There was once a deaf farmer, who grew wheat on his farm. One day, as he was plowing wheat, he was approached by a deaf woman. Neither one knew that the other was deaf.
“Excuse me,” the deaf woman asked him, “I have lost my sheep. Do you know where they went?”
“I’m farming wheat over here. My field ends over there,” the deaf man answered, pointing his finger to the end of his field.
The woman follows his pointed finger and, luckily, she finds her sheep. To express her gratitude to the man, she offers him one of her sheep that has a broken leg.
“Take this sheep in return, the leg is broken,” she says.
The man answers, “why do you interrupt my work once more? I am farming.”
The woman thought he asked for another sheep, but she refused another and insisted on giving him only the one with a broken leg. The two quarreled some more and decided to go to court to settle their dispute. Unbeknownst to them both, the judge was also deaf.
After listening to, but not hearing, both of their disputes, the judge told the man, “the baby on the woman’s back is your son because he looks just like you.”
This joke is told in a casual setting, but not near deaf people present, so as not to alienate them from the group setting. This joke is told to convey the message that hearing is not the same as listening.
My informant was born and raised in Ethiopia. He remembers hearing this joke from a friend. He explained that it is memorable because it made him laugh. He explained that the joke is not meant to ridicule deaf people, but to emphasize how important it is to listen to, not just to hear, people when they speak.
When I first heard this joke, I laughed as well. I can see why my informant said this was one of his favorite jokes. I think the moral of the joke is relevant, and its meaning can be understood by those outside of the Ethiopian community. The joke emphasizes the importance of listening to someone, and draws a distinction between listening and hearing. I noticed that the judge is a common recurring character in Ethiopian stories. The judge is commonly depicted as simple-minded, ignorant, and unfair. This suggests that those in power, like the judge, may not always be the smartest in most qualified people. In other words, just because someone holds a position in society, does not mean that person is worthy of that position.