Friday, October 22, 2021

The Snail-Shell Girl--a Hakka version from Taiwan

 There was once a young man named Ah Bata who lived alone with his elderly mother in their cottage. 

One day Ah Bata and seven or eight of his best friends went out to a rather large pond to bathe and just fool around as is the wont of young people. One of the boys found a rather large river snail. 

"Hey," said this fellow, "look at this! Let's break it open."

"Good idea," said another. "Then we can cook it and eat it!"

"No, no," said Ah Bata, "let's not do that. It has a life, so just leave it alone."

The others thought it over and just left the river snail where they had found it. They all then went back home. 

The very next evening, late at night, Ah Bata dreamt a very lovely young lady came to him by his bed and said, "I'm here to chat with you."  And then, in this dream, she stayed by Ah Bata's bedside, keeping him company until the roosters began to crow way in the early hours of the morning. 

This dream continued every night. 

All this seemed so real, yet Ah Bata had to believe it was too good to be true. He found himself unable to think about much else other than the beautiful young woman who came to chat with him all through the night. All this had turned his life so upside down that he was left largely in a daze all day long, and just within a few days he began to look haggard. 

Now, none of this was lost on his mother, who asked, "What's going on with you? You really haven't been yourself for the past few days! Are you ill?"

Ah Bata was a filial son and didn't wish to worry his mother. "It's nothing, Mother!" he said, trying to reassure her. "Don't worry. I'm fine!"

His mother knew, though, that there was definitely something wrong with her son, especially since he seemed to be growing thinner and thinner. One day she paid a visit to the home of one of Ah Bata's friends who had gone to the pond with Ah Bata that day. There, she heard from him the story of the river snail. 

The mother put two and two together: She believed her son was under the spell of the spirit of the river snail shell. This young woman was not a figure in a mere dream. This spirit was obviously visiting her son to express her gratitude for Ah Bata's being able to spare her from being harmed. 

She went home and confronted her son. Ah Bata knew he could not trick his mother any longer, and so he admitted that he was visited nightly by some spectral being. 

"All right, all right, my son," said the mother, "here's what you must promise me you will do. I will prepare some food to keep by your bedside. When this woman returns tonight, tell her she must eat some of the food. If she refuses, you must absolutely insist. Do you understand me, Ah Bata?"

"Yes, Mother."

That night, as expected, the young woman returned to Ah Bata's bedside, and Ah Bata in a very friendly and welcoming manner, began to converse with her, which made the young woman all the happier. The more they chatted, the more attracted they felt to each other. 

After a while, Ah Bata said, "I have some food here. Please eat!" He offered her a spoonful. 

"No," she said, "I don't wish to."

"If you don't eat anything," said Ah Bata, "I'm afraid that after this night, we'll no longer be able to be together." 

She looked at him and saw that he was serious. She had no choice but to eat all the prepared food. Then, once the roosters had crowed, she left, apparently displeased. 

However, she was back the next night. 

After four or five evenings in which she was encouraged by Ah Bata to eat, the young woman now began to eat freely without being asked. In fact, she ate more and more each evening. 

It wasn't very long before she returned again one night, an event Ah Bata's mother secretly observed. The mother then quietly and secretly stole away to the very pond where the snail shell had first been discovered. 

Sure enough, there, lying by the pond was a large empty river snail shell. 

She picked the shell up, returned home, and buried it near her cottage. 

Very early the next morning, the spirit woman returned to the pond to reenter her shell--except there was no shell there! She scoured the area and was, of course, unable to find her shell. She gnashed her teeth; there was only one thing left she could do . . . 

That night, the spirit returned to Ah Bata's bedside. 

"Listen, Ah Bata,  I . . . I . . . think . . . starting from tonight, I shall live here . . . and . . . soon wed you so . . . we can live as . . . husband and wife . . . "

"All right!" said Ah Bata. 

Indeed, within a short time, they had married, and the spirit woman lived in the cottage with Ah Bata and his mother.  She proved to be a loving and capable wife who eagerly did her share of the chores. 

Five years later, there were now five little ones running around the cottage. 

One day, while the young wife was out doing chores, the grandmother, Ah Bata's mother, was babysitting the children. They had become very rambunctious, wearing out the grandmother. She thought of something to quiet them down, something that might be so interesting to them that they would regard this object the grandmother would show them with fascinated silence. 

The grandmother ran outside, quickly dug up the river snail shell of her daughter-in-law, and brought it back into the cottage to show the children. She was showing it to the children and explaining to them that it was from this shell their mother had come when their mother herself actually came back from working in the field. 

Mortified that her shell had been hidden and that her identity had been thus revealed to her children, the young mother died right then and there on the spot. 

Brokenhearted Ah Bata carried the body of his beloved wife and her snail shell back to the edge of the pond where he had first seen the shell. There, he buried her and the shell. 

The five children grew up to be fine, filial young adults, and, despite his loss, Ah Bata felt he had been touched by good fortune.


kejiaminjianchuanshuo.pdf  (See the folktale section, pages 1 to 5.)

Hakka people (i.e., "guest families" 客家) are Han people who are a linguistic minority in the provinces where they live in that they speak a dialect of Chinese that is largely mutually unintelligible with their neighbors. They may be the descendants of patriotic families that refused to live under foreign rule when Northern China was ravaged by invading tribes in past centuries. Consequently, their ancestors migrated to areas such as Guangdong and Fujian provinces and, later, Taiwan. Perhaps the most renowned Hakka was Sun Yatsen (Sun Zhongshan), the first president of the Republic of China, a man greatly respected on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. 

For another Hakka tale, see the post for 1/12/17. 

This is yet another tale that shows how a marriage between a mortal and a being from another realm is not likely to survive. For other such tales, see the posts for 3/19/08 (a version of this story from Fujian), 7/8/10, 8/4/17, 11/23/17, and 6/22/18, among others. 

Tale type: 400C, Snail Wife (based on Professor Nai-tung Ting's classification)

Motifs: B650, "Marriage to animal in human form"; C31, "Tabu: offending the supernatural wife"; C31.9, "Tabu: revealing secrets of supernatural wife"; D398, "Transformation: snail to person"; F225, "Fairy (spirit) lives in a shell"; cK1335, "Seduction or wooing by stealing clothes (shell) of bathing girl/swan girl (spirit)"; L161, "Lowly hero marries princess (spirit)"; T111, "Marriage of mortal and supernatural being."

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