Thursday, December 31, 2015

Those With the Baleful Eyes--Two Sad Tales About Palis (Paiwan)

Happy New Year and all the best for 2016!

Note: The Paiwan are an indigenous people on the island of Taiwan. They live primarily on the upper half of the Taiwan's southern peninsula. If you travel east from Kaohsiung to Tai-tung (Taidong), you will be going through some of their tribal land. 

(1) Lagabawei (Lagvaui)

It is said that there once was during Japanese times a great warrior, Lagabawei, and he had the red eyes, the eyes that could kill people and animals with a single look. He had once been a normal human like anyone else, but then some evil entity attached itself to him, changing him into something else, into one of those red-eyed palis whose glare can mean instant death. How did this happen? No one knows. All we know is it  just happened to him and others. Lagabawei had already been a renowned warrior able to slay enemies left and right. Now, with this power, or affliction, he was invincible. Anyone who locked eyes with him would be sure to be sent to the spirit world.

Lagabawei may have had an evil spirit afflict him with red eyes, but he was not evil. He did not wish to harm any innocent people, so  he moved into an uninhabited cave. There, he had local farmers deliver food to the mouth of the cave to avoid his deadly eyes.

This living arrangement lasted until the day five Japanese policemen came to arrest Lagabawei for rebelling against imperial rule. A struggle ensued, with Lagabawei's killing all five but not before he himself was mortally wounded.

After that, the local people in Xinhua hired a shaman to rid the location once and for all of the malevolent spirit that caused red eyes.

A relic connected to Lagabawei, the Stone Fan, a large rock in the shape of a fan, still stands near the remnants of Gufaleng Village, Taidong (Tai-tung) County,  and it is tied to Lagabawei's rebellion against Japanese authority. There are those who believe this had once been an actual paper fan belonging to Lagabawei, and later it was transformed into a stone growing into the ground and which, no matter the effort, could never be uprooted.

Daxiwulawan Bima, ed. Paiwan Myths and Legends. [排灣族神話與傳說]. Taichung: Morning Star, pp. 196-198.; 台灣原住民電子報 -- 原藝之美

This story and the one that follows it are oral tales copied down by Taiwanese folklorists. 

The pali [帕利] is a person who, like a werewolf or vampire in the Western lycanthropic tradition, has been infected in some manner, in this case, by some unseen evil. He or she then can kill anything with a simple glance, a power that cannot be controlled or otherwise limited. The Japanese period of rule was from 1895 until 1945. It is not clear exactly which year or years the above events supposedly occurred. "Japanese policemen" here can refer to ethnic Japanese, Han Chinese (i.e., Taiwanese or Hakka)  or indigenous individuals who served in the colonial police force. Lagabawei, or Lagvaui, is a legendary character apparently held in high regard and affection by the Paiwan. 

Motifs: D2061.2.1, "Death-giving glance"; F592, "Man's glance kills"; cG514.2.1, "Ogre kept in cave"; R315, "Cave as refuge." 

(2) Balirong

In Taiwu Village, there once lived a kindhearted shaman named Balirong. He gained the love and affection of everyone around for his good work in healing the sick and driving out evil spirits.

One day Balirong himself came down with the red-eyed affliction that turned his vision into the killing beams which can strike dead anything that lives, breathes and moves. He had become a dreaded pali. What could he do? He, being the compassionate person he was, knew what he could not do--remain among the people and subject them, their children, their cattle and their poultry to sudden death.

So, with a heavy heart, he covered his face with heavy black cloth and announced that he would be leaving the villages to make a home for himself away from everyone else. On the day of his departure, with the black cloth over his face, he was accompanied by some warriors to a distant, nameless but beautiful lake beyond the mountains, where by the shore, he would live out his days. There, a simple structure for him was built. The chief of the village had assured Balirong that men from the village would regularly deliver food supplies to him in his exile. This would have to be the arrangement, for if Balirong ever removed the cloth from his face, who knows how many animals or people innocently passing by would needlessly die day and night?

And thus this was the arrangement that was worked out for Balirong, and all went well for a period of time.

Then disaster struck . . .

One summer there was a record amount of rainfall, causing a massive landslide that wiped out the path across the mountains to the lake. There was no longer access to the lake and no way to deliver food to Balirong, who continued to cover his face day and night with the black cloth.

Finally, long after every bit of the food supplies had been used up, Balirong became weak with hunger. He stood by the shore and with shaking hands slowly lifted up the black cloth from his eyes. Before him was the idyllic lake, shrouded in rising mist. He continued to focus his gaze on the shimmering greens and blues of the water as if in a deep reverie.

Then it came to him: entranced by the natural beauty his eyes had long been denied, he had poisoned the water by staring at it.  What if this same water flowed in  a stream to other villages? How many would become palis? How many would die? He berated and cursed himself! But it was too late; the damage had been done.

He waded deeper and deeper into the water until he disappeared . . .

Then, a huge tremor struck the area, changing the landscape, causing more landslides, corking up the mouth of a stream that did stem from the lake, sinking the lake into what is now a small valley.

The lake and surrounding area, known now as Dalu Balibaling, or "Mystery Valley," remain tabooed.

Paiwan Myths and Legends, pp. 198-200. (See above for complete citation.) 

What lessons can we draw from this story and the one that preceded it?  Perhaps one lesson is that no one, mighty hero and beloved village shaman included, is immune from evil or, on a perhaps less serious level, the vicissitudes of life itself. This might seem obvious in the case of Balirong, whose very job was extremely dangerous, placing him frequently into close contact with evil forces. This reminds me of a Roman Catholic priest and exorcist I once heard interviewed on the radio. He planned to continue on with his job even though he admitted doing so was shortening his life by forcing him to encounter and to contend with demons, occupational hazards of his calling.  Another lesson might be the observation that we all contain seeds of evil within us, dark shadows waiting to erupt and take charge if given the opportunity, like Dr. Hyde's Mr. Jekyll. 

Motifs: C615.1, "Forbidden lake"; F960.2.5, "Earthquake at death of important person"; F969.4, "Extraordinary earthquake"; S264.1.2, "Self-sacrifice by drowning."  See also D2061.2.1 and F592 above. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Girl From Under the Old Tomb (Han)

Zhang Guangding lived in a time of great upheaval, a time when the "old hundred names," the common people were subjected to much turmoil, violence, and lawlessness, when authorities were rolled in and out, like drawers in some chest.

And so, with great reluctance, he made plans to flee his home and area with his family, as many others were doing. After much thought, he came to the agonizing decision to leave his four year old daughter behind instead of subjecting her to the hardships, trauma and danger of witnessing people being killed or seeing corpses, starving people and ruined, smoldering buildings. So, he decided to hide his child in some spot with a supply of food and return to the area as soon as possible.

At the entrance to the village was an ancient cemetery. There, he found an old tomb on top of a cave. He lowered his little girl down into the cave beneath the tomb through a small opening; he then lowered down some food and water.

"We'll be back soon!" he said to her, knowing that his words were most likely a lie. Her little face stared back at him and her mother from the hole deep in the ground. "Don't worry! We'll be back for you! Be good and don't make any noise!"

Little did Zhang know that he and his wife would not be able to return until three years later.

And now on this early evening, three years later, here he and his wife were, running as fast as they could into the quiet cemetery after what had seemed like eternity.

There it was, the old tomb . . .

Zhang put his face to the hole in the ground and, trying to keep doubt and fear at bay from entering his mind, cried, "Daughter! Daughter! Are you there?"

"Yes, Father, I am here!" a little girl's voice replied.

A . . . ghost . . .  he thought. It has to be . . . 

Nevertheless, he said, "I'm lowering a rope down to pull you out. Hold on!"

"Yes, Father!"

He pulled the rope up, and from out of the hole came his now, very much alive seven year old daughter, as cute as ever, amazingly healthy, though understandably a bit dirty for the ordeal. The child smiled happily as she wiped away her tears.

It's a miracle she's still alive after all this time, Zhang thought. How did she survive without food and water?

Once the three were in a safe place, the little girl related her bizarre ordeal about how she stayed alive.

It wasn't long, she told them, before all the food and water were gone. She became wracked with hunger and thirst, but there was nothing she could do about it, as she had agreed to obey her father and stay below and not make noise.

The hunger and thirst had become unbearable when she noticed something moving about in the darkness, in a far corner of the cave, something with a long enough neck that enabled its head to touch the ground, something for which she had never been taught a name. She studied it as it moved slowly along the ground. She decided to copy the movements and habits of this thing, whatever it was. She got down on her arms and knees and moved over the floor or ground of the cave, keeping her face as close to the bottom as she could.

Eventually, something happened: She discovered by mimicking the actions of this creature or being that her hunger and thirst went away. She also discovered that whenever the pangs of hunger and the thirst reappeared, all she had to do was to repeat the creepy-crawly movements and to keep her face to the ground.

And that was how she had survived those three long years, living underground beneath a tomb!

Zhang's curiosity soon got the better of him; he had to know what thing was down in that cave. He later went to the cemetery and made an opening in the dirt big enough to enter. There was nothing down there, nothing save a large tortoise slowly moving about.

Wisdom From Chinese Stories of Gods and Spirits [中國神怪故事裡的智慧], Ceng Yifeng [曾一鋒], ed. Taipei: How Do Publishing, 2006; pp. 18-20; 张广定女_CNKI学问s; 陈寔写的故事--打印文章

The original source of this old tale is from Chen Shi [陳寔], or Chen Zhonggong [陳仲弓](A.D. 104-187), of the Eastern Han Dynasty. The longer, more modern version in Ceng's book, makes no mention of the wife. The other versions mention her only in conjunction of her being with her husband. The story implies Zhang Guangding made the incredible and unthinkable decision by himself to leave his small daughter in the tomb.  

A giant tortoise supported the world, the ancients believed. (Not so ancient. I still remember more than forty years ago a high school classmate from Hong Kong remarking earnestly to me that his grandparents still believed that.) In any case, the tortoise is a cosmic symbol of longevity. One can see today stone tortoises outside Fort Providentia [赤崁樓], Tainan, supporting edicts,
commendations, etc., in Chinese and Manchu on huge tablets. Such an animal would be a most fitting vehicle to convey that which is supposed to be eternal. 

Motifs: B491.5, "Helpful tortoise"; cB535, "Animal nourishes abandoned child"; R131ff, "Exposed or abandoned child rescued"; cZ356, "Unique survivor."

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Old Coffin Maker -- the Vanishing Hitchhiker in Old China (Han)

The following purports to be an old village legend from China:

There once was a coffin maker in town, Old Cui. Owing to his reputation of being upright and possessing a good disposition, he did well and lived a comfortable life as the majority of villagers turned to him for his skills when it was their time of need.

There came a time when there was an increase in deaths in the town. Old Cui had mixed feelings about this; on one hand, he relished doing more business; on the other hand, he was distressed that among the departed were those he had known for many years.

This one particular night, he was staying late at the shop, working on coffins. He decided to call it a night and head home early for the first time in many nights. He was hungry and didn't want to keep his wife waiting and waiting for him to get home.

So off into the night he went, heading north from the village to his home near the mountains, the moon helping to light the way. There was an old saying he was no doubt aware of--"Thieves are out on bright moonlit nights"--so he picked up his step. He was alone on the road, all the more reason for him to hasten.

Up ahead on the lonely road, he spotted a dark silhouette in the near distance--a person.

He puffed up his chest and continued towards the person. Maybe a traveling companion till I get home, he thought to comfort himself.

He soon saw that the figure was no other than a young woman sitting on a rock, seemingly resting one of her feet. He could see that she wearing a short red jacket and flowery pants.

"Young woman, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be at home?" he asked.

"Oh, Master Cui," she replied, "I was just on my way home from doing some chores for my elder brother's wife when I sprained my ankle. I can't go on. I'm going to rest here until it's daylight. Maybe my ankle will be better by then."

"No, no, that won't do," said Old Cui. Bending over a bit, he said, "Here, hop onto my back. I'll take you home," intending to carry her home, piggyback.

The girl gladly got onto his back, and told Old Cui where she lived.

As they continued into the night, they chatted about this and that. Old Cui noted that the girl didn't seem very heavy. As he continued walking with her on his back, though, she seemed to get heavier and heavier by the moment.

Soon, poor Old Cui was gnashing his teeth in discomfort, thinking, What would my friends say if they saw how difficult it is for me to carry this mere girl? Why, they'd laugh their heads off . . . 

So, he put her increasing heaviness out of his mind and pushed on.

Soon, the lights of the girl's home came into view.

Whew . . . finally . . . thought Old Cui.

Balancing the girl on his back with one hand, he knocked on the door of his house with the other hand.

Before long, a woman opened the door. She gaped at Old Cui and said, "What in the world do you think you're doing?"

"What . . . What do you mean?" asked Old Cui.

"Are you that bored with life? What do you mean by carrying coffin planks to my house?"

"Madam, please! I've escorted this young woman to your home because she had twisted--"

"At midnight you're going to persist with this utter nonsense? Take a look for yourself what you have been carrying around!"

He squatted down and let the weight fall from his back. Sure enough, two heavy coffin planks fell to the ground. Old Cui was now bathed in cold sweat. The only thing he could do was recount from beginning to end what had happened.

The woman helped Old Cui carry the planks to the garden. She then went inside to get some incense, funeral money, and food. Then, she placed the food, money and incense on the planks, lighting the incense. There, they both prayed . . .

The next day, Old Cui and some assistants returned to the same area. They discovered not far from the home was a neglected tomb missing a tombstone. The tomb itself had apparently been broken into, and the coffin lid was missing. Inside the rotted remains of the coffin lay a decayed, maggot-infested body. The frayed, torn red jacket was unmistakable, though . . .

Old Cui had the tomb reconstructed, providing the remains of the girl a brand-new coffin and tombstone. The tombstone read: "The Goddess in Red."

It is said that later, even after Old Cui's son had made a name for himself and had become a mandarin, the whole family would still pay a visit to the young woman's grave once a year.

99 of the Rural Citizen's Most Worthwhile Supernatural Stories to Read [农民朋友最值得一读的99个神鬼故事]; Huang He, ed. Nanchang: Jiangxi Jiaoyou Chubanshe, 2011; pp. 79-81. 

This above book with the very odd title contains 99 ancient and "modern" ghost stories. This particular story does not mention the province where the story took place or even the year. 

It does share some motifs in common with the Vanishing Hitchhiker: a kind older man picks up (here, literally) a stranded girl old enough at least to be his daughter, taking her to a destination, upon which she has mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind some telltale trace of herself. Interestingly, the girl knows Old Cui's name, a detail that doesn't appear in the familiar American version of the story. Perhaps this is not so strange. Old Cui may have been one in a long line of coffin makers in that town, something a ghost might know. 

The Vanishing Hitchhiker has a motif number all to itself: E332.3.3.1, including the motifs of riding in a car, leaving behind drops of rainwater, and the revelation that the ghost is one of a girl who had been killed in a car accident and has been trying to return home at least yearly. Otherwise, we also have the following motifs:*E262, "Ghost rides a man's back"; E332, "Non-malevolent road ghost(s)"; E332.2, "Person meets ghost on the road"; and cE332.3, "Ghost on road asks traveler for a ride." The latter is modified because it is the old man who offers the ride to the girl without her asking.

One of my students, I wish I could remember who that was to credit him or her, said that the Western subtext of this tale, E332.3.3.1, reflects the longing for that which cannot be regained, at least not in this life, for that which is now sadly gone forever. It seems to me the Chinese version reflects instead the need to be remembered and appreciated, the need to be venerated. In folklore and popular belief, the ancestors certainly remind their descendants in less than gentle ways whenever they feel forgotten or neglected. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Riding the Elevator--Some Boyhood Reminiscences of Tainan, Taiwan, in the 1920's & 1930's

It's been a while since I posted anything. In any case, I'm back from a trip to a place I love, Taiwan, with something to share, some memories of life in Taiwan during the Japanese occupation (1895-1945), provided by my beloved father-in-law, Mr. Fang of Tainan. To me, he is and will always be BaBa, which is also what my wife and my brothers-in-law call him.

Now 90 years young, BaBa sat down with me a week ago to have tea. I asked him some questions in Mandarin about his childhood. My wife translated my words into Taiwanese, and BaBa happily recalled some favorite memories of a simpler time.

(1) Riding the Elevator
BaBa told me he used to walk two hours from the Tainan countryside to the city of Tainan to ride the elevator of the five-story Hayashi Department Store (林百貨), then the tallest building in Tainan and the only one with an elevator. He couldn't ride the elevator for free; he had to pay the lowest denomination of coin, something like a US penny, for each ride. All this probably occurred after the store opened in 1932. With glee in his eyes, BaBa told me the store still exists. Sure enough, I visited the newly refurbished and reopened store the very next day. If you find yourself in Tainan, you might visit the Hayashi Department Store and use your imagination to visualize a young farm boy entranced by the modern technological advancement of the elevator. (

(2) The Medicine Show & Other Forms of Entertainment
Back in the countryside of Tainan County, there wasn't much in the way of entertainment. Cloth puppet shows and outdoor storytelling were discouraged by the Japanese authorities as such entertainment wasn't deemed Japanese enough. Medicine shows were tolerated, however. A company would present some individuals singing for just a few minutes, followed by sales pitches for whatever the company sold. A crowd would always gather to hear the singing. Another permitted diversion was Japanese movies shown outdoors on big makeshift screens.

(3) Favorite Childhood Games
BaBa and friends loved spinning tops, perhaps those of the large Chinese variety. They also enjoyed hide-and-seek, swimming and splashing each other with water in the river, and staging sword fights with homemade wooden swords.

(4) Japanese Cops & the Gamblers
BaBa remembers a local Japanese policeman with a fierce reputation. He used to instill fear by going on his rounds with a metal nightstick, which would make a clanging sound. The mere sound of that nightstick would send gamblers and hoodlums fleeing in all directions. This policeman would head out into farm fields, somehow alerted to the location of clandestine gambling sessions. The gamblers would be so frightened that they would take off, leaving behind all their money. The policeman would then scoop up all the money for himself and leave the scene. Not only gamblers and local thugs would run at the sound of the nightstick. BaBa recalls a tang-ki (乩童), a medium who would commune with the dead for those who needed to placate displeased spirits, and this medium once went into a trance, mumbling, muttering, shaking, rolling his eyes and so on. (Bear in mind that this would certainly be an occupation frowned on by the Japanese.) But when he heard the clank, clank, clank of the nightstick, he stood straight up, opened his eyes, and, trance or no trance, rushed off in the opposite direction of the approaching policeman. (The best book I know of in English on these mediums is David K. Jordan's Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors: Folk Religion in a Taiwanese Village.)

(5) The Exploits of the Criminal Ong Sa Zai
Ong Sa Zai (Wang Sancai 王三财, or "Three Treasures Wang") was a local hoodlum in Tainan City and County. Among his various crimes was poaching. He would rustle local cattle, butcher the animals and sell the meat. One one occasion remembered by BaBa, Ong had butchered someone's cow or bull, swaddled the meat up as if he were carrying a child, and hired a rickshaw man to take him into Tainan City to sell the meat on a street corner. As soon as he alighted from the rickshaw, though, he was immediately approached by a policeman. (BaBa didn't specify if the policeman was a Taiwanese or a Japanese.) Suspicious, the policeman began aggressively questioning Ong. All of a sudden, Ong hit the cop with both right and left crosses, flooring him. Ong then took off and disappeared down one of the many alleys that exist in Tainan. When the policeman came to, he discovered the rickshaw man was dutifully standing by. Then, despite the rickshaw man's protests, the policeman arrested the innocent man as an accessory to a crime. On another occasion, after the Japanese period had ended, Ong made it known he was supporting one of the two candidates for mayor of Tainan. The other candidate, incensed,  got wind of this and sent several thugs of his own to pay Ong a little visit in the hotel Ong had made his home. Ong, with the second sight for survival many people like him seem to possess, somehow found out he was in store for a major beating or worse. Before the thugs reached his doorstep, Ong had wrapped himself up in a thick quilt or two, burst out the door past the astounded hoodlums, and rolled himself down the long, hard stairway, all the way to the first floor, whereupon he discarded the quilts and disappeared into the night, to live again for yet another day. BaBa relates that Ong Sa Zai ended up living to a ripe old age.

BaBa, may you live well and be healthy and happy for many, many more years to come!