A wounded man crossing the Yabebiri River.

The Yabebiri River Crossing (Uruguayan Fable)

The Yabebiri River Crossing (El Paso del Yabebirí) is a fable about a man, a tiger, and the vicious creatures who live at the bottom of the river, hidden in the mud. It was originally published in 1918 as part of Tales from the Jungle (Cuentos de la Selva), a collection of short stories written by Uruguayan author Horacio Quiroga. This version of the story was written by Juan Artola Miranda.

Part One: The Evil Men

In the Yabebirí River, there are many stingrays. In fact, “Yabebirí” precisely means “river-of-the-stingrays.” There are so many that sometimes it’s dangerous to dip the tip of even a single toe in the water. I knew a man who tried that once, and those vicious creatures stung him. The man was crying in pain. It is one of the most intense pains one can feel.

But there are also many fish in the Yabebirí, and some men like to hunt them with dynamite. They throw a bomb into the river, killing millions of fish. They all die, even if they are as big as a house. They float to the surface, where the men can gather them without needing to dip the tip of even a single toe in the water.

There was another man, too. He was not like the others. He felt sorry for the little fish. He thought it was fine to catch a fish to eat for dinner, but no more than that. He was a formidable man, and the expression on his face was serious. The men who threw bombs were afraid of him, and so they went to hunt elsewhere, and all the fish were very happy. When the man walked along the coast with his cigar, the stingrays followed him, crawling through the mud, happy to accompany their friend. He knew nothing about those vicious creatures and lived happily in that place.

Part Two: The Fox

And it so happened that one day, in the afternoon, a fox ran to the Yabebirí and dipped his paws in the water, shouting, “Hey, stingrays! Hurry! Your friend is coming, wounded!”

The stingrays hurried anxiously to the shore, and they asked the fox, “What’s going on? Where is the man?”

“He’s coming!” shouted the fox again. “He’s fought a tiger! The tiger is coming! Running! Make way for the man, for he will surely seek to cross the river!”

“Of course! Of course we’ll make way for him!” the stingrays replied. “But won’t the tiger cross as well?”

“Watch out for him!” the fox shouted. “Don’t forget it’s a tiger!” And with a leap, the fox disappeared back into the jungle.

No sooner had the fox gone than the man emerged, pushing aside the branches and the fronds. Blood flowed down his face and chest to his trousers, and from the wrinkles of those trousers, the blood dripped onto the sand.

The man staggered toward the shore and entered the river, where the vicious creatures lived. But as soon as he put a foot in the water, the pile of stingrays cleared his path, and the man waded to the island, the water up to his chest, without a single stingray stinging him. And as soon as he arrived, he fainted right there in the sand from the blood he had lost.

The stingrays had not yet had time to fully sympathize with their dying friend when a terrible roar made them squirm in the water. “The tiger! The tiger!” they all shouted, darting like arrows to the shore.

Part Three: The Tiger

Indeed, the tiger who had maimed the man and had been chasing him had reached the shore of the Yabebirí. The beast was wounded, too, and blood flowed all over his body. He saw the man dying on the island, and with a roar of rage, he jumped into the water to finish him off. But as soon as he put the tip of his toe in the water, it felt as if eight or ten terrible nails had been driven into his paw, and he jumped back.

It was the stingrays, of course, defending the river passage. The vicious creatures had stuck their tails into him with all their strength. The tiger lay groaning in pain, with his paw in the air, and seeing how the mud had been stirred up into the water, he knew who had attacked him. The tiger roared in fury, “Ah, I see what it is! It’s you, damned stingrays! Get out of my way!”

“We’re not moving!” the stingrays said.


“We’re not moving! He’s a good man! There is no justification to kill him!”

“He has wounded me!”

“You both have wounded each other! These are your affairs in the jungle! He’s under our protection here! You cannot pass!”

“I’m passing!” roared the tiger for the last time. And he stepped back to gather the momentum he needed to leap across the river.

He could not leap all the way across, of course. The river was much too wide. But the tiger knew that the stingrays were almost always near the shore, and he thought that if he managed to make a big leap, he would be safe to swim the rest of the way.

But the tiger’s bluff had not worked. The vicious creatures guessed his intention and hurried to the middle of the river, passing the word. “Out of the shallows!” they shouted under the water. “Inward! To the channel! To the channel!”

The tiger made his huge leap and landed in the middle of the water. He landed, and he waited for a moment in fear, but he felt no sting. He thought all the stingrays had stayed near the shore, tricked, but as soon as he took a step, there was a torrent of stingers thrusting into him, piercing right through him like daggers, stopping him in his tracks—perhaps stopping him forever.

The tiger wanted to continue, but the pain was so atrocious that he let out a howl and retreated back to the shore. He lay on the sand on his side, unable to bear the pain any longer. His belly rose and fell, but much too weakly and much too slowly. The venom was working its way from his wounds through his body.

But even though they had defeated the tiger, the stingrays were anxious. They were afraid that the tigress and other tigers—many more—might come. If too many came, they would not be able to defend the passage any longer. And indeed, the forest roared again, and the tigress appeared, going crazy with fury at seeing the tiger dying there in the sand.

Part Four: The Tigress

She saw the murky water, muddy from the movement of the stingrays, and she approached the river. And, almost touching the water with her mouth, she shouted, “Stingrays! I want passage!”

Painting of a ferocious tiger crossing the Yabebiri river.

“There’s no passage!” the stingrays replied. “

Not one of you stingrays will have a tail left if you don’t give passage!” roared the tigress. Enraged, she accidentally put a paw in the water, and a stingray sunk its entire stinger between her fingers.

But the tigress had an idea. With that idea between her eyebrows, she moved away from there, following the river upstream, without saying a word. But the stingrays also understood this time what their enemy’s plan was. The enemy’s plan was this: to cross the river somewhere else, where the stingrays didn’t know they had to defend the passage. Once again, a tremendous anxiety overcame them.

“She’s going to cross the river further upstream!” they shouted. And they writhed in desperation in the mud until the river was clouded once more.

“But what are we to do?” they cried. “We don’t know how to swim fast. The tigress will cross before the downriver rays know to defend against her!”

And they didn’t know what to do. Until a very clever little ray said, “I have it! Let the golden fish carry our message! They’re our friends! They swim faster than anyone!”

“That’s right!” the vicious creatures shouted. “Let the golden fish go!” And in an instant, the message passed, and in another moment, eight or ten rows of golden fish were seen, a gleaming army of golden fish swimming upstream at full speed. They were not fast enough.

By the time the fish arrived to warn the downriver rays, the tiger had already swum past the shallows. She was in the deep, nearing the far shore and the man dying there.

The downriver rays raced to the far shore, and as soon as the tigress touched the muddy ground of the shallows, the rays lunged at her legs, tearing them apart with their stingers.

The beast, enraged by the pain, roared, jumped in the water, and splashed water everywhere, slashing at the rays with her claws. But the rays continued to rush against her legs, blocking her path so effectively that the tigress was forced to retreat, lying beside her husband, her legs monstrously swollen.

But the rays were also very tired. And what’s worse, the tiger and the tigress were helping each other up and entering the jungle. What were they going to do? This made the rays uneasy, and they held a long conference. In the end, they said, “We know their plan! They’re going to get the other tigers and they’re all going to come. All the tigers are going to come and cross!”

“NEVER!” shouted the youngest rays, for they knew little of how the world worked.

Part Five: An Ambush of Tigers

“Yes, little ones, they will pass,” the older ones sighed. “If there are many, we cannot stop them. Let’s consult our friend. Perhaps he has a plan.”

They all went to see the man. He was still lying down, having lost a lot of blood, but he could speak and move a little. Perhaps he wasn’t dying after all. In an instant, the rays told him what had happened and how they had defended the crossing from the tigers who wanted to eat him. The wounded man shook hands with the rays that were closest to him, thanking them. He then said, “There’s no remedy! If there are many tigers, and they want to cross, they will cross, and I will die.”

“They won’t cross!” said the young rays, for they still knew little of how the world worked.

“Yes, little ones, they will pass,” said the man. And he added, in a low voice, “The only way would be to fetch the long gun with many bullets… but I have no friend in the river, outside of the fish, and none of you know how to walk on land.”

“What do we do then?” said the anxious rays.

“Let me think… let me think…” the man then said, rubbing his forehead, hoping to find something lodged between his eyebrows. “I had a friend… a little capybara who was raised at home and played with my children. One day, he returned to the jungle. I think he lives here, in the Yabebirí, but I don’t know where he is…”

The rays then let out a shout of joy: “We know! We know him! He lives upstream, not far from here! He often comes to the river bank to drink water. We can take your message to him!”

The man nodded, a faint smile making faint wrinkles on his face.

Without wasting a moment, a group of rays darted upstream in search of the capybara. The journey was short, and soon they found the little creature near the river bank. They quickly relayed the man’s message, and the capybara, remembering the kindness of the man and his children, readily agreed to help.

The capybara raced towards the man’s home, heart pounding from carrying the weight of the task he’d been given. The jungle was a dangerous place, especially for a creature like him, but he knew he had to keep going. He reached the man’s home just as the sun was setting, and with the help of the man’s children, he was able to find the long gun and the bullets.

While the capybara was on his mission, the rays and the man waited nervously by the river bank. They could hear the distant roars of the tigers, getting closer and closer. The man’s face was calm, but his body quivered.

Part Six: The End

Finally, just as the first tiger emerged from the forest, the capybara returned, the long gun and bullets tied hastily to his back. The golden fish ferried him across, and the man managed to load the rifle just in time.

An ambush of tigers crossing the Yabebiri river.

As the tigers lunged towards the river, the man fired. One by one, the tigers fell, their roars echoing through the forest. The rays cheered as each tiger fell, their eyes shining with hope. By the time the last tiger fell, the man had fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood.

But he had survived, thanks to the viciousness of the rays and the bravery of the capybara. Perhaps it is good to have both sorts of friends.

Juan Artola Miranda

I am Juan Artola Miranda, a fabulist living in the Mexican Caribbean. My friends know me by the name of my father's father, but that name grew into something bigger, my writing reaching tens of millions of readers. It was too strong for me to control. Artola Miranda is the name of my mother's mother. It's a better name for a fabulist.

Leave a Comment