Friday, July 4, 2014

Khasi: The Tiger and the Monkeys

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




The Tiger and the Monkeys

At the beginning of time, the animals were free and living wild and unruly lives, but there were so many disputes and quarrels that they convened a council to choose a king to reign over them. With one accord they nominated the tiger to be king, not for any special wisdom or merit which he possessed but because of his great strength by which he would be able to subdue the turbulent beasts.

Although he possessed greater strength than any of his kindred, the tiger was more ignorant of the ways and habits of his subjects than any of the animals. He was so self-absorbed that he never troubled himself to study the ways of others, and this caused him to act very foolishly at times and to make himself ridiculous, for the animals were tempted to take advantage of his great ignorance and to play tricks upon him whenever they thought they could do so undetected. This tale relates how the monkeys played a cunning trick on their king which caused mortal enmity to spring up between him and them for ever.

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One hot day, the tiger walked abroad to take an airing, but, the sun being so hot, he turned aside to shelter under some leafy trees and there he fell asleep. Presently he awoke, and on awaking, he heard coming from overhead very melodious singing to which he listened enraptured. 

It was the little insect, Shalymmen, chirping on a leaf, but she was so small the tiger could not see her, and, being so ignorant, he had no idea whose voice it was. He peered to the branches right and left trying to discover the singer, but he only saw a company of monkeys at play in the trees, so he began to question them who it was that was singing above him.

Now the monkeys and all the jungle animals were perfectly familiar with the singing of Shalymmen and recognised the voice from afar. They thought it very contemptible in the king to be more ignorant than themselves, and one audacious young monkey, in a spirit of mischief, answered that the singer was their youngest sister.

The other monkeys were perturbed when they heard their brother giving such an impudent answer, thinking that the tiger would be offended and would punish them with his great strength. They were preparing to run away when, to their amazement, they heard the tiger replying to their rash young brother in a gentle voice and with most affable manners and saying to him, “You are my brother-in-law. Your sister has the most beautiful voice in the jungle; I will make her my wife.”

If the predicament of the monkeys was bad at the beginning, it was doubly so now, for they felt that, things having taken such an unexpected turn, it would be impossible to conceal from the knowledge of the tiger their brother’s offence. They determined, however, not to desert the young culprit and, if possible,  to try and rescue him, so they approached the tiger, and with much seeming courtesy and honour, they put forward the excuse that their sister was very young and not yet of marriageable age. 

This excuse made no impression on the king, for he said: “So much the better. As she is young, I can mould her to my own ways and bring her up according to my own views, which would not be so easy if she were fully matured.”

To which the monkeys replied, “Our sister is not amenable to instruction. She is indolent and fond of her own will.”

The tiger, however, was so lovesick that no argument had weight with him. He thought the brothers were severe in their judgement and expressed his conviction that she could not be as slothful as they said, for she was forgoing her midday repose for the sake of making music to cheer the animals. He ordered them to come down from the trees and to lead their sister to him.

After this the monkeys feared to argue further, so they pretended to agree to his commands, but they craved a boon from him and asked for a little time to make preparations, as it would not be becoming for one of such a high degree to join himself with a poor family like theirs without their showing him adequate honour such as was due to his rank. This request the tiger granted, and it was arranged between them that he was to come and claim his bride at the time of the full moon, a week from that day, and so the tiger departed with evident goodwill.

As soon as they found themselves alone the monkeys began to think out some plans by which they could  meet the situation and escape exposure. They decided to call together a council of the whole tribe of monkeys, for they well foresaw that the whole tribe would be in peril if the tiger found out what they had done. 


So the monkeys came to hold a council, and in that council it was decided that they must continue to keep up the duplicity begun, and in order to hoodwink the tiger still further they planned to make a clay image after the fashion of a woman and to present her to the tiger as his bride. So they made preparations for a great feast, but they did not invite anybody except their own tribe to attend.

During the succeeding days the monkeys busied themselves collecting clay and moulding it into an image, which they propped against a tree. They were unable to make the head of one piece with the body, so they moulded the head separately, and when it was finished they placed it loosely on the body of the image. They then proceeded to dress the image in all the finery they could procure, and they carefully covered the head and face with a veil so as to hide it from the eyes of the bridegroom.

The night of the full moon arrived, and all the monkey family were assembled at the appointed place, where with much clatter and seeming joy they awaited the arrival of the tiger, though they were really very anxious about the consequences. Everything was in readiness, and the place laid out with many kinds of food, so as to lead the tiger to think that they were sincere in their welcome.

He came early, very gorgeously arrayed, and carrying over his shoulder a net full of betel nut and pan leaves, and was received with loud acclamation by his  prospective relatives. But the tiger hardly deigned to give them a greeting, so impatient was he to meet his bride, and he demanded to be taken to her immediately. The monkeys led him with great ceremony to the clay image, but their hearts were beating fast with fear lest he should discover their fraud.

When they reached the image they said, “This is our sister. Take her and may she be worthy of the great honour you have conferred upon her.” Thereupon they retired to a safe distance.

When the tiger saw how finely dressed she was and how modestly she had veiled herself, he felt a little timid, for she was so much finer than the little grey monkey he had been picturing to himself. He came up to her and said deferentially, as he slung the net of betel nut round her neck: “You are the chief person at this feast; take the pan and the betel nut and divide them among the company according to custom.”

The bride, however, remained motionless and mute, seeing which the tiger asked the monkeys in a displeased voice, “Why doth not your sister answer me nor obey my commands?”

“She is very young,” they replied. “Perhaps she has fallen asleep while waiting for you; pull the string of the net and she will awaken.”

Upon this the tiger gave the string a sharp tug, and the loose head of the image rolled on to the floor, whereupon the monkeys, uttering the most piercing shrieks, pounced upon the tiger in a mob, declaring that he had killed their sister and that he had only made a pretence of marrying her in order to get hold of her to kill her. 

A fierce and bloody fight ensued  in which the tiger was nearly killed, and ever since then the tiger has feared the monkeys, and they are the only animals in the jungle that dare challenge him to fight. He never discovered their duplicity, but he learned one very effective lesson, for he has never committed the indiscretion of proposing marriage with an unknown bride since that unfortunate affair with the monkeys, while the monkeys are rejoicing in the cunning by which they saved their brother and their tribe from punishment.


(1500 words)

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