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How the zebra got its stripes, a Maasai fable

How the zebra got its stripes

A long time ago, Zebra and Donkey were brothers, with the same mother and father. Back then, all the animals were friends and lived together in peace. There were no kings or queens or any other kind of leaders among them.

One day, the animals gathered together and decided that it was time to choose a leader for the animals. But everyone had a different opinion about how the leader should be chosen. Every animal came up with a suggestion, and because there were so many different animals, the meeting went on for days and days!

Finally, Rabbit came up with an idea that everyone agreed upon: he suggested that the horned animals should choose their own leader, and the clawed animals should choose their own leader.

The animals decided that the new leaders would be celebrated with a big festival, with lots of food and games, as well as a contest where the most beautiful animals would win prizes.

Zebra and Donkey both really wanted to win a prize and agreed to work together to make each other beautiful. The only problem was that Zebra wanted to be the first one to become beautiful – and so did Donkey.

They asked Rabbit for help in deciding who should become beautiful first. Rabbit was known for his wisdom and ability to resolve disputes and decided that, since he was the older of the two, Zebra should go first.

And so Donkey set about to make Zebra beautiful. He painted his brother in striking black and white stripes. He was very meticulous, carefully painting in each stripe, and he did not finish his work until the animals began gathering for the celebration.

As soon as Donkey finished painting his brother, Zebra ran off to the other animals to show off his new beautiful stripes. He forgot all about his brother and helping him, in turn, become beautiful.

Angrily Donkey tried to paint himself but it was impossible. He threw the paintbrush on the ground and sulked off – and he is still plain in his colour to this day!

Zebra won a prize for his beautiful coat, which was like nothing the animals had ever seen. So beautiful was he, that all the other plain zebras copied his coat to look as beautiful.

Soon, Zebra found that he was no longer unique and that there was a whole herd of striped zebras in the same black and white coat as he. Then, he was reminded of his brother and felt bad for having run off before helping him become beautiful too. He went back to look for Donkey, but could not find him anywhere.

From that day forth, zebras have lived only with other zebras, and donkeys with other donkeys – and the brothers have not been friends or spoken to each other since.