The Monkey and the Turtle

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Jose Rizal was recognized as the most notable writer and poet during his time and the entire Philippine history. He translated some original German folk tales into Tagalog or Filipino for his beloved nephews and nieces in the Philippines while he was in Europe. Hence, he re-popularized and illustrated the fable The Monkey and the Turtle.

In 1889, Rizal wrote a studied article for Trubner’s Record named “Two Eastern Fables” and because his readers were ethnologists, he put side by side the Philippine folktale "Ang Buhay ni Pagong at ni Matsing” with a comparable Japanese tale on the subject of a monkey and a crab. This folk tale is seldom read today although the text is drawn from Rizal’s own English translation.

In Paris, France, four years earlier, sometime in December of 1885, Rizal drew an illustrated account of the precise story in the scrapbook of Paz Pardo de Tavera, who would be the wife of fellow reformist and Philippine national hero, Juan Luna but regrettably the original manuscript was not archived. The text handed down to readers today is a reproduction in the 1913 biography of Jose Rizal by Austin Craig.

(( English text by Jose P. Rizal L ))

The turtle and the monkey once found a banana tree floating amidst the waves of a river. It was a very fine tree, with large green leaves and with roots, just as if it had been pulled off by a storm. They took it ashore.

“Let us divide it,” said Turtle, “and plant each its portion.” They cut it in the middle and the monkey, as the stronger, took for himself the upper part of the tree, thinking that it would grow quicker, for it had leaves. The turtle, as the weaker, had the lower part that looked ugly, although it had roots.

After some days they met. “Hello, Mr. Monkey,” said the turtle, “how are you getting on with your banana tree?”

“Alas,” answered the monkey, “it has been dead a long time. And yours, Miss Turtle?”

“Very nice, indeed, with leaves and fruits. Only I cannot climb up to gather them.”

“Never mind,” said the malicious monkey. “I will climb and pick them for you.”

“Do, Mr. Monkey,” replied the turtle gratefully. And so they walked toward the turtle’s house. As soon as the monkey saw the bright yellow fruits hanging between the large green leaves, he climbed up and began plundering, munching, and gobbling, as quickly as he could.

“But give me some, too,” said the turtle, seeing that the monkey did not take the slightest notice of her.

“Not even a bit of the skin, if it is eatable,” rejoined the monkey, both his cheeks crammed with bananas.

The turtle meditated revenge. She went to the river, picked up some pointed snails, planted them around the banana tree, and hid himself under a coconut shell.

When the monkey came down, he hurt himself and began to bleed. After a long search he found the turtle. “You wretched creature, here you are!” said he. “You must now pay for your wickedness. You must die!”

“But as I am very generous, I will leave you the choice of your death. Shall I pound you in a mortar, or shall I throw you into the water? Which do you prefer?”

“The mortar, the mortar!” answered the turtle. “I am so afraid of getting drowned.”

“O ho!” laughed the monkey, “Indeed! You are afraid of getting drowned! Now I will drown you.” And, going to the shore, he slung the turtle and threw it in the water. But soon the turtle reappeared swimming and laughing at the deceived, artful monkey.


  • Monkey

The Monkey in the story symbolizes the cunning, powerful, influential and rich people of society during the Spaniard era. The half Spanish half Filipino people also known as Peninsulares or Insulares were those people who mocked the weak and the poor Filipinos, having them as slaves and brutally employed but unpaid workers. The monkey also represents the opportunist, self-serving people of the society, ready to get more for them and be always on the top.

  • Turtle

The Turtle in the story reflects the hospitality and genuine trust of the Filipinos. The turtle enables equality to be practiced by cutting the banana tree on the center, having the less-looking. Hence, being left with the less productive looking half of the tree, the turtle did her best to make the most out of it by patience and perseverance. Having no choice and out of humility, the turtle in the story accepted the offer of the greedy monkey to gather the fruit from the tree even if the fooled her from the past. With unfair results, the turtle showed vengeance as result of pain and disappointments. Nevertheless, she learned her lesson and never trusted the monkey and deceived it for survival.

  • Banana tree

The banana tree symbolizes the wealth of the any country, any community or of any tribe. It also reflects that hard work shall give back fruits or results, results that can be easily stolen.

  • Fruit

As the banana tree grew, it brought happiness to the monkey as it bared a banana that signifies the result of hard labor and dedication.

  • Mortar

The mortar signifies the punishment or sentence the criminal shall suffer. It also gives reflection to injustice.


“In [this] version there is a great deal of morality: it is the eternal fight between the weak and the powerful.”

The classic Filipino folk tale specifically a fable is all about the cunning and greed that escalates into a battle of wits and, ultimately, a fight for survival that the submissively weak and poor and shall die while the wise and powerful yet abusing shall survive.


  • Montemayor, Teofilo H. Rizal Pictorial Calendar, T.M. Kalaw St. Ermita, Manila, Philippines, 2004
  • Rizal, Jose P, "Two Eastern Fables." Trubner's Record, Volume 1 (July,1889) , No 3, pp. 71 -74
  • Yambao, Auri Ascuncion and Asuncion, Mary Ann Grace, Tahanan Books for Young Readers, A division of Ilaw ng Tahanan Publishing, Inc., Makati City, Philippines