Khmer Folk Tales



  1. Why the oxen do not have upper front teeth and the tiger has black stripes
  2. An Elephant and a Hare
  3. The Elephant and the Wolves
  4. Two Women Fighting over a Baby
  5. The Tiger, the Cat, and the Rats
as recounted by Ms. Ieng Mala, founder of Khmer Women Alliance Foundation


Folk Tale 1: Why the oxen do not have upper front teeth
                       and the tiger has black stripes

Once upon a time, there was a tiger who left the forest to look for food. At the edge of the forest, he was surprised to see a farmer whipping his oxen while plowing the fields. This made the tiger curious, so he waited and watched. When the farmer released his oxen to gaze on grass during his lunch break, the tiger took the opportunity to approach them and asked: “Brother Oxen, I am curious why you let that man beat you while you work very hard for him. Why don’t you kick him and run away and be free like me?” “Oh no, Brother Tiger,” responded the oxen, “the human being has his intelligence, which he can use to make us do what he wants.” “What is this ‘intelligence’?” asked the tiger. “We cannot explain. You have to ask him yourself,” replied the oxen.
      The tiger, considering himself the most powerful animal on earth, impatiently went to the man and arrogantly ordered: “Farmer, show me your intelligence; otherwise, I will bite your head off.” The farmer calmly responded, “Oh Brother Tiger, in coming to work in the field, I left my intelligence at home.” “Go and get it then,” demanded the tiger. “No I won’t, because you will eat my oxen,” said the famer. “No I will not,” the tiger assured him. But the farmer maintained, “I don’t believe you.” “What do you want me to do to make you trust me?” asked the tiger. The famer replied, “I have to tie you up.” The tiger agreed saying, “Okay, do it and go fast to get me your intelligence.”
      The farmer tied the tiger as tightly as he could. Instead of going home, however, he collected dead leaves and branches, piled them up on the tiger and burned them. The tiger screamed in pain. The oxen laughed and laughed, pointing to the tiger with their front legs and exclaimed: “We warned you, he has his intelligence!” They laughed until they fell down and hit the ground with their mouths and broke all their upper front teeth, which have never grew back. The tiger screamed until the rope burned up and broke. He then escaped back into the forest. The burning parts gave him black stripes forever.

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Folk Tale 2: An Elephant and a Hare

Once upon a time, there were two friends who played together everyday, a young elephant and a hare. One day the hare asked, “Elephant, between you and I, who is bigger?” “Are you crazy?” retorted the elephant, “You do not have even the size of my leg.” “I’m not so sure,” said the Hare, “Let’s check with the human beings.”
      They both agreed and walked to the village. Before leaving the forest edge, the hare suggested to the elephant: “You go out first and present yourself to the villagers.” The elephant followed the hare’s direction. Upon seeing the elephant, the villagers cried out with joy: “Look! Look! A cute little elephant.” The hare hiding in the bushes nearby whispered: “You heard that?” “Yes,” replied the elephant. “Come back in then,” said the hare. As the young elephant walked back into the forest, the hare quickly jumped out. The villagers exclaimed: “Look! Look! A big hare, a very big hare.”
      The hare then joined the elephant and walked back into the forest. He jumped here and there and got behind the elephant and said: “Get out of my way. I will crush you.” And they both laughed.

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Folk Tale 3: The Elephant and the Wolves

Once upon a time, a pack of wolves wanted to eat elephant meat, so they crossed the river to get to the forest. There they found one elephant. They approached the elephant and politely uttered: “Sir, we are very fortunate to find you. We are small animals, and in need of a prestigious leader with a colossal figure like yours. You are our dream. Please accept our request to be our leader. Over there on the other side of the river, there is plenty of green grass and a beautiful unoccupied forest. You will find it a handsome forest that suits you as king of the animals.” The elephant was very pleased with the flattering words and accepted the request. They all proceeded to swim across the river. When they arrived at the middle where the water was too deep, the elephant was out of his depth. The wolves took the opportunity to eat him alive.

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Folk Tale 4: Two Women Fighting over a Baby

Once upon a time, there was a woman who bore no child and desired to have one. She wandered from place to place. One day, she met a woman carrying a baby. She said to the young mother, “You have a very beautiful baby. May I hold her?” The mother replied, “Of course you may,” as she handed her child to the woman stranger. The woman held, hugged, kissed and played with the baby with joy. Then she tried to walk away with the child. The mother shouted after her, “Hey! Give me back my baby.” “What? Are you crazy? The baby is mine,” claimed the woman. They disputed and went to the courts. No court in the country could find a just decision and the case was sent to the King.
      The King looked at both women and said: “You both seem to love the baby very much. It is very hard for me to make a decision. I will put the baby in the middle and you both have to race from opposite ends to get her. If the baby is yours, you will expend all your effort to get the baby.” The women agreed. They ran as fast as they could to pick up the child. Both women got a hold of the baby, but one let go as the other aggressively grabbed her. The King asked the woman who released her grip, “Why did you let the baby go?” She explained, “ She is my child. I love her. I cannot tear her apart. Please give me justice.”
      The King understood the situation and judged in favor of the real mother.

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Folk Tale 5: The Tiger, the Cat, and the Rats

Once upon a time, there was a cave where a tiger who was king of the forest lived. Unfortunately, in the cave also lived a pair of rats. With time the rats multiplied and began to disturb the tiger. The king could not sleep due to the noise the rats made. Worse yet, one night after the tiger fell asleep, the rats cut off his beautiful fur. This made the tiger very angry. He had the power to control all the animals in the forest and yet could not defeat the rats who ruined his fur and damaged his honor.
      One day, the tiger went to find the cat. He sought to strengthen their family ties and officially recognized the cat as his cousin due their physical similarity. The cat was very happy to have the king of the forest as a cousin and moved in with him. Since then, the tiger lived happily in his cave.

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