Many African stories and tales are told of zebras to explain their unique behavior or looks. Some of the well-known ones are the fascinating stories of how they got their stripes. There are several variations of it. They are all African legends originated from the Bushmen.
One of them overlaps with how baboons developed a colorful bottom. The second one with how turtles got their hard shells. And the third one is an amusing story of how a naughty young zebra painted itself black.
So, how did the zebra get its black and white stripes, or is it black stripes on a white coat?
Zebra and the baboon
Long ago, animals were new in Africa. The weather was dry and hot and water was scarce. The little water remained was in a few watering holes. One such small hole during those times of drought was guarded by a boisterous and arrogant baboon. It forbade any of the animals from drinking at his pool because he self-appointed himself as lord of the water. At night, the baboon struck a fireplace for warmth by the waterhole and chased off others.
African legend has it that one evening, a zebra and his son came to have a drink of water after a journey. The baboon was sitting next to the waterhole by his fire. In those days, zebras didn’t have their stripes. They wore coats of white fur. On seeing the zebras, the baboon barked, “Go away, this is my pool and the water is mine.”
The thirsty zebras looked up, and saw the angry baboon. The son shouted back. The infuriated baboon challenged them in a fine fury, “Then you must fight for the water, if you want to drink” and attacked the young zebra. In a moment, a struggle ensued. They were locked in combat. The two fought savagely that seemed like eternity.
Tempers flare. Back and forth they went fighting until at last, the zebra kicked the baboon powerfully. The baboon landed amongst the rocks of the cliff behind the waterhole. The baboon landed smack on his seat with a mighty thud, taking its bottom hair clean off. To this very day, the baboon has had a bare patch on his bottom where he landed. The baboon still continues to live high up among the rocks nursing his bald patch on his backside where he landed. They spend their days challenging intruders and barking defiance at all strangers. And when they walk around, they still hold their tails aloft because of the pain of the bare patch on their bottoms where they landed.
The terrified zebra was all tired and bruised after kicking the baboon so hard. Not looking where he was going, the zebra tripped on the fireplace that sent burning ambers flying in the air. Some of them fell on the zebra’s white coat. That left him with black marks across his white fur. And that is how the zebras got its stripes. The injuries and shock sent the zebra galloping and dashing away back to the savannah where it has lived ever since. He did come to like his stripes as they gave him a distinguished look.
Zebra and the turtle
Another myth has it that long time ago the zebras in the jungle had no stripes and turtles had no shell. One day a monkey who got fed up of hanging down the tree all day long like a chandelier gingerly crept up to the zebra and asked him to join him on a treasure hunt. On the way, they met a shell-less turtle who joined the other two on the expedition.
Soon all three animals reached a dark cave. They crept through it and reached an open light area that was full of mosaic pieces and black bags. The monkey stuck the mosaic pieces on a hat and placed it on to the turtle’s body. The turtle looked beautiful with the mosaic pieces on its back and it cried in joy. Then the cheeky monkey turned to the zebra and requested it to wear the black bags on his back. It did so and immediately stripes of black laid on its beautiful white fur. The zebra cried in happiness for making him unique.
The zebra and the turtle went back to their friends and told them to follow suit and they all did it. That is how zebras got their beautiful black and white stripes and turtles got their hard mosaic-like shells.
Zebra and the paint
There is yet another zebra mythology of how they got their stripes. Many years ago, they were not black and white. Zebras were just born white and beautiful. People at this time were trying to domesticate wild zebras to show them off. But it was tough to train a zebra.
One day a zebra which was very young, ran off into the village. People started to whisper about how they would catch the young zebra. The zebra became alarmed when it realized what they were trying to do. So, he began to run. People of the village chased after him. He ran and ran. In the end, he had an idea.
The foal zebra found some black paint. It tipped the paint out of the pot. It splattered out into wavy lines. The zebra rolled in it, and black stripes covered his body. He did this to make himself look ugly. The people finally found him and saw what he had done to himself. The young zebra didn’t look pretty anymore because he had black stripes all over him. Thus, the smart zebra was able to free himself and run off into the jungle. Soon all zebras did the same, so that people would leave them alone. Gradually, they didn’t need to go through the black paint ritual. Zebras started to be born with black and white stripes except they were beautiful.
And they lived happily ever after. But today poachers are killing zebras for their beautiful skin.