A Hmong Folk Tale

 by Maysua Her

In every culture, there are always stories told from one generation to the next, whether they are fiction, non-fiction, myths, or folk tales. We tend to tell them to our children and they too, pass it on to their children. However, whatís important is that each of them has its purpose. The Hmong people of Laos is an example. They have folk tales that are passed on down from generations before. It carries on from one generation to the next. The reason why they carry these folk tales is because in every one of those tales there is a moral to the story, almost like a good lesson to learn from. Well, in this paper I am going to tell one of the many popular folk tale that the Hmong people passed on from one generation to the next, and why it was so entertaining yet at the same time has more meaningful values behind it.

Once upon a time, there lived an orphan name Yaoh. He had no parents, no brothers or sisters, and no relatives at all. He lived alone at the outskirt of the village in a cold little shack. As winter rolls in, he had no woods to start up a fire to warm up the house. He was cold. Therefore, he said to himself "I am going to go out and look for some wood to build a fire." He went searching down a flat hill with an ax. Yaoh looked and looked, as he came across a huge tree and was thrilled about it and started chopping, "Ter! Ter! Ter!" The echoes of the chopping sound lingered across the mountains.

 

On top of the tree was an eagle nest. She heard and felt the chopping vibrations and thought it was an earthquake. "What is that annoying noise?!" she asked herself. Frightened, the mother eagle looked down to see what was going on, only to find out someone was about to chop her family down. The mother eagle swiftly flew down and asked, "What are you doing?"

Orphan Yaoh replied, "I am cold, I have no wood to build a fire so I came down here to get some wood. I need this wood to heat up my house." The eagle looked at him with fear in her eyes and says, "Youíre going to destroy my family if you chop this tree down. My babies has no feathers yet so we cannot move."

"I am sorry but I have no choice. I am cold, I have no money to buy wood. I need this tree," the orphan Yaoh politely answered and continued axing the tree. "Ter! Ter! Ter!

"Please! I beg you!" she pleaded again. "Stop chopping! My children are up there warming up in their nest! You have to stop or else they will die!"

 

Orphan Yaoh replied with the same reason, "I am cold and I need the wood for the winter." Then the mother eagle said, "If all you need is wood, why donít I take you to the moon to get some gold so you can buy wood. Why donít you go home, get some rest, come back very early tomorrow morning with a big bag. I will take you there to get some gold." After the mother eagle assured the orphan Yaoh a few times, he believed her and went home. He knew that if the mother eagle lies, he could just come back and chop the tree down the next day.

"I promise, but you have to come very early, before the sun rise!" She hollered after him. He went home and got as much material as he could to sew a bag. He was poor so he didnít have much. He spent that whole night sewing the bag and before he realized, it was morning already. He rushed down to the valley where the eagle said she would meet him. He climbed onto her back and she flew him all the way to the moon. To the Hmong it is supposedly known as "to the moon," (Sawb hlis) where all the gold was. He stuffed as much gold in his bag as he could. "The sun is going to rise and burn us! You better hurry it up!!" She rushed him. Frightened but satisfied with what he got, he jumped up onto the back of the eagle and they flew off right when the sun started rising. "Whew! You almost burned our butt back there!" the eagle cried out.

 

After this, Yaoh lived like a rich man. He bought himself wood, clothes, food, all that a rich man can buy, but most importantly he built himself a house. He thought his problem was solved, but it wasnít. There was rich man name Yaoh, who had nothing better to do, came knocking on orphan Yaohís door. Orphan Yaoh was astonished and maybe a little intimidated by the sight of rich Yaoh. He opened the door and asked, "What do you want?"

"So I see you got yourself new things?" Rich Yaoh sneered, and invited himself in. He started pacing around orphan Yaohís house and found how rich Yaoh came to be. "I wonder who and where you stole all these from, and where you got all this money to buy this house!" Yaoh demand suspiciously.

"What are you talking about?" Orphan Yaoh asked.

"Well, letís see. You have no family, no relatives, surely you must have stole this from someone or somewhere." Rich Yao accused. Orphan Yaoh got scared and nervous. He was silent for a long time, folding his left arm under his right arm. His chin rests on his right hand, as he stands in front of rich Yaoh in deep distraught. He finally decides.

"Okay, I will tell you where I got all this if you promise not to do anything to me and promise not to tell ANYONE!." He went on telling the story about how he got the gold.

"You better not be lying to me or else I am going to hang you!" ("Kuv muaj koj dlaiv tuag") rich Yaoh threatened.

"I am not lying. Do as I say and go there early tomorrow morning. The same thing will happen to you." The rich Yaoh was too anxious, he headed down to the city and collected as much bag from people as he could. He couldnít wait until morning came, therefore he dressed very sloppy (in shorts and tee-shirt; the way orphan Yaoh dressed when he went to chop the tree down). He wanted to appear exactly the way orphan Yaoh appeared in his clothes. So he went down to where the tree was, and with his ax started chopping, "Ter! Ter Ter!" The mother eagle heard the noise and asked herself, "What is that annoying noise?!" She thought that maybe it was an earthquake. Frightened, the mother eagle looked down to see what was going on, only to find out someone was about to shop her family down. She said to herself, "What is he doing back? Didnít he get enough yesterday?" and flew down to where rich Yaoh was. She realized it was a different person, and asks him, "What are you doing?"

"I-I am cold. I have no wood to build a fire so I came down here to get some wood. I need this wood to heat up my house." Rich Yaoh replied nervously. The mother eagle looked at him with fear in her eyes and says, "You are going to destroy my family if you chop the tree down. My babies has no feathers yet so we cannot move."

"I-I am sorry but I have no choice. I am cold, I have no money to buy wood. I need this tree," rich Yaoh replied and continued axing the tree. "Ter! Ter! Ter!"

"Please! I beg you! My children are up there warming up in their nest! You have to stop or else they will die!" She pleaded.

Rich Yaoh ignored her pleading and continued chopping. Finally the mother eagle decided, "If all you need is wood, why donít I take you to the moon to get some gold so you can buy wood. Why donít you go home, get some rest, and come back very early the next morning with a big bag. I will take you there to get some gold." The mother eagle didnít have to assure rich Yaoh, for he already knew that would happen. He demanded the mother eagle to take him to the moon that night to get some gold. The mother eagle did as he said.

When they got there, rich Yaoh kept stuffing and stuffing even when his bags couldnít take anymore gold. "Hurry up! Youíre going to get us burn! Hurry! The sun is going to rise any second now!" the mother eagle cried out.

"Hold on, just a minute Iím almost done." The rich Yaoh said.

"Hurry! The sun is coming out!" the mother eagle rushed.

"Just a few more! Just a few more!" Yaoh pleaded. As he sat there and stuffed all that he canít in his short pockets, front and back, under his shirt, anywhere that he could find place to stuff more gold in. As the sun came up the mother eagle flew off without Yaoh. The End! You can guess from there what happened to Yaoh.

 

The moral of the story is greed and importance of relatives. This story reinforces the Hmong tradition on relatives. For example, go back to the conversation between the orphan Yaoh and the rich Yaoh. Rich Yaoh threatened to kill orphan Yaoh. Now if something happened to orphan Yaoh, no one would know or cared much about. He has no family, no relatives. Even if he lived he brought nothing to the community because he was poor and he was an orphan, so if he dies no one would really do anything about it. They may be sympathetic that he died but they wouldnít say anything else. This story is like a culture tradition to teach the younger not to be greedy and that greed will not help you live a better life but only destroy you.

 

 

Sources

Her, Nou: Interview (December 4, 1997) Oroville.

Quincy, Keith. "Grandmotherís path, Grandfatherís way."

Vang, Pang: Interview (December 4, 1997) Oroville.

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