Shan Folk Lore Stories from the Hill and Water Country | Annotated Tale

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Story of the Princess Nang Kam Ung

THERE was once a king who reigned over one of the largest States in the hill and water country. For a long time there had been war between him and the sau hpa of the neighboring State, but at last his soldiers had been successful, and his enemy had been driven out of his possessions, which had thereupon been added to his own. A great feast had been given when his soldiers returned to their homes, and he was now sitting with his queens and his seven daughters in the palace watching a performance given in honor of the victory. He praised the actors for their skill, and then asked his daughters whether they had enjoyed the performance. They one and all assured him that they had enjoyed it much, and then turning to them he continued:

               "That is right, my daughters, enjoy yourselves to-day and to-morrow and all through your lives. You are the daughters of a mighty king, and it is your lot to be happy and enjoy yourselves all your lives, therefore again I say enjoy yourselves and be happy."

               The eldest of the daughters, who was a perfect courtier said: "O our lord, our luck is fortunate, because it depends on that of the lord our father, and who is so fortunate as he?"

               The king was very pleased with the flattery of his daughter, and promised to grant any request she would make of him.

               The youngest daughter, however, was young and foolish, and had not yet learned the truth that in a king's presence it is not well always to say what one thinks, and therefore she said to her sister: "Your luck may depend on the luck of the lord our father, but mine is my own and depends upon myself alone."

               When the king heard this he was very angry that one of his daughters, and she the youngest too, should have the presumption to say that she depended for anything at all on any other than he, and he determined to punish her.

               For a long time he pondered on the best way to do this and at last devised a plan which, if severe, was at least novel.

               He called his amats to go throughout the whole land and search for the poorest man in all his kingdom, and when they had found him they were to bring him to the palace and he would marry his youngest daughter to him, and then, said he, "We will see about luck after that."

               Day after day the heralds searched the land but they could not find a man poor enough to suit the king. All who were brought before him acknowledged that they had something valuable, either a little money, a precious stone, or a distant relative who was rich and from whom they could borrow a little if necessary. A man of this description would not suit the angry king. He wanted one poorer than that.

               At last the amat löng, or chief minister, brought a man before him and said that he was the poorest in all the land. His name was Ai Du Ka Ta. He was a woodseller in the bazaar, who every day went into the jungle and picked up the dead branches of the trees that had fallen to the ground, and brought them to the market every fifth day to sell. So poor was he that he did not even own the sword that is the almost inseparable companion of the Shan and is used, among other things, to cut down the small trees that are left to dry for firewood, so he had to be content to pick up the small branches that he found under the trees, and got a proportionately small price when he carried his load into the bazaar.

               When he appeared before the king, his trousers were all fringed at the bottom where they had been torn by the thorns in the jungle. His turban months before had been white, but now it was a deep gray; it was only half its original length and was full of holes. Jacket he had none, and when the king asked him how many blankets he had upon his bed at home to keep him warm at night when the cold wind brought the rain up the valley, he answered sorrowfully, "Not one, our lord." He had no relative except an old mother whom he was obliged to support, and who was known throughout the district in which she lived as the woman with the bitterest tongue in all the land, and when too sick to move from her mat, she would yet fill the air with poisoned words.

               The king was very pleased with his amat löng for finding Ai Du Ka Ta, and gave him a very fine horse as a reward. Then he called his daughter, took away all her fine clothes and married her to this poorest man in his realm and drove her out of the palace amid the jeers and taunts of the very people who, before her disgrace, had waited upon her every word and had done her bidding while they trembled before her. The king also took away her old name and commanded that in future she was to be known as Nang Kam Ung, which means, "The woman whose luck depends upon herself."

               The house, or rather hut, to which Ai Du Ka Ta took his bride was in the jungle. It was only four bamboo poles stuck in the ground and covered with dried grass and bushes. Not even a sleeping mat was on the ground--there was no floor--and the chattie in which he cooked his rice had a hole in it, and had to be set upon three stones sideways over the fire with the hole uppermost, to prevent the water leaking and putting out the fire.

               Fortunately the girl's mother had helped her to smuggle out her "birth-stone," which was a large, valuable ruby, and so she took it off her finger and gave it to her husband, telling him to go and sell it and buy clothes and food for both of them.

               Ai looked at the stone and said, "Who will give me food and clothes for a little red stone like that? We have no fools or mad men living near here who would do such a foolish thing as that," for you must remember he had lived in the jungle all his life, and had never heard of precious stones, much less seen one till now.

               His friends were just as ignorant of its value as he was. He went from house to house in the little village near, but all laughed at him till he became disgusted, threw the stone away in the jungle and came home in a very ill humor with his wife for leading him such a wild-goose chase, and making him appear foolish in the eyes of the few people he knew.

               His wife was in great distress when she found that he had thrown the ruby away, and told her husband that if he had gone to the city and taken it to the jewelers, instead of to the ignorant people in the jungle, they would have given him in return enough money to keep them in food and clothing all the hot season and build a new house into the bargain.

               Ai looked at her and said: "Indeed, that is a thing good to marvel at. Why, I know where there are coolie-basket loads of such red stones in the dry bed of a river near where I gather sticks for fire-wood in the jungle, waiting for anybody to carry away, and I never thought them worth the labor of taking to the bazaar."

               The princess was full of joy when she heard this, and the next morning they borrowed two coolie baskets from a man in the village. Bright and early they went to the river bed, and there, even as Ai had said, were basket loads of fine rubies. They gathered them up carefully and buried most of them, covering over the hole with a flat stone, so that no one would discover their hoard, and then the princess, picking out a double handful of the largest and clearest ones, sent them to her father.

               The king, when he saw the jewels, instead of being pleased, fell into a great passion, called the unfortunate amat löng into his presence, and after rating him soundly, deprived him of all his goods, houses, and lands, deposed him from office, and drove him from his presence as poor as Ai himself had been.

               "I ordered you to call a poor man," roared the king to the trembling man before him. "I said he was to have no goods or property at all, and here the very next day he sends me a double handful of the very best rubies I ever saw in my life."

               In vain the culprit assured the king that the day before Ai was certainly the poorest man in the whole kingdom, and complained that the jewels must have been the work of some hpea, whom he had unwittingly offended, and who had therefore determined on his ruin in revenge. The king would listen to no excuse, and the unhappy amat was glad to crawl from his presence before resentment had carried him to the length of ordering his execution.

               The very next night a wonderful golden deer entered the royal garden where the king was accustomed to sit when it became too warm in the palace, and after doing an immense amount of mischief, eating favorite flowers, and otherwise destroying and ruining the garden, it leaped over the fence and disappeared in the early morning fog, just as the guards were arousing themselves from sleep. It was in truth not a golden deer as the guards had told the king, but a hpea that had assumed this form; but the king not knowing this ordered his heralds to go through the city immediately and call upon all the inhabitants to come early next morning to help their lord catch it. Ai was summoned with the rest of the people. He had no horse, but going to the city gate that day he saw that a race between horses belonging to the king was about to be run. Ai was a good horseman, and asked the head horse-feeder of the king to let him ride one of the animals. He rode, and rode so well that he won the race, and that official was so pleased with him that he promised to grant him any request in his power. Ai asked for the privilege of riding the same horse at the hunt next day, and the request was readily granted, and thus it happened that, next morning when he went to the place appointed, he rode a horse that was faster than any other there except the one the king himself rode.

               The people were divided into four parties; one toward the north, one toward the south, one east, and one west. The king stationed himself with the party at south, and the amats were at the north, and when the deer was at last driven out of the jungle by the beaters it headed toward the king and dashed by him at great speed.

               The hpea that had taken the form of the deer wished to have some fun at the king's expense, and therefore kept ahead just where the king could see him all the while, sometimes but a cubit or two away from him, and then when the country was open, darting far in advance. So swiftly did they go that in a few minutes the men on foot were left behind, and after a while all except those upon the very fastest horses were distanced, till at last only the king and Ai were left, the latter but a little behind the king. All day long the chase continued till, just as the sun was setting and men and horses were both exhausted, the deer made straight for a precipice that appeared to block the path on each hand as far as the eye could reach. The king was congratulating himself that the deer could not possibly escape now, when he saw right before him an opening in the rock, and the next instant the hpea disappeared in the cave and the king was obliged to give up the chase, for even if his horse could have carried him any farther, which it could not, the cave was so dark that nothing could be seen inside.

               The king fell from his horse almost dead with fatigue, and managed to crawl under a wide-spreading banyan tree that grew near. The only other person there was Ai, and he, coming to the king, massaged his limbs till the tired monarch fell asleep. After a while he awoke and Ai asked him to eat some rice he had prepared, but the king said he was too tired to eat anything; but at last he managed to eat a little sweet, glutinous rice that the princess had cooked in a hollow piece of bamboo and given to her husband before he set out that morning.

               The king was very grateful and asked Ai his name; but the latter was afraid to tell what his real name was, so, as his mother years before had been in the habit of selling betel-nut in the bazaar, he told the king that his name was Sau Boo, or betel-nut seller.

               The king was very pleased with him and promised him great rewards when they got back to the palace; but in a few minutes he had dropped asleep again, and Ai sat alone keeping guard.

               It was very fortunate that he too did not go to sleep, for as every one knows, the banyan is a sacred tree, and this one was inhabited by a hpea who was noted for being one of the cruelest and most dreaded spirits in all the land. Ai roused the king and told him there was a hpea in the tree and begged him not to sleep there for it would assuredly kill them both before morning.

               The king said, "Wake me not, trouble me not. From my head to my feet, I am nothing but aches and pains. Were I to move I should die. I may as well die at the hands of the hpea." So saying he fell asleep again, and Ai did not dare to disturb him, but watched all night long.

               During the night Ai heard the hpea grumbling to himself several times and promising himself the pleasure of killing them on the morrow, so he pretended to be asleep so that he could hear what the hpea said and if possible thwart him.

               "These mortals have presumed to sleep under my tree," he heard him say, "but it shall be the last time they sleep anywhere. Let me see," he continued, "how shall I kill them? Which will be the best way? Ah, I know. Early to-morrow when they get ready to leave, I will break the tree in two, and the top shall fall on them. If, however, they escape, I will saw through the supports of the first bridge, so that it will break when they are in the middle, and they will fall to the bottom of the valley below. Then if that should fail, I will loosen the stones of the arch of the city gate so that it will fall on them as they pass underneath, and if that does not kill them, when the king arrives at his palace and being thirsty with his long ride calls for water, I will change the water in the goblet to sharp needles that will stick in his throat and kill him. If he does not drink the water, however, he will assuredly be very tired and will go to sleep immediately, and I will send an immense rat into his room that will kill him without doubt."

               Having finished making his plans, the hpea left the tree and started the work of preparing the different traps for the mortals who had enraged his hpeaship by daring to sleep under the tree, and thus profane his home.

               The king was frightened half to death when he awoke next morning, and found that he had been sleeping all night under the tree of that special hpea; but Ai, or Sau Boo as the king called him, told him not to be frightened for he could save his life if the king would only follow his advice and do as he told him.

               The king promised to follow his words implicitly, and also promised him unheard-of rewards if he only helped him to get to his palace in safety.

               The first danger was the tree, and so Ai got their horses ready and under the pretense of allowing them to eat grass before setting out on their journey, he gradually worked them nearer and still nearer the edge of the tree, and then, with one bound, they both galloped out from under it. At the same instant there was a great crash and the whole top of the tree fell to the ground. So near did it fall on them that the king's turban was torn from his head by one of the upper branches, but beyond this no harm was done.

               Next, instead of riding over the bridge, they went along the bank a little distance, and soon found a place where the hük was narrow and leaped their horses to the other side. While they were jumping, Ai threw a heavy stone he had brought with him on to the bridge, and the hpea, who fortunately was near-sighted, thinking it was the tread of the horses, broke it down, so that fell into the water fifty feet below, but the king and his follower were safe on the other side.

               The next danger was the city gate. They walked their ponies slowly as though they were very tired, till they came to within a cubit of the gate, and then galloped through at the top of their speed, and crash went the gateway behind them. They were covered with dust but not hurt.

               The king was very thankful to have arrived at his palace and being very thirsty with the journey and excitement, as the cunning hpea had expected, called for a drink of water, but ere he could place the cup to his lips his faithful follower turned it upside down, and instead of water, out fell a cupful of sharp needles, and again the king's life was saved.

               Worn out with his ride he told his servants to prepare his room as he would sleep. Ai called the chief guard and told him to have a lamp burning all night, to take his sharpest sword with him, and guard the king carefully. In the middle of the night when the tired king was sleeping soundly, into the room came creeping slowly, slowly, the biggest rat ever seen. It had long, sharp teeth and wicked glaring eyes, and made toward the king. But the guard, warned by Ai, was on the watch, and just as the rat was about to spring at the king's throat, the soldier with a sweep of his long, sharp sword cut off its head, and thus the king through the cleverness of one man escaped the last danger and could now live without fear.

               The next morning the king called his heralds and bade them go into the city and summon Sau Boo to come to the palace to be rewarded. They searched and called, but searched and called in vain. No man ever heard of a man by that name, and the king was fast getting angry when the amats told him that they personally had gone to every house except one, and that was the house of Ai. The king in surprise ordered them to call his son-in-law. "He may be able to tell us something about him," he observed. Ai accordingly obeyed his summons, but the king was more surprised yet when Ai told him that Sau Boo and himself were one and the same, and that it was he who had rescued the king from so many dangers.

               At first his father-in-law became angry and refused to believe him, but Ai gave an account of everything that had happened from the time when the deer broke cover, till the rat was killed by the guard, and thus convinced the king of his truthfulness.

               The king then made a great feast, called all his ministers and generals together, and made a proclamation that Ai in future should be his amat löng and should be king when he himself died.

               Thus did the princess prove that her luck really depended upon herself, and not on the king, and to-day we say, "May your luck be as good as the luck of Nang Kam Ung."

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Story of the Princess Nang Kam Ung
Tale Author/Editor: Griggs, William C.
Book Title: Shan Folk Lore Stories from the Hill and Water Country
Book Author/Editor: Griggs, William C.
Publication City:
Year of Publication: 1902
Country of Origin: Myanmar (Burma)
Classification: unclassified

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