Ethiopian Story – The Two Neighbors

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Ethiopian
Age: 28
Occupation: Investment Banker
Residence: Los Angeles, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 1, 2021
Primary Language: Amharic
Other Language(s): English

Main Piece

Once, there were two poor neighbors. Neither could afford a donkey, which they both desperately needed, to take their produce to the market. They compromised and decided to each pay half of the cost of a donkey. One neighbor took the donkey one week, and the other the next. Suddenly, one of the neighbor’s father passed away and left him money, animals, and land. This neighbor became rich. The rich neighbor needed to feed his animals. 

He said to the poor man, “let us kill the donkey and divide him equally between us.

The poor man refused, saying, “Either give me money for my half and take the whole donkey, or let us keep sharing it as we did before. I still need the donkey to carry my produce to the market.”

The rich man and the poor man argued some more, and went to an ignorant judge to settle their dispute. 

The ignorant judge says, “Slaughter the donkey and give the rich man his half.”

So the donkey was slaughtered, and the poor man no longer could take his produce into the marketplace. 

One day, the rich man decided to burn his hut. 

The poor man pleaded, “Don’t burn it. My hut is next door. You will burn mine too!” 

But the rich man didn’t listen. He insisted that it was his house, and he could do whatever he wanted with it. So he burned his hut, and a gust of wind took the flames to the poor man’s hut and burned it as well. 

The two went back to the ignorant judge and the poor man asked, “If he burned down my hut, why can’t he pay me?” 

The ignorant judge answered, “The rich man did not mean to burn down your house. The gust of wind burned down your house, so it is not his fault.”

Now the poor man was left without a donkey and without a hut. Every day, after farming his chickpeas in his field, he slept underneath a tree. Years passed, and the rich man had children. One day, the rich man’s children sneaked into the poor man’s field and ate his chickpeas. The poor man was now left without a harvest. They both went to the ignorant judge once more.

“His children ate my chickpeas,” said the poor man, “and I want them back.”

The rich man said, “Alright, I will pay you for the chickpeas.”

The poor man replied, “No. I want my chickpeas. I shall tear their stomachs and get my chickpeas.”

The rich man was terrified. “Please! Let me pay you for them!”

The ignorant judge said, “If they are his chickpeas, then he shall tear their stomachs and claim them.”

The rich man pleaded some more, but the poor man and the judge would not change their minds. The rich man convinced the poor man to go see the elders to settle their dispute. 

The elders said, “If you want him to not kill your children, you must give him half of your land, money, and animals.” The rich man agreed.

So, the poor man got half of the rich man’s property, and the two never quarreled again. 

Background

My informant was born and raised in Ethiopia. He emphasized how important it is to stay humble and charitable in Ethiopia no matter your socioeconomic status.

Context

This tale is told in a casual setting. This tale can also be told in a relevant scenario to remind the listener that money doesn’t always make one a good person.

My Thoughts

This tale reminds me of many Ethiopian proverbs, which mostly pertain to wealth and poverty. In Ethiopian proverbs, the rich are associated with evil and ignorance, while poor people are considered dignified and “good” people. This tale reinforces the idea that it is better to be poor and dignified than rich and contemptible. In the end, the poor man and the wealthy man become equals and live happily. This story communicates the idea that it is better for everyone to have moderate wealth than for select members of society to hold most of the wealth. An article by Tok Thompson titled “Getting Ahead in Ethiopia: Amharic Proverbs About Wealth” explains the general disdain towards wealthy people in Ethiopian proverbs (cited below). 

Moreover, the judge is a recurring character in Ethiopian stories. He is often described as simple-minded, ignorant, and unfair. Since this tale is a criticism of social classes, one can infer that the judge represents society’s powerful and wealthy individuals. This is another way this tale falls in line with traditional Ehtiopian proverbs. The wealthy, or in this case, the judge, are depicted as bad people with no dignity. The character of the judge in these tales perfectly represents the wealthy social class.

Source:

Thompson, Tok. “Proverbium. Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship.” Arbitrium, vol. 26, no. 3, 2009, pp. 367-386, Accessed 1 Apr. 2021.