Two Eastern Fables - Page 4 of 6

by Dr. José Rizal

(London, 1889)

English version

There is no doubt that these two fables, although their ends are very different have both only one origin or perhaps one is a modification of the other.  There the monkey plays the same part, greedy, malicious, wicked, and revengeful; the Japanese persimmon-tree is the Philippine banana, which grows and brings forth quicker than any other tree.  There are many points of resemblance between the crab and the tortoise, and there is a mortar mentioned too.  Which of both tales is the more ancient?  Which is the more original, and where do they come from?

A careful analysis and intercomparison of both tales will show us that the leading idea of both came either from the South, from Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Mindanao, or had its origin from the Philippine Islands, and afterwards migrated northwards with the people or the race which came from the South to inhabit the Japanese and Riu-Kiu Islands, being modified in its course in conformity with the climates and the customs of different countries.  There is a Japanese tradition of a hero called, I think Timnotenho, who is supposed to have come from these Southern Islands.  The Malay origin of the Japanese people is worth being treated separately.

The Tagal tale exists in the Bisaya Islands too, with few modifications.  We do not know if there is another analogue in the Malay Archipelago, in Sumatra or in Java.  If there is, a comparison with the Tagal version would throw perhaps more light on its origin.  For the moment we shall satisfy our curiosity by making an analysis and drawing some deductions suggested by a strict intercomparison of both tales.

The beginning of both is the same, except that the Japanese has a crab instead of a tortoise.  This change is vpiece
of toasted rice-cakeery important.  I was told, when I was in Japan, that the tortoise was with the Japanese people a symbol of eternity or something sacred, holy, etc., which may be suggested by the Chinese civilization.  This is not the case with the Tagal, which sees in the tortoise a poor little innocent thing, but artful in its way, rather to be pitied than admired or respected.  But there is in the Philippines a superstition also, that if somebody puts his foot on a tortoise, the sole of the foot will burst into many lines.  Perhaps it is a pious superstition to prevent naughty children from stepping on poor slow walking tortoise.

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