Story of the Foolish Head-Man

Once upon a time, away among the mountains, were located two little villages. One was called Jangdo and the other Jangmeh. One head-man ruled over these two villages. He was a very wise man, but had an only son who was foolish, with a wife that was very wise. After a while the old man died, and his place had to be filled by the son, who was an idiot. A river ran alongside of the village and a takin died and fell into the water. The upper village claimed it and the lower village claimed it, so both villages came with the request that it belonged to them.

His wife said to him, “Now you do not know to which place this animal belongs, but you must go and decide about it. Decide in this way: say that the upper half above the ribs belongs to the upper village and the lower part belongs to the lower village and the middle part is yours because you are a middle man.” He did as his wife said, and when the people heard this decision they thought, “Why, we have always thought this man to be foolish, but he is a very wise man,” and his fame spread abroad.

After two or three months had passed, a leopard died and floated down the river, stopping in the same place as the takin, and the villagers quarreled again. Only this time they did not want it, so the upper village said, It is yours, and the lower village said, It is yours. They finally took it to the head-man, who thought to himself, “I will not ask my wife this time, I will do it myself. I know how it ought to be done and I will do it just as I did the takin.” So he divided it just as he had done before. But one village said, “Well, we don’t want this part,” and the other village said, “We don’t want ours either.” So they gave it all to the head-man, who put it all on a horse and took it home. His reputation for wisdom was done and the people said he had turned again into a foolish man.

(from the book ‘Tibetan Folk Tales’ compiled by Albert Leroy Shelton)

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is a photograph of a pair of Takins in Tangjiahe Nature Reserve, Sichuan, China. It was uploaded by Jean-Marie Hullot. Takins (Budorcas taxicolor) resemble cattle but are more closely related to sheep. They live in the valleys and alpine grasslands of Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, Tibet, Xinjiang, Sichuan, Gansu, Shaanxi and the far north of Myanmar.