FEATURE ARTICLE

Augustine C. OhanweTuesday, November 23, 2010
chyinaho@yahoo.com


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FAMINE AND POLITICAL STRATEGIES FOR SURVIVAL IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

he gory episode of famine visited the animal kingdom in spring, a reason when flowers burst and blossom. A time when trees, which had been laid bare by autumn are re-clothed with green and glossy ones. Regrettably, it was this period that the evil wind of famine reared its ugly head and brought out the worst, the inhabitants of the animal kingdom had ever seen in the lion.


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The lush green vegetation of Dembe forest reservation known for its therapeutic herbs, a paradise for varieties of birds with their birdsong echo that produced shimmering rainbow of sounds, was about to vanish. The natural habitat of animals that fly, slither, run, and leap was about to give way to dry, and arid landscape. The ominous signs were visible. But the inhabitants of the animal kingdom felt helpless to reverse the awful situation.

Animals gathered together and stared at one another with disbelief as they noticed that the winding and murmuring forest brooks that bubbled over smooth black rocks had dried up. The brook was where animals of the kingdom frequented to quench their thirst. Waterfalls that cascaded down the shimmering river below, spreading moist winds to the vegetation had also dried up. Even the green grass around the waterfalls had succumbed to the harsh weather. It had withered away.

Hunger and uncertain future had established their reign. Nocturnal creatures such as bats with their sonars could no more troop out from their caves and gorge on forest insects for food. But with their flying equipment, they were lucky to migrate to fertile locations.

Tarsiers, with their acute hearing and night vision equipments could no more leap from tree to tree looking for insects, lizards and warms.

Civets with their exquisite sense of smell could no more follow the routes to capture their prey. There was panic for tomorrow as optimism and hope had fizzled away among the inhabitants of the Dembe forest reservation.

Animals of the forest became terribly afraid and confused. Many were fear-stricken that they found utterance difficult. ”We don’t deserve this calamity,” the jittery porcupine snarled with his mind immersed in his thought bank on how to wriggle out of the quagmire. But his brain was so short a ladder to reach for a solution to the prevailing situation.

Evening had given way to night and the moon reigned over the sky. While other animals deliberated for solution to the threatening situation, the porcupine left for the tortoise’s hut to registered his concern about the awful condition that had befallen their community and to seek for wise solution.

The tortoise, a slow moving creature protected from other predators by a hard shell has a reputation for being cunning and wise. He was held in a high regard as one who had great knowledge and capable of divining a solution that could dam the galloping dynamic of the threat imposed by famine. He became the oracle of the jungle to be consulted.

“Famine has visited us, and our lives hang in a precarious balance. How can we escape from the impending doom?” the porcupine asked the tortoise in a quaking lips, his eyes piercing and his quills quivering..

“There is only one way we can save ourselves from extinction like the dinosaur, or be captured by humans for domestication, or for food. That way is for us to start storing food in our huts and underground barns,” the tortoise responded to his beloved friend in a sad tune that reflected the gravity of the calamity about to befall them. He added, “Our carnivorous colleagues must turn to herbivorous club and start storing vegetables instead of resorting to the jungle law of the survival of the strongest and cannibalism.”

The porcupine was appreciative of the tortoise’s suggestions and requested that his wise ideas be disseminated to their colleagues for practical application. “Your idea must be sold to all and sundry not just to me. Go and spread the suggestion to our colleagues before it is to late,” the porcupine counseled.

The tortoise’s wife, Alie was in the same seasoning wavelength with the porcupine, and she used all her endearment in wifely persuasion to cajole and persuade the tortoise to sell his idea in order to save the inhabitants of the kingdom. “Make your idea loud and clear to all the inhabitants of Dembe forest reservation for their own good and survival,” she said, raising her voice with a piercing gaze to underpin his point.

The tortoise tightened his girdle and decided to sell his brainchild’s solution to the wider population of the animal kingdom. He took up the role of an ad hoc night crier. He brought out his gong from his raffia bag and went round the entire length and breath of the forest to alert other animals to start digging holes and constructing barns for storing food in order to avert the negative consequences of the approaching famine.

“Desperate situation calls for desperate action. Members of our animal kingdom that are carnivorous should consider becoming herbivorous and start storing edible leaves and tuber crops inside their underground caves and barns, before the entire forest turns barren” the tortoise counseled.

Animals of the wood who heard him were appreciative of the his timely and rich advice. Collectivity took ascendancy over individualism and cannibalism. They cooperated among themselves for the continuity of the animal kingdom.

The squirrel was not comfortable with the tortoise assuming the role of leadership while the lion was alive. He foresaw a dangerous consequence. He made a secret visit to the lion’s den and alerted him of the political situation generated by famine and leadership role of the tortoise. The news made the lion stone-faced and raised his hackles. Looking at the squirrel thoughtfully with his head resting on his forelegs he said soothingly, “you will be spared when I will inaugurate my swift and brutal reaction to the leadership role of the tortoise”.

“It gladdens my heart to secure such a kind assurance from the king of the jungle”, the squirrel replied. “Go back and rejoin your colleagues but inform no one of your visit to my den”, the lion warned.

“I will keep my lips sealed”, the rabbit assured the lion and left, smiling that he had the protection of the strongest beast.

On his return, the squirrel noticed that his colleagues had started gathering tuber crops and assorted type of vegetables. The elephant became an instructor and thought carnivorous animals how to eat vegetables. He displayed an array of vegetables on the ground, and taught them how to cut and masticate them. The hyena was slow to learn and to adapt. He complained bitterly:

“It is difficult for me to switch from raw meat eater to vegetarian. My teeth are not fashioned to cut and chew leaves and roots like the elephant”, said the hyena.

The fox was unsympathetic to his plight and said to him in a harsh voice, “Dunce and nitwits don’t learn fast,” and added, “I am carnivorous, and can now chew vegetables why can’t you do the same. In the face of imminent threat such as famine, we must learn fast and adapt to a new situation or we perish.”

The hyena did not take the insult kindly. His face turned purple with anger. Realizing that the hyena was upset by his tirade, the fox modulated his voice from harsh pitch to polite, soothing voice and encouraged the hyena to overgrow his self-imposed fear and join the new commonwealth club of herbivorous animals. The hyena managed to chop off a bunch of edible leaves and chewed them carefully and gently. He felt happy that he could adapt to the new demand, contrary to his initial view.

The elephant was happy that the hyena had mastered the technique of chewing vegetables. He then said: “Now that all of you have mastered the technique, I urge you to move deeper into the wood to gather roots and semi-dried leaves and start storing them in your respective barns and hole”.

The wild pig worked assiduously overturning the soil, searching for grubs, worms and other edibles. Many could not collect food because they had no energy to do so. Hunger had taken its toll.

Moved by compassion, the tortoise made a makeshift table with brown leaves that had carpeted the ground and laid food for all and sundry to have a hearty meal. He struck his gong three times, a form of bush telegraph, to summon his colleagues for lunch. They responded and when they gathered he said, “The food spread on the table are not for decoration. They are for consumption. Please eat to your fill before leaving for further food gatherings”

The green mamba, the deadliest snake was terribly pale and hungry-looking. It has lost weight. The rabbit was scared to be close to him. The snake sensed that the rabbit was afraid of him and said, “Relax your nerves, rabbit. I am not going to gobble you up. We are united by the dregs of pain and sorrow generated by the prevailing famine,” its head relaxing on its coiled body.

The rabbit felt assured and remained calm, but with the corner of his eyes focused on mamba.

Relaxing on the stump of a dried tree was the zebra. Pang of hunger had driven him into dizzy mood. The monkey fanned the zebra’s face with a half-dried broad coco yam leaf, as though to prevent him from fainting.

In order to avert casualties resulting from hunger, the tortoise immediately declared the food ready for consumption, so that hungry animals could help themselves. Green mamba was the greediest. He devoured much food on the table. So was the monkey. He was stuffing his mouth with both hands full of food. The gluttonous guinea pig ate much and stole some quantities for his next session. He buried the stolen food inside a hole. The hyena stole it and. gave a little portion of it to the Guinea pig to form an alliance with him.

But the lion was in his den reflecting on the entire famine scenario and felt bitter. He was bitter with the tortoise on how his idea to stem the tide of famine had gained him the admiration of the inhabitants of the animal kingdom.

The tiger, on the other hand was preoccupied with what was going on in the lion’s mind with regard to the awful predicament that had befallen the animal kingdom, and how he could obliterate such plan.

The lion started weaving a grand design for his personal survival, not of the inhabitants of animal kingdom. He thought his plans should take ascendancy over the collective survival initiated by the tortoise.

Instead of his known brutal tactic, he opted for cunning method. After a few seconds of profound reflection, the lion said aloud, “It’s humiliating that a Lilliput like the tortoise should make a law for the inhabitants of the animal kingdom while I, the king of the forest is still alive. His initiatives, though very good, did not get my stamp of approval. It is therefore null and void.”

The lion became angry and resolved to counter the tortoise’s collective survival plan. He dug a shallow, but deep pit in front of his den and connected it to his den with a tunnel. He camouflaged the surface of the pit with sticks and leaves to deceive the eyes of a casual observer. He caught a huge rabbit that strayed into den and ate it. He smeared its blood over his fore and hind legs as if they had been badly wounded.

He saw the vulture approaching and slumped down unto the ground in front of his den and feigned incapacitated. His head rested on the ground and his eyes half-opened like one in a comatose.

The vulture flew past the lion’s den and spotted the lion lying like a dead beast in front of his den. It flew back and perched on a lower branch of a tree in order to have a proper observation of what was supposed to be a dead lion. It noticed that the lion was alive but looked like one severely wounded.

“What is it that has befallen you, king of the forest?” asked the vulture.

Invoking the tone of one in agony the lion replied, “I fell into the cruel trap of a wicked hunter and painfully extricated myself. I must add that my fore and hind legs are badly wounded. I am now den-ridden and unable to roam about the forest,” the lion said to the vulture feigning severe pain by moaning and groaning.

The vulture empathized with the lion’s miserable state and said, “Don’t hesitate to ask me for help if you think there are areas I can be of use to you.”

The lion pondered over the vulture’s statement and responded , “Yes, I have lots of food, stored in my den and barn. It’s likely that I will not survive this injury. Go and announce to the animals of the forest that my days are numbered and that they should converge at my den. I will distribute all I have to them, and also bequeath my Will to one of them to assume the king of the forest after my demise.”

The vulture took the role of an errand boy and flew the entire length and breath of the wood, and announced the news as instructed. Many animals who heard him received the news with mixed feelings. But due to the fact that famine was around the corner, and the invitation had to do with distribution of food, and bequeathing of his Will, the animals became blindfolded to reason and gathered in the forest square with unimaginable enthusiasm. Famine and inheritance of the lion’s will made it imperative for them to respond to the call. More so, the assurance from the vulture that the lion’s fore and hind legs were badly wounded informed them that the lion could not gobble them up hence he had been reduced to a harmless dove by the hunter’s trap.

All the animals mustered in the jungle square in preparation to match in group to the lion’s den. The tortoise, the only animal who understood the lion’s mindset tried to discourage his fellow animals from trooping to the lion’s den.

“I have an inconvenient truth for you all,” the tortoise said. They all kept there ears ajar to welcome the truth. Using the tone of one who wields the mantle of understanding he said, “A dead lion can’t be trusted why moving in droves to respond to the invitation of an incapacitated one,” the tortoise warned. He added, “The lion’s message is a plot deodorized with the alluring perfume that can blindfold the untutored brain. You all must put on your thinking cap or you perish en masse.” He shook his head painfully and added, “Like a spider, he had constructed a fascinating tapestry of plot. Don’t be fooled.”

Many of the animals adopted a cavalier attitude towards the tortoise’s warnings. The guinea-pig challenged the tortoise saying, “At the time when gloom and doom pervade in our kingdom the lion’s message adds glow to our woes.” He lashed the tortoise again saying, “You have no savvy to challenge the invitation of the king of the forest,” and gawped at the tortoise before turning his face to his friend, the monkey.

As if his harsh statement was not enough the guinea-pig came back to the tortoise and asked, “How can a lion that cannot move his legs inflict harms to us.?” He added, “Do you want to impede our precious opportunity to secure food and inherit the will from the dying king of the forest”?

The tortoise shook his head in silent negation, and in sympathy with the guinea-pig’s ignorance. In a painful tone the tortoise said, “A fly that refuses to heed a constructive advice to get away from a dead, decomposed body will undoubtedly descend down the grave, and will be buried along with the corpse.”

“You are just a gross amorphous creature. You reason with your hard shell, not with your brain”, the guinea pig responded smugly and gave hoots of laughter. He added, “You have unbridled knack for making silly statements and exaggerating simple stuffs. A plague on you moron,” grumbled the guinea pig and threw a fierce glance at the tortoise

The tortoise ignored his harsh remarks and provocative body language. He turned to the fox and spoke to him with great concern saying, . “Only those who want help can be helped”. He added, “Detach yourself from this crowd of thoughtless beasts. Save yourself from the lion’s design”, the tortoise counseled. He further added, “Many of these animals are untamed and uncouth. Sooner than later the lion will outsmart them and manoeuvre them into a trap with no exit.”

“I am in the same wavelength with your train of thought and have bought your idea. However, I will still go with them to the lion’s den, but will disappear when the worst scenario happens”, the fox assured the tortoise soothingly.

“Don’t allow your cunning instinct disappoint you,” the tortoise counseled.

“I would not.” The fox replied, and added “cry for others, not for me.”

The tortoise last ditch effort to dissuade them to change their mind had failed. He retreated to his hut to stay with his wife, Alie.

Onwards the animals trudged under the full pale-faced moon while the night breeze whistled a haunting tune. Along the way, the fox took a few steps aside from his colleagues and signaled the antelope with a wink of eye to join him. The antelope did and the fox said to him in a low conspiratorial volume, “I want to initiate you into my Fox Academy of Science and offer you an intensive course right now for your dear life because we are in a tricky territory. Life has no duplicate. We are walking on a quicksand that can ensnare.”

The antelope replied nervously, “Our lives seem to be in a delicate balance. Your timely initiation will be deeply appreciated. I cannot pay you enough for that.”

The fox leaned on the tree trunk, crossed his legs and said, “To respond to the call of an incapacitated lion one must be an adept in the lion craft in order to scan for booby traps around its den; to divine its body language including the projection of its claws and dilation of its eyeballs among other body languages.”

The statement drove fear in antelope’s heart and increased the palpitation of his heart. He trembled a bit. “You are right” the antelope said in a stammering voice.

“In order to be on the safe side” the fox added, “both of us will stay at the rear of our matching colleagues. Should the lion’s invitation turns out to be a plot as our friend, the tortoise had warned, both us will be saved from the lion’s design.”

The antelope gave the fox’s idea a thump-up approval and said, “That’s a great idea.”

Both were close to each other at the rear of the matching column, while others, including the guinea-pig, who were desperate to inherit the lion’s will, positioned themselves in the forward location of the matching colleagues.

As they matched along, the fox said to the antelope, “Be strong like a sea rock in a heavy wave. Fear attracts bullet.”

The antelope replied, “I am gifted with the agility for speed, and you possess a tremendous reservoir of cunning. We are unlikely prey for the king of the lion. Remain cool.”

As the animals matched along confidently toward the lion’s den, the vulture flew back to the lion and said, “King of the forest, I have delivered your message to the animals of the forest and they are matching towards your den.”

The lion modulated his voice to a groaning tune and said, “My friend vulture, I am appreciative of your help and would request you further to go and tell them that on approaching my den they should stop and gather together within the 60 meter perimeter from my den so that I will address them before I die. Please come back after delivering the message. You will still be useful to me.”

The vulture bowed to the lion and said, “I will execute your bidding.”

The vulture drew a line at 60 meters boundary where the lion wanted them to assemble and flew back to the matching animals and said, “I have been instructed by the king of the forest to inform you to stop your match towards his den at the 60 meters boundary.”

The guinea-pig asked, “Why can’t we assemble in front of his den instead of being a bit far away?”

The vulture who was innocent of the lion’s design said, “I don’t know, but I think that is a prelude to his distribution of items to you all.”

The vulture then returned to perch on the tree, near the lion’s den, and watched the lion with the hope that after he had died he would have a share of his fleshy dead body.

The animals had approached the 60 meter boundary and they quartered themselves there as the dying king of the forest had requested. The giraffe with its long neck sighted the lion lying miserably with blood around the scene and said to the other animals, “The lion is severely wounded as the vulture had said.”

The zebra raised her neck and caught sight of the lion and added, “It’s true. He is miserably in a bad shape.” Such announcements blotted away the residual fear any of them may have harboured for their security.

The guinea-pig could not contain his excitement and said, “In a few minutes time, the sharing of food and bequeathing of the lion’s will, will end.”

Other animals started murmuring amongst themselves in reaction to the guinea-pig’s impatience. The lion heard their murmurs and sent the vulture to go to them and restore silence because he was about to address them.

“Shhh, the dying king of the forest is ready to address you,” the vulture said.

They became as silent as graveyard. The lion raised his head up from the ground and spoke to the animals in a voice that tallied with one at the verge of death, “My death is imminent and I want to share all the food in my den to all of you and also to bequeath my will to someone in your midst to be the king of the forest. Only the fastest runner to my den will be bequeathed to my will. The animal who inherits my will, will in turn distribute the food in my den and barn to the rest.”

Their appetite got whet. But on hearing the lion’s intention the fox whispered to the antelope saying, “Don’t allow yourself to be beguiled by the lion’s sugar-coated words delivered in his honeyed eloquence and sorcery of his craft.”

“The antelope shivered a bit and said, “Your advice has been taken on board, my good friend.”

While waiting for the lion's next move, a kind of shimmering affect passed through the site and the fox felt it. He turned to his friend, the antelope again and said, “I smell death around here. Danger is in the air. Do not run along with the other colleagues when the lion orders us to do so.”

The antelope nodded in approval and remained vigilant at the rear with the fox. “I will abide by your advice” he said. The lion then said what they have been waiting to hear, “On your markkks, seeet,. gooo!.”

They all made a mad and break neck rush to the den, in the bid to be the first and to inherit his will. But lo and behold ninety-five per cent of the animals that participated in the race fell into the shallow pit in front of the lion’s den. The vulture’s feathers stood up as chill ran through his wings after he had noticed what has happened.

The fox and the antelope who were at the rear observed what had happened, took to their heels along with a few others including the hare.

The lion got up from his feigned state of coma and said, “Thank you my good friend, vulture. You can now fly away to attend to your daily routines. Have a great weekend.”

On seeing the full picture of what had transpired, the vulture was confused, totally bewildered and shaken with disbelief. Looking at the lion straight in the eyes the vulture said. “You have used me to outsmart your colleagues, and had maneuvered them into your trap. This is a superlative manipulation. One day it will be your turn and I will devour your meat.”

The lion was not moved one hoot by the vulture’s statement. He walked majestically into his den, moved through the connecting tunnel and walked straight to the shallow pit to help himself with the victims of his lion craft.

The vulture flew to share his experience with his clan.

When the lion entered his den, the first thing he did was to let the squirrel go. “Because you alerted me to the design of the tortoise, I will set you free.” He picked up the rabbit with his mouth, as lions do with their cobs and took him outside his den.

While in the mouth of the lion, the squirrel was afraid that the lion would gobble him up and masticate him. But his fear vanished the moment the lion dropped him at the entrance of his den and waved him bye. He re-entered his den to feast on those animals trapped there.

The rabbit ran as fast as his legs could carry him to celebrate his great escape with the tortoise. Before celebrating, he narrated mournfully to the tortoise, his hopeless state of mind inside the lion’s den, as well as the plight of his colleagues he left behind. His narration of his mental turmoil was accompanied by tears, which he could not help shedding in abundance. He wept for his colleagues who were entrapped in the lion’s den.

“By now, the lion may have eaten many of them. They may have been digested in the lion’stomach.” The tortoise said mournfully. “I warned them of the lion’s design but they did not listen”. He added ruefully.

The lion has eaten too much of the meat of his victims. His stomach had bulged. He came out of the den to breath a fresh air and to relax for awhile before getting back to his den. Outside his den, he came face to face with the tiger. In terms of strength and brutality, the tiger is superior. In the ensuing duel between the two, the tiger prevailed. It delivers a punch blow of immense proportion that spells the demise of the king of the forest. The lion died. Exuding an air of superiority complex, the tiger walked inside the den and took charge of the animals, the victims of the lion craft.

From his far away nest inside the jungle, the vulture felt the pang of hunger and had to revisit the lion’s den with the intent to eat the leftovers from the lion’s victims. On approaching the scene he spotted the lion’s body lying motionless, in front of it’s den. Vultures are expert at knowing the body language of a dead animal except those of the lion. Protocols among vultures dictate that they should not, under any pretext whatsoever perch on a living body. Not knowing whether the lion was dead or not, the vulture flew down and tiptoed cautiously towards the lion. On getting closer, it paused, stuck out its neck in order to have a thorough examination of the lying beast. It flapped its wings twice to provoke a reaction from the beast but there was none.

“What I have seen bears the hallmark of the tiger. No other animal in this jungle has the power to terminate the life of the king of the forest. The tiger is the only animal that has the strenght and brutality that surpasses that of the lion,” the vulture muttered, scanning the scene to validate his perception.

The flapping sound of the vulture’s wings provoked the curiosity of the tiger inside the den. “Can a dead lion reincarnate?” the tiger queried in a subdued voice in his reaction to the noise outside the den. He added, “I must venture out to verify the source of the noise that filtered inside the den.”

The tiger came out of the den and saw the vulture standing upon the dead body of the lion. “I am glad it isn’t the dead lion that disturbed the peace of the den,” the tiger muttered.

The vulture, fearing that the tiger could bounce on him, flew back to the lower branch of a tree and said, “Greetings and congratulations for sending the lion to its untimely oblivion.”

“Eat his flesh and have your day. It is the law of the forest that when a strong animal dies, weaker ones will congregate over its flesh to settle old scores,” the tiger said, and walked back to the den.

The vulture flew back to the members of his clan. “The lion is dead and we have plenty of meat to eat throughout this famine season,” he announced with joy.

A clan of vultures followed him to the scene and feasted on the dead lion.

"A strong being must encounter another, more powerful and stronger. It an irrefutable natural law. It is a never ending circle until it reaches the rung of the Alfa where it ceases,” the red head vulture said to the members of his clan.

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