Hangnegun – Zeme Folktale


8 min read

There was once a small boy and every day when his parents went to the fields he used to run weeping after them and clamour to be taken too. They took him home, but he ran after them again, and they struck him and scolded him and took him back to the house once more, but still he ran after them. Day after day this happened, till one day he started after them later than usual. His father and mother had gone well ahead and did not hear him, and as he ran along the path calling for them he met a party of strangers from another village, and they seized him and carried him off. When his father and mother came home in the evening they searched for him but could not find him, for the strangers had taken him a long way away.

The strangers sold him to a couple who already had a son of their own, a boy a little younger than Hangnegun, and the two grew up together, Hangnegun believing that his owners were his real parents and their son Hraiteomakpa his brother. The man Bungsing and his wife ill-treated him and gave him only scraps to eat, but Hraiteomakpa was fond of him, and when his parents gave Hangnegun bad and scanty food, Hraiteomakpa protested and shared his own good helpings with him. When the two grew up to manhood, Bungsing bought handsome clothes and necklaces and brass armlets for his own son, but Hraiteomakpa took them and gave them to Hangnegun. When Hangnegun came to the house for the midday meal and the man and his wife saw him wearing their son's fine clothes they were furiously angry and made him take them all off, and they put them aside for Hraiteomakpa. When Hraiteomakpa came in he saw the ornaments lying there and asked what had happened, and when they told him he was so angry that he cried out that if his elder brother could not have them, then he would not, and snatching up all the fine things he dropped them into the pounding-block, and although his parents tried to stop him, he hammered all the ornaments to pieces with the dhan-pounder.

One morning the village bucks were to chase and catch a mithan. Hangnegun was with his sweethearts in the dekachang, and knowing this, Bungsing and his wife armed themselves with a stout stick each and went early in the morning and stood one on either side of the door.

"Hangnegun!" they said. "What are you doing? Are you still asleep? Your brother Hraiteomakpa has already caught hold of the mithan's tail!"

Hangnegun heard this, but he also heard them whispering to each other to hit him hard as he came out, and he dashed out so quickly that they missed him altogether and only hit each other. Hangnegun went to the morung and spoke to the malik's wife, who was his kinswoman although he did not know it, and asked her whether it was true that Hraiteomakpa had caught hold of the mithan's tail many times already.

"How can it be true?" she said. "He is still asleep. Your parents have told you lies."

When the young men went to catch the mithan, Hraiteomakpa was the first to seize the tail, and when his parents heard him shouting his father's and grandfather's name they were delighted, but he lost his hold, and Hangnegun caught the tail. Bungsing and his wife were angry and hurried down with sticks in their hands, intending to hit him and make him let go; but when they hit at him he dodged them so neatly that they never struck him and he never lost his grip on the tail, and he ran off so quickly behind the mithan that they could not catch him.

When Hangnegun caught the mithan he called out the names of Bungsing and Bungsing's father, but afterwards the malik's wife called him and told him that Bungsing had only bought him from his kidnappers, and she taught him the names of his real father and grandfather and told him to shout them if he caught a mithan again.

The next time the bucks went to catch a mithan Hraiteomakpa was again the first to catch the tail, and when Bungsing and his wife heard him shouting they were delighted; but he let go, and Hangnegun caught it. Bungsing and his wife tried to hit him as before, but he dodged them and ran on shouting the names of his real father and grandfather. When Hraiteomakpa heard what Hangnegun was shouting he was disturbed and wondered what had happened that his brother should shout other names.

Another day the villagers agreed to hold a fish-poisoning and they asked who had seen the creeper in the jungle. Hraiteomakpa said he had seen some, and that there would be enough for twenty loads; Hangnegun also said he had seen some, but that there was only enough for ten loads. Twenty men went with Hraiteomakpa and ten with Hangnegun, but when the twenty reached the spot they found none at all and when Hangnegun's ten reached their place they found far more than they could carry. The twenty shouted across to Hangnegun's party to know how much they had got, and Hangnegun called to them to send twenty more men. When they arrived Hangnegun had all the loads cut and ready, and they all came back to the village carrying them.

Next day everybody from the village went to the river to catch fish. The bucks and girls went first, carrying the creeper, and while they were waiting for the others the girls passed the time by looking for lice in the bucks' heads; but while ten girls were hunting in Hraiteomakpa's, no less than twenty chose to look in Hangnegun's. When the rest of the villagers came along and Bungsing and his wife saw how many more girls had chosen Hangnegun, they were very angry.

After the creeper had been beaten and the fish had began to come to the surface, Hangnegun, who was a strong swimmer, dived in to pick up fish from the bottom of the pool, and Bungsing and his wife caught up a big stone and threw it in in the hope of killing him, because he always outshone their son; but he came out on the other side of the pool with a fine catch of fish, and dived in again, and again they missed him, and again he came out with a big catch. When he scrambled out he went to Bungsing's wife and asked her what she had caught, but she only had two or three tiny fish lying in the mouth of the basket. Then he gave her from his own catch of big fish.

They all went back to the village in the evening and the young men arranged to have a feast in the morung the next day, each bringing food from his own house. When the time came everybody had brought rice and fish and zu except Hangnegun, who sat there without eating or drinking anything. The others told him to go and fetch his share from his house, but he refused. The malik's wife knew how he was ill-treated and called him and offered him food and drink from her house, but he would not take it. All his friends went on telling him to fetch some and at last he went to Bungsing's house. Bungsing's wife had left only the stale, hard rice at the bottom of the pot and the bones and scraps of the fish, and he took them. When he got back to the morung he opened the packet and showed his friends what he had brought, and said: "Look. You wanted to see, and I was ashamed to show you." Then he flung himself down on the bench and covered himself with his cloth and lay as if he was asleep, and was too ashamed to get up, although his friends pleaded with him and begged him to eat with them.

Later on, when the feast was over and he was sitting in the morung, the malik's wife called him and said: "Your real father and mother live far away in another village, and they are now very rich and have much dhan and your father is malik of a morung. If you want to go to them, go, for you have nothing but trouble here."

Then Hangnegun began to want to go, but in spite of the ill- treatment he had received he was sorry to leave his younger brother and his friends. Hraiteomakpa saw that he was always silent and thinking about something, and wondered still more what had happened, and when he remembered that Hangnegun had shouted other names when he caught the mithan, he was frightened and watched Hangnegun all the time.

For a long time Hangnegun could find no chance to escape because Hraiteomakpa was always with him, but one day he slipped away. Hraiteomakpa missed him and hurried after him and caught him up, and said: "Don't go away! Come back with me. We will go back together." Hangnegun said: "I'm only going for a walk. I shan't go away." Hraiteomakpa would not believe him and worried him to come back to the village. At last Hangnegun said: "I tell you I won't go away. Now go back and fetch me your father's drinking- cup and some thirst-raiser and I'll wait here and drink it when you come back." Hraiteomakpa would not go until Hangnegun promised he would not run away, but the moment the boy had gone Hangnegun slipped into the jungle and hid himself. When Hraiteomakpa came back and found no one he was so consumed with grief and anger that he flung down the cup and broke it in pieces, and threw down the appetizer in the road. Then he wept and wept, and Hangnegun watched him from the jungle, but because of the cruelty of Bungsing and his wife he would not go back, and at last Hraiteomakpa, still weeping, went back to the village. Hangnegun came out of the jungle and went on, but a little further on he met two girls, both of whom loved him; they too had guessed that he was going and were standing with their hands joined across the path.

"If you go beyond this," they said. "You are no true man. You must not go any further."

He begged them not to stop him, but they would not let him go, and at last he caught hold of their wrists and tore their hands apart and ran on. They followed him, calling him and beseeching him to come back, but he ran on till he came to a log bridge across a stream. He ran across it, and before they could come up he seized the log and threw it down into the water. When they saw they could go no further the girls fell into a passion of grief and wept and tore off their cloths and beat the ground with them, but Hangnegun hurried on towards his father's village.

It was dark when he reached it and the bucks and girls were dancing in the morung. He slipped round to the back door of his father's house, and knocked, and his mother opened it and recognised him. She went and called her husband, who was watching the dancing, and he came and saw his son and recognised him. Then he went back to the morung and called out to the dancers: "Your mother has a bad colic. Don't dance any more." Then they all stopped and were quiet, but one of the girls heard voices inside the house and peered in through a crack and saw the most handsome young man she had ever seen in her life, as bright and shining as a lamp; and all the other girls came and looked too and they had never seen anyone so handsome as Hangnegun.

The next day his father made a feast to celebrate, and killed a big boar; and the old man was full of drink and beside himself with joy, and came out of the house and screeched and leapt like a young man, and shouted: "You told me my family was extinct. But although you said so, my race is not extinct, and my family is restored again!"

Ursula Graham's Collection

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