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A collection of personal reminiscences of the author's youth in a hamlet on the central highlands of Vietnam.
We owned three water buffaloes, one male and two females. One day our male died of old age. My father decided to look for the ideal water buffalo to replace him: a bull that was both a hard worker and a good fighter. Fighting ability was important because tigers raided the herd near the edge of the jungle. Buffaloes born and raised among mountain tribes had the reputation of being excellent fighters, but they were often too fierce, violent, and impatient to handle. On the other hand, buffaloes born and raised in the lowlands were patient and obedient, but they did not make good fighters, for they lived in an area where fierce predators aid not exist. Neither type of buffalo would meet my father's needs.
However, it was possible to have the ideal buffalo if a young bull had a fierce father from the mountains and a patient mother from the lowlands. This unusual mixture occurred if a fierce mountain bull wandered down to the lowlands and met a female which would bear its offspring. The owner of the female might not know that he had a mixed-blood calf until the calf grew older and the thickness of its coat indicated the mountain origin of its father. So sometimes a farmer who had more buffaloes than he needed would unwittingly sell a valuable mixed-blood calf.
My father, by a combination of luck and patience, discovered a mixed-blood buffalo at the ranch of a buffalo merchant in a townfar below the river and bought it at a, good price.
I was six years old when my father brought the new calf home. He let me give the young buffalo food and water, and sometimes he allowed me to pat its shoulders. But he told me never to approach it when I was alone, for calves were unpredictable. Although they usually obeyed everybody taller, than they were,they did not obey small children and, sometimes might hurt them.
I listened to my father, but I trusted our calf. I knew he and I would become great friends.
Our calf grew into a handsome and powerful buffalo. He not only became the head of our small herd, but also became the head of all the herds in our hamlet after many ferocious and successful fights with the other males. We named him "Tank," because when he hit another male during a fight, he struck as heavily as a tank.
One day a young bull from a nearby hamlet trespassed on Tank's territory and challenged his authority. Tank roared a few times to warn the intruder, but the other buffalo was determined to fight. When we heard Tank's roars weknew, that there was trouble in the hill field. Everyone in the hamlet rushed to a hill to watch the fight. We could not prevent it, so we stayed on high ground to protect ourselves; for a defeated buffalo would often run to humans to be rescued and, in its panic, trample them.
Tank left his herd and faced the arrogant intruder. The other buffaloes stopped eating and waited. Suddenly the two bulls charged and ran into each other head on. I heard a mighty thud. Both buffaloes fell back. My heart was pounding. It was the first time any of us had ever seen Tank fall back. Tank was the pride of the hamlet, and we would be very ashamed if he lost the fight; or worse, if Tank were killed, some of our female buffaloes might follow the victorious bull home to the, other hamlet, and it would be very hard to bring them back.
The two buffaloes recovered from the powerful collision and ran at each other again. This time they locked horns and tried to twist and break each other's necks. Next, each pushed the other and tried to overturn him. At first the intruder sustained Tank's push very well. But then, little by little, he began to lose ground. Tank pushed him farther and farther backward. Unfortunately for the other buffalo, who had fought quite well so far, there, was a deep trench behind him. When his two hind legs fell into the trench, the animal was helpless. Tank's sharpened horns hit first his neck, then his shoulders; but unlike other buffaloes, this one did not call for help.
My father felt sorry for the bull, and he asked my cousin, whom Tank loved the best, to try to stop Tank from killing him. My cousin rushed to Tank's side and called his name. Tank, furious because he was hurt himself, nevertheless listened to my cousin and let him lead him away. The defeated intruder was rescued from the trench and set free, and we never saw or heard from him again.
Tank became so famous that people from far away brought females to breed with him. Buffalo thieves also considered him a prize. One day it rained very hard and Tank did not come home. The next morning we went to look for him. We asked a friend who had a hound dog to help us. My father, my cousin and I, and a few well-armed friends followed the hound and found Tank near a river crossing about fifteen kilometers from home, tied to the root of a tree.
When we untied Tank, he was very happy and licked everybody who had come to rescue him. But we were puzzled. There was blood scattered all around, but Tank himself was unharmed. And why, if thieves had taken Tank so far away from our home, had they finally left him there?
Weeks later these questions were answered.