Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Old Grandpa Money Rock (Hmong)

There were once two brothers who lived together and cultivated a vegetable patch. When the older brother got married, he gave his younger brother a grass rain-cape and hoe and told him to fend for himself. 

 The younger brother headed for the mountains to seek out some land unclaimed by others where he could grow his own crops. There, up in the mountains, near a large rock, he started hoeing. As he hoed, from time to time he'd look at the nearby rock sticking out of the ground. 

 Huh, he said to himself, that rock looks just like an old grandpa. 

 The sun came out; it was no longer chilly; there was no longer any chance of rain. He took off his rain-cape and laid it on top of the rock. 

 "Old Grandpa Rock!" he said affectionately. "Please help me out by holding my rain-cape for me, all right?" 

 When the day's work was done, he sat down by the rock and started talking to it as if it were an old friend. 

 "If I could be as sturdy as you, old Grandpa Rock," he said, "I'd never get tired, never get worn out."

 The younger brother worked there daily.

 Now one particular day, when he was taking a break and, as usual, talking to the rock about how hot and tired he was, the rock suddenly spoke back. "Hey, young fella, just listen. You think you're hot and tired? Every day you come here and place your hot and scratchy rain-cape on top of me! It's heavy too! Take the rain-cape off me and I'll give you something!" 

 "You'll give me something?" asked the younger brother, thinking he must be in a dream. 

 "Yes, that's what I said," replied the rock. "Tomorrow come here with a three-foot-long sack. I'll fill it up with silver coins for you!" 

 The younger brother did just exactly that. The next day he showed up with a three-foot-long burlap sack. 

 "All right," said the rock, "open it up . . . " 

 The younger brother did. As he did so, the rock opened his mouth and spat out hundreds of sparkling silver coins right into the sack. Pretty soon the sack was largely full.

 "How's that?" asked the rock. "Is that enough?"

 "Oh, it's too much!" said the younger brother. "Too much!" 

 "'Too much!'?" The rock laughed. "Few ever say 'too much.' Anyway, take the coins with you and make a fine home and life for yourself. You're a hardworking young man and deserve every coin." 

 The younger brother happily took his sack of coins back home with him. Before long his older brother discovered his riches, for they still lived near each other. 

 "How is it you became so rich, Little Brother?" he asked. The younger brother told him the whole story--about the strange rock up in the mountains, about his leaving his rain-cape on the rock, about the rock's being able to speak, about the silver coins, and so on. 

 "And this rock is easy to find?" asked the older brother. 

 "Of course! Just go up the path all the way into the mountains. You'll find a clearing on your right. In the middle of this clearing, sticking right out of the ground, there's this rock that looks like an old grandfather . . . " 

 The older brother was off like a shot up the mountain carrying his own rain-cape and hoe. He soon located the rock that looked like a grandfather. He laid his raincape on the rock and began hoeing. After hoeing all day, he sat down next to the rock for a break. 

 "Well, how are you, old Grandpa Rock?" he asked. "Is it warm enough for you today?" There was no answer. "Hello? Did you hear me, old rock? Hello?"

 Again, there was no reply. 

 The older brother spent the whole afternoon trying to get the rock to speak but all to no avail.

 "All right, all right," the man said. "I think I know how to make you talk."

 He piled stone after stone atop the rock. Soon the rock was covered with scores of other rocks. 

 "Take these stones off me!" cried the rock. "Take them off me, and I shall reward you!" The older brother greedily rubbed his hands and then removed the rocks. "Do this: Be here tomorrow with a three-foot-long sack. I'll let you fill it up with silver coins!"

 "Yes!" said the older brother. "I'll be here!" 

 Bright and early the next day, the older brother was there with his own burlap sack. 

 "All right," said the rock. "Open it up." 

 The rock then spat out a stream of silver coins. Pretty soon the sack was 98 percent full. 

 "How's that?" asked the rock. "Is that enough?"  

"No!" cried the older brother. "It's not enough! More!"

 "All right," said the rock. More shiny silver coins flew out until the sack was absolutely bulging with coins, ready to burst. "Now, how's that?" asked the rock. 

 "More, more!" cried the older brother. 

 The rock tried and tried, but he just didn't have any more coins in him. When he saw no more coins coming out, the older brother stuck both his hands into the mouth of the rock. 

 "Come on, old man rock! I know you have more coins in there!" Just then, the rocks mouth closed right on the older brother's two hands! "Aiyoooo!" screamed the older brother. "Hurry up and let go of my hands!" He stomped the ground and kicked the rock with his two feet, but the rock did nothing. It just stood still, showing no life. "Please! Please let go of me!" The old man rock showed no sign that it heard him or even cared. 

 Nightfall came and the older brother was still there, his hands stuck inside the rock. And then came a powerful downpour, soaking him and washing away his sack of coins. At daybreak, the older brother looked around. Where there had been some silver coins still lying around after the little flood, there was now nothing but dirt. Still another full day and night passed before his wife finally found him. Seeing her husband stuck this way, she burst into tears. 

 "Hey, hey, don't cry! There's no time for that now! Pull my hands out of this rock!" 

 Climbing up onto her husband's back, she tried and tried to pull his hands free but only managed to make him scream in pain. She tried again and again, but all her efforts got her nowhere. 

 Sighing, the older brother said to his wife: "Well, you might as well go back down the mountain to our house and fix me something to eat. Perhaps with some food in my belly I'll have the strength to pull my hands out of this cursed rock!" 

 The wife did so. As a matter of fact, from then on she had to prepare three meals daily for her husband since he couldn't get himself free. There he stayed for three years! He stood by the rock all through the day and night, through sticky, sweltering summer heat and the spring rains. He was ready to go mad! 

Then one day, with his wife by his side, he made up a little song and started to sing: All through the rain and wind, three full years and another April is here! Back at home, the rice shed is empty; Everything I've done has come to naught. Might as well cut you off, my two hands! 

 The rock heard this song and started to chuckle. He then laughed out loud. When the rock opened his mouth, the older brother instantly fell backwards. His hands were free! He was free! He and his wife immediately scurried down the mountain path and never again returned to that spot. 

From (1) Miaozu minjian gushi (Hmong folktales). Li Yingqiu, ed. Taipei: Mutong Chubanshe, 1978; pp. 324-329; (2) Minhua ji (A collection of popular tales). Qiu Meidai, ed. Taipei: Yongan Chubanshe, 1978; pp. 13-18. 

 Years ago I learned from an American professor who is an expert on Hmong culture that these people of Thailand, Laos, and Southwest China resent their name in Chinese (Miao) and regard it as pejorative. Thus, in accordance with their wishes, I'll refer to them by the name they themselves prefer, Hmong.

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