Monday, May 9, 2022

Brave girls and great loves (Folktales of Chinese minorities 21. - Kam/Dong)

As a sequel to the Following folktales around the world reading challenge, I decided to start reading minority and indigenous folktales. First up are the minority peoples who live in China. You can find previous posts here, and you can follow the challenge on Facebook here.

I gathered the stories of the Kam people (officially called Dong in China) from various books - herehere, here and here. I managed to find a total of eight folktales. The Kam are an ethnic minority numbering close to three million people in Southern China and in Vietnam. They are known for their beautiful folk songs and embroidery. You can read more about their culture here.


The tale of the Long Haired Girl was a lovely story about a girl who discovered a hidden spring and saved her people from drought. A monster wanted to punish her for disclosing the secret of the spring, but an old man helped create a statue that looked just like her, and the monster punished the statue instead. (This story appears in another collection as well.)

The story of the two brothers reached a sad end. The elder brother gave all the fish he caught to his little brother, and only kept the heads for himself. A mean neighbor told the younger boy that the heads were the best part, and he got so upset that he pushed his brother into the river. Once he found out the truth, he turned into an egret, and he has been calling his brother ever since. Another sad story was that of Ding Lang and the Dragon Princess; the girl brought him good fortune and prosperity, but he chased her away for not giving birth to children - and she took the luck with her.

The story of Suo Lao is one of the famous Kam love songs. A girl was not allowed to marry the man she loved, and she died of heartbreak. Another girl, Shu Mei, managed to find a happier ending: while a jealous man tried to separate her from her beloved (with whom she stayed in contact from a distance with the help of a magic scarf), in the end they found their way back together, and the troublemaker turned into a crow.


The Kam tradition also had a myth about saving the sun, and an especially beautiful one too! A demon hid the sun underground, and two siblings, brother and sister, set out to rescue it. The girl found it and tied a rope around it, and the boy pulled it back to the sky. The girl, sadly, was killed by the demon - from her blood came sunflowers.

The story of the stonecutter was familiar: a man wanted to turn into something stronger, and each time a fairy fulfilled his wish. He became a rich merchant, then an official, then a Kam warrior (and thus stronger than the Han Chinese), then sun, cloud, wind, and stone, until he returned to his old self. The story of the older brother who neglected his siblings was also familiar - his wife pretended that he'd killed a man, and only the siblings showed up to help bury the body. Go figure.

Who is next?

The Hezhe/Nanai people!

1 comment:

  1. Mostly sad stories. I hope the man who wasn't actually dead, took the lesson to heart and started being nice to his siblings.