Monday, December 31, 2007

The Swallow (Xibo/Xibe)

Two women lived in a spacious home by a river. The owner, Mrs. Ma, was a wealthy but flint-hearted widow. With her lived her aged but spry mother-in-law, Grandmother Wang.

Now Mrs. Ma had never liked Grandmother Wang, and so one day she simply ordered her to leave her home. She would now live in a cottage across the river. Without a word of complaint, Grandmother Wang gathered her few belongings and asked a servant to row her across the river to her new home. There she settled in and made herself quite comfortable.

Grandmother Wang was always feeding birds and squirrels, and these creatures in time sensed that Grandmother Wang was a friend, one of them. So it was no surprise that one day a swallow with a broken leg found its way to Grandmother Wang's windowsill, where it pecked until the old woman came to open the window.

She gasped when she saw the injured leg and said, "Curse the beast that has done this to you! I will help you." She then applied medicine to the tiny leg and very gently wrapped a bandage around it. After a week, she removed the bandage and watched how the swallow now hopped on two sturdy legs instead of one. The old woman opened her window and allowed the swallow to fly off to its nest.

Two years passed.

Grandmother Wang was sewing one evening when she heard someone or something pecking on her window. It was the swallow, the same one that had had a broken leg. Grandmother Wang opened the window.

"Good woman," spoke the swallow, "I've come back to repay you for your kindness. Please take this seed under my feet." After Grandmother Wang had done so, the bird continued, "It is a cantaloupe seed, but it is from no ordinary cantaloupe. I traveled far to get that seed for you. Now plant it and water it well. Then, once you have a cantaloupe, open the melon up to see the surprise inside."

Before Grandmother Wang could say a thing, the swallow had flown off and was gone.

Well, Grandmother Wang did plant the seed, and she watered it every day. She carefully nurtured it and watched it become a sturdy melon. Then one day, when she thought the time was right, she picked the melon up and took it inside the hut. It was heavy! Having placed it on the table, she then took out a knife and cut it open.

"Aiyo!" she cried.

From out of the cantaloupe spilled nuggets of pure gold and silver. The cantaloupe was absolutely full of these two precious metals.

Grandmother Wang was now fabulously wealthy. She soon lived and ate better than ever before. This wasn't lost on Mrs. Ma, who invited her mother-in-law over. There, at Mrs. Ma's house, the old woman related the whole tale of how she had cared for the bird with the broken leg, of how the bird had returned with a cantaloupe seed, and of how the cantaloupe that had grown from that seed was found to be full of gold and silver.

Mrs. Ma politely listened and smiled as she quietly gnashed her teeth.

She couldn't wait for the old woman to leave the house. As soon as Grandmother Wang had left, Mrs. Ma immediately called a servant for a pair of pliers. When she had gotten a pair, she then had a net placed above her fountain so that it could fall upon the fountain when a cord was pulled. She then waited and waited near the fountain for a swallow, any swallow.

Finally one day a small swallow appeared and landed on the fountain to quench its thirst. When the swallow was in the right spot, Mrs. Ma tugged on the cord, releasing the net which then landed directly on the bird.

She next took the swallow into her home and there, using the pliers, broke one of its legs.

Feigning pity, she said to the bird, "There, there! Let me help you!" She applied some medicine to its broken leg and wrapped a bandage around it. She then kept the injured swallow locked up in a cage.

After a month or so, she unwrapped the bandage and allowed the bird to fly away from her windowsill.

"Now comes the waiting," Mrs. Ma said to herself.

About a year later, she heard a pecking on her window. She looked out, and, as expected, there was the swallow whose leg she had broken with pliers.

"To thank you for healing my leg, " said the swallow, " I have brought you a seed which lies here at my feet. Please plant it and take good care of it. It will grow into a cantaloupe, and inside the cantaloupe will be your reward." Having spoken, the bird flew away, leaving a seed on the sill.

Mrs. Ma grabbed the seed and planted it. She watered the seed every day and gave the little sprout which soon appeared a lot of attention.

When the sprout had become a beautiful green melon, she hauled it off into her home and placed it on her kang, her brick oven-bed. In the middle of the night, when everyone else had gone to bed, she took out a long kitchen knife and cut the melon open.

"Aiiii!" she cried, dropping her knife.

No gold or sliver trickled out. Instead, several large black vipers sprang out of the cantaloupe and, with a vicious ge! ge! ge!, bit the woman all over. She had indeed gotten her reward. That was the end of Mrs. Ma and her dream of gold and silver!

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Xinjiang minjian wenxue, pp. 43-35.

A popular belief among Northern Chinese holds that the appearance of swallows augurs success or prosperity (Williams 380-381). This version is nearly identical to the Korean folktale "The Swallow's Gift" (Socking & Wong 79-85). Variants of AT 834A, "The Pot of Gold and the Variant of AT 834A, "The Pot of Gold and the Pot of Scorpions." Motifs: B580, "Animal helps human to wealth"; Q42, "Generosity rewarded"; Q51, "Kindness to animals rewarded"; and Q200, "Evil deeds punished."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

One-Inch Two-Inch Man (Mongol & Yugur)

Out on the plains there lived a tiny but extremely cunning man. He was very short but had a great long beard, a beard longer than his stature, a beard that he dragged upon the ground when he walked. Thus, he came to be known as the One-Inch Man With the Two-Inch Beard, or, simply, just One-Inch Two-Inch Man.

Now One-Inch Two-Inch Man did not have much. He had neither farm animals nor a yurt of his own. However, One-Inch Two-Inch Man did have a dappled horse that ran like a Gobi whirlwind, a long horse catcher, and a camel-skin sack.

One-Inch Two-Inch Man always slept out in the open. After one particularly uncomfortable night, he woke up and said, "The Great Khan has many extra tents, more than he'll ever need to use in a lifetime. I, on the other hand, have to live with the rain, snow and heat in my face everyday. Enough is enough! I'm going to grab one of the Khan's yurts!"

He then climbed upon his horse and set off for the Khan's encampment. On the way he came across a hare, which asked, "Where are you off to?"

"I'm off to take one of the Khan's yurts," said One-Inch Two-Inch Man.

"Don't be absurd!" laughed the hare. "Trying to steal the Khan's yurt is about as possible as riding the hide of a dead horse and actually arriving anywhere! You're only courting your own death."

"Whether I live or die is fine with me and none of your concern," said One-Inch Two-Inch Man, snatching up the hare with the horse catcher and depositing it in his sack.

He rode on and came across a fox, which asked, "Where are you off to?"

"I'm off to take one of the the Khan's yurts," said One-Inch Two-Inch Man.

"The Khan's yurt? Are you mad?" snorted the fox. "Going to the Khan and taking one of his yurts is as ridiculous as looking up a tree for fish! You'll get yourself killed in the bargain."

"Whether I live or die is fine with me and none of your concern," said One-Inch Two-Inch Man, snatching up the fox and depositing it in his sack.

He went farther on, and this time he came across a wolf, which asked, "Where are you off to?"

"I'm off to take one of the Khan's tents," said One-Inch Two-Inch Man.

"Impossible! Utterly impossible!" cried the wolf. "Everyone knows that stealing the Khan's tent is about as foolish as--"

"I know; I know," said One-Inch Two-Inch Man, snatching up the wolf and depositing it in his sack. "Besides, whether I live or die is fine with me and none of your concern."

One-Inch Two-Inch Man soon came within sight of the Great Khan's hunting camp.

A pair of guards spotted him in the distance, and one said to the other, "There's that little no-account troublemaker who has neither yurt nor beast to his sorry name. He's nothing but bad news, so let's sic the hounds after him and drive him off!"

Hungry dogs were let loose, and they raced in One-Inch Two-Inch Man's direction. The crafty little man, however, waited until the dogs came a little closer and then took the hare out from the camel-skin sack. He let the hare drop to the ground, and then it ran off towards some dense brush. The hunger-crazed hounds saw the hare and changed direction to go after it. The hare and pack of hounds soon vanished in a cloud of dust.

The guards saw what had happened to the dogs. All the Khan's men now mounted their horses and took off after One-Inch Two-Inch Man. He saw them coming and let the fox loose upon the plain. It raced toward some nearby woods. "Fox hunt!" cried a guard. The mounted guards saw the fox and forgot all about the tiny man. Several hundred men then chased the fox into the dense forest and disappeared.

The Khan himself was now alone. He angrily mounted his own horse, unsheathed his jeweled sword and rode after One-Inch Two-Inch Man. When the Khan was but several yards from One-Inch Two-Inch Man, the little man released the wolf, which then immediately started chasing the Khan. The Khan turned tail and headed for the mountains. The frothing wolf kept viciously biting at the Khan's heels and chased him and his horse all the way up a steep mountain.

One-Inch Two-Inch Man sauntered up to the Khan's prized yurt and snatched it up. He then galloped away. By the time the Khan and his men returned, One-Inch Two-Inch Man was already many leagues away.

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Mengu minjian gushixuan, pp. 56-58

The trickster One-Inch Two-Inch Man embodies at least two of the folklore traits attributed to legendary tiny beings (pixies, elves, brownies, etc.): cunning and thievery. Motif: K526, "Captor's bag filled with animals as objects." A much shorter online version, "The One Span Tall Old Man," is also available:

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Big Luobo and Her Sisters (Daur)

There were once three daughters who lived with their widowed mother. The oldest was called Big Luobo; the second, Wild Luobo; and the youngest, Water Luobo.

One day while on the road to Grandmother's house, the unfortunate mother met a savage mangai, or ogre, who devoured her on the spot. The mangai then put on the mother's clothes and waited in the bushes for nightfall before approaching Big Luobo's house. He crept up to a window when it was good and dark.

"Big Luobo! Big Luobo!" he cried in his husky voice. "I've returned! Open the gate and let me in!"

Frightened, Big Luobo replied, "You're not our mother! I'm not letting you in!"

"Wild Luobo! Wild Luobo!" he cried next. "Open the gate and let me in!"

"No!" cried Wild Luobo. "You're not our mother! I won't let you in!"

"Water Luobo! Water Luobo!" cried the mangai. "Won't you please let your poor tired mother in? Those two ungrateful wretches who call themselves your sisters will let me freeze to death out here! Be a good girl and do the right thing!"

Water Luobo, the youngest child, believed the ogre was their mother, and before her sisters knew it, she had rushed to the gate and let the mangai in. The mangai then walked over to the kang, the brick oven that people sleep on, and sat right down as if it were no one else's business. However, Big Luobo noticed her mother's clothes upon the mangai and then saw the mangai spit up bits and pieces of those same clothes. She knew that her mother had met a gruesome end.

"Big Luobo," said the mangai, "tonight you shall sleep beside me on the kang."

"No," replied Big Luobo, "I don't sleep beside you anymore."

"Well, then," the mangai said, "Wild Luobo, you shall sleep beside Mother tonight."

"No," answered Wild Luobo, "I'm too old for that now."

Little Water Luobo stepped up and proudly said, "I shall sleep beside Mother tonight."

"That's a good daughter," said the monster.

Water Luobo then crawled atop the kang and snuggled down next to the mangai for what she thought would be a good night's sleep. Little did she know! Big Luobo and Wild Luobo, meanwhile, huddled down on the floor beside the kang, both keeping one eye open as the lantern lights went out for the night.

Around midnight the older girls were startled to hear kacha! kacha!

"Mother," asked Big Luobo, "what are you munching on?"

"Oh, just some radishes from Beijing that Grandmother gave me."

"Let me have one!" said Big Luobo.

"Very well," said the mangai, handing Big Luobo something thin, hard and somewhat wet.

Big Luobo and his sister looked at it and saw that it was a . . . finger! Both girls shuddered but remained silent and kept their wits about them, for they did not want to end up like poor little Water Luobo. They both got up.

"And just where do you think you two are going?" asked the mangai.

"Middle Sister and I are going out to relieve ourselves," said Big Luobo.

"Well, hurry up and come back inside. Don't make Mother have to go outside and look for you!" Then he added, "Oh, and watch out for wolves!"

Before the two girls went out the gate, Big Luobo grabbed their mother's comb case. Outside in the darkness, she opened the case and took out her mother's wooden comb.

"Wooden comb," she cried, "turn into a mighty pine forest!"

No sooner had she dropped the comb then it turned itself into a huge pine forest that blanketed the ground. The mangai by now had figured out that the two girls would not just let themselves be eaten and had, instead, escaped. He rushed outside only to find himself in the heart of a dark forest at the darkest time of night. He kept bumping into trees, but his sense of smell told him in which direction the girls were fleeing. Soon the girls could hear his furious panting nearby.

Big Luobo once again opened the comb case and this time took out a bamboo comb.

"Bamboo comb," she cried, "turn into a thick bamboo forest!"

She then dropped the comb onto the ground, and it immediately became a dense bamboo grove. The mangai, having successfully found his way through the pine forest, now found himself in an even thicker bamboo grove, and once again Big Luobo and her sister were out of his grasp. He couldn't get through densely packed bamboo stalks, so he started chewing each stalk one by one. Soon he had gnawed his way close to where the two sisters were standing.

Just before the bamboo-chomping ogre was close enough to see the two girls, Big Luobo once again reached into her mother's comb case and, this time, took out a mirror.

"Mirror, " Big Luobo cried, "turn into a great sea!"

She threw the mirror upon the ground, and it instantly turned into a huge lake of roaring white-capped waves, with the mangai on one side of the shore and she and her sister on the other. The mangai, who couldn't swim, gnashed his teeth at the thought of the two sisters possibly getting away.

"I shall eat you up!" he roared at them from across the lake. "Just you wait and see!"

The mangai then clawed open his own belly and pulled out his entrails. He tied one end of his own entrails to a sturdy bamboo stalk. He then slowly waded into the rough waters of the lake.

"I'm coming!" he shouted at the two girls.

When he was halfway across, a flock of crows spotted his raw entrails and flew down to feast upon the stringy red meat. They pecked his entrails until his intestines snapped. The evil mangai then slowly sank into the depths of the lake, never to be seen again!

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Xinjiang minjian gushiji, pp. 547-550

Versions of this tale (AT 333) are as widespread in China as they are in Europe. Essentially the Chinese variation of "Little Red Riding Hood," this story is also known to Northern and Central Han Chinese as "Lang Popo" ("Grandmother Wolf") and to the Han Chinese of Fujian and Taiwan as "Hu Gupo" ("Grandauntie Tiger," the very first story in this blog). This non-Han version, however, differs greatly with its inclusion of the magical objects used in Big Luobo's obstacle flight (motif D672). Similar magical objects are found in the Russian "Baba Yaga" (Afanas'ev 363-365). The
mangai is an eastern Siberian man-eating ogre described in some tales as looking like a huge ape that walks on two legs. As such, it might be a cognate with the mani that appears in other stories. "Luobo" means "radish."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Wild Goose Island (Manchu)

At the mouth of the Niya River in Manchuria is a small island, Niya Island. This island is also called "Wild Goose Island." Nearly eight hundred years ago, something happened on this island, a story people still recall to this day.

It is said that a young fisherman lived on this island, one whose name is lost to us. He fished every day and lived by himself in a small hut.

One day, a day's worth of fishing done, he was walking along the beach, headed for home. He spied a large goose on the beach, hopping about on its one good leg, unable to fly and obviously in great pain. He took the goose home, applied herbal medicine to its injured leg, and nursed it back to health. He enjoyed listening to its cheerful peeps, and the bird became company for the otherwise lonely fisherman.

Then the day came when the goose could fend for itself. He took his feathered companion outside, held it up towards the sky, and said, "You are well now, so off you go, back to your mother, brothers and sisters."

With that, the goose stretched out its wings and flew up into the heavens and out of site. The fisherman trudged home when he could no longer see the goose.

A year passed. One morning as the young fisherman left his hut to go fishing, he was startled to see a young woman squatting on the ground, mending his fishing net. She had long glossy black hair and an alabaster complexion. Now a young lady on the island was strange enough, but this was obviously a woman of high birth who was repairing the net of a local fisherman, his own net!

"Who . . . who . . . are you?" he stammered.

The young lady looked up, smiled and and put down the net, saying, "I am called Niya. My parents have consented to my becoming your wife."

The fisherman was thunderstruck, speechless; he couldn't believe his ears or his eyes.

"Surely you remember me," said the young lady. "It was about a year ago, and I had injured my leg. You mended it and took care of me."

Try as hard as he could, he could not recall meeting such a young woman, let alone healing her leg, and didn't question her any further.

"Well," he said, "look around you. This old net, that boat outside and this small hut are all I own. If you'd be content with just these and me and nothing more, then you can be my wife."

And so they married. They lived and worked and laughed together every single day, and the time went by swiftly.

Three years passed like an arrow; the fisherman detected a gradual change in Niya. Where she had been cheery, she was now somber and silent; where she had been lively, she was now slow and tired. She now spent much of the time sighing and pining for something or someone he couldn't see.

One day he was returning from fishing when he saw a black hawk circling his hut, cawing ominously with its talons extended. He grabbed a club and chased the bird off. He entered his home and found Niya, crying. The fisherman tried to comfort her, but she still cried, now even more loudly.

At last she spoke. "Forgive me for not telling you the truth earlier. I am not a human but rather the third daughter of the Dragon King of the East Sea. I had once turned myself into a goose and frolicked on the beach, enjoying the the new world I found myself in. Then I injured myself. You found me and applied medicine to my leg. I then decided to return later and repay you for your kindness.

"But now," Niya continued, "I am in trouble. I was also not truthful to you when I told you that my father had agreed to let me marry you. He was furious! He has sent my brother in the form of a black hawk to peck me to death. Come what may, though, I won't leave you."

He told Niya not to worry, that they would face any menace together, as man and wife. He got to work. He first covered the window on the outside with his net. He then went inside, bolted the door and waited with Niya.

Before long, a black hawk swooped down from the heavens. After several days of angry screeching and circling the roof and door, the black hawk flew away. The husband and wife waited a day or so, and then he said it was safe to venture outside.

And so they resumed their lives.

But there came a day when, bringing home his day's catch of fish, the fisherman found the little hut empty and the door, ajar. He raced back outside, calling Niya's name. He searched for her everywhere but to no avail. His search finally ended a little way down the beach. There he found her, lying half in the water, half on the sand, her crumpled body covered by telltale peck marks . . .

The fisherman buried Niya in front of his hut. Not once did he remove himself from the spot; everyday he mourned for his lost wife until the tears just would not flow anymore and his throat had become raw and mute. Before long, he too faded away while kneeling atop Niya's grave.

In time wild geese started flying to the little island. They gathered bits of earth and moss in their beaks and deposited the load over Niya and her husband's final resting place. The mound grew bigger and bigger, as did the island. The local fishing families gave the island a new name, the name it is still known by, Niya Island, or Wild Goose Island.

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Wu, pp. 197-199.

Another folktale known to scholars as "the supernatural wife," a tale type known throughout the world. Motifs: F986.16, "Extraordinary swarms of birds"; Q42, "Generosity rewarded"; and T111.2, "Woman from sky-world marries mortal man."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Peasant and the Lion (Mongol)

Once many years ago, a poor old peasant was leaving his yurt when he spotted a hungry lion on the prowl heading for his very direction.

"Wife! Wife!" he cried. "A lion is coming towards our yurt! He'll surely gobble us up in no time! What shall we do?"

"Don't worry!" she said. "Whatever he says to you just tell him you are going hunting for fat lions. Now take this duck egg and listen to what I have to tell you . . ."

The old peasant left his yurt, and, sure enough, the lion came up to him and said, "Old gray beard! Where do you think you're going?"

"I'm off to hunt some fat lions, perhaps even you!" the old peasant said.

"You hunt me? Are you mad? Don't be foolish, old man. I'm a hundred or more times stronger than you. I can crush you like a grape."

"Then," said the old peasant, "let's have a little contest. Whoever is stronger will be the master. The weaker of the two must do the other's bidding."

"Fine! Let's go," said the lion.

They both headed out onto the plain. The old peasant pointed to a rock and said, "Crush this stone." The lion then pulverized it with one swipe of his paw.

The old peasant took out his duck egg, gulped and said, "Do you see this rock? Well, I shall use only two fingers to do what you just did." He then crushed the duck egg in one hand, and the egg white and yolk dripped onto the ground.

The lion's jaw dropped. Did that old graybeard just crush the juice out of that rock? he thought to himself.

So the lion had no choice but to submit to the old peasant, who placed a saddle on the lion's back and a ring through his nose for the reins. The old peasant rode the lion here and there, much as you or I would ride a horse or camel.

One day the old peasant ordered the lion to take him out to the woods. When they arrived, the man scouted for a tree with good and sturdy branches that could be fashioned into bows. He spotted one, but trying as hard as he could, he was unable to snap the branch off. Several times did he try to snap the branch off, but he just wasn't up to it because he lacked the strength.

All this was not lost on the lion, who had been keenly watching the old man's struggle with the branch. "What happened to all your strength?" the lion asked. "Suddenly you can't break off a miserable little branch?"

The old peasant shuddered and walked briskly all the way back to his yurt.

"I'm in for it now!" he cried to his wife. "The lion has found out I don't have any strength! Now he'll surely come back looking for me!"

"Aii, Husband! Don't worry!" she said. "When the lion comes, he'll surely poke his head into our tent. When he does, just ask me what I am cooking for tonight's dinner. Every problem has a solution. Now let me be. I'm busy."

In no time the lion returned and stuck his face through the open flaps of the yurt.

"What's for tonight's dinner, my dear?" the old peasant asked immediately, trying hard not to have a quivering voice.

"Just what you had asked for!" she replied. "I'm cooking a stew out the leftover lion we had the other night. Along with that I added a young lion's shoulder bone."

Well, that was all the lion had to hear. He turned tail and raced for the woods. As he was running, he passed a fox sunning himself on a rock.

"Why are you in such a hurry, Lion?" asked the fox. "And why do you have a ring in your nose? You're no caravan camel!"

The lion stopped and breathlessly told the fox about the old peasant who could crush stones with his bare hands and the wife who cooked lions for dinner.

"Bah! Those two people hoodwinked you! People are too weak to catch and to eat lions! Now listen: take me back there. I'll show you. You'll kill those two oldsters, and then, if you kindly would, save me a little of their meat for my lunch."

"Hop on. Let's go," said the lion, and the lion and fox headed for the old peasant's yurt.

Now the old peasant spotted the pair in the distance and knew something was up.

"Oh, boy! Now we're really going to get it!" cried the peasant to his wife. "Now the lion and a fox are on their way over here. What shall we do?"

"Don't worry," said the wife. "Here's what you must say . . ."

When the lion and fox had come within a few feet of the yurt, the old peasant said in a deep, gruff voice, "Fox, you old rascal! I told you to bring me a fat lion, not that sick, miserable dying bag of bones!"

The lion heard this and, turning to the fox, snarled, "You traitor! You liar!" The lion suddenly arched his back, and the fox flew right into the air. The lion then gave the fox a savage kick with one of his hind legs. Leaving the fox sprawled on the dusty plain, the lion then ran back towards the woods, never to be seen in those parts again.

Pleased, the old peasant turned to his wife and said, "True strength comes not from the muscles but from the mind!"

His wife nodded and smiled.

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Menggu minjian gushi, pp. 86-89.

Motfis: B211.2.2, "Speaking lion"; K62, "Squeezing water from stone"; K547, "Escape by frightening captor"; K1715.2, "Ogre or larger animal deceived by bluffing."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Katufeng and A'ertanei (Oroquen)

The Oroquen have a saying: "Wherever people cannot go lives the human-eating mani."

Long ago a young husband and wife who didn't listen to such sayings moved far away from their people into the Daxingan mountains. They stopped at the foot of one mountain and set up their camp. They had been there one hundred days when they decided to make the place their home. They were surrounded by a lush forest of pines which concealed an abundance of game. They had neither seen nor heard any mani and felt not the slightest bit of fear. In time they gave birth to twins, a daughter, Katufeng, and a boy, A'ertanei.

One day years later, the father and mother went out together to hunt; however, they never returned. Had they gotten lost? No, they could return blindfolded. Had they been eaten by tigers? No, the only tigers around were those whose skins were being used as carpets. The truth was both had come across a stalking mani, one that had slyly tracked them and then eaten them before they could let loose their arrows or unsheathe their swords.

When their parents had failed to return home, it became clear to the two fifteen year old children what had happened. They dried their tears, swore vengeance to rid the area of this monster, and set out to get the job done. They followed their parents' path and set up camp after several hours on the trail. A'ertanei went in search of game, while Katufeng headed up a mountain to pick roots, berries and greens.

A'ertanei returned home with a small deer and discovered that his sister had not yet returned. He sat in their hut to wait and to rest.

He soon sensed a large shadow spreading over the land and the hut. Grabbing his bow, arrow quiver, and sword, he rushed to the entrance only to see a gigantic mani just outside. It was huge, much taller than the average man. It had a protruding jaw like an ape's and was covered by jet black fur from head to toe. The mani now breathed through its mouth louder than six great black bears. It saw A'ertanei, and its red tongue flopped outside its mouth, dangling a good foot and a half in length.

A'ertanei swiftly got away from the hut and circled the beast as it lurched toward him. The mani had long legs and turned quickly to wherever A'ertanei happened to stand.

"Baooo!" it roared and opened its three-foot-wide mouth to gobble A'etanei up.

A'ertanei stumbled, and before he knew it, the mani had swallowed him up. Down the monster's throat he went, sword and all, ending up in its stomach. He then plunged his sword with all his might through the mani's stomach wall. The creature let go a piercing cry and toppled to the ground, stone dead.

Katufeng had heard the roars and came down to see what all the commotion had been about. She saw the mani lying not far from the hut. She then heard a sound coming from inside the dead beast's carcass, so she took out her hatchet and hacked away at the mound of dead flesh before her. Soon, she found her own brother lying amidst the mani's intestines. He would not rise, so she tried hard to wake him up. She shook him over and over, but he still wouldn't open his eyes. She then started to weep.

Her weeping was overheard by the mountain god, Baiyin'a'qia, who told the local pine spirit to comfort her.

"Don't be sad, child!" said the spirit. "Your A'ertanei is a great hero, for he slew the mani!"

"Great Pine Spirit!" she cried. "You don't understand. I can't live without my brother. Is there nothing you can do to bring him back to life?"

The pine spirit was silent for a moment and then said, "Yes, there is something I can do, Katufeng. Gather a cup of sap from my trunk and then pour it over A'ertanei. That will prevent his body from spoiling, but this is only the first step. Are you listening carefully?"

"Yes, please go on," said Katufeng.

"You will need to locate one who can both ride and shoot down a flock of eagles. This must be a truly fearless hunter. Then you will need to find the Great Sea on the edge of Heaven. Go to the island that is in the center of that sea and locate old Sa'ergudai. He has three daughters who can help you. Now collect some sap and be off. You have much work to do."

Katufeng wasted little time. Dragging A'ertanei into the hut, she sprinkled him with sap. Then, deciding to go on the long journey herself, she donned his hunting suit and boots. Pulling her hair up, she put on his fur cap. She also gathered her brother's bow, arrows, and sword.

The pine spirit was truly impressed by her determination. He shook a limb, and a leaf fluttered to earth. Before it reached the ground, it turned into a magnificent dappled one-thousand li pony. Katufeng then hopped onto the pony, pointed him in the direction of the Great Sea and flew up into the sky.

While she was flying through the clouds, she came alongside a flock of eagles. She decided to practice her archery skills by shooting at the eagles. At first it wasn't easy; she managed to shoot only one. After a while, she hit three. By the third day in the air, she was able to shoot down the entire flock from her saddle. She had become the great rider and archer.

At last she spotted the island in the center of the Great Sea, and they descended from the clouds onto the beach, where they startled three maidens.

"Look at the handsome boy!" one of them exclaimed to the other two.

Katufeng approached them and respectfully asked, "Pardon me, but I seek Sa'ergudai. Do you know where he is?"

"Yes, but may we first ask why you seek him, Handsome One?" one of the maidens asked.

"I need to ask his permission to take his three daughters back home with me so that they may help me save a life."

Two of the older girls immediately ran off to find old Sa'ergudai. They were, in fact, his two older daughters, and both intended to ask their father's blessing to marry the mysterious young hunter who had come down from the sky. The youngest daughter remained on the beach with Katufeng.

"I am Sa'ergudai's youngest daughter," she said. "Are you the great immortal Anduli, or are you a mortal?"

"Why, I am a mortal!" replied Katufeng.

"Listen," said the third daughter. "I shall help you, but it won't be so easy to get my father to agree about letting all of us go with you. He will do everything within his great power to stop you. Please be careful. He has more villains to do his dirty work than there are crows in the sky. Sit down with him at a meal, but expect the food to be poisonous enough to kill a hundred men."

No sooner had she finished speaking when a whirlwind appeared over the hill and approached their direction. The wind dissipated, and the dust, leaves and branches fell to the earth, revealing fearsome old pirate Sa'ergudai himself, standing at the foot of an army made up of a thousand cutthroats.

"Nice horse," he said eyeing Katufeng's dappled pony. He snapped his fingers, and a man came from out of the ranks to lead the horse away. The horse, however, had other plans and promptly kicked the man squarely in the face. As the others pulled the fallen pirate away, another thug stepped forward to take the reins.

Sa'ergudai dismissed him with a wave of the hand and addressed Katufeng. "So, you wish to take away my precious girls!"

Katufeng lowered her head and replied, "I would merely like their assistance, if you and they are willing. I mean no harm or disrespect."

Sa'ergudai laughed and said, "Very well! I will agree if you sit with me and be my guest at a banquet for nine days and nine nights."

What could Katufeng do? She agreed and was led to a clearing in the forest where there were stone benches. She and Sa'ergudai sat down and the banquet commenced.

Sa'ergudai made no attempt to take any of the delicious food with his chopsticks and neither did Katufeng. She just sat there and said nothing.

This went on for nine days and nine nights. On the ninth night, Sa'ergudai had two tankards of wine set before Katufeng--a red wine and a yellow wine.

"Young man, you will have to drink one of these tankards of wine; otherwise, I won't let my daughters help you," said Sa'ergudai. "Now, drink up!"

Standing behind her father, the third daughter made a slight motion with her hand in the direction of the red wine, and Katufeng knew this was the wine she must drink. She picked up the tankard and downed its contents with one long gulp. Then she turned to Sa'ergudai and bade him good evening. She went to the beach where her horse was tethered and lay on the sand. She then pretended to be in a deep, drunken sleep.

One of Sa'ergudai's men spied on Katufeng and reported back that she was fast asleep.

"All right. Tie him up and throw him into the sea!" commanded Sa'ergudai, and he led him men down to the beach.

Katufeng was waiting and shot ninety-nine flaming arrows. She was accurate and could have pierced Sa'ergudai's heart if she had wanted. She settled for singeing his beard. Katufeng's skill unnerved the cutthroat pirates and they ran.

All of his men having fled, Sa'ergudai knelt in the sand, knowing he was at the young stranger's mercy.

"You have my permission to take my three daughters with you," said Sa'ergudai. "When they wish to return, they can turn themselves into eagles and fly back. Depart in peace!"

With that, Katufeng assembled the three maidens and had them mount the horse. The four of them flew into the clouds and headed back to the Daxingan mountains.

In time the horse and its four riders landed by the hut, and the foursome dismounted.

"I am going to straighten up the hut," said Katufeng. "Rest beneath that tree until I call for you. Then you may enter." Katufeng then disappeared into the hut.

In the hut, A'ertanei was still lying as if in deep sleep. Katufeng took off her brother's hunting clothes and boots and put them back on A'ertanei. She then put her own clothes back on and concealed herself behind some hanging tiger skins. She called for the three girls to enter. They immediately saw A'ertanei lying on the rug.

"What happened to the Handsome One?" the oldest sister cried.

"Was the journey too much for him?" asked the second sister.

"I fear he's dead!" cried the youngest.

"Come on!" said the oldest. "Let's try to revive him!"

The oldest propped him up. The second sister gently opened his eyelids and softly blew her breath onto them. The third sister rubbed his hands with her hands. All of this was to no avail; A'ertanei remained as still as when they had first seen him, as still as the tiger-skin rug upon which he lay.

"We'd better leave now!" said the second sister. "If his family returns, we might be blamed for all this!"

"No," said the youngest sister. "We came here to be of service, and we should stay to do what we can! Oldest Sister, take out your silver hairpin."

The oldest sister fumbled a bit and then finally produced a silver hairpin.

"Now here is what we shall do," said the youngest sister. "Each of us will take turns using the hairpin to trace a circle around the Handsome One. Whose circle he revives in, she shall then be his wife and the other two sisters must return home. What do you say?"

They each agreed.

First, the oldest sister drew a circle around A'ertanei, but the young man did not stir.

"Humph!" she said. "He might as well be dead since he cannot have me for a bride." She stormed out of the hut.

The second sister took the silver hairpin and etched her circle around the young man. Again, nothing happened.

"That's it for me!" she said. "I'm going home to Papa with Oldest Sister."

Outside the dwelling, without tarrying another moment, the two sisters suddenly sprouted great wings. Before long, they had turned into eagles and took off into the air, winging their way home to their father's island.

Now it was the youngest daughter's turn. She put all her energy and hopes into the circle she drew around A'ertanei.

She noticed A'ertanei's chest begin to move, and soon it was clear that he was breathing.

He opened his eyes, sat up, looked at the third daughter and asked, "What happened? Who are you?"

"Who am I? Who am I?" repeated the youngest daughter. "Do you not know who I am?"

A'ertanei was on his feet now. "The last thing I remember was being swallowed by the mani and being in its belly."

Just then Katufeng came from behind the tiger skins and ran to her brother. She hugged him, crying, "Brother! You're alive again!"

Now the youngest daughter was completely confused, but Katufeng introduced herself and her brother and explained everything. Since this daughter of Sa'ergudai had felt the most warmth for A'ertanei, she stayed on and became A'ertanei's bride. With the mani gone for good, the three--A'ertanei, his wife, and Katufeng--lived happily in their home at the foot of the mountain.

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Song, p. 41-48.

The mani, which swallows whole people, might well be similar to the Daur mangai (see "Going Mangai Hunting," 9/5/07) and the Mongolian mangas, as described in ("The Problem of Interrelation Between the 'Secret History of the Mongols' and Mongolian Folklore, " accessed 10/25/10).

Motifs: K1837, "Woman in man's clothes"; R158, "Sister rescues brother."

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Swan (Kazak)

There was once a hunter, a mean, sullen man, who would beat his poor wife black and blue, especially whenever she tried to hide from him. No one liked this man, and all who came across him stayed out of his path.

One morning, before the man was to leave on a day's hunt, his wife said to him innocently enough, "If you don't catch anything before noon, why not just come early?"

The man grumbled something, stormed out, mounted his horse and was off.

That day the man was unable to catch anything. Rabbits, quail, ducks--all were beyond his reach.

"Curse that poison-tongued, yellow-faced old wife of mine!" he spat. "Putting a hex on me by saying, 'If you don't catch anything'! I'll beat her soundly when I get home for scaring off the game with her curse!"

He rode by some marshes and heard what he thought was the honking of geese. Enclosing himself in the reeds, he spied a pair of swans floating upon the water, their necks entwined in a display of love.

Eii, said the hunter to himself as he pulled an arrow from his quiver, I thought only humans felt and acted that way.

He then shot one of the swans, the female, right through the breast. The other swan flew off before the man could get a second shot. The hunter waded into the marsh water to retrieve his kill He had caught something! Now he'd have something to show that big-mouthed wife of his!

He then proudly rode back with the dead swan draped over the neck of the horse.

High above, the dead swan's mate circled the man and his horse, crying, "Kuh-gu, kuh-gu!"

The hunter was unable to shoot the male swan as it would swoop low and then quickly fly back up into the sky. So the hunter paid it no attention as he rode on.

Arriving home, he dismounted and called for his wife. "Woman!" he barked. "Come out here at once! I've something to show you."

As his wife stepped timidly out from their dwelling, the male swan reappeared, crying, "Kuh-gu, kuh-gu!"

The swan nose-dived for the horse, hitting the saddle and breaking its own slender neck. The beautiful white bird then fell into a heap upon the ground, just beneath its dead mate still draped over the horse.

The man stood back aghast. A thought immediately occurred to him: this beast, this swan, had been deeply in love with its mate and could no longer bear her death.

"Heaven above me!" he muttered. "After all I have said and done to my own wife, does what just happened make me even less than an animal?"

From that day on, he resolved never to harm his wife in any manner again, and indeed for the rest of their lives, both the hunter and his wife lived happily with deep love and open affection for each other.

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Xinjiang xiongdi minzu minjian wenxue, p. 92-93.

This story is reminiscent of a Japanese tale, "Oshidori," from Lafcadio Hearn's
Kwaidan. Hearn writes of a hunter who kills one of a pair of mandarin ducks, the very symbol of conjugal bliss. He is later haunted in his dreams by the dead bird's female partner who appears in the form of a beautiful but grieving woman. Later, by the same riverbank and before the hunter himself, the surviving duck reappears and tears her own breast apart with her beak, killing herself. The guilt-stricken hunter then becomes a priest. (Hearn, 13-14). It should be noted that the swan is a significant animal to the Kazaks, the very name "Kazak" meaning "people of the swan" (Li, 185).