Legend of the Hippo - Keeper of the River

In the beginning, Old Man took Hippo - the great river horse - down to the Zambezi, and pointed to it's long and winding vastness.

"Hippo, this is yours to keep. You are the gardener of the river; you must keep the banks free from brush so that my other animals can come and drink freely, and you must fertilize the water so that the lilies can grow and provide shade for the fishes. Do this for me" said Old Man.

Hippo was proud that Old Man had honoured him so, and agreed at once. "Old Man, I will keep the river for you." And down he went to the great slow Zambezi.

Hippo thought that the other animals would be pleased to see him, but it was not so. They laughed at his short legs, his round body, his waggling ears and his stump of a tail.

"How can you swim with a tail that small?" laughed Crocodile
"How can you run with legs that short?" said Zebra
"And how can you hear things with ears that tiny?" chortled Impala
"I can do all these things" said Hippo, but the other animals would not believe him. "Go away!" they said, "We do not want you to stay with us".

So Hippo left, great tears rolling down his cheeks, and hid in the bushes. The other animals carried on as though nothing was wrong.

But soon, the river changed. Bit by bit, the bush closed over the banks without Hippo's grazing teeth to keep them at bay; bit by bit, the lilies shrivelled without Hippo to fertilize them; one by one the fishes swam away to find new shade.

So the animals searched for Hippo, and found him hiding in the bushes.
"O great wise Hippo, please come back to the river with us - without you to care for it, it is suffering! Old Man will not forgive us if anything happens to the river, for we will have nowhere to go. Please come back." So Hippo went back to the river with the other animals. He cleared the banks and he fertilized the soil and the lilies, and the fish returned and the animals could all come once again and drink freely.

And that is why Hippo came to be "Keeper of the River"


(In African language "Hippo" means "Keeper of the River")

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