Pitara Kids Network

When Humans had Tails

A Saora folk tale from Orissa retold from ‘When the World was Young’, by Verrier Elwin. The book is a fascinating collection of folktales from the tribal peoples of India. Elwin was a pioneering anthropologist; he spent his entire life getting to know the ways of life of the tribal peoples.

The Saora tribals of Orissa, in eastern India, believe that there was a time when humans had tails. Wherever they went, their tails swished along, sweeping the ground.

But soon they had a problem on their hands. As the number of humans increased, managing the tails became very difficult. At home and outside, in the market or at marriages, people were always stepping on each others’ tails. Not a minute went by without some person falling on the ground because someone had tripped him or her. Ooh, aah, ouch became the most common sounds of the land. Life went on in this painful manner.

One day Kittung God visited a market. It was choc-a-bloc with people as usual. And before the god knew it someone stepped on his tail. He tumbled in one big heap. As he fell against a stone, two of his teeth broke. The people who were standing around shook with laughter.

That was when Kittung God got angry. Very angry. In one stroke he pulled off his tail and flung it away. Seeing this all the other tails got scared and fell off on their own. They ran away at a furious pace.

Kittung God’s tail turned into a palm tree while the other tails became blades of tall grass. And people used them to make brooms. Just as the tails had swept the ground when there were not so many humans around, so did they now sweep the ground as grass brooms.

When Humans had Tails [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]