How the Tiger Got his Stripes

by Unknown Author, Dec 1, 1997 | Destinations: Vietnam / Hanoi

This story took place in prehistoric times, when animals still had the power of speech. A young farmer had just stopped plowing his rice paddy. It was noon and he sat down to eat his lunch in the shade of a banana plant near his land. Not far away his water buffalo was grazing along the grass-covered dikes enclosing the rice fields. After the meal, the farmer reclined and observed the stout beast chewing quietly. From time to time it would chase away the obnoxious flies with a vigorous swing of its massive head. Suddenly the great beast became alarmed; the wind carried the odor of a dangerous animal. The buffalo rose to its feet and awaited the arrival of the enemy. With the speed of lightning, a tiger sprang into the clearing. "I have not come as an enemy," he said. "I only wish to have something explained. I have been watching you every day from the edge of the forest and I have observed the strange spectacle of your common labor with the man. That man, that small and vertical being, who has neither great strength nor sharp vision, nor even a keen sense of smell, has been able to keep you in bondage and work you for his profit. You are actually ten times heavier than he, stronger and more hardened to heavy labor. Yet he rules you. What is the source of his magic power? "To tell the truth," said the buffalo, "I know nothing about all that. I know only that I shall never be freed of his power, for he has a talisman he calls wisdom." "I must ask him about that," said the tiger, "because, you see, if I could get this wisdom, I would have even greater power over the other animals. Instead of having to conceal myself and spring on them unaware, I could simply order them to remain motionless. I could choose from among all the animals, at my whim and fancy, the most delicious meats. "Well!" replied the startled buffalo. "Why don't you ask the farmer about his wisdom?" The tiger decided to approach the farmer. "Mr. Man," he said, "I am big, strong and quick but I want to be more. I have heard it said that you have something called wisdom which makes it possible for you to rule over all the animals. Can you transfer this wisdom to me? It would be of great value to me in my daily search for food." "Unfortunately," replied the man, "I have left my wisdom at home. I never bring it with me to the fields. But if you like, I will go there for it." "May I accompany you?" asked the tiger, delighted with what he had just heard. "No, you had better remain here," replied the farmer, "if the villagers see you with me, they may become alarmed and perhaps beat you to death. Wait here. I will find what you need and return." And the farmer took a few steps, as if to set off homeward. But then he turned around and with wrinkled brow, addressed the tiger. "I am somewhat disturbed by the possibility that during my absence, you might be seized with the desire to eat my buffalo. I have great need of it in my daily work. Who would repay me for such a loss?" The tiger did not know what to say. The farmer continued: "If you consent, I will tie you to a tree and then my mind will be free." The tiger wanted the mysterious wisdom very much -- so much, in fact that he was ready to agree to anything. He permitted the farmer to pass ropes around his body and tied him to the trunk of a big tree. The farmer went home and gathered a great armload of dry straw. He returned to the big tree and placed the straw under the tiger and set it on fire. "Behold my wisdom!" he shouted at his unfortunate victim as the flames encircled the tiger and burned him fiercely. The tiger roared so loudly that the neighboring trees trembled. He raged and pleaded, but the farmer would not untie him. Finally the fire burned through the ropes and he was able to free himself from cremation. He bounded away into the forest, howling with pain. In time, his wounds healed, but he was never able to rid himself of the long black stripes of the ropes which had seared into his flesh.