Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Swan (Kazak)

There was once a hunter, a mean, sullen man, who would beat his poor wife black and blue, especially whenever she tried to hide from him. No one liked this man, and all who came across him stayed out of his path.

One morning, before the man was to leave on a day's hunt, his wife said to him innocently enough, "If you don't catch anything before noon, why not just come early?"

The man grumbled something, stormed out, mounted his horse and was off.

That day the man was unable to catch anything. Rabbits, quail, ducks--all were beyond his reach.

"Curse that poison-tongued, yellow-faced old wife of mine!" he spat. "Putting a hex on me by saying, 'If you don't catch anything'! I'll beat her soundly when I get home for scaring off the game with her curse!"

He rode by some marshes and heard what he thought was the honking of geese. Enclosing himself in the reeds, he spied a pair of swans floating upon the water, their necks entwined in a display of love.

Eii, said the hunter to himself as he pulled an arrow from his quiver, I thought only humans felt and acted that way.

He then shot one of the swans, the female, right through the breast. The other swan flew off before the man could get a second shot. The hunter waded into the marsh water to retrieve his kill He had caught something! Now he'd have something to show that big-mouthed wife of his!

He then proudly rode back with the dead swan draped over the neck of the horse.

High above, the dead swan's mate circled the man and his horse, crying, "Kuh-gu, kuh-gu!"

The hunter was unable to shoot the male swan as it would swoop low and then quickly fly back up into the sky. So the hunter paid it no attention as he rode on.

Arriving home, he dismounted and called for his wife. "Woman!" he barked. "Come out here at once! I've something to show you."

As his wife stepped timidly out from their dwelling, the male swan reappeared, crying, "Kuh-gu, kuh-gu!"

The swan nose-dived for the horse, hitting the saddle and breaking its own slender neck. The beautiful white bird then fell into a heap upon the ground, just beneath its dead mate still draped over the horse.

The man stood back aghast. A thought immediately occurred to him: this beast, this swan, had been deeply in love with its mate and could no longer bear her death.

"Heaven above me!" he muttered. "After all I have said and done to my own wife, does what just happened make me even less than an animal?"

From that day on, he resolved never to harm his wife in any manner again, and indeed for the rest of their lives, both the hunter and his wife lived happily with deep love and open affection for each other.

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Xinjiang xiongdi minzu minjian wenxue, p. 92-93.

This story is reminiscent of a Japanese tale, "Oshidori," from Lafcadio Hearn's
Kwaidan. Hearn writes of a hunter who kills one of a pair of mandarin ducks, the very symbol of conjugal bliss. He is later haunted in his dreams by the dead bird's female partner who appears in the form of a beautiful but grieving woman. Later, by the same riverbank and before the hunter himself, the surviving duck reappears and tears her own breast apart with her beak, killing herself. The guilt-stricken hunter then becomes a priest. (Hearn, 13-14). It should be noted that the swan is a significant animal to the Kazaks, the very name "Kazak" meaning "people of the swan" (Li, 185).

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