Monday, December 31, 2007

The Swallow (Xibo/Xibe)

Two women lived in a spacious home by a river. The owner, Mrs. Ma, was a wealthy but flint-hearted widow. With her lived her aged but spry mother-in-law, Grandmother Wang.

Now Mrs. Ma had never liked Grandmother Wang, and so one day she simply ordered her to leave her home. She would now live in a cottage across the river. Without a word of complaint, Grandmother Wang gathered her few belongings and asked a servant to row her across the river to her new home. There she settled in and made herself quite comfortable.

Grandmother Wang was always feeding birds and squirrels, and these creatures in time sensed that Grandmother Wang was a friend, one of them. So it was no surprise that one day a swallow with a broken leg found its way to Grandmother Wang's windowsill, where it pecked until the old woman came to open the window.

She gasped when she saw the injured leg and said, "Curse the beast that has done this to you! I will help you." She then applied medicine to the tiny leg and very gently wrapped a bandage around it. After a week, she removed the bandage and watched how the swallow now hopped on two sturdy legs instead of one. The old woman opened her window and allowed the swallow to fly off to its nest.

Two years passed.

Grandmother Wang was sewing one evening when she heard someone or something pecking on her window. It was the swallow, the same one that had had a broken leg. Grandmother Wang opened the window.

"Good woman," spoke the swallow, "I've come back to repay you for your kindness. Please take this seed under my feet." After Grandmother Wang had done so, the bird continued, "It is a cantaloupe seed, but it is from no ordinary cantaloupe. I traveled far to get that seed for you. Now plant it and water it well. Then, once you have a cantaloupe, open the melon up to see the surprise inside."

Before Grandmother Wang could say a thing, the swallow had flown off and was gone.

Well, Grandmother Wang did plant the seed, and she watered it every day. She carefully nurtured it and watched it become a sturdy melon. Then one day, when she thought the time was right, she picked the melon up and took it inside the hut. It was heavy! Having placed it on the table, she then took out a knife and cut it open.

"Aiyo!" she cried.

From out of the cantaloupe spilled nuggets of pure gold and silver. The cantaloupe was absolutely full of these two precious metals.

Grandmother Wang was now fabulously wealthy. She soon lived and ate better than ever before. This wasn't lost on Mrs. Ma, who invited her mother-in-law over. There, at Mrs. Ma's house, the old woman related the whole tale of how she had cared for the bird with the broken leg, of how the bird had returned with a cantaloupe seed, and of how the cantaloupe that had grown from that seed was found to be full of gold and silver.

Mrs. Ma politely listened and smiled as she quietly gnashed her teeth.

She couldn't wait for the old woman to leave the house. As soon as Grandmother Wang had left, Mrs. Ma immediately called a servant for a pair of pliers. When she had gotten a pair, she then had a net placed above her fountain so that it could fall upon the fountain when a cord was pulled. She then waited and waited near the fountain for a swallow, any swallow.

Finally one day a small swallow appeared and landed on the fountain to quench its thirst. When the swallow was in the right spot, Mrs. Ma tugged on the cord, releasing the net which then landed directly on the bird.

She next took the swallow into her home and there, using the pliers, broke one of its legs.

Feigning pity, she said to the bird, "There, there! Let me help you!" She applied some medicine to its broken leg and wrapped a bandage around it. She then kept the injured swallow locked up in a cage.

After a month or so, she unwrapped the bandage and allowed the bird to fly away from her windowsill.

"Now comes the waiting," Mrs. Ma said to herself.

About a year later, she heard a pecking on her window. She looked out, and, as expected, there was the swallow whose leg she had broken with pliers.

"To thank you for healing my leg, " said the swallow, " I have brought you a seed which lies here at my feet. Please plant it and take good care of it. It will grow into a cantaloupe, and inside the cantaloupe will be your reward." Having spoken, the bird flew away, leaving a seed on the sill.

Mrs. Ma grabbed the seed and planted it. She watered the seed every day and gave the little sprout which soon appeared a lot of attention.

When the sprout had become a beautiful green melon, she hauled it off into her home and placed it on her kang, her brick oven-bed. In the middle of the night, when everyone else had gone to bed, she took out a long kitchen knife and cut the melon open.

"Aiiii!" she cried, dropping her knife.

No gold or sliver trickled out. Instead, several large black vipers sprang out of the cantaloupe and, with a vicious ge! ge! ge!, bit the woman all over. She had indeed gotten her reward. That was the end of Mrs. Ma and her dream of gold and silver!

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Xinjiang minjian wenxue, pp. 43-35.

A popular belief among Northern Chinese holds that the appearance of swallows augurs success or prosperity (Williams 380-381). This version is nearly identical to the Korean folktale "The Swallow's Gift" (Socking & Wong 79-85). Variants of AT 834A, "The Pot of Gold and the Variant of AT 834A, "The Pot of Gold and the Pot of Scorpions." Motifs: B580, "Animal helps human to wealth"; Q42, "Generosity rewarded"; Q51, "Kindness to animals rewarded"; and Q200, "Evil deeds punished."

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