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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Akha Grandfather’s Story

During our stay in the mountainous Akha tea village our group sat down on the upstairs balcony of the house we were staying in to listen to our host grandfather share a traditional Akha myth. We had to translate first from the grandfather’s Akha to Mandarin via our local contact, then I translated the story to the group in English. I wanted to share the full story before it fades with as many details of the translated English version as I can remember because of how amazing it was. I am sad that I can’t share the grandfathers passion with you.

So, I hope you enjoy the 4th translation! The story goes…

We begin with three brothers going to bury their live father. They are going to bury him because he eats a lot, is old, useless, and sickly.

As they traveled to where they planned to bury their father the youngest brother went ahead and scouted the path. While he was away he saw a nest of baby birds which all pleaded with him to feed them and save them as they were helpless.

The youngest brother ran back to tell the rest of his family about the baby birds.

After he told them about the baby birds the father told them about how much the baby birds reminded him of the brothers when they were young. The brothers thought on this and realized how much their father had given them and decided not to bury him alive and instead to care for him.

The three brothers took their father back to their farmland and let him live in a house next to the fields. They cared for him every day, feeding him and walking in the sun.

One day the brothers couldn’t find their father no matter how hard they looked for him and were afraid he was lost, until some birds told the brothers that the Dragon in a nearby fishpond had eaten their father.

The brothers were furious and immediately began preparing their revenge starting a large fire next to the fishpond where the Dragon lived.

The Dragon seeing what the brothers were doing sent fish with a message for the brothers.

“I already ate your dad. There’s nothing I can do to bring him back. What can I do to pay you back? Do you want money?”

The brothers, furious, refused his offer of money and took a red hot pair of tongs and drove them into the water through the fish pond into the Dragons tail, burning it until it fell off.

The Dragon came up out of the water upset and repeated its earlier message. It asked again what the brothers wanted in exchange for there fathers life. The brothers then stole the Dragons hundred magic knifes and began cutting down trees to build a river boat.

The brothers of course had no idea how to build a river boat and despite having lots of logs couldn’t figure out to make a boat. So when strangers came by the brothers were ashamed of their inability to build a boat and hid.

The strangers seeing their camp and attempts to build a boat realized what they were trying to do, and to help them they wrote boat building instructions in the brothers fires ashes.

The brothers needed three different strangers to stop by and write instructions in the same way before they eventually finished the boat.

After finishing the boat the three brothers went fishing in the river and caught a fish. The three brothers all disagreed on which way to cook the fish. One wanted the fish fried, one wanted to stew it, and one wanted it roasted. To solve the argument the middle brother decided to cut the fish in three pieces for each of them using one of the Dragon’s magic knives, but cut the boat in half by mistake.

The older brother floated upstream and the youngest brother floated downstream. They called out to each other and agreed that the older brother would send rice husks down stream if he found a good place to settle while the younger brother would send up a smoke signal if he found a good place to live.

The older brother found a huge forest upstream and married a monkey, the middle brother drowned, the younger brother floated downstream and found an empty city where a ghost had eaten everyone except for one women who was hiding in a pig trough.

The youngest brother explored the city and found the women in the pig trough because her ear was sticking out. The younger brother began debating if her ear was a mushroom or an ear. It was bleeding so he decided that it must be an ear.

The women hiding in the trough used knocks and whispers to tell the youngest brother that he must be quite or else the ghost will find him. The brother asked the women where and when the ghost comes and she she said that it appears whenever it’s pig feeding time or whenever they call the pigs at the edge of town on the main road.

The youngest brother set out and waited until the ghost appeared. He then stabs the ghost with one of the magic Dragon Knifes and cuts it in half.

Oh course it’s a ghost so it just reformed but it ran away back to it’s home.

It turns out that this ghost is a female with two twin child ghosts she has to breastfeed to keep alive in her home.

She goes back home and tells her ghost children about the powerful knife man she saw in the city, and that he might find a certain magic wood in the nearby forest and could use it to cut her into pieces and make her helpless. The ghost mother explains to her twins about how there are two ghost buttons hidden in the house and showed them where they are and how they work.

One of the buttons will heal a ghost fully while the other will kill a ghost if used on them.

The ghost women is afraid after she explains this though, because one of her twins is very smart and understands how the buttons work while the other is really stupid so she is afraid it will kill her and its twin by mistake.

So she took the dumb twin outside and hands it a bucket with a hole in the bottom and tells it to get water from the well to keep it busy.

While she explained all of this information about the ghost buttons, through the window a man has been listening at the window. It’s the youngest brother. After hearing all this he sneaks into the house steals both buttons and uses them to kill the ghost mother and her children. He then went back to the city and healed the ghost of the only person the mother ghost killed but did not eat.

The ghost is also a women, so he has two women after rescuing the women who locked herself in the pig trough. He then gathers all the wealth in the city into two large marriage chests where he put all the nice clothes and rich items at the bottom of one, covering the top layer in old clothes; while in the other, he fills the bottom all old and poor quality things and covers the top layer in expensive new clothes.

He then looked at the two women. One had dark skin and other was light skinned. So he painted the light skinned woman’s skin dark, and painted the dark skinned woman’s skin light. He then set off smoke signals to let his brother know he has found a good place to settle and live.

The older brother didn’t respond or show up however so the younger brother set off find his older brother, leaving the women and chests in the city.

After traveling for a while he found a trail leading into the forest and followed it. As he entered the forest he found a female monkey washing his brothers towel in a stream. He recognized his brothers towel and asked the monkey where his brother was. The monkey (of course), couldn’t speak so responded “KI KI KI KI”. The brother, annoyed, asked again and got the same response. So he killed the monkey and moved on.

The youngest brother eventually found his older brother with many monkey children sitting up in a large tree.

The younger brother asks his older brother why he didn’t come when the smoke signals were sent up? The older brother responded that he was happy with his monkey wife and children and wanted to stay here. He asks if the younger brother saw his wife? She was washing his towel in the stream by where the younger brother came in to the forest.

The younger brother explains what happened to the older brother.s wife. The older brother then explained monkey law and that all of the monkeys decedents must hunt down and kill their mothers murderer.

The younger brother then asks to see his nieces and nephews. He held his hands out to catch them but as they fell, he puled his hands back and let them all fall to their deaths.

After killing so many monkeys, the the younger brother realised (as everyone knows), that the Monkey King would hunt him down to talk about monkey logic and law. So, he went deep into the forest and found a large clearing. Here he started a huge fire which he put a large cauldron over and waited for the Monkey King.

When the Monkey King arrived he offered the Monkey King the cauldron for a seat. The Monkey King did not see the fire and sat down and burned himself (which is why monkey have big swollen red bottoms).

After the Monkey King ran off burned the younger brother and older brother set out back for the abandoned city. When they arrive they began preparing for the marriage ceremony.

The brothers chose their wives based on looking at the back of their hands. The younger brother let the older choose first so he picked the fairer skinned women and left the darker skinned women for his brother. When they went for the marriage bathing ceremony the paint washed off and the older brother felt tricked.

They then got to pick their marriage chests, and the younger brother once again let the older pick first. Feeling cheated the older picks the newer chest which of course contains the older gifts and things worth far less.

After being married the two brothers returned to live in the city.

After being cheated out of the good marriage present, the better wife, and having his monkey wife and monkey children murdered thus ruining his happiness, the older brother decided to murder the youngest brother.

The older brother found a very deep hole up in the mountains and when he and the younger brother went hunting for wild pigs he told his younger brother that the hole led to a pig den and that he needed to jump down to scare them out. So the younger brother jumped to his death and died by smashing on the rocks at the bottom of the hole.

The End.

The grandfather who told us this story said that the moral of the story is to not bury your parents alive. The story is called “burying the father.”