Painting of a heron getting ready to pluck a snake from the farmer's mouth.

The Snake, the Farmer & the Heron (African Fable)

The Snake, the Farmer and the Heron is an African folktale from the Hausa tribe, told throughout the northern regions of Nigeria and the southern areas of Niger. It’s a story about how water does not flow uphill, which I’ll explain at the end. I’ve translated it into English and retold it in my own words.

The Fable

Long ago, in a faraway village, a farmer was walking home after a long day of tending to his fields. As he walked along the dusty path, he came across a snake freezing to death in the cold evening air. The piteous snake implored the farmer to save its life by carrying it inside his stomach to warm it up. The farmer, believing he was doing a noble deed, agreed to the snake’s plea and allowed it to slide into his mouth and down into his stomach.

Once inside, the snake quickly regained its strength, warmed by the farmer’s body heat. But when the farmer requested the snake leave his stomach, it refused. Terrified, the farmer sought the counsel of a wise heron. The heron, after listening to the farmer’s dilemma, agreed to help.

The heron inserted its long, slender beak down the farmer’s throat and deftly pulled the snake out, releasing the man from the serpent’s treacherous hold. Grateful for the heron’s assistance, the farmer expressed his fear that poison may yet linger in his stomach. The heron advised the farmer to consume white meat, which would strengthen his constitution and help him combat any lingering venom.

As the farmer considered the heron’s advice, he realized the heron itself was made of white meat. He seized the heron and stuffed it into a bag. When he arrived home, the farmer recounted the day’s events to his wife. Hearing the tale, the wife was disheartened that her husband had betrayed the kind heron.

Determined to right her husband’s wrong, the wife decided to set the heron free. But as she opened the bag to release the frantic bird, it inadvertently gouged her eyes with its thrashing talons.

The Moral

The moral of The Snake, the Farmer and the Heron is that when you help someone, that kindness flows onwards, perhaps helping someone else further downstream, but rarely coming back up the river. The meaning is that we can give kindness, paying forward, but shouldn’t expect to be paid back. Water does not flow uphill.

Speaking of which, this reminds me of another fable from further East, The Crane and the Crab.

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.

1 Comment

  1. […] I grew up hearing Aesop’s fables, and I love them, but I recently heard an African fable that really stood out to me: The Snake, the Farmer, and the Heron. […]

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