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A short story by Dean S. Fansler

The Turtle And The Monkey

Title:     The Turtle And The Monkey
Author: Dean S. Fansler [More Titles by Fansler]

Narrated by Eutiquiano Garcia of Mexico, Pampanga.


It was mid-day. The blinding heat of the sun forced all the water-loving animals--such as pigs, carabaos, and turtles--to go to the river-banks and there seek to cool themselves in the water. On that part of the bank where a big shady tree stood, a monkey and a turtle were having a good time, discussing the past, present, and future. Just then they saw a banana-stalk floating by.

"Don't you think that it would be a wise thing for us to get that banana-stalk and plant it?" said the monkey.

"Can you swim?" replied the turtle.

"No, I can't, but you can," said the monkey.

"I will get the banana-tree," said the turtle, "on condition that we divide it. You must allow me to have the upper part, where the leaves are." The monkey agreed; but when the stalk was brought to shore, the monkey took the leaves himself, and gave the turtle only the roots. As the humble turtle was unable to fight the monkey, all he could do was to pick up his share and take it to the woods and plant it. It was not strange that the monkey's part died, while that of the turtle brought forth clusters of ripe bananas in time.

When the monkey learned that the bananas were ripe, he went to visit his friend the turtle. "I will give you half the bananas," said the turtle, "if you will only climb the stalk and get the fruit for me."

"With great pleasure," replied the monkey. In less than a minute he was at the top of the tree. There he took his time, eating all he could, and stopping now and then to throw a banana-peeling down to his friend below. What could the poor turtle do? It was impossible for him to climb.

"I know what I'll do!" he said to himself. He gathered pointed sticks, and set them all around the base of the tree. Then he cried out to the monkey, saying, "The hunters are coming! The hunters are coming!" The monkey was very much frightened, so he jumped down in the hope of escaping; but he was pierced by the sharp sticks, and in a few hours he died. Thus the turtle got his revenge on the selfish monkey.

When the monkey was dead, the turtle skinned him, dried his meat, and sold it to the other monkeys in the neighborhood. But, in taking off the skin, the turtle was very careless: he left here and there parts of the fur sticking to the meat; and from this fact the monkeys which had bought the meat judged the turtle guilty of murder of one of their brethren. So they took the turtle before their chief, and he was tried.

When the turtle's guilt had been established, the monkey-chief ordered him to be burned.

"Fire does not do me any harm," said the turtle. "Don't you see the red part on my back? My father has burned me many times."

"Well, if fire doesn't harm him, cut him to pieces," said the monkey-chief angrily.

"Neither will this punishment have any effect on me," continued the wise turtle. "My back is full of scars. My father used to cut me over and over again."

"What can we do with him?" said the foolish monkeys. At last the brightest fellow in the group said, "We will drown him in the lake."

As soon as the turtle heard this, he felt happy, for he knew that he would not die in the water, However, he pretended to be very much afraid, and he implored the monkeys not to throw him into the lake. But he said to himself, "I have deceived all these foolish monkeys." Without delay the monkeys took him to the lake and threw him in. The turtle dived; and then he stuck his head above the surface of the water, laughing very loud at them.

Thus the turtle's life was saved, because he had used his brains in devising a means of escape.



The Monkey and the Turtle.

Narrated by Bienvenido Gonzales of Pampanga. He heard the story from his younger brother, who heard it in turn from a farmer. It is common in Pampanga.

Once there lived two friends,--a monkey and a turtle. One day they saw a banana-plant floating on the water. The turtle swam out and brought it to land. Since it was but a single plant and they had to divide it, they cut it across the middle.

"I will have the part with the leaves on," said the monkey, thinking that the top was best. The turtle agreed and was very well pleased, but she managed to conceal her joy. The monkey planted his part, the top of the tree; and the turtle planted hers, the roots. The monkey's plant died; but that of the turtle grew, and in time bore much fine fruit.

One day, since the turtle could not get at the bananas, she asked the monkey to climb the tree and bring down the bananas. In return for this service she offered to give him half the fruit. The monkey clambered up the tree, but he ate all the fruit himself: he did not give the turtle any. The turtle became very angry, waiting in vain; so she collected many sharp sticks, and stuck them in the trunk of the tree. Then she went away. When the monkey slid down to the ground, he injured himself very badly on the sharp sticks; so he set off to find the turtle and to revenge himself.

The monkey looked for a long time, but finally found the turtle under a pepper-plant. As the monkey was about to strike her, she said, "Keep quiet! I am guarding the king's fruits."

"Give me some!" said the monkey.

"Well, I will; here are some!" said the turtle. "But you must promise me not to chew them until I am far away; for the king might see you, and then he would punish me." The monkey agreed. When the turtle was a long way off, he began to chew the peppers. They were very hot, and burned his mouth badly. He was now extremely angry, and resolved that it would go hard with the turtle when he should catch her.

He searched all through the woods and fields for her. At last he found her near a large snake-hole. The monkey threatened to kill the turtle; but she said to him, "Friend monkey, do you want to wear the king's belt?"

"Why, surely! Where is it?" said the monkey.

The turtle replied, "It will come out very soon: watch for it!" As soon as the snake came out, the monkey caught it; but the snake rolled itself around his body, and squeezed him nearly to death. He finally managed to get free of the snake; but he was so badly hurt, that he swore he would kill the turtle as soon as he should find her.

The turtle hid herself under a cocoanut-shell. The monkey was by this time very tired, so he sat down on the cocoanut-shell to rest. As he sat there, he began to call loudly, "Turtle, where are you?"

The turtle answered in a low voice, "Here I am!"

The monkey looked all around him, but he saw nobody. He thought that some part of his body was joking him. He called the turtle again, and again the turtle answered him.

The monkey now said to his abdomen, "If you answer again when I don't call you, stomach, I'll punish you." Once more he called the turtle; and once more she said, "I am here!"

This was too much for the monkey. He seized a big stone, and began to hit his belly with it. He injured himself so much, that he finally died.



The Monkey and the Turtle.

Narrated by José M. Katigbak of Batangas, Batangas. This is a genuine Tagalog story, he says, which he heard from his friend Angel Reyes.

Once upon a time there was a turtle who was very kind and patient. He had many friends. Among them was a monkey, who was very selfish. He always wanted to have the best part of everything.

One day the monkey went to visit the turtle. The monkey asked his friend to accompany him on a journey to the next village. The turtle agreed, and they started early the next morning. The monkey did not take much food with him, because he did not like to carry a heavy load. The turtle, on the contrary, took a big supply. He advised the monkey to take more, but the monkey only laughed at him. After they had been travelling five days, the monkey's food was all gone, so the turtle had to give him some. The monkey was greedy, and kept asking for more all the time. "Give me some more, friend turtle!" he said.

"Wait a little while," said the turtle. "We have just finished eating."

As the monkey made no reply, they travelled on. After a few minutes the monkey stopped, and said, "Can't you travel a little faster?"

"I can't, for I have a very heavy load," said the turtle.

"Give me the load, and then we shall get along more rapidly," said the monkey. The turtle handed over all his food to the monkey, who ran away as fast as he could, leaving the turtle far behind.

"Wait for me!" said the turtle, doing his best to catch his friend; but the monkey only shouted, "Come on!" and scampered out of sight. The turtle was soon very tired and much out of breath, but he kept on. The monkey climbed a tree by the roadside, and looked back. When he saw his friend very far in the rear, he ate some of the food. At last the turtle came up. He was very hungry, and asked the monkey for something to eat.

"Come on a little farther," said the selfish monkey. "We will eat near a place where we can get water." The turtle did not say anything, but kept plodding on. The monkey ran ahead and did the same thing as before, but this time he ate all the food.

"Why did you come so late?" said the monkey when the turtle came up panting.

"Because I am so hungry that I cannot walk fast," answered the turtle. "Will you give me some food?" he continued.

"There is no more," replied the monkey. "You brought very little. I ate all there was, and I am still hungry."

As the turtle had no breath to waste, he continued on the road. While they were on their way, they met a hunter. The monkey saw the hunter and climbed a tree, but the man caught the turtle and took it home with him. The monkey laughed at his friend's misfortune. But the hunter was kind to the turtle: he tied it near a banana-tree, and gave it food every hour.

One day the monkey happened to pass near the house of the hunter. When he saw that his friend was tied fast, he sneered at him; but after he had remained there a few hours, and had seen how the turtle was fed every hour, he envied the turtle's situation. So when night came, and the hunter was asleep, the monkey went up to the turtle, and said, "Let me be in your place."

"No, I like this place," answered the turtle.

The monkey, however, kept urging and begging the turtle, so that finally the turtle yielded. Then the monkey set the turtle free, and tied himself to the tree. The turtle went off happy; and the monkey was so pleased, that he could hardly sleep during the night for thinking of the food the hunter would give him in the morning.

Early the next morning the hunter woke and looked out of his window. He caught sight of the monkey, and thought that the animal was stealing his bananas. So he took his gun and shot him dead. Thus the turtle became free, and the monkey was killed.

MORAL: Do not be selfish.



The story of these two opponents, the monkey and the turtle, is widespread in the Philippines. In the introduction to a collection of Bagobo tales which includes a version of this fable, Laura Watson Benedict says (JAFL 26 [1913] : 14), "The story of 'The Monkey and the Turtle' is clearly modified from a Spanish source." In this note I hope to show not only that the story is native in the sense that it must have existed in the Islands from pre-Spanish times, but also that the Bagobo version represents a connecting link between the other Philippine forms and the original source of the whole cycle, a Buddhistic Jataka. Merely from the number of Philippine versions already collected, it seems reasonable to suspect that the story is Malayan: it is found from one end of the Archipelago to the other, and the wild tribes have versions as well as the civilized. In addition to our one Tagalog and two Pampangan versions, five other Philippine forms already exist in print, and may be cited for comparison. These are the following:--

(d) Bagobo, "The Monkey and the Tortoise" (JAFL 26 : 58).
(e) Visayan, "Ca Matsin and Ca Boo-ug" (JAFL 20 : 316).
(f) Tagalog, "The Monkey and the Turtle" (JAFL 21 : 46).
(g) Tinguian, "The Turtle and the Monkey" (Cole, 195, No. 77).
(k) Tagalog, Rizal's "Monkey and the Turtle." [100]

Before discussing the origin of the story, we may examine the different incidents found in the Philippine versions. That they vary considerably may be seen from the following list:--

A The division of the banana-stalk: monkey takes top; and turtle, roots. Monkey's share dies, turtle's grows, or (A1) monkey and turtle together find banana-tree growing; turtle unable to climb, but monkey easily gets at the fruit.

B Monkey steals turtle's bananas and will not give him any, or (B1) sticks banana up his anus and throws it to turtle, or (B2) drops his excrement into turtle's mouth.

C Turtle, in revenge, plants sharp stakes (or thorns) around base of the banana-tree; and when monkey descends, he is severely injured, or (C1) he is killed.

D Turtle sells monkey-flesh to other monkeys; either his trick is discovered accidentally by the monkeys, or (D1) the turtle jeers them for eating of their kind.

E Turtle is sentenced to death. He says, "You may burn me or pound me, but for pity's sake don't drown me!" The monkeys "drown" the turtle, and he escapes.

F The monkeys attempt to drink all the water in the lake, so as to reach the turtle: they burst themselves and perish. Or (F1) they get a fish to drain the pond dry; fish is punctured by a bird, water rushes out, and monkeys are drowned. Or (F2) monkeys summon all the other animals to help them drink the lake dry. The animals put leaves over the ends of their urethras, so that the water will not flow out; but a bird pecks the leaves away, and the monkeys turn to revenge themselves on the bird. (F3) They catch him and pluck out all his feathers; but the bird recovers, and revenges himself as below (G).

G Monkeys and other animals are enticed to a fruit-tree in a meadow, and are burned to death in a jungle fire kindled by the turtle and his friend the bird.

H Episode of guarding king's fruit-tree or bread-tree (Chile peppers).

J Episode of guarding king's belt (boa-constrictor).

K Turtle deceives monkey with his answers, so that the monkey thinks part of his own body is mocking him. Enraged, he strikes himself with a stone until he dies.

L Turtle captured by hunter gets monkey to exchange places with him by pointing out the advantages of the situation. Monkey subsequently shot by the hunter.

These incidents are distributed as follows:

Version (a) ABC1DE
Version (b) ABCHJK
Version (c) (Opening different, but monkey greedy as in B) L
Version (d) A1B2C1D1EF2F3G
Version (e) ABC1DEF1
Version (f) A1BC (glass on trunk of tree) EF (monkey in his rage
leaps after turtle and is drowned)
Version (g) AB1C1 (sharp shells) DEF (monkeys dive in to catch
fish when they see turtle appear with one in his mouth, and are
drowned). Incidents K and a form of J are found in the story of
"The Turtle and the Lizard" (Cole, 196)

The incidents common to most of these versions are some form of ABCDEF; and these, I think, we must consider as integral parts of the story. It will be seen that one of our versions (c) properly does not belong to this cycle at all, except under a very broad definition of the group. In all these tales the turtle is the injured creature: he is represented as patient and quiet, but clever. The monkey is depicted as selfish, mischievous, insolent, but stupid. In general, although the versions differ in details, they are all the same story, in that they tell how a monkey insults a turtle which has done him no harm, and how he finally pays dearly for his insult.

The oldest account I know of, telling of the contests between the monkey and the turtle, is a Buddhist birth-story, the "Kacchapa-jataka," No. 273, which narrates how a monkey insulted a tortoise by thrusting his penis down the sleeping tortoise's throat, and how the monkey was punished. Although this particular obscene jest is not found in any of our versions, I think that there is a trace of it preserved in the Bagobo story. The passage runs thus (loc. cit. pp. 59-60): "At that all the monkeys were angry [incident D], and ran screaming to catch the tortoise. But the tortoise hid under the felled trunk of an old palma brava tree. As each monkey passed close by the trunk where the tortoise lay concealed, the tortoise said, 'Drag (or lower) your membrum! Here's a felled tree.' Thus every monkey passed by clear of the trunk, until the last one came by; and he was both blind and deaf. When he followed the rest, he could not hear the tortoise call out, and his membrum struck against the fallen trunk. He stopped, and became aware of the tortoise underneath. Then he screamed to the rest; and all the monkeys came running back, and surrounded the tortoise, threatening him." This incident, in its present form obscure and unreasonable (it is hard to see how following the tortoise's directions would have saved the monkeys from injury, and how the blind and deaf monkey "became aware" of the tortoise just because he hit the tree), probably originally represented the tortoise as seizing the last monkey with his teeth (present form, "his membrum struck against the fallen trunk"), so that in this way the monkey became painfully aware of the tortoise's close proximity. Hence his screams, too,--of pain. With incident B2 two other Buddhist stories are to be compared. The "Mahisa-jataka," No. 278, tells how an impudent monkey voids his excrement on a patient buffalo (the Bodhisatta) under a tree. The vile monkey is later destroyed when he plays the same trick on another bull. In the "Kapi-jataka," No. 404, a bad monkey drops his excrement first on the head and then into the mouth of a priest, who later takes revenge on the monkey by having him and all his following of five hundred destroyed. All in all, the agreement in general outline and in some details between these Hindoo stories and ours justifies us, I believe, in assuming without hesitation that our stories are descended directly from Buddhistic fables, possibly these very Jatakas. Compare also the notes to Nos. 48 and 56.

For a Celebes variant of the story of "The Monkey and the Turtle," see Bezemer, p. 287.

The sources of the other incidents, which I have not found in the Buddhistic stories, I am unable to point out. However, many of them occur in the beast tales of other Oriental and Occidental countries: for instance, incident E is a commonplace in "Brer Rabbit" stories both in Africa and America, whence it has made its way into the tales of the American Indians (see, for example, Honeÿ, 82; Cole, 195, note; Dähnhardt, 4 : 43-45); incident J and another droll episode found in an Ilocano story--"king's bell" (= beehive) motif--occur in a Milanau tale from Sarawak, Borneo, "The Plandok, Deer, and the Pig" (Roth, 1 : 347), and in two other North Borneo stories given by Evans (p. 474), "Plandok and Bear" and "Plandok and Tiger." In Malayan stories in general, the mouse-deer (plandok) is represented as the cleverest of animals, taking the rôle of the rabbit in African tales, and of the jackal in Hindoo. In the Ilocano story referred to, both these incidents--"king's belt" and "king's bell"--are found, though the rest of the tale belongs to the "Carancal" group (No. 3; see also No. 4 [b]), Incident L is found among the Negroes of South Africa (Honeÿ, 84, where the two animals are a monkey and a jackal). With incident G compare a Tibetan story (Ralston, No. XLII), where men take counsel as to how to kill a troop of monkeys that are destroying their corn. The plan is to cut down all the trees which stand about the place, one Tinduka-tree only being allowed to remain. A hedge of thorns is drawn about the open space, and the monkeys are to be killed inside the enclosure when they climb the tree in search of food. The monkeys escape, however; for another monkey goes and fires the village, thus distracting the attention of the men. Incident D, the Thyestean banquet, is widespread throughout European saga and Märchen literature: but even this incident Cosquin (I : xxxix) connects with India through an Annamite tale. With incident F3 compare a story from British North Borneo (Evans, 429-430), in which the adjutant-bird (lungun) and the tortoise revenge themselves on monkeys. The monkeys pull out all of the bird's feathers while it is asleep. In two months the feathers grow in again, and the bird seeks vengeance. It gets the tortoise to help it by placing its body in a large hole in the bottom of a boat, so that the water will not leak in; the bird then sails the boat. The monkeys want a ride, and the bird lets forty-one of them in. When the boat is out in the ocean and begins to roll, the bird advises the monkeys to tie their tails together two and two and sit on the edge of the boat to steady it. Then the bird flies away, the tortoise drops out of the hole, and the boat sinks. All the monkeys are drowned but the odd one.


[100] Unfortunately this work is inaccessible at present, and I am unable to indicate definitely its episodes. It contains nothing unique, however.

[The end]
Dean S. Fansler's short story: Turtle And The Monkey