Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Learned Men

A Javanese Tale from Indonesia

Guno and Koyo decided that they would travel together and use their wits to gain wealth and riches for themselves. Guno said: “Let us pretend to be learned men.”

“Yes,” Koyo said eagerly, “I have always wanted to be a learned man. I shall be Hakim Koyo, the well-known doctor from Surabaja.”

“As for me,” Guno said, “I shall be known as Hadji Guno, a religious scholar who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca.”

And so they began their journey, talking and planning, each making suggestions as to how they would become rich. When Koyo addressed Guno, he called him Hadji, and spoke respectfully; and when Guno spoke to Koyo, he called him Hakim and said his words with great dignity. Each of them felt very profoundly the burden of his newly found position in life.

Guno quoted from the Koran, which he could not read, and Koyo explained how to cure sicknesses he had never heard of. They treated each other with the greatest honor and politeness.

As they approached a small mountain village, they saw a boy driving buffalo before him. “Which of us do you suppose he will regard as the greatest philosopher?” Guno said. “Most likely it will be me, because of his good upbringing in religious matters.”

“On the contrary, he will recognize me first, for the works of hakim are known to Muslim and pagan alike,” Koyo replied.

But when they approached, the boy said simply: “Good morning, old men.”

Koyo said: “What! Is that the way one speaks to a famous hakim from Surabaja? What impudence!”

“Yes,” Guno said, “what bad upbringing, to address a hadji in this manner!”

Then the boy said: “Where are you traveling, old farmers?”

“Is this the respect due to a learned man and a holy one who has made the pilgrimage?” Koyo said sternly. “How dare you speak to us so rudely?”

“I meant no harm,” the boy said, “for certainly there is nothing in your appearance to distinguish you from other men.”

“So!” Guno shouted. “He goes from bad to worse!”
“Yes!” Koyo added. “Not satisfied with his insult, he stretches it further!”

“How could I tell you are a doctor and a holy man?” the boy said. “You look and talk just like the people in my village.”

“You ignorant buffalo boy,” Koyo shouted, “don’t you recognize scholars when you see them?”

And angrily Guno and Koyo seized hold of the boy and decided to take him with them as a servant. But the boy said, “Old men, I don’t wish to go with you.”

“If he will not walk, we must carry him,” Guno said.
“Yes,” Koyo echoed, “if the impudent buffalo boy does not walk, we shall carry him.”

So Koyo took the boy’s feet and Guno took his arms, and they began to carry him. After a while Guno said, "This end is heavier, let us change." So Koyo took the boy by the shoulders and Guno by the feet, and they carried him further, stopping now and then to change ends. When they came to a spring, they set him down and ordered him to bring them water, but he refused. So Guno and Koyo went and brought water for the boy, who lay on the ground in the shade. When they came to a village, they ordered him to go and buy food for them, but he refused, so Koyo went and brought back food for Guno and the boy.

Carrying their servant this way, Koyo the Hakim and Guno the Hadji struggled up and down the trails. At night they were too tired to discuss learned subjects.

In the morning they slung the boy between them and carried him on their shoulders. After a while Koyo, the scholar, said: “Let us stop, I have made a great scientific discovery.” They stopped, and standing on the trail, Koyo continued. “Haven’t you noticed how much heavier our servant is than when we first found him?”

“Yes, Guno said, “but it was a nonreligious matter, so I said nothing. There is nothing to explain it in the Koran.”

“Perhaps it is his lack of exercise,” Koyo said. “He should do more walking.”

But the boy refused to walk or do services for the two men, so they continued to carry him and bring him food and water.

At last, one evening, exhausted by their efforts, Guno and Koyo plotted to escape from their servant. When they thought he was sleeping, they arose and started to slip quietly away, but the boy was awake, and he called to them: “Wait, old men, where are you going?”

“Is this the way one talks to a hakim?” Koyo said weakly.
“Or to a hadji?” Guno added.

They came back then and slept, and in the morning they again had to carry their servant. That night, exhausted, they again tried to slip away, but the boy stopped them. “Where are you going tonight, old men?” he asked.

“Why, we were going into the great city of Jakarta to buy some food for all of us,” Koyo said.

“I think you were trying to run away from me,” the boy said.
“Not at all,” Guno said. “I’ll tell you what: you go into Jakarta to get the food.”
“Oh no, you would run away while I am gone,” the boy said.
“Will we ever be rid of this unwelcome guest?” Koyo said angrily.
“Yes, why does he dog our footsteps?” Koyo echoed.
“I think we shall have to take him back where he comes from,” Guno said.
“Yes, why do people always tag after scholars and philosophers?” Koyo added.

So in the morning Guno the Hadji and Koyo the Hakim hoisted the boy on their shoulders and began the long journey back to the village where they had found him.
Sugested by
Linda Conte
Croton-on-Hudson, NY

[found in The Tiger’s Whisker and other Tales from Asia and the Pacific by Harold Courlander, Henry Holt & Company, New York Copyright 1959,1987.]


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