Illustration of the ghost of Baboon talking with Jackal, scheming about how to get their revenge on Hare.

The Tale of the Midnight Goat Thief (African Folktale)

The Tale of the Midnight Goat Thief is a Ndebele folktale from Zimbabwe. It’s a dark fable with a grim conclusion, but it teaches an important moral lesson, which I’ll explain at the end.

This is a retelling in my own words. I’ve kept the meaning true to the original.

The Fable

A long time ago, in the heart of the Old Jungle, there lived a hare. This hare had lived alone for a very long time, and he was beginning to grow lonely or perhaps bored. He decided it was time to find a wife, and he knew just where to find her.

Hare and Baboon from the African folktale of the Midnight Goat Thief.

It was customary for a bachelor to travel with a chaperone, so he sought out the jovial Baboon. It didn’t take much convincing. Baboon had been clamouring for adventure and agreed straight away.

They set off through the mountains, travelling along the coast of Africa. After several hours, they came upon a rooibos shrub with wickedly pointed leaves.

“Dear friend Baboon,” Hare said. “I need to ask a favour of you.”

“Very well,” said the Baboon.

“I’m beginning to feel a bit nervous,” Hare admitted. “If my nerves get the better of me, can you rush back to this shrub and bring me five of these sharp leaves? We can use them to brew a soothing tea.”

Baboon wasn’t the suspicious sort. He didn’t notice anything amiss.

Soon after the sun dipped below the horizon, Hare and Baboon arrived at the neighbouring village. The animals who lived there were a hospitable sort, especially when a new bachelor came by. They ushered the pair of travellers into a cozy room and began to set out a fine dinner.

Hare had barely gotten through the appetizers before he started to complain. “My stomach is starting to act up.”

Baboon was hungry, but he was not the type to break a promise. He set off for the rooibos bush at once.

As soon as Baboon was out of sight, Hare dug into the feast, gleefully devouring each and every morsel.

When Baboon returned several hours later, exhausted and breathless, Hare admitted his nerves had settled shortly after Baboon had left. Baboon was ravenous, but what could he do? There was no food left. He went to bed nursing a growling stomach.

In the dead of night, Hare woke Baboon. “You must be hungry,” Hare said.

“Oh indeed,” admitted Baboon.

“They keep a goat here,” Hare said. “We will steal him.”

Baboon tried to say no, but his hollow stomach wouldn’t let him. They stole the goat and made a midnight feast of it.

When Baboon fell back asleep, sated and content, the Hare snuck over and smeared him with the goat’s blood.

The next morning, the animals discovered their goat was missing. They went to see if the newcomers knew anything of it, only to find Baboon covered in blood. They sentenced him to a quick and immediate death.

Hare went happily back home.

Through some strange black magic, the baboon’s spirit broke free from his body and visited his friend Jackal in a dream. The ghost explained what Hare had done, and they plotted out their revenge.

Jackal was a bachelor, too, giving him a perfect excuse to venture to the nearby village. He asked Hare to be his chaperone, and Hare eagerly agreed.

They came upon the wicked shrub once more, but this time, it was Jackal who complained of his weak nerves. “I will help you,” said Hare, and he plucked five rooibos leaves right then, just in case.

When they got to the village, the animals were delighted to see another fine young bachelor gracing their doorstep, and they served the pair a great feast.

At midnight, Jackal woke Hare, complaining of hunger, asking for help to steal a goat. Hare wasn’t hungry, but it didn’t matter. He agreed to help steal the goat.

When they had finished catching, cooking, and eating the goat, Jackal secretly soaked his paws in blood, ready to smear it upon Hare as soon as he fell asleep. But Hare stayed awake, staring straight at Jackal, grinning.

Dawn soon broke, and the animals found their goat murdered. They came into the hut and caught the Jackal red-handed. They executed him at once.

The Moral & the Meaning

The moral of the Midnight Goat Thief is that you shouldn’t try to trick a trickster, for they may very well be trickier than you. It reminds me of an old maxim: “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.”

It’s worth noting that both the baboon and the jackal participated in the theft and murder of the goat. They weren’t innocent victims. They weren’t falsely accused. Rather, they were conspirators who bore the full weight of their crimes while the mastermind slipped away unpunished. That’s often how it goes.

Similar Fables & Folktales

If you liked the Midnight Goat Thief, you might like these other folktales:

You can also browse through our entire collection of stories here.

If you have any questions or thoughts, leave a comment.

Juan Artola Miranda

I am Juan Artola Miranda, a fabulist living in the Mexican Caribbean. My friends know me by the name of my father's father, but that name grew into something bigger, my writing reaching tens of millions of readers. It was too strong for me to control. Artola Miranda is the name of my mother's mother. It's a better name for a fabulist.

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