Shan Folk Lore Stories

FROM THE HILL AND WATER COUNTRY

BY
WILLIAM C. GRIGGS, M. D.

INTRODUCTION

The following stories have been taken from the great[v] mass of unwritten lore that is to the black-eyed, brown-skinned boys and girls of the Shan mountain country of Burma what “Jack the Giant Killer” and “Cinderella” are to our own children.

The old saw as to the songs and laws of a country may or may not be true. I feel confident, however, that stories such as these, being as they are purely native, with as little admixture of Western ideas as it was possible to give them in dressing them in their garment of English words, will give a better insight into what the native of Burma really is, his modes of thought and ways of looking at and measuring things, than a treatise thrice as long and representing infinitely more literary merit than will be found in these little tales; and at the same time I hope they will be found to the average reader, at least, more interesting.

It may, perhaps, be not out of place to say a little of the “hpeas” who appear so frequently in these stories. The hpea is the Burman nat, and is “a being superior to men and inferior to Brahmas, and having its dwelling in one of the six celestial regions” (Doctor Cushing’s “Shan-English Dictionary”). They are universally worshiped by the inhabitants of Burma.[vi] If a man has fever, the best thing to do is to “ling hpea,” that is, to feed the spirits, and the sufferer therefore offers rice, betel-nut, painted sticks, etc. Some kinds of hpeas live in the sacred banyan trees, and frequently have I seen men, after a long day’s march in the jungle, sit shivering on the ground when within an arm’s length lay good dry fire-wood. It had fallen, however, from a tree in which lived a hpea, and not a man would dare touch it. Big combs of honey may be in the nests of the wild bees, but it is safe from the hungry traveler if it is sheltered by such a tree. Some watch over wells, tanks, and lakes, and it is notorious throughout the Southern Shan States, that a promising young American missionary, who was drowned while shooting, met his death by being dragged to the bottom of the lake by the guardian spirit, who had become incensed at him for killing a water-fowl on his domains.

In Shan folk-lore the hero does not “marry and live happy ever after,” but he becomes the king of the country. American Baptist Shan Mission House,
Bhamo, Burma, 1902.