Tortoise and the Birds
The Tortoise And The Birds
Why the Tortoise has a
Long, long ago, besides the animals of the earth and birds of the air, there
lived strange creatures whose home was far above the clouds. They were good and
kind, and although it was only the birds who had ever seen them, the animals
knew they were there. But no one knew their name.
One year there was drought everywhere and both birds and beasts were nearly dead
from hunger. The Cloud People looked down in pity upon the earth dwellers and
said, "Come up, all you who have wings, and let us feed you, for here there is
plenty to eat."
The birds were delighted, and the news went from bird to bird that they should
gather upon a certain big rock. They would fly up together from there. While
they were waiting for the late arrivals they twittered excitedly about the feast
awaiting the. In this rock were many hollows and holes and in one of them lived
two tortoises. They, too, were suffering from hunger, and while his wife was
away hunting for a morsel of food, her husband listened to the excited
chattering of the birds.
“Oh, I wish I had wings like you, my friends!” he said, coming out of
his hole to join them. “Can’t you take me with you?” I’m just as hungry as you
are. “Of course, he realized, he did not look like a bird, but since the
invitation had included all the creatures that could fly, the Cloud People would
surely take pity on him too.
“We’d be happy to have you with us,” answered the birds, “but you are too heavy
for us to carry, and you can’t fly without wings.”
“Oh, but I’m starving!” he sobbed. They listened to him with sympathy, and
discussed the matter among themselves.
“Couldn’t we each pluck a feather from our wings, and fix them to his fee?” they
This was an exciting idea. Then, when they arrived above the clouds, they
could proudly present the tortoise as their king. Without delay they set to
work, and it was a strange looking creature that at last took to the air
surrounded by his feathered friends.
The birds couldn’t help laughing because he looked so funny, but their plan
succeeded and the tortoise soared into the sky with them.
“What shall we call him?” the birds asked one another as they neared the home of
their cloud friends. Many names were suggested, and they finally decided that he
should be called “All Of You”, meaning that he was to represent all of them –
the greatest of them all. So when they arrived he was introduced as King All Of
The Cloud People were very honoured to think that the birds had brought their
king to visit the, and at once prepared a great feast. “Whose food is this?”
asked the birds politely, as they were taken into the hut where all the fine
dishes were spread out.
“It is for ‘all of you’, replied the Cloud People. The tortoise, hearing his new
name called out strode forward and, with great relish ate nearly all the food
that had been provided, leaving very little indeed for his companions.
“It must be their custom”, thought the Cloud People, “to see that their king
satisfies his wants, before they eat themselves.” So they stood aside while the
tortoise enjoyed all the food within his reach.
The birds were so angry at the tortoise’s greed, that after they had picked up
the few scraps of food that were left, they took back all the feathers they had
so carefully attached to his feet. Now he had no way to return to earth.
Although it was no more than he deserved, he was weeping and wailing when the
birds flew away, leaving him to his fate.
The parrot was the last to leave. “Please, friend parrot,” begged the
unfortunate tortoise, “have pity upon me. Please go at once to my wife and tell
her to gather all the soft grass that she can find, and to pile it high near the
big rock, so that I can land on it safely, for otherwise I shall be killed.”
However, the parrot was as hungry as the other birds, so he, too, was angry. The
message he took to the tortoise’s wife was that he husband wished her to gather
as many rocks and stones as she was able, and o build them into a platform, on
which he would land.
This the wife duly did, and down jumped the tortoise. What a crash-landing! His
nice smooth shell was broken into many pieces, and although his wife nursed him
devotedly, the scars left between his bits of broken shell never left him.
They have shown to this very day on all tortoises’ ever since – a reminder of
the day when he jumped from the clouds.
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