One Day the tortoise met the elephant, who trumpeted, “Out of my way, you weakling–I might step on you!” The tortoise was not afraid and stayed where he was, so the elephant stepped on him but could not crush him.

“Do not boast, Mr. Elephant, I am as strong as you are!” said the tortoise, but the elephant just laughed. So the tortoise asked him to come to his hill the next morning, where he would prove he was as strong. The next day, before sunrise, the tortoise made its way down the hill to the river where he met the hippopotamus who was just on his way back into the water after his nocturnal feeding.

“Mr. Hippo! Shall we have a tug-of-war? I bet I’m as strong as you are!” said the tortoise. The hippopotamus laughed at this ridiculous idea, but agreed. The tortoise handed him a long rope and told the hippo to hold it in his mouth until the tortoise shouted “Hey!”

Then the tortoise made its ascent back up the hill with the other end of the rope. There he found the impatient elephant fidgeting. “Are we doing this or not?” The elephant asked. Tortoise handed the elephant the end of the rope and said, “When I say ‘Hey!’ pull, and you’ll see which of us is strongest.” Then he descended down the hill and took a detour into the bush halfway back down the hill.

Nestled within the shrubs, the tortoise shouted, “Hey!” Then the elephant and the hippopotamus pulled and pulled on the rope, each one thinking the tortoise was on the other side. The elephant and the tortoise could not budge the other–they were of equal strength. That day, the shrewd tortoise successfully deceived the elephant and the tortoise into believing he belonged on their ranks.

–Zairean Folktale