Back to Mongolian animal tales. It’s been way too long. And this one is an epespcially interesting one.
The Cat Who Pretended To Be A Lama
A long time ago there was a lama, a Buddhist monk, who spent his time in deep meditation. Next to him there lay a cat. One day the cat stole the lama’s snuff bottle and the lama went after the cat and got his snuff bottle back. Then another time the cat stole the lama’s rosary and hid in a hole. When the lama grabbed the cat by the tail, the tail suddenly got torn off.The cat went away and came upon a place where many mice lived. There she made herself comfortable and put the rosary around her neck. One day some mice came along the way and circled the cat warily. So the cat said: “Don’t be afraid of me! I’m one of those lama cats. Let me teach you the holy doctrine saying not to kill another living being. Come! Come here!”
So the mice went to the cat and let her teach them. After a few days had passed Khuchin tuct, the khaan of the mice, told them: “Oh, it seems as if our teacher is eating us. In her excrements there are traces of bone and hair. Go back home and get a bell.” He sent a few mice to carry out his request.
The mice went home and came back with a bell. They said to the cat: “Teacher, please accept this jewellery from us!” And they put the bell around her neck. Khuchin tuct told his mice: “After today’s lesson will be over, we will exit one after another. If the bell should ring, we’ll turn around and hurry back.”
So when the lesson was finished, the mice went out together when suddenly they heard the bell ringing. The mice hurried back, and there the cat had caught one of the mice and was just about to eat it. Kuchin tuct said mournfully: “We believed the lies of our false, hypocritical teacher and so we lost several of our brothers and sisters.” And so the mice moved to another place.
The cat thought remorsefully: “If I had hidden my excrements, who would have ever found out about me?” And since then, it is told, cats hide their excrements by burying them.
Copyright for the tale’s translation: TaleTellerin
Copyright for the image: Snuff Bottle with Horse
That beginning with its somewhat casual violence – tail torn off?! – very much reminds me of modern cartoons. You know, like Tom & Jerry. I never thought about it before but obviously it’s not such a new thing that we humans can have fun with things like this.
The dynamic between the cat and the mice and the speech of the mice’s khaan is also very interesting to me from a socio-cultural perspective. This tale might actually originate from Tibet, I think, but where ever it is from, it’s a fascinating depiction of the introduction of religion, the power-play behind it and the problems that can go with it. And with blind belief. Obviously, the tale is not meant to criticise religion – in this case Lamaism – as such since the lama in the beginning is shown in a decidedly positive light. But it warns against religion being used for all the wrong reasons. This differentiation and this warning have, I think, in our day and time lost none of their importance.