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Jose Rizal Published This Children’s Story 130 Years Ago

The Monkey and the Turtle is the first children's tale in the Philippines.
IMAGE Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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July 21 is National Children’s Book Day in the Philippines. It also marks the date when Jose Rizal published in English the tale of The Monkey and the Turtle in the July 1889 issue of Trübner's Oriental Record in England.

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The Monkey and the Turtle is considered the first children's folktale in the Philippines. Its author is unknown but its story has been passed around the Philippines for centuries, according to Rizal. He even illustrated a cover for the story. 

Jose Rizal's Illustration of 'The Monkey and the Turtle'

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Jose Rizal.

History books often skip this important milestone in Rizal’s body of work, focusing on his other scholarly opuses such as his El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere

But how did Rizal end up publishing a Filipino folktale in England? 

Rizal was in Paris on June 30, 1889, when he informed one of his best friends Mariano Ponce that he would be “wandering” around several countries for a couple of days. He told Ponce to inform other members of the Propaganda Movement about his plan. 

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He arrived in London on July 12, 1889, and toured the city. Of particular interest to him was the British Museum, which had a copy of Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, which he annotated. He was reading and correcting proofs of this material while working on the publication of The Monkey and the Turtle, which was a comparative review of its similarities with a Japanese folktale titled The Battle of the Monkey and the Crab. He published the two tales in an article titled "Two Eastern Fables."

Jose Rizal's 'Two Eastern Fables'

In 'Two Eastern Fables,' Rizal compares the Filipino folktale The Monkey and the Turtle with Japan’s The Battle of the Monkey and the Crab. According to Rizal, it is likely the two tales have the same origin and that one tale could be a modification of the other. 

The monkeys in both tales play the same role of a greedy and mischievous antagonist. The crab and the turtle also have similar traits of being hardworking and patient. 

“The monkey plays the same part, greedy, malicious, wicked, and revengeful; the Japanese persimmon-tree is the Philippine banana, which grows and brings forth quicker than any other tree. There are many points of resemblance between the crab and the tortoise, and there is a mortar mentioned too,” wrote Rizal. 

According to Rizal, the two tales likely originated in Sumatra or Mindanao, and made its way north to Japan. 

“The fact that this tale is known everywhere in the Philippines, in every island, province, village and dialect, proves that it must be the inheritance of an extinct civilization, common to all races which ever lived in that region,” wrote Rizal. 

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Below are the published texts of Rizal’s annotated folktales in Two Eastern Eastern Tales

 

The Monkey and the Turtle (Philippines)

The tortoise and the monkey found once a banana tree floating amidst the waves of a river.  It was a very fine tree, with large green leaves, and with roots, just as if it had been pulled off by a storm.  They took it ashore. 

“Let us divide it,” said the tortoise, “and plant each its portion.”

They cut it in the middle, and the monkey, as the stronger, took for himself the upper part of the tree, thinking that it would grow quicker, for it had leaves.  

The tortoise, as the weaker, had the lower part that looked ugly, although it had roots. 

After some days they met. 

“Hello, Mr. Monkey,” said the tortoise. “How are you getting on with your banana tree?”

“Alas,” answered the monkey. “It has been dead a long time! And yours Miss Tortoise?”

“Very nice, indeed; with leaves and fruits.  Only I cannot climb up, to gather them.”

“Never mind,” said the malicious monkey. “I will climb and pick them for you.”

“Do, Mr. Monkey,” replied the tortoise gratefully.

And so they walked towards the tortoise’s house. As soon as the monkey saw the bright yellow fruits hanging between the large green leaves, he climbed up and began plundering, munching and gobbling, as quick as he could. 

“But give me some, too,” said the tortoise, seeing that the monkey did not take the slightest notice of her. 

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“Not even a bit of skin, if it is eatable,” rejoined the monkey, both his cheeks crammed with bananas. 

The tortoise meditated revenge.  She went to the river, picked up some pointed snails, planted them around the banana tree, and hid herself under a cocoa-nut shell. 

When the monkey came down, he hurt himself and began to bleed. After a long search, he found the tortoise. 

“You wretched creature, here you are!” said he. “You must pay for your wickedness; you must die. But as I am very generous, I will leave to you the choice of your death.  Shall I pound you in a mortar, or shall I throw you into the water?  Which do you prefer?”

“The mortar, the mortar,” answered the tortoise. “I am so afraid of getting drowned.”

“O ho!” laughed the monkey. “Indeed!  You are afraid of getting drowned!  Now I will drown you.”

And, going to the shore, he slung the tortoise and threw it in the water. But soon the tortoise reappeared swimming and laughing at the deceived, artful monkey.

 

The Battle of the Monkey and the Crab (Japan)

A monkey and a crab once met when going around a mountain. The monkey had picked up a persimmon-seed, and the crab had a piece of toasted rice-cake. 

The monkey seeing this, and wishing to get something that could be turned to good account at once, said, “Pray, exchange that rice-cake for this persimmon-seed.”

The crab, without a word, gave up his cake, and took the persimmon-seed and planted it.  

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At once it sprung up, and soon became a tree so high, one had to look up at it.  The tree was full of persimmons, but the crab had no means of climbing the tree.  So he asked the monkey to climb up and get the persimmons for him. 

The monkey got up on a limb of the tree and began to eat the persimmons.  The unripe persimmons he threw at the crab, but all the ripe and good ones he put in his pouch.  

The crab under the tree thus got his shell badly bruised, and only by good luck escaped into his hole, where he lay distressed with pain and not able to get up.  

Now, when the relatives and household of the crab heard how matters stood, they were surprised and angry, and declared war and attacked the monkey, who leading forth a numerous following, bid defiance to the other party.  

The crabs, finding themselves unable to meet and cope with this force, became still more exasperated and enraged, and retreated into their hole, and held a council of war.  

Then came a rice mortar, a pounder, a bee, and an egg, and together they devised a deep-laid plot for revenge. 

First, they requested that peace be made with the crabs; thus they introduced the king of the monkeys to enter their hole unattended, and seated him on the earth.  The monkey, not suspecting any plot, took the hibashi, or poker, to stir up the slumbering fire, when bang!  Went the egg, which was lying hidden in the ashes, and burned the monkey’s arm. 

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Surprised and alarmed, he plunged his arm in to the pickle-tub in the kitchen to relieve the pain of the burn.  Then the bee, which was hidden near the tub, stung him sharply in the face, already wet with tears. 

 Without waiting to brush off the bee, and howling bitterly, he rushed for the back door; but just then some sea-weed entangled his legs and made him slip.  

Then came the pounder, tumbling on him from a shelf, and the mortar, too, came rolling down on him from the roof of the porch, and broke his back and so weakened him that he was unable to rise up. 

Then out came the crabs in a crowd and brandishing on high their pincers, pinched the monkey to pieces.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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