Die Donkey

Each culture has proverbs that are unique to it. A wise human said once:

“If you want to know a people know their proverbs.”

There usually is a story behind each proverb. Those stories reveal a lot about cultural and political contexts.

One of the interesting discoveries you will make when studying oral cultures and folklore is that there are so many stories, popular expressions, proverbs across cultures and continents that are different in wording but very similar in meaning.

Before I tell you about the story of “Die Donkey” you can also discover the funny story behind another one of the most famous proverbs in the Arab speaking world.

“Those who don’t know say lentils!”  You can read the story behind it here 

موت يا حمار or “Die Donkey” is an old arabic expression used in the Middle East to describe people who never fulfill their responsibilities and take ages to complete the most simple duties.

It can be literally translated to “Die Donkey!”. It is, more or less, the equivalent of “Donkey’s years!”; the commonly used slang expression meaning a ‘Long time’.

But who is the donkey?

It all started with a ruler who lived in a marvelous palace surrounded with beautiful gardens.

The King spent long hours planting, growing and caring for every single flower himself. He had a name for each one of them, he was very protective of his beautiful gardens and nobody was allowed to set foot in them.

One day as the ruler was enjoying the view from his terrace he saw a donkey enter one of the gardens and ruin its rarest plants and flowers! The animal took a bite of the Juliet Rose, two bites of the Semper Augustus … he stepped on a few Saffron crocuses.

Wild with anger the ruler called one of his viziers and asked him to exile the animal. The wise vizier who felt sorry for the donkey whispered to the ruler’s ear:

“But … but Majesty, it is just a Donkey! I do not think it was on purpose!”

“Ok then!! You can keep the donkey alive and in the city BUT I want you to find someone to teach it good manners! This cannot happen again!!”

As crazy as it may sound, the town crier made a public announcement in the streets:

“Oyez, Oyez, Oyez! The King is looking for an instructor to teach a donkey good manners.”

… a few days later, a smart man introduced himself as a donkey instructor and claimed that with enough money and time he would be able to teach the donkey anything.

He promised that within thirty years the donkey will learn all the rules of good conduct and good manners!

The ruler and the vizier granted him all his wishes!

Happy and proud of his stratagem he went home to tell his wife.


To the skeptical woman he replied:

“In thirty years either the ruler, me or the donkey will be dead … So die donkey!”

فموت يا حمار

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