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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Sichangneii- a Mizo 'Swan Lady' tale

Once upon a time there was a bachelor who would get up each morning to fetch water from the village pond. But before him, someone always managed to dirty the water he was to fetch, and yet he had no clue as to who that might be. An old woman once said to him, “I know who dirties your water. Sichangneii and her sister fly down from the sky every morning thus leaving the water dirty. You should one day wait up for them and catch her to make her your bride, for they are immensely beautiful. But even if you are to catch them, do so from behind. If you approach them from the front their beauty will dazzle you and you won’t be able to catch them.” So the next morning, this man got up with the first crow of the cock and lay in wait for the sisters. Sichangneii and her sister did fly down for their bath. So great was their beauty, the pool of water positively sparkled on their approach. When he saw this, the man quickly jumped down on one, but he missed her and they flew off towards the sky again. The nest morning, he again lay in wait and this time succeeded in catching one. He caught Sichangneii, the elder of the sisters and took her home where he pulled off her wings and hid them inside a phulraw thei which he kept on the rapchungsang. Then he made Sichangneii his wife.

In course of time, the couple were blessed with seven beautiful sons whom they named Kaptheia, Dotheia, Haitheia, Chhintheia, Mantheia, and the youngest was called Tlumtea. The couple had a field but since they had seven healthy sons who needed care, they had to take turns- while one went to the field, the other would stay home and look after the children. When it was the father’s turn to stay home, he would bring their mother’s wings out and put one on each of them and they would dance with glee. On their mother’s turns, they would just sit at home and be bored with nothing to do. One day when they were with their mother, Tlumtea blurted out, “Mother, when Father is at home, he puts on us wings of some sort and we would always dance with glee.”

Now the father had warned his children against saying anything to their father so the elder sons tried to cover up by saying, “Hah!! He is lying through his teeth!” But their mother pursued and asked Tlumtea, “Tell me where your father keeps those wings” and Tlumtea was quick to reply, “There in that box on the rapchungsang.” Then she sent Tlumtea to get the box for her and she put on her wings again and stood at the door asking her sons, “Children do I look nice?” the elder sons quickly said, “Not at all, you look shameless, come inside quickly before anyone sees you.” But Tlumtea in his innocence said, “No way, Mother, you look beautiful.” Then she jumped outwards near their verandah railing and asked the same question again. Her sons gave the same reply and when Tlumtea again said she looked beautiful, she suddenly took off and flew back to the sky. When their father got home from the fields, he asked his children where their mother was and he was told everything that had happened. At this the father said, “Then with your mother gone, I am going to kill myself, let me til mu chhu keh”. The elder sons tried to stop him but Tlumtea in his curiosity said, “No, Father just do it!” the father did so, and on Tlumtea’s urging did the same to the other side also. He was then writhing in pain but Tlumtea did not understand. So he danced in delight shouting, “Father is dancing!” hammering their water bottle to keep the beat. In a little while, their father died and they were left orphans.

The brothers began to worry and they said to Entheia, “You have the strongest eyes, look and see if you can find Mother.” He looked and looked and finally saw his mother at her home in the skies buh deng rice. Then Kaptheia took aim and struck an arrow right at the side of their mother’s sum. Seeing this, their mother threw a rope down for them and they all climbed up to the skies. In their mother’s house also lived her brother who hated the seven brothers, and he was also a cannibal. He had a plan to kill them all by felling a tree and letting it fall on all the brothers. So one day he took them out, felled a tree near to its breaking point and sat them down beneath the tree to eat their lunch. As soon as they were settled, he made an excuse and left them to cut the tree so it might fall on the brothers. But Dotheia took charge and kept the tree at bay while Haitheia shoved it sideways so it couldn’t hit them on its fall. When their uncle came back, he was surprised and said, “Oh! Children, I thought you’d all have died!” to which the brothers deridingly said, “We don’t want to die just yet, you white-calfed wretch of a man”. Another day he took them all to burn their jhum land with another plan to kill them. As soon as they reached, he commanded them to stay right in the middle and eat their lunch while he went down to gather crabs from the nearby stream. But what he actually did was burn the jhum and since the brothers were right in the middle of the fire, they began to worry. They called on Haitheia and he started digging a pit into which they all ran in. then Chhintheia closed the pit. When the fire died down, the cannibal uncle came up and with satisfaction looked at the burnt jhum saying, “Aha! These must be their skulls all burnt to ashes!” and started picking up the ashes and eating them as he came. But when he reached the place where he had left them, he found them all safe and happily eating. In embarrassment he said, “There, children, you are all still safe, I thought you would have died of the fire”. The brothers again derided him and said, “We don’t want to die just yet, you white-calfed wretch of a man”. They narrated the entire incident to their mother on reaching home that evening. Their mother, worried for her sons’ lives said, “This man is a cannibal and I’m afraid he might really kill you and eat you all up one day. Its best that you return to earth now and go set up a trap for animals at Mual sarih”. The brothers obeyed their mother and went back to earth.
On setting up a trap following their mother’s instructions, they were extremely successful and often had to carry meat in their wooden baskets. One day, as they sat down to eat their meat at the leikapui, they said, “these meat our mother and father will never eat” and started feeling melancholic. In their longing, they looked up towards the skies where their mother lived and just then, their mother threw down the waist from cleaning her rice and they were all blinded. They continued to pick up their meat even in their blind state and distribute it among themselves. At those times, a Chawmnu often picked up a share and the brothers began to worry that they did not get their fair share. So one day Tlumtea was distributing their shares and as he did so, he would ask, “Now whose hand is this?” and his brothers would reply, “It is mine”. When he came to the Chawmnu’s hand, he got no answer and he immediately knew this hand did not belong to any of them. He suddenly caught hold of the hand, picked up the creature and crushed it atop a hardened rock nearby. The impact of the blow tore open the Chawmnu’s head and its brain spilled all over the place. Some of the spill landed on Tlumtea’s eyes and his eyes could make out some of the sights. Learning that this was medicine for blinded eyes, he put some more on his eyes and now he could see clearly. He then put some on all of his brothers’ eyes and they could all see again.

From then on they decide to farm a field and they would stay nights at their farmhouse and take turns cooking their food. The first turn was Kaptheis’s, the eldest. When he was done with the cooking, a Chawmnu came and threatened, “Kapthei, would you prefer I take you or the food you’ve cooked?” Kaptheia naturally feared for his life and said, “Obviously the food instead of my life” and the Chawmnu took all the food he had cooked. Now when his brothers came back to eat, they had to wait till the food was cooked again and ready to be eaten. This happened with all six brothers till it was Tlumtea’s turn to do the cooking. He, in his turn, weaved a large bamboo basket as he did his cooking. The Chawmnu came again and asked her usual question to which Tlumtea also gave the same reply. But when she made a move to eat the food, Tlumtea said, “Just wait a little while, it is not fully cooked yet, why don’t you sit down for a while?” The Chawmnu sat down near where Tlumtea was weaving and asked him why he was weaving such a large basket. Tlumtea replied, “It is the coop for a great big cock that we have, almost as large as you. If you would fit in, our cock would naturally fir, wont you please get in so I can try it on for size?” As soon as the Chawmnu was inside, Tlumtea quickly sealed the basket and she was trapped inside. He said, “I’ll take you home with me for the children would love to play with you.” The Chawmnu was worried, she said, “Tlumte, allow me to buy myself out. I will give you knives, hreipui, arrows, tuthlawh, mithuns and wives-one each for every brother.” To this Tlumtea agreed and the Chawmnu gave him all immediately except for the mithuns which he was told to collect at a later date.

When his brothers came home, he proudly declared he had cooked food without them having to wait for it to be cooked again. But as they sat down to eat, he asked, “Would you prefer to eat now, or would you rather we distributed knives amongst ourselves?” To this his brothers replied, “Should there be knives, by all means, distribute them.” Tlumtea did so, and it was the same for all the other things which he had received from the Chawmnu, up to their wives. Now Tlumtea had cleverly blackened the face of the most beautiful maiden and he got her as his wife since his elder brothers had not chosen her. When their work was done, he said, “Now let us see whose wife is most beautiful, let them wash their faces clean.” When they did so, they found that Tlumtea had got the most beautiful of the maidens. He told his brothers that all their gifts had come from the Chawmnu and that he had also been promised mithuns at a later date.

In a while, the brothers went off to collect the promised mithuns, and while they were gone, the Chawmnu came near their house burning logs for coal and called out to their wives, “Give me water to drink”. The wife of the eldest went with water and the Chawmnu quickly ate her up. She called for water again and when one wife went to give her, she quickly ate her up and this happened to all the wives of the six olde brothers. But Tlumtea’s wife was in labour at the time and she had borne a son, she managed to get up with great difficulty to offer water when the Chawmnu caught hold of her hand and took her home. The child she had just delivered and left somehow grew up on its own without much care.

When the child had grown, he got to thinking, “Haven’t my fathers left a single paper money-I wish I could take it when I go in search of mother!” and he searched the house and found a single paper money under the table.


Calliopia said...

I haven't heard this particular story for years but reading it now, it struck me that there's a kind of resemblance to the old Greek myth of Zeus and Leda... Thanks for resurrecting this old folktale.

Nice blog. Mind if I add you to my blogroll?

tochh said...

not at all...the 'swan lady' is a popular motif in folktales the world over having its own listing in the aarne-thompson motif index!!

DayDreamBeliever said...

Great blog! It's good to see contributions like yours. Keep 'em coming!

Maruata said...

Nice blog. Ka link ah ka dah che a nia...keep writing!!

tochh said...

hahahaha- ka chhiar leh a, kalo la tizo re2 hlei nem..thumal translate that tura ka dah zong2 nen, a storypoh la zo lo..huiham!!!