A Lesson in Learning

From Cambodia. a Khmer folk tale

Why the oxen do not have upper front teeth and the tiger has black stripes:

Once upon a time, there was a tiger who left the forest to look for food. At the edge of the forest, he was surprised to see a farmer whipping his oxen while plowing the fields. This made the tiger curious, so he waited and watched. When the farmer released his oxen to gaze on grass during his lunch break, the tiger took the opportunity to approach them and asked: “Brother Oxen, I am curious why you let that man beat you while you work very hard for him. Why don’t you kick him and run away and be free like me?” “Oh no, Brother Tiger,” responded the oxen, “the human being has his intelligence, which he can use to make us do what he wants.” “What is this ‘intelligence’?” asked the tiger. “We cannot explain. You have to ask him yourself,” replied the oxen.

The tiger, considering himself the most powerful animal on earth, impatiently went to the man and arrogantly ordered: “Farmer, show me your intelligence; otherwise, I will bite your head off.” The farmer calmly responded, “Oh Brother Tiger, in coming to work in the field, I left my intelligence at home.” “Go and get it then,” demanded the tiger. “No I won’t, because you will eat my oxen,” said the farmer. “No I will not,” the tiger assured him. But the farmer maintained, “I don’t believe you.” “What do you want me to do to make you trust me?” asked the tiger. The farmer replied, “I have to tie you up.” The tiger agreed saying, “Okay, do it and go fast to get me your intelligence.”

The farmer tied the tiger as tightly as he could. Instead of going home, however, he collected dead leaves and branches, piled them up on the tiger and burned them. The tiger screamed in pain. The oxen laughed and laughed, pointing to the tiger with their front legs and exclaimed: “We warned you, he has his intelligence!” They laughed until they fell down and hit the ground with their mouths and broke all their upper front teeth, which never grew back. The tiger screamed until the rope burned up and broke. He then escaped back into the forest. The burning parts gave him black stripes forever.

Author: Craig Butcher

Craig Butcher is an award-winning educator who has taught critical thinking skills for more than two decades. In addition, he has worked on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer and has been a top-rated broadcaster.

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