Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Man-Fish and His Son (Dawu)

A young woman from Lang Island married a man from Dongqing Village. The first two children of the couple were born without any complications, but the third child, a boy, was born with the head of a human and the body of a fish.

The parents, needless to say, were greatly shocked and sought words of wisdom from village elders. What should they do? Should they even let him live? After all, he was largely non-human, with just a human head, and he would be subjected to endless ridicule or become an object of great fear.

"Let him live!" the elders said. "Just keep him in as much water as he needs and out of the sight of everybody else."

So, that's what the parents did with this boy whom they named Ximila. They kept him away from everyone else. No one outside the home ever laid an eye on him; that also meant he never had any childhood friends to play with. Keeping prying eyes away was perhaps the easiest part. Ximila's parents were most concerned with who would take care of their son after their own time on earth was over, for it seemed impossible that Ximila, with the body of a fish, could ever possibly earn a living or just simply survive on his own.

One day, when Ximila and his siblings were several years older, Ximila's brother was out doing his chores but was soon stymied by a particular task--moving a large stone slab sitting in the middle of the field. Try as he might, he was unable to make the flat stone budge. He returned home.

"What's the matter, Brother?" asked Ximila.

"Oh, it's just that Father told me to move a large stone from the field and I haven't been able to do it."

"Let me help you, Brother!"

"Haha . . . don't be silly, Ximila . . ."

Ximila was insistent. He then looked at their mother, who just shrugged.

Ximila's mother and brother ended up taking Ximila out to the field. Ximila crawled up to the rock and flip-flap! Right then and there, in front of his mother and brother, he knocked the large flat rock to the other side of the field with his fish tail.

His mother went back home that day with newly found respect for her boy, Ximila.

Ximila soon enough reached the marriageable age, and his mother was determined to see him married. She found an eligible young lady and made the arrangements, cementing the deal for the upcoming wedding. She did not mislead the future bride about Ximila; no, she told her upfront that her son had the head of a young man but the body of a fish. The young lady wanted to see for herself if this future groom really had the body of a fish, which she could not believe. If he indeed had the body of a fish, she was ready to escape this arranged marriage and to wash her hands of the whole thing, arranged marriage or not.

The day of the wedding came. Ximila waited for the bride's party alone in the water at the dock While Ximila lay in the water, taking a quick nap, a god in the sky beheld the young merman awaiting his bride and took pity on him, thinking how awkward the rest of the young man's life would be as a husband with the body of a fish. The god then sent a courier to the world below and, as Ximila slept, he changed Ximila's body to that of a human one. Not only that but the god had instructed the heavenly courier to leave on the dock for Ximila the costliest gifts a Yami groom can give his bride at a wedding: a wedding crown, a special vest with gold ornaments, and a pair of silver bracelets.

Soon, Ximila awoke to discover that he now had the arms, legs, and torso of a man! He then saw the special gifts left for him. How overjoyed he was! He knew a god had taken pity on him and was speechless with gratitude.

The bride's party finally arrived, as did Ximila's parents and brothers. The bride's family members were stunned at the marvelous gifts awaiting the bride They were even more astonished at the greater surprise--the handsome groom awaiting them at the dock, standing on his own two feet, his two hands easily resting on his hips. If the bride hadn't loved Ximila before, she certainly fell in love with the good-looking, strapping youth now standing before her.

"Are you pleased with what you see?" asked Ximila's mother.

The bride beamed and nodded.

Ximila and the young woman were then happily married. The next year Ximila's wife gave birth to a son, Xinkasi.

Very sadly, however, this time of bliss did not last. Both Ximila and his wife passed away when Xinkasi was only three years old.

Thus, little Xinkasi grew up without his parents. He was treated differently from the other children now, and many in the village looked at him in a different light. He was made to feel unwelcome everywhere he went and became friendless. Was it because he was the son of a man who had once had the body of a fish? Was it because he had been orphaned? In any case, no one played with him, while all looked askance at him in the village.

Xinkasi may have had some kinfolk in the village, but he still felt very much alone.

Once again, a god up in the heavens witnessed what was going on below and took pity on Xinkasi. He decided to punish the villagers who had been cruel to Xinkasi, so he sent a ghost with a huge swarm of insects behind him to the village. The ghost led the way, and the insects devoured everything in their path, leaving the farm fields of Dongqing Village stripped bare of all vegetation.

Eventually, everyone in the village but Xinkasi died of hunger. Xinkasi, living alone by a huge boulder, was the sole survivor. He wandered away from the area now that everyone he had ever known was dead.

On the island was another village, and the people there heard about what had happened to Xinkasi's village. Moreover, they knew who Xinkasi was; the "son of the man-fish," they called him. In this village were some who were not well off but who believed the orphan Xinkasi, the only survivor of his whole village, probably had some riches hidden somewhere. After all, he was the last one alive in the whole town. Wouldn't he, these evil people thought, know where the riches of everyone else were? So, they planned to rob and to kill him.

Xinkasi was unaware of this, but the gods, who have eyes and see and know all, continued to look out for the orphan. They sent the spirit of Xinkasi's father, Ximila, in the guise of a bird, which then flew down to a branch on a tree next to where Xinkasi was.

"Xinkasi! Xinkasi, my boy, my son!"

"Who said that?" asked Xinkasi. "Not you, the bird!"

"Yes, I, the bird! Listen carefully. You must leave this place now before the men of Dan'agang get here!"

"What do the men of that village want with me? Everyone from Dongqing's dead. They can't be at war with us . . . or me."

"It's not a war, Xinkasi. They want to rob you and then kill you! Now go! I've got some work to do!"

The bird flew off and Xinkasi left. He fled farther into the dense forest of the island.

Not long after Xinkasi had fled the area, the Dan'agang robbers arrived in the now empty Dongqing Village. They headed for what had been the famous merman's house, the home of Ximila. Just before they got to the front door, the murderous thieves stopped in their tracks. There, perched on the roof, was the bird, now looking at them very menacingly.

"So, what are you waiting for?" asked one of the ringleaders of the rest. "It's just a big, ugly bird! Go inside and find the--"

As he was speaking, the bird swooped down and killed him and several other leaders of the mob with its beak and talons. The rest of the crowd from Dan'agang turned tail and fled for their very lives, not stopping until they were back in their own village.

Xinkasi had been saved. When the Month of Sacrifices had arrived, he made offerings to the gods to express his gratitude for their saving him.

That night, in a dream, the heavenly courier that had helped his father contacted Xinkasi.

"A young woman shall be coming your way, Xinkasi," said the courier. "Keep an eye open for her. You may marry her and start your own family."

But Xinkasi didn't wish to marry, at least not yet. The young woman appeared, but Xinkasi didn't pay much attention to her. She then went on her own way and disappeared.

The spirits of Ximila and Xinkasi's mother noticed how Xinkasi's expected betrothal had come to naught and were dismayed. They petitioned the gods of heaven to give their son another chance. The gods responded by sending Xinkasi a number of celestial beauties with the understanding that Xinkasi must choose one among them for a wife.

This time he did so. He and his wife later had a son and a daughter. Their children eventually grew up to marry others and, in turn, had children of their own.

Thus, the gods and the spirit of Ximila made sure that those in Ximila's line lived, multiplied, and prospered.

Lin Daosheng, Vol 1.; pp. 177-179.  (See 3/1/18 for citation.)

The Dawu people, also known as the Tao or the Japanese-era name, Yami, live on Orchid Island, or Lanyu, south of Taiwan and speak a Malay-Polynesian language. 

Some loose ends remain. We never learn the name of Ximila's wife. We also never find out why Ximila's brothers as well as his son's four grandparents all starve to death along with everyone else who had been cold, apathetic, and/or rude to Xinkasi. Finally, we are not told if Xinkasi lived with any of his grandparents or uncles after his parents' deaths. The story does not shed any light on any of  the above. 

We have already seen the magic power of birds (see "Uncle Bird," 7/16/17), how they, as mediators between heaven and earth, may represent the unfettered human spirit. In this myth, the spirit of the fish-man Ximila animates a guardian bird and, in doing so, thus fills a third "slot." Consequently, the story establishes the lineage of a family with its roots directly in the water (Ximila as fish), on the land (Ximila's metamorphosis, courtesy of at least one god), and, indirectly, in the sky (Ximila's spirit as a bird), creating a very formidable triad. Tales with transformations such as this one probably originate in a shamanistic tradition.

In addition, coincidentally (or maybe not), an urban legend about a fish with a human face has made the rounds in Taiwan. In south part of the island, a family group had a caught a fish. While eating the fish, an older woman's voice suddenly spoke in Taiwanese, asking more than once, "Is the fish good?" (or, "Is the fish delicious?"), startling the living daylights out of everyone there. It turns out the that the fish had human-like features. See:

人面魚 - 维基百科,自由的百科全书【情報】民國84年的新聞 人面魚 @恐怖驚悚 哈啦板 - 巴哈姆特【紅衣小女孩3】台灣人面魚傳說嚇到唔敢食魚 仲有靈異照片流出|香港01|即時娛樂「魚肉好吃嗎?」恐怖傳說再搬大銀幕!徐若瑄、鄭人碩合演《人面魚》 | GQ瀟灑男人網十大都市傳說:崗山人面魚、彰化送肉粽 - 每日頭條

Motifs: B16.6, "Devastating insects"; B82.1, "Merman marries maiden"; B83, "Fish with human face (head); D370, "Transformation: fish to man"; F401.3.7, "Spirit in the form of a bird"; M369.2, "Prophecy concerning love and marriage"; "M369.2.1, "Future wife foretold"; T111.2, "Woman from sky-world marries mortal man."

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