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Taiwanese Aboriginal/Austronesian legends/mythology

Moderator: hansioux

Taiwanese Aboriginal/Austronesian legends/mythology

Postby hansioux » 30 Mar 2015, 13:45

I'm starting this thread so that those who are interested in Aboriginal legends/mythology, and comparative folkloristics with other regional (Southeast Asia, China, Ryukyu, Japanese) and ethnic (Austronesian) legends.

I have previously wrote one about the mythical home island of Hawaki and Sanasai

Here it can be about any Austronesian/Taiwanese Aboriginal legends/mythology.

I'm gonna start with one about everybody's favorite betel nut.

First, let's clarify that the actual nut that grows on palm like trees is actually called an areca nut. Betel refers to the leaf that are used to wrap around an areca nut before chewing. It is common practise to wrap lime stone ash together with the areca nut with the betel leaf before chewing.

The Amis has this story about Betel nut:

There were two brothers, and they hunt for a living. One day, the brothers heard cries for help from afar. When they rushed to offer assistance, they saw a woman who lost her heart and eyes to an attacking hawk. One of the brothers shot the hawk with an arrow and the hawk fled.

Both brothers wanted save the girl's life. As they argued who should give up their heart to save the girl's life, a spirit bird came and told the brothers they should track down the hawk and return the girl's actual heart and eyes.

The brothers pursued the hawk night and day with the help from the spirit bird. On the third day, they brought back the girl's heart and eyes. After they saved the girl's life, they brought the girl home, and treated her as their own sister.

After a while, both brothers fell in love with the girl, and the girl loved them also. She couldn't decide which one to marry and the heartache made her ill.

As the brothers took turns to take care of the girl at home. On one hunting trip, the younger brother returned home early and heard the older brother telling the girl that he wish the younger brother happiness, and wants her to marry the the younger brother.

The younger brother was touched and decided to give them happiness instead, so he committed suicide. The older brother heard the noise and was devastated by the sight, and committed suicide next to him. When the girl noticed neither brothers returned, she went looking for them and was heart broken when she sees their bodies. She too committed suicide next to them.

The next day, the body of the younger brother turned into a giant lime stone. The body of the older brother became the first betel nut tree. The body of the girl became the first betel vine which wrapped around both the stone and the tree.

When other tribesmen found out, they thought it symbolizes that the tree are still in love after death. It's also why when chewing betel nut, betel vine and lime stone ash together, it turns into a vivid rock, which symbolizes their love.

An extremely similar folklore exists in Vietnam:

There were two twin brothers of the Cao family. Their names were Tan for the eldest brother, and Lang for the youngest one. They got schooling with a Taoist named Chu Chu who lived with his eighteen-year old daughter. He then married her to Tân, and the young couple lived their conjugal life happily. But, Lang found out that his brother treated him less intimately since he got married. In fact, Lang left the house wandering around the country. He reached a larger river and couldn't cross it. Not even a small boat was in the vicinity to transport him to the other side of the river. He was so sad that he kept on weeping till death and was transformed into a lime-stone lying by the river side.

Troubled by the long absence of his brother, Tân went out to look for him. When he reached the riverside he sat on the lime-stone and died by exhaustion and weariness. He was transformed into an areca tree. The young woman in turn was upset by the long absence of her husband and got out for a search. She reached the same place where the areca tree had grown, leaned against the tree and died, transformed into a plant with large piquant leaves climbing on the areca tree. Hearing of this tragic love story, local inhabitants in the area set up a temple to their memory.

One day, King Hùng went by the site and gained knowledge of this story from local people. He ordered his men to take and ground together a leaf of betel, an areca nut and a piece of lime. A juice as red as human blood was squeezed out from the melange. He tasted the juice and found it delicious. Then he recommended the use of betel chewed along with areca nut and lime at every marital ceremony. From this time on, chewing betel became a custom for Vietnamese, and very often they began their conversation with a quid of betel.

King Hùng (雄王) is a title given to many many kings of the Hồng Bàng dynasty (2879–258 BC). Wikipedia entry about Hong Bang dynasty stated "other Southeast Asian sites include the presence of boat-shaped coffins and burial jars, stilt dwellings, and evidence of the customs of betel-nut-chewing and teeth-blackening." These are all Austronesian customs. Burial jars, stilt dwellings, betel nut chewing and teeth-blackening can be found in Taiwan.

Archeological findings points out that jade artifacts dating back 3000 years ago from Taiwan (Fengtian jade from Hualian) can be found through out the Philippines, Borneo, Vietnam and Southern Thailand. In Vietnam, the spread of the legend might be connected with the Sa Huỳnh culture.

The Vietnamese version has been influenced by other cultures, but it is essentially a variation of the same story. Betel nut seems to be connected to marital rituals in Thailand as well.

Betel nut is culturally significant to many Aboriginal tribes, especially to Paiwan, Amis. Puyuma, Tao, Bunun, and Rukai. It is a integral part of courtship and marriage rituals for most and important to religious rituals to the other.

Chewing betel nuts were thought to keep teeth clean. Aside from chewing betel nuts, other parts of the betel nut tree are also utilized by Aboriginal cultures as medicine, food, handycrafts and natural dye.

Betel nut trees are found surrounding a typical traditional Paiwan house. It is used as gifts, and an important ritualistic idem during weddings.

For the Amis (Pangcah), betel nut symbolizes mother. The juice from chewing betel nut symbolizes mother's milk. Betel nut also shares the same word as the female genitalia. It is taboo to cut a betel nut with a knife. Stealing other's betel nuts is considered the same as murder by the Amis. It is also taboo for a pregnent woman to chew deformed betel nut, otherwise they believe she would more likely to give birth to deformed baby or twins. Young women are forbidden to chop off the tail bit of betel nuts, because she may lose furtility.

Amis is a matrearcal society, and a woman initiates courtship by giving the man she likes betel nut. If the man received the gift, it means he accepts her courtship. In that sense, to the Amis, betel nuts also represents love, and they often praise the betel nut as a medifore for the pursuit of romance.

For the Puyuma, betel nut is used in worship rituals and in voodoo. Like the Amis, the Puyuma also thinks betel nut symbolizes a person. When practising voodoo, special jewels are placed inside a betel nut. It is thought that by damaging that betel nut, it can cause bodily harm to others.

To the Tao (Yami), the betel nut symbolizes women. The actual betel vine symbolizes men. The ash symbolizes love. If a young man dreamt about some girl planting the betel vine and the betel nut tree, it is said they are destined to be together. If a husband dreamt about the betel vine, it is said his wife would likely give birth to a boy, and a girl if the object in his dream is a betel nut tree.

語文與語文教育的展望 By 周慶華
The distribution and implication of Taiwan Nephrite artifacts in Southeast Asian Archaeology. - Hung, H.C. 2006
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