Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Deer Husband (Taiwan -- Amis)

Note: This rather sad and grim tale is not intended for younger readers. 

In a village, there was a young unmarried woman who lived with her family. One day, out of the blue, she started going out to the field to work alone, refusing all help or even just the simple company of someone else.

Ha, thought her mother, this daughter of mine always goes out to the field by herself, never allowing anyone else to go with her. That's not normal. I wonder what's going on with her.

One day the mother told the daughter, "You know, you needn't go out to do all the work by yourself. Somebody can go with you."

"No, thank you, " said the daughter. "It's not necessary."

Far from settling the issue, the daughter's reply only deepened the mother's worries and suspicions. The mother had an idea, however.

That day at noon, the mother carried a lunchbox to her daughter. Nearby where she knew her daughter would be, she stopped. She heard two people, one of whom was her daughter, talking, laughing merrily. She rushed into the clearing only to find her daughter, alone.

"Oh, who was just here seconds ago?" asked the mother. "I am sure I heard you talking and laughing with someone."

"No one else is here as you can see. I am alone."

The mother looked around their field. Surely somebody had to be helping her daughter! The girl couldn't have done all the field chores by herself.

"Daughter, where have you hidden him?"

"Whom?"

"You know whom! The person, the young man, who was obviously here laughing and joking with you and helping you!"

"There is no one else here with me!"

The conversation ended and that was that, for the time being, anyway.

A few days later, the millet and yams were ready for harvesting.

The father told his wife, "I'm going out to the field to take a look."

He found the millet and yams ready for gathering; he also noted how well manicured the field was and how hard more than one person must have worked to make the field appear this way.

Who else has been here? he thought. Just my daughter? She is the only one responsible for making the field picked clean of all weeds, for watering it? All by herself? Impossible!

The father poked around the area for a bit longer and then for the first time, noticed a path nearby.

Hmm, he thought. This is curious. And look, footprints . . . 

The father went home and called all the family members together.

"Who else besides Daughter has been working out in the field, weeding and watering and so on?" he asked.

"I haven't!" everyone but Daughter replied.

"I see . . . " said the father, his mind clouded by the mystery.

He went back out to the field and poked around some more. The millet and yams lay neatly in rows, waiting to be picked, sitting undisturbed. Nearby the rows of millet and yams were some tracks he had not noticed earlier--deer tracks.

Now, this is the strangest thing of all! he thought. Here are all the millet and yams, and next to them, deer tracks. Why, this deer could have eaten its fill of yams and millet but didn't do so. Now, that begs some explaining. Anyway, I've got to take care of that deer before it becomes hungry . . . 

The father returned home for his bamboo rifle and then went back to the edge of the field to wait for the deer.

Before long, a deer, an antlered buck, entered the field from the forest.

Come on, buck deer, come on . . . the father thought. Just a little closer . . . 

He let the buck walk into his sights.

Peng!

The buck was hit and now down on the ground. The father hoisted the dead creature up and slung it over his shoulders and carried it home.

The daughter began to tremble when she saw what her father had brought home.

"Turn . . . his . . . head . . . toward . . . me . . . Father . . ." she said. "Let . . . me take a . . . look . . . " When her father did as she asked, she shrieked. "Why did you kill him? Why did you kill my husband?"

"What? What did you say?"

"Yes! My husband! He was my husband!"

The daughter pushed her father away and scurried up one of the poles that supported the roof. Then, she climbed along the roof beam until she was directly over the dead buck's head. She leaped from the beam and fell directly onto the buck's antlers, impaling herself, quickly dying.

The family gathered around, with the broken-hearted father shaking his head, tearfully saying, "So, that was her husband all along . . . No wonder the field had been so well tended . . . "

from 
Lin Daosheng, Vol. 2; pp. 163-165. (See the posting for 7/4/17 for complete citation.)

In this version of an animal groom tale, the deer husband never materializes into a human. He remains a true deer, apparently without a human soul. A young woman has a lover who is literally a wild animal, reflecting the willingness of the civilized but immature individual to give in to the more carnal, unrestrained, uncivilized world of nature. It is the long-lost primordial world to which our prehistoric ancestors once belonged (or so we imagine) and to which many claim they long to return. It is no surprise that the parental authority figure steps in and quashes the affair, for there is no going back to the lamented distant past for any of us. 

Motifs: B601.10, "Marriage to deer"; B611.5, "Deer paramour."


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