Oral Literature: Why The Monkey Has No Home

In the old times, monkeys used to live together in the forest as one clan. Anything they did, was done collectively. There were no small groups. The only thing they did individually was to find food.

In this monkey clan, an old one was elected as its leader. Being old and wise he was respected by all. Whenever he stood up to say anything, all the monkeys became silent. He was the one who, because of his wisdom, had the last word in all matters concerning the clan.

One evening, when all the monkeys were returning home, the old monkey stood on a platform-like stone and beckoned to them. The monkeys knew he had something to say, so they fell silent, and sat down while their babies jumped around, climbed trees, and scampered about.

When all had assembled the old monkey said, “I have an important thing to say. I am absolutely tired of the rain that beats down on us all the time. There is no respite from it. There is nowhere we can hide and keep off the cold. Our children fall sick from the cold. I feel we should learn man’s technique of building houses”.

All were silent. The old monkey’s words made sense. One of them asked, “What should we do then?”. “Listen. It is necessary that we all get together and build a house similar to man’s. That will protect us from the rain and at night will provide us with sufficient warmth”.

The old monkey stopped, sat down and waited for some reaction to his advice. “This is my advice. What do you say?”. He cajoled them further to express their opinion. “This is a very good plan. When do we start?” asked a young monkey.

The old monkey raised himself to his feet, blinked his old eyes and said, “We start tomorrow”. All the monkeys were gladdened and they chattered in unison, “Tomorrow, the house”.

They went home and busied themselves with their various chores. But through all this the one thought that remained uppermost in their minds was the commencement of the building the following day.

Early next morning the monkeys were ready for the job; they waited to be told their respective duties. At the time of work distribution it was found that one monkey and his wife were missing. Well, it was decided that they would wait until the couple arrived, so that the distribution of work could be done evenly. After a long wait the monkey and his wife appeared.

A young monkey, unable to restrain himself, asked, “Why did you make us wait so long?”. The old monkey silenced him, “Wait let him sit down first before we ask him the reason for the delay. As yet you do not know that one night is a long period of time. Much can happen during a night”.

Then the old monkey gently asked the late-comers, “My friend, what was it that delayed you? You know the rules of our clan. We do not conduct any business even if one of us is missing. This is to avoid any complaints or rumours later on”.

“I was delayed because our baby fell ill. He was suddenly attacked by red ants all over the body. We transferred him to another place but ants came there also. Since they had bitten him all over, he cried loudly all the time. So we decided first to remove all the ants from his body. As you can see even his face is swollen. I wonder how long it will take for him to recover. Friends, this is the reason for our delay.”

The old monkey looked sympathetically at the baby. Then he addressed the meeting again, “Much time has gone by now. We will not be able to finish our work if we start now. So I suggest we meet again tomorrow. Today can be utilised for finishing all the tasks at home”.

With these words the meeting was adjourned. The monkeys went home to look after their own affairs. But even as they went home they chattered, “Tomorrow, the house”.

While in their homes, the thoughts of each one focused on the house. Each waited impatiently for the morrow to come so that the construction work would commence.

The following morning, many of them found that food in their houses was depleted, so they went hither and thither, looking for food. But by then it was late in the afternoon and they had still not found good food. So they gathered some morsels to suffice for the night. But what about the next day?

The next morning the old monkey reached the meeting place, being the first to arrive, as usual. There was not another monkey in sight. He made a small chattering sound so as to wake up those that might still be sleeping in the vicinity. But still no one turned up.

Finally a small monkey appeared. He informed the old monkey that the others had gone in search of food for their babies but they would return shortly.

After some hours the monkeys returned, looking down-cast. The old monkey realised they were upset because they were delayed in attending the meeting. So the task of distribution of work for the building construction began immediately. But just then a monkey interrupted to say, “We all had gone to look for food. But as we had to get back in a hurry most of us went to steal from man’s farms. And we got many things. Some of us got millets, some maize, some got sugarcane, others potatoes and so on. But as we were running away after stealing them one of us was hit by a poisoned spear thrown with great force by man. He died then and there.”

The old monkey was saddened to hear the news. He felt he could not get on with the work anymore. So he declared that day as a day of mourning. There would be no work that day, he said. The work of building the house must be postponed till the following day.

So all the monkeys went home very sad. Ever since that day whenever it was decided that construction work of a house should start, every monkey would begin to look after his own affairs before starting the collective work. And since their work, as a rule, had to start in the morning, they would go and steal from man’s farms, and in the process lose a mate.

This would compel them to mourn for him and so the building of a house has, till today, remained a dream. That is why it is said, “There is no tomorrow. Tomorrow belongs to the monkey. That is why he has no house till today”. What can be done today should not be postponed till tomorrow. Tomorrow may never come.

– Story from Sukuma people, Tanzania

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