The tortoise is a favorite in African folklore and appears in many East African tales as “Mzee Kobe” (Swahili: mzee – old one; kobe – tortoise). African tortoises live to be over 100 years old and represent longevity and endurance. Mzee Kobe is depicted as old and wise, loyal and unwavering in the face of obstacles or challenges.
Most of us are familiar with the delightful African tale of the tortoise and the hare, which inspired the saying “slow but steady wins the race”. Against all odds, the diligent and determined tortoise defeats the fast but boastful hare in a speed race. The story invites us to stay steadfast and focused on our goals regardless of what is happening around us, to take things at our own pace.
Psychologically, the tortoise represents humility, resilience, and strength of character. To adopt a tortoise spirit is to have a long term perspective on things, to understand that things take time. It means thinking and reflecting carefully before acting. And most importantly, it means not comparing yourself to others or being concerned with what others do or say, and focusing instead on your strengths and contributions to the world.
A true story from Kenya about the friendship between a 130-year old tortoise and a baby hippopotamus, Mzee and Owen, after the devastating tsunami in 2004, reminds us that the tortoise is not just the stuff of old tales but represents modern day wisdom about friendship and endurance.