The Lions and Zebras

The Lions and Zebras

Once upon a time there was a lion family. Every morning the lion and his wife went out hunting, leaving their two children behind.

One day after the parents had left a few zebras arrived. The two young lions came out to greet them and Pow! Pow! Pow! the arrogant zebras kicked the two cubs around.

“Does your father have such a powerful kick?” they asked.

“No, he hasn’t, he hasn’t !” the young lions whimpered.

“Bring your father’s mbila (hand piano), we want music.”

The lion cubs fetched the mbila. One of the zebras played wildly on the mbila while the others danced boisterously. The zebras left as quickly as they had arrived.
The lion parents arrived with food. After their meal the father asked the children to bring him his mbila. He started to play but the instrument was quite out of tune.

“There is something wrong with my mbila. Have you two been messing around with my mbila while I was away?’

“No Dad.”

The next day the same thing happened. The zebras kicked the young lions around, they played on the mbila and danced. Suddenly they were gone again.
The lion parents arrived after a long day’s hunting.

“What is going on here, my mbila is quite out of tune again.”

“Why do you have such a big lump on your cheek?” the mother lion asked, “just look at you two all beaten up!”

“What is going on here?” asked the father.

The lion cubs confessed, they told their parents what the zebras had done.

The next morning the lions left as usual.

Those arrogant zebras came galloping along. They kicked the two lion cubs around, demanded the mbila and played and danced as before. “Can your father jive like this?” “Choose now, who’s dance is best, your father’s old fashioned way of dancing or our way of jiving.”

“Your way of jiving is best!” the young lions said. Suddenly the two big lions dashed in, leapt upon those arrogant zebras and you could just hear bones cracking.

That was the end of the arrogant zebras

Copyright © Dr Ina le Roux


The story illustrates the dilemma of the traditional chiefs, who have not adjusted to modern times. The zebras are the modern, arrogant society with no respect for elders and traditions – the lions. They steal the possessions of the patriarchs and trample upon the children! The don’t even know the old dances – the Tshikona, the Matangwa or the Pembela. They are rebellious and all they can do is jive.
At the end of the story, however, the people return to their traditions – lions are victorious.
There is always merriment and laughter with the telling of this story. The mothers and children play act the zebras and sing the songs over and over. Though they respect the lions they are also amused by them. At the end of the story, when the laughter dies down, an old women might say, “The zebras are so beautiful but they destroy everything!” Another one, “But their dance was wonderful!” One needs to contemplate tradition and change.


*Mbira: a thumb piano consisting of metal prongs which are fastened to a resonator body. It’s a traditional instrument used by the Shonas and Vendas (in Venda, mbila). They believe the souls of the forefathers are reached by the sound of the mbira.

Narrator: Rosina Magadani
Place: Padzima
Date: 9 March 1991

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