TODAY -

Manipuri Folk Tale Tapta: Some Observations

James Oinam *

 An Illustration of Tapta
An Illustration of 'Tapta' by James Oinam



Tapta is a popular folk tale of Manipur. In this story, the mother invents a name "Tapta" to console her crying child who would not stop crying even when the mother says a tiger has come. This is overheard by a tiger.

Meanwhile a thief comes to steal some cattle in the dark and rides the tiger thinking it was a cow, only to realize later that it was not. The tiger runs with the thief on his back, thinking it was Tapta. In the end, the thief grabs the opportunity of a low-hanging branch to escape the tiger.

What is the moral of this story? Is this an old folk tale and where did it originate?

Russian scientist Vavilov proposed that the region of highest plant diversity (species) is the place of its origin. This notion was used to study the origin of languages in some study. The region with highest number of phonemes (sounds) was found to be Africa. This implied that languages generally speaking originated there. This is consistent with the theory of origin of humans in Africa.

We can perhaps extrapolate this notion to say that if a folk tale (or its variants) is concentrated in a certain geographic region then it must have "originated" there. And if it is mentioned in historical context, then its antiquity must be at least to that period, if not older.

First, are there folk tales similar to the story of Tapta? Below are two folk tales, one from Korea and the other from Tibet.

Korean folk tale is titled "The Tiger and the Dried Persimmon". The story is reproduced verbatim from Wikipedia:

The tiger overhears the conversation of a mother with a crying baby, and after hearing consistent crying of the baby despite the mention of tigers coming to get the baby, the tiger misunderstands it as babies not fearing tigers. However, the crying of the baby is stopped by mention of the dried persimmon, which makes the tiger think of the fruit snack as a being scarier than the tiger.

In the same house, a cow thief sneaks into the house and rides the tiger. The tiger, thinking the thief was the dried persimmon, runs for its life, and when the thief realizes that he rode a tiger he flees.

The second story is called "'Leaking' Is Coming". ("A prowling tiger mistook an old woman's reference to 'leaking' as a fearful animal and ran for his life. Its fear was confirmed by a thief falling on its back in the dark. The thief riding the tiger thought of it as the donkey it coveted.")

Now we come to the message or moral of the story, which can be clubbed with a date for this folk tale.

There is a Chinese proverb: "He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount". In the story of Tapta, one can imagine how the thief must have felt when he came to know that he was riding a tiger. Some people have interpreted the proverb to mean that if you have embarked on a dangerous venture, the safest way is to follow it through. In other words, if you started on a difficult path, leaving it in the middle will be more dangerous than carrying it on till its conclusion.

This proverb has been quoted in history. Two governors of Jin Dynasty (founded in AD 266 as per Wikipedia) join forces to reinstate Sima Yan who was overthrown by a general. A long civil war follows. One governor asks the other if they should withdraw their support. Upon this, the other governor says the war was like riding a tiger. If they withdrew, the king will punish them. So they resolve to continue the fight and finally put the king back on the throne.

References o Wikipedia o digmandarin.com o Google Books


* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on October 08, 2021.



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