Choral Tales Project
The Cat’s Protector
(Africa - Tanzania)
As Re-told by Shirin Sabri
[This story was a favorite of Nelson Mandela. Varying versions of the story are found in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and other parts of East Africa, where they are known as "The Cat who Came Indoors" and by other names.]
There was once a little 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. In the distance, on the far side of the waterhole, there was a woman approaching with a water-pot carried high on her shoulder, but the cat paid no attention to her. 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, 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. The woman was there again, on the far side of the waterhole, patiently dipping water into her pot— but the cat paid no attention to her. The elephant held her fascinated gaze. 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 striped shadows under 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 sat and washed her paws, giving herself time to think. Then she stepped delicately 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 her new friend wherever he went, trotting to keep up with his long, swinging stride. One day he lifted his trunk and sniffed. He smelled delicious grain, great piles of millet that a man and his wife had stored for their family. The cat scampered at his heels, wondering where they were going now. They approached a snug house, and that woman was there, too, working in the sunshine, planting seeds in the vegetable patch. The cat paid no attention to her, even when the woman stood up and called out loudly. The elephant began tearing away the thatched roof from the hut where the grain had been stored. The cat watched, giving a little wriggle of anticipation, ready to pounce on any mice that might run out.
The loud bang of a gunshot sent her scooting up into a tree. A man ran 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 to think. 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 disposed of 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 with her tail held high. The woman was there, waiting. She smiled lovingly at her husband, and took the gun from his hands so that she could put it away in its proper place. The cat paused, golden eyes widening a little, the black tip of her tail curling over like a question mark. A wonderful smell of food wafted through the door.
Once she had befriended the woman, the cat found a comfortable spot by the fire and tucked herself up into the neat curl of her own tail, a confident purr humming in her throat. She had found the best of protectors, in a home ruled by a loving heart.
Shirin Sabri © 2014
Drawing, Eva Tuman © 2014
© Ludwig Tuman 2017