Dunai and Siinai (A poumai Folktale)

by wungnaongam

Long ago, there lived a family. The family had two daughters. The elder daughter was named Dunai and the younger one as Siinai. Dunai with her mother no more, she grew up as step daughter in the family. Her step-mother treated her very cruelly, forcing her to do all the household chores and kept scolding her in every possible way. She had no leisure time to be with her friends or to socialize with others. Thus, she lived a very miserable life. On the other hand, Siinai the younger daughter of the family, was well looked after receiving all the affection. She lived a very comfortable life doing whatever she pleased to do.

One fine day, some friends of Dunai asked her, if she would like to join them for collecting fire wood from the forest. She agreed and said to her friends, “Please wait for me, let me first complete my household chores”. But her work was too much to be finished on time. Thus, by the time she finished her work, her friends had already left as they could not wait any longer. In the hope of catching them up, she kept ambling her way into the forest, and as she continued to walk, suddenly she saw a very handsome young man wearing ensemble Teisa[1], Rusa[2] and Tousiirou[3] sarong. Dunai reluctantly asked the young man with a blush on her face and a tremble in her heart, “Hey, young man, would you tell me if you saw my friends passed this way?” The young man gently replied, “Yes, but it has been long that your friends have passed this way, you won’t be able to catch up with them anymore.” But he willingly added, “Don’t worry I would collect the fire woods for you.” Dunai mulled over and said to herself, “Since, I would not be able to catch up with my friends, moreover it is getting so late, I think it would be better for me to accept what this man offers”. So, she consented to what the man offered and allowed him to fill her load. When she decided to move out, the young man said, “Hey! I would visit your place tonight.” Shocked at the bold statement, Dunai retorted and said, “If you say so, I would drop the load and return home empty handed”. But the young man assuaged her fear by saying, “Hey that was only a joke”. Dunai lifted her load and tried to set out. Again the young man said, “Hey, I would visit your place tonight”. To this Dunai said, “If you say so I would drop my load and return home empty handed”. The young man said, “Hey that was only a joke”. Finally he allowed her to go without interrupting her.

Dunai managed to reach home safely but she was deeply troubled by the encounter with a stranger and the thought of his visitation. That night, as she retired to the girls Morung[4] to be with her friends she was deeply troubled thinking if that man would really visit her. She narrated the whole incident of her encounter with a stranger to her friends. She added that, “He even told me that, he would visit me tonight”. So, she requested her friends to allow her sleep in the middle, so that the man won’t be able trace her. Her friends said to her, “Dunai don’t worry it would be alright, we are here with you, we would let you sleep in the middle.” Her friends allowed her to sleep in the middle. Soon, all her friends and the guardian[5] of the Morung slept away. But Dunai was wide awake; her mind refused to sleep though her body needed rest. Then, as fate would have it, the man arrived shortly after everyone had slept. They had been cast upon by the spell of the strange man.  He entered calling, “Dunai, where are you, I have come to take you, let us go now”. But there was no response. He started searching by pulling them out one after another saying, “This is not my Dunai”, “This is also not my Dunai” he went on searching for Dunai, finally his hand reached her and pulled her out saying, “this is my Dunai, come let’s go”. But Dunai pleaded with him and said, “Wait, let me talk to my friends and the guardian of our Morung. She tried to wake her friends and the guardian of the Morung with every possible way. She tussled them, pinched them, she even put burning ember into their palm but it was all in vain, as they were under the spell of that man. Thus, Dunai was taken away by the strange young man.

As they journeyed towards what this stranger called ‘home’, she was shocked by the strange turn of events and the roughness of the path, where no humans were accustomed to walk, until she found that his house was situated between the rocks in the cliff. She had no choice but to accept the young man as her husband. And as they lived together she discovered that her husband would turn into a man during the day but at night he would transformed himself into a huge snake.  One day, she confided her fears to her parents and said to them, “Mom and Dad, I am so shattered by this, my husband turns himself to a man during the day and at night he would transformed himself into a huge snake”. On hearing this, her parents came up with an idea to tackle the situation. Her father said, “Dunai bring your husband to my house one of this days, I would arrange good food and drinks and let’s celebrate and feast together”. Dunai’s parents soon began with the preparation for the visit.  They tried to brew the best rice beer by adding Kaleithou[6]. On the appointed day Dunai brought her husband to the house of her parents. Dunai’s husband wore Teisa, Rusa and Tousiiru sarong. Now, as they arrived, Dunai’s parent’s slaughtered cock and piglets and served Dunai’s husband, letting him eat and drink to his fullest. Soon the effects of drinks slowly acted on her husband. Dunai’s husband said, “Now let me sleep, please spread Zha[7] on the porch so that I could rest for the night there alone.” Every thing was arranged as requested, soon he wallowed himself unmindful of his surrounding and turned himself into a huge snake and occupied the whole Zha. Dunai’s father said, “This is the time I have been waiting”. He grabbed his sword and honed it until it got very sharp. When it got very sharp, he cut the snake into seven log-sized pieces. Thus, his son-in-law, the snake, was killed.

Since her husband was killed, Dunai stayed with her parents. But though her husband was no more, Dunai still carried in her womb, the offspring of her deceased husband. Dunai and her mother always used to go together for any kind of work. But even though they always go to the paddy field together, Dunai always returned home early. She refused even when her mother asked her to come late on certain days. She always used to return home earlier than her mother. Her mother began to wonder why her daughter always wanted to go home early. Finally she revealed the truth that she is already pregnant and on the verge to give birth. So her mother boiled water in the cauldron wherein her daughter would deliver the young snake(s), perhaps, knowing fully that she would deliver them. The plan was well executed but to their surprised the last one slipped out of the cauldron badly burned from the boiling water on its head, and made its way to the NgariRiver[8]. Therefore, it is believed till today, that whenever the flood is accompanied by this scar-headed snake – it certainly claims a victim[9] as it returns.

[1]   A shawl with green and red stripes on each horizontal sides and decoratively printed on each ends. “Teisa” literally means “black shawl”, because it is mostly black.
[2]   Another type of shawl, white in color, with big stitches in the middle, this particular shawl is worn by only those who have hosted a Feast of Merit.  

[3]   A wrap-around of skirt length worn by men. It is black in colour with white stripes horizontally woven over it in two or three lines.

[4]   Morung is a socially established house for young people of different age groups to be trained of the social and cultural etiquettes. It is the traditional house of education. Men and women have different
dormitory as also seen witnessed in story.  

[5]   This particular tradition is carried out normally in any of the group member’s house. The parents of that particular boy or girl parents are called the guardian of the Morung.

[6]   A nut of a creeping plant found in the deep forest, the purpose of adding this to the rice beer is to let the level of intoxication increase.
[7]   A mat-like spread, usually of 5 feet wide and 10 feet long, normally used to dry paddy before pounding.

[8]   This river is situated in Ngari village of Poumai area, Senapati District, Manipur.
[9]   Whenever a person died in the flood, people normally believed that this particular scar-headed snake might have accompanied the flood and thus, claims a victim

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