A Vietnamese Fable: The Origin of the Buffalo – When Haste Pays a Huge Price

Deep Freeze Fête’s cultural fables

By : Thu Truong  //  Provided by Laura Truong (T&D Noodlehouse). Arts on the Ave has allowed RCP to post this fable online

In the beginning, when Ngoc Hoang, the emperor of heaven, created the earth, he placed all man and beasts together on it. He was greatly pleased with how both existed peacefully, and in order to feed them, he sent down one of his genie servants to bring man rice, beans and several crops for them to cultivate. He placed the seeds of grain in a golden bag and instructed the genie to sow them along the earth. He then handed the genie a separate golden bag containing seeds of wild grasses for the beasts to feed on, instructing him to sow them where man’s crops do not grow. With that, the emperor knows all his creations will never grow hungry.

Obedient of his master, the genie took the two golden bags and made his way down. Loyal as the genie could be, he is often lazy. And though his indolence often gets him in trouble, the emperor’s kind heart easily forgives. By the time the genie reached the earth, he quickly emptied the first golden bag along the vast lands. Thinking that the quicker he could get things done, the sooner he could travel back to heaven. To his surprise, wild grasses started to grow vigorously where he had scattered the seeds. Realizing he had emptied the wrong bag, he quickly emptied the other bag containing the seeds of grain.

Learn how a buffalo is forever meant to help rice farmers. | Rebecca Lippiatt

To his haste, the large grains intended by the emperor to be easily planted were broken into tiny fragments. He quickly distributed the now tiny seeds of grains along where the grasses had started to grow. However, it was too late to undo his error. The grass grew quicker than the grains and consumed the water, sun and air needed by the grains to grow. Having seen how nothing more could be done to correct his mistake, the genie decided to go back to heaven. But fearful of his master, he never told the emperor what he just had done.

It was not long after when the people started to complain of hunger. They protested to the emperor that the wild animals have vaster pastures and plenty of grass while humans have to scamper for small portions of grain. They also objected to how laborious the work of planting such tiny seeds and the tedious process of cultivating them to grow. Confounded, the emperor inquired into the cause of the people’s clamour; and when he learned of the genie’s haste, he severely lectured him of his laziness.

This Vietnamese fable includes a genie. | Rebecca Lippiatt

Though the emperor has a forgiving heart, the damage caused by the genie was far too immense. After neglecting to tell him of his mistakes, the emperor decided to punish the genie. Turning him into a buffalo, he told the genie, “Your blunder had caused the wild grasses to grow more abundantly than the nourishing grains. For that, you are condemned to eat only such since they are useless to man. And since you caused man more labour, you are forever bound to help the peasants in toiling their fields.”

To make sure he never eats paddy again, the emperor did not give the buffalo a set of teeth fit to eat grains; thus, the buffalo lacks the upper teeth. For centuries since then, the buffalo is seen helping farmers cultivate their lands, and as a reward for its arduous work,  is grazed by his master along the fields so he could feed on the wild grass.

Even up to the present, the buffalo is driven away when seen approaching the growing rice fields. However, the helpmate is still given due regard as the creature had served the emperor of heaven in the past. Despite his ungraceful shape, the buffalo embodies a poor genie serving an everlasting sentence because of a momentary mistake.


The Origin of the Buffalo – When Haste Pays a Huge Price Installation
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