Friday, March 30, 2018

The Eggshell Boy (Indigenous Taiwanese)--Part Two

"Father, Mother!" he cried upon arriving home. "A very lovely maiden is in love with me!"

The father was not so quick to believe his son's words.

"Son, my dear son," said the father, with a heavy heart, as the mother looked on, "how do I tell you the truth? Well, I'll just come out and say it. How could a lovely girl fall in love with the likes of you? Be realistic. I mean, you are an egg! If you go around saying a beautiful girl loves you, why, you'll put folks in stitches. Wouldn't that be embarrassing?

The eggshell boy said no more about it.

Then came the day of the big village sports meet. The activities for the young men of the village would include wrestling and foot racing.

"I'm taking part in the racing meet, Father and Mother," the eggshell boy said.

"What?!" asked the mother.

"Yes, what?" asked the father.

"Aren't you concerned you might get trampled or crushed?" asked the mother. "You are a shell, my son! Might the shell not get cracked? Besides, you'd be seen in public."

"Don't worry about me," their son said. "Where there's a will, there's a way, and I have a way."

And off he rolled towards the sports meet.

He then rolled onto the grounds where the events were being held. There, he hid himself amongst all the feet of the spectators to watch for a while all the events. If a foot brushed against him or was about to step on him, he'd cry, "Hey, watch it! Don't step on me!" The foot would then be hastily pulled away by its owner.

He tired of this, and then, when no one was watching him, he rolled off to a deserted area behind all the people, where he came out of his eggshell and hid the shell in some bushes. He then ran over to join the young me of the village waiting to run in the big race of the day.

They were off and running!

The tall, strapping young men of the village were fast but not as fast as the eggshell boy. He easily outdistanced them and passed the midpoint mark way before any of them. He reached the finish line nice and early, while all the other young men ran through his dust. The young maiden he liked was there, and she was delighted to see her friend and neighbor win. She joined the throng that gathered to proclaim the eggshell boy top champion.

"Let's walk home together," she said.

"We'll walk for a bit," he answered. Halfway to her home, he said, "Look, I need to attend to something. You go on home without me."

"Then shall we see each other again?"

"Yes, of course! Come to my house tonight."

He then ran back to his eggshell and reentered it.

Back home again, he told his parents, "Well, Father and Mother, I won first place in the big race today!"

His parents were speechless at first, but then they began to have deep doubts about it, disbelieving their son had even been there. They said no more about it.

Later that very night, the pretty young maiden arrived at the eggshell boy's home.

"May we help you, young woman?" asked the parents, opening the door.

"Excuse me, Auntie and Uncle," she asked, "but is your son at home?"

"'Son?' Er . . . er . . . we don't have a son," replied the father. "Have you mistaken our house for someone else's?"

From his basket on the floor, the eggshell boy bellowed, "You don't have a son? Am I not your son?"

"Ahem! Ahem! Let's not embarrass ourselves, shall we?" replied the red-faced father, his teeth clenched.

"Who's embarrassed?" the eggshell boy replied. "This is who I am. Whoever doesn't love me for who I am can go find someone else to love for all I care!"

The maiden, nonplussed, excused herself and left.

The next day between the two neighboring fields, the maiden and the eggshell boy, having already hidden his shell, met.

"I was at the house you had said was yours, but the two adults there said they didn't have a son."

"You were at the right house. I was there. How could you have not seen me?" he asked.

"Just those two older people and a strange talking egg were there!"

"The couple are my parents."

"Then . . . that . . . means . . . the talking egg . . . was . . . "

He smiled, nodded, and pointed to his own chest.

The maiden was more mystified than ever but said no more. Later, at sundown, they walked home together.

"Say," said the boy, "you go on ahead. I have to take care of something."

"All right," she answered.

This time, though, she only pretended to walk away. She walked around the bend, hid, and then returned and watched the boy scurry down the path in the other direction. She quickly but quietly followed him to some bushes off the path and, there, watched him uncover an eggshell and enter it.

That night the maiden went back to the eggshell boy's home, and this time she didn't ask for their son. No, instead, she quietly whispered for them to come outside, which they did.

"I know the talking egg in your home  is your son," she said, "but please listen to me. Inside the eggshell is a very handsome, hardworking, and clever young man. I have seen with my own eyes how he can enter the shell. He doesn't really need that eggshell, but he continues to hide within it."

"Yes," said the father, "I suspected something like that."

"Yes," said the mother, "and it's our doing--my man's and my own. We must go in and tell him to come out of his shell."

"Please don't do that yet," said the maiden. "I have a better idea."

She told them of her plan.

The next morning, the egg announced it was going off to the field to work. The father and mother watched the egg roll away. Also watching was the maiden, hiding behind a tree. Then, the three of them--the father, the mother, and the maiden--followed the egg as it rolled down the path towards the field. From afar and hiding in the brush, they watched the egg roll off the path into the bushes. Shortly after, a small but very handsome youth emerged from the bushes and continued onto the field.

When the sun was ready to go down, the youth--the eggshell boy without his shell--reappeared on the path and went to fetch his hidden eggshell. However, the eggshell was nowhere to be found. Had he come to the right spot? Yes, he had left certain marks in the dirt and rearranged twigs and such, so this was the right spot beyond a doubt. Yet, there was no sign of the eggshell. He scoured the area just in case he had been mistaken about the location of the eggshell.

One hour turned into two, and two, into three.

The youth, upset and shocked, sat down in the dirt, his head in his hands.

"You don't need that eggshell anymore!" a voice cried. "It's gone, gone for good!"

The youth looked up. Standing before him were his father and mother.

"That's right, Son!" cried the father, embracing him. "You don't need it anymore."

"Our wonderful son!" cried the mother, likewise embracing him.

The lad and his parents returned home. They got rid of the egg basket and instead prepared a real grass-mat bed for him.

He now became another one of the village's stalwart, hardworking young men, and, yes, soon afterward he married his sweetheart, the beautiful maiden whose family field lay next to his.

Cai Tiemin, pp. 55-59; Chen Guoqiang, pp. 40-44; Riftin, pp. 94-98. For full citations, please see the previous posting for 3/29/18. 

Riftin (96)  mentions variants of this story are known to the indigenous Paiwan, Binan, Atayal, and Rukai communities. Unfortunately, Mainland Chinese scholars persist in using the artificial umbrella term for the Indigenous Taiwanese, Gaoshan [高山族], or "Highland people," "High Mountaineers," etc. I find this term rather pejorative and insensitive, as it is often used to identify the origin of a tale, myth, and legend rather than the name of the specific community from which the story originates.

Myths and legends about very small young men who, in Tom Thumb fashion, set out to prove their worth abound in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, and Japan. Often, these characters are born from melons, gourds, or eggs and become culture heroes and the progenitors of a clan (see Ho Ting-jui, 66-74; for full citation, see the notes for the 12/20/17 posting). This particular story, like the Japanese "Momotaro," where an old couple raise a miraculous strong boy who springs from a peach is a folktale or fairy tale, not a myth or legend, in that the story apparently doesn't seek to establish a family's royal or sacred pedigree. It also doesn't provide any place or personal names that have come down to us, as is the case with myths and legends. Perhaps "Eggshell Boy" had once been a myth or legend that took root in an outlying Indigenous Taiwanese region and was gradually transformed into a folktale/fairy tale devoid of all mythical or legendary trappings. 

A number of tales, including this one, seem to suggest that unnatural unions (e.g., mortal and immortal; human and animal) or those in which the childbearing years have long passed will result in an offspring  who, in some way, won't, don't, or can't fit in with society in some dramatic or even monstrous way and who must be secluded  or hidden. However, if the parent or parents can provide their child with love, care, and understanding, the child may achieve a liberation from that which  negatively singles him  or her out  and finally enables the child to obtain self-actualization (Bettelheim, 70; for full citation, see the notes for the posting for 11/23/17). 

Stories about plucky little underdog heroes like Eggshell Boy both delight and encourage small children. Because of their own small size and lack of maturity, small children are on the lower end of the pecking order in a household of adults and older siblings and need, whether they know it or not, ego boosts (Bettelheim, 103-105). The journey of the Eggshell Boy from birth to complete self-actualization takes him through periods in which his parents hide him, doubt his abilities, and even mock him. Yet, he ignores the parental naysayers and their poor attempts to hide their shame of having an egg for a son and to just accept a status quo or whatever is second or third best. Moreover, he perseveres with various tasks, including wooing the one he loves and triumphs in the end. What small child wouldn't find any of this gratifying on some level?

I would be greatly remiss if I didn't mention how recently two of my students, Leo and Selina, simultaneously pointed out that this story is about someone's "coming out of his shell." The metaphor they used is very appropriate. 

This tale most resembles tale type AT 700, "Tom Thumb," for which there are also cognates in Chinese folk literature. 

Motifs: D1610.29, "Speaking egg(s)"; F611.1.11 "Strong hero born from egg"; T542, "Birth of a human being from an egg"; cT553, "Thumbling born as a result of the hasty wish of parents."

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Eggshell Boy (Indigenous Taiwanese)--Part One

There once were an older couple. They had already reached the age when they couldn't bring a child into the world, yet they so much desired to have a child of their own. Now the husband had heard that if they built a small altar to a certain god in their home and prayed before this altar with the utmost earnestness, they would indeed have a child.

And so the husband built such an altar, and both prayed fervently before it, beseeching the god for a child.

Lo and behold--the wife one day discovered the telltale signs that she was to have a baby, and ten months later, she finally gave birth to . . . a small egg.

Oh, why? she thought. Why couldn't it have been a healthy child? No, instead it is a tiny egg! I'm already old,  and now I have an egg, not a child, to care for. If only I had known! I wouldn't have prayed just to have this egg. 

She made her disappointment known to her husband, who just waved his hand and dismissed her, saying, "All right, so it's an egg! Anyway, it's what you gave birth to, so you and I'll need to love and to take care of it. We'll just make sure no one finds out it is our child. We'll keep it hidden from others. What others cannot see will not bring shame or embarrassment to us."

So, they set out to take the best care they could of this egg, showering it with love. They made a basket for the egg to keep it nice and safe. They would rush home from working in the fields every day just to behold the egg, their egg. True, they were rather sad that the child they had longed for turned out to be just a small egg, but in time they grew to love the egg and to appreciate having it. At the same time, they told no one about their having an egg instead of an actual child.

When the egg began making the sounds of an infant several months later, the old couple were overjoyed. Could intelligent speech be not far behind? And then the egg began to move, to rock within its basket. When the basket was placed on the floor, the egg would cause the basket to tip over, without any harm to the egg, and then the egg would roll all over the floor.

Once the egg reached the age of eight, it could make intelligent speech and said one day in a boyish voice, "Father, Mother, I know other children my age have chores. I want to take care of our water buffalo."

"Don't be silly," said the father. "You're an egg. What are you going to do if the animal strays off? Chase after it by rolling on the ground?"

The egg didn't laugh but instead replied, "I won't need to chase or roll after the water buffalo. Just place me in its ear, and I shall be with the animal every second. I'll be able to guide it and stop it from wandering off."

"All right," said the father, "I'll do that. Let's see then what you can do!"

The father placed the small egg into the water buffalo's ear so that the egg could control the animal's movements. The egg started singing a song. People who passed by the water buffalo heard singing coming from the creature but couldn't see who was singing. Some walked by believing the water buffalo itself was actually singing.

The father observed all this and was both amused and very proud of his legless, armless, and headless son's resourcefulness. But had the father now changed his mind and wanted to show his son to the world? No. He and his wife still kept their son away from the eyes of others.

The egg knew that boys his age would go out to the woods to chop firewood, so one day he rolled over to his father and said, "Father, I want to go to the forest to chop firewood."

"Oh, you must be really joking now," said the father. "It's one thing to guide a water buffalo when you're lodged in its ear, but, really now, how can you chop firewood, my son? You have neither arms nor hands!"

"Father, Father, it wouldn't be difficult. Just tie a hatchet around me. Then I'll show you how I can chop firewood."

"All right . . . "

The father tied a hatchet to the egg by wrapping a string around and around the egg to secure the handle. Then he said to his son, "Well, let's go."

"I'll go alone, Father."

"All right, then. Go alone, but make sure no one--I mean no one--sees you!"

"As you say, Father."

And so the egg, with the hatchet securely attached, rolled out towards the forest. Then, in a place where no one else could see him, he exited his shell. Invisible seams of his eggshell came open, and out hopped a tiny boy. He took the hatchet off the shell and covered his eggshell up. Then, carrying the hatchet, he headed for the woods. He chopped a large amount of firewood, and carried it back to the spot where his eggshell was hidden. He neatly stacked the firewood, re-tied the hatchet to the shell, and reentered the shell. The invisible seams once again sealed the boy inside the eggshell. He rolled back home again.

"Father!" he cried, returning home. "Done! But you'll need to bring out the wheelbarrow. Let me lead you to where the firewood is stacked."

The father, once he had reached the spot his son--the egg--had directed him to, looked upon the neatly stacked tower of firewood.

"If I didn't see it with my own two eyes, I wouldn't believe it," said the father.

The son had proven to his father his worth as a worker. He was no longer just a clever talking egg anymore. Now, he was allowed to go to the forest and the field at will and to do just about what everyone else his age did for chores.

One day, halfway to his family's field, he saw ahead of him on the path a very pretty maiden walking away. He quickly left his shell and covered it up. Then, as fast as he could, he ran after the girl to catch up to her.

"Young lady, where are you off to?"

The young woman stopped in her tracks and looked around. No one was there!

"I said, 'Young lady, where are you off to?'"

She turned around and looked down. This time she saw him, a very small but very handsome young lad.

"I'm going to our field to work," she replied.

"Where's your field?"

"Right over there." She pointed in the direction. "See it?"

"It's right next to my family's field. Let's go together."

"All right," she said, "let's go!"

All afternoon they sang to each other as they worked. When they reached the spot where the eggshell had been hidden, the tiny boy said, "You go ahead home; it's not far from here. I still have things I need to do."

The maiden nodded and headed home, apparently without any suspicions.

Once back inside his eggshell, the boy quickly rolled home.

"Father! Mother!" he cried upon arriving home. "A very lovely maiden is in love with me!"


Cai Tiemin, ed.  高山族民间故事选 [A Selection of Indigenous Taiwanese Folktales].; Shanghai: Wenyi Chubanshe, 1987; pp. 55-59; Chen Guoqiang, ed. 高山族神话传说 [Indigenous Taiwanese Myths and Legends]. Fuzhou: Renmin Chubanshe, 1980; pp. 40-44; Riftin, Boris. 從神話到鬼話:台灣原住民神話故事比較研究 [From Myths to Ghost Stories: A Comparative Study of Indigenous Taiwanese Myths]; Taichung: Morning Star Publishing, 1999; pp. 94-98. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Last Run of Bus 375--Another Version of "The Midnight Bus"

Beijing . . . late one evening in 1995 . . .

Bus 375 is supposed to make its final run for the evening. On board are the driver and the ticket seller. Otherwise, the seats are empty.

The bus stops and an elderly woman and a young man, strangers to each other, board. They buy their tickets, and they both sit back for what will be a long journey into the night.

The bus drives on into the darkness for what seems a long while. Soon, the bus is on the outskirts of the city. It stops and three men in heavy military-style coats board.  They likewise purchase tickets and take their seats.

The bus continues on.

Soon, there is a ruckus on board.

"You thief! You put your hands into my purse!" The elderly woman stands up, clutching her purse and scowling at the young man who had boarded with her.

"No, I didn't! I didn't even touch your purse!" he replies.

"You did so! I saw you!" Then, to the driver, she shouts, "Stop the bus! I want to report this thief to the police! Something's missing from my purse!"

The bus slowly comes to a stop.

"Lady," says the young man accused of theft, "I didn't touch or take . . . "

"All right," says the old woman, "then get off with me and let's settle this at the nearest station or  with the first police car we see!"

She begins to pull the young man towards the exit.


"Come with me! We're going to take care of this!"

"Fine! Fine! Let's do that, then," says the young man.

The bus driver opens the door, and the two get off. The bus pulls away, leaving them both on the sidewalk in the middle of nowhere late at night.

The young man glares at the old woman for what has got to be the biggest pain in the neck imaginable, but she just smiles sadly.

After the bus is now totally out of sight, she says, "Young man, don't be angry. Did you see the three men in the heavy coats that got on a while back?"

"Yes!" he sighs. "What of them?"

"I guess you didn't see that none of them had feet. They were ghosts."

During the night, the bus disappears, never reaching the terminal. The terminal manager notifies the police. The police comb the area, finally locating Bus 375 lying overturned in a ditch. Inside, they find the bodies of the driver and the ticket seller. Both have apparently died from having their necks twisted and broken.

No traces of the three men in military jackets are found.


For my earlier version, see my posting for 8/6/12. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Cocoon Girl (Han)

Long, long ago in ancient times, there was a girl who lived with just her father and her horse far out in the countryside. This girl was alone with her horse a lot while her dad was out of the area working.

So, it was just this very young woman and her horse to watch over the house and to pass the time together. She doted on her horse and made sure the horse was well fed every day.

The girl missed her father a lot, so one day, feeling bored and a little cheeky, she said to the horse, "Tell you what. If you go and fetch my father for me, I shall marry you!"

Like an arrow, the horse slipped out of its reins and took off, leaving the girl behind in the dust, watching, stunned. Off the horse galloped until it was out of sight. It didn't stop until it found the father at work some distance from home.

Why, this is our horse! he thought. What in the world has happened to bring him here? I need to leave and return home . . . 

He got up on the horse and immediately road back home, worried something was amiss with his daughter. The father returned home soon enough and saw that nothing was out of order. His daughter didn't reveal her careless oath to the horse and just let on she had no clue why the horse had behaved that way. The father was perplexed but dropped the matter.

After the father's return, the horse began to act very strangely. Normally, the horse would eat hay with relish; now, however, the horse refused to eat. What's more, every time the girl appeared, the horse would neigh and kick up its hoofs as if possessed.

The father witnessed this and knew there was more to the story than he had been told.

"All right," he told his daughter, "I want the truth. Why is your horse acting like this?"

"I told him I'd marry him if he would bring you back home . . . It was just a joke . . ."

"Daughter, how could you have done something like this?" The father was livid. "No one should ever make an oath like that, joking or not! You have caused great shame to our family! For the time being, you are not to leave the house until I say otherwise!"

The father then grabbed his bow and quiver of arrows and stepped outside to the horse stall. He shot the unfortunate horse with an arrow, skinned it, and hung the horsehide to dry outside.

Days passed.

The father was once again hired to work away from home.

On this day, the girl was outside, playing with several other neighboring girls. In the midst of a game, the girl spied the horsehide still hanging on a hook. She walked over to it and gave it a good kick.

"Well, look at you!" she then said. "Just a farm animal, a working animal, that's all! You thought you were going to get married, but now look at you! Just a dead animal's hide drying, twisting in the wind! So much for your stupid dreams!"

And then, with a great whoosh, the hide lifted off from the hook, enveloped the girl from head to foot and flew off with her into the sky and across the horizon.

The neighborhood girls, frozen with fright, pulled themselves together and ran off to find the girl's father. They finally located him at another home a little distance away.

The father then ran off on a frantic search for his daughter. He scoured the surrounding areas, all to no avail. He didn't give up, though, and finally located something a few days later in the forest, growing on a tree--a giant cocoon that covered what looked like an animal hide. It was the same horsehide all right, and it was simply huge, the biggest cocoon ever, totally encased in silky strands.

In time, women of the area gently removed the cocoon from the branch and brought it to the ground, where they would feed it and watch over it.

The tree on which the cocoon originally grew became known as the sangshu [桑树], what we call the mulberry tree.

Azoth Translation and Editing Team, eds.., 經典中國童話 [Classic Chinese Fairy Tales]; Taipei: Azoth Books, 2012; pp. 48-49;  蚕女 - 维基百科,自由的百科全书蚕神姑娘_民间故事_中国历史故事网

The earliest version of this story is from Records of the Search for the Gods [搜神記] by Gan Bao (fl. 315-336 A.D.).  For an excellent academic analysis of this story, including a different variant of this tale and its psychoanalytical significance, see a1075.pdf by Professor Alan Miller. 

The version translated and adapted above reveals the cruelty of the girl just before her abduction by the horsehide. 

Azoth titled this story as "The Horsehide Maiden" [馬皮姑娘] rather than the more traditional title by which this story is known, the title I used for this translated and adapted version. Other versions are titled "The Horsehead Girl" [馬頭女], alluding to the ideal shape of a silk cocoon--a soft long body with a "head" faintly resembling that of a horse, also alluding to the eventual disposition of the girl in the story herself.  

The Chinese name for "Mulberry" is a play on words: "Mulberry," sang [桑], versus "mourning"  [喪], also pronounced sang. Both are pronounced with the first tone. The idea is perhaps conflating plant protein from the mulberry leaves and excreted by larvae with the process of mourning to signify the daughter's transition and her inability to be seen again. Various commentators on this story suggest the cult of the Horsehide Maiden eventually led to the spawning of the silk industry. 

Motifs: A2811, "Origin of silk"; cB611.3, "Horse paramour"; cC16, "Tabu: Offending animal husband"; D264, "Transformation of man (woman) to skein of silk; cS215.1, "Girl promises herself to animal suitor." 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Yellow Werewolf (Han)

Note: This is a rather grisly folktale that is perhaps best not shared with very young children. As it is, it is a bizarre juggling of humor, fairy tale, and Grand Guignol.

Here we go:

There once was a farming family made up of two old folks and their two children--a boy and his younger sister. They were happy, the four of them, and enjoyed a peaceful life together.

Now, it came to the attention of the boy that the sheep herd was dwindling daily when he gathered up the sheep to take them out to the meadow. It was not lost on him that something was preying on the sheep between their being returned to the pen and when they were let out in the morning.

So, late one afternoon, after returning the sheep to the pen, he stealthily climbed over the walls of the pen and hid way in the back where he could enjoy a commanding view of the entire place.

He waited and waited . . . Then, he noticed the door of his sister's room opening. Out quietly came his sister. With a bound, she leaped over the walls of the pen and landed among the sheep. In an instant, he witnessed his sister transform herself into a yellow werewolf. With several savage bites, she devoured an entire sheep.

The brother observed all this and was shaken to his very core. He waited for her to finish her deed,  change back into human form, and leave. Only then did he, well after she had left, leave the pen.

As soon as he could, making sure his sister was out of earshot, he told his parents what he had witnessed.

"Mother, Father, only one thing can be true. Little Sister is a  werewolf!"

His parents not only did not believe him but scolded him to boot.

"How dare you say such hogwash!" they said. "How could your sister be a werewolf?"

No matter what he said or how much he pleaded with them, the young man could not convince them.
So, he just gave up. He packed some belongings and a little money, left the house, got on his horse, and rode out of the area.

He kept riding and riding, camping wherever he could.

One day he saw three hunters haggling with each other over four hawks. When the young man came closer to them, each of the hunters then agreed to take one of the hawks. As for the fourth hawk, they decided just to kill it. The young man intervened and asked if he could buy the fourth hawk. They gladly took his money for the hawk, and the young man, now with a hawk, rode off.

He rode on, stopping along the way to pick up a small stray dog.

After many days and nights of traveling on his horse with his hawk and dog, he reached a small village. Here, he decided to settle down for a while. He found himself a place to stay and a job. In his free time, he took care of his hawk and dog.

Several years passed. His two animal companions had grown to adult size. Both had turned into skillful hunting animals with keen instincts. He named the hawk Heiying; he named the dog Tianquan.

The time came when he started to miss his parents and his home and wondered how everyone was He decided to return home for a visit.

Before leaving, he asked a village girl for a favor.

"Do you see that basin of water over there in the corner of the courtyard?" he asked her.


"Well, after I leave, if you ever notice the water overflowing, unchain my hawk and dog and let them go."

Only when she had assured him that she understood, he packed his gear and rode away.

After a few days, he arrived back in his native village. He did not see a single person outside. Not only that but the buildings all looked dilapidated, with tall weeds growing everywhere. He galloped directly to his own family house. He secured his horse and quietly entered the house.

His sister was in the house, brushing her hair. She could see her brother in the mirror, some distance behind her, looking nervously around.

"Big Brother!" she shouted with joy. "You're finally back home!"

"Yes . . . "

She immediately rushed to his side and, taking his hand, led him back deeper into the house. He could now see bones strewn everywhere throughout the house. Then, he came to a door on which was hung a dried human head.

Father . . . he thought. He knew his parents were goners, having been eaten by this werewolf, his own sister. He was filled with sorrow.

"Brother, here!" said his sister, handing him his old two-stringed banjo. "Play while I cook you some food!"

She immediately disappeared into the kitchen, leaving him holding the musical instrument. He was truly confounded about what to do. He knew he must stay and somehow end the werewolf's reign of terror. He played the banjo; he knew if he stopped, his sister would certainly return, maybe this time as a werewolf. A weakness and inertia overcame him as he played music. Normally, he'd fight this evil with all he had, but now, realizing his parents were gone, he just lost whatever spirit was inside him and remained rooted at the spot, strumming the banjo, waiting for the return of his sister.

As it were, his sister was busy. In the kitchen, she sharpened a kitchen knife. Hungry, she went out and cut off one of the horse's legs and devoured it.

She reentered the house and approached her brother, who just stood stunned as he took in everything that had happened.

"Big Brother, guess what?" she asked."Your horse has only three legs!"

"Oh . . . so my horse has only three legs," he said, not moving.

She dashed out and returned shortly. "Guess what? Your horse has only two legs!"

"Oh . . . is that so? My horse has only two legs . . ."

She rushed out again, this time finishing off the entire rest of the poor horse. She went back into the kitchen and continued to sharpen her knife on the whetstone, taking her time, knowing her brother was in no mood to fight back or even simply to leave.

Out from a hole in the wall came two white mice, scampering right up to the young man.

"Hey," said one of the mice, "snap out of it! It's your chance to escape. We'll strum the banjo for you. Now, get out of here!"

He indeed came to his senses. He put the banjo down and let the mice make sounds on the strings. He quickly ran out a back door. He ran and ran until he came to a small reservoir, in the center of which grew a tree. He jumped into the water, swam to the tree, and climbed it all the way to the top.

Not far behind him was the werewolf, which soon enough arrived at the reservoir.

Hmm . . . she thought, he should be here . . . Where is he? She looked at the water and saw his reflection. Aha! There he is . . . in the water. 

She knelt down by the embankment and proceeded to drink up all the water.

After a while, she grunted. "Huh . . . He is not here . . . "

The brother heard this and could not refrain from laughing despite his precarious situation. The werewolf heard this and leaped toward the tree and proceeded to gnaw at the trunk.

Miles away, the village girl who had promised to check the basin of water went over to observe the basin and witnessed the water violently spilling out. She immediately turned the hawk and dog loose. The hawk flew off towards the young man's location with the dog bounding after it on the ground.

By the time Heiying and Tianquan arrived at the reservoir, the tree was tottering in the wind as the werewolf was close to gnawing completely through the trunk.

Heiying swooped down from the sky and plucked out the werewolf's eyeballs. Tianquan next dashed over and ripped out the werewolf's heart and devoured it on the spot.

The werewolf's reign had finally come to an end.

静宁民间神话传说故事 [Myths and Folk Legends of Jingning], Wang Zhisan, ed.; Beijing: Zhongwen Zaixian [Kindle Paperwhite].

This story is from a county in Gansu Province, inhabited by both Han and Hui people. The storyteller's ethnic identity is not mentioned, leading me to believe he is a Han, as Hui and other minority people are normally identified as such. 

The actual title in Chinese is "The Yellow Werewolf" ( "The Yellow Wolf Shapeshifter" 黄狼精, to be exact). "Yellow" can have a plethora of meanings, some positive and others, not so much. On the positive side, yellow was an imperial color reserved for the emperor. The legendary Yellow Emperor (d. 2598 BC) is still revered as a bringer of culture. Buddhist monks were allowed to wear yellow robes. In classical Chinese, "yellow" could also mean "gold" and "young" or "youthful." However, it can also mean "sallow," as in the insult "yellow-faced" (黄脸). By extension, this can also imply "weak," "spent." Of course, today "yellow color" (黄色) is synonymous with "prurience" and "pornography."

"Heiying" means "black eagle, ""falcon," or "hawk" (黑鹰), as "eagle," "falcon," and "hawk" are not always precisely differentiated in Chinese. "Tianquan" (天犬 ) means "heavenly hound."

In this interesting tale which is cluttered with motifs, the storyteller omits whether or not the yellow werewolf consumed the sheep bones as well as their flesh. Of course, the appearance of a telltale clue such as bones should have alerted the parents that something was seriously amiss. 

The storyteller also neglects to state if he sister metamorphizes into a werewolf after the brother returns home and when he dodges her at the reservoir. Also lost is what caused her to become a werewolf in the first place. 

Motifs: cB524.1.2. 1, "Dog breaks bonds and kills master's attacker"; B524.1.9, "Grateful hawk attacks hero's enemy"; D113.1.1, "Werewolf"; D1171.12, "Magic basin"; E541.2, "Eating humans"; H142, "Drinking enormous amount"; J1791, "Reflection in water thought to be the original of thing reflected"; K515, "Escape by hiding"; R311, "Tree refuge."

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Island of Women (Amis)

Shalawan was a young fisherman who lived in an Amis village on the eastern coast of Taiwan.

On one very ordinary day like so many thousands of others, Shalawan said goodbye to his wife and took to the sea in his dugout canoe to catch fish. On this particular day, he had been able to catch more than his usual share of fish within a short period of time.

He was heading out a little farther when he spotted ahead a small island he had never seen before. He was already hungry, so he decided to head for the island and cook some of the fish for his lunch. He beached the canoe, walked onto the shore with some of his catch, and looked around for some firewood. He saw some driftwood, gathered it, and started a nice little fire.

The fire had not been burning for long when suddenly Shalawan sensed the need to turn around.

To his shock, he saw his canoe, the canoe he thought had been safely secured, floating far out to sea, too far now for him to go out and retrieve. He next felt movement below his feet and looked all around. He discovered that it was not the canoe that had left the island but rather the island had left the canoe.

The island was on the move. Only that it wasn't really an island upon which Shalawan stood--it was some kind of huge whale.

I'm in for it now, he thought. If only I hadn't started that fire and burned the whale's back! He quickly put out the fire and looked down at the whale, saying, "Sorry, Whale! Sorry!"

He thought about his predicament. There was no way he could swim out to his canoe, which, in any case, had now disappeared below the horizon. No, he decided, he'd stay put. He would ride along with the whale because that was all he could do.

Squatting down on the immense back of the whale, he watched and turned his head to look in all directions as the whale glided across the sea.

Soon, the whale stopped alongside a huge island--or was it only an island once again?

Island or not, Shalawan decided to hop off the whale and take his chances on this larger mass in the middle of the ocean. He wiped his brow and was ready to celebrate being still alive when he suddenly heard loud whoops. He turned and looked all around to find himself completely surrounded by bamboo rifle-bearing women all clad in grass skirts, whooping and hollering but otherwise displaying no obvious emotions on their faces.

From out of the encirclement stepped several of these armed women warriors. They grabbed Shalawan by the arms and shoulders and frog-marched him towards a grove of low trees near the shore. Into the grove they went and then stopped before a large grass hut, the home of their chief.
They pulled and shoved him inside. The chief and these female warriors next treated Shalawan to a bounteous array of seafood delicacies and fruits. Shalawan ate these foods up, while the chief and her warriors just had soup.

After eating, Shalawan was given a grass mat and told to rest, which is exactly what he did.

He had a wonderful sleep in this warm, dry hut, but then he was awakened at the break of day and hauled off to a pen where hogs were kept. He was then fed the same slop given to the hogs.

They're fattening me up like a pig, thought Shalawan. Do they intend to slaughter me like one as well?

He became very sad and anxious about what would happen next; he also began to think of his wife, his home, and his native land. Would he ever see them again?

Night and day he was kept in this pen and fed the same food as the hogs. His fearsome and worrisome thoughts continued to plague him, and he began to lose hope . . . until something happened

It was a few days later, early in the morning. While still in the pen, he found a knife. In the dying darkness, he had seen something gleaming on the ground just beyond the bamboo poles that made up the pen.

It was a knife, all right; not some stout, thick-bladed weapon or farm tool, but a knife, nonetheless. Had the ancestors heard his silent cries, witnessed his distress, and delivered the knife?

He leaned as close to the bamboo poles as he could until his flesh practically encircled the poles painfully,  and he stretched out his arm as he had never done before.

He grabbed the knife!

He looked around. No one was about. He immediately went to a corner of the pen and cut some of the fiber cords that bound the bamboo poles. He was soon able to push the poles apart wide enough for him to make his escape. He slipped through the opening, ran into the woods, and then back towards the same stretch of shore from which he had landed on this strange island of fierce women.

Something was waiting for him by the shore--the whale, the same whale that had brought him here. It seemed to be waiting to take him back home to his coastal village.

There was only one way to find out if he would be going home.

He got on his knees, faced the whale, and thanked the creature.

Then, he said, "Whale, please, let's go back home!"

He jumped upon its back, and in his mind he could somehow hear the whale speak to him.

"If you become too wet, " the whale seemed to say, "tug on my ears, and I shall swim higher above the surface . . ."

"That's fine," replied Shalawan. "I'm ready to go if you are!"

And off they went.

During the course of the journey, Shalawan had to tug on the whale's ears five times; otherwise, he would have drowned. The whale, each time its ears were gently pulled, would then raise itself higher in the water to make sure Shalawan was safe and comfortable.

By and by, they finally reached the coast where Shalawan had made his home. He thanked the whale again and climbed down from its back. Once Shalawan was on the shore, the whale turned around and disappeared into the sea.

Shalawan looked around at the landscape, the village, the people. He recognized nothing or anyone.  Had he arrived back at the right place? Yes, he had; however, no one recognized him. No family member or friend came out to greet him; everyone he encountered was a stranger. He sought out the oldest village elder he could find to recount his story to this very old man. Maybe he--this elder--had heard of a Shalawan who had been lost at sea.

Shalawan told the elder his tale from beginning to end. The result? The old man just laughed and dismissed him with a wave of the hand.

"A nice children's fantasy story," the elder said.

"But all this really happened!" insisted Shalawan. "I really did use to live here! I was part of this village. Won't anyone please believe me?"

Then, Shalawan thought of something. He had once buried a millstone behind his own hut. He convinced some of the skeptical neighbors who had by now heard his tale to go with him to locate where his hut had once stood and the spot where the millstone had been buried. This would prove,
he reckoned, that he had once been a villager too.

With some effort, he located what appeared to be his own hut, so they went around the back. He and the men then dug and dug, and they hit something with their tools--a millstone.

Now the villagers believed that Shalawan was one of their long-lost sons. Everyone he had once known was now dead, gone--but not quite. A very old woman with a cane hobbled over. She took one look at him, held out her arms, and cried, "My Shalawan! My Shalawan!"

This was Shalawan's wife, his very own wife who had been very young the last time he had seen her. Now realizing that he too had become very old, Shalawan stepped forward and took his wife into his arms, crying along with her.

The entire village now celebrated his return. The villagers roasted a hog in honor of the whale that had brought their brother and son home.

This is why from that day forward, just after harvest, Amis people will mix pork and salt into sticky rice cakes and throw them into the stream that goes into the sea. In this way, they honor the whale that had rescued Shalawan and returned him back home.

Lin Daosheng, ed. 原住民神話故事全集 [Collected Myths and Stories of the Taiwanese Aboriginal Peoples]. Vol. 2. Taipei: Hann Colour, 2002; pp. 139-142. Jian Mingmei & Huang Aizhen, "女人島"  [Island of Women] in 質樸傻趣 [Unadorned Silly Pleasures], Sun Yiwang, ed; Taipei: WanJuanLou Books, 2014 [Kindle Paperwhite].

This story, like the Japanese "Urashima Taro," the Celtic "Oisin," countless other Celtic tales, and some UFO accounts, has the motif of missing time. Our concept of time keeps us bound to our earthly affairs; when we step out of these nature-imposed bounds (i.e. when we dare to venture into fairyland purposefully or accidentally or when we refuse to adhere to what "everybody else does"; for a modern spin on the latter, but not a time-lapse story, read Shirley Jackson's "The Summer People") there will be a dear price to pay, whether it means missing time or something else.

The image of a strong primeval woman comes across very strongly though fleetingly here. The Amazons in this story are glimpses of the indomitable, intimidating, dangerous female aspect lurking in the recesses of the unconscious and in fiction and folklore, manifesting itself due to compensation or repression. The Lin Daosheng version hints these women are cannibals. 

The image of the whale, in very ancient times, was conflated with the dragon and was regarded as a great, massive brute capable of gulping up and ingesting physical being itself (see "Whale" in The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images; Ami Ronnberg and Kathleen Martin,  eds.; Köln: Taschen, 2010; p. 204). Here, the whale is not malevolent, though its sheer size, bulk, and mere presence lead to Shalawan's misadventures and loss of time.  

A whale's "ear," so to speak, is internal, not external like our own outer ears. 

Motifs: B472, "Helpful whale"; D1890, "Magic aging"; F112, "Journey to the land (island) of women"; F377, "Supernatural lapse of time in fairyland"; F565.1, "Amazons: Women warriors"; J1761.1, "Whale thought to be an island. Sailor (Fisherman) lights fire on its back; R7, "Men (Man) held captive in the land of women"; R211, "Escape from prison"; R245, "Whale-boat: A man is carried across the water on a whale."