Singing Thieves

fables of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 214A
and similar tales

edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2018


  1. The Musical Donkey (India, The Panchatantra).

  2. The Ass as Singer (Tibet).

  3. Tit for Tat (India).

  4. The Four Associates (Pakistan).

  5. The Turtle and the Lizard (Philippines).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Musical Donkey

India (The Panchatantra)

In a certain town was a donkey named Prig. In the daytime he carried laundry packages, but was at liberty to wander anywhere at night. One night while wandering in the fields he fell in with a jackal and made friends. So the two broke through a hedge into cucumber-beds, and having eaten what they could hold of that comestible, parted at dawn to go home.

One night the egotistical donkey, standing among the cucumbers, said to the jackal: "See, nephew! The night is marvelously fine. I will contribute a song. What sentiment shall my song express?"

"Don't, uncle," said the jackal. "It might make trouble, seeing that we are on thieves' business. Thieves and lovers should keep very quiet. As the proverb says:

No sleepyhead should pilfer fur,
No invalid, rich provender,
No sneezer should become a thief --
Unless they wish to come to grief.

"Besides, your vocal music is not agreeable, since it resembles a blast on a conch-shell. The farmers would hear you from afar, would rise, and would fetter or kill you. Better keep quiet and eat."

"Come, come!" said the donkey. "Your remarks prove that you live in the woods and have no musical taste. Did you never hear this?

Oh, bliss if murmurs sweet to hear Of music's nectar woo your ear
When darkness flees from moonlight clear
In autumn, and your love is near."

"Very true, uncle," said the jackal. "But your bray is harsh. Why do a thing that defeats your own purpose?"

"Fool, fool!" answered the donkey. "Do you think me ignorant of vocal music? Listen to its systematization, as follows:

Seven notes, three scales, and twenty-one
Are modulations said to be;
Of pitches there are forty-nine,
Three measures, also pauses three;

Caesuras three; and thirty-six
Arrangements of the notes, in fine;
Six apertures; the languages
Are forty; sentiments are nine.

One hundred songs and eighty-five
Are found in songbooks, perfect, pure,
With all accessories complete,
Unblemished in their phrasing sure.

On earth is nothing nobler found,
Nor yet in heaven, than vocal song;
The singing Devil soothes the Lord,
When quivering strings the sound prolong.

"After this, how can you think me lacking in educated taste? How can you try to hinder me?"

"Very well, uncle," said the jackal. "I will stay by the gap in the hedge, and look for farmers. You may sing to heart's content."

When he had done so, the donkey lifted his neck and began to utter sounds. But the farmers, hearing the bray of a donkey, angrily clenched their teeth, snatched cudgels, rushed in, and beat him so that he fell to the ground. Next they hobbled him by fastening on his neck a mortar with a convenient hole, then went to sleep. Presently the donkey stood up, forgetting the pain as donkeys naturally do. As the verse puts it:

With dog, and ass, and horse,
And donkey more than most,
The pain from beatings is
Immediately lost.

Then with the mortar on his neck, he trampled the hedge and started to run away. At this moment the jackal, looking on from a safe distance, said with a smile:

Well sung, uncle! Why would you
Not stop when I told you to?
What a necklace! Yes, you wear
Music medals rich and rare.

"Just so, you would not stop when I advised it."

After listening to this, the wheel-bearer said: "O my friend, you are quite right. Yes, there is much wisdom in the verse:

He who, lacking wit, does not
Harken to a friend,
Just like weaver Slow, inclines
To a fatal end."

The Ass as Singer


When in long-past times the Bodisat, in consequence of his aggregation of merits remaining incomplete, had been born in a herd of horned cattle as a bull, he used to go out of the city in the evenings to a bean-field belonging to the king, and there take his food. But by day he lived in the city. There an ass joined him.

It said one day, "O uncle, your flesh and your blood and your hide thrive, and yet I have never seen you change your abode."

The bull answered, "O nephew, I feed at eventide in the king's bean-field."

The ass said, Uncle, I will go with you too."

The bull objected, "O nephew, as you are wont to let your voice resound, we might run a risk."

The ass replied, "O uncle, let us go, I will not raise my voice."

After they two had broken through the enclosure of the bean-field and reached the interior, the ass uttered no sound until it had eaten its fill.

Then it said, "Uncle, shall not I sing a little?"

The bull replied, "Wait an instant, until I have gone away. Then do just as you please."

The bull ran off, and the ass lifted up its voice. As soon as the king's people heard that, they seized the ass, and in order to punish it, as in their opinion it had devoured the whole produce of the king's bean-field, they cut off its ears, fastened a pestle to its neck, and then set it free.

As it wandered to and fro, the bull saw it, and pronounced this verse: "Excellently hast thou sung forsooth, and therefore obtained thy recompense. In consequence of thy song I also well-nigh lost my ears. He who knows not how to keep his word, to him may easily happen some such thing as this; to wander to and fro, adorned with a club and destitute of ears."

The ass also gave utterance to a verse: "Keep silence thou with broken teeth, be silent then, O old bull; for three men are searching for thee with clubs in their hands."

Tit for Tat


There once lived a camel and a jackal who were great friends. One day the jackal said to the camel, "I know that there is a fine field of sugarcane on the other side of the river. If you will take me across I'll show you the place. This plan will suit me as well as you. You will enjoy eating the sugarcane, and I am sure to find many crabs, bones, and bits of fish by the riverside, on which to make a good dinner."

The camel consented, and swam across the river, taking the jackal, who could not swim, on his back. When they reached the other side, the camel went to eat the sugarcane, and the jackal ran up and down the riverbank devouring all the crabs, bits of fish, and bones he could find.

But being so much smaller an animal, he had made an excellent meal before the camel had eaten more than two or three mouthfuls; and no sooner had he finished his dinner, than he ran round and round the sugarcane field, yelping and howling with all his might.

The villagers heard him, and thought, "There is a jackal among the sugarcanes. He will be scratching holes in the ground, and spoiling the roots of the plants."

And they went down to the place to drive him away. But when they got there, they found to their surprise not only a jackal, but a camel who was eating the sugarcanes! This made them very angry, and they caught the poor camel, and drove him from the field, and beat him until he was nearly dead.

When they had gone, the jackal said to the camel, "We had better go home."

And the camel said, "Very well, then, jump upon my back as you did before."

So the jackal jumped upon the camel's back, and the camel began to recross the river.

When they had got well into the water, the camel said, "This is a pretty way in which you have treated me, friend jackal. No sooner had you finished your own dinner than you must go yelping about the place loud enough to arouse the whole village, and bring all the villagers down to beat me black and blue, and turn me out of the field before I had eaten two mouthfuls! What in the world did you make such a noise for?"

"I don't know," said the jackal "It is a custom I have. I always like to sing a little after dinner."

The camel waded on through the river. The water reached up to his knees -- then above them -- up, up, up, higher and higher, until he was obliged to swim.

Then turning to the jackal, he said, "I feel very anxious to roll."

"Oh, pray don't. Why do you wish to do so?" asked the jackal.

"I don't know," answered the camel. "It is a custom I have. I always like to have a little roll after dinner."

So saying, he rolled over in the water, shaking the jackal off as he did so. And the jackal was drowned, but the camel swam safely ashore.

The Four Associates


Once upon a time a crow, a jackal, a hyena, and a camel swore a friendship, and agreed to seek their food in common.

Said the camel to the crow, "Friend, you can fly. Go forth and reconnoiter the country for us."

So the crow flew away from tree to tree until he came to a fine field of muskmelons, and then he returned and reported the fact to his companions. "You," said he to the camel, "can eat the leaves, but the fruit must be the share of the jackal, the hyena, and myself."

When it was night all four visited the field and began to make a hearty supper. Suddenly the owner woke up and rushed to the rescue. The crow, the jackal, and the hyena easily escaped, but the camel was caught and driven out with cruel blows.

Overtaking his comrades, he said, "Pretty partners you are, to leave your friend in the lurch!"

Said the jackal, "We were surprised. But cheer up. Tonight we'll stand by you and won't allow you to be thrashed again!"

The next day the owner, as a precaution, covered his field with nets and nooses.

At midnight the four friends returned again, and began devouring as before.

The crow, the jackal, and the hyena soon had eaten their fill, but not so the camel, who had hardly satisfied the cravings of hunger when the jackal suddenly remarked, "Camel, I fell a strong inclination to bark."

"For heaven's sake don't," said the camel. "You'll bring up the owner, and then while you all escape I shall be thrashed again."

"Bark I must," replied the jackal, who set up a dismal yell.

Out from his hut ran the owner. But it happened that while the camel, the crow, and the jackal succeeded in getting away, the stupid hyena was caught in a net.

"Friends! Friends!" cried he. "Are you going to abandon me? I shall be killed!"

"Obey my directions," said the crow, "and all will be right."

"What shall I do?" asked the hyena.

"Lie down and pretend to be dead," said the crow, "and the owner will merely throw you out, after which you can run away."

He had hardly spoken when the owner came to the spot, and seeing what he believed to be a dead hyena, he seized him by the hind legs and threw him out of the field, when at once the delighted hyena sprang to his feet and trotted away.

"Ah!" said the man. "That rascal was not dead after all."

When the four associates met again, the camel said to the jackal, "Your barking, friend, might have got me another beating. Never mind. All's well that ends well. Today yours, tomorrow mine."

Some time afterwards the camel said, "Jackal, I'm going out for a walk. If you will get on my back I will give you a ride, and you can see the world."

The jackal agreed, and, stooping down, the camel allowed him to mount on his back. As they were going along they came to a village, whereupon all the dogs rushed out and began barking furiously at the jackal, whom they eyed on the camel's back.

Then said the camel to the jackal, "O jackal, I feel a strong inclination to roll."

"For heaven's sake, don't!" pleaded the jackal. "I shall be worried."

"Roll I must," replied the camel, and he rolled, while the village dogs fell on the jackal before he could escape, and tore him to pieces.

Then the camel returned and reported the traitor's death to his friends, who mightily approved the deed.

The Turtle and the Lizard

Philippines (Tinguian)

A turtle and a big lizard went to the field of Gotgotapa to steal ginger.

When they got there the turtle told the lizard he must be very still, but when the lizard tasted the ginger, he exclaimed, "The ginger of Gotgotapa is very good."

"Be still," said the turtle, but again the lizard shouted louder than before.

Then the man heard and came out of his house to catch the robbers. The turtle could not run fast, so he lay very still, and the man did not see him. But the lizard ran, and the man chased him. When they were very far, the turtle went into the house. Now the man had a coconut shell which he used to sit on, and the turtle hid under it.

The man could not catch the lizard, so in a while he came back to his house and sat on the shell.

By and by, the turtle called "Kook."

Then the man jumped up and looked all around to find where the noise came from, but he could not find out.

The turtle called "Kook" again, and the man tried very hard to find what made the noise.

The turtle called a third time more loudly, and then the man thought it was his testicles which made the noise, so he took a stone and hit them. Then he died, and the turtle ran away.

When the turtle got a long way, he met the lizard again, and they saw some honey on the branch of a tree.

"I run first to get," said the turtle; but the big lizard ran fast and seized the honey. Then the bees stung him, and he ran back to the turtle.

On the road they saw a bird snare.

The turtle said, "That is the paliget [a gold or silver wire worn by women or men about their necks] of my grandfather."

Then the lizard ran very fast to get it, but it caught his neck and held him until the man who owned it came and killed him. Then the turtle went away.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised May 23, 2018.