Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chhura’s Horn of Plenty

Transcreated by Laltluangliana Khiangte

In a certain village, there lived a very straightforward, courageous man called Chhura. His best friend was his brother Nahaia, alias Naa, who was cunning enough in all respects to take advantage of Chhura’s ignorance and stupidity.

As was the practice of the day, both brothers were jhum farmers. Their paddy fields lay adjacent to each other a fair distance away from the village. At the bottom of Naa’s plot, stood a big hollow tree where many birds would roost. Naa could not tolerate them and would often throw stones at them. At times, he would hunt them down with a catapult or sairawkherh.

One day, the stones hit the hollow of the tree occupied by a Phungpuinu¹. She was enraged and threatened to take revenge by using her supernatural powers. She chanted unintelligible words which scared Naa out of his wits. He then decided that if the field could change hands, all harm would fall upon the new owner and he would be free from danger.

So Naa approached Chhura and proposed that the land should be exchanged. He cleverly showed his brother a groundview of his own field while asking Chhura to look at his field from the top of a tree. Chhura was easily convinced and went to his new plot the next day. He quickly saw the big tree with many birds and began throwing stones at them to drive them away. The female spirit within the tree immediately reacted with her mysterious utterances once again and warned him to stop because he was hurting her children. But Chhura did not heed the warning. Instead he ignored the phungpuinu and continued to throw stones at the tree. Realising that the new owner could not be frightened away, the spirit escaped from a corner and went down the brook.

In the meantime, Chhura had reached the big hollow tree from where the mysterious utterances had emanated. Looking into the hollow and not finding the spirit, he forced her children to swallow hot ash, as a result of which they all died. He then quickly left the place.

The phungpuinu wept plaintively over the loss of her children. Meanwhile, Chhura made plans to capture her. He erected a swing on his farm and pretended to leave for home. After a while, the phungpuinu stealthily approached the swing and sat down on it, singing a dirge of mourning. Chhura then seized her by the hair and threatened to capture her to be paraded for the pleasure of the village children.

The phungpuinu begged him to set her free and promised to give him a good axe in return. Chhura declined, saying he already had one. She then promised her a hoe which Chhura also refused.

The phungpuinu dared not imagine what her plight would be once she was in the village. So she made a last offer and that was her most prized possession – a magic horn called a Sekibuhchhuak.

Chhura gladly accepted the last offer for he knew that the magic horn could produce delicious, well-prepared rice from one end and ready meat from the other. After testing it, he set the spirit free and went home happily with his new possession. He and his family now stopped working and lived without a care in the world.

When Nahaia came to know about the horn, he was filled with envy. He warned Chhura that should there be any fire, he should first pick up the horn and leave the house quickly.

Within a few days, he thought of a way to dispossess his brother of his magic horn. He went near Chhura’s house, gathered a big heap of dry leaves and set it on fire. He then shouted, “Fire, fire, Chhura, your house is on fire! Come out quickly with your horn!”

As Chhura came rushing out, he fell down by the door, as Naa had planned, dropping his precious horn on the ground. Nahaia quickly picked it up saying, “Let me have what Chhura has rejected!” Thus Naa tricked his brother and got the magic horn.

Chhura was very displeased and thought of a way to get the horn back. He went to Naa and advised him that in case of fire, he should first get hold of the horn. Then soon after, he arranged a fire just as Naa had done and shouted, “Fire, fire, Naa, your house is on fire!”

But Naa was not so easily fooled. Instead he picked up a pestle and pretending to fall, threw it directly at Chhura’s shin. So instead of getting back the magic horn, Chhura received a severe injury on his shin and he left saying, “Let me have what Naa has forfeited.”

Legend has it that the magic sekibuhchhuak has remained with Nahaia ever since and he partakes of its delicious repast day and night.


¹a spirit, ghost, bogey, spook, ogress, goblin, hobgoblin (generally regarded as female)

The most interesting and memorable personality in the world of Mizo folklore would undoubtedly be Chhurbura. A reading and study of Mizo tales would be incomplete without Chhurbura who must be considered the undisputed hero of Mizo folktales. There is a great paradox in his character which makes him all the more interesting for young and old. He may be considered the silliest of simpletons but on the other hand, he can also be considered the cleverest of all.

It has also been claimed that Chhura played an important role in the creation of the universe. He shaped the world by beating and hitting the solid earth with his big stone club, leveling parts of it and in the process, he created hills, mountains, plains and valleys.

Even accounts of his demise are many. One version says he died in an accident while others suggest he died as a rich and powerful ruler. Another version says he died while playing an interesting game called Nghengtawlhah Saiawnah. Legend goes that he was so absorbed in this game that he forgot to eat anything and eventually succumbed to fatigue and exhaustion. According to yet another tale, Chhura was still alive in the 14 century AD. He reportedly lived in the eastern part of Mizoram and monuments were erected in his honour which can be seen even today.

Professor Laltluangliana Khiangte
works in the Mizo dept. at Mizoram University. He is a prolific writer with an immense volume of output, both in English and Mizo, and has several publications to his credit. A prominent folklorist in North-east India, his contribution to the documentation, growth and development of the Mizo language and literature is tremendous.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tualvungi and Zawlpala

A Mizo folktale transcreated by Margaret Ch. Zama

Once upon a time there lived a young man named Zawlpala who fell in love with Tualvungi, a maiden renowned for her beauty. They eventually married and were very happy together. At this time lived a raja from Tripura holding sway over a small principality called Theihai Ram. He was named Phuntiha by his subjects, a very apt name really since it meant that no one dared to complain in his presence. He was of a tyrannical disposition, always wanting to possess the best of everything. It was no wonder then, that when he heard of Tualvungi’s great beauty, he at once set off to visit her village with the intention of marrying her should her beauty please him. On Zawlpala’s village, Phuntiha found Zawlpala happily keeping his wife company at her weaving loom.

Setting eyes on Tualvungi, Phuntiha found her beauty far exceeded his expectations, and fell in love with her. So he inquired of Zawlpala if she was his wife or sister, to which the latter replied “my sister”. Zawlpala answered thus because he knew full well that Phuntiha wanted Tualvungi for his wife, and was quite capable of killing him if his true status was revealed. To the “brother’s” reply, Phuntiha at once offered a proposal of marriage, inquiring about her man, the Mizo customary bride price quoted by the bride’s family before marriage. At this, Zawlpala deliberately quoted a stupendous sum which he hoped the raja would be unable to fulfill and thereafter leave them in peace. The brideprice he quoted was thus : enough mithans to number every post and pillar of his house to which they will be tethered; beaded necklaces and Mizo puans (traditional woven cloth) so great in number that they break every railing and clothesline in the house with their weight, and lastly, Mizo chempui or big daos numbering every crevice of the woven bamboo walls into which they shall be tucked. To Zawlpala’s great chagrin, Phuntiha accepted his terms without much ado, and left immediately for his village to make preparations.

A few days later, Phuntiha returned not only with Zawlpala’s demand, but with a huge entourage of villagers as well, all eager to escort home the new bride. Tualvungi was the first to sight them while they were yet some miles away, with Phuntiha in the lead wearing a bright red lungi which stood out brazenly even from the distance. Distressed greatly, she turned to her husband and pleaded with him thus:

I can see them yonder
Herding in countless mithans
And carrying great numbers of puans
Tell them Tualvungi is with child
O my love Zawlpala

But her desperation was matched by Zawlpala’s loss for words at the turn of events and he was unable to offer her any consolation. So the now hated Phuntiha arrived and proceeded to fulfill his obligations with great gusto. Mithans were tethered to each and every post of Zawlpala’s house; beaded necklaces and woven puans were hung on to every available railing and clothesline in the house, snapping them all in no time with their weight; and lastly, the Mizo daos were firmly tucked into all the visible cracks and crevices of the bamboo walls. Thus Phuntiha claimed the unhappy Tualvungi as his lawful wife and led her away to his village. Zawlpala stood helpless, watching them leave and bitterly regretting his folly but all too late, for he had spoken as a man, and had to honour his words.

Now, although Phuntiha had feigned ignorance, he knew that Zawlpala was Tualvungi’s husband and not her brother, and knowing of the great love they shared though now parted, his jealousy was greatly roused. This determined him to do away with his rival. In spite of his shortcomings, Phuntiha truly loved and cherished Tualvungi, and catered to her every wish in the hope that she might forget her beloved. But Tualvungi never ceased to pine for her beloved, and this made Phuntiha even more possessive of her and jealous of Zawlpala. One day, Phuntiha said to his wife, “I suggest you invite your brother to visit us for as long as he wishes as we have not seen each other for a long time. And now seems to be as good a time as any, besides my pigs are fat enough to be slaughtered.” Too naive to comprehend his true intentions, Tualvungi eagerly sent a messenger to Zawlpala with the good news.

When Zawlpala received the message, he too was taken in by Phuntiha’s supposed goodwill, and wishing to reciprocate, at once set out for their village. Phuntiha played the perfect host to his guest, but before long, Tualvungi began to have her suspicions. So she warned Zawlpala to beware and not accept any food from Phuntiha’s hands. But due to his prolonged stay it soon became impossible for Zawlpala to continually refuse his host’s offers and so one day accepted rice beer and arum bulbs that the latter gave him. Immediately after having them, he started experiencing stomach cramps, for the food had been poisoned just as Tualvungi had feared. Greatly grieved and not knowing what course to take, she sent him home at once, and doing so, Zawlpala was able to reveal the true circumstances of his condition to the village elders before he finally died. He was buried with due honour, and his grave was decorated with numerous mithan skulls that had been slaughtered in his honour. This Mizo tradition is called thlaichhiah, which means sacrificing of animals for the dead, so that the spirits of the slained animals may accompany the departed into the next world.

Now came the task of finding a messenger to break the sad news to Tualvungi. But no one dared to volunteer as all were afraid of Phuntiha whom they knew would not hesitate to kill in his jealous rage.

In the hunt for a messenger, the first candidate was a Chakai (crab) who, when asked how it would address Tualvungi replied ai, ai. This displeased the villagers and they stamped it aside, which is why, we are told, the crab still walks sideways today. Second came a Choak (raven) who was asked the same question. It’s reply ak, ak disgusted the villagers and they threw indigo dye on it, which explains the blue-back colour of the raven today. Then along came a tlaiberh (bul-bul bird) whose call berek, berek again failed to satisfy the villagers. As punishment, they impaled the bird on a fence, which is why the feathers under the tail of the bul-bul remains red till today.

Finally, a vahui (wood pigeon) turned up and its performance so pleased them that they elected it to be the bearer of the tragic news. After feeding it on rice and meat, they sent it on its way. The bird flew for many, many days before arriving at Tualvungi’s village. On reaching there, it perched on a nearby tree next to her house, and began to plaintively warble out its song, telling her to go and pay her respects to her dead husband Zawlpala. Tualvungi, who was busy weaving in the verandah, heard the song and exclaimed to the bird, “If you are singing to me, come closer and repeat your song”. So the bird flew closer and perched on a railing nearby. After it had sung, Tualvungi was heartbroken but still unable to believe the sad tidings, again asked it to hop even closer and sing its song again. So the little wood pigeon sat on the bars at the end of her loom and sang its heart out. After this, Tualvungi could no longer doubt the message, and broke down with grief for her lost love.

Tualvungi thought out of ways in which she could deceive Phuntiha, and leave for her old village as soon as possible. She finally came up with the excuse that she wished to vist her ailing brother Zawlpala, as he was quite unwell when he last left them. Phuntiha of course knew that Zawlpala was long dead by now due to the poison, but not wanting to seem inconsiderate to his wife by refusing her outright, he invented a string of excuses in order to prevent her from leaving. The first of his excuses was that he wanted her to wait for their newly hatched chicks to grow big, but when this was done, he insisted that their dog give birth to its litter first, and when this too came about and the puppies grew big, he was still reluctant to let her go. So once again, he asked her to be patient and wait for their goat to give birth, then next came the sow giving birth to her litter, and finally came the mithan having her calf. During this long delay, Phuntiha hoped that Zawlpala’s body would decompose completely and Tualvungi’s feelings of tenderness towards him gradually wane. Meanwhile, Tualvungi patiently tolerated the delay, but her feelings for the dead Zawlpala remained ever strong.

Phuntiha, having run out of excuses to delay Tualvungi, sought other means of preventing her from leaving as he was still extremely jealous of his dead rival. So, his reasoning clouded with envy and jealousy, he sharpened his dao and placed it edge facing upwards, just outside their main door, which Tualvungi would be sure to step upon, on leaving the house. As intended, Tualvungi cut her foot deeply and was unable to do anything for many days. This put Phuntiha’s mind at ease and he departed for game hunting for a few days. Tualvungi, on her part, sought to avail of this opportunity and daily nursed her wound in order to be fit for the long journey ahead. It was not long in healing, and having bandaged it thoroughly, she packed all her more valuable possessions and puans in a bundle and set off on her own.

The journey was a long and difficult one, and Tualvungi suffered and grieved for Zawlpala all the way. Once she came across a group of children playing kawibah (a popular game among Mizo youngsters, played with the large bean-like seeds of a species of hardy creepers), and asked them,

You little children playing yonder,
Have you seen Zawlpala’s grave,
My beloved Zawlpala.

to which the children replied,

The open space round Zawlpala’s grave
Is filled with trees in bloom
And solemnly lined with mithan skulls.

A short distance away, she again passed by some children tending their grazing herd and made the same query thus :

You little children tending your herd
Have you seen Zawlpala’s grave,
My beloved Zawlpala.

and they replied

The open space round Zawlpala’s grave
Is filled with trees in bloom
And solemnly lined with mithan skulls.

When Tualvungi finally arrived at her beloved’s grave, there was no mistaking it. It was just as the children had told her, lined with mithan skulls and trees in full bloom. Weary from her long journey, fatigued from her wound, and now, the sight of Zawlpala’s grave, proved too much for her. Her spirit broke and she began to weep bitterly over the grave. An old woman who happened to pass by, took pity on her, and tried to comfort her. But Tualvungi would not be consoled, and instead pleaded to the old lady thus, “If you truly pity me, do away with my life instead as I know I am not going to survive this anyway. You may take my belongings and keep them for your own.” The old lady reluctantly agreed, and together they started digging up Zawlpala’s grave in order to make room for Tualvungi to lie down. When his bones were sighted, so the story goes, they moved over in order to make room for her. Lying down beside the remains of her beloved, Tualvungi gave up her life to the old woman.

Meanwhile, Phuntiha on his return from his hunt in the deep forest, flew into a jealous rage when he realised that his wife had slipped away. He at once set out after her, but all too late, for Tualvungi had achieved her union with Zawlpala in death. Not to be outdone by the two lovers, he too lay down beside them and got the old woman to kill him. But the spirits of Zawlpala and Tualvungi, determined never more to be parted by Phuntiha, flew out of the grave together in form of beautiful butterflies. The persistent Phuntiha flew out after them, and this is why today, a butterfly couple flying together are always followed by the third behind them - never quite catching up.

Dr. Margaret Ch. Zama is a professor in the English dept. of Mizoram University. She is deeply involved in the transcreation of Mizo folk literature and bringing it to national and international readers and audiences.

Picture: Zawlpala thlan in hmu em, oil on canvas by Tlangrokhuma