Thursday, December 31, 2015

Those With the Baleful Eyes--Two Sad Tales About Palis (Paiwan)

Happy New Year and all the best for 2016!

Note: The Paiwan are an indigenous people on the island of Taiwan. They live primarily on the upper half of the Taiwan's southern peninsula. If you travel east from Kaohsiung to Tai-tung (Taidong), you will be going through some of their tribal land. 

(1) Lagabawei (Lagvaui)

It is said that there once was during Japanese times a great warrior, Lagabawei, and he had the red eyes, the eyes that could kill people and animals with a single look. He had once been a normal human like anyone else, but then some evil entity attached itself to him, changing him into something else, into one of those red-eyed palis whose glare can mean instant death. How did this happen? No one knows. All we know is it  just happened to him and others. Lagabawei had already been a renowned warrior able to slay enemies left and right. Now, with this power, or affliction, he was invincible. Anyone who locked eyes with him would be sure to be sent to the spirit world.

Lagabawei may have had an evil spirit afflict him with red eyes, but he was not evil. He did not wish to harm any innocent people, so  he moved into an uninhabited cave. There, he had local farmers deliver food to the mouth of the cave to avoid his deadly eyes.

This living arrangement lasted until the day five Japanese policemen came to arrest Lagabawei for rebelling against imperial rule. A struggle ensued, with Lagabawei's killing all five but not before he himself was mortally wounded.

After that, the local people in Xinhua hired a shaman to rid the location once and for all of the malevolent spirit that caused red eyes.

A relic connected to Lagabawei, the Stone Fan, a large rock in the shape of a fan, still stands near the remnants of Gufaleng Village, Taidong (Tai-tung) County,  and it is tied to Lagabawei's rebellion against Japanese authority. There are those who believe this had once been an actual paper fan belonging to Lagabawei, and later it was transformed into a stone growing into the ground and which, no matter the effort, could never be uprooted.

Daxiwulawan Bima, ed. Paiwan Myths and Legends. [排灣族神話與傳說]. Taichung: Morning Star, pp. 196-198.; 台灣原住民電子報 -- 原藝之美

This story and the one that follows it are oral tales copied down by Taiwanese folklorists. 

The pali [帕利] is a person who, like a werewolf or vampire in the Western lycanthropic tradition, has been infected in some manner, in this case, by some unseen evil. He or she then can kill anything with a simple glance, a power that cannot be controlled or otherwise limited. The Japanese period of rule was from 1895 until 1945. It is not clear exactly which year or years the above events supposedly occurred. "Japanese policemen" here can refer to ethnic Japanese, Han Chinese (i.e., Taiwanese or Hakka)  or indigenous individuals who served in the colonial police force. Lagabawei, or Lagvaui, is a legendary character apparently held in high regard and affection by the Paiwan. 

Motifs: D2061.2.1, "Death-giving glance"; F592, "Man's glance kills"; cG514.2.1, "Ogre kept in cave"; R315, "Cave as refuge." 

(2) Balirong

In Taiwu Village, there once lived a kindhearted shaman named Balirong. He gained the love and affection of everyone around for his good work in healing the sick and driving out evil spirits.

One day Balirong himself came down with the red-eyed affliction that turned his vision into the killing beams which can strike dead anything that lives, breathes and moves. He had become a dreaded pali. What could he do? He, being the compassionate person he was, knew what he could not do--remain among the people and subject them, their children, their cattle and their poultry to sudden death.

So, with a heavy heart, he covered his face with heavy black cloth and announced that he would be leaving the villages to make a home for himself away from everyone else. On the day of his departure, with the black cloth over his face, he was accompanied by some warriors to a distant, nameless but beautiful lake beyond the mountains, where by the shore, he would live out his days. There, a simple structure for him was built. The chief of the village had assured Balirong that men from the village would regularly deliver food supplies to him in his exile. This would have to be the arrangement, for if Balirong ever removed the cloth from his face, who knows how many animals or people innocently passing by would needlessly die day and night?

And thus this was the arrangement that was worked out for Balirong, and all went well for a period of time.

Then disaster struck . . .

One summer there was a record amount of rainfall, causing a massive landslide that wiped out the path across the mountains to the lake. There was no longer access to the lake and no way to deliver food to Balirong, who continued to cover his face day and night with the black cloth.

Finally, long after every bit of the food supplies had been used up, Balirong became weak with hunger. He stood by the shore and with shaking hands slowly lifted up the black cloth from his eyes. Before him was the idyllic lake, shrouded in rising mist. He continued to focus his gaze on the shimmering greens and blues of the water as if in a deep reverie.

Then it came to him: entranced by the natural beauty his eyes had long been denied, he had poisoned the water by staring at it.  What if this same water flowed in  a stream to other villages? How many would become palis? How many would die? He berated and cursed himself! But it was too late; the damage had been done.

He waded deeper and deeper into the water until he disappeared . . .

Then, a huge tremor struck the area, changing the landscape, causing more landslides, corking up the mouth of a stream that did stem from the lake, sinking the lake into what is now a small valley.

The lake and surrounding area, known now as Dalu Balibaling, or "Mystery Valley," remain tabooed.

Paiwan Myths and Legends, pp. 198-200. (See above for complete citation.) 

What lessons can we draw from this story and the one that preceded it?  Perhaps one lesson is that no one, mighty hero and beloved village shaman included, is immune from evil or, on a perhaps less serious level, the vicissitudes of life itself. This might seem obvious in the case of Balirong, whose very job was extremely dangerous, placing him frequently into close contact with evil forces. This reminds me of a Roman Catholic priest and exorcist I once heard interviewed on the radio. He planned to continue on with his job even though he admitted doing so was shortening his life by forcing him to encounter and to contend with demons, occupational hazards of his calling.  Another lesson might be the observation that we all contain seeds of evil within us, dark shadows waiting to erupt and take charge if given the opportunity, like Dr. Hyde's Mr. Jekyll. 

Motifs: C615.1, "Forbidden lake"; F960.2.5, "Earthquake at death of important person"; F969.4, "Extraordinary earthquake"; S264.1.2, "Self-sacrifice by drowning."  See also D2061.2.1 and F592 above. 

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