Getting out of bed has been a challenge the past couple of days. Despite yesterday morning’s meteorological prediction of 0% probability of precipitation, a glance out the window showed heavy drizzle being blown sideways: what we affectionately call horizontal rain. In July! This morning (17% chance of rain for Edinburgh) was slightly better with only light drizzle saturating the air. It’s summers like these that make me question the fates who brought me to Scotland!
Which reminds me of a story I like to tell inspired by an odd little collection I picked up in a charity shop: ‘How Animals Came into the World’, from a Czech book, Animal Fairy Stories, by Alena Benesova, translated by Ruth Shepherd, with illustrations by Karel Franta published by Cathay Books in 1982. Benesova attributes the story as ‘African’, although I’ve not been able to find any original source. The themes resonate with some Native American tales I’ve read, and there are a lot of North American animals in it, so I’m not at all confident in the author’s attribution. Whatever the original source, and however peculiar the geographies of Cold War Czechoslovakian storytellers, the story is still an excellent one for introducing ecological concepts such as habitat and niches and the weather-related grumpiness of people the world over. Here’s how I like to tell it…
How Animals Came Into the World
At the beginning of the World, the great Chieftain Sun sent the Giant Napi down to form the landscapes of the world: the valleys and mountains, rivers and lakes, cliffs and beaches. While he was resting, smoking his pipe next to a lake he’d just finished creating, Napi started fiddling with a lump of clay. In his hand the clay was molded into a thing with four legs and a head. He breathed on it and it came to life. He named it ‘Bison’ and set it down on a mountain to live. He was pleased with his ‘Bison’, so he made another creature and another and another, until he’d made and named all the animals of the World. He had just one small piece of clay left, just enough to make a creature with two legs. And what did he name him? (at this point you can ask the audience). Human.
Giraffe he put in the lake, because his neck was so long. Seal he put in the desert. Hedgehog he put on the ocean floor…(keep making things up until the audience can bear it no longer and starts to protest at all the mistakes Napi is making. Ignore them.)…Pleased with himself, Napi leaned back and resumed smoking his pipe.
A crowd of animals started to gather around him. They were all grumbling about something. He leaned down to hear them better. ‘I can’t live in the mountains,’ said Bison. ‘My hooves are too small, I keep sliding and falling.’
‘Fair enough,’ said Napi. ‘Where would you like to live?’
‘On the flat, grassy plains, where I can eat grass all day and run as much as I please,’ said Bison.
…(you can go through as many animals as you like, asking the audience where they’d rather live and why)…
One by one the animals were given homes that pleased them, all but Human, who could not make up his mind. Napi put him in the savannah, but he soon wandered off. To this day, humans have spread to every corner of the World looking for that perfect place to live. If you listen closely, you’ll hear them complaining at bus stops around the globe: ‘I don’t know why I live here, it rains too much…it doesn’t rain enough…it’s too hot…it’s not hot enough…I hate the snow…it doesn’t snow enough…the winters are too long…the summer days are too bright…’