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.