The Tiger and the Cloudburst

retold by Heinz Insu Fenkl

One day a Chinese tiger (which in those days was called a pom to distinguish it from Korean tigers, which are called horangi), came across the border and down the mountain to make an easy meal of a villager. It was the time of year when the barley was ripe, and the tiger watched the farmers busily threshing their grain. As the tiger stalked closer, getting ready to pounce, suddenly the villagers stopped and looked up into the sky, shouting, "It's the sonagi! The sonagi is coming!" Now, sonagi means a cloudburst, as you know, but the Chinese tiger didn't know much Korean.

The tiger heard a rumble in the distance, then a roaring sound. He watched all the farmers drop what they were doing and run into their homes, where they hurriedly shut their doors and windows, just as the first drops of rain began to fall.

"I am the most feared creature in all of China," thought the tiger. "The world trembles when I roar, but what is this thing called a sonagi? It seems to have a roar louder than mine. If it could cause this entire village to abandon its crops and hide, then perhaps I should escape also." The more he thought about the sonagi, the more it concerned him. Finally, he leaped down into the village himself and hid among the cows in a barn.

Now, the Chinese tiger tried to keep quiet, but the cows were in fear for their lives and they bellowed and mooed, making an awful din. The tiger did not realize he was the one responsible for the frightened cattle—he thought it was the terrible sonagi they feared, and so he lay there cowering amongst the cows.

Just then, a cow thief happened to enter the barn. He had seen the villagers run into their homes and thought it would be easy to steal an animal before they came out again. It was dark in the barn, and so he was feeling his way around, searching for an especially large cow, when he felt something quite unusual. It seemed that the largest cow was an exotic one, covered in a thick pelt and heavy with meat. The thief was delighted at the thought of how much it would bring him, and so he quickly threw a rope around the animal's neck.

When the thief pulled with all his might, the tiger was certain the sonagi had found him, and in his terrified state it was easy for the thief to drag him outside. But when the thief leaped onto his back to ride him home, the tiger cried, "Get off!"

What the thief heard, of course, was the tiger's horrible roar. Now that he was outside in the light, he could see that it was no cow he had mounted—he was on the back of a tiger! If he fell off, the tiger was sure to eat him, and so the cow thief dug his fingers into the tiger's fur and grabbed a clump in each hand.

When the tiger felt the claws of the sonagi dig into his fur, he began to twist and buck, roaring "Get off! Get off!" and he leaped this way and that, trying to throw the monster from his back. This only caused the thief to hang on for dear life and press himself into the tiger's back, and soon the two of them were bounding off into the night.

After a while, they reached a forest, and as the trees grew thick around them, the tiger had to slow down. The cow thief was finally able to get off. He leaped from the tiger's back into a tree and climbed up as fast as he could. The tiger let out a sigh of relief. "I'm finally free of that damned sonagi," he thought. He looked into the branches to get a look at the monster, but there was too much foliage. High up in the tree was a bear, and so the tiger called, "Hey, up there!"

"Ah, Master Tiger," said the bear, munching on his acorns. "What brings you to these parts?" "I was in that little kingdom called Choseon, and I was almost killed by a monster called a sonagi. He rode me all the way back, but I've finally gotten rid of him. Do you see him anywhere?"  

"No," said the bear. "But I saw a man jump off your back a moment ago. Why don't you eat him?" The tiger suddenly remembered why he had gone into Korea in the first place, and realized how hungry he was. For a moment, he forgot about the sonagi. "What a good idea," he said. "How shall I catch him?"

"You dig up the roots and I'll climb up the tree. That way we are sure to get him either way." The tiger agreed, and so the bear began to climb up into the tree while the tiger began to dig at the roots with his fearsome claws. But as he dug, he had time to reflect, and once again he worried about the sonagi.

The cow thief knew he was as good as dead. With the bear climbing down from above and the tiger digging at the roots below, it was only a matter of time before one of them got him. He clung to his branch hopelessly until the bear came closer, backside first, and he realized the large, dangling pouches he saw in front of him were the bear's testicles.

The cow thief untied his topknot and made a noose out of the string. He looped it around the bear's testicles and yanked on it, causing the bear to roar in pain. "Help! Help!" cried the bear, "He's killing me!"

"What did I tell you?" said the tiger. "I may be the most fearsome creature in all of China, but down here I am no match for that sonagi. I am going back home."

Now, with the tiger gone, the cow thief gathered his strength and pulled the noose with all his might. With a terrific roar, the bear fell dead from the tree. It was too heavy for him to lift on his own, so the cow thief went down to a nearby village, where he saw some farmers working in the fields.  

"I rode on a tiger's back!" he bragged. "And I killed  me a bear. Help me with it and I will share the profits with you."

Together, they returned to the tree and got the bear's carcass. The farmers took the pelt and the cow thief kept the gall bladder for himself. Of course, what he got for the bear's gall bladder—which is a valuable medicine— was far more than what he would have gotten for a cow.


* This story is often linked with "The Tiger and the Persimmon" to form a longer and more entertaining narrative. Like the former story, it relies on the tiger's ignorance of language. In this story, that theme is made more rational by featuring a tiger from China, but as a general theme, the story is probably playing more with the idea that command of language is one of the things that distinguishes humans from animals.

reproduced courtesy of Heinz Insu Fenkl and Bo-Leaf Books

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