Village Folk-tales of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), vol. 1-3

by Henry Parker | 1910 | 406,533 words

This folk-tale entitled “how the kadambawa men counted themselves” is gathered from oral sources sources, tracing its origin to ancient Ceylon (Sri Lanka). These tales are often found to contain similarities from stories from Buddhism and Hinduism. This is the story nr. 44 from the collection “stories of the tom-tom beaters”.

Story 44 - How The Kadambawa Men Counted Themselves

TWELVE Kadambawa men having gone to cut fence Sticks, and having cut and tied up twelve bundles of them, set them on end leaning against each other [before carrying them home]. Then a man said,

“Are our men all right ? Have all come ? We must count and see.”

Afterwards a man counted them.

When he was counting he only counted the other men, omitting himself.

“There are only eleven men; there are twelve bundles of fence sticks” he said.

Then another man saying,

“Maybe yoli made a mistake,”

counted them again in the same way. He said,

“This time also there are eleven men ; there are indeed twelve bundles of fence sticks.”

Thus, in that manner each one of the twelve men counted in the same way as at first.

“There are eleven men and twelve bundles of fence-sticks. There is a man short,”

they said, and they went into the jungle to look for him.

While they were in the chena jungle seeking and seeking, a man of another village, hearing a loud noise of shouting while he was going along the road, having come there to see what it was, found these twelve men quarrelling over it. Then this man asked,

“What are you saying ?”

The men said,

“Twelve of our men came to cut fence sticks. There are now twelve bundles of sticks ; there are only eleven men. A man is short yet.”

When this man looked there were twelve men. So he said,

“All of you take each one his own bundle of fence sticks.”

Then the twelve men having taken the twelve bundles of sticks came to their village.



In Indian Fables (Ramaswami Raju), p. 61, twelve pigs crossed a stream, and counting themselves in the same way on the opposite bank, thought that one had been drowned.

In Indian Nights’ Entertainment .(Swynnerton), p. 305, seven Buneyr men [weavers] counted their number as six, and were so delighted when a shepherd proved that there were seven that they insisted on doing a month’s free labour for him. Next day, however, one killed his mother in driving a fly off her face, and another chopped off the heads of several goats for mocking him by chewing their cud while he was eating, so he dispensed with the rest of their services.

In the Adventures of the Guru Paramarta (Dubois, 1872) the Guru and his five foolish disciples, after long delay because of the danger, crossed a river in which the water was only knee-deep. On reaching the far bank one of them counted the party several times, omitting himself, and they concluded that one had been drowned in the river, which they had heard was a treacherous one. They lamented, and cursed the river, one after another, until a traveller arrived. When he had heard their story he offered to restore the missing man to them by means of magic, for which service they agreed to pay him all the money they had, forty panams of gold.

He said to the Guru,

“It is a very little thing in comparison with the service that I promise to render you. However, as you say it is all that you possess, and as you are in other respects a good man who does not intend any malice thereby, I consent.”

He set the six persons in a row, and struck each one a good blow on the back with his stick as he counted him in a loud voice.

In the Laughable Stories, of Bar-Hebraeus (Budge), the counting tale is No. 569. A man counted his asses and found there were ten, then having mounted on one he omitted it, and made the numher nine. He dismounted and found there were ten ; mounted again and counted only nine. He got down again, and saw that there were ten.

Then saying,

“Verily there is a devil in me, for whenever I mount an ass I lose one of them,”

he went on foot for fear of losing one permanently.

The counting incident is found in China also. In A String of Chinese Peach-Stones, by W. A. Cornaby, p. 276, a stupid Yamun underling who was taking a rascally monk to prison, kept counting the things he had with him,

“Bundle, umbrella, cangue (the heavy wooden collar on the prisoner’s neck), warrant, monk, myself.”

On the way he got drunk and went to sleep. The monk took advantage of the opportunity to shave his head and place the cangue on his neck, after which he absconded. When the man awoke, and began to count the things, he found everything there but himself.    ,

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