“How The Crane Got Its Crown: A Ugandan Folk Tale”
By Charles Onyango Obbo
Wednesday, 24 July 2013
How the crane got its crown… and why today it is so sadHat tip: Lindsey Hilsum @lindseyhilsum retweet:
Sometime back I was sniffing around for the latest books on Uganda. Down at the end of the list, there was this “How The Crane Got Its Crown: A Ugandan Folk Tale”.
It is a children’s storybook, written and illustrated by Olivia Nakiingi Infield.
Since I couldn’t remember reading a folk tale about how the crane got its crown, I went on Amazon.com and ordered it. Two weeks ago the book arrived.
First to Olivia. We are told she wrote the book when she was 12. The book was published in July 2012, so knowing how long it takes to bring books to market even by the best American publishers, she probably finished it around mid-2011. Therefore, today she would be about 15. That is about right, because we learn that she is “now a high school student and lives in Kampala”.
Olivia writes that; “The characters in my book are based on my trips to various national parks in Uganda”, and that she hopes the book will encourage people of all ages (including your columnist, yes) to “appreciate the animals of the plains”.
It is a beautifully written and illustrated book. If you haven’t bought it for your little one, it’s worth all $16 of it.
So, what is the story and why should a grown bearded man like myself bother with it? The safest way not to spoil it is to quote the summary on the back, I guess.
“A long time ago on the African Plains, when the earth was flat and the sun never set, a terrible drought threatened the lives of the animals that lived there.
“Lion, king of the animals, is a wise leader and calls all the animals to an emergency meeting to see what can be done. First he sends cheetah, the fastest of the animals, and then elephant, the largest of the animals, to find water. But both fail.
“Finally, lion calls on crane. Crane devises a plan, and along with all the other Ugandan cranes, they fly into the sky to peck at the rain-filled clouds, high above the mountains. Water flows from the clouds and into the lake below.
“Crane is awarded a crown for saving all the animals. Today, the crowned crane is Uganda’s national emblem and can be seen in the centre of the Ugandan flag. And that is How the Crane Got Its Crown.”
You must be smiling now, because I am sure you can see where this story is going. Olivia wrote the book so that we can all appreciate the animals of the plains. But unbeknownst to her, at the age of 12, she also wrote one of the best Ugandan political commentaries of recent years.
In today’s real political life, we could say the crane got its crown for service to country. However, today every day is a reminder of how those who are trusted with power, with teaching our children, with spending our taxes prudently, and protecting the weak do everything that is against the spirit of Olivia’s crane. The crane on our flag has become a daily indictment of our failures.
Lion, king of the animals, is a strong animal. But he was wise, and democratic. He called an assembly to discuss what could be done to deal with the drought.
Today’s Uganda’s Lion King may or may not be wise. But he definitely is not democratic. He knows all, and doesn’t listen to wise counsel — except his own voice. And he beats down other animals that don’t agree with him.
Then crane flies to peck the cloud “along with all the other cranes”, i.e. with all Ugandans. And it is not just one crane that got the crown. All cranes got the crown. See? Everyone who works, everyone who is a citizen, gets to slice a piece of the cake.
That is what Uganda should be. Unfortunately, it is not. Not every Ugandan gets the cake. Not all the cranes that peck the cloud get crowns. Matter of fact, the cranes that peck the clouds today get nothing or little. The ones that don’t peck the clouds, get almost everything.
Things have changed. Today you have to be related to, be a favourite, a selected party mate, possibly even sweetheart, of a big crane or one of the big lions to get a crown.
In recent years, I have taken a very active interest in nature. Well before Olivia’s book, I had always been struck by the fact that the Crested Crane is an unhappy bird. Its eyes don’t twinkle delightfully like the parrot’s. Its crown and feathers aren’t as bright as the one that we draw on the national flag.
Thanks to Olivia’s book, now I know why the modern crane is so sad.