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Bonzer Words!: The Clever Monkey

Edel Wignell retells a trickster tale from West Africa.

Edel writes for Bonzer! magazine. Please do visit www.bonzer.org.au

Once there were two cats, Tibby and Tabby, who loved eating cheese. One day, the woman of the house left a large piece of cheese on the table.

'Let's take this cheese,' said Tibby. We'll share it,' said Tabby.

So Tibby and Tabby stole the cheese and took it into the garden.
They knew immediately that they had a problem.

'How will we divide it between the two of us?' Tibby asked.

'How can we share it exactly?' said Tabby.

Each one was suspicious of the other. Both thought that when one cut it, the pieces wouldn't be equal: for the other one would take the bigger piece.

'Let's ask a monkey to divide the cheese for us,' said Tibby. Yes, that's the fairest way,' said Tabby.

Soon a monkey swung down into the garden, and the two cats approached him.

'Monkey, will you divide this cheese for us?' said Tibby. 'We must get equal shares,' said Tabby.

'Certainly I will!' said Monkey. 'Bring me a knife to cut the cheese and some scales to weigh it.' The two cats ran off.

Tibby returned with a knife and Tabby returned with scales. They watched closely while Monkey put the knife across the centre of the cheese.

'Half way!' said Tibby.

'Be exact!' said Tabby

Monkey said, 'I'll cut two pieces exactly the same size.'
As Monkey cut the cheese, the cats could see that one piece was bigger than the other.

Tibby pointed. 'That one is bigger'.

Tabby pointed, too. 'That one is smaller'.

'Dear me!' said Monkey. 'It's no use weighing the pieces. This will never do.'

The cats waited anxiously. What would Monkey do?

'I'll eat part of the big piece,' said Monkey. 'Then it will weigh the same as the other one. 'Before the cats could remonstrate, he ate part of the larger piece of cheese. Of course, he ate too much!

'Dear me!' said Monkey. 'Now this piece is smaller. I'll eat some of the other so the two will be the same size.' By this time, Tibby and Tabby knew that Monkey intended to eat all the cheese.

'Wait!' they said together.

But Monkey didn't wait. He continued nibbling the cheese, first one piece and then the other.

'Thank you for helping, Monkey,' said Tibby. 'Don't bother to help us any further.'

'Thank you, Monkey,' said Tabby. 'We're sorry to hold you up. You may go about your own business now.'

Monkey shook his head. 'I couldn't do that. If I left, you would start fighting over the cheese, for sure.' Both pieces of cheese were getting smaller and smaller as the monkey nibbled first one and then the other. 'I wouldn't want Lion, King of the Beasts, to blame me for your quarrel,' said Monkey. 'No, I will continue to nibble until they are exactly the same weight.'

'It's no use,' said Tibby to Tabby. 'He'll never return our cheese to us.'

'I know that,' said Tabby. 'He'll eat it all.'

The two cats turned away and left the monkey to finish the cheese.

'You have learned a lesson,' shouted Monkey. 'Never let greed lead you into being silly.' The monkey finished the cheese and, laughing to himself, swung away into the trees.


Folk Tales & Fables of the World, retold by Barbara Hayes, illustrated by Robert Ingpen, 1987, David Bateman Ltd, Buderim, Queensland.


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