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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Abuah’s Story

Abuah was our trekking guide for our three days of trekking in the Lijang mountains. He is from the Lisu people, an ethnic minority group in China. In Lisu culture, there is fire pit culture, telling stories around a fire. They do not have characters, so everything is passed down from generation to generation. This is a story told to him when he was young, by his grandfather:

I.

Before, there were monsters on Earth. They were terrifying creatures; practicing dark magic on animals and people, and shapeshifting into many forms. Their eyelids would open and close from the bottom.

The people on Earth and the monsters lived side by side, in an endless cycle of terror and violence. So, a being from heaven was dispatched to annihilate these evil creatures. He came down to Earth, immortal and winged, but soon became distracted from his mission. Instead, he taught the villagers how to plant corn and raise animals. And eventually, he left.

He went into a cave in the mountains to live, the only cave that existed there. Soon, he started to terrify the villagers. He would steal the livestock he taught them how to raise, and would eat them. Two years later, he stole a beautiful woman and forced her to become his wife. And three years after that, she had borne three sons. They had wings like their father, and lived in the cave with their mother.

One day, the eldest son wanted to carve a new cave for himself, but his magic hammer had broken. He decided to go to a blacksmith to fix it.

This blacksmith was a very poor man, and his wife had been stolen five years earlier by the immortal creature from heaven. He had one daughter with his wife.

When the winged creature’s eldest son came to the blacksmith to repair his hammer, the blacksmith thought, this is my opportunity for revenge, for my wife, and for terrifying and stealing from the villagers for years. He knew, I need a lot of firewood, a lot of metal, and a very big bowl. He told the creature, “Your hammer is magic, and very special. I can only fix this if I have a very big and hot fire. You must help me stoke the fire with your wing strength.” So the winged eldest son returned with his father, who had stronger wings than him.

The winged immortal creature began to stoke the fire with his wings, and did so for many hours. He became very tired, and begged the blacksmith to stop. The blacksmith told him, “If you stop, your son’s magic hammer will never be repaired. The metal is not liquid enough yet. You must continue.” The creature continued, and eventually became so tired he fell asleep, his body splayed on the floor, his arms laying over his open wings. The liquid metal was ready now, and the blacksmith threw it on the immortal creature’s wings, and they shrivelled, burned off from the heat. He took the magic hammer, and split him into seven pieces, then buried them in seven different places so they would never come together again.

II.

A week later, the three winged sons and their mother had been waiting for their father’s return, when their mother said to them that their father probably isn’t coming back — dead, perhaps. They had run out of water, and she instructed her eldest son to go out and get some. He flew around the land for a while, and eventually gathered some water from the Ginshaw River. On his way back, he stopped in a Nashi village to rest. The villagers had never seen a winged creature like him, and felt scared. They attacked him and killed him.

The wife was still waiting in the cave for her son’s return, when she saw her daughter that she had not seen in five years, standing on a cliff above. She called out to her daughter, she missed her so bitterly. She called out to her to jump down so she might embrace her, and made a bed on pine needles that her daughter could land on so she would not be harmed from jumping down. Her daughter said, “I cannot jump, if I jump, I will die.” But her mother cried bitterly, so her daughter said “I will drop my bracelet down, and if the bracelet doesn’t break, I will also go down.”

She dropped her bracelet, and upon hitting the ground, it broke into two. But her mother missed her so desperately, so terribly, so bitterly, that she held up the two bracelet pieces together to trick her daughter into thinking it had not broken.

The daughter jumped down, but before she hit the ground, she turned into a cloud, and floated away into the sky. She rose into the sunlight, her essence lighter than air.

The two other winged sons then also jumped, but from their cave. But they were too young, and their wings had not yet fully formed yet. So they also died. Since, then there have been no more winged flying people on Earth.

III.

In the Lisu villages, the clouds were many, and there were many beautiful women being born. It gave the mother who’s daughter had turned into a cloud comfort, because even though her daughter was gone, lots of new beautiful girls were being born. And soon a new person was dispatched from heaven to kill all the monsters. His name was Lowjun, and his image is still in the rocks and mountains around. That is why Lowjun Mountain has its name.

Everyone was happy, because all the flying people were gone, and Lowjun had killed the rest of the monsters. Now there is nothing that will harm the Lisu people, because they pray to Lowjun, this person from heaven who killed all the monsters.