Saturday, October 26, 2019

Week 11 Story: The Baboon's Judgment

There was once a tailor, and he had made some clothes. They were very fine clothes, and the tailor was proud of his handiwork. "I will get a good price for these clothes at the market tomorrow," thought the tailor, and he went to bed where he dreamed sweet dreams.

But when he got up the next morning, tailor was shocked to see that the clothes were in tatters. "Who did this?" he shouted in dismay. All his hard work was now ruined.

Then the tailor noticed a mouse running across the floor.

"YOU!" shouted the tailor as he grabbed the mouse. "You are the one who has ruined my fine clothes. I am taking you to the judge for judgment. I will demand satisfaction!"

In that long ago time, Baboon was the judge, so the tailor went to Baboon's house, clutching the mouse in his hand.

"Baboon," said the tailor, "I made some very fine clothes, but the clothes are now in tatters, and it is Mouse's fault. I demand satisfaction!"

But Mouse protested loudly. "Cat did this!" squeaked the mouse. "Not I! It was Cat."

So the Baboon summoned Cat to court based on the word of the mouse.

When she came before the court, Cat denied everything. "Dog did this!" the cat hissed. "Not I! It was Dog."

So the Baboon then summoned Dog to court based on the word of the cat. And yes, as you can see, the Baboon was very foolish. He did not really know how to be a judge, but he was doing his best.

When he came before the court, Dog denied everything. "Stick did this!" barked the dog. "Not I! It was Stick."

So the foolish Baboon summoned Stick to court based on the word of the dog.

When it came before the court, Stick denied everything. "Fire did this!" the stick insisted. "Not I! It was Fire."

So the foolish Baboon summoned Fire to court based on the word of the stick.

When it came before the court, Fire denied everything. "Water did this!" roared the fire. "Not I! It was Water."

So the foolish Baboon summoned Water to court based on the word of the fire.

When it came before the court, Water denied everything. "Elephant did this!" the water burbled. "Not I! It was Elephant."

So the foolish Baboon summoned Elephant to court based on the word of the water.

When he came before the court, Elephant denied everything. "Ant did this!" the elephant trumpeted. "Not I! It was Ant."

So the foolish Baboon summoned Ant to court based on the word of the elephant.

At this point, though, the tailor had run out of patience, and he shouted at the judge, "I came to this court for satisfaction! My clothes are in tatters, and I demand satisfaction! I demand satisfaction from this court NOW!"

Baboon was confused. He did not know what to do. He could not even remember just how all this had started. Then he saw the mouse. "Mouse," he said, "you must give the tailor satisfaction."

"But it's not my fault!" squeaked the mouse. "Let me explain."

But before Mouse could explain, the Baboon shouted, "Cat! Give the tailor satisfaction. The mouse must be punished!"

"Gladly!" said the cat. And so Cat bit Mouse.

Now Mouse was angry. "I demand satisfaction!" squeaked the mouse. "You must punish the cat!"

The mouse's words confused Baboon even more. All this judging was such hard work. It made his head hurt! "Dog," shouted the Baboon at last, "give the mouse satisfaction. The cat must be punished!"

"With pleasure!" said the dog. And so Dog bit Cat.

Now Cat was angry. "I demand satisfaction!" hissed the cat. "You must punish the dog!"

Judge Baboon was feeling more confident now. He knew what to do! "Stick," shouted Baboon, "give the cat satisfaction. The dog must be punished!"

"Of course!" said the stick. And so Stick hit Dog.

Then Dog was angry. "I demand satisfaction!" barked the dog. "You must punish the stick!"

"Fire," shouted Baboon, even more loudly than before, "give the dog satisfaction. The stick must be punished!"

"Done!" said the fire. And so Fire burned Stick.

Next Stick was angry. "I demand satisfaction!" insisted the stick. "You must punish the fire!"

"Water," shrieked Baboon, "give the stick satisfaction. The fire must be punished!"

"As you wish!" said the water. And so Water doused Fire.

And then Fire got angry. "I demand satisfaction!" roared the fire. "You must punish the water!"

"Elephant," screamed Baboon, leaping up out of his chair, "give the fire satisfaction. The water must be punished!"

"Agreed!" said the elephant. And so Elephant drank Water.

This made Water angry. "I demand satisfaction!" the water burbled. "You must punish the elephant!"

"Ant," yelled Baboon as he jumped up and down, swinging his arms back and forth, "give the water satisfaction. The elephant must be punished!"

"At once!" said the ant. And so Ant bit Elephant in his most private parts.

"Oh, that hurts!" trumpeted the Elephant.

This is why, even now, Elephant fears Ant, Water fears Elephant, Fire fears Water, Stick fears Fire, Dog fears Stick, Cat fears Dog, and Mouse fears Cat.

As for the tailor and his clothes: no one knows who chewed them to tatters. The foolish baboon did not seek the truth, and instead he punished all for one. That is why Baboon now walks on all fours, and he is no longer the judge among the animals as he was long ago.

Author's Notes. Judgment of Baboon is a story told by the Khoisan people of southern Africa, (you may know them by the racist name "Hottentot" which is an old Dutch term dating back to the 17th century). It is an example of a chain tale, specifically, a chain tale of blame and then of punishment. In my version, I built up the chain character by character from the start; in the version in the UnTextbook, the story starts with the tailor's visit to the judge, summarizing what came before. I also tried to make it more clear why the point of the story is that the baboon was a foolish judge. After all, we never found out just who chewed the tailor's clothes!

I chose this story to retell because of the striking similarity to the European folktale of "the old woman and her pig" which appears as an Anansi story in Jamaica; I retold that one as a Brer Rabbit story: Brer Rabbit Has Ham Hocks for Supper. Just how does it happen that an English folktale and a folktale from southern African can share similar elements in the chain like this? There are similar elements also in the Jewish folksong Chad Gadya. I've collected lots of versions of the story, and I still cannot piece it all together. Someday somebody is going to trace the history of this folktale and figure out how it spread from continent to continent; it is a folklore mystery!

Bibliography. The Judgment of Baboon. There is a version of this story in South African Folk-Tales by James Honey (1910), but it was originally published in W. H. I. Bleek's Reynard the fox in South Africa: or, Hottentot fables and tales, published in 1864. In a note to that story, Bleek says the tale comes from Namaqualand, and yes, that is the Namaqua of the Namaqua genocide of 1904-1908, when the Herero and the Nama peoples rebelled against the German settler occupation of their lands; skulls and other remains of the murdered Africans were taken to Germany in the name of "racial superiority" and were returned to Namibia only last year, in 2018.

Images: mousecat, dog, stick, fire, water, elephant, antbaboon


  1. Hi Laura,

    I really enjoyed reading your story. I think you did a good job of adding pictures when a new character was introduced and emphasizing dialogue and emotion to keep the reader's attention. The constant use of adjectives and variety of vocabulary was also great to see. This gives me some good ideas on improving my future stories. I might have to come back and read another one of your stories later and get more ideas. Thanks again!

  2. Hi Laura!
    This story was awesome. I was waiting the entire time to figure out who tattered the clothing. I personally think it was the cat, what do you think? Anyways, you used a lot of great language and had an awesome format. The pictures really helped break up the reading. I definitely be utilizing that layout later. The story was easy to read and enjoyable! Thank you!


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