Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Bride of Sir Gentleman Snake -- Part Three (Hmong)

On and on the babies roared, crying even more than before, as if for some dire reason.

Ah Yang carried the babies down closer to the river.

"I'll let them look at the fish," she told Ah Yi. "Maybe they'll become distracted and stop crying."

"All right, " said Ah Yi, staying behind where she was, by the rocks.

"Oh, Ah Yi!" cried Ah Yang suddenly. "You've got to come over and see!"

"See what, Older Sister?"

"These beautiful multicolored fish! Hurry and come and see them before they swim away! Hurry!"

Poor unsuspecting Ah Yi! She got up, left the rocks and came down to the riverbank.

"Where? What fish?" asked Ah Yi.

"Over there! Over there!" Ah Yang was practically jumping up and down, pointing. "Come closer!"

Ah Yi stood next to Ah Yang and looked in the direction of Ah Yang's finger.

Dong!

Ah Yang pushed her sister Ah Yi down into the rapids of the river. Ah Yi flailed about in the water and cried for her snake husband but to no avail. Her cries became weaker and weaker until her head and arms sank beneath the water.

"Little Sister's become fish food!" said Ah Yang, cooing to Ah Yi's two children. "Little Sister's become fish food!"

She went back up to the rocks with the two children and waited for the snake husband to return.

Well, she was now dressed up in Ah Yi's clothes, she carried Ah Yi's two small children, and, of course, she even looked like her twin, Ah Yi! What could go wrong?

By and by, Sir Gentleman Snake returned from his trip into the forest, empty handed. Ah Yang immediately put on an act, pretending she was angry.

"Where the devil have you been?" she asked. "How could you leave your wife and children out here while chasing after birds? The nerve you have!"

Huh, thought Sir Gentleman Snake. That's not like Ah Yi; that's not like the woman I married! 

He stared at Ah Yang.

"Who are you in my wife's clothes, holding my children?" he asked.

"What?!" Ah Yang screeched. "Children, do you hear that father of yours? Did you hear what he just said? Listen to yourself! You must be having vision problems! First of all, you can't even catch a measly crow--some hunter you are! Ha! And now, you are suggesting I'm an impostor? Perhaps your eyesight is failing."

"Well, I . . ."

"Take a close look at me, O mighty eagle-eyed hunter! Am I not wearing your wife's clothes? What's out of place, Husband? the tunic? the skirt? the leggings? Am I also not carrying the two children your wife bore? Or, are you ready to deny them as well?"

She then began to weep. Sir Gentleman Snake did not wish to see his wife cry, if she was really his wife.

"Please stop crying! Let's go on home!"

And so they headed home, and on their way back, the snake husband was not entirely convinced the woman walking next to him, carrying his two sons, was indeed his wife. He held his tongue, though.

They finally reached home, with Ah Yang now successfully taking Ah Yi's place as the wife of Sir Gentleman Snake. A number of years later, Ah Yang bore him a child. She now lived very well with this young and handsome husband, Sir Gentleman Snake, and was as happy as a maggot in pork fat--no cares, no worries, just endless bliss.

She also continued to assume that Ah Yi was dead.

Ah Yang, however, was wrong: Ah Yi was very much alive.

Ah Yang had pushed Ah Yi into the river, and Ah Yang had seen her sink below the water. The daughter of the Dragon King saw what had befallen Ah Yi and rescued her. The Dragon Princess escorted Ah Yi to the underwater palace, and there Ah Yi was given a place to live. There, she was offered a position as a maid of honor and stayed for several years.

Speaking to the Dragon Princess, Ah Yi said, "My Princess, I deeply thank you for saving me and giving me a home for all this time, but I really must leave now and find my children and husband!"

"Very well," replied the Princess. "I understand. I'll see you back to the surface."

The Dragon Princess accompanied Ah Yi to the surface of the river and made sure she landed on the bank safely before returning to her watery realm.

Ah Yi now found herself lost in the forest. She didn't know the direction to the house of Sir Gentleman Snake. Would she be able to find it? Even if she did, would her husband still love her? And her children! She now felt the greatest pains of despair--to have survived in the watery kingdom only to die alone in the forest while searching for her husband and children!

It was precisely at this moment that Ah Yi turned into a little crow and flew up into the sky.

Flying and searching, flying and searching, she finally located her husband's home early one morning and descended to circle it.

Inside the house, Sir Gentleman Snake had just gotten up and was washing his face when he heard the pretty chirping of a small bird, a crow, outside his window. He listened carefully. Was the bird telling him something, giving him a message? The bird seemed to be singing:

"Listen up! Listen up!
Your children's noses are running!
Their little noses need to be wiped!
Listen, up! Listen up!"

He went to check on the children.

Ah Yang had also now gotten up and was washing her face when she too heard the crow sing. The little bird now sang the following:

"Listen up! Listen  up!
Ah Yang's got a dirty heart!
Whether she ever washes or not,
She'll always be dirty through and through!
Listen up! Listen up!"

Livid like someone jumping on burning coals, Ah Yang stormed out of the house, picked up a good-sized rock and threw it at the bird, knocking it off the branch and killing it.

Sir Gentleman Snake came out and saw the dead crow lying on the ground.

Poor cute little creature, he thought, fated with just a short, violent life . . . Oh, well . . . 

He buried the little crow outside the house.

A few days later, from out of the little bird's grave grew a brilliantly verdant and sturdy tree. Sir Gentleman Snake loved this tree. He would go under its ample branches to rest and to cool off in the heat of the day and to escape from the annoying mosquitoes that seemed to be everywhere except under the branches of this tree.

 However, each time Ah Yang  tried resting by this tree, she felt as if she were in an inferno and would begin to sweat buckets. Not only that but she would be attacked a by virtual armada of mosquitoes. All this happened more than once. After sweating and being stung once too often, Ah Yang, muttering words that our parents would not much appreciate if they were written down here, stormed into the house for a hatchet. She then chopped the tree down.

Her husband must not have been too happy, but what can one do once a tree is chopped down? He used some of the wood to make a club for beating laundry. The club worked very well for the snake husband and children's clothes, but not so well for Ah Yang's. As a matter of fact, her clothes became even dirtier after using the club.

She snarled, took the club, burnt it to ashes and scattered the ashes in the field. She then went stomping back into the house.

The next day Sir Gentleman Snake was out in the field exactly at the spot were the ashes had been scattered and what did he find? A mud-snail shell! He thought this find was very interesting and beautiful, so he took the shell home and placed it in a tub of water.

Then, on a day when Sir Gentleman Snake, Ah Yang, and the children had gone up the mountain to chop wood, the mud snail stirred. From out of the shell came not the mud snail but, instead, Ah Yi! While the snake husband and Ah Yang were away, Ah Yi tidied up the house, neatly folded her husband's clothes, and washed the everyone's clothes.

The work done, Ah Yi returned to the snail shell just before Ah Yang and the snake husband returned home.

This situation went on for a while without rousing too much suspicion in Sir Gentleman Snake. After a period of time, though, he became suspicious.

I don't see my wife doing anything around the house, he mused, yet the house is always neat and clean! I've never seen her do much laundry, yet all of our clothes are washed and neatly folded. 

Then it dawned on him: all these mysterious happenings--the singing, speaking crow; the mysterious tree that seemed to sprout from the crow's grave overnight; the laundry club that could somehow make clean clothes dirtier than before; and the appearance of the mud-snail shell in the field--all of them somehow seemed in their own ways to cast doubts on his wife.

Doubts began to smolder in Sir Gentleman Snake's heart as well but he said nothing.

One day he, Ah Yang and the children were out in the field when he turned to her and told her he had to return to the house.

"Why?" she asked. "We just got here."

"I want to bring some more fertilizer, a couple of sacks more. Wait for me here and watch over the children. I'll be right back."

Actually, Sir Gentleman Snake had made up the need to get the fertilizer. He wanted to see who or what it was that was cleaning his house and doing the laundry. Very stealthily like a jungle cat, he climbed up the house and then lodged himself in the eaves. From there he could see inside the house.

He waited and watched for any movement within the house . . .

Before long, his waiting paid off. He saw a young woman emanate out from the mud-snail shell in the tub. She stood up and stretched. Then she went about sweeping and washing.

Ah Yi! thought Sir Gentleman Snake.

He jumped down from his perch below the eaves and pushed open the door. He ran in and embraced his wife, his true wife, the real Ah Yi. A lot had happened; a lot had changed but not enough changes to matter.
They continued to embrace.

Outside, the bright sunny noon day sky gave way to menacing black clouds. A strong wind whipped through the trees, and soon hail came down.

Ah Yang and the children were still out in the field. As soon as the wind started blowing and the hail started coming down, Ah Yang put down her hoe and fled the area, leaving the children behind.

Off she ran, with a black cloud in pursuit, lobbing hailstones at her head. When she could run no more, the rain became a torrent of water, a river just for her, washing her far, far away, to some place where her corpse became a meal for shrimp.

The wind and the rain then stopped as suddenly as they had appeared. Sir Gentleman Snake and Ah Yi rushed out to the field and picked the crying children up and carried them back home.

From then on, they all lived very happily and lovingly as a family!

Notes

from Miaozu minjian gushi; Li Yingqiu, ed. pp. 129-134.

This story is similar to Han Chinese versions from Southwest China and Taiwan: a sister is murdered by a jealous older sister, who takes her place; the murdered sibling returns in a variety of incarnations (bird, plant, inanimate object, etc.); the murderess is humiliated by the actions of these (re)incarnated objects and animals; the murderess dies a gruesome death. However, the Hmong story differs in that the snake husband never appears to be anything but a true gentleman, unlike in the Han version, where he threatens, at least in the opening, his own future father-in-law.  In this story, the sisters' father is given more of a role. Crows/ravens also play a prominent role in the story. Often harbingers of evil in folklore, crows/ravens here also serve positive functions. The Han version also doesn't provide a spouse for the jealous sibling; in the Hmong version, she marries a monkey, which turns out to be a terrible bargain compared to the fortunate younger sister's snake husband. Also of interest is the hailstorm that foreshadows Ah Yang's doom.

This story is classified as AT 33D, "The Snake Husband."

Motifs: D1812.5.1.15, "Hailstorm as a bad omen"; cE613, "Reincarnation as bird"; E631.6, "Reincarnation in tree growing from grave"; cF420.5.1, "Kind water spirit"; K2212, "Treacherous sister"; N741.1, "Concealed wife awaits favorable moment to come forward"; Q467, "Punishment by drowning"; Q552.19, "Miraculous drowning as punishment." 






1 comment:

  1. This is a really interesting myth thank you for posting it

    ReplyDelete