Isn’t it interesting that this folk tale from Korea has the same plot as The Hunter and the Antelope, from Nigeria, which we published on Friday? The two countries are more than 7,000 miles apart!
A Korean Folktale
Long ago, when animals and plants could talk, a tiger was stalking through the forest in search of something to eat when he fell into a deep pit. Again and again he leaped and clawed at the pit, trying to find purchase in its walls, but it was in vain. The sides of the pit were much too steep. At last, the tiger gave up and called for help, but none came.
The next morning the tiger called and called until he was hoarse, but no one heard him. He collapsed in the bottom of the pit, exhausted and starving. With no way out, he knew he would surely die. But just then he heard footsteps.
“Help! Help!” called the tiger, and in a few moments he saw a face looking down at him from the edge of the pit.
“A tiger!” cried the man, quickly drawing back.
“Help!” said the tiger. “Help me and I will be indebted to you as long as I live.”
“I would help you,” said the man, “and I sympathize with your plight, tiger. But you will only eat me once you are out of the pit. I am sorry, but I must be on my way.”
“Stop! Please don’t leave me here!” begged the tiger. “I swear to you that I will not eat you. I will be forever grateful. Help me, please!”
The tiger sounded so pitiful and sincere that the man went back to the pit. He gauged its depth, then searched the woods until he found a fallen tree. He pushed it down into the pit so that one end was at the bottom and the other at the top.
Quickly, the tiger used his claws and climbed out, and just as quickly he had pounced on the man, is mouth watering and his stomach growling with hunger.
“Wait, tiger! You promised you would not eat me. Is this how you show your gratitude to the man who saved you?”
“I’m starved,” said the tiger. “What do I care about a promise when I haven’t eaten in two days?”
“Wait!” cried the man. “Ask that pine tree if it is fair for you to eat me. That is the least you could do after I saved you.”
“All right,” said the tiger, and so they went to the pine tree and the man explained their situation.
“Fairness and gratitude?” said the pine tree. “What do men know of fairness and gratitude? You use us for shade. You cut off our branches and burn them to cook your meals and heat your homes. When we are full grown after many years you chop us down and make planks and boards and beams. You use us to build your temples, your homes, your ships, your furniture, your tools. You used a shovel with a handle made of wood to dig that pit. Where is your gratitude, Man? Where is your fairness? I say you should eat him, Tiger. Fill your belly with him while you can.”
“Well, I think the answer is clear,” said the tiger, smacking his lips.
But just then an ox happened to be passing by, and the man cried, “Wait! The tree clearly bears ill will towards men, so let us ask that ox to judge.”
The tiger grudgingly agreed, and so the two of them presented their case to the ox.
“The case is clear-cut to me,” said the ox. “You should eat him at once, Tiger! From the time we oxen are born we work hard for men. We carry their heavy loads on our backs, we pull their heavy plows to cut the earth for their planting. We work and work until we are old. And then what do the men do to us? They slaughter us and eat our flesh! They use our skins to make all manner of things. Do we hear their gratitude? Is their treatment of us just? I say eat the man!”
“Just as I thought,” said the tiger. “I am clearly in the right. Now I may eat you with a clear conscience.”
The man had just resigned himself to his fate when a rabbit came hopping by.
“Wait!” cried the man.
“Now what!?” roared the tiger.
“Give me one last chance,” pleaded the man. “Let us ask that rabbit to judge our case. Please, dear Tiger, give me this one last chance!”
“Oh, very well! But what’s the use when you know the answer will be the same?”
“Please, please,” begged the man.
“All right, but this is the last time. I’m starving!”
So the tiger and the man told their story to the rabbit, who listened intently, looking first at the tiger, then at the man. After a while, he said, “I think I understand the problem, but if I am to make a wise judgment I will have to see the origin of your disagreement. Take me to the pit and show me what happened.”
The tiger and the man led the rabbit back to the pit. The rabbit looked down and stroked his ear as if he were a magistrate stroking his beard. “Hmm,” he said. “I see the pit is deep. But I cannot quite see, in my mind, where the two of you were. Why don’t you get into your original positions, and then I can come to a judgment.”
Eager to hear the rabbit’s decision, the tiger leaped down into the pit. The man stayed at the rabbit’s side and they looked down together.
“Well?” said the tiger.
“Something is still not right,” said the rabbit. “This tree was not originally here, was it?”
“No,” said the man.
“Then let us remove it.” The man pulled the tree out of the pit and rolled it to the side.
“Now I see,” said the rabbit. “Tiger, you were down there unable to get out. And Man, you were standing up here, having come to investigate his cries for help. Now you are in your original positions, before the origin of your disagreement, and I can judge this case.”
“Well,” said the tiger. “What is your decision?”
“Your disagreement was the result of the man helping you out of this pit. Before he helped you, there was no disagreement, and therefore if you return to your original positions, the disagreement will disappear.”
“What?” said the tiger.
“If the man had not shown kindness to you, Tiger, this problem would never have come to be. No one, not even a man, should not be punished for kindness, and so my judgment is that the man go on his way and you remain in the pit.” And with that, the rabbit hopped away.