks are sharp, my skin thick and my body enormous! Even the great cats of the savanna fear me!”

“Foolish is he who sees quality in flesh and he who has fear in the presence of enormity. For even the smallest of creatures can change the course of history,” Osun proclaimed as she stood on the water, her beautiful sapphire dress soaking in the water.

“Prove it!” Gulsige The Greedy bellowed across the water.

“Very well. You…tortoise,” Osun stretched her arms to the silent tortoise. “You will face this hippopotamus and challenge him to a battle of strength. You will be treated as an equal shortly.”

Gulsige bellowed and rolled in the mud. “I will make this tortoise wish he had never been born! Such a creature is no match for me. You have made a grave mistake, great spirit.”

And so, Gulsige charged towards the tortoise, the ground shook the with every step. Smash! Smash! Smash! As Gulsige The Greedy drew near he opened his wide-gaping mouth and revealed his large tusks. The tortoise, afraid by his size, withdrew into his shell. Gulsige scooped the tortoise into his mouth and with all his might clamped down on the tortoise’s shell. A crushing sound was heard throughout the savanna. Gulsige, to his horror, cried out in pain and dropped the tortoise from his mouth. His gigantic tusks fell from his mouth, broken on the ground. In a rage Gulsige stomped his feet on the tortoise’s wet shell and slipped. He came crashing down to the ground. The animals who watched on stood silent, in shock as the once mighty Gulsige was now asleep on the ground.

The tortoise emerged once again from his shell, and saw the giant hippopotamus lying motionless on the ground.

“And now you see, tortoise,” Osun said, her voice gentle, “Alas, strength does not only arrive in size and stature. It can be found in the most unlikely places, should one bother to look with a keen eye. The once proud hippopotamus has now been humbled. And you all have witnessed that everyone is equal. Individual, yes. But equal nonetheless. Go forth and remember the story you have witnessed here. The tortoise who humbled the hippopotamus,” and with her last words, Osun vanished in a ray of light, returning to the eternal sanctuary of the spirits.

From that day on, the tortoise was treated as Osun predicted. No longer did the monkeys bounce on his shell. No longer did the lions brush him aside, and no longer did Gulsige or the vultures make fun of him.

hippo story graphic desktop hippo story graphic tab hippo story graphic mobile

Discover more stories behind the tall tales collection