Kancil’s Wit


In the jungles of Indonesia dwells a tiny member of the deer family called a mouse deer. Its Indonesian name is Kancil (CAN-chill). Because it is so tiny—no higher than two or three feet—and because it provides a delicious snack for such jungle inhabitants as the tiger, crocodile, or panther, it has to rely on its intelligence to outsmart these large predators in order to survive.

One afternoon while ambling down a jungle trail to the river Ciliwong (CHEE-lee-wong) to quench her thirst, Kancil overheard two crocodiles talking quietly together.

“Wait here, my darling,” Buaya (crocodile) whispered with clacking jaws. “When Kancil comes down to drink, I’ll grab her and we’ll share a tender snack. Just wait and see how I trick her.”

Buaya’s girl friend floated on the Ciliwong, her beady eyes and nostrils barely above the water. She was terribly hungry and could hardly wait for her snack.

Buaya waddled up onto the shore, tucked his feet under him, and hid his long tale-telling snout with the razor-sharp teeth underneath a pile of rotting leaves. He was sure he looked like a fallen tree trunk.

No sooner was he settled than Kancil stepped daintily into view, her large eyes rolling from left to right, her short tail trembling nervously.

Buaya’s mouth watered, and he worked even harder at looking like an uprooted tree.

“Oh, my!” Kancil called out loud. “That tree must have fallen down during the night. It wasn’t here yesterday!”

“Let’s see now …” Kancil said, pondering. “If you really are a dead tree, turn around. But if you are a crocodile, lie still!”

At her first words Buaya started to move, then he realized his mistake. Too late! Kancil quickly retreated into the jungle, while Buaya’s girl friend laughed. “Fooled by a dumb mouse deer,” she sneered. “I’m going to find myself another boyfriend!” She dived into the river and Buaya never saw her again.

During the monsoon when heavy rains swelled the Ciliwong, a monkey PLOPPED in front of Kancil while she was nibbling on tender young liana leaves. Kancil reared back on her tiny hooves and her large eyes rolled wildly. “Why scare me so, Monyét (monkey)!” she cried.

“Hurry, Kancil,” Monyét urged, “your grandmother is gravely ill. She wishes to see her family one more time. I’ve just risked my life leaping from branch to branch over the Ciliwong to find you. Hurry, before the river bandjirs (floods).”

Kancil dashed toward the Ciliwong, but the fast-rising waters were already touching the upper banks. Her familiar stepping boulders were hidden under the rushing waters. How was she to get across to her seriously ill grandmother?

Just then a large tree trunk, felled by the storms, came floating by and halted in a whirling eddy at the river’s edge.

Kancil lifted one tiny hoof to see if the trunk were solid. Then she noticed nostrils and beady eyes. She stepped back and did some quick thinking. “Hello there, Buaya!” she shouted over the roaring river.

Buaya’s piercing eyes never left Kancil. He had not forgotten his humiliating defeat in front of his girl friend and this time he vowed he’d get even.

“Guess what I just heard!” Kancil shouted even louder.

Buaya only stared, hoping to lure her into the water.

“Monyét claims the Kancil family far outnumbers the Buaya family!”

“Impossible!” cried Buaya, his eyes looking even beadier. “The Buaya family has always outnumbered every family in the jungle.”

“Monyét says there are more of us than you!” Kancil switched her short tail while keeping a wary eye on Buaya.

“‘Tis a lie!” Buaya’s tail slapped the water in disgust.

“Ask Monyét!”

Buaya’s eyes searched the tree branches overhanging the Ciliwong, but Monyét was nowhere to be seen.

“Why don’t you call all your family members together and I’ll call mine. In an hour we’ll meet again and count them and get this over with once and for all!” Kancil shouted.

Kancil had to make her preposterous proposal twice because Buaya never quite trusted her. But Kancil’s eyes looked so big and anxious and sincere that Buaya dove into the river and within half an hour was back with sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces, grandparents, and other distant relatives.

When Buaya saw only Kancil on the riverbank, his tail slapped the water. “Where’s your family?” he shouted.

“On the other side. I sent Monyét to tell them about our argument, and they’ll be waiting to be counted. In the meantime let’s start counting the Buaya family.” Kancil continued smoothly, “You line up side by side in rows across the river and I’ll count you. When I’m finished, you shall count my family.”

The crocodiles lined up side by side, feet touching, and Kancil jumped from back to back, counting, “1, 2, 3, …” until she reached 207. Then she jumped onto the shore. “Thank you friends!” she shouted, making a curtsy by bending one slender hoof under her tiny body, “for making a bridge. I was in desperate need to get across!”

All the crocodiles’ tails churned the muddy river into a bandjir that overflowed the banks for miles. But Kancil ran ahead of the spreading flood till she was safe with her grandmother.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Doug Roy