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  • 1/17/2004

The Curious Monkey

African Folktales

Ituri retold and illustrated by Timothy Bush

Ah, but a good long time ago, deep in the dark shady middle of the forest, there sleeps a Dog. He's all curled up in the ashes from a fire, cozy as can be, and he is the very first dog ever to be in the world. It's hard to say if he is a Good Dog or a Bad Dog, since back in those days, all Dog does is sleep.

Well, that's fine, but then along comes Monkey.
Monkey can't let anything be. He drops from the tree, and scampers over and tilts his head to look at Dog; looks from one side, then the other; Looks at the head and then the tail. Monkey hangs upside down from a branch to see if Dog looks different that way. All he sees is upside-down Dog. Monkey doesn't know what Dog is, because Dog is the very first Dog in the world. Off goes Monkey to tell the world. Primates just can't keep a secret.
All the animals come to see; nobody wants to get second-hand news. "Well!" says Monkey. "There it is! Anyone know who this might be?" Elephant leans a long way over, looks down at Dog with elephant eyes. "No!" says Elephant, flapping her ears. "Not an elephant, that's for sure!" "Not an elephant!" Monkey says. "Thank you! That's a lot of help!"
Gentle Okapi steps up next. Swings his head with okapi eyes back and forth over Sleeping Dog. "Sorry," Okapi says, quiet and shy. "Not an okapi and not a giraffe."
Up comes Pangolin, covered with scales. Pangolin really takes his time. Some say Pangolin's very wise; others say he only slow. Pangolin looks with pangolin eyes, but nobody hears what Pangolin thinks. After looking a good long time, Pangolin sits and goes to sleep.

Monkey calls on every beast to come and look at Sleeping Dog. One by one they look through their eyes, but nobody says he's one of theirs.
Oh, but Tortoise sits in a tree, and she knows all about the Dog. She's been there since way, way back and she knows just about everything. "Done with asking?" she calls down, and Monkey says "Just about! This thing, though," - he means the Dog - "we still don't know what it is or does!"
"Until you think of a better name," Tortoise answers, calm and clear. "I'd advise you to call him 'Dog'. He looks just like a 'Dog' to me." Oh, but hearing his name out loud wakes up Dog and makes him mad. Pop! he opens his big dog eyes, and looks at the animals all around.
"Who here went and woke me up? Never mind, I'll get you all!" And Dog charges straight at everyone, barking and showing his big dog teeth. All the animals run away, and Dog goes after them with murder on his mind.

All except Tortoise. She only laughs and pulls her head back into her house. "You'll never get me, Dog," she says. "But from this day on, you'll chase any beast your dog-eyes see." And that's how it still is, even today.
That night, Monkey makes up a new Rhyme:

Now I
Know why
You let a sleeping dog lie.

By then, of course, it's too late.

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