Long, long ago the animals had to choose a king. As was their custom, they selected the biggest and strongest animals to be candidates, after which their nominees had to prove their ability to lead. In those days the animals – being what they were – declared that during this process only the best of manners be the order of the day. No hunting was allowed, and even Vulture had to be kind and courteous.
During this election (their last, as it turned out), the elders selected Lion (of course) as well as Elephant and Buffalo. As usual, everybody thought that the honour would befall Lion, as he had proven his worth over a long time. Elephant was, however, tremendously popular; the animals loved the way he could recite the history all the way back to the Great Flood. Also, the quiet way Elephant went about his daily business appealed to all, causing some debate as to whether Lion should really be elected again.
In those days, Buffalo was known for his good humour. In fact, he was so funny that Hyena (his best friend) couldn’t stop laughing. Whenever the animals gathered for the First Rain Celebrations, Buffalo was called upon to make a speech about the good times ahead. Man, the great animal soon had everybody rolling about in helpless laughter as he made fun of the hardships they endured during the dry season. Even the most serious situations – like when the ants ate all the grass or the river ran dry – were told in such a way that Boffalo’s uncontrolled giggling had them telling each other what a great comedian he was.
But…there was a dark side to Buffalo’s humour, something the other animals never realised. Buffalo, you see, had a secret. He knew about a pasture – set amongst the rolling hills of the veld – where he never allowed any other animal to go. Whenever he saw somebody approaching, he’d start telling his jokes and all too soon that animal would forget all about being hungry or thirsty while laughing with the big Buffalo and his funny stories.
Now, when the day of the election arrived, Elephant (being the biggest) got to be the first speaker at the Animal and Nature Conference, the gathering where everybody had to vote for their new king. True to Elephant’s nature, he reminded them of their heritage and the hardships of the past.
“Look,” he said, “we must not repeat the mistakes of the past. We must work harder and work together. Should you elect me as your king, I’ll see to it that we utilise our resources with greater care. Some of you might have to venture to pastures far away – to bring back food for the old and the needy. And you’ll have to clean up the river; we need good, pure drinking water. I also like the idea of building a dam so we may have plenty of water during the dry seasons.”
The animals listened with great respect, but the younger ones looked at each other in dismay. Elephant’s plans were so radical! And who would have to do all that work? No, they told each other, they won’t vote for him.
Lion was up next. He growled and grumbled, telling the meeting that he had been their king for a long time. “Elephant is far too ambitious,” he said. “What is wrong with the way we had been living? No, progress will only spoil the veld and the forest. I am a natural leader and there’s not one of you who can challenge my strength. If you don’t vote for me, you’ll have to bear the consequences.”
This time the animals looked at each other with knowing glances. Yes, they knew about Lion’s strength, but what had he accomplished in the time he was king? No, they needed a progressive leader, but one which didn’t make them work the way Elephant had proposed.
Then Buffalo stood in front of them and pulled a face while twirling his bushy tail in a grand circle.
“Hee, hee, hee,” he said, watching the audience carefully. Of course they sniggered. “This is all too serious, my compatriots. Why waste your time with a king that’ll make you work all day long? Or, for that matter, who scares you into voting for him? No, we are comrades in this kingdom. We must be happy. Nobody should do more than he needs to – in fact, let’s do nothing at all!” So rousing was his way of talking to them that all the animals cheered. “Now, look at Elephant. He’s so fat he can’t even scratch his ear.” (Lots of laughter). “And Lion? Why, he makes his wife do all the work! She has to do the hunting. She feeds the cubs. And he?” Buffalo waited a second to let the question sink in. “He’s so lazy he sleeps all day!” Buffalo went ‘Hee, hee, hee” again as the animals pointed paws and hooves at Lion, making fun at their former king.
And so it was no surprise that Buffalo was elected king. Even today the animals remember that summer, when the veld echoed with laughter. Buffalo allowed everybody to do as they pleased while he told them funny stories every time they sought his advice. It was a time of great freedom and merriment.
But then the winter came. The grass withered and the great river became a sluggish little stream of muddy water.
“King! King! What are we to do? Our children are hungry and the water is fuinished?”
And Buffalo went “Hee, hee, hee” and told them drought is a good sign: it means it will be broken at some stage. “Why, do you want rain all year long? No, you’ll just get too fat and lazy if the grass is green all the time. You must embrace the winter, comrades, for it means spring is just around the corner.”
But that year the spring didn’t bring rain. Instead, the sun burnt down from above and the muddy river became a dry river bed. Again the animals complained to their king. Buffalo laughed and suggested that Crocodile and Hippo were responsible for the river drying up. As for the veld? Why, didn’t they see the ants carting off the grass? No, they can’t blame him, King Buffalo, for their hardships, The real problem were the thieves amongst the animals.
For a while the animals believed their king and even managed the occasional smile.
And then Ferret found out about Buffalo’s secret pasture.
“Have you not seen how fat Buffalo is? And have you seen ho well-fed his many wives are? Come on, guys, think! We are barely surviving, but our king is living as if nothing is wrong!”
Yes, the animals said, that is true.
“Well, I’ve followed Buffalo for a while now. You know what I’ve found?” And he told them about the green pasture and the fountain and the place Buffalo tried to hide from them all.
The animals didn’t believe Ferret at first, but he took them to the secret place and showed them. The animals became very angry and gathered to speak to their king. One by one they stood up and accused the king of trying to fool them all. Buffalo tried laughing his way out of this predicament, but the animals had had enough. With the help of Elephant, Hippo and Crocodile, they tied him up and left him there. Then they all rushed to the secret pasture and ate their fill.
For once, Buffalo couldn’t laugh his way out of trouble. He thought about the animals eating up his secret source of grass and became so incensed that he broke free of his bonds.When he stormed up the hill to try and save his pasture, the animals rolled down rocks. He bellowed in anger, but everybody just laughed at him. This wasn’t funny at all. Buffalo finally lost his sense of humour. He knew then that he would never be king again.
From that day on, the animals were very careful to choose a king that would be fair, who could lead them properly and who could look after their interests.
But it was too late. Buffalo had become an angry, fierce beast; intent on attacking any living thing he encountered.
And the veld never really recovered.
The moral of the story: be very, very weary of a funny Buffalo. All animals know that. Maybe some day, humans will, too…