Sunday, July 15, 2018

Some Amis & Bunun Proverbs & a Few Amis Metaphors (Taiwan)

Apologies for not being able to provide the Chinese characters for the proverbs and metaphors below. Except for one, the original pages (and in one case, the website) where these examples of folk speech originally appeared are no longer in existence. 

Amis and Bunun Proverbs

The child who suffers grows as a person. [Amis] (With hardship comes growth and maturity.)

Don't be like the one who kicks a cat after losing a wrestling match. [Bunun] (In other words, don't be a poor sport.)

Even the fragile dragonfly can cast a big shadow. [Amis] (Don't underestimate the strength and ability of others. Each of us, in his/her own modest way, is capable of some greatness.)

Whether you win or lose, wipe off the dust after wrestling. [Bunun] (Once a contest or an argument has been settled, it's time to get back to normality and to move on. "Let bygones be bygones, for now everything is water under the bridge.")

Your good looks don't help in the rice paddy. [Amis] (There is a time for preening in front of the mirror; however, it doesn't supersede the work to be done. When at work, put aside your vanity. Anything accomplished will be through the sweat of your labor, not through your beauty or handsomeness.)

A curse is something with long-lasting wings. [Bunun] (Watch out! All your cursing of others may come back to you. "What goes around comes around," an African-American saying tells us.)

When sad, look to the blue sky, not to the ground below. [Amis] (When upset, take heart by looking at the majesty of the untrodden heavens, rather than the uninspiring dirt.)

A mouth is like an anus. [Bunun] (Both apertures are capable of producing many items of embarrassing worthlessness. Prudent expression is a virtue. "Silence is golden." When not in polite company, some of us in the USA might say that "an opinion is like [an anus]; everyone has one.")

Let your heart shine like the moon but your deeds, like the sun. [Amis] (Your inner quality, with all its goodness, should remain modest and not draw attention to itself. Your accomplishments, however, should speak louder than words. They should speak for themselves.)

The bear's sharpest claws remain hidden. [Bunun] (It's the silent dogs that bite" without warning. The shrewd, the cunning, even the dangerous may seldom announce themselves.)

Don't talk back to your elders or older siblings; after all, they saw the sun before you did! [Bunun] (Respect your elders; their accumulated knowledge and wisdom supersedes your own! This proverb may allude to the myth common to many indigenous Taiwanese tribes of the heroes who set off  to shoot down the gigantic sun [or multiple suns] which had shone twenty-four hours a day.)

Some Amis Metaphors

To have been eaten (to have been totally defeated)

To have the head of a cat and the scream of an eagle (to be pregnant)

A widow's tears (drizzling rain)

To pass through the spider's web (to have completed a safe journey)

Zhaohe straw (Stalks of zhaohe straw [Crassocephalum rubens 昭和草], used as an herb, grow standing distinctly apart. Thus, "to each his own" or "to go your own way.")

A dog's carcass (a lazy, good-for-nothing child  who shows little or no promise)

One who has just arrived at only the midpoint of a journey (someone whose thoughts are muddled)

One's mind (or conscience) has been turned over (one who has a furious temper)


All the above were accessed on 7/26/12. The first two websites still exist, though I have been unable to locate the pages on Amis and Bunun proverbs. I suspect they no longer exist. The third website has since disappeared. I had planned to go back and record the Chinese characters for the proverbs and metaphors. Alas. 

The Bunun proverb about the sun and admonishing one about contradicting elders, the final proverb in the list, comes from Boris Riftin (see the posting for 3/29/18 for the full citation.)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A Cat With Black Fur AND a White Nose (Taiwan)--Another Version of "The White-Nosed Cat"

There once was an unbelievably lazy fellow. He had had the luck (or, in his case, misfortune) of being born into a fabulously wealthy household. He grew up unwilling to do the most basic chores that all of us when we were very small had yearned to do on our own. Everything was done for him, whether it was being bathed, clothed, or fed. At least everyone knew just where to find him--he always stayed in his bed all day and night.

As it so happened, he became orphaned as a young adult but not before his parents had had their assets put into a trust that would continually pay for the manor and its upkeep, for the servants, and for their son himself. The servants, one by one, eventually left for greener pastures, but the young man did end up with one loyal old servant to take care of his needs.

Life continued on for this young man as it had had for all of his short life--sleeping, eating, drinking, and performing bodily functions, all in his bed.

Now, one day, the old servant had gotten word that his own family desperately needed him back in his own hometown. The servant was faced with a dilemma: needing to leave but also needing to make sure his master was taken care of.

Ah, this is what I'll do, the servant told himself. I'll tie a bunch of large biscuits loosely around his neck, enough to feed him for a good while. Whenever he feels like eating, he can reach down and pull a biscuit up to his mouth and feed himself. Surely, he can do even that!

So, that's what the servant did before leaving for home.

As it turned out, the servant's efforts were in vain; when the servant finally returned, he discovered the young master had still ended up starving to death. How? Why? The young man had been just too lazy to move his hand down to a biscuit to feed himself.

And so, despite his youth and all his wealth, his spirit still departed from his body . . .

His spirit was sent to the court of the king of the dead, King Yanlo. The king looked in the massive Book of Life set before him on a lectern. Here, the king would see what had led to this young man's demise.

"Hmm . . . "said the king, looking at the relevant page in the book, "so you basically died from sheer laziness! You hadn't committed any acts of evil; you just allowed yourself to remain totally lazy for your whole short life. All right. I'll assign you your next incarnation. You shall be reborn as a cat. Do you have any comment?"

"A cat would be fine, Your Majesty," said the lazy young man. "I just request that the cat have black fur and, if you would, please, a white, white nose!"

"And why do you want to have black fur and a white nose?"

"Well, Your Majesty, such a cat could hide in and blend in with the dark corners of the house. Any mouse would think the white nose must be a few grains of rice. I could then pounce upon these mice while expending as little energy as possible!"

"So be it!" said King Yanlo.

And so, not long after, somewhere in our world, such a kitten was born into a litter in somebody's house!

[溫故] 白鼻貓 - 看板 tale - 批踢踢實業坊

"The White-Nosed Cat," the eponym for this blog, appears in my e-book Taiwan Folktales, available from Amazon. The above version differs most noticeably from the older version in several ways. Here, a servant plays a major role. In addition, the character in this tale is emphasized as being indolent in a more graphic manner. Both characters die due to their laziness, with the character in "The White-Nosed Cat" dying after missing an opportunity to collect gold rather than from neglecting to eat. 

Motifs: A2233, "Animal characteristics: punishment for laziness"; D14, "Man transformed to cat"; 
E722.2.1.0, "Soul taken away by a god"; M201.0.1, "Bargain with a god"; Q321, "Laziness punished."

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Werefoxes Bedevil a Father and Son and Each Other (Han)

During the Zhenyuan period (A.D. 785-805) in the reign of Tang Emperor Dezong (A.D. 779-805), in Jiangling County in what is today Hubei Province, there lived a man named Pei Shaoyi. He was the proud, doting father of a ten-year-old boy, a quick-minded, lively, cute youngster.

One day this son came down with an illness which did not lessen after ten days; instead, it became increasingly worse. No doctor that Pei brought into his home was able to cure his son. Pei decided he would now seek a practitioner of alternative forms of medicine, a shaman, priest, or magician. He intended any shaman or the like he found to perform some chants to reduce the boy's fever which would thus lead to the boy's recovery.

Pei had no sooner come to this decision when someone approached the door and spoke to Pei's servant. The stranger introduced himself as a person surnamed Gao and as someone who happened to be experienced in reciting mantras that summoned healing spirits and expelled noxious ghosts. Furthermore, he added, chanting healing, demon-banishing mantras was his very profession. The servant brought his employer, Pei, over.

Well, Pei listened to this and quickly ushered Gao into his home and asked him to examine the boy, which Gao did.

After the examination, Gao said to Pei, "Listen. Your son doesn't have any kind of real illness. He is, in fact, currently bewitched by some evil fox shapeshifter. Let me apply some curative spells that will bring him out of it."

Pei thanked Gao and allowed him to perform the magic that would help his son escape the possession placed upon him by the werefox. The magic ceremony took the length of time it would take to eat lunch. Then, the son sat up in bed and exclaimed, "Father! I'm fine now! My illness is gone!"

Pei was overjoyed. He immediately thanked Gao profusely and gave him a large amount of money and fine, expensive fabrics, as well as treat the magician to a sumptuous meal. He proclaimed Gao as a master of the healing arts par excellence.

Before leaving the Pei house, Gao said, "I will come by every day to check the boy's progress."

He then left.

All was well . . . for a while. Shortly after Gao left, Pei's son began to display some disturbing behavior. He would blurt out incoherent, garbled nonsense, and sometimes alternatively laugh and then cry. He would also seem unable to control his actions.

The next day when Gao returned, Pei brought it to the magician's attention.

"All right," said Gao, "it is now clear that your son's soul has been snatched away by a goblin."

"Well," asked the anxious father, "can you treat him?"

"Yes, don't worry! Within ten days his soul shall be restored to him."

And so, with Pei's approval, Gao would return every day to treat the boy; some of the symptoms, however, persisted.

A few days later, another stranger, a Mr. Wang, came to the door. After speaking to the servant, he announced to Pei that he, like Mr. Gao, was adept at restoring spirits and driving away evil presences.

"It has come to my attention," said Wang, "that you have a beloved son who has been afflicted for a number of days. I would like permission to examine him."

"Thank you!" replied the grateful Pei. "Please come in."

Wang took a look at the boy and then said to Pei, "Your boy is in a very precarious state right now and needs immediate action! He's been made ill by a vicious, evil goblin. If his illness is not addressed right away, his symptoms will just worsen."

"That's so strange!" replied Pei. "I can't understand why this is happening. A Mr. Gao has been coming here daily to help him. At first everything seemed to be getting better . . . "

"Did you just say a 'Mr. Gao' was treating your son?"


"How do you know this Mr. Gao is not actually a fox demon in disguise?"

Who should then walk into the house but Gao himself? The two magicians then came face to face.

"Ohh! There's your son's source of illness and misery right here in the house!" shouted Gao. "This . . . this . . . werefox! No wonder the boy remains sick!"

"Ha!" said Wang. "You purveyor of illness and liar! You dare show yourself here! Well, that's convenient. I won't need to go far now to locate the cause of all the noxiousness! It's right here!"

The two magicians squared off and continuously screamed insults at each other.

Just when the shouting had reached its most feverish and angriest level, yet another person came to the door. The servant opened the door and inquired about his business.

"Good day, " said the stranger. "I have been made aware that your employer Master Pei has a son with a suspicious illness. I myself am very accomplished in expelling ghosts, demons, and goblins that prey upon people. Could you kindly inform your employer that I am here?"

The servant ran off to get Pei, managed to get him away from the two magicians who remained locked in their screaming match, and had him meet the latest magician to come to the door.

Pei explained the situation to the stranger, who said, "Allow me to enter to take a look at the patient."

This third magician walked into the house and encountered the two other magicians, who then finally stopped their noisy altercation only because someone new had entered the scene.

"Lo! Here's another fox in disguise!" cried Wang.

"Ha! The gall you have in dressing up as a priest!" cried Gao.

"You pair of cackling jackals! Speak of gall, will you? You both belong skulking among the desolate tombstones in a cemetery instead of being inside a house as if you were some kind of honored guests who then end up tormenting good people!" said this stranger.

The two-person heated quarrel became a threesome. Soon, the heated verbal exchanges escalated into shoving and then actual fisticuffs. The three, unceasingly fighting and hurling invective at each other, ended up in the courtyard. There, they continued on without letting up. Pei was frightened out of his mind, and he and his servant locked all the windows and doors. They listened to the brawling going on outside, which continued on into the night.

When the sounds of the fracas had stopped, Pei very cautiously opened the door a crack. Outside, sprawled out on the ground, immobile, panting, and obviously exhausted, were three foxes.

Pei took a club and tiptoed out into the courtyard. Klop! Klop! Klop! He finished off each fox, one by one, with the club.

Ten days later, Pei's son had made a complete recovery.

Azoth Translation and Editing Team, ed., 經典中國童話; pp. 72-74. (See 6/15/18 for full citation.)

Werefoxes or fox shapeshifters are a staple of East Asian folklore, and the craftiness traditionally attributed to foxes then becomes particularly dangerous for the humans who fall victim to their guiles. Of course, foxes are not the only malevolent shapeshifters in fairy/folktales. Wolves and tigers also appear as lycanthropes. See "Grandauntie Tiger," posted on 6/15/18, for example. 

In addition, this story demonstrates one folktale variable that seems very stable: the utter cluelessness of the main character, here, Mr. Pei, who never questions how any of these three evil strangers ever learned of his son's plight. Pei, like many characters in these tales, doesn't appear able to put two and two together. On another note, there is no mention of a Mrs. Pei or of other children. The weapon Pei uses to dispatch the foxes is not specified in the text; that the three foxes end up outside the house is also suggested but not made specific. The text suggests the three werefoxes wear the garb of Daoist priests. 

The original text is from the Tang dynasty anthology 宣室志 (Xuanshi Zhi) by Zhang Du. 

Motifs: D113.3, "Transformation: man to fox"; cD696, "Transformation during sleep"; D2064, "Magic sickness"; D2065, "Magic insanity"; D2065. 7 "Insanity by curse"; D2072, "Magic paralysis; person rendered helpless"; D3131.1, "Transformation: fox to person"; E720, "Soul leaves or enters the bodies"; H48, "Animal in human form recognized"; cK307, "Thieves betray each other"; K1822, "Animals disguise as human beings"; Q261, "Treachery punished"; Q262, "Imposters punished."