How the Tortoise got its Scars


This adaptation from a traditional African tale comes from Fairy Tales of the World… enjoy it!

The grass shrivelled up and turned a pale grey. Rivers and pools dried up. All day long animals scurried around looking for food and finding nothing. Mr Tortoise was getting desperate. Every day he woke up to the sound of his wife and children crying. One day, while he was wandering the countryside looking for food he knew he wouldn’t find, he noticed a flock of birds flying overhead and disappearing on the other side of the mountain range. The next day, he saw more birds flying in that direction and disappearing over the mountain range. And again the next day. It occurred to him they might be onto something, and he tried to attract their attention. He shouted, he screamed, he danced, he jumped up and down, he shouted while jumping up and down, he ran in circles and waved a stick. None of the birds paid any attention to him; none even slowed down.

Many animals would have given up, but not Mr Tortoise. He decided he would compose a song to the vulture; he thought the vulture might just be vain enough to stop and listen. That night he finished composing the song and the next morning positioned himself in a nice open spot by the side of a field. When he saw the first birds in the sky he started to sing his song:

The vulture is so good

The vulture is so wise

Everyone admires him

As he flies through the skie-ie-ie-ie-ies

The vulture heard snatches of the song, and he was intrigued, so he came down to land and strode over majestically to where Mr Tortoise was sitting. When Mr Tortoise saw vulture approaching, he sang again:

The vulture is so good

The vulture is so wise

Everyone admires him

As he flies through the skie-ie-ie-ie-ies

Aaaah, the vulture exclaimed, what a beautiful voice! What enticing music! Mr Tortoise thanked him profusely for his praise, then asked very politely if he could ask a favour of Mr Vulture. Certainly, the vulture beamed, go ahead my lyrical friend!

Tortoise explained that because of the drought, there was no food left where they were living, if Mr Vulture could only give him a lift to the other side of the mountain, so that he could look after his family. Vulture readily agreed to help his new friend. He raised himself and flapped his wings. Just hang on to my waist, Mr Tortoise, and we’ll be there in no time at all.

Mr Tortoise grabbed hold of Vulture’s scraggy feathers, Vulture flapped his giant wings, took a few great strides, and up they went. And vulture had been quite right, it seemed to take hardly any time at all and they were floating over the mountains, and Tortoise could see a glimmer of green appearing below. A few more flaps of those giant wings, and they were landing in the middle of a truly amazing landscape. The place was covered in trees and bushes carrying every fruit imaginable, mangos, bananas, pears, oranges, apples, pineapple, papaya, plums, you name it, it grew here in abundance.

Tortoise walked around in a daze, he picked an apple here, tasted some mango there, found some blackberries on a small bush. The most remarkable thing was that apart from the birds who must have discovered this pleasure paradise flying over it, there seemed to be no other animals here at all! This set our Mr Tortoise thinking.

Now you may have realised already that Mr Tortoise was not just any old tortoise, but that he had a very good brain, and a great imagination. So, slowly but surely, he hatched a plan. The next morning he found a spot on the hillside which gave a good view of the orchard, he stood upright and started speaking in as loud a voice as he could muster:

Yo! Yo! All you birds, listen to me for a few moments! Yo! Yo! I have bad news for you all! I’m afraid you’re all trespassing here on this land. This land belonged to my great great grandfather. When he died he gave it to my grandfather. And my grandfather left it to my daddy, and my daddy, well now, my daddy he gave it to me before he died.

There was consternation among the birds, they weren’t sure how to take this news.

Then Mr Tortoise carried on: I’m going to count to three, and at the count of three, I want all of you to have left this place.


Hey, Mr Tortoise, you’re joking aren’t you?

Is he joking?

No, man, he’s not joking!


Some of the birds started flying. We thought you were joking! We never intended to trespass, after all, we’re all just law abiding citizens, you know. More and more birds flew off.


Now they were all leaving. Mr Tortoise looked for his friend, Vulture. When he saw him, he ran up to him and called out: Heyo, Vulture, hold on, you’re my friend aren’t you, you can stay here with me.

After feasting on the fruit for several hours, Mr Tortoise had another idea. He really wanted to find out exactly what he had here. So he approached Vulture and said: Vulture, you’re going to carry me high into the sky! Then I will know how big my own land is, and I will see how useful it will be.

Vulture replied: Yessirr! Hang on to my waist. So Mr Tortoise clung on to Vulture’s waist, Vulture flapped his wings, gently at first, and up and up and up he went.

It was very breezy so high up in the sky, and Mr Tortoise was enjoying himself. Whoa, whoa, he shouted, this is wonderful, I’m enjoying this breeze, it’s just beautiful!. Then, in his excitement he started scratching Vulture’s armpits; that was not such a wise thing to do.

Please, screeched Vulture, I am ticklish, do-do-do-don’t do that PLEEEEASE, Stop it, please, I’m sooooo ticklish!.

Unfortunately Tortoise wouldn’t stop. In desperation Vulture shook his wings so violently that Mr Tortoise lost his grip. He went down and down and down and down and down, and there was nothing at all to stop him. It was Mr Tortoise’s rather bad fortune to land in a place that was covered in hard jagged rocks, there was an enormous crashing sound when he made contact with he rocks. Cracks appeared all over the body of Mr Tortoise.

He tried to shout for help, but his voice only made a very small sound. Luckily for Mr Tortoise Vulture saw him lying there, his body all cracked up, and felt sorry for him. So Vulture decided to get the ambulance, and they managed to get him to a hospital. Because he was in such a bad way and looked as if he could die any minute there and then, Mr Tortoise was taken straight into the operating theatre and three doctors started work on him. They worked for hours on end, stitching, stitching, stitching all the cracks in his shell.

Eventually all the sores healed and he was discharged, but of course he was left with the scars, and that is why every time you see a tortoise you can still see the scars on the back of his shell.

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