Aniz the Shepherd


A Uygur Folktale


Once upon a time a landlord hired a shepherd boy whose name was Aniz. He was very well liked. What people liked most of all was to listen to him playing the flute. His flute looked very simple, no more than a length of bamboo; but in his hands it became a wonderful instrument. Whenever they were free, people would sit around Aniz and entertain themselves by listening to him play. The landlord was heartily sick of both the boy and his flute. He was constantly finding fault with him and scolding him, “You little wretch! Do I pay you to sit there playing the flute?” In point of fact, Aniz’ flute-playing did not interfere with his work in the slightest.

One day the landlord found some slight pretext to give Aniz a terrible beating. That was not enough; he was not content until he had driven him out and trampled his flute into little pieces. “Good! I should like to see you play the flute now!”

Poor Aniz left the landlord’s house and, with tears trickling down his face, wandered through the streets.

He chanced to meet an old man. “Hello! What’s the trouble, young fellow? Who are your parents? Why are you out here all on your own, crying?” the old man asked, stroking Aniz’s head.

“Grandpa! I am a shepherd. My name is Aniz. The landlord beat me, drove me out and trampled my lovely flute to pieces…” Aniz began crying again.

“Don’t cry, Aniz,” said the old man kindly. “Come along and stay with me! I shall show you a way to avenge yourself.” He took Aniz to his home. There he used a length of bamboo to make him a new flute which was much better than his old one. He taught him how to play it, and after his lessons with the old man, Aniz could play more beautifully than ever. This time it was not just people who enjoyed his playing; even the various animals in the forest came and sat round him, listening to him quietly and never wanting to leave. As time passed, Aniz and the animals became close friends.

One day the landlord summoned his sons and said, “Last night I dreamt of a beautiful rabbit, white as snow, with a black spot on the top of its head. I liked the look of it very much. You must try your best to catch it for me in the forest.”

“Father, we have never even heard of such a rabbit!” his sons replied. “Where can we go to catch it for you?”

“You hopeless creatures! Didn’t you hear what I said just now?” cried the landlord in a temper. “Go and look for it. Whoever finds it will inherit all I have when I die.”

The eldest son thought to himself, “I am the eldest. I should inherit father’s property anyway, whether I catch the rabbit or not. But supposing they…” He stepped forward and said, “Brothers, let me go! I fear no danger, if only I can make father happy!”

He set off on his way looking around him carefully, and after a while an old man came towards him and asked, “Young man, where are you going?” The eldest son told him why he had come.

“Go to the forest then,” said the old man, “and look for the rabbit! Aniz is tending my cattle there. Tell him what you want and he’ll help you.”

The eldest son went into the forest, found Aniz and asked him for his help. “Of course!” Aniz smiled, “I can help you to find the strange rabbit. Come and get it this evening. But you must bring with you a thousand strings of cash to pay for it.”

The eldest son reckoned gleefully, “Compared with the property I am going to inherit, a thousand strings of cash are nothing!” In the evening he returned to the forest with the money and found Aniz sitting on a tree stump, playing his flute. All the little animals were squatting round him entranced, pricking up their ears to listen to the music. The eldest son saw the white rabbit among them at once. It really did have had a tiny black spot on the top of its head.

Aniz saw the rabbit too. He put down his flute, stretched out his hand, took hold of it by its long ears and handed it to the eldest son. “Here you are. Hold it tightly! If it escapes, it’s none of my business.”

The eldest son paid the money, thanked Aniz profusely and set off home with the little white rabbit. He was about to leave the forest when he heard Aniz playing the flute again. As soon as the rabbit heard the music, it burst from his hand and ran for all it was worth. The eldest son searched for it for a long time but could not find any trace of it. In the end he gave up and went to see Aniz again.

“The white rabbit has run away. What can I do?” he asked.

Aniz answered, “There is nothing I can do about it. Didn’t I warn you a moment ago to hold it tightly? It’s no use blaming me.”

The eldest son had no alternative but to go home empty-handed and tell his story to the landlord.

The second son said, “Father, don’t worry. I’ll go and catch it tomorrow.” Next day, the second son went to try his luck and met the same fate as his elder brother — time wasted and another thousand strings of cash down the drain. On the third day, the youngest son went, but he fared no better.

It made the landlord very angry to watch his three sons lose three thousand strings of cash like this, without so much as a piece of fluff to show for it.

“You fools!” he cried. “You worthless pack of fools! Tomorrow I shall go and catch it myself!”

So the following day the landlord went into the forest. When Aniz spotted him, his eyes blazed with hatred. Before the landlord could open his mouth, Aniz took out his flute and began playing. All the beasts of the forest — rabbits, bears, snakes, wolves, foxes and many different sorts of birds — came and encircled the landlord. Terror drove the last drop of color from his cheeks. He fell to his knees in despair and entreated Aniz, “My lord, save me ! Save me!”

“Landlord! Do you remember Aniz? At one sound from my flute, these animals will eat you alive!”

“Alas… Ah! My lord! Don’t treat me as once I treated you!” He lay prostrate at Aniz’ feet and sobbed, “I promise to give you anything you want. Don’t let them… I’m so scared….”

“Very well. I will spare your wretched life this once. But you must never bully poor folk again! If you don’t turn over a new leaf, I won’t be so easy on you next time. And when you get home, you must give half of all your worldly goods to the poor villagers. Is that clear?”

“Yes! Yes!” The landlord rose to his feet and fled in abject terror. He followed Aniz’ instructions and distributed half of his estate to the poor. That made Aniz more popular than ever.

 

Source: Favourite Folktales of China, translated by John Minford (Beijing: New World Press, 1983), pp. 95-100. No copyright notice.

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