It is sad fact that I must relate, and probably, many of my peers will agree with me, that when we entered school as wide-eyed toddlers in the 80s, the first stories we heard were stories concocted in the West by our Caucasian brothers.
I do not discount the fact that the likes of tales of Beatrix Potter, Jill Barklem (who just recently died at the young age of 66) and others (like Thornton W. Burgess, or his naturalist equal (I believe) Arthur Scott Bailey) who have managed to hold distinctive chairs in literary boardrooms through the test of decay and time are excellent books that will give children a taste of the best literary and artistic works at an early age.
However, I have a feeling that if we were to look at fables of which we are familiar, we don’t hear our voice. Our stories, told by our forbears, who ate saluyot leaves just like us (I’m talking about my Ilocano heritage, for the tale before us in this post originated among the Ilocanos), need to be up there!
(I tried translating them into Ilocano and it’s funny that the connection was easily established —- It was like hearing my dad’s voice in my head, as he told similar stories to us when we were young!”)
And may I add that the wit that was put into our own stories is altogether a reflection of the wealth we have in literature which we may have unwittingly disregarded what with the influx of all the good books from our Western brothers!
Although I am not for boycotting Western fables, I am however for the dissemination of the news: “We have good stories, too!” At least, I am more convinced as I unearth evidence to support my contention that no country or group of people monopolizes charming storytelling and engaging wit in describing people and displaying moral lessons through the lives and times of animals.
I don’t know of a kid who hates animals. Really, I don’t. The importance then of fables to children can be two-fold. First, the moral lesson injected in the different relatable tropes we love where courage wins, generosity prevails, etc. Second, information loaded storytelling making concepts in zoology leap from the page in a way that engages and inspires.
That stated, let me share a story entitled “The Monkey and the Turtle”, an Ilocano tale which, though Mabel Cook Cole identifies to be “Christianized” in its elements and bears the likeness of European stories, is still very much original in the sense that no one has ever claimed it to be theirs! And by the way, the following story has not been sanitized, for unlike the version we are all accustomed to, this one might be too gruesome for you.
C.S. Lewis comments on the issue of originality nicely:
“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
The Monkey and the Turtle
A monkey, looking very sad and dejected, was walking along the bank of the river one day when he met a turtle.
“How are you?” asked the turtle, noticing that he looked sad.
The monkey replied, “Oh, my friend, I am very hungry. The squash of Mr. Farmer were all taken by the other monkeys, and now I am about to die from want of food.”
“Do not be discouraged,” said the turtle; “take a bolo and follow me and we will steal some banana plants.”
So they walked along together until they found some nice plants which they dug up, and then they looked for a place to set them. Finally the monkey climbed a tree and planted his in it, but as the turtle could not climb he dug a hole in the ground and set his there.
When their work was finished they went away, planning what they should do with their crop. The monkey said:
“When my tree bears fruit, I shall sell it and have a great deal of money.”
And the turtle said: “When my tree bears fruit, I shall sell it and buy three varas of cloth to wear in place of this cracked shell.”
A few weeks later they went back to the place to see their plants and found that that of the monkey was dead, for its roots had had no soil in the tree, but that of the turtle was tall and bearing fruit.
“I will climb to the top so that we can get the fruit,” said the monkey. And he sprang up the tree, leaving the poor turtle on the ground alone.
“Please give me some to eat,” called the turtle, but the monkey threw him only a green one and ate all the ripe ones himself.
When he had eaten all the good bananas, the monkey stretched his arms around the tree and went to sleep. The turtle, seeing this, was very angry and considered how he might punish the thief. Having decided on a scheme, he gathered some sharp bamboo which he stuck all around under the tree, and then he exclaimed:
“Crocodile is coming! Crocodile is coming!”
The monkey was so startled at the cry that he fell upon the sharp bamboo and was killed.
Then the turtle cut the dead monkey into pieces, put salt on it, and dried it in the sun. The next day, he went to the mountains and sold his meat to other monkeys who gladly gave him squash in return. As he was leaving them he called back:
“Lazy fellows, you are now eating your own body; you are now eating your own body.”
Then the monkeys ran and caught him and carried him to their own home.
“Let us take a hatchet,” said one old monkey, “and cut him into very small pieces.”
But the turtle laughed and said: “That is just what I like, I have been struck with a hatchet many times. Do you not see the black scars on my shell?”
Then one of the other monkeys said: “Let us throw him into the water,”
At this the turtle cried and begged them to spare his life, but they paid no heed to his pleadings and threw him into the water. He sank to the bottom, but very soon came up with a lobster. The monkeys were greatly surprised at this and begged him to tell them how to catch lobsters.
“I tied one end of a string around my waist,” said the turtle. “To the other end of the string I tied a stone so that I would sink.”
The monkeys immediately tied strings around themselves as the turtle said, and when all was ready they plunged into the water never to come up again.
And to this day monkeys do not like to eat meat, because they remember the ancient story.
N.B. This story was taken from Mabel Cook Cole’s public domain book entitled “Philippine Folktales” via Project Gutenberg.