Choral Tales Project
The Cat’s Protector
(Africa - Tanzania)
As Re-told by Shirin Sabri
[This story was a favorite of Nelson Mandela.]
There was once a little brown striped cat who walked the wide grasslands of the Serengeti. She was a very small cat in a very big place, and she decided that what she needed was a powerful friend. She hunched quietly in the brown grasses by the waterhole, listening and watching, considering who would make the most formidable protector. Gazelles and zebra, wildebeest and buffalo all came down to drink, jostling each other and trampling the mud. The cat sank low, the black tip of her tail twitching; her ears pricked forward, wondering which of these creatures might be the most powerful.
As she watched, a lion paced slowly into view, moving down to the water. As one, the gazelles and zebra, the wildebeest and buffalo wheeled and galloped away, leaving the lion to drink in peace. The cat stood up and stretched her limbs. She stepped daintily down to join the lion at the waterhole, squeezing her eyes most charmingly.
Once she had befriended the lion, the cat walked confidently wherever she pleased. Every creature that dwelt on the plains feared her new protector – or so she thought.
One day there was a new visitor to the waterhole – a great grey elephant. When the lion tried to approach the water, the elephant shook his ears threateningly, tusks gleaming white in the late afternoon sun. The cat melted into the striped shadows of a thorn tree, watching closely. The lion tried once more to get to the water, sidling around to the other side of the elephant, but the old tusker turned impatiently and charged. The lion leapt out of the way and slunk off into the long grass muttering to himself. The cat washed her paws and thought, then stepped daintily across the mud to strop herself against the elephant’s leg, leaning affectionately on his grey, wrinkled ankle.
Once she had befriended the elephant, the cat walked confidently wherever she pleased. Every creature that dwelt on the plains feared her new protector – or so she thought.
The cat followed the elephant wherever he went, trotting to keep up with her new friend’s long, swinging stride. One day the elephant smelled grain, great piles of millet that a family had stored. The elephant began tearing away the thatched roof from the hut where the family had stored their grain. The cat watched, waiting to pounce on any mice that might run out.
The loud bang of a gunshot sent the cat scooting into a tree. A man from the family came towards the elephant, waving his gun and shouting, and the elephant backed away. The man fired again, over the elephant’s head. The elephant trumpeted angrily but he turned and lumbered off. The cat stretched out on a comfortable branch and thought. The man began working to repair the hut’s roof, and the cat strolled out into the open. When a mouse showed itself, the cat quickly dispatched it, and the man nodded approvingly.
Once she had befriended the man, the cat knew she could walk confidently wherever she pleased. Every creature that dwelt on the plains feared her new protector – or so she thought.
When the man had finished making his repairs, he went back to his home, the cat following him with her tail held high. The man’s wife greeted him at the door. She smiled lovingly at her husband, and took the gun from his hands. The cat paused, golden eyes widening a little, the black tip of her tail curling over like a question mark.
The cat saw that the man loved to be near his wife, and how all the children of the household gathered around their mother, drawn by her warmth.
Once she had befriended the woman, the cat found a comfortable spot by the fire, and curled up cosily, a confident purr humming in her throat. The woman would be the best of protectors, for none feared her – the power she wielded came from a loving heart.
Shirin Sabir © 2014
Drawing, Eva Tuman © 2014
© Ludwig Tuman 2017