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How Boh Han Me Got His Title






Source: Han Folk Lore Stories

Boh Han Me was one of the greatest generals who ever lived in the hill
and water country. Just what his original name was nobody knows now, but
this story tells how he gained his title.

One day he went into the jungle with his wife and his two children to
gather nau, which is a kind of puc made from the young bamboo
shoots. They were very successful in getting it, and were just on the
point of going home with their loads, when right before them appeared a
large black bear. The bear opened wide his mouth and roared, showing his
immense white teeth and great throat, and came ambling toward them
growling all the while in the fiercest kind of way.

Now as soon as the man saw the bear he just threw away all the nau
that he had in his hands and ran for his life, calling on his wife to do
the same. The two children followed their father and left their mother
to get out of her trouble as best she could. She, however, was as brave
as her husband was cowardly, and instead of running away, she took a
handful of the longest of the shoots and thrust them down the open
throat of the bear and killed him. She then took the short sword that
they had brought from home to cut the shoots, and with it she skinned
the bear, cut him up, and made the skin into a sack in which to carry
the meat.

Meanwhile her cowardly husband did not stop running till he reached the
city in which he lived, and then he told all his neighbors how he had
been in the jungle and a great bear had attacked them; how he had fought
bravely for a long while, but at last it had killed his wife and eaten
her. The neighbors were very sorry for him, but advised him to get home
and fasten all the doors and windows before the spirit of his wife would
have time to get in, for they said, seeing that she was killed when he
was with her, her ghost would without doubt try and gain admittance to
the house and haunt it. Once in, it would be very difficult to get her
out.

The man, more frightened than ever, ran home as fast as he could and
called his children to bring all the rice that was already cooked into
the house, and then they fastened up the two doors and the one window
with bamboos and rattan. There was to be a feast in the city that night,
and the two children wanted to go and see the fun, but their father was
in such a fright that he would not give them permission to go, or even
to look out through the holes in the sides of the house where the bamboo
matting had come unfastened and bulged away from the posts.

By this time the sun had set and it was just getting dark, and the man,
tired with the hunt in the jungle and the excitement after, was just
going to sleep when he heard a voice that he recognized as his wife's
calling to be let in.

"Husband, oie!" it called, "open the door and let me in. I am very
tired and hungry, and want rice and sleep. Get up quickly. Why have you
fastened up the window and doors with bamboos and rattan? There are no
bad men around; any one would think you were afraid thieves were coming
to-night."

The man was frightened almost to death when he heard his wife's voice,
for he felt sure it was her ghost coming to haunt him, so he called out:

"Ghost of my wife, oie! I will not let you in. If I did I would never
be able to get you out again. You want to haunt this house. I will not
let you in. Go away, go away!"

In vain the woman told him that she was indeed his wife, that she was
not a ghost at all, but had killed the bear and had his skin on her back
with the meat in it, and begged to be let in; the man would not believe
her and so she had to wait outside. All night long she called and begged
her husband to let her in, but in vain. When the sun had risen, however,
he felt a little braver, and so he put his head out through the thatch,
and saw that it really was his wife and not her ghost. With great joy he
ran down, opened the door, and let her in, but when his wife told him
how she had killed the bear, he again became frightened.

"We have arrived at great trouble," said he. "When the people hear that
you have killed a bear, they will most surely kill you. What shall we do
to escape and be freed from the impending punishment?"

But his wife was a clever woman, and when the neighbors came in to ask
how it was that she had not been killed, she told a wonderful story, how
through the bravery of her husband she had been saved; that he had seen
the bear, and by his bravery, that was so great it was good to marvel
at, it had been driven off. The neighbors were very pleased that so
brave a man lived in their quarter, and he became famous, people calling
him Gon Han Me, or "the man who saw the bear."

Gon Han Me was very proud of his title, as many other vain people have
been proud of titles they never earned, but it came near costing him his
life, and this was the way it led him into great danger. One day a large
cobra fell into the well that was in the yard before the chief door of
the king's palace, and everybody was afraid to draw water because of it.
When the amats told the king that a cobra was in the well, he gave
orders that it was to be taken out, but nobody was brave enough to go
down the well and kill the snake. The chief amat was in great
distress. He feared the king would deprive him of his office if the
snake were not killed immediately. He was not brave enough to descend
himself, and money, promises, and threats were of no avail to induce any
one else to go. Everybody declined to take the risk, and said: "Of what
use is money, or horses, or buffaloes, to a man bitten by a cobra? Will
that free him from death? Nay, go yourself."

The poor amat was at his wits' end, when at last one of the attendants
told the king that in the quarter of the city where his sister lived,
was a man so brave that he was called Gon Han Me, and said he: "If a man
is brave enough to see a bear in the jungle and not be afraid, surely
he will dare go down the well and kill the cobra."

The king was much pleased with the attendant for showing a way out of
the difficulty. "He surely is the man we want," said he; "go and call
him immediately to come and destroy the snake."

The attendant of the king came to Gon Han Me and said: "Brother, oie!
the king has heard that you are a very brave man, so brave, in fact,
that your neighbors all talk of you and you have arrived at the rank of
being called 'Gon Han Me.' Now in the royal well there is a snake, a
cobra, which as you know is called the worst snake that lives. It is a
very wicked snake and everybody has arrived at great trouble because of
it. Nobody dares draw water there, and the king has given orders that it
is to be killed. However, no one at the palace is brave enough to
descend the well and kill the snake, but when his majesty heard of your
great bravery, he sent me to order you to come immediately, descend the
well, and kill the cobra. He will give you great rewards, and besides
will make you a boh (officer) in the royal army."

When Gon Han Me heard this he was in great distress and called his wife.
"Wife, oie!" he said; "this unlucky name will certainly be the cause
of my death. It will truly kill me. The king has called me to descend
the royal well and kill a wicked snake that is frightening everybody in
the palace. I am not brave enough to go. If I do not go, the king will
have me executed. I shall be killed whichever I do. If I go the snake
will kill me, if I do not go the king will kill me. I shall arrive at
destruction, and all because of this miserable name."

The wife pondered awhile and then advised her husband to get dressed in
his best clothes and go to the palace, look down the well to see what it
was like, then make some excuse to come back home and she would tell him
what next to do.

The man was soon dressed in his best clothes, and was already going down
the steps of the house when his wife called out that he had left his
hsan behind him. Now when the Shans go into the jungle, or on a
journey, they carry with them a rice-bag, or hsan. This is a long
narrow bag, more like a footless hose than anything else, and when
filled with rice it is worn around the waist, where it looks like a big
snake coiled around. Now Gon Han Me was very proud of his rice-bag, for
instead of being made of plain white cloth, as is the custom, it was
embroidered all over with different colored wools, and was so long that
it went around his waist several times.

He was so excited and terrified that when he reached the well he did not
notice that one end had been unfastened and was dragging on the ground,
and as he went to the well to look over, it caught around his legs,
overbalanced him, and he went head first into the well with a tremendous
splash. The next instant the snake lifting its head darted at him, and
all that the men above, who were waiting with breathless interest to
discover how the battle would end, could hear, was an infinite amount
of splashing, yells, and hissing. Gon Han Me never knew how it was, but
in the fall his hsan became twisted around the neck of the snake, and
in a few minutes it was choked to death.

The man for a while could hardly believe that the snake was really dead.
It seemed too good to be true, but he came to the conclusion that his
kam[2] was good, and he would yet be a great and famous man. He
therefore assumed a heroic air, and at the top of his voice called to
the men at the mouth of the well:

"Brethren, oie! I have killed the snake and thus freed you from the
great danger from which you were suffering. I will now throw up the end
of this long rice-bag. Do you catch it and pull me and the dead snake up
to dry ground." He thereupon threw up the end of the embroidered hsan,
the men caught it, and the next minute he appeared with the dead snake
in his hand.

The king was very pleased with Gon Han Me for his brave act. He gave him
great rewards as he had promised, and also gave order that in future he
should be known by the name of "Boh Han Me," or "the officer who saw the
bear."

Some time after this there was war between the king and the ruler of the
next province. There was a great council called and it was unanimously
agreed that as Boh Han Me was the bravest man in the country, he should
be appointed as commander-in-chief.

When the message came to his house, however, it caused him great
distress, for as he told his wife, he did not want to be killed in the
least; he did not wish to run the risk of being killed or even hurt.
Besides he had never been on horseback in his life. He had a buffalo
that ploughed his fields, and it is true that occasionally, tired with
the day's work, he had ridden home on its back when the sun sank into
the west, but he was sure that if he got on the back of a horse it would
immediately divine that he was ignorant of the art of riding, did not
mau as he said, and he would be thrown to the ground and hurt, killed
maybe. Who could tell?

Again his clever wife came to the rescue. "You must go to the fight
whether you want to or not," said she. "The king has given orders and he
must be obeyed. To disobey the king is more dangerous than seeing a bear
or even fighting a snake, so go you must. As to riding, that is easily
managed. Bring your pony here and I will show you how to ride without
danger."

On the never-to-be-forgotten day when the whole family went into the
jungle to gather nau, they were very poor, but since the fight with
the snake in the well, they had become rich, and so now the boh had
servants to do his bidding, and he therefore called one of them to
saddle his pony and bring it to the door of his house. This was soon
done. He took his seat, and then his wife took long pieces of rawhide
and fastened his legs, from ankle to knee, on both sides to the stirrups
and girths. She knotted them securely so that there would be no chance
of his falling off his steed. He was very pleased that he had such a
clever wife, who could help him out of every trouble into which he might
fall, and rode away well pleased with himself, and soon reached the
place where the soldiers were assembled awaiting his appearance before
beginning the march.

To have seen him nobody would have thought that he was frightened sick.
He sat up bravely, and you would have thought that he was the best
horseman in all the hill and water country, but all the time he was
turning over in his mind the advice given by his wife when they talked
it over the night before. This was what she said to him: "Now, when you
get to the soldiers, see them start off. Give all the orders in a very
loud, pompous tone. Talk high, and they will think you mau very much
(are very clever). Then you can easily find some excuse to get to the
rear, and you must stay there till the fighting is all finished."

There was one party to this arrangement, however, that they had both
failed to take into account when making their plans, and that was the
pony. They neither remembered that there was a possibility of the pony
taking it into his head to carry his master where the latter did not
want to go, but that was just what happened, for, when the pony saw all
the other horses and the men marching off, he too commenced to move
forward. He was a fine big pony and was accustomed to head processions,
not to come at the tail end, and so he started off of his own accord.
Now we have said that his rider had never been on horseback before, but
had often ridden his buffalo from the paddy field when the day's work
of ploughing was over. When a man on a buffalo wishes to stop, he jerks
the rope that is fastened to the animal's nose, and obedient to the
signal, it stops. So, when the boh found his steed forging ahead a
little faster than suited him, he jerked the reins, expecting the pony
to stop, but to his consternation, he found it go all the faster. He
jerked harder, the pony broke into a quick trot. He jerked again, the
pony began to gallop. He was now thoroughly frightened and called out at
the top of his voice, but this only frightened the pony more and it
began to gallop just as fast as ever it could, and worse than all, it
headed straight for the enemies' soldiers, whom he could see in the
distance getting ready to receive him. He cursed his wife with all his
heart. If he could only fall off! She had taken too good precautions
against that. He pulled and tugged, but the rawhide was strong; the
knots were too tight; and every minute brought him nearer to his
enemies. He could hear the shouts of his friends in the distance getting
fainter and fainter as the distance increased, calling him to come back.
How he wished he could! He swayed from side to side, first on one flank
then on the other. The pony now had its head down between its knees, the
bit between its teeth, and was tearing along like the wind. It would be
hard to say which was the more frightened, the horse or its rider; each
frightened the other. But there was a lower depth yet to be reached. In
jumping over a hole the saddle slipped to the side, the next instant
away it went, turned, and saddle, rider, and all slipped clear around,
and Boh Han Me found himself still securely lashed to the saddle,
squarely under his horse instead of on it.

Meanwhile in the camp of the enemy a council of war was being held. "Can
any one tell me," asked the king, "who commands our foes?"

"Our lord," said one of the amats, "it is a man who has been picked
out of the whole army, and is the bravest man who ever drew a sword. He
is called Boh Han Me because he conquered a great fierce bear in the
jungle. He also went down a well in the royal palace and killed the
largest and fiercest snake ever seen in all the hill and water country."

The king was much disquieted when he heard of the prowess of this man,
and was pondering whether it would not be better to fight with silver
than steel, and offer a great reward to any man in the enemies' camp who
would bring to him the head of this doughty soldier, when he heard a
great shout. He sprang to the tent door and looked anxiously out. All
eyes were bent in one direction and a look of intense wonder, not
unmixed with fear, sat on each face. The king naturally expected to see
the whole army of the enemy approaching in overwhelming numbers, but he
shared the wonder of his soldiers when he saw, not an army, but one
single man dashing toward him. The next instant the rider disappeared
entirely, but the horse came on faster than before. Next instant there
was the rider again, arms tossing in the air, hair streaming behind,
only to disappear the following moment in the same mysterious way.

The face of the king blanched with terror as he asked in a whisper, "Who
is this man?"

A hundred voices cried: "It is Boh Han Me, the bravest man alive! He has
some charm that makes him invisible whenever he wishes, and he cannot be
hurt by sword or arrow."

Nothing spreads so quickly as a panic, and almost before the king was
aware of it, he was carried away in the fierce rush to escape. His men
were blind with fear; they threw away their arms; men and officers fled
for their lives, their only thought to flee from that horse and its
terrible rider who disappeared and reappeared in such an awful fashion,
and in a few minutes the field was deserted and the whole army in full
retreat.

The horse by this time was exhausted. It stumbled, but regained its feet
only to fall again immediately. It made another effort to struggle to
its feet, but this time unsuccessfully, and then lay still on its side,
its flanks heaving and its breath coming and going in quick sobs. Very
cautiously Boh Han Me drew a knife and slowly cut one knot. The horse
did not stir. Another followed, and soon one leg was freed. This made
the task easier, and soon both legs were cut from their bonds and he
sprang to his feet, bruised and sore, it is true, but no bones broken,
and only too glad to be on solid earth again, and he vowed he would
never from that day forth ever get on anything that moved faster than a
buffalo.

What the king said when he reached the place where the foes had encamped
may be imagined. He declared that a man as brave as his general had
never lived in any age or country. For one man to charge a whole army,
and, what was more, drive it off too, was a thing good to marvel at, and
Boh Han Me did the wisest thing he ever did in his life, he just held
his peace. When they had gathered together the spoil they returned home
with the hero by the side of the king. The latter gave him a grand
palace with gold, silver, oxen, buffaloes, elephants, and slaves in
abundance, and also the rank of Boh Hoh Soek, which is the highest rank
of general in the army, and means, "head of all the troops." The happy
man lived many, many years, but he kept his promise, and whenever he
wished to travel he rode upon an elephant and never again as long as he
lived got upon the back of a horse.

[2] Kam, luck, or fate.





Next: The Two Chinamen

Previous: A Laung Khit



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