The Oroquen have a saying: "Wherever people cannot go lives the human-eating mani."
Long ago a young husband and wife who didn't listen to such sayings moved far away from their people into the Daxingan mountains. They stopped at the foot of one mountain and set up their camp. They had been there one hundred days when they decided to make the place their home. They were surrounded by a lush forest of pines which concealed an abundance of game. They had neither seen nor heard any mani and felt not the slightest bit of fear. In time they gave birth to twins, a daughter, Katufeng, and a boy, A'ertanei.
One day years later, the father and mother went out together to hunt; however, they never returned. Had they gotten lost? No, they could return blindfolded. Had they been eaten by tigers? No, the only tigers around were those whose skins were being used as carpets. The truth was both had come across a stalking mani, one that had slyly tracked them and then eaten them before they could let loose their arrows or unsheathe their swords.
When their parents had failed to return home, it became clear to the two fifteen year old children what had happened. They dried their tears, swore vengeance to rid the area of this monster, and set out to get the job done. They followed their parents' path and set up camp after several hours on the trail. A'ertanei went in search of game, while Katufeng headed up a mountain to pick roots, berries and greens.
A'ertanei returned home with a small deer and discovered that his sister had not yet returned. He sat in their hut to wait and to rest.
He soon sensed a large shadow spreading over the land and the hut. Grabbing his bow, arrow quiver, and sword, he rushed to the entrance only to see a gigantic mani just outside. It was huge, much taller than the average man. It had a protruding jaw like an ape's and was covered by jet black fur from head to toe. The mani now breathed through its mouth louder than six great black bears. It saw A'ertanei, and its red tongue flopped outside its mouth, dangling a good foot and a half in length.
A'ertanei swiftly got away from the hut and circled the beast as it lurched toward him. The mani had long legs and turned quickly to wherever A'ertanei happened to stand.
"Baooo!" it roared and opened its three-foot-wide mouth to gobble A'etanei up.
A'ertanei stumbled, and before he knew it, the mani had swallowed him up. Down the monster's throat he went, sword and all, ending up in its stomach. He then plunged his sword with all his might through the mani's stomach wall. The creature let go a piercing cry and toppled to the ground, stone dead.
Katufeng had heard the roars and came down to see what all the commotion had been about. She saw the mani lying not far from the hut. She then heard a sound coming from inside the dead beast's carcass, so she took out her hatchet and hacked away at the mound of dead flesh before her. Soon, she found her own brother lying amidst the mani's intestines. He would not rise, so she tried hard to wake him up. She shook him over and over, but he still wouldn't open his eyes. She then started to weep.
Her weeping was overheard by the mountain god, Baiyin'a'qia, who told the local pine spirit to comfort her.
"Don't be sad, child!" said the spirit. "Your A'ertanei is a great hero, for he slew the mani!"
"Great Pine Spirit!" she cried. "You don't understand. I can't live without my brother. Is there nothing you can do to bring him back to life?"
The pine spirit was silent for a moment and then said, "Yes, there is something I can do, Katufeng. Gather a cup of sap from my trunk and then pour it over A'ertanei. That will prevent his body from spoiling, but this is only the first step. Are you listening carefully?"
"Yes, please go on," said Katufeng.
"You will need to locate one who can both ride and shoot down a flock of eagles. This must be a truly fearless hunter. Then you will need to find the Great Sea on the edge of Heaven. Go to the island that is in the center of that sea and locate old Sa'ergudai. He has three daughters who can help you. Now collect some sap and be off. You have much work to do."
Katufeng wasted little time. Dragging A'ertanei into the hut, she sprinkled him with sap. Then, deciding to go on the long journey herself, she donned his hunting suit and boots. Pulling her hair up, she put on his fur cap. She also gathered her brother's bow, arrows, and sword.
The pine spirit was truly impressed by her determination. He shook a limb, and a leaf fluttered to earth. Before it reached the ground, it turned into a magnificent dappled one-thousand li pony. Katufeng then hopped onto the pony, pointed him in the direction of the Great Sea and flew up into the sky.
While she was flying through the clouds, she came alongside a flock of eagles. She decided to practice her archery skills by shooting at the eagles. At first it wasn't easy; she managed to shoot only one. After a while, she hit three. By the third day in the air, she was able to shoot down the entire flock from her saddle. She had become the great rider and archer.
At last she spotted the island in the center of the Great Sea, and they descended from the clouds onto the beach, where they startled three maidens.
"Look at the handsome boy!" one of them exclaimed to the other two.
Katufeng approached them and respectfully asked, "Pardon me, but I seek Sa'ergudai. Do you know where he is?"
"Yes, but may we first ask why you seek him, Handsome One?" one of the maidens asked.
"I need to ask his permission to take his three daughters back home with me so that they may help me save a life."
Two of the older girls immediately ran off to find old Sa'ergudai. They were, in fact, his two older daughters, and both intended to ask their father's blessing to marry the mysterious young hunter who had come down from the sky. The youngest daughter remained on the beach with Katufeng.
"I am Sa'ergudai's youngest daughter," she said. "Are you the great immortal Anduli, or are you a mortal?"
"Why, I am a mortal!" replied Katufeng.
"Listen," said the third daughter. "I shall help you, but it won't be so easy to get my father to agree about letting all of us go with you. He will do everything within his great power to stop you. Please be careful. He has more villains to do his dirty work than there are crows in the sky. Sit down with him at a meal, but expect the food to be poisonous enough to kill a hundred men."
No sooner had she finished speaking when a whirlwind appeared over the hill and approached their direction. The wind dissipated, and the dust, leaves and branches fell to the earth, revealing fearsome old pirate Sa'ergudai himself, standing at the foot of an army made up of a thousand cutthroats.
"Nice horse," he said eyeing Katufeng's dappled pony. He snapped his fingers, and a man came from out of the ranks to lead the horse away. The horse, however, had other plans and promptly kicked the man squarely in the face. As the others pulled the fallen pirate away, another thug stepped forward to take the reins.
Sa'ergudai dismissed him with a wave of the hand and addressed Katufeng. "So, you wish to take away my precious girls!"
Katufeng lowered her head and replied, "I would merely like their assistance, if you and they are willing. I mean no harm or disrespect."
Sa'ergudai laughed and said, "Very well! I will agree if you sit with me and be my guest at a banquet for nine days and nine nights."
What could Katufeng do? She agreed and was led to a clearing in the forest where there were stone benches. She and Sa'ergudai sat down and the banquet commenced.
Sa'ergudai made no attempt to take any of the delicious food with his chopsticks and neither did Katufeng. She just sat there and said nothing.
This went on for nine days and nine nights. On the ninth night, Sa'ergudai had two tankards of wine set before Katufeng--a red wine and a yellow wine.
"Young man, you will have to drink one of these tankards of wine; otherwise, I won't let my daughters help you," said Sa'ergudai. "Now, drink up!"
Standing behind her father, the third daughter made a slight motion with her hand in the direction of the red wine, and Katufeng knew this was the wine she must drink. She picked up the tankard and downed its contents with one long gulp. Then she turned to Sa'ergudai and bade him good evening. She went to the beach where her horse was tethered and lay on the sand. She then pretended to be in a deep, drunken sleep.
One of Sa'ergudai's men spied on Katufeng and reported back that she was fast asleep.
"All right. Tie him up and throw him into the sea!" commanded Sa'ergudai, and he led him men down to the beach.
Katufeng was waiting and shot ninety-nine flaming arrows. She was accurate and could have pierced Sa'ergudai's heart if she had wanted. She settled for singeing his beard. Katufeng's skill unnerved the cutthroat pirates and they ran.
All of his men having fled, Sa'ergudai knelt in the sand, knowing he was at the young stranger's mercy.
"You have my permission to take my three daughters with you," said Sa'ergudai. "When they wish to return, they can turn themselves into eagles and fly back. Depart in peace!"
With that, Katufeng assembled the three maidens and had them mount the horse. The four of them flew into the clouds and headed back to the Daxingan mountains.
In time the horse and its four riders landed by the hut, and the foursome dismounted.
"I am going to straighten up the hut," said Katufeng. "Rest beneath that tree until I call for you. Then you may enter." Katufeng then disappeared into the hut.
In the hut, A'ertanei was still lying as if in deep sleep. Katufeng took off her brother's hunting clothes and boots and put them back on A'ertanei. She then put her own clothes back on and concealed herself behind some hanging tiger skins. She called for the three girls to enter. They immediately saw A'ertanei lying on the rug.
"What happened to the Handsome One?" the oldest sister cried.
"Was the journey too much for him?" asked the second sister.
"I fear he's dead!" cried the youngest.
"Come on!" said the oldest. "Let's try to revive him!"
The oldest propped him up. The second sister gently opened his eyelids and softly blew her breath onto them. The third sister rubbed his hands with her hands. All of this was to no avail; A'ertanei remained as still as when they had first seen him, as still as the tiger-skin rug upon which he lay.
"We'd better leave now!" said the second sister. "If his family returns, we might be blamed for all this!"
"No," said the youngest sister. "We came here to be of service, and we should stay to do what we can! Oldest Sister, take out your silver hairpin."
The oldest sister fumbled a bit and then finally produced a silver hairpin.
"Now here is what we shall do," said the youngest sister. "Each of us will take turns using the hairpin to trace a circle around the Handsome One. Whose circle he revives in, she shall then be his wife and the other two sisters must return home. What do you say?"
They each agreed.
First, the oldest sister drew a circle around A'ertanei, but the young man did not stir.
"Humph!" she said. "He might as well be dead since he cannot have me for a bride." She stormed out of the hut.
The second sister took the silver hairpin and etched her circle around the young man. Again, nothing happened.
"That's it for me!" she said. "I'm going home to Papa with Oldest Sister."
Outside the dwelling, without tarrying another moment, the two sisters suddenly sprouted great wings. Before long, they had turned into eagles and took off into the air, winging their way home to their father's island.
Now it was the youngest daughter's turn. She put all her energy and hopes into the circle she drew around A'ertanei.
She noticed A'ertanei's chest begin to move, and soon it was clear that he was breathing.
He opened his eyes, sat up, looked at the third daughter and asked, "What happened? Who are you?"
"Who am I? Who am I?" repeated the youngest daughter. "Do you not know who I am?"
A'ertanei was on his feet now. "The last thing I remember was being swallowed by the mani and being in its belly."
Just then Katufeng came from behind the tiger skins and ran to her brother. She hugged him, crying, "Brother! You're alive again!"
Now the youngest daughter was completely confused, but Katufeng introduced herself and her brother and explained everything. Since this daughter of Sa'ergudai had felt the most warmth for A'ertanei, she stayed on and became A'ertanei's bride. With the mani gone for good, the three--A'ertanei, his wife, and Katufeng--lived happily in their home at the foot of the mountain.
(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)
Song, p. 41-48.
The mani, which swallows whole people, might well be similar to the Daur mangai (see "Going Mangai Hunting," 9/5/07) and the Mongolian mangas, as described in http://mongolxel.webz.cz/nigucha/art/gaadamba.doc ("The Problem of Interrelation Between the 'Secret History of the Mongols' and Mongolian Folklore, " accessed 10/25/10).
Motifs: K1837, "Woman in man's clothes"; R158, "Sister rescues brother."