A Donkey to Market
Illustrated By: Emma Leeper
LONG AGO IN CAMBODIA, there once lived a farmer and his son. The two of them took good care of all the animals on the farm. One baby donkey grew up to be the most handsome and plump donkey they had ever seen. He stood tall and had brown, smooth fur.
On seeing the fine grown-up donkey, the farmer said to his son, “Look at this strong donkey! If only there was a need in our village to buy a donkey, we would get a good price for him. But all the farmers I know already have a donkey. We need to go far away, where most farmers do not have a donkey, to get the best price for him.”
"How far?" said the boy. “Can I come?”
"It would be good to have you with me for a long trip," said the father. "So yes, let's go!"
"Where?" said the son.
"The village of Kompang would be good," he said. Then the farmer stopped. "Wait. There is something we must think about. If the donkey walks as far as to the village of Kompang, by the time we get there he might be too thin. The price for him will go down.”
At last, the father had an idea. He and his son got hold of the donkey and tied each pair of its feet tight. They passed a pole between the two pairs of feet. The father put the front of the pole on his shoulders. The son put the back of the pole on his shoulders. In this way, the two of them could lift the donkey. They would carry the donkey that way. And that is how they set off to Kompang.
While going on their way, they were seen by villagers who could not believe their eyes. They laughed and laughed. “Look!” they called out. “Did you ever see such a thing? Two men are carrying a donkey!” They called out, “Old man! People do not carry a horse, or an ox. People do not carry a donkey! It is they that have to carry us on their backs!”
“Oh!” said the father. He and his son took down the donkey. They untied the feet. Said the father, “We cannot both ride the donkey, for he is not strong enough to carry us both. Ride alone on the donkey, and I will follow you.” And that is what they did.
While passing through another village, the young man was asked, “Where are you riding to, boy?”
“To Kompang,” he said.
Pointing, they asked, “And who is this old man behind you?”
“My father,” said the boy.
On hearing this, the villagers became mad. They said, “What a selfish son you are! Why are you riding the donkey when you are strong enough to walk? You had better get down at once! Let your old father be the one to ride the donkey.”
On hearing these sharp words, at once the boy got down from the donkey. His father took his place to ride. And that is how the two of them kept going. The young man walked behind and the father rode on the donkey.
After some time, they came to a village where there was a well. A few young women had come to the well for water.
"You had better get down at once!"
Seeing the handsome young man, the young women felt a great caring for him. They were not happy to see an old man riding such a fine donkey, when such a handsome young man had to walk behind him, tired and hot.
They called out to the old man, “It is not for you, old man, to ride such a fine donkey. It should be this good-looking young man to ride!”
The father and son looked at each other. “Again, we must be doing this wrong!” They decided to both ride the donkey. “You in front and I behind you,” said the old man. "That way, no one will be mad." And sitting like that, they went on their way.
After a bit, the two of them reached a customhouse. The officer of the customhouse said, “Where are you going, men?”
“To the village of Kompang,” they said.
The officer said in a sharp tone, “Your donkey is not strong enough to carry both of you! If you keep riding as far as the village of Kompang, it will get thin and its price will go down. How foolish you are! Why don’t you let the donkey walk?”
The farmer and his son looked at each other. They were doing things wrong – again! They got off the donkey and led it by a rope.
When they came to a field, the road ended. They had to cross the field to find the road on the other side. The owner of the field was working and he called out to them. “Walk carefully! My field is full of thorns, for it is not yet cleaned up." The son stepped on a thorn and cried out, "Ow!" The owner of the field saw their donkey. "What are you doing?" he called. "You have a donkey, why don’t you ride it? You are treating that donkey as your ruler! How foolish you are!”
Oh, dear! The father and son did not know what to do. “Whatever we do, someone has something to say about it!” They talked and talked. At last they said, “We will travel as we see fit, that we will. And just put up with blame as it comes."
And so the farmer and his son went on and reached the village of Kompang. There they sold the donkey for a very good price, and to a good family, too. And the two of them went back home without any more loss of time.
- Everyone had an opinion on the best way to get the Donkey and its owners to the town. Which do you believe was the best idea? Why?
- Can you think of a time when lots of people gave you advice? How did you decide what to do?
"A Donkey to Market" is based on the story, "The Seller of a Donkey" from A Collection of Cambodian Folk Tales (Litachan in Productions Ltd.: Modesto, CA, year unknown), pp. 65-72.
Adapted by Elaine Lindy. ©1998. All rights reserved.
This story line is found throughout the world. In a well-known version from Aesop, the donkey ends up being carried over a bridge by the father and son, and when passersby laugh at the sight ("We should have it so good!") the donkey squirms and falls into the river. This Cambodian folktale better illustrates the process of becoming self-aware, as the father and son consciously decide that they will travel as they choose. A similar decision at the end of the story is found in "The Baby Water Buffalo" from Tales from a Taiwan Kitchen (Dodd, Mead & Company: New York, 1976). This is a Taiwanese folktale featuring a baby water buffalo rather than a donkey which is brought to market.