Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Blind Woman's Curse (Amis)

There once lived a blind widow named E'shapu. She lived with her two nieces who tilled the soil on their land near a village.

One year the youths of the village decided to set some controlled fires on and near a local mountain to  flush out game animals into snares rather than going out and hunting the animals as their forefathers had done in the traditional way. The young men sat around, discussing the various strategies for pulling this project off.

"We'd probably have a lot more success," said one, "if we could also burn the old blind woman's field, too."

The other young men thought that was a good idea, so the group of them went to E'shapu and informed her of what they had planned to do--to burn her field.

"No, absolutely not!" said E'shapu. "You won't find any animals in or coming out of my field! Besides, if you do this, how will I survive? I just have this field  on which to grow some crops. You burn it and I'll have nothing!"

The young men were unmoved by her pleas and gave their reasons, how it would benefit the village to ensnare once and for all the animals taking refuge in the tall grasses and so on.

"No!" said the old woman again. "Don't do this, I'm telling you! Leave my field alone!"

"Very well, Auntie," said one. "Suppose you allow us to go to your field to see for ourselves if any of these deer and wild goats are lurking there."

"Go ahead!" was her response. "Make yourselves happy and satisfied."

The youths set out for E'shapu's field with its tall, flowing stalks of grain. There, they beheld many spotted deer, water deer, and wild goats.

"Come on and burn the field now while these animals are still here!" cried one of the boys. "What are we waiting for? Let's drive them into our hands!"

And so they methodically set fires that practically drove these deer and goats into their open arms. Having captured the animals, they butchered a number of them. They cut off the head of a small deer and took it to E'shapu. They found the woman sitting on a grass mat in her hut.

"Auntie, we've brought some things for you!" said one of the young men. "Animal heads! You can use them as containers."

Then, they dropped the single head pudong! pudong! onto her floor over and over again, picking it up and dropping again, to gull the old blind widow into thinking there was more than one head.

"Good day, Auntie!" the boys said, leaving.

E'shapu called for her nieces. "Girls, quickly! Count all these heads for me! There must be a lot of them!"

The two nieces looked at each other.

"Why, no, Auntie, there's just one head, that of a small deer."

"Hand it to me! Let me feel it for myself."

Sitting on her mat, she felt the deer head over and over, turning it around in her hands. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

Why, she thought, why would they lie to and cheat an old blind woman who can barely make ends meet? And they went ahead and burned down my field anyway. All I got out of the whole thing was just one deer head! I'll find out who did this to me, which of the village boys they were. But . . . can I truly ever find out . . . ?

From that day on, E'shapu refused to eat. Every day she prayed to her ancestors and the gods of the sky and land, asking for redress.

Shortly after, disaster struck the village.

For three months, there was a drought. The rivers and streams ran dry. Everyone else's crops  withered and died. Miraculously, though, fresh water continue to pour freely from one of the the old blind woman's ceramic pots. Before long, the rest of the village had heard about how E'shapu had an endless supply of fresh water.

The villagers murmured restlessly amongst themselves. "Huh!" griped one. "How is it that old E'shapu has an old pot from which you can always get good, clean water?"

"Good question!" said another. "I'm dying of thirst here!"

E'shapu already knew that sooner or later the villagers would descend upon her and ask her how they too could get an endless supply of water, so she had her nieces arrange many pebbles outside her door to make sitting spots for the visitors who were bound to come. These visitors could just come and sit down, and then they would gently sink comfortably on the smooth pebbles.

The visitors arrived soon enough.

The now very insolent, unrepentant young men who had burned her field were among them. They all, along with everyone else,  sat on the pebbles, waiting for E'shapu to come out of her hut.

Finally, E'shapu came out to address the still growing crowd.

Instead of speaking to everybody, she addressed a certain group in the crowd, saying, "Young men of the village! I know you are sitting before me. These words are for you!" If she had had the gift of sight, she would have seen the sneers on the the faces of the young men who had caused her so much pain. "Listen to me before it's too late. I need to hear you cry for not having water; I need to hear you cry kebi! kebi!"

The young men smirked as they heard her curse them with "kebi! kebi!"

"Keep your kebi!" a defiant young man shouted back. "It means nothing to us!"

E'shapu heard this. She turned around and went back inside. Moments later, huge gusts of wind roared through the village followed by a fierce downpour of rain. The young men, who had only minutes before sat so arrogantly, tried to get up and flee but could not--their rear ends were stuck to all the stones they sat on. All through the night of the raging wind and torrential rainstorm, they had to sit and endure the elements, while everyone else was able to take shelter at home. All night and into the morning they sat there, drenched to the skin and chilled to the bone.

The next morning, with the storm still continuing, E'shapu said to her nieces, "Girls, open the door and take a look at the boys. How are they?"

"They're still there, Auntie!" said one of the nieces. "They're sitting there, shivering, and their eyes have gone white!"

E'shapu said some prayers to lift the curse. Then, she went back outside to speak to the young men. By now the winds and rain had stopped.

"Well, boys, how does it feel?" she asked. "HOW DOES IT FEEL?" The young men, some of them, were only able to give a feeble, teeth-chattering plea for mercy, but E'shapu was not finished with them yet. "Would any of this have happened if you had not taken advantage of an old blind woman? Well?"

From that day on, no one in the village, especially the young men, ever dared again to mistreat or deceive old widows, blind or otherwise.

Lin Daosheng, Vol. 1., pp. 153-155. (See 3/1/18 for full citation.)

As often is the case in folk literature, especially folktales and fairy tales, characters may be clueless and/or passive about events that occur in their presence. The two nieces, for example, say nothing to E'shapu as the young men burn the field. No mention is made of whether or not E'shapu herself smelled the smoke from her burning field. The story does not say that the young men were permanently paralyzed or blinded. It will have to be left up to the imagination.  

Motifs: D905, "Magic storm"; D2072.2, "Magic paralysis by curse"; D2141.0.7, "Storm raised by incantation"; D2141.1, "Storm magically stilled"; M411.5, "Old woman's curse"; M430, "Curses on persons"; Q552.14, "Storm as punishment (curse)"

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