Karl Wiener

How the zebra got its stripes

  
       Ever since there have been zebras in this world there has been some controversy as to whether these beautiful animals are white horses with black stripes or black horses with white stripes.

       In order to end this dispute, I travelled throughout the world. Finally I arrived at Africa, the homeland of the zebras. There I met a very old and very wise man, whom I asked to solve the mystery. Since the man was really very, very old and very wise, he bent his head and rocked from side to side taking deep breaths. Finally he looked up at me and began to speak:


       I’ll tell you what the things are like. In the beginning there only used to be black horses and white horses here in Africa. The white horses were very proud and disliked the black ones, thinking that they were the superior breed. As a result they expelled the black horses from the best watering holes and the best feeding grounds. The black horses were left to do the hardest work in the fields whilst the white horses enjoyed a life of leisure.


       Human beings too weren’t averse to such strange behaviour. They lived separately as well, white people and black people both in their own villages. Each village was surrounded by firm wooden fences made from slats. The white people painted their fences white so as to prevent the black people from intruding and they forced the black people to paint their fences black to prevent themselves from getting inadvertently into a black village. As a result you could distinguish already from afar what people lived in the particular village.

 
       The horses liked to be close to the human beings, since they were afraid to be alone at night in the vast steppes, surrounded by lions and other predators. But in the darkness they couldn’t distinguish between black fences and white fences. So, it happened that now and then a herd of white horses approached a black village and a herd of black horses approached a white village.

       Horses just as human beings become tired at night and therefore they leant against the fences to prevent themselves from falling. But these were always freshly painted for fear that strangers would miss a friendly village if the paint had faded over time. Consequently when the horses leant against the fences some of the paint rubbed off on them. Next morning the white horses woke up with black stripes and vice versa the black horses with white stripes on their coats. Since that time one cannot tell a white horse from a black horse because they are all decorated by black and white stripes. 


 
 
 
  
 

 

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Published on e-Stories.org on 07/12/2011.

 

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