Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Price of Being Beautiful (Puyuma)

Note: This is a rather grim tale probably not suitable for younger kids. The Brothers Grimm (no pun intended) would have probably approved of it, as would have Alfred Hitchcock.

In Lu Family Village, there once lived an exceedingly beautiful maiden--lovelier than peonies or jade--and her name was Jun. While all the young lads in the village practically lined up to ask her hand in marriage, the rest of the village girls resented her from the deep pits of their stomachs. Jun thus found herself constantly the target of spiteful rumors and innuendos.

The ringleader of the malicious girls, Paishim, feigned friendship for Jun and invited her to go swimming--just the two of them.

"Just we two, Paishim?" asked Jun.

"That's right, you and me and not the rest! Well, are you up to it?"

"Yes, let's go!"

Jun and Paishim went to the river bank, where they both took off their clothes. They both then jumped into the river and began swimming. When Jun took in some water and began coughing, Paishim, swimming next to her, ignored her distress. At the worst moment of the crisis, Paishim simply swam back to the river bank as Jun thrashed about and began to sink.

Paishim climbed back onto land. With Jun's having disappeared from sight, Paishim donned Jun's clothes, buried her own, and headed to Jun's hut.

In the darkness of the night and interior of the poorly lit hut, Jun's parents thought their daughter had returned home for their evening meal.

Hmm, why, when my daughter normally eats like a sparrow, thought the mother, is she now eating like a starving hound? 

How strange, thought the father. Jun's voice is usually as soft as twinkling chimes. Why does her voice now sound like a blade sawing through a log?

The mother and then the father leaned in and took a closer look at the one who claimed to be their daughter. They then both turned to each other with stern expressions and nodded to each other as Paishim continued to eat away as if there were no tomorrow.

The parents had instantly thought the same things: She's an impostor, an evil shapeshifter from the forest who's taken our daughter's form and clothing, probably after having murdered her. And now here she is, before us, wearing our Jun's clothes. Letting her live would unleash ten thousand disasters upon our heads and those of other villagers . . . She must die!

The mother and father again exchanged looks and realized they had come to the same conclusion.

With grave determination, the parents set about doing the task. They arose and slowly approached the unsuspecting Paishim, still eating . . .

"What is it?" she asked. "What's wrong . . . ?"

While this was going on, Jun, instead of floating dead in the river, was drying off in a farmer's house, having been rescued by this passing farmer from a nearby settlement across the river.

"May I at least return home, along with you, to my parents to let them know I am all right?" she asked him.

"No, I already told you. I rescued you, and so you belong to me!"



She tried telling him how she missed her parents and how worried they must be about her not returning home. All the urging and begging she did turned out to be futile; the farmer demanded that she belong to him.

So there Jun stayed, a guarded prisoner in the farmer's house, with no apparent way to escape and return to her parents and her own home. She spent every waking moment thinking of ways to flee from her captor. If only there was a way . . .

One day, in frustration, she took the bamboo comb she was using and flung it out the window. A small plant grew from the patch of ground where it had landed. This plant, in time, grew into a great tree with mighty branches. In several years' time, the branches reached all the way across the river.

When she was alone for a few moments one day, Jun opened the window, climbed up the tree, and walked on the branches over the river back to her village and to her home. There, she found both her parents on the verge of death, both continuing to mourn the daughter they believed had surely been murdered and nearly replaced by a deadly forest shapeshifter. How joyful they now were to see Jun need not be detailed but only imagined! They had their daughter back, their spirits revived, and here the story ends.

Shi Cuifeng, ed. 台湾民间故事. [Taiwan folktales]. N.p.: Hebei Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 2005; pp. 245-246.

Much of this story seems like an urban legend; much, however, especially with the clueless characters like Paishim, who thinks she can impersonate Jun and the robotic parents who don't immediately grasp they have an impostor in their midst, reads like a folktale. 

The concept of forest/mountain shapeshifters still exists among both the indigenous Taiwanese and the Han Chinese Taiwanese. 

The Puyuma, or Binan, live on the southeast side of Taiwan, just above the peninsula. 

Motifs: D1072.1, "Magic comb"; cF1071.1, "Crossing the river with the help of a fig tree whose branches reach the opposite bank"' K1931, "Impostor abandons or kills companion and usurps his (her) place": cK1931.1, "Impostor throws hero overboard into sea (river)"; Q261, "Treachery punished"; Q262, "Impostor punished."

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