The Birth of the Spirit - Zeme Folktales

The Birth of the Spirit. A Zeme Naga Folktale from Ursula Graham's Collection 1940-1944


5 min read
The Birth of the Spirit - Zeme Folktales

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.

Ursula Graham's Collection

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