The Lost Message

: South-african Folk-tales

The ant has had from time immemorial many enemies, and because he is

small and destructive, there have been a great many slaughters among

them. Not only were most of the birds their enemies, but Anteater lived

almost wholly from them, and Centipede beset them every time and at all

places when he had the chance.

So now there were a few among them who thought it would be well to hold

council together and se
if they could not come to some arrangement

whereby they could retreat to some place of safety when attacked by

robber birds and animals.

But at the gathering their opinions were most discordant, and they could

come to no decision.

There was Red-ant, Rice-ant, Black-ant, Wagtail-ant, Gray-ant,

Shining-ant, and many other varieties. The discussion was a true babel

of diversity, which continued for a long time and came to nothing.

A part desired that they should all go into a small hole in the ground,

and live there; another part wanted to have a large and strong dwelling

built on the ground, where nobody could enter but an ant; still another

wanted to dwell in trees, so as to get rid of Anteater, forgetting

entirely that there they would be the prey of birds; another part seemed

inclined to have wings and fly.

And, as has already been said, this deliberation amounted to nothing,

and each party resolved to go to work in its own way, and on its own


Greater unity than that which existed in each separate faction could be

seen nowhere in the world; each had his appointed task, each did his

work regularly and well. And all worked together in the same way. From

among them they chose a king--that is to say some of the groups did--and

they divided the labor so that all went as smoothly as it possibly


But each group did it in its own way, and not one of them thought of

protecting themselves against the onslaught of birds or Anteater.

The Red-ants built their house on the ground and lived under it, but

Anteater leveled to the ground in a minute what had cost them many days

of precious labor. The Rice-ants lived under the ground, and with them

it went no better. For whenever they came out, Anteater visited them and

took them out sack and pack. The Wagtail-ants fled to the trees, but

there on many occasions sat Centipede waiting for them, or the birds

gobbled them up. The Gray-ants had intended to save themselves from

extermination by taking to flight, but this also availed them nothing,

because the Lizard, the Hunting-spider, and the birds went a great deal

faster than they.

When the Insect-king heard that they could come to no agreement he sent

them the secret of unity, and the message of Work-together. But

unfortunately he chose for his messenger the Beetle, and he has never

yet arrived at the Ants, so that they are still to-day the embodiment of

discord and consequently the prey of enemies.