How the Horse Got His Frozen Smile, a Strange African Folk Tale

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Thursday March 20, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

There once was a horse that was raised by jackals. Now jackals are a devious group of animals; they are known for preying on the weak, pretending to be something that they are not and even claiming the territory of others. They may even pretend to be dragons. This particular group of jackals however had recently been driven from the land they lived in by a rival gang of jackals, who proved to be greater pretenders than they were. And so running with their tails between their legs these jackals came to the land of the black bear. They took up residence and pretended it belonged to them. They told the black bear that they were dragons and should therefore be treated as such i.e. like emperors; they would rule the black bear land while they waited to reclaim their own land.

Black bears are an accommodating lot and so they accepted the jackals' story that dragons should be given the respect of dragons and that they should let them be the rulers. Soon however they became suspicious, but it was too late; the jackals had guns and weapons and the black bears did not. The jackals dispatched of any and all that challenged them. The jackals made laws that benefited jackals and the black bears had to conform. The black bears still grumbled secretly; they wanted a say in ruling their land, after all, it was the land of the black bear. The jackals also realized this and that they could no longer pose as dragons, and so they decided to raise a horse. They provided for this horse, gave him a good education and taught him all the secrets and tricks of the way of the jackal. The horse was not a dragon but at least he did not look like a jackal.

The horse grew up learning the main secret of the jackal how to pretend and deceive. The jackals liked him of course because he looked like a horse. And he could smile. Yet eventually the horse himself questioned the jackals as to whether the bears would believe him. The jackals told him. "Promise the black bears anything, they always like promises." "What happens when they find I cannot deliver on my promises?" asked the horse. "Don't worry," said the jackals, "just smile and give them more promises. The black bears are too trusting; Just give them promises and hope. Look at how long we fooled them into believing we were dragons."

So the horse progressed, he smiled and promised. If he was challenged on his promises or if people saw they did not come true he would smile and say, "Remember I am not a jackal, look at my horse's legs; I can run." Then he would give them a new promise. The horse smiled and promised, and promised and smiled. It was all that he knew how to do. His promises often contradicted each other, but then he would just say, "You don't understand, I am more than a horse, I am a dragon, I am a black bear, I am everything." And then he would give a new promise. He did this so much and for so long that his jaws became locked together in that fashion. And that is how the horse got his strange frozen smile, and he still has it to this very day.

This strange African folk tale was sent to me by a man with a strange name, Roland de Chanticleer.