Sunday, October 13, 2013

Animal Wars: Three Fables (Buyi & Lisu)

Note: It might be best not to share these stories, especially the last one, with very young, impressionable and sensitive readers. 

(1) The Tiger and the Frog  (Buyi/Bouyei)

A tiger had crept out to a rice field to lap some water. He heard a "croak . . . croak . . . " and looked around to locate the source. Soon, below him, he spotted a little frog.

"Frog? Was that you?" asked the tiger. "Ha. Where does a pipsqueak like you get off  making such a big noise?"

The frog was little, but he had what we would call today a "big attitude." "Don't look down on me, Tiger, just because I'm smaller than you. Why, I eat creatures bigger than you every day."

"You'd better watch your mouth." The tiger's intelligence was as small as the frog's ego was large. "With a mere swipe of my tail, I could turn you, Frog, in a meat paste."

"Tiger, save  your bullying for other animals. None of that works on me. Sometime we'll match our skills, and then you'll know you're not as great as  you think you are! I'll show you that I can leap farther than you ever can!"

"All right, then," said the tiger, "let's have a contest right now. The victor shall eat the loser!"

"Not right now. I'm a bit tuckered. I still have to sing my evening songs at the pond. Let's have our contest tomorrow."

"Tomorrow it is, then!" said the tiger. "Just know this: If you don't show up tomorrow and I get a hold of you, you'll be as good as dead."

The tiger returned to his mountain, leaving the frog where he was. The frog immediately regretted opening his big mouth and bragging about how he could best the tiger and how he could eat an animal bigger than the tiger himself. He fell into a deep blue mood.

His mood had slowly turned into panic when along came the farmer. The frog leaped into the air to catch the farmer's attention. After he did so, he told the farmer the story of what had just happened and asked the farmer to save him.

"Ah, my little friend," said the farmer, "you don't need me to save you. Don't worry; you can save yourself!"

"Oh? How so?" asked the frog.

"The tiger is big, strong and arrogant but also very stupid. Just make sure just before the contest begins that you squat on top of his tail. As soon as the tiger pounces forward, his tail spring upwards. He'll catapult you far beyond him! Believe me--you'll beat him in such a contest."

The next day came soon enough.

"All right, pipsqueak," said the tiger, "on the count of three."

"Got it. On the count of three," replied the frog.

"One . . . " said the tiger.

The frog tiptoed back to the tiger's fuzzy tail and planted himself within.

"Two . . ."

The tiger tightened and stretched his body to launch himself forward; as he did so, his tail, working like a lever, lifted up, sending the little frog sailing forward just as the tiger called the third number.

"Three!" cried the tiger.

"Threeeee!" shouted the frog,  now many feet beyond the tiger's snout.

The tiger conceded he had lost.

"All right, you were lucky that time," said the tiger. "The contest we just had won't count. Let's see who can jump farthest across the river instead."

"Whatever you say, Tiger."

They sat on the bank of the river, facing the other side.

"One . . . two . . . three!"

The same thing happened again--the frog allowed the tiger's tail to propel himself far across the river, far beyond the length of the great leap the tiger was able to accomplish. On the other side of the river, the  two animals once again came face to face. All kinds of things were now running through the tiger's limited brain.

Looking at the frog, the tiger now thought, He's won again . . . He's going . . .  to . . . eat . . . me!

The tiger then took off for the hills. As he ran and ran for what he thought was his very life, he passed a wolf.

"Slow down there, Brother Tiger!" said the wolf. "What's chasing you?"

"A frog's after me, and he's going to eat me!"

"Oh, my word! What are you afraid of? No such thing'll happen. Listen. Just lead me to this frog."

"Wait, Wolf. You don't understand. I'm afraid! When you go up against that little devil, you'll take off too and leave me behind!"

"No, no, no. This is what we'll do. I'll tie myself to you with a rope. There's no way one of us will desert the other. Now, come on! Take me to this frog!"

Off they went down the hill to where the frog was. The frog spotted the tiger and wolf before either caught sight of him.

"Tiger! Tiger!" said the frog. "You're back! You lost and returned to let me eat you, as agreed. Fine! Don't run away again. Let me finish sharpening this stone so I can skin you . . ."

As soon as the tiger heard this, he turned tail and fled the scene even faster than before. The poor wolf ended up being dragged to death.

The frog watched his enemies disappear and then headed out to his favorite spot by the marsh. Once there, he suddenly felt very grateful for the farmer's original advice which had saved his life and then had inspired him to use his cunning against the tiger. He wanted to thank the farmer but didn't know the man's name. So,  he contented himself by munching on his favorite insects and croaking out a song in the farmer's honor, singing to whoever was nearby about the wonderful man and his helpful advice.

from Zhongguo minjian gushixuan, Vol. 1, pp. 393-394. (See 2/26/08 for complete citation)

This story shares some common motifs with the Mongolian "The Peasant and the Lion" (see 12/18/07). The Buyei or Bouyei live in Guizhou and Vietnam and speak a Tai language. 

Motifs: J1706.1, "Tiger as stupid beast"; K1715.2, "Ogre or larger animal deceived by bluffing."

(2) The War Between the Monkeys and Locusts  (Buyi/Bouyei)

This happened back in ancient times, when animals could speak as we do.

A monkey happened to come across locusts living on the embankment of a rice paddy.

"Off with you, little children, off to the mountains!" said the monkey, disparagingly. "I'm bigger than you runts. The embankment's going to belong to us monkeys."

"Hang on a minute, Monkey," said one of the locusts. "The embankment here has always been our home since our ancestors first arrived. We're not going up into any mountains!"

"Oh? Fine, then. We'll fight over it."

" Yes, indeed, we'll fight over it. Tomorrow--here!" replied the locust.

The monkey left to go back and report to his brothers and sisters his encounter with the locusts.

The war was on!

The next morning the monkey force, armed with clubs, headed for the locust camp on the edge of the paddy.

The monkeys arrived and could find no sign of the locusts.

"All right, runts, where are you?" asked a club-wielding monkey. "Come on out and fight!"

"We're here, all right," replied a hidden locust. "We'll be out by and by, as soon as the sun's up and the dew's evaporated."

Before long the sun was up and the dew had evaporated.

"All right, so are you coming out to fight us or not?" asked the same monkey.

And then, with the roar all the locusts emerged and roared at the monkeys.

"So, let's fight!" cried the monkey.

A flying wall of locusts swarmed over the monkeys as the monkeys swung their clubs wildly.

Now, I don't need to tell you that monkeys are wily, agile devils, but on that day the whole lot of them had to yield the ground to the humble, lowly, and decidedly small locusts. The quick locusts found a clever way to defeat their foes: they would dart in and out of the monkeys' ample nostrils before any harm could befall them.

"Get 'im!" screamed the chief monkey. "He just flew up my nose!"

The monkey nearest to him swung his club and hit his teammate squarely in the face, seconds after the locust had exited, putting his leader out of action forever.

This scene repeated itself over and over all morning until one monkey out of the whole group was left standing. He surveyed the ground littered with dead, dying and severely injured monkeys.

"Well, Monkey," said a locust, "shall we finish the fight? Do you still insist on taking our area instead of going back to the mountains to your own home?"

"You . . . you can . . . can  keep your embankment! You locusts scare me!" the monkey replied. "I'm going home, home to the mountains!"

He was gone in a flash.

So, the locusts got to keep the rice paddy and its embankments, while the monkeys stayed in the mountains.
And that is how it has always been and will always be.

from Zhongguo minjian gushixuan, Vol. 1, p. 395. 

In this "just-so" tale, why were the locusts so insistent upon waiting for the dew to evaporate? Were they afraid their bodies wet with dew would make them cling to the monkey's fur? Or, were they waiting for the sun to be higher up in the sky so as to attack the monkeys from the direction of the sun, while their foes were blinded? This narrative, like those of many Chinese-language folktales, doesn't say and prefers to leave much to the imagination.

Motifs: B263.6, "War of monkeys and grasshoppers (locusts)"; B268.8.2, "Army of locusts."

(3) Why the Barking Deer Is Red  (Lisu)

Believe it or not, tigers and muntjacs, or barking deer, were once neighbors. Not only that but they would help each other out in a neighborly spirit with chores.

One day a barking deer was out helping his neighbor, the tiger, dig a hole.

"Say," said the tiger, "we've been out here for a while. Let me go home and prepare you a lunch. I'll bring it to you here."

The muntjac thanked the tiger and continued to dig away as the tiger headed back. What the barking deer did not know was that the tiger went to the barking deer's home, caught one of the smaller barking deer, killed it and cooked it up while his friend toiled away.

The treacherous tiger returned with this lunch, saying, "Muntjac, stop working! Come and eat while it's still hot!"

The barking deer stopped what he was doing and went to eat. To his great horror, he discovered that the steaming lunch before him was meat from a young barking deer--one of his own children. He was totally under the watchful and baleful eyes of the smiling tiger. Not wishing to reveal his shock and sadness and fear, he ate the lunch without letting on, biding his time, thinking of revenge.

The time for revenge came the very next day.

On this day, the muntjac asked the tiger for his help in digging a hole. The tiger obliged.

"Tiger, my friend," said  the muntjac, "let me bring you some lunch as you toil away. I'm going to return home. I'll be back in a jiffy with a meal for you."

The tiger thanked the muntjac. The muntjac, instead of returning home, went to the tiger's den, where he slaughtered one of the tiger's cubs. He took the carcass home, cooked it and made a meal of it. He then carried the grisly lunch out to the tiger.

The muntjac, by now, was trembling all over with great fear for what the tiger would do. Even though he was about to exact a gruesome vengeance, he was still deathly afraid of the tiger. He gingerly set the meal down on the edge of the pit farthest from where the tiger was digging. He then ran off to an area from which he could observe the tiger from afar.

"T-Tiger!" said the muntjac. "I've . . . I've troubled you enough f-for now! Go ahead and eat!"

The tiger approached the hot lunch awaiting him, discovered it was made of the remains of one of his dead cubs, snarled, and roared. He bounded out of the hole and ran after the muntjac, who immediately took off into the brush.

Though the muntjac had a good head start on the tiger, he still ran for his life. He shot through the jungle, reaching a spot where a boar happened to be.

"Brother Boar," cried the muntjac, "you've got to save me! The tiger's after me! Hide me!"

"All right," said the boar, "follow me."

No sooner had the boar safely hid the muntjac away in his lair the tiger showed up.

"Have you seen the muntjac around here?" asked the tiger.

"No, I haven't."

"I don't believe you! I think you've got him tucked away somewhere."

"Since you don't believe me, Tiger, I guess we'll just have to fight and see who's more powerful."

The tiger, self-proclaimed local king of the animals, guffawed at the notion.

"You wish to duel with me, Boar? Am I hearing correctly?"

"Yes, Tiger. Just give me nine days to prepare."

"Very well. Just remember that after I whip you and then find that no-good, cowardly muntjac, I'll be coming back for you. See you in nine days!"

The tiger returned home and for nine days did nothing but lounge, eat and sleep without a care or fear in the world. What was a fat, bristly boar to him, the King?

The boar, however, did not take the upcoming challenge so lightly. For nine days, he rolled around in the mud. Every time a fresh layer of mud dried, he would roll around again, until the new layer dried. He did this constantly for nine days until his entire body was caked with tough, thick mud.

 The day of combat came soon enough, and the two combatants squared off against each other.

With a roar, the tiger leaped forward to attack the boar. The tiger succeeded in taking a bite out of his foe--a bite of thick caked mud which filled up his mouth. With the tiger now preoccupied with spitting out the mud, the boar ripped into the tiger's throat, inflicting a fatal injury.

The tiger staggered and fell dead upon the ground.

The boar then went to call the muntjac to come from out of hiding.

"Hey, Muntjac, help me carry the tiger back home," Boar asked.


There was a problem: the dead tiger was too heavy to budge. The boar decided to cut the tiger's carcass into what should have been easy enough sections to carry.

"Muntjac, carry the tiger's head."

"Oh . . . no . . . I can't . . . " replied the muntjac.

"Why not?"

"What? With the tiger's dead eyes staring at me, with his open mouth and fangs still dripping . . . ? How could I? No, let me carry something else . . . "

"Well, carry his arms and feet, then."

"No . . . no . . . I can still picture those claws of his trying to rip me apart . . ."

"Then carry his entrails!"

"Are you joking, Boar? I can just imagine them encircling me, choking me . . . "

"All right, fine! Here, let's drain the blood from his body and have you carry the blood in this vessel. Surely, you can do that!"

"Yes, I can do that."

And so the muntjac carried a large container of the tiger's blood back to the boar's home. On the way back, though, something happened. Did he feel a sudden breeze on his back and imagine it was the hot breath of a dangerous, vengeful jungle cat? Did he hear a rustling in nearby bushes? In any case, he suddenly imagined the tiger ready to pounce upon him. And what did he do? He panicked, stumbled, and ended up showering himself with the tiger's blood!

From head to food, he was completely drenched in red.

It is said that from then on, barking deer, or muntjacs,  all have red fur because their ancestor had accidentally bathed himself in the blood of the tiger.

from Lisuzu minjian gushixuan [A folktale anthology of the Lisu ethnicity],  Xiong Faqing, et al, eds.; Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe, 1985; pp. 349-351.

Lisu live on both sides of the Thai-Chinese frontier. Their language, like that of the Buyi, belongs to the Tai family of languages. Lisu women are renowned for their silver finery. The last motif below is shared with at least one other folktale, one from India.  

Motifs: A2411.1.6.5, "Color of deer"; A2494.2.4, "Enmity between leopard (tiger) and deer"; A2494.10.2, "Enmity between tiger and boar"; B414.1, "Helpful boar"; cD1318.7, "Flesh reveals guilt"; cG61, "Relative's flesh eaten unwittingly"; and K97.1, "Boar in duel with tiger cakes mud on body; defeats tiger."