The Elephant and the Witch

The Elephant and the Witch

Pentecost 154

Imagine you have lived with animals the sixe of house cats.  Now imagine walking down a path, making a turn and suddenly seeing an animal thirteen feet tall that weighs fifteen thousand pounds.  The mammal in question is the elephant, the largest and off terrestrial or land animals.

There are many African myths as to how the elephant became so large and intelligent.  The Kamba people of Kenya have a myth about a very poor man who wanted to be rich.  He traveled a great distance to visit Ivonya-Ngia, a man whose name translates as “He that Feeds the Poor”.  The poor man refused all offers of charity and instead asked for the secret of being rich.  Ivonya-Ngia gave him an ointment that he told the man should be applied to his wife’s canine teeth.  He told the poor man that they teeth would grow and then he could sell them.  The man did as told and soon was able to purchase a flock of goats.  However, his wife would not go through the tooth extraction a second time.  Her teeth continued to grow and eventually became tusks.  Her skin also changed and became grey.  In fact, her entire body grew very large and she retreated to the forests to live.  The Kamba believe her children were elephants, thus beginning this noble species on earth.

Southern Africa also has a myth about a girl who grew so tall and large that she could not find a mate.  Everyone in her village thought she was a witch and she was exiled into the wilderness.  Once in the wild, the cast-off girl encountered an elephant who spoke to her in the Zulu dialect.  The girl becomes the wife of the elephant and gives birth to four sons who are said to be the first of the Indhlovu tribe of chieftains.

In almost all of the mythologies of Africa, the elephant is portrayed as kind, intelligent, and noble.  The Wachaga myth from Tanzania believed the elephant was once a man cheated out of both legs and one arm, the remaining arm becoming the trunk of the elephant.  The Ashanti of Ghana believe an elephant had ben a former chief of the tribe.  Whenever they encounter a deceased elephant in the wild, they stop and give it a royal burial.

The respect these myths give the largest and perhaps the most gentle of all land animals is heart-warming.  The mass killing of elephants because many believe there is spiritual power in their tusks is tragic.  Elephants are killed or almost killed and left to die a cruel death at alarming rates that have made them endangered and vulnerable.  We need to realize that we can respect and value creation without destroying it.  How we live does not just affect us but results in consequences for all of creation.  The same analogy can be drawn in how we treat one another.  The beauty of creation is that it exists, it was created.  The value of life is that it exists.  When how we live destroys the living, then we need to ask ourselves what we are doing.  People not only destroy species of animals to the brink of extinction, mankind is also very good at killing itself.  We need to remember that the value of an elephant is in its life.  The same is truth for all living things.