Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Demoness (Hmong)

Long ago Farmer and Mrs. Fuxiang lived deep in the mountains, where they spent many hours and much sweat to make something out of their farm. They also raised pigs, which brought in more money.

A roaming demoness came by their farm and noticed the many pigs in the secure wooden pen by the Fuxiang home.

She wanted those pigs, but breaking down the sturdy logs of the pen would be far from easy. So, she did this: she went back down the mountain to the abandoned campsite of some shepherds, took some dry grass, thrust it in the dying embers of the fire in which they had been roasting yams, blew her breath upon it to make the fire grow, and then took the slowly growing torch with her back up the mountain to the farm. There, waiting for the west wind, she stuck the torch into a crack and set the pen wall on fire.

The fire burned and burned well!

Now the Fuxiangs had been out in the field, but from far away they could see a column of smoke and heard the squeals of their pigs. They rushed back as fast as their legs could carry them.

The demoness was long gone.

Farmer and Mrs. Fuxiang put out the fire soon enough; however, there was now a large hole in the wall of pen, and the canopy over the pen had been burned to charcoal.

That night, the farmer and his wife, each holding a club, stood watch in the pen over their pigs.
They stood all night, watching and waiting for anyone or anything that might try to come in.

"Ai," said Farmer Fuxiang, "this is no way to protect our pigs! In the morning, I'm going to find a carpenter who can repair this hole and build a new canopy!"

"Well, I guess you'd better," said his wife. "You know these mountains are full of tigers and demons, and they'd like nothing better than to devour all our pigs."

The demoness herself was hiding in the bushes and heard what the husband and wife had just said. She smiled. She had a plan.

After daybreak, the demoness turned herself into a man and put on workman's clothes. She also picked up a saw and ax and headed out of the bushes.

The demoness came up the road just as Farmer Fuxiang was coming down it.

"I'm a carpenter at your service," the demoness said to the startled farmer. "Let me guess--you have a pen in need of repair!"

"Why . . . yes . . ."

"Well, then, you'd better take me to see it! Can't let it wait too long, you know, with all these tigers and demons roaming about."

The farmer stared at this "carpenter."

"Now isn't that odd?" asked Farmer Fuxiang.

"What? What's that?"

"Well, now," continued the farmer, "I don't mean to be rude. It's just that you're a grown, mature man without the slightest trace of facial hair! Not only that, but you have a woman's voice. Are you . . . are you a man or a woman pretending to be a carpenter?"

The demoness knew she'd revealed herself, so, without saying another word, she turned and fled back into the forest.

I fouled up that chance! the demoness said to herself, as she fled farther into the forest. That's all right, though. I'll try again, next time with the wife!

Once again, the demoness set out to transform herself. This time she pulled off the leaves and branches of some trees and rubbed the dripping resin onto her face to affect the look of one who works with wood. Next, she swallowed some grains of charcoal to give her voice a grainy, scratchy quality. Still carrying her ax and saw, she also pulled up some grapevines and headed for the Fuxiang farm.

Mrs. Fuxiang was outside her home.

"Good woman!" cried the demoness. "Have some grapes?"

Mrs. Fuxiang looked up at the stranger speaking to her. "Thank . . . you . . . " she said.

"I'm a carpenter, and I can fix that pigpen of yours!"


"Yes, and what's more, I won't charge you a cent."

"Why, thank you! Please step on over to the pen!" Can it be true, thought Mrs. Fuxiang, that I have found such a wonderful carpenter, one who will even fix the pen for free?

Farmer Fuxiang showed up and joined them.

"This carpenter is willing to fix the wall of the pen for free!" Mrs. Fuxiang told her husband.

On their way over to the pen, Farmer Fuxiang took a good look at the "carpenter."

"Hmm, now isn't that a bit strange!" said the farmer.

"What? What's strange?"

"Your face is rather green."

"Oh, that," replied the demoness. "Last night I had too much wine and fell asleep in a dyeing vat. What's so strange about that?"

"And your ears--I just noticed them. They're pierced, like a lady's!"

"Oh, my ears! When I was small, I was once very sick. My mother prayed night and day at the earth god's shrine and was told to pierce my ears!"

"I see," said the farmer. "Why do you wish to repair my pen for free?"

"That's the way I am, I guess," replied the "carpenter," "full of heart! I like helping people whenever I can."

Mrs. Fuxiang leaned next to her husband and whispered into his ear. "Stop questioning him! He's already offered to help us for free. How rude can you be?"

Farmer Fuxiang deferred to his wife.

"Forgive my poor manners!" said the farmer. "Please go ahead and fix the wall of the pen."

They left the demoness alone to do the promised repairs. After several days of chopping and sawing, the hole in the pen wall was repaired. What's more, a new canopy protected the pigs from above.

"There you are!" said the demoness, still in her "carpenter" disguise. "Your pigs are now snug and safe! No tiger or demon or demoness could possibly get in there now!"

The Fuxiangs thanked the "carpenter," and "he" was on his way.

The next morning, out in the pen, Farmer Fuxiang noted that one pig seemed to be missing. He counted the pigs over and over again; sure enough, a pig was missing. He looked around the pen. Could it have gotten out somehow? No. The walls of the pigpen were tight, secure.

Oh, well, he thought, scratching his head.

Then, the next day and the next day after that, he noticed more pigs were missing, one for each day since the pen had been repaired.

The farmer and his wife looked at each other and had the same thought: the mountain god. Yes, they thought, the mountain god was taking their pigs. So, the farm couple raced over to the local mountain god shrine and prayed to the god not to take their pigs.

"Please spare us!" they prayed. "We need those pigs to sell to market!"

Not much happened after that, to their relief. Then, late one night about a month later, both husband and wife were awakened by the squeals of pigs.

The farmer tiptoed out the house and peered through a tiny opening. Inside the pen was the "carpenter"!

Aha, it was that impostor all along, thought the farmer.

Before the farmer could say or do a thing, the demoness, her feet like wings, had jumped or, more correctly, flown out of the pen with a pig under her arm.

The farmer told his wife. "You can now see why she didn't have a beard!" he said.

"What a fool I was! You were right to suspect her!" she said, slapping herself in the head.

The next day, the couple inspected the pen wall more carefully. They were not surprised to find a hidden door that permitted entry into the pen. With such a door, the demoness could enter fairly quietly. She could, if need be, make a sudden escape by leaping clear over the wall.

By sundown, the husband and wife were ready for the demoness's next visit. They both waited in the pen, the husband on one side of the door, the wife on the other. Both clutched sickles. There, they quietly waited and waited and waited . . .

Deep in the darkest part of that night, the demoness decided to make a return visit and steal yet another pig.

She crept up to the cleverly disguised secret door she herself had installed, oh so quietly opened it and gingerly stepped into the pigpen, unaware that just beyond the door stood the very angry Farmer and Mrs. Fuxiang.

Ah, the demoness thought to herself, the coast is clear yet again!

She then stuck her head and neck just a bit beyond the doorway when . . .

Whup! Whup!

The husband and wife cut her head off!

From that day on, Farmer and Mrs. Fuxiang never lost a pig again.


from Minhua ji, pp. 60-65. (Complete citation can be found on 1/13/09.)

Two other Hmong tales can be found at the postings for 1/13/09 and 2/12/09.

A hallmark of Indo-European folktales--characters being totally clueless--can be found in this story with the husband and wife not truly realizing the malevolent nature of the "carpenter" until the very end, after the trickster had had unfettered access to their pigpen. The original version in Chinese has the wife happily accepting grapes from the trickster, and both husband and wife are initially oblivious to a demoness in disguise. (Of course we're not supposed to recognize Superman is really Clark Kent without the hornrimmed glasses.)

The original version does not explain the relationship with a male child's having an illness, the parent's subsequent visit to the local earth god's shrine, and then having the child's ears pierced.

Motifs: F1071.2.1, "Enormous leap"; K521.2.5, "Disguise as a carpenter"; K1810, "Deception by disguise"; and K1832, "Disguise by changing voice."

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