Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Bleeding Tree (Baima)

Long ago there was a walled village on the slopes of a mountain. Halfway up this mountain was a crag out of which there grew a tree with black leaves.

Every day this tree would cast its shadow onto the water vat belonging to a family whose home was located at one end of bridge that crossed a reservoir. In the evening the tree blocked the moonlight in another direction, likewise casting a shadow over a different family's water vat.

Both households continually prospered.

This situation was not lost on the rest of the villagers. Those who pondered would think, Both families have their water vats shaded by the tree with black leaves. Both are also very prosperous families. Why, though? What's the connection?

Finally, someone in the village said to some others, "Listen. It's very simple. The tree shrouds only their water vats and no one else's. That's unfair! The tree's clearly biased towards those two households! The tree won't shade our water vats and let us enjoy some of the wealth, so let's cut down that despicable tree that plays favorites!"

This angry man and his hangers-on went up the slope of the mountain and prepared to chop the tree down. All day long, they took turns hacking away at the tree but to no avail. The tree stood as sturdy as ever. They called it a day and headed back home.

That night, one of those who had tried to cut the tree down had a vivid dream. In the dream, the tree with black leaves spoke to him, saying, "Those fellows don't realize how close they really came to cutting me down. They also don't know I'm not afraid of cutting or chopping. I'm only afraid of coming and going."

The next day this man told the others who wished to cut down the tree what the tree had said in his dream.

Hearing the contents of the dream, one of the men said, "The tree said it doesn't fear cutting or chopping, just 'coming and going.' 'Coming and going . . .' That can mean only one thing: The tree is afraid of sawing!"

The men located a saw and rushed up the mountain to finish the job. They sawed down the tree easily enough.

Once the tree with black leaves had been cut down, out from the stump flowed blood . . .

A terrible mistake had been made, but of course now it was too late.

Within a few days, all the men who had participated in sawing the tree down died one by one from illness. The two families who had enjoyed prosperity from the tree's shadows now entered into financial decline. The crag from which the tree had grown split in two large formations leaning precariously over the village. The villagers, cursing the men who had sawed the tree, begged the rock for forgiveness and performed rites at the scene to protect the village.

The two rocks did not roll down and are still up there. It is said that if one stands on the road outside the village, one can spot those two separate crags perched above.

from
陇南白马人民俗文化研究 [Studies in the Folklore of the Baima People of Longnan]; Lanzhou: Gansu Renmin Chubanshe, 2012.

The Baima, or Baima Tibetans, are spread out through Gansu (the location of Longnan) and Sichuan Provinces. They originally didn't possess their own writing system. They preserve an animist and totemic religious system with influences from the ancient Tibetan Bon religion. 白馬人 - 维基百科,自由的百科全书Baima people - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The "tree with black leaves" may be the goldenrain, or Koelreuteria paniculata, native to the Far East and introduced to North America in the 18th century. Its Chinese name is luan [栾树], but it's also known as "the tree with black leaves." 

Motifs: cC51.2.2, "Tabu: Cutting sacred tree"; D950, "Magic tree"; *D1316.5, "Magic speaking tree betrays secret"; D1316.5.1, "Voice comes forth from tree, revealing truth"; F811.20, "Bleeding tree"; Q301, "Jealousy punished." 


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