SPECIAL: Isaan folk tales (part two)

Last Friday The Isaan Record began publishing installments of folk tales from Isaan that were collected and translated into English in 1965. Today we present one tale from Udon Thani and two versions of another tale from Bua Lamphu.

Story 3: Four Foolish Men

WHEN THE CAMBODIANS RULED THIS PART OF THAILAND, THE TOWN OF SONG KORN was very important. It was very powerful, and the Prince of Song Korn ruled many other towns too. One famous prince was named Worata. Worata tried to be a good Buddhist. He did not believe in fighting. He did not like armies. Armies killed people, and Worata knew that it was wrong to kill. He told his people, “The Buddha teaches us not to do evil. He teaches us not to follow the ways of most people in the world, but to make merit.” Prince Worata decided that he did not need to have an army, and he told all of his assistants that in his part of the country, there would be no armies.

Worata had a very beautiful daughter named Pen. When she was still a little girl, Worata taught her to be kind and generous. When she grew up everyone agreed that Pen was not only a beautiful woman, but a very good woman too. Many young men wanted to marry her, but four men especially wanted to marry Pen. They were Worata’s assistants: Bang, Wiengchook, Karn, and Bualampu.

When the four assistants discovered that they all wanted to marry Pen, they became very angry, and they argued for many hours. Finally Bang said, “There is only one way to solve our problem. We must all go to our towns. When we get there, each will raise an army from his town. Then we will march our armies to Seng Korn. The man whose army defeats all the others will take Pen.

Wiengchook said, “But what if Worata does not agree? What if he does not like the man who wins?”

Bualampu replied, “It does not matter. Worata does not have an army. If he disagrees, then you can use your army to take Pen.”

And so the four men went to their towns to raise armies. When they had left, a man came to Worata and told him, “Oh, Prince, do you know what your assistants are doing? They are building armies, and they will return to Song Korn to fight. The winner will take Pen and marry her.”

When Worata heard this he was sad and frightened. He did not have an army. He told Pen what was happening. She said, “Father, we must do something to show our faith. Then the Buddha will help us. Go to the temple and build a tower. It must be ten meters high and on one side there must be a door. There must be no windows and only one door to the tower. But you must build it quickly because it must be finished before the armies come.”

Although he did not understand everything Pen had said, Worata thought this was a good idea. And he built the tower. When it was nearly finished, Worata heard that the armies of his assistants were coming. Then he went to Pen and said, “The tower is nearly finished, and the armies are coming. Now what should I do?”

Pen replied, “Put me into the tower. I will stay there until I die.”

Worata refused when heard this, “You are my only child,” he said, “I cannot let you die!”

“Father, I must die. When I was born I did not want to be a beautiful girl. I only wanted to be a good girl. But I was beautiful too, and my beauty has brought you many troubles. If I die, then perhaps your assistants will see how foolish they are, and they will not fight. Is it better for me to die and to let them fight and kill many people?”

Worata was very sad, but he agreed because he knew it was the best thing to do. Before Pen went into the tower she put on a dress of red silk, and she said, “If you think of me, name this town, Nang Pen.”

Soon the four men and their armies arrived at Song Korn. They were all eager to fight, but one, Karn, said, “Let’s find Worata and Pen first, and tell them what our plans are.” So they all went to find Worata and his daughter.

When they came to Worata’s palace, they saw that he was very sad. “Why are you sad?” they asked.

“I am sad because you want to fight.. And now before you have begun to fight, one person is dead already. Come, with me,” Worata replied. He took them to the tower, and then he spoke again, “If you open the door, you will be sad too, Pen is in there. She is dead. She died because she thought that if you fought for her that would be very evil. She died so that you would not fight, and so that you would not do evil.”

But the men did not believe Worata. They thought, “If Pen is in the tower, she is still alive. She is only hiding.” They made Worata open the door of the tower.

When the door was opened, they saw the beautiful Pen in her red dress lying dead on the floor. They were all very sad. Bang said, “Pen was right, we have been very foolish.

Worata, we are ashamed for what we have done to you. Can you forgive us?”

The four men became good friends again. They quickly left Worata. They took their armies back, to their towns, and then they told all of their soldiers to return to their homes. They had learned their lesson.

Worata was very unhappy for many months, He loved Pen very much, but he knew she was right. She had saved Song Korn from four foolish men. If she had not died, there would have been a war, and everything would have been destroyed. So Worata decided to name Song Korn, Muang Pen.

Today the town of Pen is not as important as it was many years ago. It is a district of Udorn province. But if you go to Amphoe Pen, you can still see the tower built for Pen. It is in the temple, and. it is surrounded with water filled with lotuses. Every year in July, people from all over Udon have a festival there in honor of the brave and unselfish Pen.

Story 4: Tour To

Sometimes the same story is told in different ways. Here are two stories about how a valley and a waterfall in Nong Bualampoo district of Udon Thani Province got their names. The stories are both about the same man, but they are very different. One story is told by women, and the other story is told by men.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE PROVINCE OF UDON, THERE WAS A SMALL VILLAGE. The people there were rice farmers. When they did not have to work, they liked to walk to the mountains to see the beautiful scenery.

One day one of the old men in the village, Tour To, and some of the young women took a walk to the mountains. It was a beautiful day, and they were going on a picnic. Finally, they came to a deep valley with a waterfall at one end of it. The women said to Tour To, “If you can climb down to the bottom of the valley and bring us a small rock from the stream, we will marry you.”

Tour To was very happy. Even though he was very old he knew that the young women were beautiful. He wife was dead, and he thought, “Now I will have many beautiful wives.” So he agreed.

The women thought, “Now we will get rid of this foolish old man. He will surely die trying to climb down the steep cliffs of the valley! They watched Tour To go to the edge of the cliff. They saw him start to go down, and they heard him slip on the rocks and scream. They said, “Tour To has fallen, he is dying. We must go tell everyone.” So they ran back to the village.

But Tour To was not dead. It is true that he had fallen, and that he had screamed; but before he had fallen to the bottom of the valley, he landed in the branches of a big bamboo tree. His life was saved. He was frightened, but unhurt. He said, “I am still alive, I still have a chance to marry the women.”

So he climbed out of the bamboo tree, and he went to get a little rock from the stream. Then he thought, “Even if I have the rock they will not agree to marry me, they will say I did not go down to the bottom of the valley. They will say I picked it from the side of the cliff.” So he cut a big branch of the bamboo tree which he had fallen into, and he started to climb up the walls of the valley.

It was very hard to climb the wall of the valley because he was carrying a rock and a branch of the bamboo tree. At last, after several hours, he did it. When he got to the top, he saw many people there. They were all crying “Old Tour To is dead, he has fallen into the deep valley.”

“I am not dead!” he said. “I am alive, and I am going to marry the young women.”

But they said, “You did not really go to the bottom of the valley.”

“Yes, I did, and I can prove it,” he replied. Then he showed them the rock and the branch. “If you do not believe me, you can go down into the valley and see the tree which I cut the branch from.” Then everyone believed him, and they made the young women marry Tour To. He was very happy the rest of his life. And from that day, the valley and its waterfall have been named for the lucky old Tour To.

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MANY YEARS AGO THERE WAS A SMALL VILLAGE ON THE EDGE OF THE FOREST. All of its people were hunters. They would go into the forest and the nearby mountains to find their food. Sometimes they would travel very far, and they would stay away from their village for several days. Sometimes, if they went far enough, they would come to a deep valley which had a beautiful waterfall. When they were thirsty they would drink from the clear, cold water, and they would rest near the waterfall. It was quiet and peaceful there, and the hunters liked to go to the valley.

One day, one of the hunters, named Tour To, was in the forest alone. He saw a very beautiful deer. He followed the deer for several hours. The deer ran toward the mountains,   and then down into the valley. Finally, Tour To was close enough to the deer to shoot it. When he shot it, he thought, “Now the deer will die and I can take, it back to my village. Everyone will be proud of me.” But the deer did not die.

It ran to the waterfall, and died there. Tour To looked for his deer. He thought, “It must have died by this time, when I find it, I will take it back to my village.” At last he found it dead by the waterfalls. He started to carry it out of the valley. After he had taken three or four steps, he fell down for it was a very big and heavy deer.

“I cannot carry this deer,” he thought, “it is too heavy. I will have to have some help.” Tour To wondered how he could find someone to help him. He did not think that anyone would be in the valley. Very few people ever went there. So Tour To sat down on a big rock to think what he should do. He heard something, it sounded like someone singing. Tour To was very surprised. “The song is very beautiful,” he thought, and he ran to the place where the singing was coming from.

There was a pool in the stream. In the pool a beautiful girl was swimming, and as she swam she sang her song. When Tour To saw her, he fell in love. And he said, “Beautiful maiden, I have just met you, but I love you and I want to marry you. If you will help me carry a deer I have shot, I will take you to my village and marry you.”

The young woman looked at Tour To. She saw he was very handsome and strong. She said, “If you want to marry me, and if you want me to help you, you must first jump into this pool and swim with me.”

Tour To forgot he could not swim. All he thought of was this beautiful woman. So he jumped into the water. The water was very cold and very deep, and he drowned immediately. As soon as Tour To had died, the beautiful girl turned into the deer Tour To had just shot and it ran into the forest again.

When the people in his village heard about Tour To’s death, they were very sad. So they named the valley and the waterfalls after the unlucky Tour To.

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Now that you have read both stories, can you guess which story men like to tell, and which story women like to tell? Which story do you believe?