The Sparrow's Wonderful Brood

: Han Folk Lore Stories

Many, many years ago, at the beginning of the world, a little sparrow

built her nest on the top of a tall tree that grew near the edge of a

lake. In it she laid five little eggs, and never was mother bird prouder

than she, and all day long she flew from tree to tree chirping out her

joy. So proud in fact was she, and so much noise did she make, that a

monkey that lived on the other side of the lake was struck with the

emembrance of how he had once dined with great satisfaction on eggs

laid by the sparrow's sister, and in a few minutes he was on his way to

repeat the performance.

In vain the little bird cried and begged him to spare her brood,

promising to show him where the sweetest plantains in all the country

were growing; the monkey only laughed at her and climbed the tree to get

the prize.

The next moment the robber would have gotten his spoil, and this

wonderful story would never have been told, but just then the great lord

Sa Kyah looked earthward and saw the tragedy that was taking place.

Like a drop of rain that falls from a tree when the wind blows after a

shower, the mighty lord descended, and when the would-be robber reached

the nest his hand entered an empty one.

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The eggs were soon brought back from the hpea country where the lord

Sa Kyah had taken them for safety, and in due time were hatched. Out of

the first protruded a sharp bill, and a kingfisher, bright of plumage

and swift of wing, broke out of its speckled prison. The next egg broke

and a buffalo came out, to be followed by a lordly striped tiger from

the next. A terrible hpea-loo, with head and claws like a bird and

body like a man, tore his way out of the next one, already looking

around for a man whom he might devour for his first meal.

Only one egg remained, and that the smallest of all, but out of it came

a man, and the mighty lord Sa Kyah smiled when he saw him, and said that

although he was the smallest and the last, yet he must feed his brothers

and take care of them.

One hot day in summer the buffalo that had come out of one of the eggs,

walking through the jungle, much troubled by mosquitoes, thought how

nice would be a wallow in a hole well known to him under the shade of

the trees by the bank of the lake, where the sun had not dried the mud

to the hardness of bricks as it had in every other wallow, and

accordingly turned his huge body in its direction, and slowly set off

toward it.

On his way there he saw on the ground what appeared to him to be a bed

of flowers growing on the bank of the lake, and after smelling it

carefully over, leisurely ate it all up.

The sun was hot, the earth dry, and the flowers had long ago died, and

what the buffalo thought were flowers were really ten white jackets and

ten red skirts. But when he had finished his meal he continued his

journey to the wallow, and then with a grunt expressive of great

satisfaction, sinking into the soft mud till only the tips of his horns

and the top of his head were visible, he closed his eyes and enjoyed


By and by there was a great commotion in the water--shouts, laughter,

and jokes, together with a great splashing. The lazy buffalo opened one

eye and saw ten young girls who were having great fun in the cool water,

throwing it over one another and chasing each other here and there. When

they came to the place where they had left their clothes, however, their

mirth received a sudden check. They had all disappeared! They stood up

to their armpits in the water looking at each other with very long faces

till, spying the buffalo in his mud bath, they approached him, and in

the most courteous language asked him whether he had seen their dresses.

The great beast closed the eye he had opened, and slowly uncovered the

other one, but beyond this took no notice of the maids forlorn. Then,

calling him "Kind Brother Buffalo," they begged him to answer them,

saying that all the people who left the village to go to the bazaar

before the sun had risen would soon be passing on their way home. The

buffalo blew a big cloud of mud and water from his nostrils, but said

never a word.

Now it happened that the youngest of the sparrow's brood, the man, was

in the jungle all the time. He had seen his brother eat up all the

clothes and had heard all the conversation. He had noticed too, that

although all the maidens were beautiful, the youngest was the most

beautiful girl he had ever seen. He saw how straight was her form, how

black was her hair, and that her eyes were the color of the sky when

there are many stars but no moon, and he determined to get her for his

wife. He therefore now approached the party and told them that he could

help them, and that no one besides could tell them where their clothes

were, but that they must promise that the one whom he should pick out

should be his wife.

To this they agreed, and thus it happened that he became possessed of

the most beautiful woman in all the Shan country. So beautiful in fact

was she, that it is said the birds stopped in the middle of a song when

they saw her. The squirrels stopped half-way up the tree in their search

for nuts as she walked under the trees, and her fame spread far and


At this time a hunter came wandering through the jungle in search of

game, and saw her standing at her door. He, like everybody else, was

struck with her wonderful beauty, and he thought to himself, "For a long

time I have been most unfortunate. I have caught but few animals, and

their furs have been poor and mangy. Now, if I tell the king of my

country about this beautiful girl, he will give me a great reward."

Thus reasoning he set out home and told the king what he had seen,

enlarging upon her great beauty till the king resolved to get her at any


He therefore set out, taking with him soldiers and attendants as became

such a mighty lord, and when he saw the object of his journey he

acknowledged that the hunter had not deceived him, and he determined to

take her back with him to the palace; but at the same time he made up

his mind to go about it in a cunning way.

Now this king had a wonderful fighting cock of which he was very proud,

and which had never been beaten. It had a beak of iron and spurs as

sharp as the knives that come from Lai Hka, and a voice so loud and

piercing that every morning when he crowed every other rooster in the

city scurried away in fright at the challenge.

The king, therefore, said that he and the woman's husband should have a

cock fight. He would wager his country against the other's wife. In

great sorrow the man went out into the jungle to think over his

misfortune, and while sitting on the ground in a most disconsolate

manner he heard a little bird calling his name, and looking up he saw

his brother, the kingfisher, perched above him.

"O brother, do not fear," said the bright little bird. "I do not forget

that you are my brother and have guarded me long, and now I will surely

help you in your trouble."

When the time came for the fight, therefore, and the king's fighting

cock stood proudly up, suddenly down from a tree flew the kingfisher,

pecked him with his long, sharp bill, and then flew away before he could

so much as turn his head. Time and again this happened till the king's

challenger finally stretched himself dead on the ground.

The fight ending in this way, however, did not suit the selfish king a

bit, and he therefore said it was not a fair fight, and brought out a

large, fierce dog. This dog was the terror of the State, but the king

said that it should fight any other dog that could be brought against it

for the same stakes as before. The tiger brother, however, was on the

watch, and before the dog could get near his opponent, a blow from his

paw ended his career.

Still the king persisted in his unjust course, and now declared that the

wager should be finally settled by a fight between two buffaloes. Now

the buffalo brother was ashamed of the way in which he had treated the

girls in the water, and had long wished for an opportunity to retrieve

his honor, so that he now fought with such bravery against the royal

buffalo that he speedily conquered it.

Then the king, seeing that he was beaten every time, threw off all

disguise and said plainly that he had come to get the girl for his wife,

had brought soldiers to help him if necessary, and he would take her in

spite of losing the different battles, and in spite of her husband or

anybody else.

He stepped forward to take her, but he did not know that one more

brother yet remained to be heard from, for out of the jungle with a

dreadful yell came rushing the hpea-loo, his beak open, his claws

outstretched, and king, soldiers, and courtiers all disappeared down

his ravenous maw.

The next month the fortunate man with his beautiful wife became king in

the place of his enemy, and lived to be the oldest monarch in the whole

of the Shan country.