A child was born to a middle-aged couple in an Amis village, and his parents named him Ya'ai, meaning "that which is good."
And he was good, a very good boy--lively, intelligent, and handsome. By the age of seven or eight, he could sing and dance very well. By the time he was ten, he was already out hunting deer.
Then, when he was eighteen years old, disaster struck. A contagion swept through the village and carried off, along with many others, his beloved parents, leaving Ya'ai orphaned, on his own now to face the coming days.
One day Ya'ai found himself up in the lush vegetation of the mountains, hunting wild goats and deer. He thought about all the times his father and he had been out hunting together and began to feel sad and to miss his parents. To cheer himself up, he began to sing a song his parents had taught him in his childhood.
He heard something, causing him to stop singing. It sounded like this: "Wu-ah, wu-ah, wu-ah!" He followed the sound to its source inside the woods. There, in a clearing, was a huge python which had wrapped itself around a doe.
Ya'ai took an arrow and shot it at the python, hitting it. The python relinquished its hold on the doe and slithered away as fast as it could into the dense forest. Ya'ai then walked over to the doe, which was struggling to stand up. He patted the doe's chest and said, "Pretty creature, you shall live today. Go off now and join your mate."
The doe, however, didn't bolt towards the forest as Ya'ai had expected it would. Instead, it slowly got up and followed Ya'ai at a distance. Ya'ai, amused, shrugged his shoulders and headed home, with the doe still following him all the way back.
The next morning, Ya'ai returned to the same mountain to hunt. This time there was no sight of the doe. As it turned out, there was nothing to hunt up on the mountain, so he returned home by noon. He had just entered his hut when he heard a rustling and a scurrying of feet. Through a crack in the doorway, he beheld a very beautiful young woman in his modest home.
He threw the door open, stormed in, and asked, "Who are you? From whose family in our village do you come? And what are you doing here?"
The young woman looked startled and embarrassed. She seemed to look for a place to hide. Finding none, she looked downwards.
Finally, she spoke. "You don't know me, then?"
"No, Maiden. I've never seen you before in my life."
"Yesterday . . . you saved me . . . from being devoured by a python . . . "
She had been the doe he had rescued, and, now, here she was in human form. She then asked him a question in return: Would Ya'ai consent to his taking her for his wife?
Yes, he would and he did. They became husband and wife. She became known to him simply as "Deer Maiden." Deer Maiden would accompany Ya'ai on his hunting trips as well help him to till the small plot of land on which they could grow yams and other crops.
They loved each other very much and lived happily in each other's company.
One morning, Deer Maiden told Ya'ai, "I shan't be going on hunts with you any longer, Ya'ai. Instead, I plan to stay home and weave."
"Wonderful idea," said Ya'ai. "That's fine, then." He prepared to leave for a day's hunting.
"Ya'ai, please listen very carefully to what I am about to say before you leave for the mountain today. When you return, do not enter the hut while I am weaving. Also, never spy on me as I weave."
Ya'ai nodded his head and left to do his hunting.
Early that evening when Ya'ai had returned home, he discovered that Deer Maiden had woven for him a magnificent suit of clothes. Ya'ai looked upon this suit with astonishment and pride in his wife's talent.
The next day, Ya'ai put on the new suit to go hunting. On his way out of the village, several people asked him about his clothing, complimenting him.
"Say, Ya'ai," asked one friend, "where on earth did you get such a great pair of pants and vest? They're great!"
"Ya'ai," asked another, "where can I get myself such a wonderful set of clothes?"
Inundated by such questions, Ya'ai finally answered, "My wife made them!"
Then, the wives of his friends came out and marveled at Ya'ai's clothes.
"I want to see her weave! I want to see how she is able to create such wonderful clothes!" one woman said.
"No, I'm afraid that's impossible," replied Ya'ai. "My wife said no one is to watch her weave."
"Ya'ai," said one of the wives, "go back home and tell your wife that we women of the village, her friends and neighbors, want her to teach us to weave!"
"Well, I don't know . . ."
"Ya'ai, come on! What harm is there in asking?"
"Oh, all right . . ."
Ya'ai then went back home and told Deer Maiden about his encounter with his friends and their wives and how they, the wives, had requested that she teach them to weave.
"My dear Ya'ai, I'm sorry but no," said Deer Maiden. "I cannot teach them. I cannot let them or you see me weave. But if they wish for me to weave them a set of clothes, I shall be happy to do so."
Ya'ai had to agree; however, his suspicions about what was actually going on while Deer Maiden weaved only increased. Still, though, he kept his suspicions to himself.
One day he deliberately came home early from hunting. He sneaked into his house, tiptoeing so as not to disturb his wife who was busy weaving in the other room. The door was opened a crack, so he peered in.
Seated before the loom was Deer Maiden, collecting the raw fabric from which she would do her amazing, unique weaving. And what was this raw fabric? From her torso and arms, she painfully plucked golden, radiant strands of fur that magically grew. Over and over again, Deer Maiden allowed these strands to appear and only then to pluck them once they did so. Ya'ai watched her do this laborious, agonizing task and saw the tears that came to her eyes from the stinging pain that resulted when the fur was plucked.
All this just for me; all this just for our friends and neighbors, he thought.
"Stop! Don't weave anymore!" he cried, barging into the room.
"Ya'ai! How could you! I warned you!" cried Deer Maiden. "Now there won't be any clothes for our brothers and sisters in the village. You and I can no longer be husband and wife."
Deer Maiden wrapped her arms around her face and head; she dropped onto the floor and dissolved into wisps of smoke that floated out the window.
"No!" screamed Ya'ai. "Come back! I'm sorry . . ." But it was too late.
Ya'ai went out in search of Deer Maiden. He went up the mountain and down into every valley. He searched wide and far for her, but he never saw her again.
So, what really became of Deer Maiden? People say that the demon Gawa'si snatched her up for allowing her weaving skills to become divulged. Perhaps this is why for so long people would rather drape themselves in capes made of leaves rather than wear finer apparel made from deer fur.
Cai Tiemin, pp. 85-87. See 3/29/18 for bibliographic information.
The Chinese version doesn't reveal any information about Gawa'si. A similar tale from the Gaddang-speaking people of the Philippines tells of a hunter who married a woman he had rescued from a python. Once married, she made him promise not to spy on her at noontime. He eventually broke the promise, causing her to revert to her original form, a dying crocodile, lamenting her husband's inability to keep his word (Damiana L. Eugenio, 147-148; see 11/23/17 for bibliographic information). Thus, Deer Maiden, like the Wife From the River Depths and Yuki Onna, is lost forever.
"Deer Maiden" is yet another variant from the worldwide cycle of animal/supernatural bride tales. As such, it contains the traditional motifs of the man's gaining a supernatural/animal wife through his own virtuousness but then later losing her by violating a taboo. This suggests that one's own personal decency is still not enough for holding onto to a spouse who personifies the raw, untamed natural world long out of bounds for us mortals. The tragic and permanent loss through the violation of a simple taboo also suggests how much already the odds are stacked against such a union and our chances of cleaving to our ancestral past once we become civilized. A simple taboo violation can undo the entire enterprise.
Motifs: B641.2, "Marriage to woman in deer form"; C31, "Taboo: offending the supernatural wife"; C31.1, "Looking at the supernatural wife"; C300, "Looking taboo"; D314.1.3, "Transformation: deer to woman."