The Tiger And The Monkeys

: Folk-tales Of The Khasis

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 po
sessed 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.

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.