Oral Literature: The Water-Buffalo and the Tiger

Once there lived a hard working farmer in a small village who had a water-buffalo. Every day, with his plough on his shoulder, he led his water-buffalo to the field. In the month of July there was heavy rain and because of this the mud in the field was soft and sticky. The buffalo was up to his belly in it and he had great difficulty in pulling the plough. In fact, it took him a long time to plough a little piece of land.

This made the farmer very angry and with a stick he beat him, and cursed him, screaming that he was as slow as a snail. He told the poor buffalo that he should be as strong and quick as the tiger was. The buffalo was quite indignant and asked his master what was so special about a tiger. He wanted to see such an animal. He challenged his master saying that if he took him to the tiger he would show him who was better.

Next morning the farmer took the water-buffalo to a tiger’s den. When the tiger scented the buffalo he rushed out and was about to spring upon him but the water-buffalo shook his sharp horns and said quite calmly to the tiger that he had come to tell him that his teeth were blunt. He asked him to sharpen them for three days and said that he would sharpen his horns. Then they would have a duel.

With a frightening roar, the tiger agreed and went back to his den. In this den the tiger started sharpening his teeth and continued it for three days. After three days, his teeth were as sharp as the edge of a razor. The water-buffalo sharpened his horns only for one day, and spent two days wrapping his body with layer on layer of straw, until his whole body was covered with a thick padded armour. After that he had a good roll in the mud, so that he was covered with a fine, smooth layer of black mud and no straw could be seen.

The day of the duel arrived. The water-buffalo and the tiger came to the appointed place at the appointed time. When the tiger saw the water-buffalo covered all over with mud, he asked him the reason for it. The buffalo replied that it was his habit to have mud bath for several times a day when it was too hot.

The tiger examined the water-buffalo from head to foot, but could not find any fault with him. He thought to himself that the water buffalo had grown fatter in the last three days and was happy that he was going to get a good and heavy meal.

When the buffalo found the tiger staring at him, he said, “Listen you tiger, you may be able to bully pigs and sheep but you will see! You will not be able to hurt even a hair on my body!”

Hearing this the tiger was furious and told the buffalo that he was ready to kill him. Now that his teeth were as sharp as a razor edge he could kill him with a single bite. Then the buffalo told him that he would lie down on the ground and would let him bite three times. After that the buffalo would butt the tiger three times with his horns.

The tiger agreed because he thought it was an advantageous offer. He accepted it readily, sprang upon the water-buffalo and started to tear and rend him.

After three bites the tiger thought that the buffalo should be mortally wounded, but it was not. The tiger’s teeth had only torn the straw into shreds, leaving the water-buffalo unscratched.

Now it was the buffalo’s turn to strike. He got up calmly, lowered his head and butted the tiger three times in succession. At the first blow, the horns pierced the tiger’s stomach; at the second, they broke the tiger’s back; at the third blow, the tiger’s intestines came out on the buffalo’s horns, and the tiger lay dead on the ground in a pool of blood.

The farmer saw all this with his own eyes and greatly admired the wisdom and courage of his water-buffalo. From that day onward he treated his water-buffalo with love and tenderness, and never again abused him as a stupid animal. Since that day, people respect water-buffaloes for their wisdom, though they may not be able to plough or pull a cart as fast as a horse or run as fleetly as a deer.

(Folktale from Chuang People – China)

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