Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Eggshell Boy (Indigenous Taiwanese)--Part One

There once were an older couple. They had already reached the age when they couldn't bring a child into the world, yet they so much desired to have a child of their own. Now the husband had heard that if they built a small altar to a certain god in their home and prayed before this altar with the utmost earnestness, they would indeed have a child.

And so the husband built such an altar, and both prayed fervently before it, beseeching the god for a child.

Lo and behold--the wife one day discovered the telltale signs that she was to have a baby, and ten months later, she finally gave birth to . . . a small egg.

Oh, why? she thought. Why couldn't it have been a healthy child? No, instead it is a tiny egg! I'm already old,  and now I have an egg, not a child, to care for. If only I had known! I wouldn't have prayed just to have this egg. 

She made her disappointment known to her husband, who just waved his hand and dismissed her, saying, "All right, so it's an egg! Anyway, it's what you gave birth to, so you and I'll need to love and to take care of it. We'll just make sure no one finds out it is our child. We'll keep it hidden from others. What others cannot see will not bring shame or embarrassment to us."

So, they set out to take the best care they could of this egg, showering it with love. They made a basket for the egg to keep it nice and safe. They would rush home from working in the fields every day just to behold the egg, their egg. True, they were rather sad that the child they had longed for turned out to be just a small egg, but in time they grew to love the egg and to appreciate having it. At the same time, they told no one about their having an egg instead of an actual child.

When the egg began making the sounds of an infant several months later, the old couple were overjoyed. Could intelligent speech be not far behind? And then the egg began to move, to rock within its basket. When the basket was placed on the floor, the egg would cause the basket to tip over, without any harm to the egg, and then the egg would roll all over the floor.

Once the egg reached the age of eight, it could make intelligent speech and said one day in a boyish voice, "Father, Mother, I know other children my age have chores. I want to take care of our water buffalo."

"Don't be silly," said the father. "You're an egg. What are you going to do if the animal strays off? Chase after it by rolling on the ground?"

The egg didn't laugh but instead replied, "I won't need to chase or roll after the water buffalo. Just place me in its ear, and I shall be with the animal every second. I'll be able to guide it and stop it from wandering off."

"All right," said the father, "I'll do that. Let's see then what you can do!"

The father placed the small egg into the water buffalo's ear so that the egg could control the animal's movements. The egg started singing a song. People who passed by the water buffalo heard singing coming from the creature but couldn't see who was singing. Some walked by believing the water buffalo itself was actually singing.

The father observed all this and was both amused and very proud of his legless, armless, and headless son's resourcefulness. But had the father now changed his mind and wanted to show his son to the world? No. He and his wife still kept their son away from the eyes of others.

The egg knew that boys his age would go out to the woods to chop firewood, so one day he rolled over to his father and said, "Father, I want to go to the forest to chop firewood."

"Oh, you must be really joking now," said the father. "It's one thing to guide a water buffalo when you're lodged in its ear, but, really now, how can you chop firewood, my son? You have neither arms nor hands!"

"Father, Father, it wouldn't be difficult. Just tie a hatchet around me. Then I'll show you how I can chop firewood."

"All right . . . "

The father tied a hatchet to the egg by wrapping a string around and around the egg to secure the handle. Then he said to his son, "Well, let's go."

"I'll go alone, Father."

"All right, then. Go alone, but make sure no one--I mean no one--sees you!"

"As you say, Father."

And so the egg, with the hatchet securely attached, rolled out towards the forest. Then, in a place where no one else could see him, he exited his shell. Invisible seams of his eggshell came open, and out hopped a tiny boy. He took the hatchet off the shell and covered his eggshell up. Then, carrying the hatchet, he headed for the woods. He chopped a large amount of firewood, and carried it back to the spot where his eggshell was hidden. He neatly stacked the firewood, re-tied the hatchet to the shell, and reentered the shell. The invisible seams once again sealed the boy inside the eggshell. He rolled back home again.

"Father!" he cried, returning home. "Done! But you'll need to bring out the wheelbarrow. Let me lead you to where the firewood is stacked."

The father, once he had reached the spot his son--the egg--had directed him to, looked upon the neatly stacked tower of firewood.

"If I didn't see it with my own two eyes, I wouldn't believe it," said the father.

The son had proven to his father his worth as a worker. He was no longer just a clever talking egg anymore. Now, he was allowed to go to the forest and the field at will and to do just about what everyone else his age did for chores.

One day, halfway to his family's field, he saw ahead of him on the path a very pretty maiden walking away. He quickly left his shell and covered it up. Then, as fast as he could, he ran after the girl to catch up to her.

"Young lady, where are you off to?"

The young woman stopped in her tracks and looked around. No one was there!

"I said, 'Young lady, where are you off to?'"

She turned around and looked down. This time she saw him, a very small but very handsome young lad.

"I'm going to our field to work," she replied.

"Where's your field?"

"Right over there." She pointed in the direction. "See it?"

"It's right next to my family's field. Let's go together."

"All right," she said, "let's go!"

All afternoon they sang to each other as they worked. When they reached the spot where the eggshell had been hidden, the tiny boy said, "You go ahead home; it's not far from here. I still have things I need to do."

The maiden nodded and headed home, apparently without any suspicions.

Once back inside his eggshell, the boy quickly rolled home.

"Father! Mother!" he cried upon arriving home. "A very lovely maiden is in love with me!"


Cai Tiemin, ed.  高山族民间故事选 [A Selection of Indigenous Taiwanese Folktales].; Shanghai: Wenyi Chubanshe, 1987; pp. 55-59; Chen Guoqiang, ed. 高山族神话传说 [Indigenous Taiwanese Myths and Legends]. Fuzhou: Renmin Chubanshe, 1980; pp. 40-44; Riftin, Boris. 從神話到鬼話:台灣原住民神話故事比較研究 [From Myths to Ghost Stories: A Comparative Study of Indigenous Taiwanese Myths]; Taichung: Morning Star Publishing, 1999; pp. 94-98. 

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