not the longest night on Earth, it is definitely going to be very long. To celebrate the turning of darkness and light, I decided to post one of my ever favorite folktales here. I have always been fascinated with stories that talk about bringing light to the world, and ending eternal darkness. This time of the year (especially in Ohio, heh) I definitely feel something of the mood that gave birth to these tales a long time ago.
I have another reason for posting it too: I have been looking for sources or information on this tale for years, and I came up with nothing. I found it in a folktale collection in a library a long time ago and I copied it, but I don't even know what the book was called. So, this is also an open call: If anyone can help be trace this tale, or anything related to it, I would be eternally grateful. It fascinates me, and I would like to learn more.
Happy Solstice, everyone!
Journey to the Sun
(A story from the Zhuang people in China)
A long, long time ago, the Zhuang people lived in eternal darkness. They knew that the sun existed, and it made things warm and bright, and it helped things grow; but they could not see it, and they could not share the warmth. Their land was overrun by beasts - tigers, panthers, wolves - and in the dark, they could not fight them. They decided to send someone to the sun to ask for its help.
People gathered to decide who should go on the journey.
A sixty-year-old man spoke up: "I will go. I am too old to work on the land, but I can still walk just fine. No one will miss my help here. I'll go."
A middle-aged man stepped forward: "I will go! I am strong and sturdy. I can walk 160 li [app. 80km in modern measurements] in a day. I will reach the sun in no time at all."
More people came forward, men and women, all clamoring to go. Even a ten-year-old boy spoke up: "You are forgetting how far the sun must be from us. I don't think it can be reached in forty, or even fifty years. It will take at least ninety years to get there. I am young, I have time. I will go."
People all looked at each other, and they nodded.
"The boy is clever! What he says makes sense. Let him go! He might succeed."
Just then, a twenty-year-old pregnant woman named Maleh stepped forward. She waved her hands above her head for silence.
"Be quiet, all of you!"
Everyone fell silent and stared at her.
"The boy is right. The sun is far away. We might not be able to reach it, even in ninety years. You should let me go. I am young and strong, and I am not afraid of beasts, not daunted by mountains. In addition, I am with child. If I can't reach the sun before I die, my child will surely carry on."
Everyone agreed that this was a good idea. The people cheered, and Maleh prepared for the journey. She promised that when she reached the sun, she would light a great fire, to signal her success.
Males set out towards the east. After eight months, she gave birth to a baby. She traveled on for a long, very long time; she walked the road for seventy years with her child. When she was finally too old and frail to go any further, she stopped at a peasant's home, and the child went on without her.
During the seventy years mother and child scaled tens of thousands of mountains, crossed tens of thousands of rivers, fought tens of thousands of wild beasts. They suffered and endured all kinds of hardships. They grew strong.
On the road they often met people that were anxious to help them when they found out that they were going to the sun. They gave them food, clothes and shelter, they ferried them across rivers, helped them over mountains.
The people left behind in Maleh's home looked eagerly every day towards the east, waiting for the light of the fire. Years passed, one after another. There was no light, there was no warmth. People started to believe that Maleh had died on the road. They started to believe her child was lost, and there was no hope left.
And then, after ninety-nine years of waiting, on the morning of the last day of the year, a red light appeared on the eastern horizon. And right after that first spark the sun rose, flooding the land with light and warmth. The creatures of the night fled from the brightness.
Ever since that day, to honor the memory of Maleh and her son, the Zhuang wake with the rising sun, and work until it sets in the west.