Kangiena - Zeme Folktale


9 min read

Once there was a man named Nriemreng, and every day while he and his wife were in the fields his little son used to play in the village. Now there was a certain woman who greatly desired to marry Nriemreng; and she used to call the boy and play with him and praise him, and say: "If I were your father's wife, I would give you a fine dance-cloth to wear and carry you and give you eggs to eat every day."

The boy told his father this when the parents came home; but Nriemreng only laughed and said nothing.

The next day and the day after that the woman called the boy and said the same thing, and every day after that, and each time the boy told his father, till at last Nriemreng decided to divorce his wife and marry the woman, but his own wife was so good-natured and obedient and such a good housekeeper that he could not find any excuse for a divorce. This went on for a long time, and still he could find no excuse, but one day his wife was laughing at something and in laughing she sneezed over him, and immediately he abused her for being a dirty slut and turned her out of the house, and married instead the other woman.

At first she looked after the boy well and carried him about and gave him eggs as she had promised, but after a while she grew slack, and began to eat the eggs herself and smear a little on the boy's mouth so that when his father came home it looked as though the child had eaten as before. This happened many times, and at last the boy complained to his father, and husband and wife quarrelled over it. Day after day the woman abused the boy and told Nriemreng to take him away, as she could not bear him any longer; and Nriemreng grew so tired of this perpetual nagging that he carried the child away, but brought him by a roundabout route to the back door of the house and hid him in the back room, telling him to stay there quietly and he would give him food and drink when the woman was not looking. That evening Nriemreng managed to give him food and rice, but as he was about to give him the zu, the boy cried out: "Oh, father, give me something to drink! My mouth is burning from the chillies!" The woman flew into a rage and told Nriemreng again and again that he must take the child away. The next day Nriemreng set out again with the boy, but he had not the heart to leave him and hid him in the front porch, telling him to stay quite still this time; but exactly the same thing happened as before, and the woman was angrier than every and abused both man and boy, saying that if the boy stayed she would go. Day after day she told Nriemreng to take the child into the jungle and leave him, and at last he agreed. He cooked a hen and some rice and sharpened up a little dao and went off carrying the boy, and when he arrived at a deep pool a long way from the village, he put the child on a flat stone with some cloths, the food and the dao, and went away and left him there sleeping.

When the boy woke up he began to cry bitterly and call for his father, but Nriemreng had gone back to the village. At last he opened the parcels of food and ate the meat and the rice and took up the little dao. Above the pool was a big fig-tree covered with fruit, and the boy climbed up into it and sat there eating the figs.

Presently another tree came to the fig-tree and said: "Apao, one of my household is ill. Come and do genna for him." The fig-tree said: "No, I cannot come, for I have a guest in my house." About half-an-hour later a tree came crashing down, and the fig-tree said to the boy: "Ah! He was ill, but I could not go, and now he has died." From what the tree told the boy it became known to men that the fig-tree is the priest of the trees.

After a while a she-devil out of the jungle came down to the pool, and looking into the water, saw the reflection of the boy in the tree. At once she made a pounce, but only caught the water, and she pounced again and made another splash, and the boy laughed. The she-devil heard and looked up and said: "Ah! That's all right! Are you coming down, or shall I come up?"

"No, grandmother," said the boy. "I shan't come down and you won't come up, but I'll throw down some fine, sweet fruit for you. Open your mouth."

The she-devil opened her mouth and stood waiting, and he dropped all the ripe figs he could find into her mouth. Then he said: "Now they're all finished except one, the biggest of them all. Please open your mouth as wide as you possibly can." The she-devil opened her jaws wide, and the boy dropped the little dao straight into her mouth and down her throat and she fell down dead.

A little later a bear came along, and the boy called out to it; "Friend, I have hit that thing down there. Please go and see whether it is dead or not."

"No," said the bear. "I can't look, I'm busy."

After the bear a deer came by, and the boy made the same request and received the same answer, and then a wild pig, and the same thing happened.

Next came a big grasshopper, and the boy asked him.

"Yes," said the grasshopper. "I'll look," and he went and looked in the she-devil's mouth. "Oh, yes, she's quite dead," he said. "Look I've taken one of her teeth."

Still the boy was afraid to come down, and when a fly came along he asked it to go and look.

"All right," said the fly. "I'll look."

In a little while the fly came back and said: "Don't be afraid, she's dead and cold. I crawled in at her fundament and laid an egg there, and right through to her mouth and laid an egg there." So the boy came down.

Now the she-devil had in her possession a wonderful magic thing, and whatever you asked it for came out of it. The boy took it, and then he looked at the water and wondered which way it was flowing. He took a leaf and threw it in and presently it floated slowly down the pool. "Ah!" he said. "Now I know," and he went on upstream a long way, till he saw bits of cut bamboo lying near the water and knew there were human beings about. When he saw by the fields and cut firewood that he was very near a village, he hid his magic thing in the jungle and went on without it.

Presently he met two young men who were bathing at the bathing place.

"Elder brothers," he said. "Let me stay with you and be your servant and eat up the scraps of food you don't want; and when you bath I will come and wash you."

The young men agreed and took him to their house, and he lived there. After a while he said to them: "Elder brothers, I shall go and build a house of my own. I shan't live in the village any more."

"What?" said the young men. "How can you live by yourself?"

"I want to live by myself," said the boy. "And I don't want to live in the village, I want to live outside."

At last the young men gave up trying to persuade him and helped him build a house outside the village, near the flat ground where the young people played. When his house was ready he went and fetched his magic thing from the jungle and took from it everything to furnish his house; and he told his two brothers to build a granary and gave them dhan, any amount to the elder and a little less to the younger, and gave them clothes as well.

On the days when people did not go to the fields the young lads and girls used to come and play near the boy's house, and two girls looked in and asked him what he was eating.

"Oh, Kangiena!" they said (which was the name by which the villagers called him). "What have you got there?"

"Very poor stuff," he said. "Only jungle leaves." They came and looked, and there in the pot was fish.

"Oh, oh!" they said. "It's fish!"

"Eat it," said Kangiena, and they ate it all up, juice and all, and in trying to get the last drops out they broke the cooking-pot.

"Oh!" they cried. "We've broken your cooking-pot!"

"Never mind," said Kangiena. "I'll get another one later." Then they asked him what he was drinking, and he said: "Only water. Drink some." So they drank, and it was not water at all, but beautiful thick zao kasang; and they were in such haste to finish it that they broke the gourd.

"Never mind," said Kangiena. "I'll get another one later."

The next day they came back and asked him what he was eating, and he said: "Kachu," but when they looked it was a fowl; and once more in eating they broke the cooking-pot. Then they asked him what he was drinking, and he said: "Water," but it was delicious ndiu zao, and once more in drinking they broke the gourd.

Then the two girls went back to their parents, and each told her father and mother that she wanted to marry Kangiena. Their parents were very angry and abused them for preferring him to the other suitors in the village, but the girls insisted. Then the parents of one said: "All right, if you go, we'll beat you, and you shall go naked, without any clothes at all."

Then they beat her and took off all her clothes. The girl covered herself as best she could with her two hands and ran out, past the young men sitting outside the morung, and out of the village to Kangiena's house, and he took clothes from his magic thing and gave them to her. Exactly the same thing happened with her friend and her parents, and she too covered herself with her hands and ran as hard as she could to Kangiena's house, and he took out clothes and gave them to her too. So they lived there as his wives, and when it came to the settlement of the marriage-price he gave quantities of dhan and necklaces and money and plates and cups and other things. Then he built a big house, and all the villagers came and worked for him, and he was very rich, and entertained strangers so lavishly that people came from far away to visit him. At last news reached Nriemreng and his wife and they realised Kangiena was the boy they had abandoned. The woman immediately wanted to go and see him, but Nriemreng was ashamed. At long last she persuaded him, and they went. It rained so heavily on the way that when they got there they were wet through, but they were ashamed to go into the house at once and kept dodging about before the door. One of the girls saw them and went to look, and recognised them, and Kangiena told her to call them in. When they came inside, their clothes were all soaked and spoiled by the rain and Kangiena told his wives to wring them out, but when they did so the stuff all tore.

"Oh!" said Nriemreng. "We have no others."

"Never mind," said Kangiena. "Throw them away." And he took out new clothes and gave them to his father and the woman.

Then he gave them a wonderful feast, all kinds of meat and drink, and when they had finished they said they were tired and would like to sleep.

"Sleep, then," said Kagiena. "But there is one story that I should like to tell."

"Tell it," said the woman, "It is bed-time, and we would like to hear."

"Once there was a little boy," said Kangiena. "And every day, when his parents went to the fields and the boy was playing in the village, a certain woman used to call him and say that if she married his father, she would give the little boy a fine cloth and carry him and give him eggs to eat every day. After a while his father divorced his own wife and married the woman, and at first she gave him eggs, but later she ate them herself and only smeared egg on his mouth so that his father would think he had eaten as before."

"Egh, egh!" they said. "Yes, yes!"

So Kangiena went on telling his story, and the man and his wife lay listening on the bed, till the woman's eyes and tongue started out of her head with shame and she died, and a little later Nriemreng died too. Then Kangiena provided grave-goods, and clothes and a dao and a spear for his father, and sacrificed a mithan for him and a pig for the woman, and buried them.

NOTE.

The woman's and Nriemreng's relatives heard that the two had died in Kangiena's house. They came to make war, carrying spears and shields.

"Don't fight now," said Kangiena. "Eat and drink now, and we will talk about fighting later on."

He gave them good food and drink and killed a pig to feast them, and when they had finished he said: "Now we will talk. They did not die by my hand, and I buried them with all the proper ceremonies and sacrifices. They came with all their clothes wet with the rain and when they tore in wringing I gave them new ones. I told the tale of how they left me in the jungle, and in telling that they died of shame. If you do not like to hear what I have to say, then fight with me; if I die I die."

When they heard this the relatives could say nothing against him, and they went away.

(Note by Ramgakpa. In his version the man Nriemreng was a widower.)

Ursula Graham's Collection


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