Posts Tagged monkey

fables of conflict and intrigue

At last, I’ve got my hands on Ramsay Wood’s second volume of Kalila and Dimna. (I have mentioned his first volume before) This one is subtitled fables of conflict and intrigue. I had sent a copy to M, and had accidentally sent my copy to him as well.

Once again, Wood’s modern retelling of the Panchatantra stories is a rich, spicy broth, thought-provoking and constantly surprising.

The first story is the one about the monkey and the crocodile. It’s a tale I’ve come across before: crocodile gives monkey a ride on his back over the water. Then he tells monkey he’s going to eat his heart. Monkey says he’s left his heart back in his tree, so croc takes him back. Once there, of course, monkey reveals that his heart is in the normal place.

I knew the story from Paul Galdone’s picture book, where it is told very simply. Galdone’s illustrations are famously wonderful:

I see there’s also a version by Gerald McDermott who’s published lots of great trickster tales from around the world:

But Ramsay Wood’s is a much richer and multi-layered telling:

Crocodile doesn’t really want to do the dirty on his friend monkey, but his wife is jealous of the friendship and asks for monkey’s fig-sweetened heart. Monkey tricks his way out with the heart-in-the-tree ploy.

And when monkey escapes he reluctantly tells crocodile some other stories, which lead onto others, 1001-night-style. The first tale is about the donkey “without heart or ears”, a fable that is ancient in both east and west.

There’s lots more of Ramsay Wood’s book to go;  it’s a book to be savoured slowly…


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cat’s paw

Reading one or two fables in spare moments (whiich there aren’t many of). The Moneky and the Cat came to my attention. It’s called an Aesop’s fable, but, like many, doesn’t seem to go back to Aesop. Where it comes from no-one seems to be sure.

The story itself is short, without the subtle humour and dialogue that Aesop’s fables often have:

Once  there was a small monkey who lived in the same household as a little cat. When he saw some chestnuts buried in the hearth, he began to brush the ash aside, but, afraid of the burning coals, he seized the foot of the sleeping cat and with it stole them out.

From this there is, apparently, the expression a “cat’s paw”: someone who does someone else’s dirty work (and not only doesn’t benefit but actually suffers for it).

These microfictions are so short they can be summed up with just a simple visual emblem, something like a hieroglyph of a situation.  Like the one here made for a little plate, one of twelve in the British Museum, based on the fable illustrations in a wonderful old book illustrated by Marcus Gheeraerts

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tiger soup

Here’s Sam making “tiger soup” – we made another pot full on Saturday and it was very tasty.

It’s called tiger soup not because it has any tigers in it, but because there’s another story about a tiger, this time a Jamaican Anansi story called Tiger Soup. It’s given in full at this soup website:

It’s a fine day, down by the side of Blue Hole, and Tiger is cooking. Tiger has a fire, and he has a pot, and in the pot he is putting everything that can make a soup delicious.

Tiger is stirring the soup with a big spoon. From time to time he takes the spoon from the pot. He sticks out his pink tongue, shuts his eyes, and tastes the soup.

“Mmmm,” he says. “This soup needs–Coconut!”

Tiger scatters in coconut. He slowly takes another taste.

“Ooo!” he says, shaking his head. “Better, better, better! What about I put some–Fresh mango!?”

Tiger chops the mango, flings it in.

“Ahhh, yes,” says Tiger, sniffing the steam. “This is sweet soup now. Maybe just some little pinch of–Nutmeg?”

Now along comes Anansi, dancing through the forest. His nose in the air, sniffing the breeze.

“Hmmmmmm!” says Anansi. “I smell sweet soup.” And he rubs his belly. “Soup time, Anansi, m’dear. Hi-hee!”

Anansi swings out of the woods. Lands just beside Tiger.

“Oh! Brother Tiger! Such a happy surprise to see you here. And you so busy working, m’friend.”

“I’m just cooking, Brother Anansi. Is nothing but a little soup to satisfy the working man hunger.”

“Yah!” says Anansi. “I’m not so fond of soup myself….Sure is hot today, not so, Brother Tiger? Nothing in the world so nice as a swim in Blue Hole on a hot day like today.”

“I’m not a swimmer, Brother Anansi, so I wouldn’t know about that.”

“Ah,” says anansi, shaking his head. “Such a shame to live your whole life near Blue Hole and never take a swim….You want me to teach you to swim, Brother Tiger? Is always a pleasure to help a friend.”

“Well, Anansi, is that I do appreciate the offer, but right now I was planning to eat some soup.”

“That soup?” says Anansi. “That soup looks mighty hot and nasty, Brother Tiger. That soup will burn your tongue, m’friend.”

“Let me just wait, then,” says Tiger. “Soup will cool.”

“You know,” says Anansi, stretching his legs this way and that, “swimming in Blue Hole like magic….”

“How’s that, Brother Anansi?”

“Swimming does make plain ordinary soup taste like angel soup, Brother Tiger.”

“The soup already delicious, Brother Anansi,” says Tiger.

Tiger is thinking, How am I gonna get shed of this lazy fellow so I can eat my soup?

Right then, Anansi says, “Brother Tiger, I am bound and determined to teach you to swim today. Let’s get started, so I can be on my busy way!”

“On your busy way, Brother Anansi? Agreed!” says Tiger.

Tiger and Anansi stand by the edge of Blue Hole.

They look down past their feet to the water.

“We close our eyes,” says Anansi. “then I count to three, and we both dive in.”

“Right,” says Tiger, and he shuts his eyes tight. “We close our eyes. You count to three. We both jump in.”

“Yes,” says Anansi, one eye on Tiger, one eye on the soup.

“ONE, TWO THREE!” yells Anansi. On three, he chunks a big coconut into the water. SPLASH!

Tiger, his eyes tight shut, hollers, “Here I come, Brother Anansi!” SPLASH!!!

Ooooo!” says Tiger, coming up all wet in Blue Hole. “This is nice. This is fine….Where you, Brother Anansi? Ooooo, I do like this swimming!” And off he goes, splashing and singing.

Back on shore, Anansi quick quick grabs up the spoon to slurp down all of the soup. Then, fast as he can drag his fat self, he scurries off to the woods.

Anansi is scared of Tiger now. He sidles along over branch, under leaf, thinking and thinking, till he comes to Little Monkey Town. All the little monkeys are playing outside. Shooting nutmegs, down on the ground.

“Psst!” whispers Anansi. “come, come!”

The little monkeys are curious. “Chee! Chee! Who is this fat fellow with all the legs? What will he say to us?”

“I hear a new song today,” says Anansi. The little monkeys–they love a new song, so they all come gather near.

“Is like this,” says Anansi, and he begins to tap his toes and sing.

“Just a little while ago
We ate the Tiger soup!
Just a little while ago
We ate the Tiger soup”!

“Try it, little monkeys!”

And they do.

Pretty soon all the little monkeys are dancing and singing with Anansi, beating sticks together, shaking shells, making that song a song.

So Anansi, leading the dance, quick thinks up another verse:

Yum yum yum yum yum
Taste that coco-nut!

Brother Anansi is so full up with soup, he can dance no more. Not only he tire, he fit to die laughing. Anansi falls down on his back, all his little legs in the air, and goes right on singing:

“Yum yum yum yum yum
Little bit o’ sweet mango
Yum yum yum yum yum
Little bit o’ sweet mango!”

Anansi feels a thump come up through the ground. Seems like he hears a roar in the woods.

The little monkeys–they so busy dancing they hear only the song. Anansi calls to the little monkeys, “One more time now, little monkeys! Sing it loud!”

And they do.


Just then, Tiger pokes his head out from behind a bush, and Anansi’s gone. All the little monkeys there, dancing and yelling their song for Tiger alone.

Tiger’s ears stand up, and his fur stands up, and his teeth stand up, and he stands up.

Tiger roars:


But in the time it takes Tiger to roar, all the little monkeys swing up into the treetops, where they been living safe, safe ever since.


Well, your very welcome, dear reader, to come round chez Gregg for some tiger soup.

I’ll also let you know my own special recipe:


6 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 kilogram carrots, peeled and chopped

4 onions, chopped

2 tablespoon ginger, peeled and finely chopped

6 cups vegetable broth

2 cans of cream of coconut

2 large mangoes, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoon lime juice

1 pinch of nutmeg

Salt, pepper

1. Heat the oil in a pot and sauté the carrots for 5 minutes. Stir in the onions and ginger and continue to sauté until the onions are soft.

2. Add the broth and simmer 10 minutes.

3. Add the cream of coconut, mango and heat. Purée.
Add lime juice, salt, pepper and nutmeg, and perhaps a little red chilli.

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