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Main > South African folktales > Fairy tale "The Little Red Tortoise"

The Little Red Tortoise

There were berg tortoises, and vlakte tortoises, and zand-kruipers, and even water tortoises, young and old, and they all sat round and praised him and gave him good advice and nice things to eat.

“He listened to everything and ate all the nice things, and grew bigger and redder and harder, but he didn’t talk much, and the Old Ones nodded to each other and said, ‘Ach, but he is sensible!’ But the Young Ones said, ‘Ach, but he is stuck-up!’ and they went away and crawled in the red clay to make themselves red. But it was no good. In a little while it all rubbed off.

“At last all the visitor Schilpads went home again. But the little Red Tortoise stayed with his Mam-ma, and went on growing bigger and redder and harder, and his Mam-ma was toch so proud of him!

“When he walked in the veld and the other young tortoises said to him, ‘Come, we’ll show you the way to do things; you must do so, and you must do so,’ he said, ‘You can do so if you like, but I’ll do things my own way!’ And they said ‘Stuck-up Red Thing! Wait, Oubaas Giraffe will get you!’ But they left him alone, and although they all wished they were red, they did not crawl in the clay any more: they knew it was no good. It was only from outside, so it soon rubbed off, but the little Red One’s redness was from inside; and baasjes know, for a thing to be any good it must be on the inside.” He glanced involuntarily at the wall-cupboard where his soopje was safely locked up: it would certainly not be any good, in his opinion, till it was on the inside of him.

“But when the Old Tortoises gave him advice, the little Red Tortoise listened and thanked them. He was a wise little man. He knew when to speak and when to hold his tongue.

“At that time, my baasjes, the whole Tortoise nation was having a hard time with Oubaas Giraffe—that old horse with the long neck and the unequal legs, who is all white and black like a burnt thornbush with crows sitting on it. He gives blue ashes when he is burnt, therefore is he called the Blue One.

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