There was an Africa village that was known for its great warriors. Young men aspired to become great hunters and to set new hunting records in the village. For a man to be known for his courage in hunting down huge and ferocious animals was a source of great honor and prestige. The village warriors would show off their toughness and social standing by wearing animal artifacts and decorating their home with animal skeletons, skins, horns and tusks.
But there was a man in this village. Though he was very strong and a natural-born warrior, he refused to become a hunter. He said that he preferred to farm. He was ridiculed for being different and was called all sorts of unflattering names. But he didn’t care what people said about him. His reason for not hunting was because he loved animals. He saw animals like his own family and didn’t have the heart to kill them. He said that when he retired that he would go and build a hut in the wilderness and live with his extended family – the animals.
As time went on, he became a very successful farmer and was reputed for great harvests. When it came time for him to retire, he announced to the entire village that he was ready to go build his hut in the wilderness and live with his "extended family." Many laughed at him for having such a ridiculous ambition. Following his send-off ceremony, which was not well attended, a few members of his village escorted him into the wilderness.
He constructed his small hut and began his long stay in the wilderness. After about a week, he became very lonely because there was no one with whom to socialize. He was all by himself. He began to wonder if he had made a terrible mistake by leaving his village, family, relative and friends and coming to live in the wilderness.
One day after having lunch, he went outside and threw out the leftovers in front of his hut. Not knowing what else to do with himself, he plucked a blade of grass and chewed on its fresh sweetness. He went back into the hut and sat down, gazing steadily at the floor. He continued thinking about his decision and the loneliness he felt.
After a while, he took a break from his agony to look around and survey the surroundings. His eyes lit up as he saw something that would change his rejuvenate his life forever. Three lions were eating the leftovers he had thrown out. He couldn’t believe his eyes! His attitude suddenly changed and he sprang to life again. He realized he had made new friends. After the lions finished dinning and walked away, another group of animals, including antelopes and giraffes came and ate the leftovers from the lions. Then the birds flew in to finish off what little that remained on the ground. For the first time in his life, the old man felt he had done something truly significant.
Overjoyed by the interest the animals showed in his food, he became a professional chef for the animals. He would literally prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner and take it out for the animals. He served the animals for nearly 20 years. By this time, he had grown very old and had to use a walking cane to aid him in taking out food to the animals. His old age now became a source of great concern to him. He was not concerned about getting old. Rather, he was worried there would be no one to take over his work with the animals.
"Who is going to look after my family when I’m gone?" was the thought that kept running through his mind. He didn’t know what to do. One day, as nature would have it, two hunters were passing by and noticed the man’s hut in the middle of nowhere. They realized it was the home of the notorious "animal lover." They decided to pay him a visit. Hearing a knock on his door, the old man answered and was very delighted to have visitors from the village. He immediately began to share with the two hunters his concern of having no one to take over his work. He asked the two men to narrate his circumstances to the village and see if any volunteers would come forth.
When the old man’s dilemma was announced in the village, three young men immediately volunteered out of great compassion. But as it was customary for the elders to engage in long periods of reflection before eventually reaching a decision, the volunteers were asked to wait for seven days while the elders mitigated the case, as well as conferring with the oracle. Seven days later, all was well and the volunteers were on their way to relieve the old man.
It was a very emotional goodbye for this old man, who had served the animals for nearly 20 years. As he was being escorted away from the forest, the old man kept turning around and waving to the vast forest, apologizing to the animals and lamenting that age would not allow him to continue doing what he loves more than anything else on earth. Tears poured down his cheeks as he cried all the way from the thick forest to his village. When he arrived to the village, he was finally recognized for the great love and compassion he had for animals and was given a hero’s welcome, which included colorful masquerade dances, delicious food and lots of palm wine. No one in the history of the village had ever demonstrated such love for animals.
The three volunteers meanwhile carried out the job in the wilderness to the best of their capability. But one day when they woke up in the morning, the most startling event occurred. They looked outside the hut to find animals everywhere. This was very unusual. Normally animals came in twos or threes at a time to feed, never in a herd. They looked up in the sky but were unable to see the sky. There were so many birds in the air that it was impossible to see the beautiful blue sky. It was an unprecedented sight! The animals were not causing any trouble, however. They were quietly parading around the hut where the old man had lived. The animals had their heads bowed to the ground as they slowly matched around and around the hut, as if to say they were sad. Even animals that are natural enemies got along surprisingly well during this incredible day.
The three volunteers were stunned. They wondered if they had fed the animals the wrong kind of food the previous day. They kept asking themselves, "What did we do wrong? What is going on? What happened?" The parade continued for almost an hour, after which the animals gradually dispersed into the wilderness.
As the volunteers continued to ponder what had just happened, they heard a knock on the door. It was a messenger from the village. Before they could share with the messenger what just took place in the forest, the messenger said, "I’m sorry, but I am bringing bad news. The old man passed away early this morning."
All the animals and birds of the wilderness had come to pay homage and their final respect to their dear friend and brother who had fed and served them wholeheartedly for nearly 20 years.
Nature never forgets your actions, the folklore warns. It records and remembers everything you do. Keep your hands clean, for in the end, nature will never return to you anything different from what you have given it.