Tales of Wisdom and Cunning

    Bouki, Leuk and the Bush Fire

The hyena and rabbit stories are common in The Gambia and Senegal where they are told to children as morality tales. Bouki, the hyena, is the trickster who never manages to totally outsmart Leuk, the rabbit. This is a retelling of a story that was told one afternoon by a professor from Senegal at Columbus State University in Columbus, Ohio. — Jamie Rhein (The Gambia 1982-84

BOUKI, THE HYENA LOVED to stir up trouble. He loved to stir up trouble more than he loved to howl and laugh at the moon. He loved to stir up trouble even more than he loved to walk through the bush searching for something good to eat or to take a nap under his jujuba tree. Bouki’s favorite way to stir up trouble was by playing tricks on Leuk, the rabbit.
     Bouki, the hyena, and Leuk, the rabbit, were never far from each other. Bouki was a sneaky fellow. He was the number one trickster of the bush and he loved to follow Leuk around looking for ways to outsmart him. Wherever Leuk went, Bouki was not far behind. Sometimes Bouki outsmarted Leuk, but not for long. Leuk always caught on to Bouki’s tricks, but Bouki kept trying.
     One this particular day, when Bouki woke up and saw the sun shining through the branches of his jujuba tree, he said to himself, “Today, I’m going to stir up trouble. I’m going to play a good trick on Leuk.” But, Bouki was fresh out of tricks so he had to think of one.
     Bouki walked down to the river for a drink of water. The river was a good place to think of tricks. When Bouki saw the sun’s reflection in the river’s water, and saw how the sun shone like a fiery ball, he said, “That’s it! I know of the perfect trick!” He laughed out loud and headed back to the jujuba tree to find Leuk.
     Leuk, who had just hopped out of his hole, was doing his morning stretches when Bouki came running. At the moment Bouki showed up, Leuk was touching his toes.
     “Hurry, hurry!” Bouki cried. He was all out of breath from running so hard. “Hurry, hurry, Leuk! A huge fire is coming this way! It’s the biggest fire I have ever seen! Hurry! We must run to tell the others!”
     Leuk touched his toes once more, not wanting to appear alarmed or fall for another one of Bouki’s tricks. He turned his head up so he could study Bouki closely. “This isn’t one of your tricks is it?” he asked.
     “Would I be running so fast and be so out of breath if it was?” asked Bouki. “Can’t you smell the smoke?”
     Leuk then stood on his hind legs, stretching as high as he could stretch and took deep breaths. He thought he smelled smoke. And Bouki did say there was smoke. And Bouki, who was lazy more than he was sneaky, was all out of breath.
     “I guess I do smell smoke, and you are all out of breath,” said Leuk. “We had better warn the others. I’ll go this way, and you go that way,” he said. Leuk hopped away in one direction as fast as his legs could carry him.
     Bouki heard Leuk yell, “Fire! Fire! Run! Run!” every time Leuk passed by an animal, bird or reptile.
     Bouki laughed and laughed. He figured it would be a long time before Leuk figured out there wasn’t a fire and come back to the jujuba tree. In the meantime, Bouki decided he would take a nap.
     Leuk didn’t see Bouki lie down under the jujuba tree. He was too busy hopping as fast as his legs could carry him. “Fire! Fire! Run! Run!” yelled Leuk when he passed a group of gazelles. The gazelles started to run. They ran and ran and ran. When the gazelles passed a group of monkeys they yelled, “Fire! Fire! Run! Run!” The bush pigs started to run. Now, the gazelles, the monkeys, and the bush pigs ran and ran and ran. Every time the large group passed by a smaller group, they yelled, “Fire! Fire! Run! Run!” The larger group grew bigger and bigger and bigger. Soon all the animals, reptiles and birds in the bush were running together. Even the geckos and the parrots had joined in with the race from the fire.
     Then Leuk saw Bouki fast asleep under a jujuba tree. “Now, wait a minute. Why is Bouki sleeping when the rest of us are running?” he said to himself. “And why does that tree look familiar? Oh, I get it,” he said. “That’s Bouki’s jujuba tree!” Leuk, who was very, very smart, figured out that the animals had run so far, they had run in a complete circle. He also knew at that moment that there wasn’t any smoke and there wasn’t any fire. This was another one of Bouki’s sneaky tricks.
     “We’ll see about that!” said Leuk to himself and he ran towards Bouki and the jujuba tree. The gazelles, the monkeys, the parrots, the gekkos and the others ran close behind him. Luek ducked down his hole, but the others kept running in their excitement to get away from the fire. Leuk peeked out of his hole to see what would happen next.
     Bouki woke up because of the commotion. The beating hooves and paws rumbled across the ground. The birds and monkeys calls pierced the air. Bouki shook his head to clear the sleep from his eyes. As far as Bouki could see, animals, birds and reptiles were running and flying past him. There were hundreds and hundreds of them running, flying and shouting.
     “What’s wrong?” Bouki yelled to a grey hippopotamus that almost trampled Bouki as he ran by Bouki’s jujuba tree.
     The hippopotamus yelled over his shoulder, “Haven’t you heard?" You must be the latest animal in the bush to know. The bush is on fire! Run! Run!” he shouted.
     Bouki was so startled about the news of the fire that he did run. He ran and ran and ran because while Bouki was asleep he forgot all about the trick he played on Leuk.
     Leuk came out of his hole to watch Bouki run and run and run. Bouki became smaller and smaller and smaller, the further he ran from the jujuba tree. It was Leuk’s turn to laugh.
     Leuk watched Bouki become so small that he disappeared in a cloud of dust over the horizon. Then Leuk lay down for a nap under Bouki’s jujuba tree. He crossed his arms under his head. “What a nice day for a rest,” Leuk said and yawned and fell asleep.

Jamie Rhein worked with a Primary Health Care project in The Gambia. Currently, she is an 8th grade Humanities teacher at the American Embassy School in New Delhi, India. She is also a freelance writer, and has been published in Teaching Tolerance, Ohio Magazine and New Mexico Magazine.