Saturday, December 29, 2018

Snake Boy (Tsou/Zou)

Long, long ago, a woodcutter was up in the mountain forests when he heard a very heartbreaking, plaintive cry, the cry of a very small child in danger or in pain.

Who in the world is crying up here? he thought. Whose baby would be up here alone?

He tracked from where the cries were coming, and they led to a clearing. There sat a bawling infant, and coiled around this infant was a huge snake, the long forked tongue of which was licking the crying baby's head.

The woodcutter had seen many strange things in the forest, but what he saw now made him absolutely shudder. He took a deep breath and carefully stepped over to within arms' reach of the infant. He slowly and ever so carefully bent down and lifted the child from the coiled snake.

Holding the child firmly with one arm, the woodcutter used his free arm to shoo away the snake. The snake then slithered off into the forest.

The woodcutter carried the child to his home.

Once home, the woodcutter tried feeding him rice porridge, but the child wasn't interested or hungry. The woodcutter tried feeding him many other things but to no avail. Finally, the small child ate a plantain, and so the woodcutter decided to feed him just plantains, the only food he seemed to enjoy. The woodcutter discovered his little guest also liked yams, so the woodcutter added them to the diet.

And so, having been adopted by the woodcutter, the child lived on plantains, bananas, and yams and grew into a strong, husky youth named "Snake Boy."

Snake Boy, when he came of age, would accompany the adult men and the boys into the forests to hunt.

One day he and a bunch of boys went out to hunt deer. He was the only one that afternoon to come back with something. So, he was able to catch a deer? you might ask. No, he came back with three deer--one under each arm and one draped over his shoulders.

And then there was the head-hunting expedition, or what used to be called "grass mowing." Again, the local boys came back without nary a single head. Snake Boy, however, came back with a real warrior's load--the heads of two enemies.

Snake Boy was not merely a great hunter and warrior. He was also a mature and dependable member of his village and demonstrated such qualities by watching over and guiding the younger boys.

Thus, Snake Boy earned the love and respect of all the people--young and old--in his community.

One day, Snake Boy and his friends were curing some meat jerky on a bamboo frame. From not too far off came the sound of a person approaching and calling out a greeting. Yet, no one could be seen.

"What do you make of that?" asked one of the boys. "Some invisible person is out there!"

"'Invisible person'? Invisible spirit!" said another.

"A demon!" said still another.

To show they were not afraid, all except Snake Boy laughed, the laughter of those trying to make a brave front. Snake Boy cocked his head and seemed to be trying to figure out what the voice was saying. He finally turned to his companions, and with a sad look, he said, "It's my mother . . . "

"Your mother? What do you mean?" someone in the group asked.

"Yes, my mother. She allowed me to grow up here with all of you for all these years, to be your friend, brother, companion . . . It's my mother calling me . . . My time here is up, and now I must go. How I hate to leave!"

Snake Boy broke down in tears. As he cried, a huge snake crawled from the bushes over to the bamboo frame. The boys looked at the snake, and the serpent looked right back at them. Then, right before their eyes, Snake Boy immediately changed into a snake. His astonished friends jumped back as they witnessed  Snake Boy and his snake mother burrow into the soft earth and disappear.

He was gone, just like that! The boys who had loved and accepted Snake Boy as their very own brother were devastated. One, then another and another took out nose flutes and played some songs to express their sorrow and to comfort themselves.

One day not long after, another strange incident occurred. The same village boys were out playing their nose flutes when suddenly they noticed they were now surrounded by dozens of snakes on all sides, slithering around, whipping out their long pink tongues.

The boys were petrified at first. Then, one of the boys had a suggestion: attack the biggest snake, the one that seemed to be the leader. So, the boys hit the lead snake with their nose flutes, and the huge snake reacted by rearing up and emitting from its mouth long flames which made the boys retreat and which seared and then ignited the grass. All of the snakes there but one had no way to retreat and were thus burned up. Only one snake, a blue-green one, escaped with a burned tail.

The boys survived this encounter, having escaped. They returned to find that the dead snakes had deposited many eggs in and around the area, and these eggs later hatched. The whole region was soon crawling with snakes, and to this day it still is.

Lin Daosheng, Vol. 1 (for complete citation, see 3/1/18)

The Zou (or Tsou or Cou) are, like all of Taiwan's other indigenous peoples, Austronesians. They live in Chiayi, around Alishan and in other areas in central and southern Taiwan.

This tale touches upon headhunting, though it is not the tale I had promised a couple of tales back that will enlarge upon the once widespread custom of headhunting. (That forthcoming story is a legend from pre-World War Two Taiwan.) A few words on headhunting, however. It was a custom found amongst all if not most of the tribes. It evolved as a means of protecting community territory and became a coming-of-age ceremony by which a young man could prove his worth to his community and enable himself to obtain a wife after having demonstrated his prowess in taking a head. Again, though, the legend I plan to present next year will focus on headhunting and discuss this practice in more detail. 

This story strongly reminds us of the difficulty in overcoming nature--wild nature or even one's own human nature. Snake Boy was essentially a "fish out of water" and, as such, was destined sooner or later to return to his one real home, regardless of his attachment to his friends. This is a common theme in indigenous Taiwanese myths and legends, that we are guests in the company of the wild and its denizens and vice-versa, even if these supernatural friends/spouses might appear in human form from time to time. And they, when they are with us, will never and can never tarry for very long among us forever. Furthermore, we might have expected the boys of the village, Snake Boy's childhood and adolescent friends, to have been more accepting of snakes in their presence. After all, one of the snakes they struggled against might have been their good friend, Snake Boy. But no, their fear of snakes still (probably unconsciously) triggered them to respond with violence against the snakes that appear before them, overriding any thought that their best friend was now a snake. 

I hesitate fully to identify Snake Boy as a "culture hero" in that his single possible contribution to the world and human race--the proliferation of snakes--is only arguably creditable to him. 

Motifs: cA511.2.1, "Abandonment of culture hero at birth"; cA526.2, "Culture hero as mighty hunter"; cA526.7, "Culture hero performs remarkable feats of strength and skill"; cB635.3.1, "Culture hero licked by deer (snake) mother"; D191, "Transformation: man to serpent"; D391, "Transformation: serpent to person"; T542, "Birth of human being from an egg (of a snake)."

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Three Jokes From China

Merry Christmas!

1. "Thank Goodness"

There once was a fellow who was both poor and not very bright. To make ends meet, he once hired himself to the family of a man who was scheduled to be repeatedly beaten by a bamboo staff at the local yamen. This hiree agreed to stand in for the man sentenced to a beating. 

The family of the man sentenced first paid the hiree, the replacement for the beating, a nice sum of cash. 

With the cash on his person, the hiree entered the yamen, prepared to take his licks. However, before the beating commenced, he gave the yamen jailer entrusted to beat him all the cash, with the instructions to "go lightly" on him, and the jailer did so obligingly. 

Having now been beaten and now penniless, the man left the yamen and headed for the home of the family that had hired him in the first place. To their surprise, he got on his knees before them, kowtowing, repeating, "Thank you! Thank you! I'm so grateful to you!"

"Hold on!" said the startled head of the house. "What's this all about?"

"I'm a thousand percent grateful to you!" cried the beaten man. 

"How so?"

"Well," he replied, "if it hadn't been for the money you had given me, I'd have been beaten to death!"

2. "A Serious Tiger Match"

Out on the street, a man hard of hearing once heard the cry of a tofu seller hawking fresh tofu: "Doufu!" This gentleman, however, misheard the cry as "Douhu!" ("fight between tigers" or "a tiger match, " like a modern bullfight). 

He rubbed his hands together in delight and thought, "Hot diggity! A tiger fight! I've got to see this!" He turned around to the passers-by and cried out, "Hey, everybody? Did you not hear? There's a match between a man and a tiger or maybe one between two tigers!"

"Wow! Where?" asked someone.

"Show us where!" cried someone else. 

Just then a seller of hot steamed plain buns appeared, shouting, "Mantou!"

The hard-of-hearing fellow heard this as "To the south!" (nantou).

"Come on, everyone!" he said. "It must be this way, just south of here. He proceeded to lead a small gaggle of similarly bored people looking for excitement on a path headed south. 

On and on they walked until they reached the end of the path, a dead end in town where nothing was going on.

"Hey!" said one of the group. "Where's this tiger fight?"

"Yeah," said another, "there's nothing down here."

Not far away, a man was hawking garlic cloves: "Dasuan luo!"

The man with the hearing problems heard this as "Break it up!" or "Dismissed!"

"Oh, forget about it, everybody!" he said. "Looks like some killjoy already stopped the show and sent everyone away!"

3. "Tiger or Pussycat? Decide at Your Own Risk"

A rather vain, imperious county magistrate had taken up painting and had just completed a painting of a tiger, of which he was very proud. He hung it up in his office and called in a yamen runner to look at the painting.

"Well," said the magistrate, "what do you think?"

This runner, notorious for being a shameless toady, exclaimed, "Beautiful! For the life of me, Master, I swear this painting of a tiger is so lifelike that the animal looks ready to pounce off the paper!"

The magistrate, overjoyed, gave the runner ten silver coins, telling him, "Here, my good man!"

The next day, he called in another runner.

"What do you think of this painting?" he asked the runner.

"Oh . . . it's only a cat . . ." was the reply. 

"A cat? Just a cat?" roared the magistrate with anger. "Who do you think you are?!" He then stepped to the doorway and cried, "Send another runner in here at once!" And when a runner appeared on the double, the magistrate pointned to the runner already in his office and said, "See that man? Give him forty strokes with a bamboo rod!"

By now the word had gotten out that any runner who wanted to avoid trouble would have to speak very diplomatically with the magistrate if asked about his painting of a tiger. 

A third runner, one who refused to flatter but one who also desperately did not want to be beaten, was called in for his opinion on the now infamous painting. 

"So, what do you think of the painting you see hanging here?" asked the magistrate.

"I'm too afraid to say, Master," the runner replied. 

"Afraid? Afraid of what?" asked the magistrate. 

"Everyone is afraid of something, Master. I'm afraid of you."

"Oh, really now? What do you suppose I am afraid of, young man?"

"Well, Master," replied the runner, "you would be afraid of His Imperial Majesty."

"Very well. What would His Imperial Majesty be afraid of, then?"

"His Imperial Majesty would fear Heaven."

"And what would Heaven be afraid of?"

"Heaven would be afraid of a cloud."

"And what would a cloud fear?"

"A cloud would fear the wind."

"Uh huh. What would the wind fear?"

"The wind would fear a wall."

"Oh? And a wall? What would a wall be afraid of?"

"A wall would be afraid of a mouse for all the damage it could do."

"Aha. So what would a mouse then be afraid of?"

"Well, Master, a mouse would most certainly be afraid of what you painted in that picture."

The magistrate was left thunderstruck.


傳統笑話 [Traditional Jokes], Folk Humor and Joke Collection Team, eds.; N.p.: Green Apple Data Center; N.d. [Kindle Paperwhite]

Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Face That Looked Awfully Familiar . . . (Hong Kong)

A young lady we shall call Karissa worked for a phone company. On this particular day, she was assigned to canvass door-to-door in a section of old apartment buildings, informing residents of the company's new programs and incentives.

She knocked on this one door, and the door slowly creaked open to reveal utter darkness beyond the door. By and by, an old man's head appeared in the crack between doorway and doorjamb.

"Yes, Miss . . . " he said, "may I help you?"

"Good afternoon! I'm Karissa, with XXX Telephone Company, and I'd like to take a moment of your time, if I may, to introduce to you some of the benefits of the new programs our company is offering to residents. How might I address you?"

"The name's Lu . . ."

"Mr. Lu, did you know that through one of our programs you can now have a telephone for the low price of $50.00 per month?"

Mr. Lu waved his hand. "Young lady, my son takes care of these matters. He's responsible for things such as this. I don't have any say in these things."

"I see. Is your son home?"

"No. He's at work. He should be home in one hour."

"One hour. Okay. I'll come back in an hour to speak with him if that's all right."

"Sure. You do that," said Mr. Lu, slowly closing the door.

A little more than an hour later, Karissa returned and once again knocked on the door. This time, a young man opened the door.

"Yes?" asked the young man gruffly.

"Oh, hello, Mr. Lu! I'm Karissa from XXX Telephone Company. I am in the area today--"

"Hold on, a moment. How did you know my name is Lu?"

"I was just here about an hour ago and spoke briefly to your dad and--"

"WHAT? My dad? Excuse me! Are you trying to be funny with me?"

The younger Mr. Lu's outburst and demeanor unsettled Karissa, leaving her at a complete loss of words. She then, for the first time, noticed something in the room just beyond this young man. It was a framed photo, a photo of the same older man she had seen earlier, set on a table. Here, his visage was one of a happy, smiling older gentleman.

But wait . . . The photo was not alone on the table. It was standing between tall ancestral tablets, and the photo itself was within a golden niche.

The photo was part of a lingwei, a memorial display . . .

Karissa now understood.

撞鬼 [Encountering Ghosts], Ah Wu and Ah Yong, eds.; Hong Kong; Wanli, 2007; pp. 6-8.

The above book and a companion volume (回魂 [Returning Spirits]) by the same editors/authors are supposed to be a collection of oral and online ghostly urban legends--in the case of the former, from HK; the latter, from China.

The lingwei 靈位 are ancestral tablets and those of the more recently deceased. They are kept on a special table and are given offerings on certain days. I've seen a few such tables in Taiwan, where the tablets are flanked by large lamps emit red light. A large image of a deity is in the background. 

Motifs: cE422, "The living corpse"; cE544, "Ghost leaves evidence of his appearance"; E545, "The dead speak"; E545.13, "Man (woman) converses with the dead."

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Painted Skin (Amis)

Long ago, in a community near today's Hualian (Hua-lien), a cruel chief was in power. This chief was not content to rule his own village; he had long fingers, thirsting after the goods and even the people of other villages. So, his men would raid and terrorize the region, carrying off personal possessions, farm animals, and even the menfolk of his neighbors, enslaving them. Of course, those who could resist without already being surrounded and overpowered were slain without mercy. You can well imagine that this chief was utterly despised by just about one and all, but who could oppose him? He was kept in power by his fierce army of warriors.

In a neighboring village, there was a stalwart young man named Shabu'er. When he was younger, he had been one of many whose relatives, in his case, his own father, had been dragged away by a raiding party only to be murdered later on when their usefulness had expired. Thus, this Shabu'er nursed a deep hatred for the greedy, bloodthirsty tyrant who had deprived him and many of his friends of their fathers.

He was determined to kill this evil chief, so he bode his time for the right opportunity, keeping his plans to himself.

One day, Shabu'er disappeared from his village. His relatives and friends were greatly alarmed and searched far and wide for him, scouring the valleys, mountain ridges, and forests, but there was no trace of him.

Little did they know that Shabu'er was off hiding in a part of the forest. He had brought with him a pot full of charcoal ashes and was busily applying the ashes to his face, drawing lines and circles.

The next day, a stranger appeared in the village of the evil chief and humbly presented himself to the tyrant. He claimed to be from a very far distance under difficult circumstances. He was a very odd person, with black markings on his face and dressed in virtual rags, which seemed to tally with his story of a rough journey. He appeared strong and nimble, though. He told the chief he was now stranded in a strange area without kin or friends. Would the chief take him on as a servant?

The chief looked at this stranger in rags, with his bizarre, frankly unsettling makeup. The chief nodded his assent and put the man to work in his home. There, the stranger, Shabu'er in disguise, joined the rest of the servant staff.

In time, Shabu'er proved to be the most loyal and energetic of all the servants. If the chief suddenly craved fresh fish and shrimp, Shabu'er would run to the sea and jump in and personally catch the seafood his master desired. Then, after reapplying black ashes to his face, he would return with the fresh catch. If the chief then wanted delicacies of the forest, such as venison, Shabu'er would run off to the forest and bring back exactly what the chief wanted.

The day came when the chief said of his newest servant, "Finally, I've found a true, loyal, capable man, someone on whom I can totally depend, someone I can trust!"

One night, when the chief was snoring away, drunk as a fish from rice wine, Shabu'er crept towards the chief's bed. Never had there ever lived a mountain cat as stealthy as Shabu'er! He took out a long blade and pounced on the chief, and before the wicked man could utter a cry, Shabu'er cut off his head. Then, tying the chief's head to his belt, he escaped from the house.

Early the next morning, the chief's other servants discovered his headless body in bed and sent out the alarm. All the braves were roused from sleep and ordered to find the man who had dared to cozy himself up to their chief and then murder him. All the servants but one were accounted for; the culprit--the foreigner with the facial tattoos. And what did he look like without those tattoos? No one had a clue. The chief's men fanned out through the village and its outskirts but could not find a sign of him. They remained in the dark as to who he really was and from where he had actually come.

Shabu'er returned to his village, his markings long since wiped clean from his face, and displayed the head of their hated enemy, the neighboring chief who had plundered, kidnapped, and murdered with impunity. With great detail, Shabu'er related the story of his adventure, how he had disguised himself and how he was able to avenge the wrongs inflicted on him and so many other villages.

The villagers celebrated, danced, sang, and drank rice wine in gratitude for Shabu'er's slaying the evil chief.

From that day on, after victories and before celebrations, warriors would decorate their faces with warpaint. In time warriors would extend the painting to their chests after coming home successfully from raids.

All this was done after the ancestor and liberator Shabu'er had first shown everyone the way.

Cai Tiemin, pp. 78-79. (For full citation, see 7/3/17.)

For a story that explains the origin of tattooing, see 12/20/17. 

This legend hints at a custom once found among the indigenous communities of Taiwan: headhunting. More about headhunting shall be found in an early 20th-century urban legend to appear here in the future. 

Motifs: A545, "Culture hero establishes custom(s)"; cA1595, "Origin of tattooing"; H1228, "Quest undertaken by hero for vengeance"; K1810, "Deception by disguise"; K1821.2, "Disguise by painting body"; P12.2.1, "Tyrannical king"; Q421, "Punishment: Beheading"; Q421.0.4, "Beheading as punishment for murder."

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Those Eyes That Bind--an Encounter on a Midnight Bus (China)

Here is one urban legend among what has now become a cycle of eerie bus tales, all with buses, late-night traveling, and creepy passengers in common. 

The original version is a first-person narrative and does not disclose any names of individuals, including the narrator's herself, or locales or when the story took place. 

We'll call her "Lina."

When Lina was younger, she had the misfortune of having to take a bus home late at night all by herself after her shift.

This particular night was no exception, so when the bus finally arrived after having kept her waiting for a while, she quickly boarded, hoping to get back home as soon as possible. She found herself a seat just as a trio suddenly came aboard: two incredibly tall young men and a gorgeous, willowy young woman in a long white dress between them.

The threesome, with the men holding onto the woman's arms, moved silently past Lina, with the woman's luxuriant long, cascading black hair swaying to and fro, to take their seats a few rows behind her on the largely empty bus. There they sat, perfectly silent.

Are my eyes playing a trick on me? Lina asked herself. Did this woman just glide past me without a pair of feet? Hmm . . . more likely her feet were covered up by her long dress . . . 

In any case, Lina got the chills from the three. Not that she thought they may be criminals but just their general demeanor made her feel deeply uncomfortable. At the same time, she remained very curious about the three odd people. She very much wanted to look at them much the same way drivers cannot avert their eyes from a highway wreck.

She turned around quickly.

The woman in white had the most awesome, beautiful, entrancing eyes, and Lina felt those exceedingly lovely and large eyes focused on her as she turned to look at the woman and then turned back to the front.

The exquisiteness of the eyes did nothing to dispel the unease Lina felt.

Again, Lina's curiosity got the better of her, and she found herself turning around once again . . .

The eyes were still fixed on Lina, the large eyes, the large and unblinking eyes . . .

There was continued silence from the back of the bus. Lina squirmed in her seat and discovered she was now drenched with perspiration.

Does she keep on staring at me with those huge eyes of hers because I turned around a couple of times? she thought. Oh, let me out of this hellish situation soon!

Lina got up and moved to the front, near the driver, planning to get off the bus as soon as it came to her stop.

Her stop was coming up.

Lina turned around one more time.

From the front of the bus, she could still the huge eyes, reflecting the lights of oncoming cars, staring back at her, unblinking, unchanging.

The bus had come to the stop.

Lina got off and rushed away.

On and on she walked in the darkness, with the dread she was being followed. By those eyes? she thought.

There were footsteps behind her; she dared not turn around to look.

The footsteps were gaining on her, and then she felt a tap on her shoulder and heard a male voice ask, "Excuse me, miss?"

She felt her heart just about stop in her chest as she turned around. The person was a uniformed police officer.

"Umm . . . yes . . . ?"

"Miss, did you witness something unusual on the bus you exited a short while ago?" asked the cop.

"Why . . . yes!" She proceeded to tell the policeman everything about the three weird people, the woman's unblinking eyes that never seemed to take their gaze off her.

Finally, she asked the policeman, "So what happened? What's going on? Who is that woman?"

"Well," the policeman said, "regarding that woman. That woman they brought aboard the bus . . . the woman you were looking at . . . she was already dead . . ."

"午夜公交," Huang He, ed.; pp. 71-72. See 8/2/15 for the complete citation. 

For two versions of "The Midnight Bus," see 8/6/12 and 3/18/18. 

It's not explained who the three riders--the two living men and the dead woman--were. Also left unexplained is how quickly the police were able to get involved in the mystery. We don't know how long the time lag was between Lina's leaving the bus and the policeman's catching up to her. 

The story is somewhat reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" (1843) in how unchecked nerves can cause the imagination to run rampant. Here, "Lina" imagines the unblinking eyes to be continually locked onto her without realizing the eyes are sightless, dead (literally) eyes. There is a false clue in the story that might cause the reader that this is a ghost memorate: the seemingly footless woman. Actually, her feet were likely obscured by her long (ghostly) white dress. Thus, the color of the dress itself is another false clue. 

Stories like this one may make us feel uneasy. Such stories remind us of the liminality imposed on us when we venture from a place of safety and put ourselves in an enclosed, hermetically sealed, if you will, environment that is a microcosm of the outer world, with all its uncertainty, ambiguities, dangers, and so on. 

Motifs: F512, "Person unusual as to his (her) eyes"; F541, "Remarkable eyes"; cF541.1, "Flashing eyes"; J1769.2.1, "Dead mistaken for living."

Monday, December 10, 2018

Ancestor of the Marauding, Crop-Eating Birds (Puyuma)

Note: This horrific tale is definitely not one for children. Aside from its supernatural elements, it reads, sadly, like an all too common story from today's news. 

There once was a lonely old man, a widower of some years, who yearned for human companionship. Every day was the same for him--get up early, bathe, tend to the hogs in the pen, eat, and then go to bed alone, and so on and so on, day in and day out.

One day in the forest he encountered two beautiful and friendly young women who just seemed to appear out of nowhere. He and they began chatting and soon laughing like really old friends.

He told them where in the village he lived.

"We shall visit you!" said one of the young women. "Would you like that?"

"Oh, well, yes . . . "

A few days later, the pair showed up at the old man's door. He welcomed them in. He had a wonderful time during their visit. They told stories and laughed. The old man quickly forgot how lonely he had been.

It was arranged that the two young women would visit the old man every day.

"We'll stop by daily and look in on you to see if you're all right," one of the pair said. "How would that be?"

"Oh, that would be really fine. . . "

Of course the old man was delighted beyond words! Who in his position wouldn't be?

One day during their now daily visits, one of the pair said, "You have so many hogs and pigs! What do you say that my sister and I slaughter and prepare one for a feast? We'll do all the work. All you'll have to do is to eat and to enjoy!"

"Splendid!" said the old man. "I'd enjoy that, that is if it's not too much trouble for you two young ladies."

"What trouble?" asked the other sister. "We'd love to do that! We'll spend the night here to keep you company."

Sundown came. The two slaughtered a hog and prepared the feast.

While they cooked the hog, they asked the old man if he'd like a massage before eating. He said yes, so they told him to lie on his stomach in the front room. Where would he like to be massaged? "The shoulders," he replied. So, the women massaged his shoulders and his lower back for good measure. They then told him to turn over, and they next massaged his knees.

Then, one of the young ladies sat on his legs, securing them, preventing them from moving and preventing the old man from getting up, while the other poured a cauldron of hot soup over the old man, scalding him to death.

Now it was very dark outside, the blackest dark of a small village late at night deep in the forest, and no one was around. The two women carried the body of the poor old man out to the tall grasses and buried him there. Then, they left.

They returned the next day to check on the body, but the body was no longer there! Instead, waiting for the evil pair were three ominous birds--the transformed soul of the old man. The women turned and ran like wet chickens being chased by a fox. They ran past the old man's house, where they saw ten or more birds perched on the roof, looking at them.

"We will eat all your crops!" one of the birds cackled "Your yams, millet, rice, taro roots--whatever you plant shall be eaten! This is just the beginning!"

And so it was.

From then on, the village never again enjoyed the kind of harvests it had always had for so long, for a black cloud, a murder of crows, as we would say in English, and flocks of other hungry birds, would swoop down and eat the fruits and vegetables.

It is said that all these birds housed and still house today the spirit of the old man who had been so wickedly betrayed and murdered by the two evil sisters from out of the woods, the pair who had merely feigned friendship. His revenge would be to ravage the crops, and so he has continued to do so, even up to this very day.

from Lin Daosheng, Vol. 1 (for complete citation, see 3/1/18).

For another Puyuma tale, see 7/12/17. 

The story brings to mind an old Arab proverb: "In the desert, no one meets a friend." "Desert" here can be replaced by "forest," "woods," or "jungle." The story hints at the supernatural origins of the two sisters who seemingly "appear out of nowhere" in the forest, home to menacing shapeshifting creatures and other otherworldly beings, all of which might be physical metaphors for lonely, desolate, essentially unfriendly locations. Even today in Taiwan, reports of forest goblins/demons/entities, mosin'a 「魔神仔」that, at the very least, play tricks on visitors to the forests and mountains and that, at worst, cause the deaths of such visitors, still occur.  (For a more contemporary urban legend of such entities, see 12/24/13.) All in all, little is to be gained by making a friend who appears out of the blue in the forest. The story of an old man who meets two lovely women who seem to take a shine to him might likewise be a cautionary tale which teaches us that anything appearing to be too good to be true is probably bound to be trouble and well worth avoiding.

Motifs: A1970, "Creation of miscellaneous birds"; B33.1.3, "Black birds destroy crops"; B172.10, "Black birds"; D150, "Transformation: man (spirit) to bird"; D493, "Spirit changes to animal (bird)"; K182, "Victim burned in his own house"; K800, "Killing or maiming by deception"; cK815,
 "Victim lured by kind words approaches trickster and is killed"; K955.1, "Murder by scalding"; K1300, "Seduction"; K1340, "Entrance to girl's (man's) room (house) by trick"; cK1930, "Treacherous impostors"; Q243.2, "Seduction punished." 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Spider Shapeshifters--Part Two (Han & Hui)

The old woman saw the fear on the young man's face.

"Listen to me," she continued. "This is what you must do. Tonight, when you're wife is asleep, look beneath the sleeping mat, and you shall find a length of red thread with a needle attached. Take the needle to the door and open the door. Then, pull the needle and thread outside the door until you can pull no more. See where the outstretched needle lies, and there, just beyond the needle, empty your bladder. Once you do so, climb back into bed . . ."

The old woman saw the skeptical look on the young man's face.

"You have doubts about what I am telling you, don't you? You must absolutely follow my directions. It's the only way you can save yourself. If you don't believe me, go back to their home right now. Neither one is home now. So, prepare quickly to return home before your father-in-law and wife get back. There's a small house behind the house you now live in, isn't there?"


"Well, Boy, enter that little house before your wife and her father return. You shall find ninety-nine heads of the men who came before you! Go and see for yourself!"

He did as the old woman had said. He rushed home before his wife and father-in-law returned. He went to the little house in the back and opened the door. Sure enough, as he opened the door, he beheld a huge mound of human heads--each one having belonged to some man. He shuddered and shut the door. No sooner than that he heard his father-in-law and his wife's voices. He found them heading over to the main house.

"Father . . . " he said, "where did you go?"

"We went out looking all over the mountain for you!" the old man said, forcing himself to mask his fury, for the man he had wanted dead was still very much alive. "You had us greatly worried! We had feared the worst because of the sudden rainstorm! We could find neither head nor tail of you. We finally figured you had perhaps somehow made it back home."

The old man bid the newlyweds a good night and went to his room. The young man and his wife did the same.

That night, once his wife had fallen asleep on the kang, he followed the advice he had heard from the older woman. He found the needle and red thread where he had been told to look for them. He took the needle out to the other side of the door with the thread trailing behind. There, he relieved himself as instructed. He then climbed back into bed.

There was no endless chasm between his wife and him this time! And this time they could sleep side by side.

Sometime in the night, his wife awoke and said to him, "You know, you are such a handsome man. I could never ever bring myself to harm you. Tomorrow, though, Father will definitely kill you, I'm afraid."

The two made a plan. They would escape that very night. At midnight, the young husband and wife stole out of the house, taking a stout knife and a sword with them, as well as some coins. They then left the mountain. They kept on walking and walking, unaware that daylight had already crept up upon them.

From the south a very dark green cloud seemed to follow them.

Looking up, the wife said, "That's my father. He's found us. I guess I will have to battle him to death. I'll do whatever I need to do to free us of him, so let me handle it. Make sure you keep the sword handy. In a moment be ready if you see a red cloud appear nearby. If the red cloud sends down a hand toward you, place the sword into its hand. Did you hear me?"


As soon as she heard his reply, the blackish green cloud, as big as the sky itself, engulfed them. In the blink of an eye, the wife was gone without a trace. A wispy red cloud did appear, but it seemed overpowered by the dark green cloud. The young many marched away from the dark green cloud, which then extended an open hand towards the young man. He ignored the hand.

He was now standing apart from the dark green cloud and the ever-expanding expanding red cloud. At this point, a long arm and hand appeared from the red cloud, with the outstretched open hand right before him. He quickly handed the red cloud his sword.

The red cloud then grew bigger and bigger as the other cloud shrank.

In a flash, the dark green cloud evaporated. The young man turned his attention to a nearby river. Floating in the river was a carcass as big as a cow. It was no cow, however; it was a headless spider.

His wife came running up to him from nowhere and said, "All right! Let's keep going!"

On and on they walked, looking for a new home. Eventually, they got to the point where they had no more money.

"Now, what do we do?" he asked.

"I'll need to turn myself into a donkey," she said. "You'll take me to a market to sell me. After that, leave. I'll catch up with you within forty days. After forty days, if I haven't found you, that means I'll be a donkey for the rest of my life. You'll then need to go on with your life without me."

The young man was worried but agreed to go along with his wife's plan. She then changed herself into a donkey.

The young man took the donkey to market and found a buyer, a farmer, who then happily took the donkey back to his farm. He had his foreman, himself a formidable shapeshifter, examine the animal.

After taking a look at the donkey, the farmer's foreman said, "Boss, this is no ordinary donkey. For the next forty days, you'll need to take some precautions. First, it will need to be fed something other than common hay. You'll need to keep this donkey apart from both people and all other donkeys. You must always keep it indoors. I suggest that you also make sure every possible hole in the donkey's stall, whether in the walls, ceiling, or door, is stuffed with paper and kept that way for forty days. Otherwise, it's liable to escape. After those forty days are over, you won't need to be concerned about anything."

The farmer followed his employee's suggestions, and all was well for thirty-nine days. On the morning of the fortieth day, the farmer went into town. His daughter had heard rumors of a special donkey sequestered in a stall all by itself and not available to be viewed by onlookers. With her father away, she figured one little peek at the donkey couldn't hurt. She asked her two sisters-in-law to go with her to the little stall that had been off limits to everyone but the farmer and his trusted foreman.

The three women headed off to the stall.

The daughter didn't dare try to open the door to the stall. Instead, she removed a wad of paper from a hole in the door to get a look at the donkey inside. Inside the stall, there was a donkey indeed. However, it was crying, weeping the way a person would weep!

"Huh . . ." said the girl to her sisters-in-law, "I didn't know donkeys could cry . . ."

Immediately, the donkey--or, rather, the daughter of the late spider shapeshifter--took this opportunity to transform herself into a fly and buzz herself right out of the newly unplugged hole and away from the otherwise enclosed stall.

Once safely beyond the stall, she next changed herself into a jackrabbit and sprinted farther away.

"Hey!" a voice called out.

The wife, now in the guise of a rabbit, had been spotted by the foreman, who transformed himself into an eagle to catch the rabbit.

The rabbit spotted this transformation and quickly changed herself into a sparrow.

The eagle chased the sparrow across the sky but was no match for the smaller, swifter sparrow which darted like a veritable arrow.

Moments later the sparrow spotted her husband down below. She instantly changed herself into a silver coin and deliberately dropped herself just a pace or two ahead of her husband.

"Oh, a silver coin . . ." said the young man, picking up the coin and pocketing it.

"Hey, just one moment, Friend!" called a voice from behind.

The young man swung around to see the shapeshifting farm foreman come running towards him.

"Yes? What can I do for you?"

"Give me back my coin that you just placed into your pocket! That's what!"

"Hold on a minute," said the young man. "How can that be your coin when it just fell in front of me while you were way behind me?"

"I don't care! I know it is my coin, a silver coin! Now, hand it over if you know what's good for you!"

The two proceeded to have a noisy quarrel right there on the road and were ready to escalate it to fisticuffs when a goodnatured passerby intervened. The young man and foreman each gave his version of events to this older gentleman.

"Well, now," said the passerby to the foreman, "this other man has a point. After all, the coin landed in front of him when you were still a good distance behind him."

"That is my silver coin!" yelled the foreman. "I can identify it! Take it out of your pocket and see if I'm lying about its being a silver coin!"

"All right, all right!" said the young man, fishing for the coin in his pocket. "I'll take it out . . . "

He clutched it from his pocket and opened his hand. The coin in question was copper.

"Well?" he asked.

The foreman sheepishly strode away. The young man bid adieu to the passerby and continued walking. Out of curiosity, he took the coin out again. It was copper, but then before his eyes, it turned into a silver coin again. And then . . . it turned back into his wife.

Joyfully reunited, the husband and wife walked together towards the three-way fork in the road where, sometime before, he and his brothers had parted ways. They continued walking until they were back at the young man's family home, and there they joined his two older brothers. They all recounted their adventures. The brothers decided to start a business, a shop, and made their youngest brother the manager. With his gift of finesse and with his wife's skills and charm, the business prospered, enabling the two older brothers to have eventually wives of their own. They all happily lived their lives together.

海原民間故事 [Folktales From Haiyuan] (see 8/8/18 for complete citation).

This story, as will be seen below, has many transformation motifs, especially in connection with the magic flight, suggesting its origin in a shamanistic tradition. (See the comments for 7/16/17). The micturition ritual motif that enables the newlyweds to sleep side-by-side and which then enables the young man to escape becoming the 101st male victim of the female spider shapeshifter is barely delineated in the original text, leaving me no other alternative but to improvise cautiously. My wife, a native speaker of Chinese, was likewise stymied by the lack of details in the passage. 

Motifs: D133.1, "Transformation to cow"; D150, "Transformation: man to bird"; D151.8, "Transformation: man (woman) to sparrow"; D152.2 "Transformation: man to eagle"; D185, "Transformation: woman to fly"; D235, "Transformation: man (woman) to gold object (coin)"; D285.1, "Transformation: man to smoke (cloud)"; D332.1, "Transformation: ass (donkey) to person"; D381, "Transformation: spider to man"; D670, "Magic flight"; cD1520.2, "Magic transportation by cloud"; G530.2, "Help from ogre's (shapeshifter's) daughter"; H310.1, "Tests for hero, husband of supernatural wife"; H315.1, "Suitor test: to make the princess (shapeshifter's daughter) fall in love with him; H1023.2, "Task: carrying (drinking) water in a sieve"; N122.01, "The choice of roads"; R236.1, "Fugitive aided by magic mist (cloud); R315, "Cave as a refuge"; S110.3., "Princess (shapeshifter) builds tower of skulls (heads) of unsuccessful suitors."