A Story From: Cambodia
Read Time: 10 to 15 mins.
For Ages: 5 to 14yrs.
On seeing the fine grown-up donkey, the man said to his son, “Now our donkey has become fat and nice. If we sell it now, we can get a good price for it. But in our village there is no one who needs a donkey, and the village where someone needs one is very far from here. If we make the donkey walk to that far away village, it may get thin by fatigue, and its price will go down. How can we get a good price for it?”
Finally, the man and his son decided what to do. They caught the donkey, fastened each pair of its feet tightly together, passed a pole between the pairs of feet, and shouldered its two ends. Thus they began to carry it to the far away village where they hoped to get a good price.
While going on their way, they were seen by villagers who were much amused to see such a sight. They burst into laughter and said, “Hey, what a strange thing! Two men carrying a donkey!” They chided the man: “Old man, do not do so. The horse, the ox, the elephant and the donkey have never been carried by men. It is they which have to carry men on their backs.”
On hearing this, the father and the son took down the donkey and untied it. The father then said to the son, “We cannot ride all at once, for our donkey is not strong enough to carry both of us. So, ride alone on it and I will follow you.” And so the young man did.
As they were passing through another village, the young man was asked, “Where are you riding, boy?”
“I ride to a village called Kompang,” answered the young man.
And pointing to the old man, they asked, “Who is this old man behind you?”
“He is my father,” the young man replied.
On hearing this, the villagers became angry and said, “What an ungrateful son you are! You are strong enough to walk while your old father is not so. You had better get down at once and let your old father ride the donkey.”
On hearing this sharp remark, the young man at once got down from the donkey and the old man took his place. Then they continued their journey. The young man walked behind the donkey carrying his father.
After some time, they came near a well at the end of a certain village. Around this well there was a throng of young women who came to draw water from there. Some were noisily pouring water on their body for a bath.
Looking at the handsome young man walking slowly behind the donkey, they felt a great sympathy for him. They envied the old man who was riding so comfortably on the donkey while the young man walked behind him with much hardship.
The young women approached the donkey and said roughly to the old man, “This young donkey is fat and pretty; it is worthy of the young man who is in the same happy state; an old man like you is not fit to ride on it!”
When the old man and his son heard such unkind words, they discussed the matter. “We will both ride together on the donkey, you in front and I behind you,” decided the old man. And sitting like that, they continued the journey.
After crossing some distance, they reached a customhouse. They were then seen by the officer of the customhouse, who asked, “Where are you going, men?”
“We are going to the village of Kompang,” they answered.
And the officer scolded them: “Your donkey is not strong and old enough to carry both of you. If you keep on riding along as far as the village of Kompang, it will become thin and its price will go down. How foolish you are! Why don’t you let it walk?”
Again, they got off the donkey and led it by means of a rope. When they arrived at a field, there was no road for them to go any further. So they began to cross it to find another way. The owner of the field who was working there cried out from a distance, “Walk carefully, old man! My field is full of thorns for it is not yet cleaned up. But you have a donkey, why don’t you ride it to avoid the thorns? Why do you treat it as your ruler? How foolish you are!”
The father and son looked at each other. “We cannot be in agreement with all people. Whatever we do, we get a scolding from someone.” At last they agreed: “We will just have to travel as we see fit, and put up with the blame as it comes.”
They went on and finally reached the village of Kompang. There, they sold their donkey for a very good price and returned home without further loss of time.
"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.
To see the "A Donkey to Market" Play script adapted from this story, click here https://www.storiestogrowby.org/play_script/a-donkey-to-market/