Once upon a time the Hyena, Hiti, and the Honey Badger, Thegere, set out to look for honey in the forest. When they identified a nice bee hive up a tree the Badger told the Hyena, “Know my friend that what is up there is pure sweetness and no one who ever eats it ever needs to defecate. The best thing for you to do is to let me sew up your bottom so that the sweetness is held in.” The Hyena agreed and therefore the Badger took a strong string and sewed up Hyena’s bottom. Once this operation was done the Badger climbed up the tree while the Hyena was left at the bottom of the tree lighting a fire.
When the Badger opened the hive he found a lot of honey and he started eating the pure jelly while he threw the combs and grubs at the Hyena. The Badger then filled his container with all the best honey and filled the Hyena’s with the combs and grubs. As they headed for home, Hyena’s stomach was already bloated and he felt like bursting. He said to the Badger, “Friend, please unsew my bottom just a little bit, for I feel ready to burst. The Badger merely laughed and left the Hyena on the roadside squirming with pain.
By and by, Mr Crow, Wakagogo, passes by and sees the Hyena writhing in pain and kicking his last and asks, “Friend Hyena, what is wrong?” The Hyena in a very weak voice replied, “Please unsew my bottom even just a little for I am about to die”. Wakagogo went behind the Hyena and began to undo the Badger’s handiwork using his beak. Suddenly, every foul thing burst out of Hyena’s bottom and buried Wakagogo in a heap. Hyena jumped, released from his pain and like an arrow left the scene with poor Wakagogo buried literally in shit. Luckily for Wakagogo rain fell soon after and unburied him before he suffocated to death and he flew free.
Several days later, on his daily walks up and about who does Wakagogo meet but Hyena himself walking nonchalantly and as if nothing ever happened between the two. Hyena greets Wakagogo and asks him, “Friend Wakagogo, where have you been for I have not seen you in these parts for several days? Are you well?” “I am very well thank you.” replied Wakagogo and then added, “I have been flying up there in those white things hanging in the sky. Those are pieces of white meat and the whole place is full of them. It is called the field of white meat, “Weerũ wa Matheco”. (Literally: Field of the Jabs) If you are interested I can fly you there just by you holding on the feather of my tail. But why enjoy such luxuries just by yourself? Go call all your friends and we will all fly there.”
When all the hyenas had been gathered in one spot, Wakagogo arranged them in a single file with each hyena holding the tail of the one before it until it ended with the first Hyena grasping at his friend Wakagogo’s tail feather. Wakagogo then flew and they took off for the field of white meat. After some while he asked in a loud voice, “Have we all lifted off? And the last ones on the ground replied, “We are still many on the ground.”
On and on they climbed until Wakagogo asked again, “Have we all left firm ground?
And they replied, “Yes!! We are all finally up!”
“Can you see the ground clearly?”
“Yes we can see the ground clearly”
Can you still see the ground clearly?
No, all we can see is dimness
My little tail feather come off!!
My little tail feather don’t come off!
My little tail feather come off!
My little tail feather don’t come off!
Suddenly the feather came off and the Hyenas, having nothing to hold on to other than their own tails, came tumbling down to earth, breaking themselves to death. Only one little lame hyena who had been refused by the others to join the train survived to tell the tale. As he saw them tumble to their death, he said, Don’t crush me please as you come from the field of white meat. (Mũtikanyune mũkiuma weerũ wa matheco”.
In Gikuyu folklore each animal is assigned a characteristic. The lion is assigned brute strength, the hare, cunning, the hyena always stands for stupidity, the crow, wisdom, the dove is the divine messenger, the robin chat the whisperer of secrets and so forth. The Honey Badger because of its ability to steal honey from ferocious bees, even however well hidden, always stands for single-minded determination whenever it appears in a story. The simple way it is able to take over Hyena’s thinking is a testimony of its willy-nilly ways but also of Hyena’s stupidity and gullibility.
The very idea that one can be inoculated from ever having to go to the toilet is a testimony of Hyena’s malleable-ness. He is like clay in the hands of the Badger and we think it’s a very stupid thing to accept to be sewn up. But this is only a tale, right? These are just silly stories to entertain children? Think again. The Gĩkũyũ had several hiding places for their wisdom and these animal stories, these so-called Marimũ stories of girls and Ogres, of Hyenas and Wakagogos were a depository, an archive of traditional wisdom that is meant to be relevant in the past, the present and the future. Nothing mentioned in a story was without meaning and nothing was added that was not needed for eternity.
In this tale we can see the hyena being manipulated by so-called experts. The first case was his manipulation by the Badger for what does the Hyena know about honey? Has he ever looked inside a hive? The Badger is the expert. He is even able to convince Hyena of the ridiculous idea that he can never go to the toilet after eating honey. Hyena is convinced to have a ridiculous operation performed on him without even asking some basic questions like, “Has the Badger been sewn up too?” The Hyenas, to paraphrase a friend of mine constitute an army of uninformed, brainwashed, ignorant citizens who unthinkingly obey. Hyena is convinced by Wakagogo that he can be taken to the field of white meat. We may laugh at Hyena and say how stupid it can be but for anyone who has seen the pyramid schemes that Kenyans and many Africans allow themselves to engage in, the Hyenas sometimes look smarter. Wakagogo in his flowing black gown and white shirt is of course the very picture of academia, lawyers, priests et al. in short, the experts. I have seen a lot of queues and Hyenas holding onto each other’s tails and the head of the queue holding on to nothing but a feather all on their way to the field of white meat. You call hyenas gullible? stupid? Think again.