Arkhangsuong – Zeme Folktale


5 min read

Once  upon a time there was a rich couple who had only one child, a boy named  Akhangsuong. Every time they went to the fields the child ran after  them and cried and wanted to be taken too. Every time this happened they  called the young men to catch him and take him back and keep him until  after they had gone, but one day after the young men had let him go he  ran off a second time and met with some strangers who carried him off  and sold him as a slave in a distant village. When his parents came home  in the evening and asked the young men where the boy was, they answered  that they had taken him back and then let him go, as before; but though  his parents searched and searched, there was no trace to be found of  him, for the strangers had taken him and sold him to a couple who lived  twelve villages away.

This couple had a daughter of their own and  another slave-boy, younger than Akhangsuong, named Chellet. When  Akhangsuong grew up, he and the girl fell in love and slept together,  and one morning they rose so late that there was no wood cut or water  carried when the old couple appeared. Akhangsuong was ashamed and said  so to the girl, but she answered: “We are in love – what is there to be  ashamed about?” and when her parents asked why nothing had been done,  she answered that she had overslept.

Akhangsuong was now a young  man, and no one could surpass him at any sport. One day the dekachang  arranged to go on a dancing tour to another village, but the old couple  forbade the two young men to eat in strangers’ houses when they went on  this trip, and killed a pig and gave them plenty of provisions for the  journey. The two went off together with it all, and since Chellet was by  courtesy Akhangsuong’s younger brother, he carried the load.

The  first night in the strange village was spent in singing and feasting,  and the next morning the young men went and jumped at the hazoa.  Akhangsuong leaped further than any of them, and shouted out his name in  triumph. The villagers asked Akhangsuong’s companions who he was and  who his parents were, but they answered that he was a slave. Chellet  overheard this and told Akhangsuong, who was hurt and ashamed and  refused to take any more part in the sports, and later on he and Chellet  would not go into one of their hosts’ houses to eat, but sat down to  take their meal at the place in the street where the young men had been  putting the stone. Seeing this, one of the village women – who was  Akhangsuong’s father’s sister, although he did not know it – called to  them not to eat in the dirt and smells of the street, but to come and  have their meal in her house. At first they were unwilling, but after  talking it over, they decided that it was not right to eat in public in  the street and went into the house. The woman had known Akhangsuong as a  child and had heard him shout his name when he jumped, and on looking  at him closely she saw a scar on his forehead where he had had a cut  from a stone as a boy. She brought out zu and insisted that they must  have some as part of her village’s hospitality, but Chellet, after  drinking a little, hurried away. Akhangsuong would have done the same,  but she caught him by the cloth and asked if he were not Akhangsuong.  When he said that he was, she took him out and showed him his father’s  house in the distance and told him that his father was so rich that the  house was full of his mithans’ dung. “In ten days’ time you must come  back here,” she said. “You must run away from your owner and come here,  and I will send you back to your parents.”

When Akhangsuong  reached his owner’s house again he was silent and thoughtful and never  said a word when he came to the house for meals, and the old couple  asked Chellet what was the matter. He told them that when Akhangsuong  had been leaping at the hazoa in the other village and the villagers  asked who he was, his companions had said he was a slave, and that he  was unhappy about that. The old couple were so angry when they heard  this that they went to the dekachang crying: “Who has done this to our  son?” and broke up all the sleeping benches and machans with axes.

When  a week or so had gone by Akhangsuong began to make ready to go, and  taking off all the necklaces and armlets his owners had given him, he  slipped out of the house, but did not go far. When the girl saw what had  happened she began to weep and lament and ask why he wanted to leave,  and hearing this, he came back and told her that he was only joking. She  did not believe him, and wherever he went she wanted to go to, whether  to fetch wood or to bathe. At last it was time for him to go, and  hardening his heart, he ran away to his aunt’s house, and she sent him  on to his father’s village. When he reached it night had fallen and the  young men and girls were dancing in the dekachang of which his father  was head. He knocked at the back door and his mother called out: “Who’s  there?” “Your son,” he said, and she let him in. Then she went and  called his father, who was in the dekachang praising and encouraging the  dancers, and told him who had come. Hearing this, he told the dancers:  “Don’t dance any more – your mother has a stomach-ache.” The dancers  wondered what had happened to stop the dancing all of a sudden, and were  sure that some stranger had come, and the girls went and peeped in  through the cracks of the house-wall and they all thought they had never  seen anyone so handsome as Akhangsuong.

When the old couple  found that Akhangsuong was missing they sent Chellet out to search for  him, and off he went with a load of food and went wandering through  village after village looking for him. At last he came to where he was,  and Akhangsuong saw him and said: “Ah, my younger brother has come!”  Chellet said: “Oh, my elder brother, what trouble you’ve given me! I  have searched village after village for you!”

After he had been  well entertained in Akhangsuong’s house he went back and told the old  couple where he had found him, and since Akhangsuong’s parents would not  let him go back to the old couple’s village, and they would not let  their daughter go to Akhangsuong’s village, the two married and settled  in a village midway between the two and there lived happily for many  years, and were very rich.

Ursula Graham's Collection

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