Friday, March 30, 2018

The Eggshell Boy (Indigenous Taiwanese)--Part Two

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

The father was not so quick to believe his son's words.

"Son, my dear son," said the father, with a heavy heart, as the mother looked on, "how do I tell you the truth? Well, I'll just come out and say it. How could a lovely girl fall in love with the likes of you? Be realistic. I mean, you are an egg! If you go around saying a beautiful girl loves you, why, you'll put folks in stitches. Wouldn't that be embarrassing?

The eggshell boy said no more about it.

Then came the day of the big village sports meet. The activities for the young men of the village would include wrestling and foot racing.

"I'm taking part in the racing meet, Father and Mother," the eggshell boy said.

"What?!" asked the mother.

"Yes, what?" asked the father.

"Aren't you concerned you might get trampled or crushed?" asked the mother. "You are a shell, my son! Might the shell not get cracked? Besides, you'd be seen in public."

"Don't worry about me," their son said. "Where there's a will, there's a way, and I have a way."

And off he rolled towards the sports meet.

He then rolled onto the grounds where the events were being held. There, he hid himself amongst all the feet of the spectators to watch for a while all the events. If a foot brushed against him or was about to step on him, he'd cry, "Hey, watch it! Don't step on me!" The foot would then be hastily pulled away by its owner.

He tired of this, and then, when no one was watching him, he rolled off to a deserted area behind all the people, where he came out of his eggshell and hid the shell in some bushes. He then ran over to join the young me of the village waiting to run in the big race of the day.

They were off and running!

The tall, strapping young men of the village were fast but not as fast as the eggshell boy. He easily outdistanced them and passed the midpoint mark way before any of them. He reached the finish line nice and early, while all the other young men ran through his dust. The young maiden he liked was there, and she was delighted to see her friend and neighbor win. She joined the throng that gathered to proclaim the eggshell boy top champion.

"Let's walk home together," she said.

"We'll walk for a bit," he answered. Halfway to her home, he said, "Look, I need to attend to something. You go on home without me."

"Then shall we see each other again?"

"Yes, of course! Come to my house tonight."

He then ran back to his eggshell and reentered it.

Back home again, he told his parents, "Well, Father and Mother, I won first place in the big race today!"

His parents were speechless at first, but then they began to have deep doubts about it, disbelieving their son had even been there. They said no more about it.

Later that very night, the pretty young maiden arrived at the eggshell boy's home.

"May we help you, young woman?" asked the parents, opening the door.

"Excuse me, Auntie and Uncle," she asked, "but is your son at home?"

"'Son?' Er . . . er . . . we don't have a son," replied the father. "Have you mistaken our house for someone else's?"

From his basket on the floor, the eggshell boy bellowed, "You don't have a son? Am I not your son?"

"Ahem! Ahem! Let's not embarrass ourselves, shall we?" replied the red-faced father, his teeth clenched.

"Who's embarrassed?" the eggshell boy replied. "This is who I am. Whoever doesn't love me for who I am can go find someone else to love for all I care!"

The maiden, nonplussed, excused herself and left.

The next day between the two neighboring fields, the maiden and the eggshell boy, having already hidden his shell, met.

"I was at the house you had said was yours, but the two adults there said they didn't have a son."

"You were at the right house. I was there. How could you have not seen me?" he asked.

"Just those two older people and a strange talking egg were there!"

"The couple are my parents."

"Then . . . that . . . means . . . the talking egg . . . was . . . "

He smiled, nodded, and pointed to his own chest.

The maiden was more mystified than ever but said no more. Later, at sundown, they walked home together.

"Say," said the boy, "you go on ahead. I have to take care of something."

"All right," she answered.

This time, though, she only pretended to walk away. She walked around the bend, hid, and then returned and watched the boy scurry down the path in the other direction. She quickly but quietly followed him to some bushes off the path and, there, watched him uncover an eggshell and enter it.

That night the maiden went back to the eggshell boy's home, and this time she didn't ask for their son. No, instead, she quietly whispered for them to come outside, which they did.

"I know the talking egg in your home  is your son," she said, "but please listen to me. Inside the eggshell is a very handsome, hardworking, and clever young man. I have seen with my own eyes how he can enter the shell. He doesn't really need that eggshell, but he continues to hide within it."

"Yes," said the father, "I suspected something like that."

"Yes," said the mother, "and it's our doing--my man's and my own. We must go in and tell him to come out of his shell."

"Please don't do that yet," said the maiden. "I have a better idea."

She told them of her plan.

The next morning, the egg announced it was going off to the field to work. The father and mother watched the egg roll away. Also watching was the maiden, hiding behind a tree. Then, the three of them--the father, the mother, and the maiden--followed the egg as it rolled down the path towards the field. From afar and hiding in the brush, they watched the egg roll off the path into the bushes. Shortly after, a small but very handsome youth emerged from the bushes and continued onto the field.

When the sun was ready to go down, the youth--the eggshell boy without his shell--reappeared on the path and went to fetch his hidden eggshell. However, the eggshell was nowhere to be found. Had he come to the right spot? Yes, he had left certain marks in the dirt and rearranged twigs and such, so this was the right spot beyond a doubt. Yet, there was no sign of the eggshell. He scoured the area just in case he had been mistaken about the location of the eggshell.

One hour turned into two, and two, into three.

The youth, upset and shocked, sat down in the dirt, his head in his hands.

"You don't need that eggshell anymore!" a voice cried. "It's gone, gone for good!"

The youth looked up. Standing before him were his father and mother.

"That's right, Son!" cried the father, embracing him. "You don't need it anymore."

"Our wonderful son!" cried the mother, likewise embracing him.

The lad and his parents returned home. They got rid of the egg basket and instead prepared a real grass-mat bed for him.

He now became another one of the village's stalwart, hardworking young men, and, yes, soon afterward he married his sweetheart, the beautiful maiden whose family field lay next to his.

Cai Tiemin, pp. 55-59; Chen Guoqiang, pp. 40-44; Riftin, pp. 94-98. For full citations, please see the previous posting for 3/29/18. 

Riftin (96)  mentions variants of this story are known to the indigenous Paiwan, Binan, Atayal, and Rukai communities. Unfortunately, Mainland Chinese scholars persist in using the artificial umbrella term for the Indigenous Taiwanese, Gaoshan [高山族], or "Highland people," "High Mountaineers," etc. I find this term rather pejorative and insensitive, as it is often used to identify the origin of a tale, myth, and legend rather than the name of the specific community from which the story originates.

Myths and legends about very small young men who, in Tom Thumb fashion, set out to prove their worth abound in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, and Japan. Often, these characters are born from melons, gourds, or eggs and become culture heroes and the progenitors of a clan (see Ho Ting-jui, 66-74; for full citation, see the notes for the 12/20/17 posting). This particular story, like the Japanese "Momotaro," where an old couple raise a miraculous strong boy who springs from a peach is a folktale or fairy tale, not a myth or legend, in that the story apparently doesn't seek to establish a family's royal or sacred pedigree. It also doesn't provide any place or personal names that have come down to us, as is the case with myths and legends. Perhaps "Eggshell Boy" had once been a myth or legend that took root in an outlying Indigenous Taiwanese region and was gradually transformed into a folktale/fairy tale devoid of all mythical or legendary trappings. 

A number of tales, including this one, seem to suggest that unnatural unions (e.g., mortal and immortal; human and animal) or those in which the childbearing years have long passed will result in an offspring  who, in some way, won't, don't, or can't fit in with society in some dramatic or even monstrous way and who must be secluded  or hidden. However, if the parent or parents can provide their child with love, care, and understanding, the child may achieve a liberation from that which  negatively singles him  or her out  and finally enables the child to obtain self-actualization (Bettelheim, 70; for full citation, see the notes for the posting for 11/23/17). 

Stories about plucky little underdog heroes like Eggshell Boy both delight and encourage small children. Because of their own small size and lack of maturity, small children are on the lower end of the pecking order in a household of adults and older siblings and need, whether they know it or not, ego boosts (Bettelheim, 103-105). The journey of the Eggshell Boy from birth to complete self-actualization takes him through periods in which his parents hide him, doubt his abilities, and even mock him. Yet, he ignores the parental naysayers and their poor attempts to hide their shame of having an egg for a son and to just accept a status quo or whatever is second or third best. Moreover, he perseveres with various tasks, including wooing the one he loves and triumphs in the end. What small child wouldn't find any of this gratifying on some level?

I would be greatly remiss if I didn't mention how recently two of my students, Leo and Selina, simultaneously pointed out that this story is about someone's "coming out of his shell." The metaphor they used is very appropriate. 

This tale most resembles tale type AT 700, "Tom Thumb," for which there are also cognates in Chinese folk literature. 

Motifs: D1610.29, "Speaking egg(s)"; F611.1.11 "Strong hero born from egg"; T542, "Birth of a human being from an egg"; cT553, "Thumbling born as a result of the hasty wish of parents."

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