The Wild Buffaloes

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

There was once a man so poor that he had no land, no plough and no plough cattle: all that he had was a pair of fine goats. This man determined to plough with the goats, so he made a little plough and yoked the goats to it, and with it he ploughed a piece of barren upland. Having ploughed he had no seed paddy to sow; he went to try and borrow some paddy from the neighbours, but they would lend him nothing. Then he went and begged some paddy chaff, and a neighbour readily gave him some. The man took the chaff and sowed it as if it had been seed. Wonderful to relate from this chaff grew up the finest crop of paddy that ever was seen. Day by day the man went and watched with joy his paddy grow and ripen. One morning when he went to see it he was horrified to find that in the night wild buffaloes had come and eaten and destroyed the whole crop. Having now no other resource the man determined to follow the wild buffaloes into the jungle: he readily tracked them and came to a large open space where every night the wild buffaloes used to sleep. As it was very dirty he made a broom of twigs and brushed the place clean. At nightfall he heard the buffaloes coming back and he went and hid in a hollow tree. When the buffaloes saw how clean their sleeping place had been made they were very pleased and wondered who had done it. The next morning the buffaloes all went away into the jungle to graze, and the man came out of his hollow tree and again swept up the place: the buffaloes on their return saw that the place had again been swept and decided to leave one of their number to watch and see who did this. They left a buffalo who was lame to watch: when the day got hot however the lame buffalo went to sleep, and the man then came out of his tree and swept up the place and hid himself again without being discovered. So the next day the buffaloes left a blind one behind.

The blind buffalo was of very acute hearing and he heard the man come out and sweep the place and return to the tree: so when the other buffaloes came back he told them of the man’s hiding place. The buffaloes made him come out and arranged that they would provide for him if he would stay with them and sweep their sleeping place daily. The next day the buffaloes lay in wait for a band of merchants who were travelling through the forest and suddenly charging down upon them put the merchants to flight: they fled leaving behind them all their goods and provisions: these the buffaloes took on their horns and carried to the man, and in this way they from time to time supplied him with all he needed. As he was alone all day they gave him a pair of horns, and said that wherever he was if he blew on the horns all the buffaloes in the forest would come to his assistance. But one day when he was bathing he put the horns down on the bank of the stream and crows flew away with them and he did not care to tell the buffaloes that he had lost them.

One day he went to bathe in the river and after bathing he sat and combed his hair on the bank. Now his hair was so long that it reached to his knees. One of his long hairs came out and so he took it and splitting open a loa fruit he coiled the hair inside and closed the fruit up and then set it to float down the river. A long way down the stream a Rājā’s daughter happened to be bathing and the loa fruit floated past her: she caught hold of it and when she opened it she found the long hair inside. At once she went to her father and vowed that she would marry no one except the man to whom the long hair belonged. As nothing would alter her determination the Rājā sent men up the river to search for the owner of the long hair. One of them found the man at the home of the buffaloes and brought him to the Rājā. He was at once married with great grandeur to the princess and promised the succession to the kingdom. So our hero began to live in great luxury. One day as he was standing in the courtyard of the palace some crows flew overhead and dropped the pair of horns that he had lost. He picked them up and boasted that if he blew on them the whole town would be at once destroyed. The bystanders laughed at him, whereupon he got angry and blew on the horns. Then there was a great noise and an enormous herd of wild buff aloes was seen rushing down to destroy the town. However before they could do any damage he ran out and assured them that he was unhurt; at this the buffaloes were pacified; then all the straw and grain in the palace was brought out and given to the buffaloes to eat: after eating all they wanted they went back into the jungle, all except one pair which stayed behind in the palace; and from this pair are descended all the tame buffaloes which we see to-day.