Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Deer Husband (Amis)

Note: This rather sad and grim tale is not intended for younger readers. 

In a village, there was a young unmarried woman who lived with her family. One day, out of the blue, she started going out to the field to work alone, refusing all help or even just the simple company of someone else.

Ha, thought her mother, this daughter of mine always goes out to the field by herself, never allowing anyone else to go with her. That's not normal. I wonder what's going on with her.

One day the mother told the daughter, "You know, you needn't go out to do all the work by yourself. Somebody can go with you."

"No, thank you, " said the daughter. "It's not necessary."

Far from settling the issue, the daughter's reply only deepened the mother's worries and suspicions. The mother had an idea, however.

That day at noon, the mother carried a lunchbox to her daughter. Nearby where she knew her daughter would be, she stopped. She heard two people, one of whom was her daughter, talking, laughing merrily. She rushed into the clearing only to find her daughter, alone.

"Oh, who was just here seconds ago?" asked the mother. "I am sure I heard you talking and laughing with someone."

"No one else is here as you can see. I am alone."

The mother looked around their field. Surely somebody had to be helping her daughter! The girl couldn't have done all the field chores by herself.

"Daughter, where have you hidden him?"


"You know whom! The person, the young man, who was obviously here laughing and joking with you and helping you!"

"There is no one else here with me!"

The conversation ended and that was that, for the time being, anyway.

A few days later, the millet and yams were ready for harvesting.

The father told his wife, "I'm going out to the field to take a look."

He found the millet and yams ready for gathering; he also noted how well manicured the field was and how hard more than one person must have worked to make the field appear this way.

Who else has been here? he thought. Just my daughter? She is the only one responsible for making the field picked clean of all weeds, for watering it? All by herself? Impossible!

The father poked around the area for a bit longer and then for the first time, noticed a path nearby.

Hmm, he thought. This is curious. And look, footprints . . . 

The father went home and called all the family members together.

"Who else besides Daughter has been working out in the field, weeding and watering and so on?" he asked.

"I haven't!" everyone but Daughter replied.

"I see . . . " said the father, his mind clouded by the mystery.

He went back out to the field and poked around some more. The millet and yams lay neatly in rows, waiting to be picked, sitting undisturbed. Nearby the rows of millet and yams were some tracks he had not noticed earlier--deer tracks.

Now, this is the strangest thing of all! he thought. Here are all the millet and yams, and next to them, deer tracks. Why, this deer could have eaten its fill of yams and millet but didn't do so. Now, that begs some explaining. Anyway, I've got to take care of that deer before it becomes hungry . . . 

The father returned home for his bamboo rifle and then went back to the edge of the field to wait for the deer.

Before long, a deer, an antlered buck, entered the field from the forest.

Come on, buck deer, come on . . . the father thought. Just a little closer . . . 

He let the buck walk into his sights.


The buck was hit and now down on the ground. The father hoisted the dead creature up and slung it over his shoulders and carried it home.

The daughter began to tremble when she saw what her father had brought home.

"Turn . . . his . . . head . . . toward . . . me . . . Father . . ." she said. "Let . . . me take a . . . look . . . " When her father did as she asked, she shrieked. "Why did you kill him? Why did you kill my husband?"

"What? What did you say?"

"Yes! My husband! He was my husband!"

The daughter pushed her father away and scurried up one of the poles that supported the roof. Then, she climbed along the roof beam until she was directly over the dead buck's head. She leaped from the beam and fell directly onto the buck's antlers, impaling herself, quickly dying.

The family gathered around, with the broken-hearted father shaking his head, tearfully saying, "So, that was her husband all along . . . No wonder the field had been so well tended . . . "

Lin Daosheng, Vol. 2; pp. 163-165. (See the posting for 7/4/17 for complete citation.)

In this version of an animal groom tale, the deer husband never materializes into a human. He remains a true deer, apparently without a human soul. A young woman has a lover who is literally a wild animal, reflecting the willingness of the civilized but immature individual to give in to the more carnal, unrestrained, uncivilized world of nature. It is the long-lost primordial world to which our prehistoric ancestors once belonged (or so we imagine) and to which many claim they long to return. It is no surprise that the parental authority figure steps in and quashes the affair, for there is no going back to the lamented distant past for any of us. 

Motifs: B601.10, "Marriage to deer"; B611.5, "Deer paramour."

Some Hui Proverbs

1. 好男凭志强, 好马凭膘壮。A man's goodness is determined by the strengths of his aspirations;       a  horse's goodness is determined by its being plump and well-fed. (Everything under the sun--
     people, places, things--has its own set of standards by which it may be judged.) 

2. 锅下无火水永凉, 人无精神死人相。The water in a pot without a fire beneath it will grow
    cold; one without vitality has the face of a dead person. (Our vigor keeps us spirited; our passions 
    keep us alive.) 

3. 满瓶子隐隐当当, 半瓶子晃里晃荡。A full bottle stands stable, solid; half a bottle sways to
    and fro. (A full commitment outdoes anything halfhearted, wishy-washy.) 

4. 立志容易,成事险难。[To talk of] Resolve is easy; actually accomplishing a task can be
    perilous and difficult. (Talk is cheap; results speak volumes.)

5. 读书不知意, 等于嚼树皮。To study without grasping the significance of the topic (i.e., to
    study passively) is akin to munching just on bark. (One must approach one's activities, especially
    one's studies, completely engaged, with total mindfulness.)

6. 水不流要臭, 人不学必愚。Stagnant water begins to stink; a person who doesn't study will
    become stupid. (Without the constant stimulation and knowledge from studying and learning, one's
    mind will eventually just languish.)

7. 壮士穷途不卖剑,秀才饿死不卖书。A poor warrior wouldn't resort to selling his sword; a
    scholar on the verge of starving to death wouldn't sell his books. (A person of great resolve
    remains rock steady; a true person of honor and integrity doesn't sell out.)

8. 智慧是穿不破的衣裳, 知识是取不尽的宝藏。Wisdom is a set of clothes that never wears
    out; intelligence is an inexhaustible storehouse of treasure. (Knowledge, perhaps including 
    wisdom, is a gift that keeps on giving and something that no one can ever take away from you . . .
    provided you have done the requisite studying.)

9. 葡萄不熟才酸, 人若无知才傲。Unripe grapes are sure to be sour; an unlearned individual is
    sure to be arrogant. (How interesting--and especially sad--it is that some people are proud of 
    their own ignorance! Those who are most vain tend to be stunted in their educational 

10. 学习的路程从阿妈的怀窝到坟坑。Studying and learning are a lifelong road from
      Grandmother's lap to the grave. (Living and learning--they never stop. Other Mandarin
      speakers would say, "To have studied and learned a long time means to have lived a long time" 

11. 一根毛线不成绳, 一根树木不成林。A strand of hair doesn't make a rope; a single tree
      isn't a whole forest. (Aristotle said that "one swallow does not a whole summer make." We 
      can also say that it is too easy to settle for half measures, quasi-victories, and so on. Real 
      accomplishments require hard work and sweat.)

12. 人多力量大, 蚂蚁搬泰山。People united are invincible; if enough ants could unite, they
      could even move Mount Tai. (Mount Tai appears in many proverbs as a steady, unmovable 
      presence. "Two heads are better than one, " the old saying goes.)

13. 人离群太孤单, 羊背群狼喜欢。The person who leaves the group will be friendless; wolves
      appreciate the lambs that reject the flock. ("United we stand; divided we fall.") 

14. 向你笑的人不一定都是你的朋友, 生你气的人不一定都是你的敌人。Those who laugh
      with you are not necessarily your friends; those who are cross with you are not necessarily
      your enemies. (These are words to share with our children, who too often happily claim their
      friends "are always there for them," while bemoaning how their parents have to admonish 
      them from time to time, something their friends don't do. As I tell my students, "Your friends
      don't wash your underwear, cook your dinner, or pay for your braces. Your parents do that. They 
      will also sit on your bed at three in the morning on nights you can't sleep and comfort and listen 
      to you as you recount tales of teenage woe.")

15. 一步走错, 百步难赶。With one step in the wrong direction, a person might find
      a hundred steps not enough to get back on the right course. ("If your train is on the wrong track, 
      every station you come to is the wrong station"--Bernard Malamud. The need for good 
       preparations, a clear vision, and a good start can never be overstated.)

回族谚语: 回族智慧结晶 [Hui Proverbs: Crystallization of Hui Wisdom]; Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture Literary Alliance, ed. N.P., 2016; [Kindle Paperwhite].