Translated by Dr. Margaret L. Pachuau
Once upon a time there lived a beautiful damsel by the name of Rimenhawihi. She was married to a man named Zawlthlia. They were an extremely loving couple. Rimenhawihi was very good looking and her beauty was legendary. Apart from her exquisite countenance she was noted for her lustrous locks of hair. She too was well aware of the attractive sight that her locks of hair presented and she was proud of them. She would often bathe in a river near her home and whenever she did so, she would never tire of gazing at her lovely reflection in the water.
One day while she was having a bath, a lock of hair fell into the water and it was washed downstream by the current. Soon a huge fish swallowed the lock of hair but as the strand of hair was very long, the fish soon became swollen and bloated up. It so happened that some distance down the river, there lived a chief who had ordered his servants to catch some fish. Strangely enough the servants caught the very fish that had swallowed Rimenhawihi’s strand of hair. The fish was still bloated and puffy and the servants wondered as to why it was so and they decided to cut up the fish in order to find out why. When they eventually cut up the fish they found out that it was stuffed with the strand of hair from Rimenhawihi’s locks. They pulled out the lock of hair and even then it was so lustrous that it filled an entire pate¹. As the servants wanted to display the strand of hair intact to their chief, they carried it carefully all the way home.
When the chief saw the strand of hair he was greatly astonished and he sent his servants to seek out the damsel who bore such locks. The servants went upstream and carefully searched every nook and cranny of the land till finally they arrived at the house of Rimenhawihi. Her house was built of iron and it was difficult to enter and so they had to first seek permission in order to enter the house. However, it so happened that Rimenhawihi had locked herself up securely inside the house because her husband Zawlthlia had gone on a journey and so she staunchly refused to let them in.
In the meanwhile, the chief’s servants were very persistent and so they appealed to her in song:
O you inside the house of iron, inside the house of brass
Pray do tell us your name
As soon as she heard these words, she replied in song:
A name, a name I do not have
I am one who feeds on water
One who feeds on vegetable broth
The servants then paid immense heed to the song, and they tried to memorise the song in earnest and finally they headed swiftly for home. When they reached their village they reported the incident to the chief. The chief was annoyed and he stated, “There can be no such name. You must find out what her name really is.”
Once again he commanded his servants to seek out the name of the damsel with the lustrous locks and so very soon, they set off to do as the chief had ordered them to.Yet again, they appealed to her and she too chanted the same lines to them in response. However, the chief could not be placated and so he sent them to her several times over. Finally Rimenhawihi relented and told them her name.
Rimenhawihi is my name
Menchanghawihi is my name
The servants of the chief were very pleased as they had finally achieved their task.However, they were worried that they would forget the name so they decided that the best way to remember her name was to chant it continually on the way back home. As such, they walked back home, earnestly chanting, “men men men.”
So fervent was their concentration that even if they tripped upon the way, they would still get up and continually repeat the word “men”. Unfortunately, by the time the entire group reached their village,there was not a single person who could repeat the name in full to the chief. All that everyone could repeat was, “She told us that her name was Men.”
The chief was furious. “There can be no such name. All of you must set off once more and this time you must make sure you seek out her name in full. If you do not learn of the same, you shall all pay dearly.”
And his servants beat a hasty retreat and proceeded once more to accomplish the task. They reached Rimenhawihi’s house once more and they began to cajole her as before. Once again she gave them the same rejoinder. However this time round, fortune favoured them and they could actually remember her name. So they went back to the village and told the chief all that he wanted to know. The chief commanded, “Ah…now that would be the name that I have been seeking. Now, you must all go back there once more and you bring her here to me. I do not care whether she is married or not.”
As it was orders that came from the chief, his servants had no choice but to obey. When they reached Rimenhawihi’s house they discovered that her husband had gone away on a journey. As he was afraid that his wife would be captured by miscreants in his absence he had locked her up very securely. He had bolted the doors so firmly that even she could not open them from inside. The chief’s servants then made several attempts to enter the house from the outside and they began circling the house in order to seek a way in which to break in. Eventually, they decided to climb atop the roof in order to lure her with the choicest fruit. They began to drop luscious fruits that the chief had sent for her. At first Rimenhawihi did not pay any heed. At length they dropped the most delicious fruit that they had brought with them — the orange! The lure of the orange was all too great and she could not resist it. As she reached out hesitantly for the orange, one of the servants grabbed her by the hair and as she was too vain and too scared of even losing a strand of hair, she allowed herself to be captured.
But as she was being led away, she racked her brains in terms of disclosing her predicament to her husband. So she hastily told the dogs and the fowl in their courtyard on how she was taken captive. She also disclosed that she would leave an easy trail by throwing a strand of thread upon the ground. Saying this she hastily walked alongside her captors.
After a long while her husband returned home. Upon his return he was greeted by the fowl and the dogs who narrated the entire incident in the manner that Rimenhawihi had instructed them. Her husband then asked of the dog, “O dog, where is my wife?” The dog answered, “You must follow the strand of thread.” Then her husband asked of the hen, “O hen, where is my wife?” And the hen replied, “You must follow the strand of thread.”
By then, Rimenhawihi’s husband was in a tearing hurry to find his wife. He rushed out of the house and sure enough his wife had left behind a trail marked by a strand of thread. He continued to follow the trail and after he had followed the trail for quite a while it became dark gradually. However the darkness did not deter him. He soon overtook his wife and her captors. He killed all the servants of the chief and soon both husband and wife returned home and they spent the rest of their lives in great happiness.
¹The name of a small bin or basket for storing tobacco, cotton, rice.
Picture: Art by Tlangrokhuma