Saturday, October 20, 2012

Thangchhawli

Retold by C. Lalnunchanga
Translated by A. Hmangaihzuali Poonte

Long ago there once lived a poor widow. She had a beautiful daughter named Thangchhawli and their house was always filled with young men coming to court her. One day, mother and daughter went out to work on their farming. Their farming land that year was very far away and had not been very well cultivated. Around noon, Thangchhawli became very thirsty so her mother said, “Chemte¹, go down to the little stream at the end of the farm and see if there is any water.”

So Thangchawli went to fetch the water. But the stream was completely dry and seeing some water in the hollow of a tree, she quenched her thirst. Quite unknown to her, however, the water belonged to a tiger-person². When she went back to her mother, she said, “Mother, the stream was dry but since I was so thirsty I drank the water I saw in a tree hollow.”

Soon, Thangchhawli’s face began to change: her skin became striped, long, sharp talons grew out of her hands and a thick tail sprouted behind her. Her mother lamented, “Chemte, what a terrible disaster, the water you drank must have belonged to a tiger-person!” After a while, Thangchhawli turned back into a human being. But her mother advised her, “You must keep this a secret.”

For a certain length of time, they managed to hide the secret from everyone. But one night, as Thangchhawli was being courted as usual by several young men who were lounging on the floor as she and her mother tended to the fire, and she was certain they were all fast asleep, she said to her mother, “Mother, I am hungry.”
Her mother said, “Go eat the leftover rice on the shelf there.”
“I’m not hungry for rice.”

“Go eat the goat that’s tied outside the front door.”
“I’m not hungry for goat meat.”
“Go eat the sow below the house.”
“I’m not hungry for pig meat.”
“All right, go out to the edge of the forest and feed on the cow we keep there.”
But Thangchhawli refused again, saying, “I’m not hungry for cow meat.”
Her mother looked around at the young men fast asleep on the floor and seeing one of the youngest suitors sleeping by the furthest wall, told her daughter, “All right, go to the youngest boy over there and feed on him.”

However the young man was not asleep, and had been listening to the conversation between mother and daughter. He was filled with great fear and woke his companions, saying, “Get up, get up, I have a terrible stomach ache,” and pretended to be racked with abdominal pain.

So his friends carried him to the Zawlbuk³ and there, he told them the truth. “I was only pretending to be in pain because while you were all fast asleep, I heard the girl we were courting tell her mother how hungry she was. But to everything that her mother told her to eat, she would say she was not hungry for it. Finally, the mother told her, “Go feed on the youngest boy,” and I was so frightened, I woke up all of you.”

The eldest young men among them said, “Tomorrow night, we shall court her again and find out the truth. We must all secretly carry a rock and a stick of firewood.”

So the next evening, the young men all went to Thangchhawli’s house again. Unnoticed by the girl and her mother, they dropped their rocks into the pot of pig swill cooking over the fire, and hiding their firewood sticks under their puan, stretched out on the floor and pretended to fall asleep.

After a while, the pig swill was cooked and Thangchhawli prepared to remove the pot from the fire. But the rocks the young men had secretly dropped into the pot made it very heavy and she was unable to move it. As she drew all her strength together, her supernatural tiger powers emerged and she was able to easily pick up the heavy pot and remove it from the fire.  

At this, all the young men jumped up and cried, “This is a tiger-person. No ordinary woman could have moved that pot!” Arming themselves with their sticks of firewood, they got ready to beat Thangchhawli to death.

But the mother exclaimed, “Alas, we can hide our secret no longer. Forgive us!” She then told the young men the sad story of how the misfortune had befallen her daughter. But the young men said, “However sorry we feel for you about this situation, your daughter can no longer continue living in this village.”

And so the poor widow and her daughter had to part ways. Being no longer allowed to live with human beings, Thangchhawli left to live in the jungle and her mother watched her leave, weeping bitterly.

Because of her reluctance to leave her mother, Thangchhawli stayed on for many days in the outskirts of the village. She often brought choice pieces of wild animals she had caught and left them at her mother’s doorstep.

One night she brought the hind leg of domestic cattle and her mother told her, “Chemte, you know I’ve told you not to prey on domestic animals. If you keep doing it, huntsmen will soon shoot you dead. Go far away from here for your own safety.” Thangchhawli said sadly, “Mother, it breaks my heart to leave you forever.” Her mother told her, “You must go. But be careful wherever you go.”

So Thangchhawli went away deep into the jungle where she later married a tiger and had children with him. When she left her home, she had been wearing a thihna (a traditional Mizo necklace) and it is said that her offspring could be identified by their necks. Whenever the old Mizo elders came across tigers with white markings on their necks, they would always refer to them as Thangchhawli’s descendants.


¹ A term of endearment for a young child
² Keimi. Creatures believed to be part-human, part-tiger. Perhaps the Mizo equivalent of the European werewolf
³ Traditionally a dormitory for young Mizo bachelors


Translated from Ka Pi Thawnthu Min Hrilh Chu (Stories My Grandmother Told Me), a collection of short stories written and compiled by C. Lalnunchanga, one of the most prolific contemporary writers in Mizo literature.

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