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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Monkey's Heart


Versions of this tale have been collected from many countries, including Korea, Japan, China, the Philippines, Tanzania and Kenya. Details change to suit local circumstances, but the gist of the story - and the payoff - remain the same. I've written before about the benefit of telling trickster stories. Here is a classic example of quick wits and intellectual courage in action.

Monkey loved mangoes, of course. Who does not? And his favorite mango tree had branches that reached out over a river, where a certain crocodile came quite often.

"Why do you come here, lurking and smirking?" Monkey asked one day, hanging just out of reach and eating a sweet piece of fruit.

"I come because one of these days you will slip," Crocodile replied. "And I will catch you and take you to my king."

Monkey laughed, and swung back up onto the branch. "Really? We'll see about that!"



But Crocodile was patient, and one day, sure enough! - Monkey's hands were slippery with mango juice and he fell sploosh! into the river.

"I have you now," Crocodile said, tossing Monkey onto his bumpy back. "My king will be so pleased. A fortune-teller told him that if he ate a monkey's heart he would live forever, and now I will be the one to deliver it to him!"

Monkey gasped. "Oh no! You've made a big mistake!"

"I'm sure you think so!" Crocodile said. "Now bid farewell to the world of trees and sky, and prepare to meet the world of mud and sunken bones at the bottom of the river."

"You don't understand," Monkey continued, thinking fast. "I am honored to grant everlasting life to your king, but my heart is still in the tree!"

The crocodile hesitated. "What's that?"

Pointing to the mango tree, Monkey said, "I always take my heart out and put it on a branch before I pick fruit. I thought everyone knew that. If you just let me get it I'll be glad to go with you."

Crocodile thought about what would happen if he presented his king a monkey with no heart.   No, the king would not be pleased at all.  With one quick whip of his tail he lunged for the shore so Monkey could hop off. "Hurry!" Crocodile commanded.

Quick as thought, Monkey climbed to the highest branch of the mango tree and laughed so hard he got an ache in his side. "You fool!" he mocked. "Whoever heard of a monkey with no heart! Your king will have to wait a long time before he ever gets mine!"

Angry and embarrassed, Crocodile sank below the surface, leaving a trail of bubbles behind. He never returned to that part of the river, because whenever he came anywhere near, he could hear Monkey laughing, laughing, laughing...

2 comments:

  1. Sneaky monkey! I love that the same story was told in so many versions in so many different places.

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  2. Yes, very sneaky! But on second thought, I think I prefer a less loaded term. After all, we want to praise his resourcefulness and quick wits in getting out of a very dangerous predicament, right? So I think I will say "clever monkey." What a clever monkey! Thanks for your comments, Pen and Paperie, and keep coming back!

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