It is an honor to
have permission to present this story by Rachael Whitney (age 14) and
her further tales of Dani's adventures on the way to see the Wise Old
It is also a great honor to be able to incorporate the artwork of the late Shirley Jones of Oklahoma, the originator of the Basenjiville Cartoons.
Tale of the Basenji's Tail
Story By Rachael Whitney, Arlington, Massachusetts
Drawings By Shirley Jones, Shawnee, Oklahoma
Long ago, when the dogs called Basenjis still lived only in Africa, they had very long, bushy tails. Though the tails were beautiful, as is everything about Basenjis, they were too long to be useful. They were constantly becoming entangled in trees and underbrush, and the dogs were always tripping over them.
While the other dogs ran and played and hunted with their people, the only thing the Basenjis could do was stay home all day and lay around. If they did anything else, they would injure themselves. The other dogs thought they were lazy and would make fun of them. But the Basenjis couldn't fight back. They did, however, grow in intelligence, for one of their favorite things to do was to ask each other questions.
One day, a young Basenji named Dani decided that she would find a solution to their problem. She called a meeting of all the Basenjis in her village. So they all carefully picked up their tails in their mouths and went to the home of Dani's human.
"We have to do something about our tails," Dani said.
"But what? Our tails get in the way of everything we do. None of the other animals know how to help us, and our humans are too stupid to understand Basenji speech!" said a small red and white dog.
"But they have to understand! If they don't, we may not have a home much longer! Since we can't hunt, they think that we're useless. They're only keeping us out of pity. Soon, they'll have to kick us out. They can't afford to keep feeding us much longer," a tri colored bitch sighed as she finished.
"And with these tails, we can't catch food for ourselves!" another cried.
The room was soon filled with the buzz of conversation. Growing louder by the minute, it developed into a loud argument. Very quickly, the Basenjis' bickering grew too loud for Dani to stand. She carefully hopped on top of a table and yelled, "Shut up!!! If we don't discuss this logically, we'll never think of a solution," she paused, "Now, what can we do?" Again, the dogs began to fight.
Exasperated, Dani scanned the room looking for anyone who would listen to her. She saw the oldest Basenji in the village slowly stand. He had been quiet until now, but he too, was sick of the squabbling.
"Wait! Listen to me, there in only one solution. One of us must go to see The Great Old Wise Greyhound. It is a long and difficult trek, but if anyone can help us, she can."
"But who is to go?" asked Dani.
"I think you should go, Dani, you are the bravest ... and it was your idea." the tricolor suggested.
"Me? Why me?"
"Yes, Dani should go, she is the bravest."
"Oh yes, Dani!"
"Oh no!" Dani cried, "I can't go, I'm not brave, I'm a wimp, ask anyone!"
"But you must go," said the elder," because you are ... The One Foretold."
"Actually, I am. But that's beside the point, you have to go, no one else will. And we must get rid of these tails."
"Fine, fine, I'll go ... but you guys owe me big!"
Soon afterwards, Dani packed her bag, tied up her tall and set off. She had been traveling for less than a day when she came across a large gorge in the earth. There was no way to go but down, for there was no bridge. So she climbed down the steep wars of the chasm, balanced only on a thin ledge of rock. Finally she made it down safely. She walked in the cool shade of the walls and soon began to feel tired. She decided to take a nap. Curling up in a tight hall, she soon fell asleep.
Dani awoke suddenly with the loudest noise she had ever heard. Jumping up, she saw before her a mighty lion with five heads. Smothering a frightened yelp, she quickly hid behind a rock.
"Come out, come out, where ever you are, little-yummy-snack-dog! Me hungry, wanna eat you!" all the heads called out at once. Dani quivered in fear, but crawled slowly out from behind the rock.
"Oh, Mister Lion, sit, please don't eat me! I don't think I'd be very good. Tough and stringy and fuzzy and all that," she ventured.
"But I'm hungry!" said one of the heads and that one alone began to cry. The one next to the crying one nipped at it and said, "Don't cry, baby! She only a little-yummy-snack-dog. She can't stop us!"
"But who knows," said another head, "Maybe she's tougher than she looks. We don't wanna get hurt!"
"Well, I don't know about that, but we might get indigestion! She said she was tough and stringy and fuzzy! I don't want to get sick!" cried a fourth head.
"But what if she's trying to trick us? Little-yummy-snack-dogs do that, you know. And number one, would you please stop crying!?" exclaimed the fifth head.
"I don't wanna!" said the first.
"You can't tell him what to do!" cried the third.
"Who says?" dared the fifth.
"I do!" called the fourth, "What are we talking about again?"
"Hey, wait! What about the little-yummy-snack-dog? Are we gonna eat her?" the second queried.
"Yah, I'm still hungry." the first said through his tears.
"Me too!" exclaimed the fifth head.
"Me three!" cried the third.
"Let's ... EAT HER!" the heads roared, leaning towards Dani, mouths watering. She could feel their breath on her face and a drop of saliva fell on her head. Suddenly she yelled, "WAIT!"
"Whaaat?" they moaned, jaws retreating from her face.
"Which one of you is to eat me? You can't all have me. It just wouldn't be fair to the other four if only one got to chew:" Dani reasoned.
"Yah, which one of us gets to chew 'er up? I think I should because I'm the hungriest," the first head explained.
"Nooo! I'm the hungriest! You got to chew last time!" the third exclaimed.
"I did not! You did!"
"As I recall, you both chewed last time. In fact, I was the only one who didn't chew."
"Yah right! You were the only one who did chew last time. And it was a wildebeest!"
"As I recall, you chewed the wildebeest. And I didn't, so I get to chew the little-yummy-snack-dog!"
The heads began cursing and biting each other. In the midst of their altercation, Dani slipped away and escaped to the top of the gorge.
After escaping from the lion, Dani traveled for six days without any problems. Then she reached a mighty river. It was very wide and very fast. Even if she could make herself get wet, which besides being a despicable idea (Basenjis never get wet!), she wasn't strong enough to swim through the current with the weight of her tail.
Dani sat down on the shore to contemplate her problem. She had been sitting there for a while when a small brown bird with a yellow belly and yellow stripes on his cheeks landed in front of her and chirped sweetly.
"What do you want, little bird? All I have is some bread..."
"PEEP!" the bird exclaimed.
"You want bread? Well, here you go," Dani took a small piece of bread and gave it to the bird.
"Peep-eep," thanked the bird.
"Well, you have what you want. Now, you don't have any way to get across this river, do you?" Dani asked.
"PEEP!" the bird cried and flew off.
"Huh. I hope I didn't offend him," Dani thought.
Suddenly a strange humming noise filled the air. Dani turned around to see a cloud of birds just like her friend flying towards her. They quickly swarmed around her and lifted her off her feet. The swarm carried her across the river.
"Wow! Thanks!" Dani exclaimed. All the birds flew away except one. It was her friend.
"I really appreciate that! Here, have the rest of my bread,"
Grabbing the bread Dani offered him, the little bird rose into the air with a peep of thanks and soon flew out of sight. Dani shook her head and returned to her journey.
With the mountain in the distance, Dani felt that her quest was nearly over. All she had to do was pass through a small patch of jungle and she would be at the mountain. Trotting quickly, eager to reach her goal, she entered the jungle. After walking only about ten minutes, she realized that the forest was strangely quiet. No birds sang nor insects chirped. The only sound she could hear was a strange hissing... Suddenly in front of her was a row of twelve cobras. Jumping back, Dani wondered how she didn't notice them before.
"You may not passssssss, by order of usssssssss!" the serpents hissed.
"But I must, I have to get to the mountain beyond this jungle," Dani said.
"You may only passsssss if you anssssssswer a riddle. If you anssssssswer incorrectly, you are our sssssssssupper!"
Dani gulped, "What is the riddle?" Basenji's were very good at riddles. They used them as a way to pass the time. But she was still nervous.
"The riddle issssssssss; what can you never live without, yet never know you get? You can't work when you don't get it and you can't work when you have it," the snakes sneered in unison.
"Oh, that's easy," Dani replied, "it's sleep. You always get sleep, yet you don't know that you are sleeping when you sleep. And you can't work when you haven't slept and you can't work when you are asleep."
"But no one hassssssss ever gotten that! Now we have to think up a new one! We guesssssssss you can passsssss," the snakes said as they moved away, grumbling. Dani ran quickly down the path, hurrying to make up for lost time.
Finally, she reached the mountain. But as she looked up, she realized how steep it was. How was she to climb it? Dani sat in the sand and began to cry. Suddenly she realized she was moving upwards, not climbing, but ... floating!
Soon she was at the top of the mountain. She saw the Great Old Wise Greyhound sitting there on a velvet cushion. She glowed with a magical green light, as did her surroundings.
"Did you do this? Did you make me rise to the top of this mountain?" Dani asked.
"Of course, how else were you to get up?" the Greyhound replied in a voice that seemed to echo in Dani's mind, "Now, listen to me, Dani, you have come very far and escaped from many dangers. It is only right that I fulfil your wish. But you must give up something in return:' she replied.
"But I have nothing to give!"
"Don't fret, little one. You and your breed have suffered pain and humiliation all of your lives. Therefore, I shall not only give you a functioning tail, but yours will be better than all other dogs' tails. Your tails will curl up on your back so they arc out of the way when you play and work. But when you rest, they shall uncurl."
"Oh thank you! But you said that we would have to give up something in return!"
"Yes, but in this you will also gain. You must give up your voice, but will be given laughter, so you can express your joy of life. And you will still be able to yelp and whine, so your humans can understand you!"
"Thank you so much, I don't know how we will ever repay you!"
The Greyhound just nodded and touched her nose to Dani's forehead. Dani felt her tail slowly shrinking and curling. She turned around and saw that her clumsy long tail now lay in a tight spiral on her back. She turned to the Greyhound and tried to thank her again, but only a laughing sound came out of her mouth. Suddenly she heard the voice of the Greyhound in her head.
"If you were wondering how you were to communicate, now you can use your mind to speak with all species of animals ... except humans, because their brains are too cluttered up to let in another voice."
"Thank you again, ever so much!" Dani thought to her.
"Now, to get you home..." Dani heard a soft ping and before she knew it, she had returned home to her hut. All the other Basenjis, with their new tails, crowded around her, licking and sending thoughts to her with admiration. Dani's story has been passed down from generation to generation and is a great favorite of Basenjis of all ages.
of Dani's great quest, Basenjis became what they are today. Their tails, of
course, are curled. And they still laugh with joy. But more than that came out
of Dani's journey. Basenjis are brave and always curious. Because of this,
they are always getting into trouble. But they did not lose all of their
previous traits. They are still very intelligent and great at solving riddles.
And most of all, they love to sleep.