Story Of The Princess Nang Kam Ung
Source: Han Folk Lore Stories
There was once a king who reigned over one of the largest States in the
hill and water country. For a long time there had been war between him
and the sau hpa of the neighboring State, but at last his soldiers had
been successful, and his enemy had been driven out of his possessions,
which had thereupon been added to his own. A great feast had been given
when his soldiers returned to their homes, and he was now sitting with
his queens and his seven daughters in the palace watching a performance
given in honor of the victory. He praised the actors for their skill,
and then asked his daughters whether they had enjoyed the performance.
They one and all assured him that they had enjoyed it much, and then
turning to them he continued:
"That is right, my daughters, enjoy yourselves to-day and to-morrow and
all through your lives. You are the daughters of a mighty king, and it
is your lot to be happy and enjoy yourselves all your lives, therefore
again I say enjoy yourselves and be happy."
The eldest of the daughters, who was a perfect courtier said: "O our
lord, our luck is fortunate, because it depends on that of the lord our
father, and who is so fortunate as he?"
The king was very pleased with the flattery of his daughter, and
promised to grant any request she would make of him.
The youngest daughter, however, was young and foolish, and had not yet
learned the truth that in a king's presence it is not well always to say
what one thinks, and therefore she said to her sister: "Your luck may
depend on the luck of the lord our father, but mine is my own and
depends upon myself alone."
When the king heard this he was very angry that one of his daughters,
and she the youngest too, should have the presumption to say that she
depended for anything at all on any other than he, and he determined to
For a long time he pondered on the best way to do this and at last
devised a plan which, if severe, was at least novel.
He called his amats to go throughout the whole land and search for the
poorest man in all his kingdom, and when they had found him they were to
bring him to the palace and he would marry his youngest daughter to him,
and then, said he, "We will see about luck after that."
Day after day the heralds searched the land but they could not find a
man poor enough to suit the king. All who were brought before him
acknowledged that they had something valuable, either a little money, a
precious stone, or a distant relative who was rich and from whom they
could borrow a little if necessary. A man of this description would not
suit the angry king. He wanted one poorer than that.
At last the amat loeng, or chief minister, brought a man before him and
said that he was the poorest in all the land. His name was Ai Du Ka Ta.
He was a woodseller in the bazaar, who every day went into the jungle
and picked up the dead branches of the trees that had fallen to the
ground, and brought them to the market every fifth day to sell. So poor
was he that he did not even own the sword that is the almost inseparable
companion of the Shan and is used, among other things, to cut down the
small trees that are left to dry for firewood, so he had to be content
to pick up the small branches that he found under the trees, and got a
proportionately small price when he carried his load into the bazaar.
When he appeared before the king, his trousers were all fringed at the
bottom where they had been torn by the thorns in the jungle. His turban
months before had been white, but now it was a deep gray; it was only
half its original length and was full of holes. Jacket he had none, and
when the king asked him how many blankets he had upon his bed at home to
keep him warm at night when the cold wind brought the rain up the
valley, he answered sorrowfully, "Not one, our lord." He had no relative
except an old mother whom he was obliged to support, and who was known
throughout the district in which she lived as the woman with the
bitterest tongue in all the land, and when too sick to move from her
mat, she would yet fill the air with poisoned words.
The king was very pleased with his amat loeng for finding Ai Du Ka Ta,
and gave him a very fine horse as a reward. Then he called his daughter,
took away all her fine clothes and married her to this poorest man in
his realm and drove her out of the palace amid the jeers and taunts of
the very people who, before her disgrace, had waited upon her every word
and had done her bidding while they trembled before her. The king also
took away her old name and commanded that in future she was to be known
as Nang Kam Ung, which means, "The woman whose luck depends upon
The house, or rather hut, to which Ai Du Ka Ta took his bride was in the
jungle. It was only four bamboo poles stuck in the ground and covered
with dried grass and bushes. Not even a sleeping mat was on the
ground--there was no floor--and the chattie in which he cooked his rice
had a hole in it, and had to be set upon three stones sideways over the
fire with the hole uppermost, to prevent the water leaking and putting
out the fire.
Fortunately the girl's mother had helped her to smuggle out her
"birth-stone," which was a large, valuable ruby, and so she took it off
her finger and gave it to her husband, telling him to go and sell it and
buy clothes and food for both of them.
Ai looked at the stone and said, "Who will give me food and clothes for
a little red stone like that? We have no fools or mad men living near
here who would do such a foolish thing as that," for you must remember
he had lived in the jungle all his life, and had never heard of precious
stones, much less seen one till now.
His friends were just as ignorant of its value as he was. He went from
house to house in the little village near, but all laughed at him till
he became disgusted, threw the stone away in the jungle and came home in
a very ill humor with his wife for leading him such a wild-goose chase,
and making him appear foolish in the eyes of the few people he knew.
His wife was in great distress when she found that he had thrown the
ruby away, and told her husband that if he had gone to the city and
taken it to the jewelers, instead of to the ignorant people in the
jungle, they would have given him in return enough money to keep them in
food and clothing all the hot season and build a new house into the
Ai looked at her and said: "Indeed, that is a thing good to marvel at.
Why, I know where there are coolie-basket loads of such red stones in
the dry bed of a river near where I gather sticks for fire-wood in the
jungle, waiting for anybody to carry away, and I never thought them
worth the labor of taking to the bazaar."
The princess was full of joy when she heard this, and the next morning
they borrowed two coolie baskets from a man in the village. Bright and
early they went to the river bed, and there, even as Ai had said, were
basket loads of fine rubies. They gathered them up carefully and buried
most of them, covering over the hole with a flat stone, so that no one
would discover their hoard, and then the princess, picking out a double
handful of the largest and clearest ones, sent them to her father.
The king, when he saw the jewels, instead of being pleased, fell into a
great passion, called the unfortunate amat loeng into his presence, and
after rating him soundly, deprived him of all his goods, houses, and
lands, deposed him from office, and drove him from his presence as poor
as Ai himself had been.
"I ordered you to call a poor man," roared the king to the trembling man
before him. "I said he was to have no goods or property at all, and here
the very next day he sends me a double handful of the very best rubies I
ever saw in my life."
In vain the culprit assured the king that the day before Ai was
certainly the poorest man in the whole kingdom, and complained that the
jewels must have been the work of some hpea, whom he had unwittingly
offended, and who had therefore determined on his ruin in revenge. The
king would listen to no excuse, and the unhappy amat was glad to crawl
from his presence before resentment had carried him to the length of
ordering his execution.
The very next night a wonderful golden deer entered the royal garden
where the king was accustomed to sit when it became too warm in the
palace, and after doing an immense amount of mischief, eating favorite
flowers, and otherwise destroying and ruining the garden, it leaped over
the fence and disappeared in the early morning fog, just as the guards
were arousing themselves from sleep. It was in truth not a golden deer
as the guards had told the king, but a hpea that had assumed this
form; but the king not knowing this ordered his heralds to go through
the city immediately and call upon all the inhabitants to come early
next morning to help their lord catch it. Ai was summoned with the rest
of the people. He had no horse, but going to the city gate that day he
saw that a race between horses belonging to the king was about to be
run. Ai was a good horseman, and asked the head horse-feeder of the king
to let him ride one of the animals. He rode, and rode so well that he
won the race, and that official was so pleased with him that he promised
to grant him any request in his power. Ai asked for the privilege of
riding the same horse at the hunt next day, and the request was readily
granted, and thus it happened that, next morning when he went to the
place appointed, he rode a horse that was faster than any other there
except the one the king himself rode.
The people were divided into four parties; one toward the north, one
toward the south, one east, and one west. The king stationed himself
with the party at south, and the amats were at the north, and when the
deer was at last driven out of the jungle by the beaters it headed
toward the king and dashed by him at great speed.
The hpea that had taken the form of the deer wished to have some fun
at the king's expense, and therefore kept ahead just where the king
could see him all the while, sometimes but a cubit or two away from him,
and then when the country was open, darting far in advance. So swiftly
did they go that in a few minutes the men on foot were left behind, and
after a while all except those upon the very fastest horses were
distanced, till at last only the king and Ai were left, the latter but a
little behind the king. All day long the chase continued till, just as
the sun was setting and men and horses were both exhausted, the deer
made straight for a precipice that appeared to block the path on each
hand as far as the eye could reach. The king was congratulating himself
that the deer could not possibly escape now, when he saw right before
him an opening in the rock, and the next instant the hpea disappeared
in the cave and the king was obliged to give up the chase, for even if
his horse could have carried him any farther, which it could not, the
cave was so dark that nothing could be seen inside.
The king fell from his horse almost dead with fatigue, and managed to
crawl under a wide-spreading banyan tree that grew near. The only other
person there was Ai, and he, coming to the king, massaged his limbs till
the tired monarch fell asleep. After a while he awoke and Ai asked him
to eat some rice he had prepared, but the king said he was too tired to
eat anything; but at last he managed to eat a little sweet, glutinous
rice that the princess had cooked in a hollow piece of bamboo and given
to her husband before he set out that morning.
The king was very grateful and asked Ai his name; but the latter was
afraid to tell what his real name was, so, as his mother years before
had been in the habit of selling betel-nut in the bazaar, he told the
king that his name was Sau Boo, or betel-nut seller.
The king was very pleased with him and promised him great rewards when
they got back to the palace; but in a few minutes he had dropped asleep
again, and Ai sat alone keeping guard.
It was very fortunate that he too did not go to sleep, for as every one
knows, the banyan is a sacred tree, and this one was inhabited by a
hpea who was noted for being one of the cruelest and most dreaded
spirits in all the land. Ai roused the king and told him there was a
hpea in the tree and begged him not to sleep there for it would
assuredly kill them both before morning.
The king said, "Wake me not, trouble me not. From my head to my feet, I
am nothing but aches and pains. Were I to move I should die. I may as
well die at the hands of the hpea." So saying he fell asleep again,
and Ai did not dare to disturb him, but watched all night long.
During the night Ai heard the hpea grumbling to himself several times
and promising himself the pleasure of killing them on the morrow, so he
pretended to be asleep so that he could hear what the hpea said and if
possible thwart him.
"These mortals have presumed to sleep under my tree," he heard him say,
"but it shall be the last time they sleep anywhere. Let me see," he
continued, "how shall I kill them? Which will be the best way? Ah, I
know. Early to-morrow when they get ready to leave, I will break the
tree in two, and the top shall fall on them. If, however, they escape, I
will saw through the supports of the first bridge, so that it will
break when they are in the middle, and they will fall to the bottom of
the valley below. Then if that should fail, I will loosen the stones of
the arch of the city gate so that it will fall on them as they pass
underneath, and if that does not kill them, when the king arrives at his
palace and being thirsty with his long ride calls for water, I will
change the water in the goblet to sharp needles that will stick in his
throat and kill him. If he does not drink the water, however, he will
assuredly be very tired and will go to sleep immediately, and I will
send an immense rat into his room that will kill him without doubt."
Having finished making his plans, the hpea left the tree and started
the work of preparing the different traps for the mortals who had
enraged his hpeaship by daring to sleep under the tree, and thus profane
The king was frightened half to death when he awoke next morning, and
found that he had been sleeping all night under the tree of that special
hpea; but Ai, or Sau Boo as the king called him, told him not to be
frightened for he could save his life if the king would only follow his
advice and do as he told him.
The king promised to follow his words implicitly, and also promised him
unheard-of rewards if he only helped him to get to his palace in safety.
The first danger was the tree, and so Ai got their horses ready and
under the pretense of allowing them to eat grass before setting out on
their journey, he gradually worked them nearer and still nearer the
edge of the tree, and then, with one bound, they both galloped out from
under it. At the same instant there was a great crash and the whole top
of the tree fell to the ground. So near did it fall on them that the
king's turban was torn from his head by one of the upper branches, but
beyond this no harm was done.
Next, instead of riding over the bridge, they went along the bank a
little distance, and soon found a place where the huek was narrow and
leaped their horses to the other side. While they were jumping, Ai threw
a heavy stone he had brought with him on to the bridge, and the hpea,
who fortunately was near-sighted, thinking it was the tread of the
horses, broke it down, so that fell into the water fifty feet below, but
the king and his follower were safe on the other side.
The next danger was the city gate. They walked their ponies slowly as
though they were very tired, till they came to within a cubit of the
gate, and then galloped through at the top of their speed, and crash
went the gateway behind them. They were covered with dust but not hurt.
The king was very thankful to have arrived at his palace and being very
thirsty with the journey and excitement, as the cunning hpea had
expected, called for a drink of water, but ere he could place the cup to
his lips his faithful follower turned it upside down, and instead of
water, out fell a cupful of sharp needles, and again the king's life was
Worn out with his ride he told his servants to prepare his room as he
would sleep. Ai called the chief guard and told him to have a lamp
burning all night, to take his sharpest sword with him, and guard the
king carefully. In the middle of the night when the tired king was
sleeping soundly, into the room came creeping slowly, slowly, the
biggest rat ever seen. It had long, sharp teeth and wicked glaring eyes,
and made toward the king. But the guard, warned by Ai, was on the watch,
and just as the rat was about to spring at the king's throat, the
soldier with a sweep of his long, sharp sword cut off its head, and thus
the king through the cleverness of one man escaped the last danger and
could now live without fear.
The next morning the king called his heralds and bade them go into the
city and summon Sau Boo to come to the palace to be rewarded. They
searched and called, but searched and called in vain. No man ever heard
of a man by that name, and the king was fast getting angry when the
amats told him that they personally had gone to every house except
one, and that was the house of Ai. The king in surprise ordered them to
call his son-in-law. "He may be able to tell us something about him," he
observed. Ai accordingly obeyed his summons, but the king was more
surprised yet when Ai told him that Sau Boo and himself were one and the
same, and that it was he who had rescued the king from so many dangers.
At first his father-in-law became angry and refused to believe him, but
Ai gave an account of everything that had happened from the time when
the deer broke cover, till the rat was killed by the guard, and thus
convinced the king of his truthfulness.
The king then made a great feast, called all his ministers and generals
together, and made a proclamation that Ai in future should be his amat
loeng and should be king when he himself died.
Thus did the princess prove that her luck really depended upon herself,
and not on the king, and to-day we say, "May your luck be as good as the
luck of Nang Kam Ung."
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