Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Gray Eagle (Xibo/Xibe)

There lived two brothers. One, the older of the two, was mean and selfish, and looked out for only his own welfare. The younger brother was sweet and kind and thought well of everyone, even of his own less than lovable older brother.

The time came when the older brother was to take a wife, and so he kicked his younger brother right out of their cottage.

"Go fend for yourself!" the big brother said. "Take this hulu with you. In it, you'll find some wheat seeds." He handed his younger brother a gourd. "May you prosper!" he added, with a sneer.

The younger brother thanked the older brother and departed for a desolate area. There he found a small plot of land to keep and erected a small hut. He planted his seeds. However, unknown to him, his older brother had first roasted those seeds, making them absolutely worthless.

Of course, after a period of time, the younger brother noticed that none of the seeds was sprouting. He scratched his head in wonder and still continued watering and fertilizing his little plot of land in the hope that something, anything, would grow. However, nothing did.

Fall came. The younger brother got up early to check on his barren land and, lo and behold, a thick green stalk was growing in the center of his vegetable plot!

He rubbed his eyes in amazement and ran over to the stalk. No, it wasn't a dream; the stalk was as solid as an ox bone. He was delighted. From then on he put all of his energy into nurturing this lone green stalk. Little did he know that this plant had sprouted from the one seed that had not been roasted.

And so everyday he carefully watered his plant and watched it grow and thicken.

One afternoon the younger brother spotted a great gray eagle soaring high over his land. Before he realized it, the bird had swooped down and in an instant had snatched up his green stalk, roots and all. It then slowly climbed back into the sky.

"Stop!" cried the younger brother, shouting and waving his arms much like a bird himself. "Stop, thief! Come back with my plant!" He ran panting after the eagle.

The gray eagle circled and flew to the top of a rather tall tree, where it continued to clutch its find.

"Young man," said the eagle, "please let me have this stalk. I have three babies who cry everyday for something to eat, and you can see nothing is growing or moving around here."

The young man stood still and listened.

"There are no rabbits or mice on this land," continued the eagle. "I fear for my babies. Please let me have this stalk so they may be able to eat at least something."

The young man was moved. "Please take the stalk!" he said. "I hope it will help. I am sorry I have nothing more to offer you."

"Thank you," replied the eagle. "Please be at this spot tomorrow before sunup. I shall take you to the Mountain of the Sun. There you'll find many good things to keep. Remember to bring a sack with you."

The gray eagle then flew away.

The next morning before the sun came up, the younger brother was there with a sack. After several minutes of waiting, he soon spotted the gray eagle, and this time it landed right beside him.

"Climb onto my back," she said. "Hold on tightly, and don't open your eyes until I tell you."

The younger brother did as he was told, and off they went! The air grew colder, the wind streaked through his hair, and the clouds themselves dampened his garments as they flew high into the sky.

Finally the gray eagle said, "We have arrived. Open your eyes and climb down."

The younger brother now saw nothing but gold and jewels everywhere he looked--gold mountains, rocks and pebbles, and, yes, even gold seeds, not to mention rubies, diamonds, and emeralds galore, all shimmering before him.

"Now listen carefully!" said the gray eagle. "We don't have much time. If the sun comes up while we're still here, we'll be burned alive in seconds. Go and gather into the sack whatever you like, and be ready to leave as soon as I call you."

The younger brother looked about him. Being the simple and practical man he was, he recognized the seeds as being of the most value to him. So he quickly scooped up handfuls of the gold seeds into the sack until it was full.

"Let's go back," he said to the eagle, and they both flew away with lots of time to spare before the rising of the sun.

As soon as he returned, the younger brother started planting his seeds. Before long, he had a plot full of sturdy golden wheat. His wheat sold well, and he kept replanting and selling it. With his money, he bought better land and planted whole fields with his gold seeds.

In time, the older brother decided to see how his brother was faring. He was astounded to pass by acres of golden wheat belonging to his younger brother.

"From where did all this wheat and land come?" he asked, and the younger brother then recounted the entire story about how originally only one solitary green stalk grew on his land and how the gray eagle had plucked the stalk and then later transported him to the Mountain of the Sun, the fabled land where gold, jewels and diamonds lay in abundance.

Aha! thought the older brother. One of the seeds I gave this simpleton must not have been burned.

Without saying a word, he scurried back home. He then roasted a hulu full of wheat seeds, making sure then to add one unroasted seed and mixing it in with the rest. He next sowed the seeds, watered them and waited. Sure enough, one day not long after, there appeared a green stalk as thick as an ox bone in the field where nothing else was growing.

Now, thought the older brother, all I need is a gray eagle.

When such an eagle did appear, it swooped down and, in an instant, it snatched the older brother's solitary green stalk.

"Hey, stop, thief!" cried the older brother, feigning anger. "Come back here with my plant!"

The eagle then flew around and landed atop the older brother's roof.

"Please, kind sir, " said the eagle. "Won't you let me keep this stalk? My three babies are so hungry and might die if they don't get any nourishment. This plant is the only green thing to eat within one thousand li of here. Please let me have it."

"Of course you may take it, " said the older brother, now speaking a bit more generously than he usually did.

"Oh, thank you!" said the eagle. She then added: "Be here tomorrow with a sack before sunup. I shall take you to a special place where you may find many treasures."

The gray eagle then flew off, and the older brother rubbed his hands and laughed as he thought about all the riches that he would soon have. The next morning before sunrise, the gray eagle arrived as expected.

"Hop onto my back, close your eyes, and hold on," she said, and they took off.

Upon landing, the gray eagle said, "You may open your eyes now and get off."

The older brother hopped off, his eyes bulging as he viewed all the riches that lay before him.

"You may take as much gold and other jewels as you like, but when I call you to leave, you must heed my call and come right away. If you don't . . ."

"Yes, yes, yes!" said the older brother impatiently as he scurried to gather up everything that sparkled. He was no longer listening to the gray eagle. Everything he saw, he wanted. When he saw a small mound of large gold nuggets, he dumped his sack full of gold seeds. When he came across an even larger collection of gold nuggets, he dumped the small nuggets in favor of the larger ones. Then he poured out the contents of the sack when he came across a mound of diamonds. This went on and on. The older brother just couldn't remain satisfied. He completely ignored both the many gold seeds that lay in piles all around him and the gray eagle, which was telling him to hurry.

The gray eagle was now becoming very concerned. The first rays of the sun were barely outlining the mountain peaks.

"We must leave very soon!" she said.

"In a moment, in a moment," said the older brother, weighing two different gold nuggets, one in each hand.

"We have about five minutes left!" cried the eagle. "Let's leave now!"

"Just wait a moment, will you?" answered the older brother. "I'll be with you immediately!"

The minutes dangerously passed by.

"I can't wait any longer!" shouted the eagle. "I shall not die here with you!"

The older brother said nothing. He was busily deciding whether to dump out some of the diamonds to make room for big chunks of gold.

When the man hadn't answered, the gray eagle called him once more, and there was still no reply. She immediately flew off just as half of the sun was over the mountain top.

The older brother was too busy choosing his treasures to notice the approaching dry, penetrating heat of the sun until it was too late. Not until the sun had finally hauled itself over the mountain peaks did he think about his predicament. He quickly ran for cover, but there was none. There were no structures, caves or ravines. There were no shadows of boulders for him in which to rest, just countless mounds of gold and gems.

And there, in a lonely spot, carrying enough gold and jewels in a sack to please a khan, the older brother lay down upon the jewel encrusted ground and perished, the sun eventually blanching his bones.

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Xinjiang xiongdi minzu minjian gushixuan, p. 142-146

Virtually the same tale is known to Iraqi Jews as "The Mountain of the Sun" (Noy 53-56). In that version the bird is a raven. Variant of AT 555A, "Sunrise Land," and AT 511B*, "Half-Brothers and Roasted Seeds." Motifs: B552, "Man carried by bird"; B562.1.3, "Bird shows man treasure"; B580, "Animal helps human to wealth"; F62.1, "Bird carries person to upper world"; F752.1, "Mountain of gold"; Q42, "Generosity rewarded"; Q51, "Kindness to animals rewarded";and Q272, "Avarice punished."

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