Friday, December 21, 2007

Wild Goose Island (Manchu)

At the mouth of the Niya River in Manchuria is a small island, Niya Island. This island is also called "Wild Goose Island." Nearly eight hundred years ago, something happened on this island, a story people still recall to this day.

It is said that a young fisherman lived on this island, one whose name is lost to us. He fished every day and lived by himself in a small hut.

One day, a day's worth of fishing done, he was walking along the beach, headed for home. He spied a large goose on the beach, hopping about on its one good leg, unable to fly and obviously in great pain. He took the goose home, applied herbal medicine to its injured leg, and nursed it back to health. He enjoyed listening to its cheerful peeps, and the bird became company for the otherwise lonely fisherman.

Then the day came when the goose could fend for itself. He took his feathered companion outside, held it up towards the sky, and said, "You are well now, so off you go, back to your mother, brothers and sisters."

With that, the goose stretched out its wings and flew up into the heavens and out of site. The fisherman trudged home when he could no longer see the goose.

A year passed. One morning as the young fisherman left his hut to go fishing, he was startled to see a young woman squatting on the ground, mending his fishing net. She had long glossy black hair and an alabaster complexion. Now a young lady on the island was strange enough, but this was obviously a woman of high birth who was repairing the net of a local fisherman, his own net!

"Who . . . who . . . are you?" he stammered.

The young lady looked up, smiled and and put down the net, saying, "I am called Niya. My parents have consented to my becoming your wife."

The fisherman was thunderstruck, speechless; he couldn't believe his ears or his eyes.

"Surely you remember me," said the young lady. "It was about a year ago, and I had injured my leg. You mended it and took care of me."

Try as hard as he could, he could not recall meeting such a young woman, let alone healing her leg, and didn't question her any further.

"Well," he said, "look around you. This old net, that boat outside and this small hut are all I own. If you'd be content with just these and me and nothing more, then you can be my wife."

And so they married. They lived and worked and laughed together every single day, and the time went by swiftly.

Three years passed like an arrow; the fisherman detected a gradual change in Niya. Where she had been cheery, she was now somber and silent; where she had been lively, she was now slow and tired. She now spent much of the time sighing and pining for something or someone he couldn't see.

One day he was returning from fishing when he saw a black hawk circling his hut, cawing ominously with its talons extended. He grabbed a club and chased the bird off. He entered his home and found Niya, crying. The fisherman tried to comfort her, but she still cried, now even more loudly.

At last she spoke. "Forgive me for not telling you the truth earlier. I am not a human but rather the third daughter of the Dragon King of the East Sea. I had once turned myself into a goose and frolicked on the beach, enjoying the the new world I found myself in. Then I injured myself. You found me and applied medicine to my leg. I then decided to return later and repay you for your kindness.

"But now," Niya continued, "I am in trouble. I was also not truthful to you when I told you that my father had agreed to let me marry you. He was furious! He has sent my brother in the form of a black hawk to peck me to death. Come what may, though, I won't leave you."

He told Niya not to worry, that they would face any menace together, as man and wife. He got to work. He first covered the window on the outside with his net. He then went inside, bolted the door and waited with Niya.

Before long, a black hawk swooped down from the heavens. After several days of angry screeching and circling the roof and door, the black hawk flew away. The husband and wife waited a day or so, and then he said it was safe to venture outside.

And so they resumed their lives.

But there came a day when, bringing home his day's catch of fish, the fisherman found the little hut empty and the door, ajar. He raced back outside, calling Niya's name. He searched for her everywhere but to no avail. His search finally ended a little way down the beach. There he found her, lying half in the water, half on the sand, her crumpled body covered by telltale peck marks . . .

The fisherman buried Niya in front of his hut. Not once did he remove himself from the spot; everyday he mourned for his lost wife until the tears just would not flow anymore and his throat had become raw and mute. Before long, he too faded away while kneeling atop Niya's grave.

In time wild geese started flying to the little island. They gathered bits of earth and moss in their beaks and deposited the load over Niya and her husband's final resting place. The mound grew bigger and bigger, as did the island. The local fishing families gave the island a new name, the name it is still known by, Niya Island, or Wild Goose Island.

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Wu, pp. 197-199.

Another folktale known to scholars as "the supernatural wife," a tale type known throughout the world. Motifs: F986.16, "Extraordinary swarms of birds"; Q42, "Generosity rewarded"; and T111.2, "Woman from sky-world marries mortal man."

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