Monday, December 10, 2018

Ancestor of the Marauding, Crop-Eating Birds (Puyuma)

Note: This horrific tale is definitely not one for children. Aside from its supernatural elements, it reads, sadly, like an all too common story from today's news. 

There once was a lonely old man, a widower of some years, who yearned for human companionship. Every day was the same for him--get up early, bathe, tend to the hogs in the pen, eat, and then go to bed alone, and so on and so on, day in and day out.

One day in the forest he encountered two beautiful and friendly young women who just seemed to appear out of nowhere. He and they began chatting and soon laughing like really old friends.

He told them where in the village he lived.

"We shall visit you!" said one of the young women. "Would you like that?"

"Oh, well, yes . . . "

A few days later, the pair showed up at the old man's door. He welcomed them in. He had a wonderful time during their visit. They told stories and laughed. The old man quickly forgot how lonely he had been.

It was arranged that the two young women would visit the old man every day.

"We'll stop by daily and look in on you to see if you're all right," one of the pair said. "How would that be?"

"Oh, that would be really fine. . . "

Of course the old man was delighted beyond words! Who in his position wouldn't be?

One day during their now daily visits, one of the pair said, "You have so many hogs and pigs! What do you say that my sister and I slaughter and prepare one for a feast? We'll do all the work. All you'll have to do is to eat and to enjoy!"

"Splendid!" said the old man. "I'd enjoy that, that is if it's not too much trouble for you two young ladies."

"What trouble?" asked the other sister. "We'd love to do that! We'll spend the night here to keep you company."

Sundown came. The two slaughtered a hog and prepared the feast.

While they cooked the hog, they asked the old man if he'd like a massage before eating. He said yes, so they told him to lie on his stomach in the front room. Where would he like to be massaged? "The shoulders," he replied. So, the women massaged his shoulders and his lower back for good measure. They then told him to turn over, and they next massaged his knees.

Then, one of the young ladies sat on his legs, securing them, preventing them from moving and preventing the old man from getting up, while the other poured a cauldron of hot soup over the old man, scalding him to death.

Now it was very dark outside, the blackest dark of a small village late at night deep in the forest, and no one was around. The two women carried the body of the poor old man out to the tall grasses and buried him there. Then, they left.

They returned the next day to check on the body, but the body was no longer there! Instead, waiting for the evil pair were three ominous birds--the transformed soul of the old man. The women turned and ran like wet chickens being chased by a fox. They ran past the old man's house, where they saw ten or more birds perched on the roof, looking at them.

"We will eat all your crops!" one of the birds cackled "Your yams, millet, rice, taro roots--whatever you plant shall be eaten! This is just the beginning!"

And so it was.

From then on, the village never again enjoyed the kind of harvests it had always had for so long, for a black cloud, a murder of crows, as we would say in English, and flocks of other hungry birds, would swoop down and eat the fruits and vegetables.

It is said that all these birds housed and still house today the spirit of the old man who had been so wickedly betrayed and murdered by the two evil sisters from out of the woods, the pair who had merely feigned friendship. His revenge would be to ravage the crops, and so he has continued to do so, even up to this very day.

from Lin Daosheng, Vol. 1 (for complete citation, see 3/1/18).

For another Puyuma tale, see 7/12/17. 

The story brings to mind an old Arab proverb: "In the desert, no one meets a friend." "Desert" here can be replaced by "forest," "woods," or "jungle." The story hints at the supernatural origins of the two sisters who seemingly "appear out of nowhere" in the forest, home to menacing shapeshifting creatures and other otherworldly beings, all of which might be physical metaphors for lonely, desolate, essentially unfriendly locations. Even today in Taiwan, reports of forest goblins/demons/entities, mosin'a 「魔神仔」that, at the very least, play tricks on visitors to the forests and mountains and that, at worst, cause the deaths of such visitors, still occur.  (For a more contemporary urban legend of such entities, see 12/24/13.) All in all, little is to be gained by making a friend who appears out of the blue in the forest. The story of an old man who meets two lovely women who seem to take a shine to him might likewise be a cautionary tale which teaches us that anything appearing to be too good to be true is probably bound to be trouble and well worth avoiding.

Motifs: A1970, "Creation of miscellaneous birds"; B33.1.3, "Black birds destroy crops"; B172.10, "Black birds"; D150, "Transformation: man (spirit) to bird"; D493, "Spirit changes to animal (bird)"; K182, "Victim burned in his own house"; K800, "Killing or maiming by deception"; cK815,
 "Victim lured by kind words approaches trickster and is killed"; K955.1, "Murder by scalding"; K1300, "Seduction"; K1340, "Entrance to girl's (man's) room (house) by trick"; cK1930, "Treacherous impostors"; Q243.2, "Seduction punished." 

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