Friday, June 15, 2018

Grandmother Tiger--the Earliest Recorded Mainland Version (Han)

Note: This bogeyman fairy tale is not suitable for the very young. 

A farmer in a mountain village sent his daughter off to the home of her waizumu (maternal grandmother) with a nice basket of dates for the old woman. Tagging along with her was her little ten-year-old brother.

Grandmother's home was six li away. The sister and brother plunged ahead along the path through the forest and mountains as the sun slowly set.

Soon, it was very dark, and the girl and boy became somehow confused and lost in the diminishing light.

Someone was on the path up ahead; they and this figure approached each other. It was an old woman.

"Where are you off to?" the old woman asked.

"We're on our way to our waizumu's house!" the girl responded.

"Why, child, I am your waizumu!"

The girl and boy looked at each other.

"Hmmm . . . " the girl said. "I remember my mother telling us that her mother had seven black spots upon her face. You don't seem to have such spots on yours."

"Oh, my child! I'm indeed your waizumu. I do have such spots--dark rashes, due to an allergy I had developed while I was winnowing rice and drying husks. Just a moment; let me wash my face for a moment." The old woman turned around and bent down next to a stream that ran along the path. She took off the eyes of some water snails and stuck those eyes to her face. She got up and went back to where the boy and girl stood. She said to the girl, "Now, child, do you not see the rashes on my face?"

"Oh, yes, I see them." The girl and her brother now believed the old woman and went along with her down the path.

They entered the heart of the forest on a side path into an area so dark that not even any moonlight shone through. They then carefully tread across a very narrow passageway, which led to a home that looked like barely more than a cave.

"Your grandfather and I have another house, which he and some workmen are repairing. For the time being, we're staying in this place. So, please come in and forgive your grandmother for being such a poor hostess in not making everything comfortable for you!"

The old woman led the children into the home and then prepared a dinner for them. After dinner, it was time for bed.

"Now," said the old woman, bidding the children to climb up onto the bed, "let's see which of you two is the fatter so that he or she can keep Grandmother warm through the night."

"I am, Grandmother!" said the boy.

"And so you are! All right, you shall sleep right next to Grandmother!"

The boy then cuddled with the old woman, while the sister slept next to the old woman's legs.

The sister fell asleep but woke up after a short while, and the first thing she noticed was that some of the old woman's torso was exposed between layers of blankets and that this skin was covered with very hairy fur.

"Grandmother, " the sister said, "your skin is so hairy!"

"That's not my skin, child," replied the old woman. "I'm wearing your grandfather's wooly quilt jacket. It gets quite chilly out here if you didn't notice. The jacket keeps me nice and warm."

"Oh . . ."

A short while later, the sister heard what sounded like munching.

"Grandmother, what's that noise?"

"Well, I'm eating some of the delicious dates you children brought to me. It's cold and nowadays I find it hard to resist eating when I'm the slightest bit hungry."

"Grandmother, " said the sister, "I'm hungry too."

"Have a date," said the old woman, handing the little girl a small object.

The sister took the item in her hands and looked at it.

It wasn't a date.

It was something small, white, longish . . . a small finger.

The sister stifled a gasp and quickly understood what had happened . . . her beloved little brother was likely no more.

She quickly gathered her wits about her and said, "Grandmother, I have to go outside to relieve myself!"

"Oh, dear, do you really need to go? Tigers might be right outside, roaming the mountains. Grandmother wouldn't want you to get eaten. Better not to go out, eh?"

"You can do this, if you're worried, Grandmother. Tie one end of a rope to me, and hold on to the other end of the rope. If there's any danger, I'll tug on the rope and you can come to me right away."

"Oh, very well . . ."

The old woman produced something long and rope-like. The sister got off the bed,  and the old woman tied one end of the rope around the girl's ankle. The girl went outside, ostensibly to "do her business," but, in reality, to escape, of course. In the moonlight, she could see the "rope" attached to her ankle was no rope but rather a long section of an intestine . . .

She quickly untied the intestine from her ankle and scurried up the first tree she could see. Her actions alerted the old woman, who came out and followed the end of the intestine to the tree in which the girl was hiding.

The old woman waited at the bottom of the tree for a while before calling out: "Child! Come down! Do you want to catch a chill? Tomorrow morning when I send you back home ill, how will your mother ever forgive me?"

Before long the old woman spotted the sister up in the tree. She cried, and her cries turned into roars, as she paced around the tree like a mad person.

"Come down from there, child!" she shouted to the little girl. "Tigers could be up in that tree!"

"I'm safer in this tree than in the bed with you!" the sister shouted back. "You're the tiger! You ate my little brother!"

With nothing to say in response, the old woman fled the scene.

By now the sun had come up.

In case any person was around, the sister began to yell loudly, "Help! Help! Someone save me from tigers! I'm up in this tree!"

She shouted over and over until, indeed, some men working in the mountains heard her cries and rushed over. They brought her down from the tree and escorted her to safety. Some scraps of her clothing were left hooked and hanging in the tree because of their haste.

Not long after that, the old woman returned to the tree with two young tigers accompanying her.

"She's up in that tree," she told the tigers.

The tigers gnarled and chewed along the rim of the trunk until the whole tree toppled over. When the two tigers discovered there was only a bit of clothing on the tree but no girl, they became infuriated, assuming the old woman had been having sport with them. They turned around, leaped upon her, and tore her to pieces.

Azoth Translation and Editing Team, ed; 經典中國童話 [Classic Chinese Fairy Tales]; Taipei: Azoth Books, 2012; pp. 92-94. 

This tale, a variant of the quintessential bogeyman tale that has frightened recalcitrant Taiwanese kids for centuries ("Grandauntie Tiger" 虎姑婆), comes from the early Qing Dynasty
(1644-1911)anthology Yuchu Xinzhi 虞初新志,  edited by Zhang Chao 張潮. (This particular version deals with a shapeshifting tiger claiming to be a grandmother, rather than a great aunt.) It has motifs that differ significantly from many of the Taiwanese versions. For example, in many, maybe most Taiwanese versions, the old woman shapeshifter shows up at the home of the children when the children's parents are not home, and the older sister is conned into believing this stranger is a great aunt, thus allowing her inside. The motif of an intestine-rope is a particularly ghoulish deviation from the Taiwanese version, which has the girl's tying an actual rope around her waist, instead of a length of intestine around her ankle. The end of the Taiwanese version has the girl kill the shapeshifter by pouring a bucket of boiled cooking oil or boiled water down the shapeshifter's throat after the girl tricks the monster into allowing her to pull the bucket up to her sanctuary in the tree branches, having promised Grandauntie Tiger that she would cook herself for the shapeshifter to make herself tastier. 

I had to make some changes to the story above for continuity. The version I read from Azoth doesn't explain what brings the old woman out to the tree. Instead, it mentions the old woman goes outside, finds the intestine-rope extending from the upper reaches of the tree, and yanks on the intestine until it falls to the ground. 

(My translation of a Taiwanese version can be found in my e-book Taiwan Folktales, available on Another English version comes from the late, great sinologist and sociologist, Wolfram Eberhard. See his Studies in Taiwanese Folktales; Taipei: Orient Cultural Service, 1971.)

Finally, there should be mention of "Grandauntie Wolf," a variant from China involving a shapeshifting wolf. Ed Young's Caldecott Medal-winning version is Lon Po Po, now also available as an e-book.

 "Grandauntie Wolf" and "Grandauntie Tiger" are classified as tale type AT 333, "Little Red Riding Hood."

Motifs: D112.2.1, "Wer-tiger" or "Weretiger'; F843, "Extraordinary rope"; cG61.1, "Child recognizes relative's flesh when it is served to be eaten"; G86.1, "Cannibal ogress gives finger of [boy] to frightened sister"; G87, "Cannibal crunching human bone says noise is only eating of [dates]"; K551.4, "Respite from death until toilet is made permits escape"; K1822.4, "Tiger disguises as human being"; R111.1.13, "Rescue of girl from tigers"; cZ18.1, "What makes your ears so big?"

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