AT the beginning of the world a hare, tiger, ox, buffalo, and horse became friends and lived together. One day the tiger was out hunting when, it being in the middle of the hot season, the jungle caught fire, and a strong wind blowing, it was not long before the whole country was in flames. The tiger fled, but the fire followed. Never mind how fast he ran, the flames followed him, till he was in great fear of being burned alive. As he was rushing along he saw the ox feeding on the other side of the river and called out to him:
“O friend ox, you see the fire is following me wherever I go. Where is a place of refuge that I can escape the fire?”
Now close to the tiger was a jungle full of dried grass, such as the Shans use for thatching their houses, and the ox replied, “Go to the grass jungle yonder, my brother, and you will be safe.”
But dried grass is the most inflammable thing in the whole hill and water country, and so here, not only did the flames follow the tiger, but they ran ahead of him and threatened to engulf him on every side. In great anger he roared at the ox, “False deceiver, if ever I escape from this danger, I will return and kill you,” but the ox only laughed at him and continued eating.
In desperation, the tiger leaped over the flames and found himself near the horse. “O friend horse,” he cried, “where can I go? I am in great danger of being burned to death.”
Now it happened that once the tiger had been very rude to the horse and called him many bad names, so now he thought this was a good opportunity to be revenged; so he said: “Yonder is a big bamboo jungle, run to that and you are safe”; but the tiger found that the horse was also a false friend, for the fire following him speedily ignited the tall bamboos which burned fiercely and falling from above, almost completely covered the poor beast.
At the beginning of the world the tiger was a beautiful yellow color, but the bamboos falling all over him, burnt him in stripes, and since that time his descendants have had long black stripes all over their coats.
“When I have escaped from this,” yelled the angry tiger, “I will come back and kill you.”
“Very good,” sneered the horse, “and I will arch my neck so that you can get a good bite,” but this was said to deceive the tiger, as the horse intended to lash out with his hind feet when the tiger came to fight him. Nevertheless, from that day the necks of all horses have been arched, and they cannot fight an enemy in front, but are obliged to arch their necks, lower their heads, and kick from behind.
The tiger, by this time tired to death and suffering from the burns of the bamboos, saw the buffalo and accosted him as he had his other friends.
“O good friend buffalo,” he cried, “I am in great danger of being burned alive. The horse and the ox have not only deceived me, but in following their advice I have arrived at a worse condition than before. What can I do to be freed from this great danger?”
The buffalo looked up from the cool river where he was enjoying a bath, and taking compassion on him said: “If you will catch hold of my throat I will duck you in the river and so you shall escape from the danger that is following you.”
So the tiger seized the good buffalo by the throat and was held under water till the fire had burnt itself out. The tiger was very grateful to the buffalo and made an agreement with him that from that time no tiger should ever kill a buffalo, and it is only the very worst tigers, those that kill men, that ever kill a buffalo, and the tigers that are guilty of killing buffaloes are sure to be killed themselves, sooner or later.
The tiger held so fast to the buffalo that when the latter came out of the water, his throat and neck were all white, and buffaloes all have that mark on their necks and throats till this very day.
The tiger was so cold after his bath that he shook and shivered as though he had fever, and seeing a little house made of dried grass a short distance off he went to it and found that a hare was living there.
“Good friend,” said the tiger, “I am so cold I am afraid I shall die. Will you take compassion on me and allow me to rest in your house and get warm before I return home?”
“Come in, our lord,” said the hare. “If our lord deigns to honor my poor house with his presence, he will confer a favor that his slave will never forget.”
The tiger was only too glad to go into the hare’s house, and the latter immediately made room for him by sitting on the roof. Soon the tiger heard click! click! click! and he called out: “O friend hare, what are you doing up there on the roof of your house?”
Now the hare was really at that moment striking fire with her flint and steel, but she deceived the tiger and said, “It is very cold up here, and our lord’s slave was shivering,” but the next moment the spark struck the dried grass on the roof and the house was soon in flames.
The tiger dashed out just in time and turned in a rage on his late host, but the hare was far away, having jumped at the same moment that the spark set fire to the roof of the house.
The tiger gave chase, but after a while he saw the hare sitting down and watching something intently, so he asked, “What are you looking at?”
“This is a fine seat belonging to the Ruler of the Hares,” returned she.
“I would like to sit on it,” said the tiger.
“Well,” said the hare, “wait till I can go and ask our lord to give you permission.”
“All right, I will watch till you come back and will not kill you as I intended doing, if you get me permission to sit on it,” said the tiger.
Now this was not a chair at all, but some hard sharp stones that the hare had covered with mud and shaped with her paws to deceive the tiger. The hare ran off a long distance and pretended to talk with some one and then called out: “The lord of the chair says, our lord the tiger may sit, if he throws himself down upon it with all his might. This is our custom.”
The tiger flung himself upon what he thought was the chair with all his might, but the soft mud gave way and he fell upon the stones underneath and hurt his paws badly. He therefore sprang up and vowed vengeance on the hare that he could just see far off in the distance.
By and by as the hare was running along she saw a large wasps’ nest hanging from the branch of a tree, so she sat down and watched it intently. When the tiger came up he was so curious to know what the hare was looking at so intently that he did not kill her, but instead asked her what she was looking at.
The hare showed the tiger the wasps’ nest on the tree and said: “That is the finest gong in all the hill and water country.”
“I would like to beat it,” said the tiger.
“Just wait a minute,” returned the hare, “and I will go to the lord of the gong and ask permission for you to beat it.”
The hare ran till she was far away in the jungle, and then at the top of her voice called out: “If you wish to beat the gong, the lord of the gong says you must strike it as hard as you can with your head. That is his custom.”
The tiger butted at the nest with all his might and made a big jagged rent in its side, and out flew the angry wasps in swarms, completely covering the poor tiger, who with a dreadful yell of pain tore away from his tormentors. His face was all swollen, and from that day till the present, the faces of tigers have all been wide and flat.
Again he chased the hare, and when the smart from the stings of the wasps had subsided a little, he found to his great joy that he was gaining on his enemy fast. The hare on her part saw that the tiger would soon catch her and looked around for some means of escape, and spied just before her a snake half in and half out of its hole.
The hare stopped as before and sat gazing at the snake so intently that the tiger instead of killing her as he had intended to do, asked her what it was in the hole.
“This,” returned the hare, “is a wonderful flute that only kings and nobles are allowed to play. Would our lord like to play?”
“Indeed I would,” said the tiger; “but where is the lord of this wonderful flute? Whom shall I ask for permission?”
“If our lord watches right here,” said the cunning hare, “his slave will go to the lord of the flute and ask permission,” and the tiger, well content, sat down to wait.
Again the cunning hare deceived the tiger by pretending to ask permission, and when a long distance off he called as before: “Our lord has permission to play the flute. Let him put it in his mouth and blow with all his might. This is the custom of the lord of the flute.”
The foolish tiger immediately took the snake’s head into his mouth, but the sound that followed came from the tiger, not from the flute, and a terrible yell he gave as the snake bit his mouth! But the hare was far away and would soon have been safe but for an unlooked for accident that nearly ended her life.
The people who lived in that part of the hill and water country were at war with the State that joined them on the north, and thinking that the soldiers of the enemy would soon invade their country they had made a trap in the middle of the path over which the hare was running. First they dug a hole so deep that should anybody fall in, it would be impossible to climb out again. The sides of the pit were dug on the slant so that the opening was smaller than the bottom. Over the top they had placed thin strips of bamboo that would break if any extra weight came upon them and they had covered the whole with grass and leaves so that no traveler would know that a trap was there. Into this hole fell the poor little hare.
Presently the tiger came up to see where the hare had gone, and when he saw the hole in the middle of the path, he called out, “Where are you, friend hare?” and the hare from the bottom of the trap called out, “I have fallen into a trap.”
Then the tiger sat on the ground and just bent double with laughter to think that at last he had the hare in his power, but the little animal down in the hole although she did not say anything, thought harder in a few minutes than the tiger had in all his life. By and by as she looked up through the hole she had made in the roof, she saw that the sky overhead was getting darker and darker as a storm was coming on, so in great glee, although she pretended to be very much frightened, she called out as loudly as ever she could:
“Our lord tiger! our lord tiger!”
At first the tiger did not answer, so the hare then called, “Does not our lord see the great danger approaching? Let our lord look at the sky.”
The tiger looked up and saw the dark clouds coming slowly, slowly on, covering the whole sky; his laughter stopped and he soon began to get very frightened.
After a while, when it had become still darker, he called to the hare: “O friend, what is the matter with the sky? What is going to happen?”
Then the hare replied: “Our lord, the sky has fallen where you see it is dark; that is far away, but in a few minutes it will fall here and everybody will be crushed to death.”
The foolish tiger was now frightened half to death and called to the hare: “O friend, I have treated you badly in trying to kill you. Do not be angry and take revenge on me, but take compassion on my terrible condition, and graciously tell me how to escape this danger, and I swear that I will never try to harm you more.”
It was the hare’s turn to laugh now, but she only laughed quietly to herself, for she was afraid the tiger would hear her, then she said, “Down here our lord’s slave is quite safe. If our lord descends, he too will be safe,” and before the hare had hardly finished, the cowardly tiger made a jump for the hole the hare had made and joined her at the bottom of the trap.
But the hare was not out yet and she began to plan how she could get out herself and yet keep the tiger in. At last a happy thought struck her. She sidled up to the tiger and began to tickle him in the ribs. The tiger squirmed and twisted first one way and then the other, first to one side and then to the other; at last he could stand it no longer and catching the hare he threw her out of the trap and she landed on solid ground.
As soon as the hare found she was safe, she began to call at the top of her voice: “O men, come! come! I, the hare have deceived the tiger and he is at the bottom of the trap. O men, come! I, the hare call you. Bring your spears and guns; bring your swords, and kill the tiger that I have tricked into entering the trap.”
At first the men did not believe the hare, for they did not think that an animal so small as the hare could deceive the tiger, but then they also knew that the hare was very clever and had much wisdom, so they brought their spears and their guns, their swords and their sticks, and killed the tiger in the trap.
Thus did the hare prove that though small she was full of wisdom, and although the tiger was bigger, stronger, and fiercer than she, yet she, through her wisdom, was able to kill him.