Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Owl Seeks a Wife (Guangdong -- Hakka)

The owl wanted to marry the partridge, so he enlisted the help of the pit snail for help, to serve as his marriage broker.

"All right, " said the pit snail to the owl, "listen very carefully. The partridge is very pretty; we all know that. As for you,  you are a fine, sturdy fellow, but there's one problem: your eyes are too large! Now, when you meet her, keep your eyes closed! Otherwise, you're liable to spoil the whole deal when we go to see her!"

"All right" was the owl's reply.

"And let me do the talking!"

"All right."

The day came when the pit snail arranged for the owl and the partridge to meet each other for the first time.

The owl kept his eyes closed as the pit snail built up the owl in front of the partridge, bragging how great, how wonderful the owl was. All was going splendidly according to the plan, with the partridge showing more and more interest in the owl as each minute passed.

Then the owl decided to take a tiny peek at the partridge. He had seen her from afar, of course, but couldn't resist the temptation of glimpsing the lovely partridge now that he was this close to her. What harm could a little peek do?

Well, there's no such thing as "a little peek" from an owl. When the partridge came face-to-face with the two huge saucer eyes staring at her inches away, she immediately flew off to a nearby hillock.

"Whew!" she squawked. "That was close! I was going to marry him!"

The pit snail was fuming. He turned to the owl and said, "I told you, I told you, I told you to keep your eyes shut! Why didn't you listen to me?"

All the owl could say was "Ku-hu! Ku-hu! Ku-hu!"

From far away, the pit snail and owl could hear the partridge say, "Sha-gua! Hao-ah! Hao-ah!"


广东民间故事全书:汕尾陆河卷 [The Complete Folktales of Guangdong: Shanwei and Luhe Volume]; Guangdong Union of Arts and Literature; Guangzhou: Lingnan Meishu; 2008; p.159.

Shanwei and Luhe are districts of Guangdong where primarily the Hakka (AKA Kejia or Hakkanese 客家) dialect is spoken. 

This pourquoi tale purports to explain the origins behind the cries of, respectively, the owl and the partridge and what they actually mean. In the story, the owl's cry of "ku-hu" is written as 苦呼, suggesting something like "Oh, the pain!" or "The bitterness!" The partridge's "Sha-gua! Hao-ah!" 傻瓜! 好啊!can be translated as "Fool! Good!" or "Okay, idiot!" The "pit" snail 坑螺 had the character  attached, suggesting this tiny creature was a shape-shifter. 

Motifs: A2426.2.17, "Origin of owl's cries"; A2427.3, "Hooting explained"; A2462.2, "Cries of birds"; B623.2, "Owl as suitor." 

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