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.

5 comments:

Sekibuhchhuak said...

Nice read ! Sekibuhchhuak = magic horn, interesting translation :-)

Storyteller said...

Yes, what's interesting about the Sekibuhchhuak is its similarity to the Cornucopia of Greek mythology. Even more interesting is that almost every culture has a myth about a Horn of Plenty which can spill out an unending supply of good food :)

blackestred said...

Nice translation.. I've always loved tales of Chhura.. Not that I'm much of an expert in english, but I find some details missing in the story, although I quite can't place it..
For example: "He erected a swing on his farm and pretended to leave for home.." There is no indication as to why the Phung wanted to swing on it.. And how that would qualify as a trap for spirits? I think a little background on Mizo traditions/culture would've been inserted for better understanding.. The story is a little vague for non-mizos and may be interpreted as illogical.. Its always a challenge to interpret folklore to other languages without loss of meaning and content..

Storyteller said...

Thank you for the feedback. This story comes from Dr Khiangte's large collection of Mizo folklore and cultural history so perhaps it shouldn't be read in isolation to really get into all the things you feel are missing here.

Mojo Jojo said...

Finally, a Chhura story with a happy ending! Less gory also, I guess... but wonder how he always manages to get away with murder. Little Phungpuinus - no less - and he forced them to eat hot ash!