Monday, December 22, 2014

Two Fables From Southwest China

Before we get to the tales . . . Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to all!

(1) The Tiger That Was Too Competitive for His Own Good  (Wa)

A rather ignorant tiger finally left his stomping grounds and  encountered a little bird singing and dancing to her heart's content on a branch.

"You spindly legged homely thing," said the tiger, "what are you? And that dance of yours, what is it? Never mind. Let's see you match your abilities with mine. Are you willing?"

"Tiger," said the bird, "do you think you ought to go around insulting others? Fine. Let's go to that vine over there on that tree and see which one of us can dance upon it!"

"Ha!" snorted the tiger. "Nothing to it. Let's go!"

They did so.

The bird alighted onto the vine and danced as well as she would have on solid ground.

She then flew from the vine. "Your turn, Tiger."

The tiger studied the loose vine. He climbed the tree, approached the vine from a sturdy branch, and, when he was unable to grasp anything substantial, he fell to the ground below. Pudong! He landed on some rocks and roared with pain and anger. He slunk away.

He came upon rice paddies. There, he spied a shrew sunning himself on the ridges between paddies.

"Ho!" the tiger roared with laughter. "Can such a creature as you truly exist! Why, look at you! You haven't legs or feet to speak of!"

"Who are you to mock others?" asked the indignant shrew. "If you are so fast and agile, let's have a contest. Not far from here are people. Suppose you and I each run a gauntlet through a crowd of humans. Let's see who can get through unscathed. What do you say?"

"Terrific! Let's do it!" said the tiger.

The pair crept on a location where a number of people were gathered.

Turning to the tiger, the shrew said, "I'll go first. Watch me."

Off he went!

"Hey, what is it?" cried someone.

"Don't know!" cried someone else.

"Let me grab it!" said another, squatting down to no avail.

The tiny shrew easily dodged all the hands, sandals and clubs and escaped without so much as a scratch or missing hair.

"All right, Tiger. Let's see you do that!"

"Ha, easy as a wink. Watch this."

The tiger ran into the crowd.

"Tiger! Tiger!" people screamed and opened up a way for the tiger to run through.

"Take this!" said a farmer with a hoe as he slammed it down onto the tiger's back.

"And this!" said another, whacking the tiger's rib cage with a cudgel.

The tiger was barely able to make it out alive.

"Ha ha! Weren't you the one laughing at my legs?" said the shrew. "What happened to your own four legs, my friend?"

The tiger, livid, would have eaten the shrew if the latter hadn't scurried away like lightning.

The tiger then ventured into a marshy area, and, there, by a large bog, he rested, nursing his wounds. That is when he spotted a snail.

"Oh, I swear by my mother that you are the ugliest creature I've ever seen!" cried the tiger, forgetting he had been down this road before. "Is it possible that in this world there could be anything as hideous as you? Why, look at yourself! You don't even have a mouth! And your legs--I thought I had seen creatures without legs before, but you truly don't have legs, feet, paws! What good are you? What use are you?

"Brother Tiger," said the snail, "may I offer you a challenge? Let's see which one of us can cross this quicksand. How about it?"

"I can do it easily. I've accepted your challenge, so go ahead."

"Very well," said the snail. "Allow me to go first."

The snail then gingerly crossed the quicksand to the other side.

Looks easy enough, thought the tiger, planning to make a mighty leap across.

The tiger launched himself over the quicksand but came down well before the other edge. His four paws then became mired in the quicksand. The more he struggled, of course, the more he sank. First, his legs, then his body, and then finally only his head was visible.

The snail moved up a rock to get a better view of where the tiger was, but when he looked the tiger was nowhere to be seen.

As it turned out, that particular tiger was never seen again anywhere else!

from 中国民间故事选.  [Selection of Chinese folktales, Vol. 1]. Jia Zhi & Sun Jianbing, eds. Beijing: Renmin Wenxue Chubanshe, 1980; pp. 454-455. 

The Wa people live on both sides of the Chinese-Burmese border. (See Wa people - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Motifs: J1706.1, "Stupid tiger"; J2353.1, "Foolish boasts bring trouble"; and W117, "Boastfulness." 

(2) Cat and Leopard  (Jingpo)

Long ago, Cat and Leopard were close kin; they were a family, as a matter of fact. Besides their different sizes, there was one other big difference between the two--Cat was much, much smarter than Leopard. Whatever poor Leopard couldn't do, Cat seemed able to do and much more.

One day Cat said to Leopard, "Humans have fire; they can cook their food until it is nice, toasty and tasty. I'm going to go to them and borrow some of this fire from them."

And he did so.

He visited the home of some friendly people, and they gave him a small burning torch to take home. While he was there, he noticed some they were cooking savory sticky rice. Did it ever smell good! Cat was worried that Leopard, waiting back home for supper, might be too hungry and impatient, so he rushed back with the fire without waiting to see how the sticky rice casserole turned out.

Cat made several trips back to get fire. On one trip, the kindhearted humans saw Cat staring at the freshly cooked sticky rice and offered him some, which he gladly ate.

That's it, thought Cat. People live in warm houses and cook such delicious food. Leopard and I should live with people from now on. 

Cat returned home and said to Leopard, "Look. People live well and can keep themselves warm. They always cook wonderful food, and they treat me very well. I want to live with them. I don't want to live the way you and I have been living."

"All that might well be true, but I'm not going to live with them," said Leopard. "Neither are you. You're staying here with me."

And that seemed to be that.

Cat was well aware that Leopard, as dumb as he was, could effortlessly overpower him with his sheer weight and power. Cat would have to resort to his wits to escape from Leopard in order to make a home with humans.

After some time had passed, Cat turned to Leopard and said, "You know, there's something I have failed to teach you!"

"What is it?"

"How to climb a tree! Let's go! C'mon!"

Cat indeed taught Leopard to climb trees. Not only that but he showed Leopard how to make it to the very top of a tree. He did not, though, show Leopard how to climb down.

"Bye!" said Cat, hopping down branch to branch until he was on the ground, scampering towards where the people lived.

Leopard was way up in the tree, terribly hungry and untaught as how to climb down. His stomach growling, Leopard decided to emulate Cat's movements, having watched his much smaller, lighter relative go from branch to branch. He tried the same and ending up crashing through the branches and landing, head first, with a huge thump on the ground, breaking his neck bones.

Cat ended up becoming a domesticated pet, the ancestor of the house cats we know and love today. As for Leopard, his neck bones broke, compressing his neck, making him unable to lift his head fully. If you ever see leopards in the wild or zoo today, you'll notice their necks are much the same as their ancestor's.

from Jia Sun, Vol. 1, p. 505. (See citation above.) 

Two other pourquoi tales may be found in the postings for 3/7/12 and 5/24/14. 

Like the Wa, the Jingpo reside in both China and Burma. (See Jingpo people - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Motifs: A1443, "Origin of domestic animals (cats)"; A2493.8, "Friendship of leopard and cat"; cA2528.1, "Origin of walk of leopard"; A2581, "Cat omits teaching tiger (leopard) all he knows"; B391, "Animal grateful for food"; and cB393, "Animals grateful for shelter." 

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