A Saora folk tale from Orissa retold from ‘When the World was Young’, by Verrier Elwin. The book is a fascinating collection of folktales from the tribal peoples of India. Elwin was a pioneering anthropologist; he spent his entire life getting to know the ways of life of the tribal peoples.

There was a time when elephants could fly. The world was young then, and they had wings — four big wings. In fact they were God’s greatest vehicle; he used to ride one of them. He was busy creating the world. But once humans had started living on earth, God’s work was over. The usefulness of the elephants decreased.

And Elephants did Fly
And Elephants did Fly [Illustrations by Kusum Chamoli]
Not only that, the elephants developed very irritating habits. Sometimes they would crow like cocks and roosters. And sometimes, tired of flying in the sky, they would come and sit on the rooftops of houses. The houses would collapse. The whole world knew how heavy the elephants were, but these creatures had no idea about the trouble they were creating.

It was time for God to take action again. This time he made a secret plan. He invited the big beasts for a fantastic feast. The elephants stuffed themselves with so much food.

That was the moment God had been looking for. He quietly cut off the elephants’ wings. And, say the Saoras, he gave away two wings to the peacock, which is how the bird got its beautiful tail.

Then God stuck the other two wings on the banana tree, which is how it got its big leaves.

When the elephants woke up groggy from sleep, they discovered their great loss. And they got wild — so wild that they scampered off into the forest. Since that time the elephants have been scared of humans. That is what the Saoras believe.