The lad who looked after goats.

Told by Yang Xiu-gong.


This story belongs in the same category as those concerning wise and foolish animals, though in this case it is the man who is the fool.

The basic food of the Miao was maize-meal, cooked in a wooden steamer. Without something else, vegetables or meat to go with it, the maize-meal was dry and uninteresting. The word "nza" was used to describe the function of these other dishes which made the maize-meal palatable and appetising. It has the same meaning as the English "with" when we say, "Do have some jam with your bread and butter", meaning, although it is not expressed in so many words, "in order to make the bread and butter more interesting to eat". So the goat said, "Mother goat eats green leaves with (nza) yellow leaves", meaning that the former is eaten in order to make the latter more appetising and to give them relish.

The couplets spoken by the goat are called "bi-dao" which generally means a story or a tale. Here, however, as in the story of the wise toad, the expression signifies a short, clever saying. These are in fact the answers to unspoken riddles; " why does a goat eat both green leaves and yellow leaves?" etc. Here also, as in the tale of the wise toad, each saying was a challenge, demanding a similar saying in response, but neither the lad nor the man was bright enough to make one. In the battle of wits mother goat was the undisputed victor.

The wooden ram, mentioned in the story, was an implement used for ramming down the earth in the process of building mud walls. In burning it, the man lost one essential tool for the rebuilding of his house. It was made from a log of wood four to five feet long and five or six inches in diameter. All the central section was thinned down to some two or three inches so that it could be handled easily, leaving a foot or rather more of the full thickness at either end. The resulting wooden ram resembled a large, elongated dumb-bell.

Literal Transcription

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