The Heart of a Monkey

heart of a monkeyIn this Swahili a shark offers a monkey a ride on its back to see the wonders under the sea. Little does the monkey know that this is because the shark’s king needs a monkey’s heart to cure an illness. The monkey tricks the shark into returning by saying that he left his heart at home. He then explains to the shark why he won’t go back to sea by telling a story about a hare, a lion and a washerman’s donkey.

English Learner Vocabulary Help

The words and expressions in our Elementary level Simplified English story which are not in our 800 word list are: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and .

There is also a word that is in our Elementary word list but has a meaning in the story which is different to the one most commonly used. In the cave the lion sprang to attack the donkey and later the the lion sprang from behind a large tree and killed her. The word ‘sprang’ is past tense of , which in this case means to move, jump or leap suddenly forward or upward.

General Comments on the Story

This story is good example of how folktales can sometimes be hard to understand if we think of them only in terms of our own culture. In the West, the heart is a for either love or bravery. This story does not make sense if you think of it in either of these terms. In parts of Africa, the heart is thought to be the center of intelligence. In some s of this story, you may find that the word ‘heart’ has been changed to ‘brain’.

The Swahili live on the East coast of Africa in the coastal regions of modern day Kenya and Tanzania. Throughout history they have had strong links with Muslim and Indian traders from the North. Several things point to The Heart of a Monkey being influenced by Eastern writings:

  • As well as the shark’s use of the term sultan in referring to his ruler, the structure of the story (a main story with other stories told within it) is common in works. The best known example of this would be The Arabian Nights.
  • The main story here, which deals with the action between the monkey and the shark, is very similar to two famous Indian folktales: The Monkey’s Heart from the and The Monkey and the Crocodile, which is the main story in Part IV of the . For interest, original translations of these are included above.

Although there are quite a few Eastern folktales that talk about washerman’s donkeys, I haven’t as yet found one that might be another version of the second part of Heart of a Monkey. However, it is interesting to note that the Swahili word for a person who does is dobi, which almost certainly comes from the Hindu term for washermen, the dhobi.

washerman and donkey In the past, it was common to see Indian dhobi leading donkeys as they walked about collecting or returning laundry. Because their work involves touching dirty clothes, the dhobi are considered to be outside the Hindu system. They are members of the lowest Hindu social class, known as the dalit or ‘s’.

This folktale is said to be the of a Swahili :

Usinifanye “p’unda wa dobi.” (Don’t make a washerman’s donkey [= fool] of me.)

In his 1891 book African Aphorisms, Swahili expert William Taylor wrote:

The (of this proverb) will be found in the of the “P’unda wa dobi”. The rabbit showed that the donkey had neither ears nor heart, i.e. nor wisdom — by the back to the lion, from whom she had already escaped with difficulty.

lilac fairy bookOur source for the story was The Lilac Fairy Book, one of a series of twelve collections of folk and fairy tales for children edited by Andrew Lang. This is the last book in the series, and was first published in 1910. It can be downloaded as an e-book from Project Gutenberg here. An audiobook is available from Librivox here.


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folktale(n: folktale pl folktales) A story that is part of the traditions of a group of people and was handed down in spoken form before books and printing. 9000

branch(n: branch pl branches) An arm-like part of a tree that grows out from the central part. 2000

calm(adj: calm, calmer, calmest) 1. Not angry, upset, excited, etc. A calm person/expression; Please stay calm! 2. Still or quiet; peaceful. Used to describe conditions that are not windy, stormy, etc. A calm sea; The weather was calm. 2000

cave(n: cave pl caves) A large hole that was formed by natural processes in the side of a cliff or hill or under the ground, especially one that has an entry to the surface. 4000

claw(n: claw pl claws) 1. A sharp curved nail on the toe of an animal such as a cat or bird. 2. The foot of an animal or bird with curved nails. The owl held the mouse in its claw. 3. The pointed end of the leg of a crab etc. that is used for gripping things. 5000

cruel(adj: cruel, crueler, cruelest) Used to describe: 1. someone who hurts others and does not feel sorry about it; 2. something that causes or helps to cause pain or suffering.
(n: cruelty pl cruelties) 1. Something which causes pain or suffering. 2. The quality or state of being cruel. 3000

donkey(n: donkey pl donkeys) An animal that is like a small horse with large ears, commonly used for carrying things. 5000

enjoy(v: enjoy, enjoys, enjoyed, enjoying) To find pleasure in something. I enjoyed that movie.
(n: enjoyment) A feeling of pleasure caused by doing or experiencing something you like. Playing music was a source of great enjoyment.
(adj: enjoyable) Something that provides enjoyment. We had an enjoyable time together. 1000

lazy(adj: lazy, lazier, laziest) Not liking to work hard or to be active. 3000

lion(n: lion pl lions) A large meat-eating member of the cat family that has brown fur and lives mainly in Africa. 4000
The male lion has long, dark hair called a “mane” growing around its neck.

pain(n: pain pl pains) The physical feeling caused by sickness, injury, or mental or emotional hurt. He felt a sharp pain in his back. It caused him pain to talk about his wife's death.)
(adj: painful; painless) Causing pain. A painful injury.; Without pain. Painless childbirth. 2000

ripe(adj: ripe, riper, ripest) [of fruit, grain, etc] Fully grown and developed and ready to be gathered in or eaten. 4000

roar(v: roar, roars, roared, roaring) 1. To say loudly or shout. 2. To make the loud sound of a wild animal [such as a lion]. 3. To make a loud deep sound. The cannons roared. 4. To make a loud deep sound while moving. He roared past on his motorbike. 6000

scratch(n: scratch pl scratches) A shallow and narrow cut in the skin or a surface caused by something sharp.
(v: scratch, scratches, scratched, scratching) 1. To make a line in a surface or object by rubbing or cutting it with a sharp point. 2. To rub your skin with something sharp to stop an itch. 3000

shark(n: shark pl sharks) A large and often dangerous flesh-eating sea fish with very sharp teeth. 6000

sharp(adj: sharp, sharper, sharpest) 1. Having a thin edge that is able to cut things or a fine point that is able to make a hole in things. 2. [of changes in direction] Sudden and quick. A sharp turn. 3. [of speaking] In an angry or unpleasant way. A sharp voice. 4. [of a sound] Loud, short, and sudden. (2000

(v: tear, tears, tore, torn, tearing) 1. To separate (something) into parts with a sudden or hard pulling action; to put a hole in a piece of clothing, paper, etc., usually by cutting it on something sharp. (ฉีกออก) 2. To go or move very quickly; to rush. He went tearing down the street on his bicycle. (เคลื่อนที่หรือกระทำอย่างเร่งรีบ)
(n: tear pl tears) A drop of liquid that comes from your eyes, especially when you cry; a teardrop. (น้ำตา) 2000

tear paper teardrop

trouble(n: trouble pl troubles) A situation that is difficult or has a lot of problems; [something which causes] worry, difficulty, extra effort or work, etc. When the new CEO arrived, the company was in big trouble. (ปัญหา)
(v: trouble, troubles, troubled, troubling) 1. To make (someone) feel worried or upset; to disturb or bother (someone). She was troubled by the news of her sister's illness. (ทำให้ไม่สบายใจ) 2. To make an effort to do something. He didn't even trouble to call. (พยายาม) 1000

washerman(n: washerman pl washermen) A man who washes clothes, linens, etc.; laundryman. (ชายรับจ้างซักเสื้อผ้า)
There is an occupational caste of men in India and Pakistan (the dhobi) who have traditionally gone from house to house collecting and washing dirty laundry.

(v: wonder, wonders, wondered, wondering) To have interest in knowing or learning something. (รู้สึกกังขา)
(n: wonder, noncount) A feeling caused by seeing something that is very surprising, beautiful, amazing, etc. (ความพิศวง)
(adj: wonderful) 1. So surprising, beautiful, amazing, etc. as to create a feeling of wonder. (อัศจรรย์) 2. Beautiful, excellent, etc. (งดงาม) 1000

wondering wonderful

worry(v: worry, worries, worried, worrying) To think about problems or fears; to feel or show fear and concern because you think that something bad has happened or could happen. If am not home on time, my parents start to worry. His poor health worries me. (วิตกกังวล) 1000

natural springcoiled spring(n: spring pl springs) 1. The season of the year between winter and summer when plants begin to flower or grow leaves. (ฤดูใบไม้ผลิ) 2. A source of water coming up from the ground. (น้ำพุ) 3. A twisted or coiled piece of metal that returns to its original shape when it is pressed down or stretched. (สปริง; ขดลวดที่เด้งได้) 2000

symbol(n: symbol pl symbols) An action, object, event, etc., that expresses or represents a particular idea or quality. The dove is the symbol of peace. (สัญลักษณ์)
(adj: symbolic) Expressing or representing an idea or quality without using words. Wedding rings are symbolic of eternal love. (ที่เป็นเครื่องหมาย) 3000

version(n: version pl versions) 1. A story or description that is different in some way from another person's story or description. The boy gave his version of what had happened. (เรื่องราว) 2. A form of something (such as a product) that is different in some way from other forms. A new version of the software should be available soon. (รุ่น) 2000

(adj: oriental) Of, relating to, or from Asia and especially eastern Asia. 8000

The Jataka Tales form an important part of Buddhist Literature. Believed to be written between 300 BC and 400 AD, they are made up of around 550 stories and fables about the earlier lives of the being who would become Gautama Buddha. The future Buddha appears in many forms (god, human and animal), and in each exhibits some good quality that the tale seeks to teach. Versions of many of the stories can be found in other literature, including Aesop's Fables.

The Panchatantra is one of India's most influential contributions to world literature. It consists of five books of animal fables and fairytales. These were put together in their current form between the third and fifth centuries AD. However, it is believed that they come from an earlier source dating from around 200 BC, and that many of the stories included were by then already ancient.

laundry(n: laundry pl laundries) 1. A room or business where clothes, towels, sheets, etc., are washed and dried. He works at a laundry. 2. Clothes, towels, sheets, etc., that need to be washed or that have been washed. 6000

caste(n: caste pl castes) 1. One of the classes into which the Hindu people of India were traditionally divided. 2. A division of society based upon differences of wealth, rank, or occupation. 8000

dalit(n: untouchable pl untouchables) A member of the lowest social class in India, also known as a dalit. (สมาชิกวรรณะจัณฑาล)
Dalit status is associated with jobs regarded as 'unclean' such as washing clothes, cleaning streets, meat and leather work, and removal of rubbish and human waste.

(n: origin pl origins) 1. The point or place where something begins or is created; the source or cause of something. 2. A person's place of birth, family background etc. 3000

(n: proverb pl proverbs) An old but well-known saying that either gives advice about how people should live, or expresses an idea that is generally thought to be true. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. A rolling stone gathers no moss. 6000

moral(n: moral pl morals) The lesson to be learned from something that happens or from a story.
(adj: moral) Concerning what is right and wrong in human behavior. A moral person is always does what they believe to be the right thing to do. 2000

tale(n: tale pl tales) 1. A story about real or imaginary events; an exciting or dramatic story that may not be completely true. (นิทาน) 2. An untrue story that is told to deceive someone; a lie. He told me he had a lot of money, but that was just a tale. (เรื่องโกหก) 3000

(n: perception pl perceptions) 1. The way you think about or understand someone or something. People's perceptions of nuclear power have changed a lot. 2. The ability to see, understand etc clearly. He is a man of great perception. 3000

entice(v: entice, entices, enticed, enticing) To attract someone, especially by offering or showing something that is appealing, interesting, etc. The store hopes to entice shoppers with attractive window displays. 6000

(adj: latter) 1. The second of two things etc mentioned. John and Mary arrived, the latter wearing a green wool dress. 2. The last thing or person mentioned. Of chicken, fish, and meat, I like the latter best. 3. Near or towards the end of something. Building of the new ​library should ​begin in the latter ​part of next ​year. 4000

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