Khasi: How the Ox came to be the Servant of Man

This story is part of the Khasi Folktales unit. Story source: Folk-Tales of the Khasis by Mrs. K. U. Rafy (1920).

How the Ox came to be the Servant of Man

When mankind first came to live upon the earth, they committed many blunders for they were ignorant and wasteful, not knowing how to shift for themselves and having no one to teach them. The Deity who was watching their destinies saw their misfortunes and pitied them, for he saw that unless their wastefulness ceased they would perish of want when they multiplied and became numerous in the world. So the Deity called to him the ox, who was a strong and patient animal, and sent him as a messenger to mankind to bless them and to show them how to prosper.

The ox had to travel a long way in the heat and was much worried by the flies that swarmed round his path and the small insects that clung to his body and sucked his blood. Then a crow alighted on his back and began to peck at the insects, upon which it loved to feed; this eased the ox greatly, and he was very pleased to see the crow, and he told her where he was going as a messenger from the Deity to mankind.

The crow was very interested when she heard this, and questioned him minutely about the message he had been sent to deliver, and the ox told her all that  he had been commanded to say to mankind — how he was to give them the blessing of the Deity and to warn them not to waste the products of the earth lest they died of want. They must learn to be thrifty and careful so that they might live to be old and wise, and they were to boil only sufficient rice for each meal, so as not to waste their food.

When the crow heard this she was much disturbed, for she saw that there would be no leavings for the crows if mankind followed these injunctions. So she said to the ox, “Will you repay my kindness to you in destroying the insects that worry you by giving a message like that to mankind to deprive me of my accustomed spoil?” She begged of him to teach mankind to cook much rice always, and to ordain many ceremonies to honour their dead ancestors by offering rice to the gods, so that the crows and the other birds might have abundance to eat.

Thus, because she had eased his torments, the ox listened to her words, and when he came to mankind, he delivered only part of the message of the Deity and part of the message of the crow.

When the time came for the ox to return, a great fear overcame him as he approached the abode of the Deity, for he saw that he had greatly trespassed and that the Deity would be wrathful. In the hope of obtaining forgiveness, he at once confessed his wrong-doing, how he had been tempted by the crow and had delivered the wrong message. This confession did not mitigate the anger of the Deity, for he arose, and, with great fury, he struck the ox such a blow on the mouth that all his upper teeth fell out, and another blow behind the ribs which made a great hollow there, and he drove the disobedient animal from his presence to seek pasture and shelter wherever he could find them.

After this the ox came back sorrowfully to mankind, and for food and for shelter he offered to become their servant, and, because he was strong and patient, mankind allowed him to become their servant.

Ever since he was struck by the Deity, the ox has had no teeth in the upper jaw, and the hollow behind his ribs remains to this day; it can never be filled up, however much grass and grain he eats, for it is the mark of the fist of the Deity.

(600 words)

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