Before science, there were imaginative stories about the formation of land and life. I find inspiration in the creativity of legends from around the world and have worked to illustrate some of my favorites. This story is part of my Legends of the Land series.
In the heat of the midday sun, the rivers of east Africa look inviting. Cool water splashes past lush shrubs. The rivers even look like they’re full of stepping stones.
Those stepping stones, however, aren’t what they appear to be. They are hippos that are trying to stay cool during the hottest part of the day. They get as deep into the water as they can, but they are so huge that part of their backs stick out.
While we are used to seeing hippos in the water today — in fact, it would be odd not to see them there — there was a time when you would never see such a thing. It used to be that hippos were not allowed anywhere near the rivers.
Hippos are big eaters. They might eat 100 pounds a day. The Great Creator was worried that if hippos were allowed in the rivers, they might never leave. They might eat all the fish.
The hippos desperately wanted to find a cool place to spend the day. The sun burned their skin. There are very few trees in east Africa. There was no place to find shade.
“Please let us rest in the water during the day,” the hippos begged the Great Creator.
“No,” the Great Creator replied. “Look how big you are! You will eat everything, including all my fish.”
“But we don’t want the fish,” the hippos cried. “All we want is relief from the hot sun.”
“No. I don’t trust you.”
It was so hot and the water looked so refreshing that the hippos finally came up with an offer.
“What if we could prove to you that we won’t eat the fish?”
“How would you do that,” the Great Creator asked.
“If you let us in the cool water, every day we will open our mouths wide. You will be able to see for yourself that we have not eaten any fish.”
The deal was made. The water felt wonderful on their skin. It was so relaxing that they could spend the day sleeping in the river and then venture out onto the land at night to feed on grass.
And to prove they kept their end of the deal, at the end of each day they open their mouths wide to show there are no fish inside.
— Inspired by a Kikuyu story