The lazy townspeople

By Traditional

Once upon a time there was a town where all the people were exceedingly lazy. They didn’t like to do any kind of work at all! They didn’t clean up their yards, they didn’t keep their streets clean, and they couldn’t be bothered to weed their vegetable patches. The place was disgusting, it was a disgrace. The chief hated it, he quite liked cleanliness, and every so often he would start a clean-up campaign. But only a handful of people ever turned up to lend a hand, and even then they would stop working after one or two days, and the weeds would grow again and in the blink of an eye the place would be just as bad again as it ever was.

One day a hurricane blew through the town; after it had passed the place looked even worse than before, but the worst thing was that an enormous tree had been blown over and thrown right across the main road leading to the market place. The first trader came along, carrying his produce, and found the road blocked by the tree. He said: I haven’t got time to move this tree! I’ve got to get my produce to the market!” So he walked around the tree, and carried on his way. And a second and a third trader came along and did exactly the same thing. Nobody could be bothered to do anything about the obstruction. People were coming and going, looking at the tree and just walking around it. The chief heard about the tree blocking the road. He asked; “Why don’t some of these people get together and move it?” But days went by and nobody did anything about it and the tree remained where it was. The chief came up with a plan to teach his townspeople a lesson. Very early the next day, before the sun had come up, he took some of his servants and got them to dig a hole under the tree. He hid some gold in the hole and got his servants to cover it up again. Then he made them swear to keep this affair a secret. Back at his palace, he instructed his town crier to go round and summon all the citizens to gather at the spot of the fallen tree that afternoon.

When they were all together the chief made a speech to his people suggesting that if all of them worked together, it would not take very long to remove the obstacle. One of the farmers said: “The hurricane put that tree there, let’s ask the hurricane to move it out of the way.”

“Yes, said another, why should we exert ourselves?”

“What’s wrong with walking around it?” asked another. The chief was exasperated. He was just about to give up when a skinny young man stepped forward. He was just a poor farmer, who had no living relatives in the town: “I will have a go,” he said, and started pulling and pushing to shift the heavy tree. The other townspeople just stood there and watched, some making fun of the young man. The chief waited for a short while to see if anybody would come forward to help the young man, and when he saw that nobody else made a move, instructed his servants to lend a hand. Once the tree had been moved to the side of the road, the Chief went up to the young farmer, and took him to the spot where he’d buried the gold that morning. The chief told him to dig there, and promised him that he could keep whatever he found there. The young farmer started digging in the road, and very quickly uncovered the gold. He was overjoyed.

The chief said to him: “All this gold is yours to keep. You have deserved it, and you can do with it as you please.” And to the lazy townspeople he said: “Let this be a lesson to you all! Laziness doesn’t get you anything. Rewards come to the person who is prepared to work hard.”


Kate Awo Fumey told this story to Frans Timmermans