Why The Lip Of The Elephant Droops
Category: Fables From the Forest
Source: Laos Folk-lore Of Farther India
In the days when the earth was young lived a poor man and his wife who
had twelve daughters, whom they no longer loved and no longer desired.
Day after day the father and mother planned to be free of them, and upon
a day, the father made ready a basket; in the bottom he placed ashes,
but on the top he spread rice. Taking this basket with him, he called
his daughters to come go to the jungle to hunt for game.
When the heat of the day had come, they all sat down to eat, and, after
they had eaten, the father gave each daughter a bamboo joint, and bade
her get water for him. The joints were so made that they would not hold
water, and while the maidens endeavored to make them so they would, the
father returned home. In vain did the maidens try to make the joints
hold the water and after a time they sought their father, but, lo, the
father was gone and only the basket remained! Examining the basket, they
found rice but on the top, and on the bottom filled with ashes, so they
knew their parents sought to be free of them by leaving them in the
trackless jungle. Unable to find their way out, there they slept
peacefully, for the wild beasts molest not those who fearlessly stay
As the eye of day opened in the East, the forlorn maidens beheld, as
they awakened, a beautiful woman standing near, and of her they sought
"Come with me and be companions to my little daughter. Often am I away
from home and she is lonely. Come home with me, play with my daughter,
and, in exchange I will give you a home," said the beautiful woman.
Gladly the maidens consented and went with the woman to her home far in
the jungle. All places save one small garden were they free to enter.
And upon a day, the fair woman said, "I go to the jungle and will not
return until the eye of day has closed. Do not play in the small
garden." Scarcely had she gone ere she returned, but the maidens had not
sought the garden.
Again, upon a day, the fair woman said, "I go to the jungle but for a
short time. Go not to play in the small garden."
Thinking she would this time be gone all day, the maidens sought the
small garden, and lo, it was strewn with human bones! Then they knew the
fair woman was a cannibal. Full of fear, they fled, and, as they fled
they met a cow.
"Protect us," they cried.
The cow opened its mouth and the maidens jumped in. Thus they journeyed
from the cannibal's home. As the cow returned, it met the fair woman
seeking the maidens.
"Have you seen twelve maidens pass this way?" asked she.
"No," answered the cow.
"If you do not speak the truth, I'll kill and eat you," cried she.
"I saw them as they made haste in that way," replied the cow.
The cannibal woman pursued that way.
After the cow left them, the maidens hastened on and as they hastened
they met an elephant and begged it to save them from the cannibal.
The elephant opened its mouth and the maidens jumped in, but so slowly
did one jump that an edge of her garment hung out of the mouth. As they
journeyed the cannibal overtook them.
"Did you see twelve maidens hastening toward the city?" asked the
"No," answered the elephant.
"From this time forth forever the lip of thy mouth shall hang down as a
garment," cursed the cannibal, for she had seen the edge of the maiden's
garment hanging out of the elephant's mouth and knew it was protecting
the twelve maidens. And to this day doth the lip of the elephant hang
down like a garment.
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