Thursday, March 31, 2022

In the House of the Weretigress (Hmong)

Note: This rather grim (pun intended) tale should perhaps be avoided by very young readers due to both language and violence. 

A young woman was out tending to her flock of ducks and noticed one of her ducks had somehow left the flock and entered the forest. With the rest of the ducks secured, she set off into the forest to look for her lost duck. 

She made duck calls as she searched through the woods. 

"Ga, ga, ga!" she heard in reply to her duck calls.  

She went deeper into the forest in the direction of the sound that resembled that of a duck--except it wasn't a duck that was making that call. No, it was an old tigress and her cub which had caught sight of the young lady from afar while remaining concealed in the thick bushes. The old tigress changed herself into an old woman and her cub into a small girl. She next conjured up a house in the clearing just behind her. 

By the time the young woman had cleared the brush, the old tigress, now in the guise of an old woman, was sitting near the open doorway of her house, spinning cotton.

"Grandmother!" said the young lady calling out to the old woman, the tiger. "Have you seen a duck around here?"

"Oh . . . yes . . . " said the old woman. 

“Where is it?"

"It's in the rice paddy in the back," the old woman nonchalantly replied, "eating fish shavings."

"Oh, thank you, Grandmother!" said the girl, turning around to head over to the rice paddy. 

"No hurry! No hurry!" said the old woman. "You look tired. Come inside and rest a while. There are plenty of fish shavings out there, so let your duck eat its fill before you go get it!"

Well, truth be told, the young woman was a bit tired, so she accepted the invitation and entered the house. After resting for a bit, she said, "Thank you so much. I'll go get the duck."

"No hurry!" said the old woman. "Don't rush away hungry! Let me cook something for you."

"Well, I don't wish to trouble you . . ."

"It's no trouble, young woman! After all, we have to eat anyway, don't we?"

The young lady thanked the old woman, and before long she, the old woman, and the "girl" all sat down to eat. 

During the meal, the young woman noticed something about the old woman and the child and thought, How odd . . . Neither one seems to know how to use chopsticks . . . They're just picking up the food with their hands and placing it into their mouths . . . 

After dinner, the young woman said, "I can't thank you enough for your kindness and hospitality. I'll go get my duck and be on my way home and not bother you further . . ."

"Oh, young woman! Don't rush away!" said the old woman. "Look how dark it is outside! Spend the night! You can sleep in the same bed as my daughter here."

How nice this old woman has been to me even though we've never met . . .  thought the young lady. Well, truth be told, it was very dark outside, and she wasn't too keen on returning back to the village in the dark. 

She agreed to spend the night. 

"Splendid!" said the old woman. Turning to the little girl, the tiger cub, she said, "Little Sister, show Big Sister to the bed you two shall share tonight!"

The little girl took the young woman to the bedroom as the old woman continued to do more weaving on her loom. 

The young woman had suspicions she couldn't rid her mind of, so as the "child" next to her slept soundly, the young woman felt the little girl's hand. 

She pulled her hand back in shock--the little girl's hand was covered with fur!

She knew now that she was in the conjured house of a shapeshifting tigress. She stifled a cry of horror and gathered her wits about her. This is what she did: She took off her dress and slipped it on the soundly sleeping girl. She then slipped her silver bracelet onto the girl's wrist. She next took her padded cotton jacket, turned it inside out, ripped the lining, exposing the coarse cotton lining, and put it on. She then waited for what would come next. 

It was now midnight. 

Before long, the tigress, no longer in the form of an old woman, having put out the fire in the oven and extinguished the lamplight, crept into the room and climbed up on the bed in the dark bedroom. The young lady was aware of this and pretended to snore loudly. The tigress touched her, felt the cotton, and assumed she had felt tiger fur, thus assuring herself that this was her cub. 

She next approached the side of the bed where her actual cub lay. She touched the dress the cub wore and felt the bracelet on her wrist; all this confirmed to her that the young person lying on the bed before her was the visiting young woman, her evening meal. 

With a mighty bite, she devoured her own cub, which never woke up, and loudly munched on the flesh and bones. 

The young lady just lay there in terror, wondering how she would ever survive this ordeal, but she knew she couldn't panic at this point. She had an idea. She mustered up her courage and asked softly, "Mama, what are you eating?"

"Oh, just some lice and fleas."

"They sound nice and crunchy! Give me some!" said the young lady. 

"No. They're not good for someone your age."

The young lady continued to pretend she was sleeping. After a while, with the old tigress continuing to eat next to her, she asked, "Mama, what are you eating now?"

"Some soybeans."

"Give me some!"

"No, no. If you eat soybeans now, you'll get gas and let go stinky farts." 

"Oh, please, Mama, let me have some too! I want some!"

This continued for a minute or so before the old tigress sighed and said, "Oh, all right! Here! What an annoying pain you are!"

She handed the young woman the remnants of one of the cub's paws. The young woman took the paw and made a big show of noisily pretending to devour it. 

Minutes later, the young woman said, "Mama . . . Mama . . ."

"Oh, what is it now?" asked the old tigress. 

"Mama . . . my tummy hurts . . . I need . . . to . . . poop . . ."

"Oh, I should have known this would happen! Go poop under the bed!"

"But . . . it'll stink . . ."

"Then go poop by the oven!"

"But . . . if Auntie, Uncle, or some visitor comes later and sees what I did. . . that would be . . . embarrassing . . . for us . . ."

"Then go to the corner of the house!"

"But . . . if I poop there . . . I'm afraid . . . a rat . . . might bite my bottom!"

"All right! All right! I'm losing my patience with you. Where do you want to go to poop?"

"The . . . doorway . . ."

"The doorway? You might encounter a bear there! No!"

The young woman thought and thought . . . Then, she remembered something. She felt in the pocket of her jacket. Yes, the long coiled rope she used for tying bundles of grass was still there. 

"Mama! I got it! Here's a rope. Tie one end around my waist, and you can hold onto the other end. In case a bear or something comes towards me, I'll cry out and you can pull me in! What do you think?"

The old tigress grunted her approval and tied the rope around the girl's waist. 

The young woman quickly went outside, untied the rope around her waist, and looked for a place to tether it. She spotted a tall rock. 

"Rock! Rock! Please help me!" she whispered. "Let me tie the rope to you. If the old tigress calls out to you, answer back as I would!"

"Got it! Now hurry up and tie the rope and then get out of here as fast as you can!" replied the rock. 

After fastening the rope to the rock, the young lady fled into the forest. 

Minutes later, the old tigress yelled from the house, "Hey, are you finished with your pooping or not?"

"Not yet!" yelled back the rock. 

Several minutes had passed when the old tigress once again cried out, "Aren't you done yet?"

"No, not yet!" yelled the rock. 

After asking seven or eight more times, the old tigress asked, "What are you doing--pooping gold and silver? What in the world is taking you so long?"

When she heard no reply, she yelled, "All right, then! I'll have to get up and go see!"

She went outside and saw no sign of the person she had assumed was her cub. All she saw was the rope attached to the rock. She dashed back inside her house, lit the lamp, and scoured the interior. She returned to the bedroom, pulled back the heavy quilt, and beheld the remains of her devoured cub.

"Noooo!" she screamed. "I ate the wrong one!" She dashed back out to the forest, shouting and crying, "I should have eaten you as soon as I saw you!"

It was now daybreak when the old tigress arrived at the edge of the river. There, she spied the young woman in a small fishing boat rowing herself to the middle of the river.

"Maiden!" cried the old tigress. "Wait! Wait a moment for me!"

"Just come on over, Granny!" said the young woman. 

"How? How do I 'just come on over'?" 

"Do this, Granny--go and get the rope or a vine or something like that. Tie one end around your neck, and tie the other end to a rock. Toss the rock into the river, and you'll fly right over to me!" 

"All right! Wait!" cried the tigress as she looked for something long and sinewy. Finding a suitable vine, she tied one end to a sturdy rock and the other end around her neck. With a mighty effort, she heaved the heavy rock into the river, launching herself into the river. 

The young woman had nearly made it to the other side when she heard the pudung of a loud splash. She turned her head to see the tigress struggling on the surface of the water. 

"Well, Granny Tiger," said the giggling young woman, "it looks as if your plans to eat me failed today!"

The old tigress merely gurgled a bit and then sank to the depths of the river. 


Guizhou minjian gushi 贵州民间故事 [Guizhou Folktales], Yen Bao &  Zhang Xiao, eds. Guizhou Renmin Chubanshe, 1997; pp. 73-77. Miaozu minjian gushi 苗族民間故事 [Hmong Folktales] (See 1/13/09 for complete citation); pp. 330-337.

This tale seems to be a hybrid version of "Grandmother/Grandauntie Tiger" (or "Auntie Wolf," the Chinese version of "Little Red Riding Hood") and "Hansel and Gretel" (due to the magical nature of the house and the predatory cannibal or carnivore that resides within). For other versions of "Grandmother Tiger," see my posting for 6/15/18 and my e-book Taiwan Folktales. 

No parents are mentioned in this story. We might keep in mind the significance of who is and isn't in the picture--whether it is in a child's drawing or a fairy tale.  Here, we just have the young woman, the old tigress, and the ill-fated cub in perhaps an extended metaphor for a young woman's navigating alone through the dangers in this stage of her life. The setting is the forest--a place of magic (sympathetic talking stones) and lurking danger--the place our ancestors were warned to stay away from. We also have yet again the flat and clueless personas of the traditional folktale/fairy tale characters who are unable to draw conclusions or to use common sense, a worldwide characteristic and perhaps a necessary abbreviated component in tales that are to be transmitted across boundaries and cultures.

Motifs: D112.2.1, "Weretiger"; F771, "Extraordinary castle (house)"; F800, "Extraordinary (talking) rocks and stones; G61, "Relative's flesh eaten unwittingly"; J1706.1, "Tiger as stupid beast"; K551.4, "Respite from death until toilet is made permit escape"; K891.3, "Monkey (tigress) tricked into jumping in water and drowning self"; cK1611.5, "Kid puts one of tigress's cubs in his (her) place; she eats cub"; K1810, "Deception by disguise"; K1810.1, "Disguise by putting on clothes of certain person"; K1822.4, "Tiger disguises as human being"; K1868, "Deception by pretending sleep." 

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