Laos: The Fortunes of a Lazy Beggar

This story is part of the Laos unit. Story source: Laos Folk-Lore by Katherine Neville Fleeson, with photographs by W.A. Briggs (1899).




The Fortunes of a Lazy Beggar

Once upon a time a man lived who was never known to work. When the neighbors grew weary supplying him with food, he sought the forest and lay down under a fig-tree so the ripe fruit might drop into his mouth. Often, when the food fell out of his reach, he would suffer hunger rather than make an effort.

It fell upon a day that a stranger passed that way, and the lazy man asked him to please gather some fruit and put it into his mouth, as he hungered. The wily stranger gathered a handful of earth and put it into his mouth as he lay there with his eyes even closed. Tasting the earth, the lazy man was angry, and he threw figs after the retreating impostor, who ran away mocking him.

Days after, a ripe fig fell into a stream nearby and, floating down the stream, was seen and eaten by the daughter of a chow. As it was delicious to the taste, she grew dissatisfied with all other fruit and vowed that, from henceforth, she would eat of no other fruit, and that the man who had thrown the one beautiful fig should be her husband.

Angered by such a caprice, her father urged her to be guided by his judgment. Unable to restrain her and hoping to turn her desire elsewhere, the chow made an elaborate feast and bade all the people of the province to it. But, among all was not the one who had thrown the fig into the stream.

“Is there not yet a man who has not come to the feast?” asked the chow.

“None save the lazy beggar who lies at the fig-tree,” they said.

“Bring him hither,” commanded the chow, determined to have his daughter see what manner of man she was selecting as her husband.

Too lazy to walk, the lazy man was carried into the presence of the chow and his guests.

Ashamed that his daughter sought such as her husband and would have no other, as it was supposed that the lazy man alone had thrown the fig into the stream and he was too lazy to deny it, the chow had a boat built for their use and commanded that they be floated down the stream to the sea. This he did, hoping his obstinate daughter and her lazy husband might be lost to the world forever.

All day long the boat drifted; all day long spake the princess not one word to her husband, nor would she have aught to eat. Fearing she would not live if she did not eat, the beggar made a fire to cook some rice for her. Lazy as ever, he put but two stones under the kettle, and it tottered.

“I cannot endure your lazy ways. Put three stones under the kettle,” cried his wife.

The husband did so, glad she had spoken to him.

And when the boat had drifted many days, it came to a place where once there had been a large rice field and there it remained.

While the princess stayed in the boat, the once indolent beggar labored day after day in the rice fields that they might live; moreover, he had learned to love his princess wife.

When the god who looks to men’s deeds from his home in the sky saw the man no longer loved his ease more than all else, but would toil for his wife, he said within himself, “The man deserves reward.” So he called to him six wild monkeys from his woods and gave into their care six magic gongs, telling them to go beat them in the rice fields where the husband toiled.

The husband heard the monkeys and the clanging of the gongs, but at last, unable to endure the noise, he finally caught the monkeys and secured the gongs. He then threatened to kill the monkeys, but they plead that they were sent by the god who looks to men’s deeds with the gongs as a reward for his merit. “Having seen your efforts to provide for your wife, who loves not you, he sends you these gongs. If you strike this one, you will grow beautiful; that one, you will have wisdom. Another gives you lands and servants, and another, if struck while holding it in your hands, will cause people to do you reverence as though you were a god,” they told the man.

Having permitted the monkeys to go, he beat the gong of beauty, and his body grew straight and tall; also his face became most pleasant to look upon. Beating the gong of power and taking the others with him, he sought his wife. She did not recognize him and would have done him reverence, but he said, “Do me no reverence. I am thy husband,” and he told her of the god’s reward. When she heard of the magic gongs, she entreated him to return to her father that he might forgive her for not having heeded his counsel.

Through the magic gongs, had they wealth, power and all benefits the gods could bestow, and the father loved them, and indeed gave his son-in-law power above all the princes in his province.

And the once lazy man thought within himself: “In former times the people derided me as a lazy man because I would not work; now that I am possessed of wealth, they do me reverence; yet behold I am as lazy as ever, for I open my mouth and food is ready for my use. Thus it is, that when a poor man does not work, he is called a lazy beggar, but when a prince or rich man does not work, he has power, and people do him reverence.”


(1000 words)











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