THE BIRTH OF THE SPIRITS – Zeme folktale


5 min read

First of all Bangklawong fell from heaven. There was no earth, only  water, and on top of it was a wild taro leaf, onto which he fell. He  said to himself: “If I am to be king, then my feet will not touch the  water,” but as he came down one foot touched the leaf and the other the  water and he knew he would not be king for long.

He asked everything and everybody whether they could make land, but none  of them could. At last he asked the King Worm, and the King Worm said  he could.

“If I do, will you give me what I ask?” he said.
“What do you want?” asked Bangklawong.
“Every day a thousand shall die, and I shall eat their bodies,” said the King Worm.
“If that happens, there will be no one left,” said Bangklawong.
“Every day a thousand more will be born to take their places,” answered the King Worm.
“Very well,” said Bangklawong. “Then I will give you what you ask.”
The King Worm went down to the bottom of the water and made worm casts  until he had made all the earth, and the crow patted it flat and smooth,  but by the time he came to do the hills he was too tired to flatten  them properly, and that is why the plains are smooth and the hills are  steep and full of cliffs. Then Tingwong told Bangklawong in a dream:
“If you do not want to live alone, then cut off two of your fingers, and one will become your wife and the other your sister.”

So Bangklawong cut two of his fingers, and one became his wife and the  other his sister. The sister was a very hard worker, and so quick and  skilled that when she went to fetch wood or water she was back so soon  that Bangklawong never had any privacy in which to enjoy his wife. At  last he took a basketful of katsing seeds and spilled them in the grass,  and told his sister that if she did not pick them all up even to the  last one, he would take his dao and kill her, and he stuck his dao in  the ground beside her and went back to his house.

The sister picked up the seeds so quickly that she returned, saying: “I  have brought them all,” when Bangklawong was having connection with his  wife, and the sight so affected her that she cried out that she was  going to lay an egg. Bangklawong told her to go to Tallaurok, at the  source of the Barak, taking with her a dao, a plantain-tree and a huluk  [a gibbon], and lay her eggs there. She went to Tallaurok, and there, by  a cliff where there was a waterfall, she laid eight eggs, and then  planted the plantain- trees, put the dao by it, and went away, leaving  the huluk in the tree to keep watch.

Out of the first egg to hatch came Katsingpeo, and although his eyes  were not yet open it seemed so bright outside that he was frightened and  ducked down again inside his shell. The next to hatch was Tsiuperai,  and he was not frightened, but stood up straight up and cried: “I am the  first and the greatest!”

Hearing this, Katsingpeo came out again and said: “No, I hatched first,  but I was frightened and hid again. I am the first and the greatest.”
“No!” said Tsiuperai. “You were frightened and hid, whereas I stood straight up. I am the greatest.”

Presently the other eggs hatched out, all except one. Tsiuperai said:  “Our mother must have left us something.” He felt about until he found  the plantain-tree and its fruit. “Then there must be something else,” he  said, and felt about until he found the dao, and with that he cut down  the tree and took the fruit. He gave the plantains out, one to each, but  the huluk (gibbon) put its hand out each time and took the fruit.
“Now have you each had one?” he asked, but they one and all said they had not.

“I gave one to each,” said Tsiuperai. “I will give them out again, and I  will catch hold of each hand as I find it, and whoever it belongs to  must say who he is.” He began to give out the fruit again, and the first  hand he found he caught and held, and called out: “Whose is this?” It  was the huluk’s hand, and all the spirits answered: “Not mine.”
“Very well,” said Tsiuperai. “Since it is none of ours, I’ll cut it.” He  slashed at it with the dao, and the blood spurted up into his face and  all at once his eyes opened and he could see. Then he took the blood and  smeared it on the eyes of Katsingpeo and of all the others, and their  eyes too opened.

They waited there a long time for the last egg to hatch, but it did not.  “It must be addled,” they said. “If it were good it would have hatched  out long ago,” and they rolled it down the bank into the river and went  away to find their mother.

As they went along Tsiuperai and Katsingpeo did nothing but argue and  quarrel as to which of them was the greater, and at last they agreed to  throw pebbles across the Barak, and he whose stone reached the other  side would be the greatest. Katsingpeo and all the others threw their  stones, and they fell into the water before reaching the far side, but  Tsiuperai picked up a beetle by mistake and threw that, and it zoomed  off right across the river.

“There!” he said. “My stone has reached the far side, and I am the first and the greatest.”

They went on their way, but Katsingpeo continued to argue, and  presently, when they reached a smooth, grassy place, they agreed to  throw stems of ‘hpi’ grass along the ground, and he whose shot went  farthest should be the greatest. All the others threw without their  stems going very far, but Tsiuperai, in hunting about for one to throw,  took hold of a snake and threw that, and it shot off away beyond the  others.
“There!” said Tsiuperai. “My stick has gone the farthest, and I am the first and the greatest.”

Next they came to their mother’s house, and changing themselves into  crows, they perched in a nearby tree. Their mother came out and saw  them, but when she counted them there were only seven.
“These cannot be my children,” she thought. “For I laid eight eggs.” And she went in again.

The seven spirits looked at her, and Tsiuperai said: “That must be our  mother. Let us call out ‘Mother’ to her and see what happens.”
“No, no!” cried all the others. “If we call out ‘Mother’ to her and she is not our mother, we shall feel ashamed.”

While they perched there arguing about this, their mother came out several times and looked at them, and at last Tsiuperai said:
“Whatever you others do or don’t do, I am going to call out ‘Mother’.”  Then he called out to her: “Mother, we are your children.”
“You cannot be my children,” she answered. “For there are only seven of you, and I laid eight eggs.”
“There were eight eggs,” they said. “But the last one never hatched, so  we thought it must be addled and pushed it down the bank into the  river.”
“Alas, my youngest child!” she cried. “Fools that you are, he would have been wiser and stronger and greater than any of you.”
Then she asked them which was the eldest.
“I am,” said Katsingpeo. “I hatched the first, and I am the foremost and the greatest.”
“No, I am!” said Tsiuperai, and the two of them began quarrelling.
“I will show you which is the first and greatest,” said their mother.  “All of you stand here, and I will press out the milk from my breasts,  and he to whom it goes first is the first and foremost.”

They did as she told them, and she pressed out the milk from her  breasts. First it went towards Katsingpeo, but turning from him, went  straight to Tsiuperai’s mouth, and after him back to Katsingpeo, and  after him to all the others in order.

As for the egg which went into the Barak, it hatched, and out of it came the python.

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