Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Tattooed Face (Atayal)

Long ago, over by what is now called Dabajian Mountain (straddling Hsin-chu and Miao-li Counties) there once was a huge boulder.

One day, with an earsplitting report, this boulder split into two halves. Out from the two halves came a very young man and a very young lady--a brother and a sister.

They were the only humans around; there was no one else. So they made a home for themselves and lived together harmoniously. They both had attributes that complemented their relationship. The young man was strong and hardworking, while the young woman was quick-witted and lively.

Then they reached the age when couples would later marry.

The sister was sad, knowing something was lacking in her life. She thought, I want to be with someone just as the beasts of the woods and of the skies, in the same way, find themselves together. I want to have babies of my own as they do, but what can I do? My brother is the only one of his kind around. 

She knew her brother would refuse to be in a couple's relationship with her in this manner, so she thought and thought and finally came up with a plan. When she saw him, she said, "Brother, you know you ought to find yourself someone with whom you can be a couple."

"Don't I know it!" he said sighing. "Tell me where I can find such a person."

"I'll tell you exactly where. There's a person with bodily details like mine who lives inside the hollow of the boulder at the foot of the mountain!"

"What? Is that possible? Well, take me to see her, then! Let's not waste any time!"

The sister smiled. "There's no need to hurry. I've already spoken to her and set it up for you so that she can be with you together. Tomorrow you can go to her yourself. Now, let me tell you what she looks like . . ."

The next day the young man went to the boulder at the foot of the mountain. Sure enough, there was a young lady living in a very large crevice. She greeted the young man with a big smile and a warm welcome. This young woman had black designs on her face, lines and geometric shapes that ran across her cheeks.

The young man didn't care about the black lines on her face; he fell in love with her and became what would later be called her "husband." In time, they had many babies together.

Of course, the young man's bride was none other than his own sister who had burnt sticks and applied the charcoal to her face as a disguise. That is why from that day on Atayal women, before marrying, would always have their cheeks actually tattooed.

Lin Daosheng, Vol. 2; pp. 26-28. See the bibliographic citation for 7/14/17.

The Atayal myth presupposes that the brother, at least consciously, didn't know that his own sister was underneath those black geometric designs. Like many myths involving the incestuous origins of humankind, this story deals in a very sober and prosaic manner with just what needed to be done to populate the world. 

Myths of brother-sister incest that result in the spawning of the human species are a worldwide phenomenon (see A.W. Johnson & D. Price-Williams; Oedipus Ubiquitous: The Family Complex in World Literature; Stanford University Press, 1996; 62). In some myths, the relationship is mother-son, with the mother's application of charcoal upon her face for her disguise (M. S. Day; The Many Meanings of Myth; University Press of America, 1984; 225). Myths from throughout Asia and the Pacific follow a similar pattern of the first couple, sometimes a brother and a sister, emanating from bamboo joints, a gourd, a rock, separate eggs, or from an egg (the man) and from a rock (the woman). From Taiwan alone come twenty-eight versions of the primal pair leaving a rock  to live as husband and wife and, later, to spread humanity (Ho Ting-jui; A Comparative Study of Myths and Legends of Formosan Aborigines; 2 vols.; Diss. Indiana University, 1967; 56-59; 62; 65; 69). 

Perhaps the motif of the rock spawning the first pair is a legacy of animist rock worship in which prominent boulders with suggestive shapes were believed to be endowed with procreative powers. More than one location in Southeastern China, for example, is known as "Waiting/Longing for the Husband Rock [望夫石], where local customs hold that a rock formation that resembles a woman holding a baby is actually a woman and an infant who were transformed into stone while waiting on a bluff overlooking the river for the first glimpse of a man who was destined never to return. Such spots, for instance, one in Guangdong Province and one nearby in Hong Kong's New Territories, are believed by some to be ancient centers of this rock-worshipping cult. The prevalence of such rock-worshipping sites on the Chinese mainland as well as in the Pacific suggests that Taiwan is in the middle of what was once a single cultural region (B. Riftin; 74; 82 [See the notes in the posting for 5/20/10]).

Motifs: A1273.1, "Incestuous first parents"; A1465.1, "Origing of tattooing"; A1595, "Origin of tattooing"; K1377, "Incestuous marriage arranged by trick"; T415, "Brother-sister incest"; cT415.5, "Brother-sister marriage."

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Wife From the Depths (Saisiyat)

For my friend, Gavin Whyte

A young hunter, an orphan, once went out to do a day's hunting. He came home alone, of course, to his hut in the village, tired and hungry. He was amazed to discover a fine hot meal awaiting him on his table.

The neighbors must have done this for me, he thought.

The next night, the night after that, and the night after that--for many nights in a row, actually--he would come home to find a wonderful hot dinner waiting just for him.

Before, he had just simply accepted that the first few of these mysterious meals had been the acts of kindness of his neighbors who all lived in a small village. Now, though, he was totally bewildered because the meals kept appearing nightly, seemingly out of nowhere, and no one in the village claimed to know anything about them.

So, one day he did this: he made sure his friends were hiding in the tall grass near his hut to spy on whoever it was who was coming over to his home and cooking the delicious meals. The young hunter then left to do that day's worth of hunting while the friends watched the hut.

He returned early that evening to discover his friends had surrounded a lovely but embarrassed young woman who insisted on keeping her head lowered. She had been observed entering the hut and leaving it once that night's dinner had been set on the table. Now she was enclosed in a circle of the young hunter and his friends, refusing to speak.

When one of the hunter's friends went over to the tall grass to urinate and did so rather openly, the young woman couldn't help but laugh. She began to talk but didn't reveal much about herself. That was of no consequence,  for whenever the young hunter and the maiden looked at each other, love shone in their eyes. The eyes spoke what the heart didn't say.

So, shortly afterward they became husband and wife.

Now that they had been married, one of the hunter's friends brought them a wedding cake. The hunter sliced a piece and gave it to his bride. Much to his surprise, she took it and carried it to the riverbank.
Before his very eyes, she took a mighty leap right into the river itself. The husband screamed for his wife in terror. He ran up to the bank and looked at the spot where she had jumped. She could still be seen below the water. She rose up to the surface.

"My home is in the river," she said. "Come on in and meet my mother."

The hunter was frightened and didn't dare jump in, no matter how much his wife beckoned to him. Finally, a middle-aged woman who bore a resemblance to his wife stuck her head out of the water right next to the young woman. She then waved hello and likewise beckoned him to jump in.

The hunter took in a deep breath, said some silent prayers, and dived in.

He soon found himself in the river abode of his wife. It was a regal mansion deep below the surface. The hunter discovered no reason to return to the surface, so he stayed below with his wife and parents-in-law. In time, the young married couple had a baby. A month after that happy event and the hunter began to pine for his old life back on the earth's surface. So he said goodbye to his wife, his child, and his parents-in-law.

He returned to his village and his hut. What's more, he then took another wife, what Han Taiwanese people today would call a "little wife."

Now one day the wife from the river came to the surface with their son to search for her husband. She returned to the hut, where she found the second wife. The two wives faced each other; soon they began to squabble about who was better, who was prettier, who was nicer, who was a better cook, and so on. Both defended their appearances and qualities to the other without either feeling that she had come off worse.

Then the quarrel took a new direction.

"All right," said the second wife, "we'll settle this. Let's see who has the nicer clothes. Bring out all your clothes, if you dare! Whoever has the nicer wardrobe shall be the winner. The loser leaves the village and leaves the man behind."

The first wife agreed and left for her river home to fetch her clothing. She returned and hung her clothes up for all to see. She needed at least ten bamboo poles on which to hang her richly made clothes fit for the goddess she was. The second wife, however, had enough clothing to accommodate only one pole. They weren't particularly impressive clothes, either. The first wife, the wife from the depths of the river, had clearly bested the second wife and had thus won the contest.

The second wife, "the little wife," was enraged. Refusing to give in, she rushed out the hut and came back in shortly after, this time, with a jar of ink. She then poured ink all over some of the first wife's clothes.

"Now, you," said the second wife, "get out of here and never come back! Do you hear me?"

The first wife was enraged beyond belief. If he really wants this shrew, he can have her! she thought. She and their son left and returned to the depths of the river.

She later returned to her husband's hut with the small son. Right before the husband's eyes, she took their son and tore him into two living halves.

"Now, husband of mine, here is your half of our son; I shall keep the other half," she said. "I shall return in two years to see how the other half is, whether he is thriving or not. We'll then see who is the better wife and mother."

With that, she and her half of the son were gone.

Now the hunter and his second wife were responsible for taking care of their half of the son. Barely a day later, while under the hunter and second wife's care, the half-son decayed and died.

Two years passed. The first wife and her half of the son returned to the hunter's hut. Her half of the boy was now a healthy and whole young lad. The hunter, now alone, saw clearly who had been the superior wife and mother.

The hunter told his first wife how sorry he was, that he was no longer with the second wife, and that he wanted her, the first wife, back. However, she would have no part of it; she was no longer interested. She and the boy returned to their home in the river.

How the hunter had begged her not to leave! But leave she did.

The hunter never saw either his first wife or his son ever again.

Taiwanese Folktales [台湾民间故事], Shi Cuifeng, ed. N.P.: Hebei Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1987; pp. 210-213. 

The Saisiyat territory is a small wedge between Taoka and Atayal lands in northern central Taiwan in a section of Miaoli and Hsinchu counties. 

Damiana L. Eugenio relates a similar myth from the Ifugao of the Philippines. In this Ifugao version, a poor man, too impoverished to even clothe himself, is pitied by a goddess from the sky, not from the river, as in our story. The young man takes her home to meet his mother before they are wed. Once married, they conceive a child. The goddess, subjected to intense dislike and suspicion by the small-minded villagers, wishes to return to her sky home with their son, but the husband, terrified of heights, refuses to leave, despite all assurances that she would protect him in the ascent. He still refuses and she splits their son, not down the middle but crosswise at the waist, leaving the top half for her husband. She returns to the sky with her half of their son, with the expectations that her husband's half of the child should do well under his care. When she returns to the earth for a visit, she is shocked her husband's half of the child has withered and died. Various parts of the dead child, then, through the goddess's magic, become animals: the head becomes an owl; the nose, a mollusk; the excrement, a type of bird, etc. (Philippine Folk Literature: The Myths; Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1993; pp. 33-37). Missing from the Ifugao story are the motifs of a second wife and the husband's being an orphan.

Might the literal splitting of the child be a figurative reflection of just what could result from such a miraculous, supernatural, but ultimately unstable marriage that really should have never been allowed? The end result of such a union is an incomplete child yearning for complete development, coming, as he does, from two basically incompatible parents or parts. In folktales, it takes two totally dedicated and involved parents, not one, to raise successfully a "whole" child (Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment; New York: Knopf, 1976, p. 70). Not coincidentally, in the Taiwanese tale, the mortal half of the split child perishes, while the immortal half thrives. 

This story, like many preceding it and many to follow, comes from a cycle of tales popular in East Asia and around the world: the supernatural wife/animal bride, in which a shapeshifting animal becomes a bride. Here, it is a river goddess. Other tales like this include "The Swan Maiden" and "The Snail Shell Girl."  In the case of goddess brides, the essence of these tales is as follows: a poor man is pitied by the gods and rewarded for his industriousness, filial piety, honesty, etc., with a princess/goddess from the other realm, usually from the sky or from below the water. They marry. In time he is either persecuted by an evil, corrupt local authority who covets such a beautiful, marvelous wife, or he simply loses his wife for violating a taboo. Ancient Han Chinese versions include one particular tale that goes by different names: "The Snail Shell Girl," "The Snail Wife," "The Waif of White Water, " and so on. (See my postings for 3/19/08 and 7/8/10.) The Greek folktale "The Animal Wife" (Stith Thompson, One Hundred Favorite Folktales; Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1974; pp. 143-146) closely parallels Chinese versions. 

Whether she is an exquisite goddess from the river, ocean, or sky; an enticing representation of elusive, wild animal nature; or, a beautiful incarnation of death itself (e.g., Yuki Onna; see any edition of Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan for the tale "Yuki Onna," or the haunting and stunning 1964 movie version of Kwaidan from director Masaki  Kobayashi), the supernatural wife is foolish to take a chance on love with a mortal man. Perhaps she represents a human longing in supernatural form for an impossible life, for the world that once was, an epoch of innocence, a time when animals could speak to humans, a connection lost forever. (For more discussion on this, see Boria Sax's The Serpent and the Swan: The Animal Bride in Folklore and Literature; Blacksburg, Va.: McDonald & Woodward, 1998.) These stories frequently end tragically and are reminders of the permanent gap between idealized nature and us humans. 

Motifs: C31, "Taboo: offending the supernatural wife"; F525, "Person with half a body"; F725.3, "Submarine castle (palace)"; *T299.3, "Separating couple divide child upon separation"; cT589.2, "Boy cut in two; each half becomes a boy." 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Song Qiong Returns (Han)

Long, long ago, when traveling from village to village, let alone across a province, was difficult and dangerous, there lived a man named Song Qiong. He was an unmarried man all alone in the world, his parents having passed on some time earlier. Life in his village was hard as his crops had failed. So, he decided to do what for many was the unthinkable--to leave his native village and journey beyond the Shanhai Pass, where the easternmost section of the Great Wall meets the ocean, to the land beyond.

So, along with a companion, he left his home, exited the Pass, and journeyed farther still to a place he would remain in for a period time. In this new village, he worked very hard for a number of years by the sweat of his brow, and scrimped and saved until he had amassed a small fortune, 500 hundred silver coins. Now in his early fifties, he decided to return to his native village, like many, maybe even most, sojourners.

And so he, now alone, set off for his own village, a place he had not seen for years. The cold wintry weather did not deter him as he trudged through the increasing snow covering the ground. On and on he plodded through the falling snow that would not let up.

He had trekked for more than a couple of weeks and was now up in the mountains when he discovered he just could not go any farther. The snow had become a blizzard that enveloped the mountains, blocking the path. Not only that but his two legs were killing him. There was a village up ahead; he would stay there and wait out the storm as he regained the strength in his legs.

He entered the village, made inquiries, and located a vacant room he could rent. In time, he got to know the people of the village, and they got to know him. He was there long enough for everyone to know him because the weather had remained icy, prohibiting foot travel out of the area. By and by they came to see he was of good, honest character and learned he had never married. Before long, the villagers introduced him to a local widow, a Mrs. Ma, who was in her forties and already had four grown children. All in all, the villagers considered them a good match because their respective ages were not very far apart and because Mrs. Ma and her children, though far from wealthy, lived comfortably and always ate well. Perhaps most of all, Song Qiong was a downright decent fellow, a good man to marry.

And so they married, and Song Qiong no longer needed to fret about returning to the village of his birth.

Around a year after the wedding, Song Qiong was struck down with a heavy illness that left him bedridden on the kang, the brick oven the top of which served as a warm bed in this extreme Northern climate.

It had been no secret to Mrs. Ma that Song Qiong possessed 500 silver coins. It now occurred to Mrs. Ma that Song Qiong didn't need to get better. She planned to poison him and take his silver coins for herself.

Mrs. Ma poisoned the food in Song's bowl. The unwitting Song Qiong ate the meal and soon died. Within three days, he had been hastily dressed in a cheap, flimsy coffin and, in the midst of a snowstorm, carted off to a desolate, frozen hill where the unlamented dead were dumped. There, Song's coffin was likewise dumped in an icy snowbank and hastily covered up by the abundant snow.

The harsh winter finally gave way to a warm spring, and, with that, the snow and ice over and around Song's coffin finally melted.

A farmhand who had been hired for the harvest was passing the hill and saw Song's coffin out in the open. He heard a gudong, stopped in his tracks, and looked at the coffin. The lid slowly creaked open, and out from the coffin leaped Song Qiong, who strode over to the farmhand, blocking his path.

"Are . . .  are . . . you . . . a . . . p-p-person?" asked the farmhand.

"No. I'm a ghost," replied Song Qiong.

"W-w-what do you w-w-want?"

"Do me a kindness. Take me to the village. To the home of the Widow Ma."

The farmhand wasn't about to argue with a ghost as Song Qiong's ghost climbed up onto the man's back for a piggyback ride into town. The ghost climbed down off the man's back once he was in front of Widow Ma's front door. The farmhand didn't tarry for a second and ran for his life away from there.

The ghost pushed the door open and entered.

It so happened that Mrs. Ma and her four sons were all crowded around the table, eating lunch. They looked up when they heard the door open and shut. The five were thunderstruck to see who was standing before them.

Slowly, her bones rattling with fear, Mrs. Ma raised herself from her chair. "Y-you're s-supposed to b-be dead, aren't you?"

The ghost laughed a cold snicker from the grave. "When there's been a great wrong, there'll be a corpse," he said, "and there'll be a culprit. A great wrong demands redress, and I'm here to collect. Now, give me my 500 silver coins and a full year's wage for all the work I've done."

Mrs. Ma knew the ghost had her over a barrel. Her face collapsed with sorrow as she went to retrieve the money that the ghost had demanded. The ghost of Song Qiong took the coins, including the year's wages, bundled them up, and left the Ma house.

The ghost next headed for the crossroads. By the intersection stood a wine shop. The ghost entered the shop and spoke to the owner.

"Boss, do this for me. I'll pay you for setting up ten tables of fine wines and delicacies so that for the next ten days any and all travelers coming by this spot may refresh themselves and eat free of charge. I will be seated at one of the tables to welcome anyone who comes by."

The ghost paid the owner a deposit for the order, and the owner, receiving the payment, snapped his fingers for his shop clerk to set up the tables of food and wine immediately. Each table, according to the ghost's order, would have ten dishes, a large bowl of soup, and a selection of wines.

For the next ten days, the ghost sat and wined and dined all who came his way. He made sure to inform them of Mrs. Ma's treachery so that the news of her evil spread through the nine provinces and one hundred eight counties.

As the saying goes, "Ten told one hundred, and one hundred told a thousand." In time, the news reached the local magistrate in the yamen. He promptly sent yamen guards to arrest all five members of the Ma family, including Mrs. Ma.

By this time, the ten days had passed, and all the money the ghost had taken from Mrs. Ma had been spent on food and wine. The ghost of Song Qiong, no longer needed to entertain travelers at the crossroads, lingered around Mrs. Ma's house and took satisfaction at seeing each of the Mas, one by one, led out of the house to be delivered to the yamen to await certain punishment.

His vengeance achieved, the ghost left the area, and this time "died" somewhere for sure.

Ghost Stories [鬼故事], Xu Hualong, ed. Shanghai: Shanghai Wenhua Chubanshe, 2017; pp. 50-52. 

The ghost of Song Qiong is lifelike and three-dimensional enough to resemble a living person. This is no legless, semi-transparent apparition. Furthermore, the story implies the ghost roams and interacts with people day and night. The ghostly manifestation appears to be caused by the violation of an obscure funerary taboo: burial in a cavity packed with snow and ice. There are many Chinese funerary taboos, and some vary according to location (e.g., Northeast China, Taiwan) and ethnicity (e.g., Han majority and minority peoples such as the Muslim Hui, Mongols, etc.); however, I have not been able to find it listed in various compendiums of Chinese taboos. However, in any case, burial of a murder victim in a cheap coffin dumped into an icy, snowy ditch would be obviously terribly disrespectful, just begging for vengeful haunting. 

The story also hints at how in ancient times the area outside the Shanhai Pass, where the Great Wall meets the sea, was regarded as far beyond the pale of civilization. 

The ghost's busy activity of hosting a ten-day banquet seems to be a rare motif. Also interesting is his needing a man to carry him to Mrs. Ma's house when he seems otherwise perfectly mobile. Also noteworthy is Mrs. Ma, somewhat impoverished, has all that money on hand when the ghost demands it. 

Motifs: E230, "Return from the dead to inflict punishment"; E231, "Return from the dead to reveal murder"; cE235, "Return from the dead to punish indignities to corpse or ghost"; E236.8, "Ghost seeks repayment of stolen money"; cE238, "Dinner with the dead"; E420, "Appearance of revenant."

Friday, August 4, 2017

The God Who Loved a Girl (Amis)

The god Yileke was a carefree deity that roamed the Ninth Heaven.

One day during a jaunt across the sky, his foot dispersed a wispy cloud, revealing to him the land below. And what did he see? He beheld the people in rags as they stood by the dry riverbeds and parched fields of wilted stalks of grain. There the people stood, earnestly bowing under heaven, making offerings so that the earth could become fertile and alive again.

He heard their prayers:

Cloudless skies, 
No rain coming forth . . .
Let's all rise
To make our efforts have some worth!
Up the mountain path we wend
So the rains may finally return
And this time of need can once and for all finally end!

This entreating touched Yileke's heart, for he was a compassionate god. He decided to help the people. He transformed himself into a handsome youth and descended into the world of people.

Yileke brought a huge wooden top. He spun it once, and the farm fields were leveled and furrowed. He spun it twice, and crystal pure water flowed from the earth, irrigating the farm fields. In almost the twinkling of an eye, he had transformed the Amis people's landscape into a welcoming, fertile garden.

That very autumn, the Amis gathered a huge harvest. All men and women, young and old, now had beautiful multi-colored clothes to wear. All celebrated their harvest by dancing around the many bonfires that had been lit in each community.

It was at one of these bonfire dances that Yileke first saw the girl who would later kidnap his very heart. She was dancing around the fire with flowers in her hair, wearing a skirt of many colors. She dazzled his eyes. He decided to introduce himself, so, following the Amis custom, he plucked a fresh betel nut from a tree and tossed it into the basket she was carrying on her back. The maiden saw this. She ambled over to a plantain tree and beneath its branches sang:

The harvest grains have been moved into the granary, 
But the fruit of love is also ready to be collected. 
Oh, Silver Moon, 
Be my matchmaker!

Yileke walked over to her, this mortal girl who had enchanted him so, took her hand, and danced with her, around and around. The villagers laughed and applauded. They wished Yileke and the maiden happy, long lives together . . . 

They became husband and wife.

They were now together night and day, but gods and mortals cannot be together for very long.

So there came the day when Yileke had to return to the Ninth Heaven alone, for his mortal wife could not rise into the sky and beyond the clouds with him. How her heart was broken!

"I shall do this," said Yileke. "I'll turn myself into a heavenly ladder. Once you climb to the top, we can be together again. Once you are up there with me, you shall be able to stay. No one will be able to separate us, and we can live up there forever! What do you say?"

"I say, 'Yes!'' was her reply.

"Now, there's one very important thing, " he added. "Please listen carefully."

"What is that?"

"If you should make an audible sound while climbing the ladder," said Yileke, "the whole ladder will dissolve into nothingness. Don't make the slightest sound, not even a sigh. Do you understand that you have to keep totally silent?" She nodded. "Do you still wish to climb up the ladder to be with me?"

"Create that ladder and I shall come up!" she said.

So, Yileke, the good, dutiful son-in-law he was, said farewell to his father-in-law and the elders of the village. He then ascended into the heavens on a cloud and out of sight. Once he was back in his realm, however, he turned himself into a gleaming ladder of white jade that stretched down from the sky.

Wearing the dress that she had worn when Yileke first laid eyes upon her, the young wife packed some fragrant glutinous rice cakes wrapped in plantain leaves--a little taste of home--and started climbing up the ladder for her journey into the sky, towards the stars, and, ultimately, into the arms of her lover, Yileke.

So up and up she climbed, every second thinking about being reunited with her husband and lover. But how high the heavens are! The climbing became a little rough, and she chewed her lips to control any sound that might escape from them.

Higher and higher she went, passing birds and clouds alike. She started to believe she could see Yileke above her, beckoning to her. She looked below; her sisters and other family members continued to wave farewell. She felt her heart being pulled in two different directions. She now couldn't bear to part with her father and sisters, yet she couldn't stand the idea of not having Yileke in her life. Her heart and mind were churning together, each wanting something different.

And then it happened . . . She did something so naturally human--she let go a gentle sigh.

The white jade ladder instantly disappeared like smoke in the air.

"Yileke . . . !" she screamed once as she plummeted all the way back down to earth.

Yileke hastily and desperately recomposed himself to rescue his wife, but it was too late.

The god was inconsolable; his very spirit was crushed. He blamed himself for what had happened to his wife. He crouched down over the spot where his wife had fallen and cried an entire river, which emptied into a bottomless pool. This pool then became the resting spot for his wife's remains.

The god Yileke turned into a rainbow. Since that day long ago, he still sits silently halfway up in the sky, with one of his rainbow legs on the land, hoping that his young wife might still somehow climb up from her resting place to be with him.

Cai Tiemin, pp. 16-19. (See 7/3/17 for full citation.)

The Ninth Heaven is regarded in ancient Han Chinese mythology as the highest realm of the gods. The same term was used in this story, suggesting an Amis' borrowing of a Han term to describe or express a local concept, perhaps suggestive of syncretism. The motif of a ladder to heaven is relatively rare in indigenous Taiwanese mythology (see Boris Riftin, p. 127, in 從神話到鬼話, or From Myths to Ghost Stories). More common, however, is the motif of the male culture hero the bringer of grains often a god, marrying a mortal girl whom he has to leave behind to return to the world above (Ho Tingjui, 111-112; see 7/6/12 for full citation). We know from many worldwide examples of mortal-immortal marriage stories that such marriages are doomed. In this present story, the inevitable violation of the taboo safeguards the normal order by ending the supernatural marriage. This reminds us yet again that some things are never meant to be and that there will always be some built-in "fly in the ointment," or safeguards to stop them. 

The story mentions the betel nut (or areca nut; in Mandarin, binlang [檳榔]; Taiwanese/Minnan, pin-nng), a seed, not an actual nut, that is chewed throughout much of Southeast Asia for its property as a stimulant. Many Han Taiwanese truck drivers or cab drivers claim chewing betel nut keeps them warm during the frequent damp, cold winter, though it is certainly chewed during the rest of the year as well. The practice of chewing betel nut spread from the indigenous population to the Han Taiwanese and is widespread on the island. Jan Knappert relates how the Indonesian word for "betel nut," pinang, is synonymous with the term "marriage proposal" and how in much of Southeast Asia betel nuts have come to be identified with courtship and matchmaking. (See Knappert's Pacific Mythology: An Encylopedia of Myth and Legend; London: Diamond Books, 1995; "Betel," p. 30.) That Penang, Malaysia is apparently named after the areca nut attests to the seed's prominence in the area. 

Motifs: A651.1.1.6, "Nine heavens"; A666, "Ladder to heaven"; C715.2, "Taboo: making noise (sigh) on way to other world"; C920, "Death for breaking taboo"; F52, "Ladder to upper world"; F152.1.1, "Rainbow as bridge to other world"; T91.3.3, "God enamored of mortal"; T111.1, "Marriage of mortal and god"; V59, "Prayers answered." 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Uncle Bird (Taiwan -- Paiwan)

There once were two young brothers, orphans. They had no family in this world, and so they kept to themselves.

One day, as they were playing together out in a field, an old man in the area, Waluwalun, called out to them: "Hey, boys! Come over here. I noticed you two are all alone. Let me teach you how to work and to take care of yourselves!"

The boys looked at each other; true, they had no family, no one wanted to care for them, so they nodded and off they went to live with Waluwalun.

The next morning, Waluwalun said, "All right, boys. Ready for the first lesson? Today you're going off to the forest to cut down some branches so that we can make clubs. So, off with you!" He then stayed home to make rope.

Soon the brothers came home with branches.

"Uncle!" one of the two cried. "There are many people out working on the land!"

"Never mind that," Waluwalun said. "Now I need you to go out and gather some animal bones."

The boys picked up a bamboo basket and went off to gather bones.

Soon they returned with a basket full of animal bones.

"Uncle!" one of them cried. "How are these?"

"You don't have enough yet. Better go back out and gather more."

"Why do you keep braiding rope, Uncle?"

"Never you mind. Now go out and get some more bones."

By and by, the boys returned with more animal bones.

"All right," said Waluwalun, "here's what we shall do. We'll take the clubs, bones, rope, and these cucumber seeds out to our field."

So off the three of them went. Once they got to the field, the old man had the boys stick one club in each corner of the field and then had them use the rope to cordon the area off, wrapping the rope around each club. They now stood in the center of a large rectangular plot of land. He told them to bury the animal bones in the soil. He next had them gather stones to build some low stone walls, next to which they planted the cucumber seeds.

"That's it for today, boys! Now let's go home."

And so they went home.

A few days later, Waluwalun said, "Go out to our field and take a look at it. Let me know if everything seems fine."

The boys rushed out and soon came back, one beaming and the other, less so.


"Uncle! The seeds have sprouted!" one brother said.

"Yes, but Uncle," the other brother said, "the millet others planted is now ready to harvest . . ."

"Ahh, no doubt but don't worry about it," the old man said.

The next day, Waluwalun taught the two brothers how to catch and skin a boar, not an easy task for an adult, let alone a child.

Once the boar had been skinned, Waluwalun told them, "Well, you've been so concerned about what others were doing, with their breaking up the land, their millet sprouting and such. Why don't you two take a little stroll with the boar's heart and feet. Let all the others take a gander at what you have done!"

The boys liked that idea, so they did precisely that.

Little did they know that the reaction they would receive would not be the one they had expected.

They passed a gaggle of villagers, who, instead of being amazed at the boar's heart and feet, started jeering the boys, laughing and pointing at them.

"Ha ha!" one of the village rabble laughed. "That 'uncle' of yours! Don't you know he's just a bird?"

"What did you just say?" asked one of the brothers.

"That old man who takes care of you is . . . is . . . a bird!" said one of the rabble.

"Chirp! Chirp! Tweet! Tweet! The old man's only a bird in human form!" laughed another.

The brothers were surprised, shocked, embarrassed. They quickly ran home.

"Uncle! Uncle!" one of the two cried. "The villagers all say you're just a bird, a bird in human form!"

Waluwalun shrugged his shoulders. "And what of it? Do you care what others think? Does it matter to you?"

"Well . . . no, I guess it doesn't . . ."

"Fine, then. Let's not hear any more of it."

The boys said nothing more about it and ran outside. Once again they encountered people from the village who laughed at them.

"Having a bird for an uncle! Can you believe it?"

"I wonder if he has them sleep in some nest in that hut!"

On and on the rabble, some of whom were doubled over, laughing until tears fell from their eyes, ridiculed the two brothers. The two brothers ran back home again. They found Waluwalun in the back of the hut, cooking something. Once again, they told the old man what others from the village had said.

'They kept saying you're a bird!" said one.

"Yes! They kept laughing at us and said that we slept in a nest!" said the other.

"Enough!" said Waluwalun. "Enough! I don't need to hear this anymore! I can leave this place." Next, with a loud gua gua, he turned into an actual bird right before their very eyes. Flapping his wings, he said one last thing in the language of people: "Pigs to feed and grain seeds to plant--I don't need to worry about such things anymore! They're all your chores now! Good bye and good luck!"

He then flew away from the back of his hut where, just moments before, he had been standing as a human, and now, never to be seen again.

Lin Daosheng, Vol. 2; pp. 97-100. See the bibliographic citation for 7/4/17. 

Paiwan tribal land takes up most of Taiwan's southern peninsula.

This story shows a theme we can see in indigenous Taiwanese folklore: transformation or metamorphosis into an animal through mimicry, sheer frustration or rage without restoration to human form at the conclusion of the narrative. For example, in one tale a lazy man turns into a monkey simply by attaching an artificial tale  to his own bottom (Lin Daosheng, Vol. 1, p. 24). In another example, an angry child becomes an eagle by attaching feathers to his body to punish his mother who had given him chore after chore while reneging on a promise to allow him some leisure time (Lin Daosheng, Vol. 1, pp. 25-26). Why a bird, though? What animal better symbolizes a longing to be free, unshackled than a bird? ("Hope is a thing with feathers," wrote American poet Emily Dickinson.) This longing to be free is one of the three reasons Boris Riftin posits for the abundance of transformation-into-bird tales. The other two reasons are, respectively, the many opportunities to observe birds in tropical and semi-tropical locations as opposed to catching glimpses of the stealthier forest predators, and the popular belief that one's soul becomes a bird upon death (Riftin, 從神話鬼話, 1999; pp. 310-311). Moreover, what other animal possibly better reconciles earth and heaven than a bird which navigates both realms (see Hans Dieckmann, Twice-Told Tales: The Psychological Use of Fairy Tales; Boris Matthews, trans.; Wilmette, Ill.: Chiron, 1986; p. 38)? Similar tales of transformation into birds and other forest creatures can be found in the folk literature of Filipino tribal peoples (See Mable Cook Cole, Philippine Folk Tales; N.p.: Forgotten Books, 2007; Damiana Eugenio,  Philippine Folk Literature: The Myths; Quezon City: University of the Philipines Press, 1993). 

In their fascinating book Hopi Stories of Witchcraft, Shamanism, and Magic (Lincoln, Neb.and; London: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), Ekkehart Malotki and Ken Gary suggest some shamanistic motifs of Hopi tales that might also be universal. Among these is a transformation into an animal (e.g., bird), a motif found here as well as in other indigenous Taiwanese folktales and legends. 

The themes of minding one's own business and being grateful for what one has are difficult to miss in this story!

Motifs: B211.3, "Speaking bird"; D159, "Transformation: man to bird"; cQ281.1, "Ungrateful children punished." 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Price of Being Beautiful (Puyuma)

Note: This is a rather grim tale probably not suitable for younger kids. The Brothers Grimm (no pun intended) would have probably approved of it, as would have Alfred Hitchcock.

In Lu Family Village, there once lived an exceedingly beautiful maiden--lovelier than peonies or jade--and her name was Jun. While all the young lads in the village practically lined up to ask her hand in marriage, the rest of the village girls resented her from the deep pits of their stomachs. Jun thus found herself constantly the target of spiteful rumors and innuendos.

The ringleader of the malicious girls, Paishim, feigned friendship for Jun and invited her to go swimming--just the two of them.

"Just we two, Paishim?" asked Jun.

"That's right, you and me and not the rest! Well, are you up to it?"

"Yes, let's go!"

Jun and Paishim went to the river bank, where they both took off their clothes. They both then jumped into the river and began swimming. When Jun took in some water and began coughing, Paishim, swimming next to her, ignored her distress. At the worst moment of the crisis, Paishim simply swam back to the river bank as Jun thrashed about and began to sink.

Paishim climbed back onto land. With Jun's having disappeared from sight, Paishim donned Jun's clothes, buried her own, and headed to Jun's hut.

In the darkness of the night and interior of the poorly lit hut, Jun's parents thought their daughter had returned home for their evening meal.

Hmm, why, when my daughter normally eats like a sparrow, thought the mother, is she now eating like a starving hound? 

How strange, thought the father. Jun's voice is usually as soft as twinkling chimes. Why does her voice now sound like a blade sawing through a log?

The mother and then the father leaned in and took a closer look at the one who claimed to be their daughter. They then both turned to each other with stern expressions and nodded to each other as Paishim continued to eat away as if there were no tomorrow.

The parents had instantly thought the same things: She's an impostor, an evil shapeshifter from the forest who's taken our daughter's form and clothing, probably after having murdered her. And now here she is, before us, wearing our Jun's clothes. Letting her live would unleash ten thousand disasters upon our heads and those of other villagers . . . She must die!

The mother and father again exchanged looks and realized they had come to the same conclusion.

With grave determination, the parents set about doing the task. They arose and slowly approached the unsuspecting Paishim, still eating . . .

"What is it?" she asked. "What's wrong . . . ?"

While this was going on, Jun, instead of floating dead in the river, was drying off in a farmer's house, having been rescued by this passing farmer from a nearby settlement across the river.

"May I at least return home, along with you, to my parents to let them know I am all right?" she asked him.

"No, I already told you. I rescued you, and so you belong to me!"



She tried telling him how she missed her parents and how worried they must be about her not returning home. All the urging and begging she did turned out to be futile; the farmer demanded that she belong to him.

So there Jun stayed, a guarded prisoner in the farmer's house, with no apparent way to escape and return to her parents and her own home. She spent every waking moment thinking of ways to flee from her captor. If only there was a way . . .

One day, in frustration, she took the bamboo comb she was using and flung it out the window. A small plant grew from the patch of ground where it had landed. This plant, in time, grew into a great tree with mighty branches. In several years' time, the branches reached all the way across the river.

When she was alone for a few moments one day, Jun opened the window, climbed up the tree, and walked on the branches over the river back to her village and to her home. There, she found both her parents on the verge of death, both continuing to mourn the daughter they believed had surely been murdered and nearly replaced by a deadly forest shapeshifter. How joyful they now were to see Jun need not be detailed but only imagined! They had their daughter back, their spirits revived, and here the story ends.

Shi Cuifeng, ed. 台湾民间故事. [Taiwan folktales]. N.p.: Hebei Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 2005; pp. 245-246.

Much of this story seems like an urban legend; much, however, especially with the clueless characters like Paishim, who thinks she can impersonate Jun and the robotic parents who don't immediately grasp they have an impostor in their midst, reads like a folktale. 

The concept of forest/mountain shapeshifters still exists among both the indigenous Taiwanese and the Han Chinese Taiwanese. 

The Puyuma, or Binan, live on the southeast side of Taiwan, just above the peninsula. 

Motifs: D1072.1, "Magic comb"; cF1071.1, "Crossing the river with the help of a fig tree whose branches reach the opposite bank"' K1931, "Impostor abandons or kills companion and usurps his (her) place": cK1931.1, "Impostor throws hero overboard into sea (river)"; Q261, "Treachery punished"; Q262, "Impostor punished."

Thursday, July 6, 2017

She Who Married a Snake (Rukai)

Before the front door of the local clan chief's stone-slab house, a hive of bees and baibudao vipers stood guard. Any intruder attempting to enter would surely be either stung or bitten to death--probably both.

Now in this heavily guarded royal household of hereditary chiefs lived a maiden named Ba'leng, a young woman so beautiful that the lake god Ai'didi'nan himself had fallen in love with her. The god planned to visit Ba'leng's house and ask her parents for her hand in marriage. The lake god did not know that in order not to scare away potential suitors, Ba'leng had instructed anyone seeking her hand to make an appointment to give time to the attendants to move the beehive and to round up the

Well, Ai'didi'nan paid a visit in the morning nonetheless, somehow bypassing the vipers and bees. Ba'leng's family members and attendants awoke to find the floor of their house--in the house itself, mind you-- crawling with baibudao snakes, frightening them nearly out of their minds. The chief of these vipers was a magnificent shining white baibudao coiled around Ba'leng.

And there, standing inside the house amidst the slithering, coiling vipers was Ai'didi'nan himself, lake god and, something previously unknown to Ba'leng's family, king of the baibudao vipers.

He had come to ask the chief and his wife for their blessings to wed their daughter. Could they say no? Would they say no?

The chief and his wife did not want to agree to this marriage proposal; however, they thought over the circumstances. Ai'didi'nan seemed to have them over a barrel. What's more--the chief and his wife recalled how, according to Rukai traditions, the chief's very own family was descended from a baibudao. The proposal thus seemed to be one between equals.

The chief and his wife agreed to let Ai'didi'nan wed Ba'leng.

Ai'didi'nan was delighted and recalled his troop of baibudao vipers to leave the chief's house and to return with him to the lake. He had gifts to prepare.

Finally, the day of the wedding arrived. Ai'didi'nan, invisible,  showed up with his gifts for the bride's family: a ceramic pot, an iron skillet, and multicolored glazed pearls--all typical gifts the members of royalty would exchange with each other. Each object floated through the air into Ba'leng's house, carried by the lake god's likewise now invisible baibudao attendants.

Now that she was married to Ai'didi'nan, Ba'leng had her husband make himself visible to only her and insisted his baibudao retinue stay invisible so as not to shock and frighten the village guests. Only Ba'leng could see her favorite form of her husband, that of an extremely handsome young man, a vision she savored for herself.

The time came for Ba'leng's friends and family members to escort her to her new home, the lake. They carried with them some of the wedding banquet. Once at the lake, they saw Ba'leng, smiling, happy, horizontally supported in the air by invisible arms, twirling around and around by the shore, singing this song:

Dear parents and friends, I must soon say goodbye!
Look hard as you can, 
And you might catch a glimpse of me as I enter my new home in the lake.
Then, you shall never see me again!

Her parents, especially her mother and her friends, sang in return:

Our dear Ba'leng!
Our dear daughter!
The huge gap you will be leaving behind in our lives!
Now you shall forever be in the lake, 
And we shall never behold you again!
Please always remember us, your family and village!

Ba'leng now said, "It's time to eat the wedding banquet food. Please enjoy it! Please also make sure you save the cold food for the groom's kinsmen!"

Immediately, ripples appeared on the lake, growing bigger and bigger. From out of the lake came trays and trays of both hot and cold delicacies carried by invisible snakes. Everyone sat down to eat--humans and invisible snake guests, with the snakes eating the cold food, which snakes prefer. 

Now came the time for Ba'leng to say her final farewell. 

Just before entering the waters of the lake for good, Ba'leng said, "In the future, if you come back to the lake, remember to wear white clothes or plain,  unadorned clothes, never anything in black. Let your hair be adorned with red decorations!"

Waving goodbye, she walked into the water until she could no longer be seen. And then, once she had disappeared, a final ripple spread over the water. 

Lin Daosheng, vol. 1; pp. 72-74. See the previous story for citation.

The Rukai people live in southern-central Taiwan, just above the southern peninsula. 

The baibudao snake, known to zoologists as Deinagkistrodon acutus, is a highly venomous snake found in Taiwan and southeast China. It is also known as the "Chinese moccasin." The snake is popularly known as the baibudao, or "hundred pacer," because its venom will cause a victim to stagger one hundred steps before falling down dead upon the ground. (An excellent and fascinating introduction to the baibudao and the many other snakes of Taiwan can be found at, accessed 7/6/17.)

This tale belongs to the animal groom cycle of stories, which like its female counterpart, the animal bride/supernatural wife tales, are found worldwide. Perhaps the most famous version is "Beauty and the Beast," A southeastern Chinese and Han Taiwanese version of that particular story is "The Bride of Lord Snake," in which an old woodcutter and widower innocently picks some flowers for his unwed daughters and is accosted by a rather grim, stern but handsome young man of the upper class who then threatens the old man with death if he is not allowed to choose a bride from among the woodcutter's daughters. In that tale, Lord Snake's ability to shapeshift is mentioned but only occurs once when he turns himself into a bee, not a snake, to observe the woodcutter's daughters for the first time (see my e-book, Taiwan Folktales). In addition, there is a Hmong version of the above tale in which the groom does appear as a snake and, later, as a man (see the blog postings for 11/1/11, 11/22/11, and 12/18/11, respectively, parts one, two, and three). Another animal groom tale is the Mongolian/Manchu "The Bird Khan," similar to the Russian "Finn the Keen Falcon" or "The Feather of Finist, the Bright Falcon" (see the posting for 8/3/07). One of my favorites in the cycle is "The Princess Who Married a Dog" (see the posting for 7/6/12). 

Perhaps a common factor in all these stories of men who must exist in animal form is the suggestion from Bruno Bettelheim that the male nature has the potential for being base, animalistic, and essentially repulsive, and that true love, like Ba'leng's, can overcome these hurdles. Many of the stories in this cycle do not have happy endings since they are metaphors that emphasize the permanent loss of Eden and of the primeval paradises that are a part of many traditions. We just cannot go back to what once was, and any attempt to do so, such as the union of a mortal and a god/spirit, is bound to end tragically. This story ends with what will seem to be a happy marriage, though the bittersweet finality of the bride's farewell cannot be denied. Ba'leng's parents pay a huge price for their daughter's betrothal to Ai'didi'nan--permanent separation. Such an outcome is perhaps the best that can be expected. 

Motifs: A132.1, "Snake-god"; B576.1, "Animal as guard of person or house"; B604.1, "Marriage to snake"; D391, "Transformation: serpent to person"; D1980, "Magic invisibility"; F420.1.3.9, "Water-spirit as snake." 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Two Brothers and the Ogres (Amis)--Part Two

The two brothers followed the Kaluciluzai up the tree and down again. Then they chased the Kaluciluzai into the foothills until the wounded monster leaped onto a boulder and disappeared behind it. The brothers had to haul themselves up more slowly and continued the chase.

It was a good while, much later, in fact, before they came to a stream. A young woman happened to be washing a huge load of utterly filthy clothes there. The two brothers slowed down to catch their breath.

"Miss," asked the younger brother, "what in the world are you doing in this dangerous place?"

"What am I doing here? I am washing these Kaluciluzai clothes. Believe me--if I hadn't been kidnapped and made to do this, I wouldn't be here."

"Where are the Kaluciluzai now?" asked the older brother.

"Oh, in their house--a house made of boulders, just down the bend. They should be taking their afternoon naps by now. Why do you ask?"

"We're going to kill them," said the younger brother.

"Have you lost your mind?" asked the girl. "You can't kill them. They'll end up killing you!"

The younger brother just smiled. He turned to his older brother and asked, "Well, Older Brother, shall we take care of them?"

The older brother just stood there and said nothing.

 After a while, the younger brother shrugged his shoulders and headed off alone towards the bend and the house made of boulders. Soon, he reached the very house, an ominous building, dark inside. He crept up to the open window and looked in; sure enough, a group of Kaluciluzai were lying on the floor and snoring away inside. He looked above the sleeping ogres. Above them, dangling from hooks on the walls, were human remains--arms, legs, heads, muscles, intestines.

 The younger brother unsheathed his long curved knife and inched his way into the house and the great room where these man-eating monsters lay sleeping on the floor. All of them that had been near the old woman's house, including the ogre with the broken arm, lay on the floor, unaware that the younger brother was in the same room, his knife held above them . . .

He was upon them! Within seconds--kacha! kacha! kacha! The heads of the Kaluciluzai were rolling upon the stone floor.

The younger brother stood back and sheathed his knife.

Then, unbelievably, each Kaluciluzai head rolled back towards its neck to rejoin its body. These monsters that had been dead seconds ago were groggily coming back to life.

He swiftly unsheathed his knife and once again cut each Kaluciluzai head off. This time each head stopped moving, and the body to which it had been attached slowly died.

The younger brother returned to the banks of the stream where he had last seen his brother and the young woman; however, both were gone. The younger brother looked around for the two and, unable to find them, decided to return to the old woman's hut.

"Auntie," he asked the old woman, "did you happen to see my brother and a young lady pass by?"

"Yes," she said, "I saw them. They passed by here earlier, holding hands."

The younger brother thanked the old woman for her information and then let her know that the Kaluciluzai would never again menace anyone. Needless to say, the old woman was overjoyed. She thanked him for his help as he waved goodbye and headed back to his village.

He discovered his brother was not at home in the village. In fact, according to a neighbor, the older brother had taken the young woman to the palace of the Emperor, for she was none other than a princess who had been abducted the evil Kaluciluzai.

The older brother had brazenly presented himself to the Emperor, saying, "Your Majesty, here is your daughter, the Princess. I personally rescued her from her kidnappers, the Kaluciluzai."

"For your bravery and meritorious service, you shall wed my daughter!" said the Emperor.

The older brother was ecstatic! There was only one problem, though. His younger brother had now also arrived at the palace and had been ushered into the room to see the Emperor.

"Your Majesty," said the younger brother, "my older brother here escorted the Princess back to the palace as I was in the process of killing all the Kaluciluzai, removing them as a threat forever! My killing those monsters made it possible for my brother to bring the Princess home. My older brother didn't tell Your Majesty the whole truth. He is, it seems, a liar."

"Yes," said the Emperor, "a liar just as you are a true hero."

The Emperor instantly revised his plans. He named the younger brother as the one to wed his daughter, making him, the younger brother, a Prince of the dynasty, and, in time, a future Emperor.

And the disgraced older brother? What of him? He was commanded to be his younger brother's personal valet for the rest of his days.

Lin Daosheng, pp. 129-134. For the full bibliographic citation, please refer to part one.  

The Amis people live along the coast of eastern Taiwan. 

This is a lengthier version of a tale that appears in my e-book, Taiwan Folktales; that story, however, does not have the motifs of cannibalistic giants and rolling heads. "Emperor" here is not specified as either the Chinese or Japanese emperor. Originally, the "Emperor" might well have been just a very powerful tribal chief. 

The "rifles" the brothers use to hunt could also be javelins or spears. They might be primitive flintlocks. "Rifle" might be an attempt by contemporary storytellers to "update" the story. 

The cannibalistic monsters in the story exhibit similar qualities to the stupid ogres of worldwide folklore: obliviousness to danger and misperception coupled with viciousness. One of them assumes an old woman, not possibly anyone else who could be inside the hut, has broken his arm, and thus swiftly flees the scene. What's more, they all sleep at the same time in their unguarded rock house, allowing the younger brother to come in and eventually to dispatch all of them. These ogres seem to be literally cloddish chthonic beings with their inability to reason, their brute, raw strength, and their house of stone. If, as suggested by master sinologist and folklore expert Boris Riftin,  they follow the traditions of such mythological or folklore entities, they eventually return to stone and even become hills or mountains upon death (see Riftin's [從神話到鬼話]; Taipei: Morning Star, 233). 

The motif of the self-returning head is interesting if only for one reason: it indirectly references a bygone custom, headhunting, which in centuries past made Taiwan/Formosa infamous. In the East Asia/Pacific region, the severed head, to those tribes whose members collected the heads of their enemies, was considered the locus, the font, of one's manly essence and, hence, bravery and procreative power (see Jan Knappert's Pacific Mythology; London: Diamond Books, 1995; 111; and Weston LaBarre's Muelos: A Stone Age Superstition About Sexuality; New York: Columbia University Press, 1984; 3; 14-15; 29-30). Sympathetic magic teaches us that to obtain a head is to obtain what its owner once had.

Motifs: D1602.12, "Self-returning head"; G312, "Cannibal ogre(s)"; G512.1.2, "Ogre(s) decapitated"; K1710, "Ogre overawed"; K2211.0.1, "Treacherous older brother"; L161, "Lowly hero marries princess." 

The Two Brothers and the Ogres (Amis)--Part One

In an Amis community, two brothers were working out in the field. Around noontime they noticed a water deer creeping to the edge of the field from the safety of the thick forest. Then, when the two brothers went to the spring to draw some water, they again spotted the deer, this time not far behind them and apparently also headed to the spring.

Hmm . . . now isn't this interesting? they both thought.

The brothers slowly turned around and gingerly headed back to their home for their hunting rifles. Returning to the spring with their rifles, the two brothers saw the deer was still in the same spot. The older brother took aim and fired a shot at the deer but missed the creature, which then fled into the woods.

The next day, the brothers, taking a lunch break from working in the field, headed to the spring to eat. Once again, not far from them, stood the deer. And once again, very carefully and as quietly as possible, the two went back for their rifles. The deer was still there when they returned. The older brother took extra careful aim this time and fired. This time he hit the deer, which bounded away, leaving behind a thick, dark trail of blood. The brothers followed the trail the best they could until the blood became fainter and fainter and the trail dried up.

And so the deer had gotten away.

The two brothers weren't about to give up so easily, especially for a deer that had practically begged to be caught. The deer had been wounded, maybe mortally, they reasoned. It had to be around somewhere in the forest or on a mountain slope. They decided to keep looking for it before some scavenging beast got to it first.

Soon it would be nightfall. They decided to make camp in the woods and spend the night there.

The next morning at the break of day, the hunt continued.

The brothers thought they had again picked up the deer's tracks and followed them to a stream, where the tracks disappeared. Up the stream a bit was a fordable area, so the brothers crossed the stream and walked along a path until they came to a hut. They knocked on the door and an old woman appeared in the doorway.

"Auntie," asked the older brother, "have you seen a deer pass this way?"

"What's this about a deer?" she asked.

"Did a water deer come this way?" asked the younger brother.

"Friend, there's been no deer--water or otherwise--in this area. Forget about the deer!" The old woman then suddenly straightened her back, looked very serious, and whispered, "Stay out of this place. Go back to where you came from. If you tarry here, you shall both die."

"Why?" asked the older brother. "What's wrong with this place?"

The old woman frowned.

"Look inside my hut," she asked. The brothers then did so. They saw a huge mound of dough on her table, enough to make many cakes. "See the dough? I have to make big cakes out of all that dough and then bake them for the Kaluciluzai, or else it will eat me! It'll eat you both too if you don't get out of here now!"

The brothers said nothing, but shivers ran down their spines.

"Not long ago," the old woman continued, "a Kaluciluzai ate my son. Then, yesterday, it ate my husband. Now I'm the only one left."

The two brothers were now more angry than afraid.

"Auntie, go ahead and bake your biggest cake yet," said the older brother. "Make it nice and big and round!"

"Well, yes, I have to . . . Otherwise, they'll eat me . . ."

"No, you misunderstood. I have an idea how to help you. Just go ahead and start baking, please. We'll be right here with you."

The old woman then baked her grandest, roundest cake yet. The two brothers lugged it outside, just in front of the door. They looked at the cake; it was nice and moist and juicy. The two then munched on the baked cake, making sure to leave telltale teeth marks.

Just then they heard a noise coming from the forest.

"Now we're all in for it!" cried the old woman from inside. "I had told you two to get out of here while you had the chance!"

Quickly entering the old woman's hut with the younger brother, the older brother said, "Auntie, no matter what happens, just stay behind us. We'll take care of this."

The three crouched inside the dark hut as the floor and the ground beneath it rocked with the thunderous noise sha, sha, sha!

"It's the monster! It's the Kaluciluzai! It's here!" The old woman began to whimper.

From outside the hut just beyond the door roared a voice: "Who's .  .  . taken . . . a . . . bite . . . from
my . . . cake? When no answer came in reply, the voice roared, "All right, then, Old Woman! I shall eat you and then finish my cake!"

"Come on in, my love! I'm right here, sweetie, waiting for you!" shouted the younger brother, trying to imitate the old woman's voice.

"What?! You . . . dare . . . "

The enraged ogre didn't wait to break down the door but instead thrust his arm right through the bamboo wall of the hut to grab the old woman. The younger brother dodged the incoming arm, then jumped onto it and, using every ounce of his strength, broke the arm bones of the Kaluciluzai.

"Aiyo, aiyo, aiyo!" screamed the Kaluciluzai in pain. "That miserable old woman broke my arm at the shoulder! Ai, ai, ai! How could she be that powerful?"

Unknown to those in the hut, there was a group of these monsters not far away.

"Brothers! Sisters!" the injured monster cried. "That old woman is stronger than she looks! Look what she's done to my arm! Run, run for your lives!"

The monsters turned and fled. The Kaluciluzai with the broken arm struggled to run away as fast as he could. It was difficult for the creature, but he was still extremely strong and could still run swiftly and jump incredibly far. He could also still put his good arm to some use as well, such as by pulling himself up tree branches. The monster did precisely this--pull himself up a tree--when it caught sight of the two brothers in pursuit not far behind.

Lin Daosheng, ed. 原住民神話故事全集. [Complete collection of the stories and myths of the Taiwanese aboriginal peoples], Vol. 2. Taipei: Hann Colour, 2002.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Jade Mirror (Atayal)

There once were two sisters who lived all on their own. They had to be on their own, for their parents had passed away, and there was no one else to look out for them.

The older sister, Ya'ge, had not much going for her. True, she was not a great beauty who had to apply lots of makeup to keep up appearance, but that was not the problem. No, the real issue was her true ugliness--her narcissism, laziness and great temper--lay well beneath the skin and ran all the way to the bone.

The younger sister, Wuyang, was a complete contrast to her sister. She was pleasant to behold and as pretty inside. Unlike her older sister, she was a cheerful hard worker.

One day the two of them were at home. Wuyang was busy weaving fabric while Ya'ge was busy, busy in love with her image in a polished jade mirror.

"Wuyang," asked Ya'ge, turning away from the mirror, "am I not pretty? Come and tell me!"

"Oh, Ya'ge, please," said Wuyang. "Must you spend all day looking into the mirror? All the time you've spent so far could have gone toward planting crops or doing something useful! I'd appreciate some help! I can't do everything by myself."

Ya'ge had apparently not heard a thing.

"Ya'ge! You should do something to help out in case there's an emergency, instead of sitting around all day looking into the mirror. If we end up starving, will it matter then how pretty you are?"

"Huh! What kind of mean, nasty, big-mouthed sister are you? I'll spend time looking in the mirror all I like, thank you."

"Ya'ge, come on! If we keep ourselves busy doing something good, something useful, we'll be happier, healthier, won't we? We also won't starve if there's a--"

"Wuyang, didn't I just suggest to you to mind your own business?"

Wuyang was now sorry she had made Ya'ge cross.

"Big Sister," she said, "don't be mad. Can't we just be happy and enjoy each other's company?"

"I think perhaps not. No, I've been thinking about us for a while now. I have decided I don't want to be with a rude big mouth like you anymore. We need to split up."

"Ya'ge, don't joke that way. You can't be serious. Please forgive me for opening my big mouth when I shouldn't have. Go ahead and scold me. I deserve it."

"Scold you? Scold you? How dare I? Why, you're Little Miss Perfect--beautiful, skilled, well-mannered, not an ugly clod like me!" 

"Ya'ge, I've never even said anything like that--"

Ya'ge shot Wuyang a withering stare. Wuyang had weathered Ya'ge's moodiness all her life, but this time she sensed Ya'ge was serious about their splitting up. She began to cry and plead with her older sister.

"Big Sister, please forgive me. We've been together since Father and Mother left. We've been through good times and bad times! Don't let something stupid I said--"

"Stop! Say no more! That's it! I've made up my mind, so this is it for us!"

And so it was.

Stubborn Ya'ge had, as they say, "a heart and guts made of iron." So what could these two young women who shared a single-room hut do to split up? They simply went their own ways, each taking care of herself and not acknowledging the presence of the other. In truth, only one of the pair really did anything to take care of herself, while the other spent most of her time doing what she loved to do best, studying herself in the mirror. Other than that, she scrounged around to feed herself.

One day, when Ya'ge was by herself, scrutinizing herself from every angle in the mirror, she heard a voice say, "You're ugly!"

"What? Who said that?" She looked around.

"Yes, you're ugly!" It was the mirror speaking to her. "Ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly! Ugly as disease! Ugly as a stench! Ugly as a nightmare!"

Ya'ge was dumbstruck. Was this all a dream? She stared at the mirror.

"Ahh, stop it!" cried the mirror. "Stop looking at me! It hurts! You're as ugly as a cockroach! You're hideous, but your sister is pretty, pretty, pretty!"

"You stupid bewitched mirror!" said Ya'ge, grabbing the mirror off the wall, preparing to smash it upon the floor. "Be gone--"

"Ya'ge, stop! What are you doing?" Wuyang had just returned from the vegetable patch. "The mirror belonged to our parents! You can't break it!"

"Oh, can't I? Shut up and mind your own business!" She raised the mirror over her head.

"Ugly, ugly, ugly!" said the mirror. "Ugly heart! Ugly eyes! Ugly temper! Did I already say, 'Ugly heart'? Wuyang is pretty, pretty, pretty! Pretty heart! Pretty eyes! Pretty--"

Ya'ge slammed the mirror onto the floor, shattering it into eight large pieces and silencing the voice.

"Ya'ge . . . Big Sister . . . how could you?"

Wuyang's tears flowed onto the floor as she knelt down to pick up the eight chunks. She then carried the pieces away and placed them under her pillow She remembered the day her father had brought this round, smooth jade stone home, having found it while hunting on a mountain ridge, seeing it lying upon a larger white jade rock. Wuyang remembered how she herself had further polished it to such a sheen that it could be used as a good usable mirror. How sad she was to see it had been broken into pieces. Every day she would come home from her chores and look at the remnants of the mirror. Then the tears would once again flow . . .

Many days and nights passed.

One evening, while Ya'ge was sleeping and snoring away, Wuyang sat on her bed, unable to sleep, upset about the loss of her parents, her poor relations with her sister, and the destruction of the only belonging left from her parents, the jade mirror. She heard a strange sound and saw a brilliant white light bleeding out from beneath her pillow.

She lifted the pillow--the broken pieces of jade had somehow reformed themselves into a mirror, an intact, unbroken mirror. From the mirror now came rays of rainbow lights, filling the small hut, dancing on the walls, gradually forming themselves into a tight circle around Wuyang, making the already lovely young woman look radiant and beautiful.

With her trembling hands, Wuyang took the mirror and held it close to her bosom.

"Wuyang, don't be sad," said the mirror. "Continue to work hard. You'll have a meaningful, happy life. Good people like those who work hard, and those who work hard are rewarded in more ways than one. I like you and shall remain with you always. Would you like me to stay?"

"Oh, Mirror, yes, yes! I like you too, so please stay with me forever!"

That night, Wuyang enjoyed the deepest, sweetest sleep she had ever experienced.

Ya'ge, meanwhile, slept on.

From that day on, even though Wuyang always left the mirror under her pillow, the mirror would somehow show up wherever she was doing her chores--whether up in the mountains collecting firewood, planting crops in the patch, drawing water from the stream. Whenever Wuyang encountered danger, the mirror would be there right by her side, warding off any threat to Wuyang, protecting her every minute of the day and night. Once, for instance, the mirror suddenly appeared as she was gathering firewood. "Wuyang, drop what you have and leave now! A hungry black bear is just around the bend! Come this way!" On more than one occasion, the mirror thus saved Wuyang's life.

In the evening Wuyang could do her weaving with light supplied from the mirror. Gone was the need for candles or lanterns, for the mirror could illuminate the hut as brightly as the afternoon sun rays coming in through the window.

Ya'ge remained unaware of all this--sleeping day and night without a care in the world. The two sisters usually didn't meet, for Wuyang was an early riser and would return later at night. Anyway, Ya'ge would always be sound asleep. The mirror continued to dislike Ya'ge and would always hide itself from her, never allowing Ya'ge to know of its presence or magical powers. Wuyang chose to remain mum about it.

With the mirror's help and protection, Wuyang prospered. She was able to plant and harvest crops, gather and sell more firewood, and weave more fabric to sell. She built up a growing income. She became known far and wide as a good catch, and many eligible young men, prodded by their own parents and matchmakers, lined up to ask her for her hand in marriage.

"Mirror, whom do I choose?" she asked. "There are so many nice young men, and I'm swamped with offers. Please help me."

"Wuyang, choose Minglai," said the mirror. "He works hard, hunts, fishes, tends to his father's fields without complaint. He's honest and has a good heart. He shall love you and be considerate to you. He shall bring you great fortune. Let the choice be Minglai!"

So Wuyang indeed chose Minglai and they wed. Everyone in the nearby village helped the newlywed couple by constructing a home for them. In time, Wuyang gave birth to her first child. Wuyang now had a family again.

Everything was no so rosy for Ya'ge, however. You might say she slept her life away. When the time came that she wanted to get married too, there was, unfortunately, no one for her. She continued to sleep and sleep. If she worked half a day, she would then sleep for two full days. She also ate badly and neglected her health. Local people shunned her, regarding her as lazy, unproductive. Her life ended early, and she died all alone in her hut.

The Atayal people place a high value on those who work hard to better themselves and those around them. Thus, this story has been told from one generation to another and will continue to be told.

Cai Tiemin, ed. 高山族民间故事选. [Selection of folktales from the Taiwanese indigenous peoples]. Shanghai: Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe, 1987; pp. 73-77. 

This story shall be the first in a series of stories from the indigenous tribes of Taiwan. 

The Austronesian Atayal live in north-central and eastern Taiwan. 

What can a mirror do in folk literature? It may reflect the soul. It can tell the truth that dares not be spoken. It can also reveal the ugliness of narcissistic preoccupation with the self when no other person can. Here, the mirror to which Ya'ge retreats to delude herself turns on her, now emitting a harsh parental voice seemingly from beyond the grave, rather cruelly censuring her when her slothfulness and love for herself have become unbearable. Parental authority dies hard if it indeed can die at all, and here it is the inner chatter of the strict, relentless introjected parental voice,  or superego itself, that cannot be stilled. 

This story, like "Cinderella," deals with sibling rivalry, besides the mirror-gazing dangers of narcissism found in "Snow White." There are no animal helpers or fairy godmothers in this story; instead, there is the talking jade mirror to stand in for the parent or parents missing in Wuyang's life. The parents may be gone, but the presumed competition for their favor, perhaps for the father's love, lives on, though it would appear that the lazy Ya'ge has long given up her part in the struggle. Bruno Bettelheim, writing about "Cinderella" in The Uses of Enchantment, suggests that such rivalry stems not so much from the often customary dislike two siblings may have for each other but rather from the knowledge of one child that a parent favors the more industrious, more pleasing child (238). The sibling enmity is compounded by the fact that the parent is no longer physically around but the memory of his/her favoritism and the psychically generated voice that embodies it remain, in this case, lodged in a rock, a symbol of that which is tied to the earth. 

Motifs: D1163, "Magic mirror"; D1311.2, "Mirror answers questions"; Q5, "Laziness punished; industry rewarded." 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hotel Ghosts: Protocols (Taiwan)

First, a story . . .

This story was related to me by a student's mother a number of years ago. She insisted the details of the story really happened as she related them.

There is a hotel in a major city in Taiwan, and this hotel is reputed to be haunted. (I myself stayed there once, but nothing out of the ordinary occurred.)

This woman, her husband, and her then very small children had traveled back to Taiwan to see family members. After visiting all the relatives, the family of four took off on a brief private tour of the island. They arrived in the city where this particular hotel is located. Exhausted, they checked into the hotel, went up to their room, washed up, and went to bed.

Around midnight, the wife kept being woken up when her pillow was snatched from underneath her head. Assuming her husband was playing some kind of childish prank on her, she gave him a good jab in the ribs the third or fourth time the pillow was yanked away. He woke up and asked her why she had done that. She told him that she was annoyed he had picked that time to play a joke on her with the pillow. He denied he had been doing that. His protests convinced her he had been indeed sleeping. They both got dressed and then woke and dressed the children. They went downstairs to the front desk.

"What's going on in that room you gave us?" she told the clerk. "My pillow keeps getting pulled away from under my head!"

The clerk looked around and then told her quietly, "Sorry. In that room . . . a . . . dancehall girl committed suicide . . . "

The family was given a refund, and they checked out and found a different hotel.

Someone I know from Taiwan who wishes to remain unidentified told me that "there are some rituals to employ before entering a hotel room so as not to disturb or disrespect the ghost or ghosts that might still be inside."

The following are the reported protocols:

1. First, before entering the room for the first time, one needs to knock to let the ghost know a visitor
    is about to enter. It is said some hotel guests will go as far as to announce verbally in a polite tone
    that they are preparing to enter as they knock on the door.

2. Once inside, one is to turn on all the lights--ceiling and bathroom lights as well as bedside lamps--
     to allow the yin (陰 or 阴; i.e., the dark, passive, negative, occult, hidden) to become the yang
     (陽 or 阳; i.e., the bright, active, positive, open, unhidden).

3. One is advised not to hang up clothes in the closet lest a ghost lurking there enters them.

4. Shoes, once taken off, should be placed on the floor side by side so that one of the shoes points
    in the opposite direction (e.g., the heel of one shoe is placed next to the front of the other shoe).
    Doing so confuses any ghost who would put his/her feet into the shoes.

5. The comforter should be patted down and then pulled back before lying on the bed. Why? This is
    done to warn the ghost to leave the bed and blankets before the guest lies down.

6. One light should be left on all night, presumably to maintain some yang in the midst of the yin.

7. Finally, it is advised never to take the last room at the end of the hall or the one way in the back of
    the building. If ghosts are skulking, they are likely to take such a room.


A disclaimer: The above represents popular folk beliefs among only some and not all of the residents of Taiwan.

I might be wrong, but I seem to remember the lady who told me of her experience in the haunted hotel room also mentioned that ceiling lights flashed on and off after she had woken up her husband with a jab to the ribs. 

Not hanging clothes in the closet is likely based on the same belief that it is not a good idea to leave clothes hanging on the clothesline overnight for fear ghosts could occupy the garments. Rearranging the direction of the shoes is reminiscent of those worldwide customs that involve counting rituals to flummox malevolent supernatural beings; for example, one can drop beans, which then forces the ghost or other entity to count them rather than do any harm. This reflects the notion that, while ghosts are highly dangerous because they are the antithesis of the living and jealous because they cannot be alive again, they are essentially stupid and easy to bamboozle. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Some Taiwanese Proverbs About Roosters and Chickens

Happy New Year--the Year of the Rooster! I hope you enjoy the following sampling of Taiwanese proverbs about hens, roosters, chicks, and chickens in general selected for the new year.

1. 雞嘴變鴨嘴 The mouth of the chicken turns into the mouth of a duck. (Said of someone who first       speaks forcefully, determinedly, even stubbornly but who then ends up being unable to speak at 

2. 雞母帶子輕鬆, 雞公帶子拖帆 The hen is relaxed taking care of the chick, while the rooster
    finds doing so tough going. (Said of an individual who takes on a task for which he/she is 
    unqualified. Think of the Norwegian folktale "The Husband Who was to Mind the House.")

3. 雞仔腸, 鳥仔肚 Chicken intestine (but) bird stomach. (Said of situations, problems that cannot
    be remedied.) 

4. 雞母屎, 半黑白 Chicken droppings are black and white. (Describing one who is irresolute, one
    who lacks a point of view.)
5. 有看雞, 沒看人 To see the chicken but not see the person. (Said of someone who is "a work in
     progress," someone with potential, like one who is still "a diamond in the rough.")

6. 大猴哄雞 The big monkey frightens the chicken. (Describing someone without forbearance or 

7. 偷掠雞也得了米 A poached chicken ending up with a grain of rice. (Said of someone 
    encountering a great stroke of luck.)

8. 曹操吃雞筋--食之無味, 棄之可惜 Cao Cao's eating chicken muscle--a flavorless thing to
    eat, yet throwing it away would be a pity. (Cao Cao, the archvillain from The Romance of the
    Three Kingdoms, is often encountered in proverbs. This proverb reflects the desire to 
    "have things both ways" but faced with the reality that this isn't possible, as well as wanting
     to hold onto things of little or no value.)


台灣歇後語 [Taiwanese Folk Similes], Wu Reixing, ed. Tainan: Duanbo, 2002; 最新俗成語智慧
[Wisdom From the Latest Common Proverbs], Wang Shuixing, ed. New Taipei City: Junjia, 2012;
台灣諺語集成 [Integrated Taiwanese Proverbs], Guan Meifen, ed. Tainan: Wenguo, 2002;

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Owl Seeks a Wife (Guangdong -- Hakka)

The owl wanted to marry the partridge, so he enlisted the help of the pit snail for help, to serve as his marriage broker.

"All right, " said the pit snail to the owl, "listen very carefully. The partridge is very pretty; we all know that. As for you,  you are a fine, sturdy fellow, but there's one problem: your eyes are too large! Now, when you meet her, keep your eyes closed! Otherwise, you're liable to spoil the whole deal when we go to see her!"

"All right" was the owl's reply.

"And let me do the talking!"

"All right."

The day came when the pit snail arranged for the owl and the partridge to meet each other for the first time.

The owl kept his eyes closed as the pit snail built up the owl in front of the partridge, bragging how great, how wonderful the owl was. All was going splendidly according to the plan, with the partridge showing more and more interest in the owl as each minute passed.

Then the owl decided to take a tiny peek at the partridge. He had seen her from afar, of course, but couldn't resist the temptation of glimpsing the lovely partridge now that he was this close to her. What harm could a little peek do?

Well, there's no such thing as "a little peek" from an owl. When the partridge came face-to-face with the two huge saucer eyes staring at her inches away, she immediately flew off to a nearby hillock.

"Whew!" she squawked. "That was close! I was going to marry him!"

The pit snail was fuming. He turned to the owl and said, "I told you, I told you, I told you to keep your eyes shut! Why didn't you listen to me?"

All the owl could say was "Ku-hu! Ku-hu! Ku-hu!"

From far away, the pit snail and owl could hear the partridge say, "Sha-gua! Hao-ah! Hao-ah!"


广东民间故事全书:汕尾陆河卷 [The Complete Folktales of Guangdong: Shanwei and Luhe Volume]; Guangdong Union of Arts and Literature; Guangzhou: Lingnan Meishu; 2008; p.159.

Shanwei and Luhe are districts of Guangdong where primarily the Hakka (AKA Kejia or Hakkanese 客家) dialect is spoken. 

This pourquoi tale purports to explain the origins behind the cries of, respectively, the owl and the partridge and what they actually mean. In the story, the owl's cry of "ku-hu" is written as 苦呼, suggesting something like "Oh, the pain!" or "The bitterness!" The partridge's "Sha-gua! Hao-ah!" 傻瓜! 好啊!can be translated as "Fool! Good!" or "Okay, idiot!" The "pit" snail 坑螺 had the character  attached, suggesting this tiny creature was a shape-shifter. 

Motifs: A2426.2.17, "Origin of owl's cries"; A2427.3, "Hooting explained"; A2462.2, "Cries of birds"; B623.2, "Owl as suitor."