Lao Folktales: The Tiger's Stripes
The Tiger's Stripes
Once upon a time there was lonely farmer. His rice fields were located far away, on the outskirts of the closest village near a dense jungle. Each morning and just like clockwork the farmer would rise from bed and go to work out on the fields with his prized buffalo. One day a tiger came out of the jungle and peered out into the open fields and watched as the farmer and his buffalo worked. Sweat poured from underneath the billow of the farmer’s hat as he ploughed his field. In spite of this, he smiled while working and sometimes even sang songs. He enjoyed ploughing his field all day with his lone companion, his buffalo. The tiger grunted, saying
“What a fool that buffalo is! Doesn’t he know that he’s ten times stronger than that man? Why does he slave away under the hot sun with that man from dawn to dusk?” Each day the tiger came out of the jungle to watch the two of them and laugh until finally, he came out into the clearing and approached the buffalo that was tied to a tree as the farmer was napping in a nearby hut.
“Hey, buffalo!” The tiger said. “Are you a fool? Why are you a slave to that human? You are huge and he is tiny. Don’t you know that you could overpower him if you so choose?”
The buffalo said: “That may be, but what choice do I have, when he has bon-yah (cleverness) and I don’t?” The tiger let out a big, hearty laugh.
“Bon-yah? What is this bon-yah you speak of? I’d like to try some of it if I could.” So when the farmer came back to untie the buffalo for work, the tiger approached him. “Farmer, I heard that you possess bon-yah. Your buffalo told me all about it and so I would like to give it a try. That way, I can determine who is more powerful: you or me.”
“Okay, fine” The farmer said. “But only under one condition: If you really want to try my bon-yah then you’ll have to switch places with my buffalo. Those are the rules. In exchange, I will show you what my bon-yah looks like, okay?”
The two agreed and so the tiger swapped places with the buffalo. The farmer tied the tiger to the plough and worked him to exhaustion. All the while, the farmer yelled and urged him onward for the rest of the day under the hot unforgiving sun. The tiger spoke between breaths,
“Farmer, I’m tired now.” He said, frustrated. “I did what you asked, so show me your bon-yah already! A deal is a deal.”
“Oh, I apologize! I didn’t bring it with me,” the farmer replied. “You see, I left it back in my hut where I lie.” While thinking about what to do next, the tiger came up with a plan of his own: He would allow the farmer to go back to his hut to get his bon-yah and when he was out of sight, the tiger would eat the buffalo. Ploughing the field all day made him hungry. “Would that be alright?” The farmer asked him.
“Yes, I really am anxious to see it.” The tiger said. He was trying very hard to not smile. “Go ahead and take your time.”
“Fine, I will. But before I go, I need for you to do one last thing for me: I need to tie you to this big tree over here. You see, my bon-yah is really scared of tigers and I don’t want it to run away before you can get a good look at it. If my bon-yah sees that you are tied up, he’ll think it safe to come out. That way you can see him for as long as you want.”
The tiger did not think that this would take as long as it did, but grudgingly agreed. He was tired and hungry and felt he had no other choice and so agreed to do whatever the farmer asked of him once again. All the while that he was tied to a tree he paced back and forth, back and forth, trying to imagine what bon-yah would look like but did not have the slightest clue. Finally, the farmer returned. As far as the tiger could see, he wasn’t carrying anything at all. He appeared just the same as he did when he left.
“Where is your bon-yah?” The tiger asked. The farmer smiled at the tiger who was still tied up to a big tree.
“This,” the farmer said, tapping the side of his head, “is my bon-yah. You see, I tricked you into letting me tie you up to this tree by using my bon-yah. It is my bon-yah that separates me from you, tiger. This entire time, I knew that you were planning to eat my buffalo as soon as I was out of sight so I tied you up.
The tiger finally realized his mistake and learned just how truly clever humans were in general. The truth was that there wasn’t any conceivable way that an animal could outwit the human because the human possesses bon-yah.
The farmer covered the tiger with rice straw and set it ablaze. The tiger struggled until he was free but not before both the rope and the straw left black stripes all across his beautiful body. The tiger ran back into the dense jungle and vowed never to return to the rice fields ever again. That is why until this very day, tigers have stripes all throughout their entire body.
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