The Curse of the Chameleon
We have all seen Chameleons and their amazing ability to change colours from reds and pinks to greens and browns, they are nearly magical in their skill at concealment. But why does the Chameleon walk so slowly and change colour wherever he goes? This Zulu tale brings this mystery to an answer.
In the beginning, the ancestors made everything and were happy. They were especially happy with Man and Woman whom were as close to their own perfect image as they could make them. But this did not remain so. After some time, the ancestors saw that the Man and Woman kept injuring themselves and these injuries would heal leaving unsightly scars. They started to look less and less like the ancestors and more like the trees surrounding them.
The ancestors grew fearful that they would indeed turn into the trees that were surrounding them and they would never be able to find their favourite creations. They came up with a plan and called Chameleon to them. Back then Chameleon was lighting fast and was there in the blink of an eye.
They gave to Chameleon a parcel wrapped up and did not tell him what was within but rather told him to deliver it to Man and Woman as quickly as he could. Chameleon set off as swiftly as he could and not long after he left, he decided to stop at a watering hole to slake his thirst before the long journey ahead. This would prove to be his undoing.
Snake happened to be drinking at the very same watering hole and when he saw Chameleon, he exclaimed that Chameleon never spent time with his family. Chameleon apologised and said that today he would not be able to as he had a gift from the Ancestors for Man and Woman. Now Snake hated Man and Woman as they were always stepping on him and his family as well as chasing him away. He saw the gift and thought what better way to get his own back than to take it, so he invited Chameleon to come and share a meal with him and his wife.
Chameleon, in his polite manner, did not want to show any disrespect to snake and so he accepted, knowing full well that he was more than fast enough to make up the lost time. They trundled off together chatting about odds and ends until they reached Snake’s home where they were greeted with wonderful smells of food from within. Snake had earlier asked his wife to make him something special to eat as it was the beginning of Spring and so there was much food around and cause to celebrate and so this aided him in his plan.
Snake’s wife was ecstatic that Chameleon had joined them and so encouraged their guest to eat, more and more. She fed him until he was so full his eyelids began to droop. Eventually he fell into a deep sleep. Snake hissed and laughed at this development and proceeded to extricate the parcel from beneath Chameleon’s arm. He was pleased that he had tricked Man and Woman out of their gift and began to open it for himself.
Within, he found new skins! He immediately put all of them on so that no one else could make use of them and to this day, whenever a Snake feels it’s old skin is tatty it will shed it and expose the new one beneath. Of course, Chameleon woke from his deep slumber with a start and saw in front of him Snake dressed in the skins bound for the Man and Woman and he felt despair at letting the Ancestors down.
He felt so bad that to this day the Chameleon is still hiding from the Ancestors by mimicking the trees and plants and also by walking as slowly as possible so as not to attract any attention to himself. He knew that the Ancestors would punish him and this was his curse for failing them.
Blog by Sheldon Hooper (Bush Lodge Ranger)
Images by Sheldon Hooper, Kyle Strautmann and Frederik Aucamp