Religion, Mythology, and Astronomy among the
By the Reverend F. Mason, D. D.,
Missionary to the Karen people.
[Received 7th September, 1864.]
[Extracted from Journal of the Asiatic Society of
Bengal, vol. 34:2 (1865), pp. 173-88, 195-250.]
The Karens pray more, and make more offerings than the
Burmese; but their only object in these observances is to obtain benefits in the
present existence, principally health and prolonged life, so they cannot be
regarded as religious; while the Burmese make them to procure benefits in a
future state, and are therefore a religious people, though by no means so moral
as the Karens.
The Karens believe in the existence of one eternal God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and have traditions of God, and the creation that must have been derived from the Old Testament Scripture. The following affords a specimen:—
"Anciently, God commanded, but Satan appeared bringing destruction.
Formerly, God commanded, but Satan appeared deceiving unto death.
The woman E-u and the man Tha-nai pleased not the eye of the dragon,
The persons of E-u and Tha-nai pleased not the mind of the dragon,
The dragon looked on them,—the dragon beguiled the woman and Tha-nai.
How is this said to have happened?
The great dragon succeeded in deceiving—deceiving unto death.
How do they say it was done?
A yellow fruit took the great dragon, and gave to the children of God;
A white fruit took the great dragon, and gave to the daughter and son of God.
They transgressed the commands of God, and God turned his face from them.
They transgressed the commands of God, and God turned away from them.
They kept not all the words of God—were deceived, deceived unto sickness;
They kept not all the law of God—were deceived, deceived unto death."
Other traditions may be found in the appendix to a little book published by the London Religious Tract Society called "The Karen Apostle."
The names Tha-nai, and E-u in the above verses are sufficiently near the
Biblical names of Adam and Eve to show a common origin; while they are so
diverse from any mode of rendering those names adopted by either Roman Catholic
or Protestant Missionaries as to prove they have not been derived from modern
Tbe scriptural traditions have been found principally among the Sgaus, and as we leave the Sgau tribes, we meet with others that seem to me to have had a Hindu origin. Such are some of the traditions among the Red Karens. They say: "Anciently God created the heavens and the earth, and he formed two persons. One was called 'the female Tha-lu, and the other 'the male Tha-lu.' God placed these two persons to superintend the whole world. And God created trees, and animals of every kind, and he wrote their names in a golden book, and gave it to the two persons whom he created, and according to the names found in the book, they called every thing. God created all things by his word and his power. He created every thing with a body, with seed, and with fruit." Thus far the tradition preserves a Biblical character, but they go on to say: "God did not [p.175] create all things at once. When God created the earth at first it was not as large as a cotton spindle. There was not as much in it as there is in a butterfly. And God commanded that the male Tha-lu should rule over the sky, and the female Tha-lu should rule over the earth, and all the animals on it. And that which made the earth increase was the earth-worm, and that which made it firm was iron, and that which sewed the earth together was silk. And before the iron and the silk had united the ground, the whole earth was covered with water. God was not pleased with the look of it, and he separated it by pressing the earth together with iron and silk, when the water flowed out and became rivers and seas, and the dry land appeared with its mountains and hills. And the three things that helped the earth, were the earth-worm, iron and silk. There was a spider in the sky, and he was able to pass to and fro between heaven and earth.
"The first mountain that was created was Lwie-nya; and the first rivers formed were
"And the river Lie-la-sho had its sources among the mountains of Eako-sho.
"And God created a precious stone, and it became a great tree, and the first tree was Than-du, and the first grass was the Chrysopogon acicularis. And the first bird he formed was the Night-jar, and the first fish was Tai-pai-men-bu, and the first snake was Die-lo-to.
"God created two suns, one was the husband and the other the wife, and they were shut within a palace with stone gates, and gave no light. God therefore gave the Pangolin to eat a hole through the gates which it did, and broke out all its teeth, and then the suns came forth, but the heat was so great that neither man nor beast could endure it. Therefore man entreated God to destroy one of them. And God told man to make a bow, and to shoot an arrow into the face of one of the suns. So the man went up into the valley of mount Ka-ko-sho, and shot an arrow into the face of one of the suns, and it ceased to give light and became the moon, which God appointed to rule over the night."
Another version of these myths is given as follows: "The Red Karens say: Where, or how God came into existence, they know not; [p.176] but they know that there is a God who has power over all things; and that this God existed before the creation of the heavens and the earth. He was like the air, and lived in the sky, like the wind; and like the wind he went about everywhere. This he did through his inherent power.
"And God prepared himself to create the inhabitants of heaven, and the inhabitants of earth; but before he created heaven and earth, he created two persons. The one a male, called the 'male Tha-lu,' and the other a female, called 'the female Tha-lu.' The signification of Tha-lu is to float about like the wind. They do not fall to the ground like a man from a tree top, but remain in the air.
"God put into the hands of these two persons the work of superintending the heavens and the earth. He appointed 'the male Tha-lu' to take care of heaven, and 'the female Tha-lu' to take care of the earth. Then when these people saw any deficiency, they asked God for what they required, and he gave them seeds and the elements of things, in order that they might make the earth complete.
"Some say that he who created all things under the direction of God, was Ie-a-pai; but the greater part say they were created by 'the male Tha-lu,' and 'the female Tha-lu,' and that the person who shot the sun's wife in the face was called Thye-kha. These four persons are regarded by the Red Karens as working for God continually. They also speak of another super-human personage that they call Pai-ie-pai-bya."
All the Karen tribes have traditions of God having once dwelt among them, but as having forsaken them. The tradition is varied. Sometimes he is represented as dying and rising to life again; and times simply as departing. We have in verse the following:
"Ywah, about to return, commanded, commanded;
Ywah, about to depart, commanded, commanded;
He commanded the sun to come and weep for him,
He commanded the moon to come and weep for him,
He commanded birds to come and weep for him,
He commanded squirrels to come and weep for him.
Worldly people set themselves up;
Worldly people came not."
A Sgau story says: "Anciently God dwelt with the Karens, and
they said to him: 'Thou art very old.' He replied: 'I will kill
[p.177] myself by a leap;' and he called all his
children to come and receive his dying commands. They came, and after each had
been charged, he leaped into the sea. The Karens ran away into the jungles, but
the white foreigners could not run, and they said to the Karens: 'Elder brother,
I will go to where father commanded me.' The Karen replied: 'I will not go.' But
the white foreigner went to his home, and leaping into the sea, brought up the
body of his father. His father said to him, 'I am not dead;' and he gave orders
to his children to come and receive his commands again, as he was about to go
away. But the Karens had run away afar off, so he said to the white foreigners:
'Do not stay here.' And he washed them over with sandal wood, and said: 'If you
stay here, the Karens will persecute you.' So they followed their father, and he
gave them another country.
"The Red Karens say that anciently, after the transgression, God called all the different races of men together to learn to read, and all went, and every one studied zealously except the Karen, who did not study in earnest like the White Foreigner, the Chinese, and the Burmese. He went to and fro, and played, and did not understand books like the others. After a while, God dismissed the people and all returned home, but the Karen was not skilled in books, like the other nations. Still God had given him a book, but when he would study it at home, his wife scolded him, and drove him off to work. He therefore forgot what he had learned, and did not take care of his book.
"One day, while he was absent, his book fell into the fire, and was burned, and being unable to write, the Karens have had no books from that time to the present. However, they observed the variegated marks left by the letters of their books in the ashes where it was burned, and they made diligent efforts to embroider those forms on their dresses. Hence it is that the Karens are able to embroider different forms on their dresses. Had they not looked, and imitated the letters of the book that was burned, the Karens would not be skilled in any thing."
The above is from a Bghai assistant that spent two years among the Red Karens.
The Sgau and Pwo name of God is Ywa, but the Bghais use a
prefix and say Ta-ywa. To this name Ta-ywa, they attach long fabulous legends of
which the following is one; and appears to be of Hindu origin.
The Elders relate concerning Ta-ywa and say: There was a woman who was pregnant, and when it was hot, she went and spread a garment out to dry in the sun, but so soon as it was spread out, it ceased to be hot, and clouds came up. Then she cursed the sun, and asked: "At first thou madest it hot, but now thou hast made it cloudy: Why is it so?" The sun cursed her back in return, and said: "I wish thou mayst be pregnant three years, and when the child is born, may it be no larger than a jujube!"
After this, the woman remained pregnant three years, and at the end of that time, she was delivered of a son not larger than a jujube. The child eat, at first, as much rice at a meal, as can be put in the cover of a rice chutty; and after a little while, he eat a wash-bason full, and could wrestle with an ordinary man. After another short period, he eat as much rice as would cover a small table, and could wrestle with a strong man.
He asked his mother why he was so small, and she repeated the circumstances as related above. Then he said: "I will go and compel the sun to make me grow larger." Every morning and every evening, he worked hard to make himself a bow; and when he had finished it, he went up to the sky, to the place of drawing water of the sun and moon, and there he met the children of the sun and moon coming to draw water.
He bent his bow, and placed his arrow on the string, which was an Areca Nut tree as long as the height of a small mountain. Then he said to the children of the sun and moon, "Go tell your father to come here, and make me larger."
The children of the sun and moon were afraid, and said to their parents: "This man is very bold, and he said to us: 'Tell your father to come here and make me larger.' And he was about to shoot us with his bow."
The sun said: "If that be the case, let a cock go down and pick him to death." Ta-ywa chew his bow, laid on his gigantic Areca [p.179] tree arrow, and took aim at the cock, saying: "Tell your master to come down and make me great." The cock flew away screaming with fright, and told his master that Ta-ywa was very fierce.
In like manner, the sun sent a hog, and the hog was afraid. He sent a horse, and the horse was afraid. He sent an elephant, and the elephant was afraid. Every thing was afraid of him.
Then the sun said: "If it be thus, then make the waters rise, and he will be drowned." So he made the waters rise, but Ta-ywa made a boat, and remained quietly in it. When the waters fell, the sun said to his children: "Now that fellow is dead, go draw water." So they went to draw water.
Ta-ywa said to them again as before: "Go tell your father to make me great." The children were afraid, and returning to their parents said: "That fellow is not dead."
Then the sun said: "If it be so, we must make it burning hot." So he made it so hot that no one could endure it; but Ta-ywa created a banyan tree, and dwelt under its shadow.
After the heat had passed away, the sun said to his children: "Now that fellow is dead, go draw water." They were met again as before, and sent back with the former message; and they went and told their parents that they did not dare to go again to draw water. On hearing this, the sun made a bamboo tube, and went to Ta-ywa, who said to him; "Make me great." The sun took the bamboo tube, inserted it in him and blew him up larger, and larger, and asked: "Large enough?" Ta-ywa replied: "Not yet large enough." He blew again, asked the same question, and received the same reply two or three times, till Ta-ywa was satisfied, but when he rose up, his head hit against the heavens. The sun then flattened it down with his hand till it was low enough, and then departed.
When Ta-ywa returned home, the people said: "He is very great." And they envied him, and determined to kill him by stratagem. So they said to him: "Thy mother has no stones, on which to place her rice pot on the fire, let us go and bring her some stones." Then they went, and sought out the largest stone they could find, and all the village went to work to dig it up, and in order that it might roll over him and kill him; they said: "Go watch below, and carry it." So he went below on the side of the hill where they were digging, and [p.180] waited in the road to intercept it. When the stone came rolling down. he ran and took it up, and carrying it to the house said: "Where shall I put it?" They replied, "The house will break down." So he put it on the ground.
Then they devised again to kill him, and said: "Thy mother has got fever, and there is no large wood to make a great fire for her, go and bring some." So they sought out a large wood-oil tree, and went and cut it down, and told him he must receive it on his shoulder. He therefore caught it when it fell on his shoulder, and carrying it to the house asked: "Shall I put it in the house?" The people replied: "The house will break down." So he threw it on the ground.
Then the people said: "Ah, the rock rolling on this man did not kill him; the wood-oil tree falling on him did not kill him; but were a tiger to seize him, perhaps he might die," They therefore said: "Thy mother's fever continues, though we have offered fowls and hogs to the spirits, but were we to offer a tiger, she would recover." So the people made him go seek a tiger, in the hope that a tiger would seize him. He, however, had no fear, but went in search of a tiger's track; and after finding a very old one, he followed it up till he found the tiger, which he seized and carried alive to the house, when the people said: "We are very much afraid. Go turn it loose." So he took it back, and let it go free.
While his concubine was seeking vermin in his head, she was moved with compassion for him, and the tears dropped on his thigh. He said: "My faithful girl, what is it? It does not rain. Why is it that water drops on my thigh?" His concubine replied: "Ah, my dear boy, people are envious of thee and laying snares to kill thee." "Indeed!" he answered, "Is it really so? If people do not love me, then I will go away."
Every morning and evening, he worked on a bugle to give it a pleasant sound. When he had finished it, it blew out of itself, "Father and mother do not love me. Brethren two go abroad."
He said: "That is pleasant," and he prepared food for his journey. A hog of five spans round the body, five bundles of salt, five rolls of fish, and five baskets of rice. With this he started, and blew his horn as before, till he met with "Long-legs" planting, who had a silk-cotton tree stuck in his hair, whose shadow covered seven coun- [p.181] tries. While he made holes for the rice, his thirty concubines chopped in the seed. He said: "Ah, the hardest thing is planting. Who is this that comes blowing a bugle? Let us wrestle."
Ta-ywa said: "Ah, thy father and mother loved thee, so you can work and prosper; but my parents did not love me. They said I had grown exceedingly great, so I came away."
Though Long-legs planted rice with thirty concubines to sow the seed for him, he said: "Ah, it was so with me. Because my legs were long, they did not love me." He therefore prepared a hog of five hand-breadths, five baskets of rice, five bundles of salt, and five rolls of fish; and when his thirty concubines came weeping after them, he spit on them, and they turned to stone. Then the two went on their way.
Thus they travelled together, and the same scenes were enacted when they met in turn with Long-arms, Three-toothed, Broad-ears and Hollow-breast.
Having become six in company, they travelled together till they came to a fork in the Sitang river, made by an island; and there, they exhausted the water. Long-legs laid his legs across for a dam, Long-arms stuck his arms down perpendicularly for posts, and Broad-ears put his ear down on the interstices. Three-toothed bit up the fish, and Hollow-breast received them into his bosom.
When they came to divide the fish, Long-legs wished for all he could hold on his legs; Long-arms for all he could hold in his arms, Three-toothed for what he could take up with his teeth; Broad-ears for what he could hold on his ear; and they asked Hollow-breast: "How much do you want?" He replied: "I want all I can hold in my breast." His associates answered: "All the fish put together will not fill thy bosom. Why do you want so much?" And they quarrelled.
Then Ta-ywa, Long-legs, and Long-arms went in one direction; while Three-toothed. Broad-ears, and Hollow-breast went in another.
Ta-ywa and his associates met with Shie-oo, and they said: "We will cook rice." They went and asked Shie-oo to give them some fire, but he said: "I will not give to you. You must wrestle. If you throw me, I will carry the earth, but if you fall, you must bear up the earth."
This Shie-oo had a spur, like a cock, and when Ta-ywa
wrestled with him, Long-legs came behind, and tripped up Shie-oo, but his spur
entered the leg of Long-legs, and the blood flowed out like a river. When
Shie-oo fell, Ta-ywa trod him down into the earth till he was immersed in it;
and Long-arms thrust him down as far as his arms would reach; and then Long-legs
trod him down as far as his legs would go; and he went down below the earth, and
has to carry the earth to the present time. When the earth quakes, people say: "Shie-oo
is raising himself."
Ta-ywa and his associates pursued their journey, and met with an empty house. After they had sat down, and drank water from a spout that brought down water from the brook above, they went up into the house, where they found a guitar. After Ta-ywa had tuned it, he played and sung:
"The house is pleasant, is fair;
The owner is where? Is where?"
The place where he sat was on the head of a very beautiful
girl, who was hidden in the crevice of the floor, and she pinched him. He
thought an insect had bitten him, and taking a cleaver he opened out the crevice
of the bamboo floor, when he came on the head of the girl.
She said to them: "Ah, my dear boys, how is it that you are here? The great eagle has eaten my father and mother, my friends, and my brothers. My parents had compassion on me and hid me. How have you appeared? The great eagle will come and devour you."
They replied to her: "My dear girl, do not be afraid. Go beat out paddy and cook rice for us. So she went and beat out paddy, and cooked lice, and eat with them."
They asked the girl: "At what time does the great eagle come? " He answered: "When the sun passes the meridian, when it is half way down, and at sun-set." Then they said: "put up a split bamboo to the house, of seven layers; and below them a layer of iron." This was done, and then they made a tin bow, and an iron bow. The tin bow, they called the silver bow; and the iron bow, they called the old bamboo bow. Then they called out to the eagle singing:
"Every thing has the Eagle devoured,
Father, mother, and a wide land.
Has eaten father and mother,
But me in compassion they hid."
"Aha," the eagle exclaimed, "we said all were dead, and now
we have found another quite unexpectedly." The oldest eagle came, and the sky
became full of clouds. It became dark, it thundered, and the sun set. The eagle
perched on the branch of a large wood-oil tree, but the branch broke, and it
then flew up to the top of the tree and perched there, where it broke off a
branch and picked its teeth with it, when the arm and leg bones of men fell out
between its teeth.
Then it laughed, and said: "Aha! I said: can there be any thing more left? and here is the veriest trifle. Shall I dirty my teeth with it?"
Ta-ywa said: "Grandfather, you can devour me as a matter of course, but we try a bamboo, we try a tree. Let us try each other once."
The great eagle replied: "Why should we try? Be quiet, you cannot do any thing." Ta-ywa answered: "Nevertheless, things are tried; let us try."
The great eagle said: "Well then, how do you wish to try me?" He replied: "If you can strike through my roof then eat me; but if you cannot, you shall not eat me."
Then the eagle pulled a feather out of his wing, and with it struck through the seven layers of bamboo, but it did not go through the iron.
Ta-ywa immediately took the tin bow, and said to the eagle: "Where is thy heart?" He pointed to a spot on his side. Then Ta-ywa shot at the spot, but the arrow did not enter; so the eagle said: "Ah, you cannot overcome. Wait, let me eat you."
Ta-ywa said: "Grandfather, thou wilt eat me of course, but let me try a shot with this old bamboo bow." The eagle answered: "Eh, with the bow of glittering white if thou couldst not pierce me, how wilt thou pierce me with the rusty old bamboo one?"
Ta-ywa said: "I will try a shot. Where is thy heart?" He replied: "My heart is at this variegated spot." Then Ta-ywa shot, and the eagle fell dead.
When he had killed one bird, he repaired the roof and made it stronger than it was at first. Then he called and sung again, and a second eagle came, with which a similar course was pursued, and it was killed like the first, and so again with the third and last.
Then Ta-ywa ripped open the eagles, and took out the bones he
found in them. The bones of men he placed in one pile, the bones of women in
another, and the bones of the girl's father and mother in a third. Elephant
bones, he placed by themselves; horses' bones, be placed by themselves; oxen's
bones, he placed by themselves; buffaloes' bones, he placed by themselves; hogs'
bones, he placed by themselves; dogs' bones, he placed by themselves; fowls'
bones he placed by themselves. All kinds of animals, he placed their bones in
This done, Ta-ywa made a strap, such as is used in holding a Karen basket borne on the back, on the head, and with it he struck the fowls' bones, when the fowls rose to life, and flew crowing away. In like manner, he struck the bones of each animal, and the animals came to life again. Last of all, he struck the bones of man, and the men cams to life again. Then Ta-ywa said: "What has happened to you?" And they replied: "We have been asleep." Ta-ywa planted two herbaceous plants, and left Long-legs in charge of the place, saying, If the plants wither, follow on quickly after me, and then departed.
He passed on and came to another empty house, where the hall was full of spiritous liquor. Here the same scenes were enacted as before, excepting that the girl was found in a spirit jar, and the destroyers were tigers. Before leaving, he planted the herbaceous plants, as before, and left Long-arms in charge.
He continued his travels, and met with another house without inhabitant, but he found rice spread out on the verandah to dry, and a number of pots of spiritous liquor. He sought a bamboo tube with which to suck it up, and having found one, he notched it at the bottom and drank. Here he found a handsome girl as before, and learned that three large Pythons had produced the desolation.
He dug a gallery under ground with seven bends, and put her at the end. Then he made two swords, and killed two of the serpents as before; but when he struck the third, the blade of the sword flew out of the handle, and Ta-ywa ran into the handle which the snake swallowed.
Immediately, the plants left behind withered, and Long-legs, and Long-arms followed on to the assistance of Ta-ywa. Long-logs went [p.185] kicking down the trees and bamboos as he went along, and the way being too narrow for Long-arms, he smashed down the trees and bamboos with the swing of his arms; but when they arrived, the Python had gone away.
Then they called it seven times, and the seventh time it came again. After the usual discussion, the two attack it, slashing at its head and tail, and finally killed it. When it was slain, they ripped it open, and found Ta-ywa in it dead. He was restored to life as others had been before; and then he separated from his friends and returned home.
He returned to his grandmother and younger brother, and told the latter to cook rice, while he went himself to the forks of the river, where he and his companions had at first dammed up the stream. When he returned, his brother was boiling fish, and the tail of one moved up and down by the bubbling of the boiling water as if alive. He said to his brother: "Why, it is alive! I went to look at the fish traps at the forks of the river, and have come back; and why art thou cooking a live fish?" Then he took his bow, and shot his brother dead.
He afterwards thought to himself: I ought not to have shot my brother. Then he set fire to a tuft of reed and ran round the edge of the horizon three times, and when he got back, the tuft had not done burning. He said: "I am very quick. I ought not to have killed my brother," and he repented.
After this, he was not happy, and he said: "I will kill myself." He made a bow, cocked the string, and laid on an arrow, and went to sleep beneath the arrow as he had set it, aimed at his head. A dove flying by, hit the cock, and the bow went off. He caught the arrow flying with his hand; and this was repeated ten times; but at last he forgot himself, and the arrow hit him.
For three years and three months, he grew very feeble, and at the end of this period, he called the monkey-tiger; and he sent him to call the Karens; and he called the Tupaia, and he sent him to call the Burmans. He loved the Karens more than the Burmans, therefore he gave the monkey-tiger a crayfish for food, that he might arrive quickly, because a crayfish is cooked in a short time, and he gave him a flint that he might get fire readily.
He had not much love for the Burmans, and that they might be
slow in coming, he gave the Tupaia two bits of bamboo to rub together to obtain
fire, and a bit of skin to eat, for it was difficult to cook, and the bamboos
difficult to take fire.
When they departed, the monkey-tiger went up round all the crooks of the gigantic bean creeper, and slept one night by the way. When he cooked his crayfish, he said: "Why, it is blood red!" And it was long before he arrived.
But the Tupaia went rapidly. He was very hungry, so he roasted his skin a little, and eat it; and reached his destination in a short time. Hence the Burmans reached Ta-ywa first before he expired. They asked of him, and obtained horses, and elephants, and oxen, and buffaloes, and their dog asked for ears of paddy as large as the end of his bushy tail, and three crops a year.
The Karens did not arrive till after Ta-ywa was dead, and burned to ashes. His mats, and fanning baskets and carrying baskets were burned up and just their form and variegated patterns left in the ashes, which the Karens looked upon, and imitated.
Not satisfied, they followed on after the elephants, and tried to get on to their necks, but could not. Then he commenced driving bamboo steps into their legs, as when ascending trees; but this made them run away. Failing with the elephants, they tried to drag along tin-buffaloes with ropes tied to their legs, but could not make them go; and they tried the oxen with no better success; but the hog they succeeded in dragging along; so the Karens have hogs to this day.
The latter part of this story is versified, as follows:—
Go poison fish at Po, at Yau,
Go to angle at Po, at Yau.
Great frogs die, thou stayest to cook them,
Great fish die, thou stayest to cook them:
Thou remainest to cook them with thy brother,
To prepare them, thou remainest with thy brother.
Thou doest whatever cometh into thy mind.
Thou cockest the bow, layest on a red arrow,
Thou shootest dead thy younger brother:
Then thou repentest, sorrowfully.
Thou lightest the reed blossom, and boundest away
Three times thou runnest round the horizon,
Three times thou scamperest round the horizon.
Thon retumest, and the rice is not hot,
Thou returnest, and the fish is not hot.
Thou doest whatever cometh into thy mind:
Thou cockest the bow, layest on a red arrow.
One arrow flies, thou arresteth it in its flight,
Two arrows fly, thou arresteth them in their flight:
Thou forgettest that the arrow is flying,
The arrow hits thy heart.
Three years, three months, thou failest.
Thou sendest the Tupaia to Bamo
Thou sendest the monkey-tiger into the country:
But the monkey-tiger went slowly;
When the crayfish was cooked, he said: Why, it is red!
The Tupaia went trotting along:
He reached Ta-ywa before he died.
Received extraordinary power to variegate cloth;
To weave beautiful as the Python's skin,
And have rice crops three times a year;
Became great and returned to Bamo,
But back went the poor to the hill of Kukoo.
Though the Karens can tolerate all sorts of absurd legends
about God, yet they cannot endure idolatry. They seem to have no more sympathy
with it than Christian nations. One of the commands of the elders says:
"children and grandchildren! do not worship idols or priests. If you worship
them, you obtain no advantage thereby, while you increase your sins
They regard the Buddhistic religion of their neighbours with considerable contempt. One of the couplets that they sing, referring to the sleepy looks of the images says:
"Gaudama is drowsy,
He cannot save us."
Far off on the mountains, I have often noticed one and
another of the wild Karens wrapped up in a flashy yellow and tinselled robe,
which he had abstracted from some pagoda; an act that the Burmese regard as the
greatest sacrilege. [p.188] Some of the Karen
stories seem to have been composed to turn the worship of pagodas into ridicule;
as in the following where the worshippers are represented as taking the language
of a rat for that of their god.
"There was a lazy dirty Karen young man called Sanken, and he one day caught a white rat and was about to kill and eat it; but the rat spoke up, and said: 'Do not kill me. I will get you a wife from among the king's daughters.' So he let the rat go, and it ran into a hole in the royal pagoda.
"When the king came and prayed to the pagoda, he said: 'May my power and glory increase. May my subjects become more numerous.' Then the white rat in the pagoda replied: 'If you will make Sanken your son-in-law, your power and glory will increase. Your subjects will become more numerous, your people will multiply.' The king supposed it was the image in the niche of the pagoda that spoke to him, and was astonished. He returned to the palace and told the Queen what had happened, but she would not believe it; so they both went to the pagoda, and the king prayed as before, and received the same answer in the hearing of the Queen who was then convinced; and they gave the lazy dirty Karen, one of their daughters in marriage."
Religion, Mythology, and Astronomy among the
By Rev. F. Mason, D. D.
[Continued from page 188.]
Karen ideas of a future state are confused, indefinite, and
contradictory. They seem to be a melee of different systems. That which appears
to me indigenous Karen, corresponds to the notions of the American Indians. It
represents the future world as a counterpart of this, located under the earth,
where the inhabitants are employed precisely as they are here. When the sun sets
on earth, it rises in the Karen Hades; and when it sets in Hades, it rises on
this world. The following story is adduced by the Karens as proof of the
accuracy of this cosmology.
"The elders say: There was a man who had a wife that he loved, and she loved him in return. His wife died, which distressed him beyond measure, and he said. 'If there be any one that will raise her up to life again, I will give him whatever he may ask.'
"A prophet or necromancer was found, who raised his wife from the grave, and restored her alive to her home in the night. She pursued her usual daily avocations throughout the night, but as soon as daylight appeared she died again, and remained dead all day, but revived at eve and went to work as people usually do in the morning. This course she pursued constantly. Hence it is manifest, that people in the next world work just as they do in this."
To these ideas are appended others that appear to have been originally derived from the Hindus. They say that Hades has a king, or judge, who stands at the door to admit or reject those who apply for admission into his kingdom. He decides the future of each. Those who have performed meritorious works are sent to the regions of happiness above; but those that have done wickedness, such as "striking father or mother," are delivered over to the king of hell who is in waiting, and who casts them down into hell; while those who have neither performed deeds of merit, nor are guilty of great crimes, are allotted a place in Hades. The Sgaus call this personage Yu. or Tha-mie-Yu and the Bghais Tha-ma. Both are probably derived from the Hindu Ya-ma; and his office and duties are as old as the earliest records we have of the Egyptian religion.
The Spirit World.
To a Karen, the world is more thickly peopled with spirits,
than it is with men, and the occasions on which his faith requires him to make
sacrifices and offerings to these unseen beings are interminable.
Every human being has his guardian spirit walking by his side, or wandering away in search of dreamy adventures; and if too long absent, he must be called back with offerings.
Then the spirits of the departed dead crowd around him, whom he has to appease by varied and unceasing offerings, to preserve his life and health.
Again there are all the conspicuous objects of the material world—the lofty mountain, the wide river; the shady tree and the inaccessible precipice, every one of which, by the awe they inspire, demands reverence and respect from human beings, and punishes each breach of etiquette with sickness or death. These too must be propitiated.
Thus, though the Karens have no cumbrous written ritual of services and ceremonies, like the Mahommedans, the Brahmins and the Buddhists; they have yet an oral liturgy of observances, as burdensome as the services of the ancient Egyptians or the Mosaic ritual.
The word in Karen that designates the heart is also used for the mind and soul. The seat of all moral qualities is in the heart, and death is designated as the departure of the heart from the body.
Some German critics say, that "Psyche, in Homer, signifies
only the breath and the life; never, as in the language of later times, the
spirit or soul. Yet it goes to Hades and continues to live there." There is
something like Psyche, as thus defined, in Karen psychology; yet in many points
more like the genius of the Latins; but differing as it does from both, it will
be better in this paper to designate it by its native name; and explain it by
its attributes. The Pwas call it La, the Bghais Lai, the Sgaus Ka-la, and the
Red Karens Yo.
This La, existed before man was born, comes into the world with him, remains with him until death, lives after death, and for aught that appears to the contrary, is immortal. Yet no moral qualities are predicated of it. It is neither good nor bad, but is merely that which gives life to mortality.
The Las of a part of the dead remain on earth and become mischievous spirits; others go to Hades, where they are employed as on earth; others go to hell, where they suffer punishment; while others go to the Deva heavens, where they enjoy happiness.
Although in this state, the La and the man himself, the Ego, are said to be distinct; yet in nearly all the representations of the future state, the man seems to be absorbed in the La; and inconsistent as it is with previous representations, it then appears equivalent to the soul.
Sometimes it is spoken of as the man, before being united with the body. Thus a Bghai writes:
"The elders say: 'The God of the whole human race resides at the foot of the sun, at the foot of the moon; and people who are born are sent by God, and people who die are called back by God.'
"Men at the beginning are in the presence of God, and he sends them forth; but before sending them, he tries their courage. He takes a sword and lays it across an abyss as a bridge, with the edge uppermost, and orders them to walk over it. Those who dare to walk across it, are bold; and God sends them into the world men. Those who, after being urged two or three times, dare not go, God sends into the world women.
"When God sends them forth, he gives commands in relation to the times and the seasons of their return. It is related that a prophet, or necromancer, looking into the world of spirits, on one occasion saw seven men and two women coming into the world, and he heard them talking with each other. The first man said, 'God has ordered me to [p.198] go and return.' The second said: 'God has ordered me to return, after I am able to draw water.' The third said: 'God has ordered me to return, after I am able to weed.' The fourth said: 'God has ordered me to return, after I am able to make it easy for my father and mother.' The fifth said: "God has commanded me to return, after I am able to go to the Burman and Shan country.' The sixth said: 'God has commanded me to return, after I am able to cultivate paddy for my father and mother.' The seventh said: 'God has commanded me to return, after I have married.'
"The prophet said that after this he saw them all horn on earth, all boys, and he noted that they all died one after another, as he heard them say in his vision.
"Of the two women, he said one carried wo Kyee-zees, and the other a basket on her back, and a spinning wheel and distaff in her hand. The first one he heard say: 'God has commanded me to stay with my Kyee-zees, till I am white-headed.' The other one said: 'God has commanded me to spin thread and prepare cotton, till I am white-headed.' The prophet said he saw both born in this world females, and the one came in possession of two Kyee-zees, and the other spun thread and carded cotton, in accordance with his vision."
According to a Sgau authority, the La promises God, before it comes into the world, that it will die by one or other of seven things it says-"I will die in the mouth of a tiger. If I do not die in the mouth of a tiger, I will die of some kind of sickness. If I do not die of disease, I will die by drowning. If I am not drowned, I will die by the hand of man. If I am not killed by man, I will die by a fall. If I am not killed by a fall, I will die by a blow. If I am not struck dead, I will die of old age."
The La sometimes appears after death, and cannot then be distinguished from the person himself. One story says:
"After a certain woman's husband had gone to the city, she died. On his return home, he met her La in the road, and taking it for his wife in the body, he said: 'Where art thou going?' She replied: 'I am going to see my father and mother.' He was not at all aware that it was her La, and she said to him, 'Thou hast a long way to go, let us spend the night together here;' He consented, and to obtain food for their supper, she went and asked it of her children, but they did not see her.
"Though they did not see her, they still had some indications
of her presence. While her daughter was beating out paddy, all the paddy
suddenly leaped t out of the mortar, and a fowl suddenly dropped down dead.
"The man and his wife eat and drank together, and in the morning separated, to pursue their several journeys.
"When the husband got back to his house, be found his wife dead, and his children and neighbours preparing for the funeral. Then the truth rushed on his mind, and he said: 'Children, I met your mother last evening in the road, and we spent the night together. She was going on a visit, but alas it was her La. Had I but known it, I would have called her back."
Although the body and the La are represented as matter and spirit, yet in the following story, materiality seems to be possessed by the La.
"A certain woman sickened and died, while her husband was absent on a journey. While he was returning home, he met her La on the way and asked: Where art thou going? She replied: 'I am going to visit my parents.' He then slapped her on the face with his hand, and she came to herself again and returned with her husband home.
"When they arrived at their house, they found the people mourning over her body; but she immediately entered the body, and it came to life again as before."
The La may be separated from the person to which it belongs during life. In sleep it wanders away to the ends of the earth, and our dreams are what the La, sees and experiences in his perambulations. When absent in oar waking hours, we become weak, fearful, sick, and if absence be protracted, death ensues. Hence it is a matter of the deepest interest with a Karen to keep his La with him; and he is ever and anon making offerings of food to it, beating a bamboo to gain its attention, calling it back, and tying his wrist with a bit of thread, which is supposed to have the power to retain it.
The forms differ in different tribes, though the thing is substantially the same. A Bghai writes:
"Should a person be often sick; if he cannot walk without being weary, or work without feeling exhausted; if he has no appetite for his food; if he pines away, and has a sallow countenance; it is said that his La has left him."
Then his friends take a fowl and a garment of the invalid's,
and they spread a mat down at the top of the steps. The garment they place at
the top of the steps, and taking a stick with which they stir the boiling rice,
they strike the steps, saying:
"Mr. A. B., thy La has left thee, thy La has gone away. It is going to and fro; going to the Shans, going to the Burmese; and hence thou art afraid. Thy La has gone away, and thou art startled, thou art not strong, thou art not vigorous, thou art depressed, thou art heartless, thou hast a sallow countenance, thou hast a cough, thou hast difficulty in breathing, thou art weak, thou art weary, thy head is bald.
'Now La, I call thee, beat for thee. Here is the great hen-bird, here the great male fowl. Come, come, come. Come and dwell in thy dry place, in thy pleasant location, in thy house, as water tight as the bottle gourd, to thy divan, to thy bedstead. Come and eat the flesh of the female bird, the flesh of the male fowl.'
After the fowl is cooked, the fowl and rice are set out, and the sick man is made to take hold of the fowl's head, when his wrist is tied with a thread, and then the above prayer is repeated. The string is then cut off, the end unravelled, and the cotton pulled from it and scattered on the head of the sick man, with the following blessing:
'Mayest thou live till thy head is white, and thy teeth broken, like this string!'
At the Sgau funerals, the presence of the La is said to be manifested thus. One end of a slender erect bamboo is attached to the bone of the deceased that has been taken from the funeral pyre. A small thread with alternate tufts of cotton and bits of charcoal, with a metal rin<> or bangle, at the extremity is tied to the other end, which makes the bamboo bend down in a curve; and under the bangle, nearly touching it, is a brass bason containing a boiled egg.
The closing ceremony of the bone feast, is calling the La of the deceased which is supposed to be hovering around till the funeral rites are completed; when, should it respond to the call, it is bidden to depart in peace to Hades.
When the apparatus has been put in order, the relatives of the dead approach in succession and strike the edge of the brass cup with a bit of bamboo and when the one that was most beloved touches the cup, [p.201] the La responds by twisting and stretching the string till it breaks, and falls into the cup; or at least shakes and rings against it.
A hundred witnesses could be produced,-who have seen it done. Indeed the thread is of such slender material that a very little legerdemain would be required to break it under the weight of the bangle, and the bamboo is so slender, that still less would be necessary to make it spring up and down, and hit against the sides of the cup. But I have watched the whole ceremony, kept the crowd away from the machinery, and there was no more answer to the calls, than there was to the cries of the priests of Baal before Elijah.
Prophets, or Necromancers, are said to have the power of going into the invisible world, and bringing back the La, when it has wandered away; but the Elders warn their children against unrighteous prophets, who for the sake of gain, when they cannot find the La, of the sick person, will bring the La, of some other person in its place; by which the disease is aggravated.
Thus it would appear that a person may have another one's La.
The La, is sometimes supposed to take the form or to inhabit insects. Thus when insects are flying around a light at night, the wish is often expressed that the Las of beasts and demons may be burnt to death, while the Las of human beings may avoid the fire and escape. Here when an insect flies into the fire, it is said to be the La, of a beast, but when it hovers around and flies away, it is regarded as the La of a human being.
According to the representations of some, but the idea does not prevail extensively, each person has seven Las that are constantly devising his death; which is only prevented by a guardian spirit that sits on his head. When that spirit jumps down, the man is lost, for then one or other of the Las rushes on him and kills him. These Las seem to be the personifications of evils, natural or moral.
They are madness, epilepsy, lechery, wrath, the exhibition of dreams, the bearer of diseases and languor. "If our mad La comes, we become insane; if our epileptic La comes, we are seized with epilepsy: if our lecherous La, comes, we become lost to shame; if our wrathful La comes, we are filled with anger, malice, and commit murder; if the shower of dreams comes, we are overwhelmed with dreams; if the bearer of sickness comes, we are prostrated by disease; and if languor comes, we feel unable to do anything.
The La is not confined to human beings; as has been
previously intimated, every living thing has its La. When sitting by the fire at
night, and an insect flies into it and is burnt to death, a Karen will say:
"There the La of some animal has leaped into the fire and burnt itself to death.
We shall have meat curry to-morrow. The snares and traps have caught something."
Plants too have their Las; and when the paddy appears sickly, it is said that its La has been devoured or led away, and it is called back in the following form:
"La of large grained paddy, full grained paddy, come! If at the forks of the Salween and Sitang, come! If in the west, come! If in the cast, come! If in the mouth of the bird, come! If in the mouth of the squirrel, come! If in the mouth of the monkey, come! If in the mouth of the hog, come! If in the mouth of the rat, come! If in the mouth of the elephant, come! If in the mouth of the dove, come! If in the mouth of the sparrow, come! If in the mouth of the porcupine, come! If at the sources of the streams, come! If at the mouths of the streams, come! If in Siam, come! If at Ava, come! If at the corner of the kingdom, at the corner of the land, come! Come, come, come, and dwell in the barn, come and reside in the granary."
Even inanimate things that can be put to useful objects, such as instruments, are supposed to have their Las. So if a man drops his axe while up a tree, he looks below and calls out: "La of the axe, come, come."
Looking then at La in all its usages, it seems to be the personification of the life, or efficiency of a person, or thing.
The spirits of the dead resolve themselves into two great classes. Those who are not permitted to go to Hades, corresponding very nearly to the European notions of ghosts; and the spirits of the ancestors of the Karens, who, on going to Hades, were awarded, on account of their good deeds, a place in the heavenly world, where they exercise a kind watch-care over their descendants on earth. The offerings and prayers made to these beings seem to correspond to the Chinese worship of ancestors.
The unburied dead.
The Greeks and Romans believed that those who were deprived
of funeral rites, wandered about, and were not allowed to enter Hades; so it is
no marvel to find this now to be the popular faith in Europe; but it is not a
little remarkable to find precisely the same rites prevalent among the Karens.
The Las of those who have been deprived of funeral rites, the Karens suppose, wander about on earth, and occasionally show themselves to men as ghosts.
The following story illustrates the character of these ghosts:—
"It is related that a man was travelling and lost his way. When night overtook him, he made a fire at the foot of a large tree, and then ascending it, he built himself a little booth among its branches in which to spend the night. Before he got to sleep, he heard the ghosts calling to each other, and, thinking they were the voices of men, he replied to them.
"So soon as the ghosts heard him, one came upon him, and wrestled with him, and was repeatedly on the point of throwing him down, but he had a comb in his hair which in the struggle fell down into the fire below, and the stick-lac in the comb burnt with a very strong smell. This smell made the ghost cough and sneeze, cough and sneeze, till he could endure it no longer, when it ran away, and left him. Had it not been for the smell of the stick-lac, the man would have lost his life, and by this incident we know that ghosts, are afraid of the smell of stick-lac."
The sight of a ghost may be obtained by the possession of a skull, or part of one.
"Formerly," say the Karens, "there was a Burman killed by lightning, and a Burman picked up a bit of his skull, and bringing it home put it in the ashes in the fireplace. In the night it became a man, came out of the ashes, and walked about the house, making a noise like the treading of a man, and the wife and children of the man were greatly afraid. In the morning it entered the ashes again, and became a bit of skull bone as before."
Some persons, we are told, breed ghosts. "If a person goes and takes the skull of a corpse, it becomes a ghost, and the possessor can [p.204] use the ghost to kill any one with whom he is angry. In the day time, it is a skull, or a bit of a one; but in the night, it is a man. None raise ghosts but wicked men and murderers."
Spirits of those who died by violence.
Another class of ghosts, with a distinctive name, are those
who hare died violent deaths; "who have been shot, died by the sword, died by
falls or drowning; have been killed by elephants or devoured by tigers." The Las
of these people do not go to Hades, but remain on earth preying on the Las of
men. Hence they are propitiated with offerings, to induce them to free the Las
they may have seized. To the previous class of ghosts no offerings are made.
Nearly related to the preceding are the ghosts of wicked men who have been unjust rulers, or who have suffered death at the hands of justice for their crimes. They are regarded as taking the forms of birds and beasts; and when persons dream of elephants, horses, dogs, vultures, Burmans, or Burmese priests, they are said to see these ghosts. Unaccountable sounds and sights in the jungles are also attributed to them.
Varied offerings are made to these last classes of ghosts, of which the following is a specimen:—
After food has been set out for an oblation, the sick is sprinkled with powdered charcoal, and the following prayer is made:—
"Here is property, receive the property, Talaing ghost, Burman ghost, horse ghost, elephant ghost, wild dog ghost, felis ghost, woodpecker ghost, you call re re, ro ro at the foot of the paddy mortar, by the pile of chaff, at the brook, at the place of drawing water. This person going to the bank, going to draw water, going to the new field, going to the old field, you have speared him, you have shot him, you have struck him, you have beat him, you have switched him, you have whipped him, you have beset him. Pluck out the head of your arrow, pluck out the blade of your spear, pot up the wound, heal the gash. Let him be cool as water; let him sleep and be comfortable."
The wood-pecker is said to be the ghosts' dog, and employed
to hunt up game for them. [p.205] "It is related
that formerly two men travelling were overtaken by night in a mountain gorge,
where they built up a little booth in which to sleep. After dark, the
wood-pecker screamed, and the men heard the ghosts saying to each other: 'The
"Thinking it was other men speaking, the travellers hallooed in reply, when the ghosts said: 'The monkeys are leaping, let us shoot,' and immediately the snap of a bow was heard. Instantly one of the men was seized with a severe fit of shivering; and he went home in the morning and died."
Hence the wood-pecker is a bird of omen, and when a Karen hears it stream, he cries out: "Wood-pecker, shun me afar off. Shun my house, shun my road, shun my way, shun my field, shun my garden, shun the roof of my house, shun my place, shun my stream, shun my brook, shun the place where I draw water. Shun me, keep afar off^ go thine own way, thine own road."
Spirits of Ancestors.
The Karens suppose that their parents who have performed
meritorious acts go to a place of happiness above, which seems to correspond to
the Deva heavens of the Buddhists. The existence of God the original Creator of
all things is quite ignored, and he appears to have no place in it. It has its
rulers and its subjects; and one of the names applied to them is the Burmese
designation of Indra, the king of the Deva heavens.
These beings are supposed to preside over births and marriages, and to exercise a general watch care over their children on earth; and the Karens make offerings to them, as their deified ancestors.
There are different classes of worshippers or sects, as they may be denominated, who make different kinds of offerings. One set of worshippers offers only rice and vegetables; another offers fowls, another hogs, and another oxen or buffaloes. Those who sacrifice animals, sometimes offer all three as different rites, but those who. offer rice and vegetables never offer sacrifices.
These different rites are hereditary in different families of the same or of different tribes. Those whose ancestors offered bloodless offerings, offer bloodless offerings; and those whose progenitors sacrificed animals, sacrifice animals.
In the Tenasserim provinces, none are found who sacrifice
oxen or buffaloes. At Toungoo, I have not met with those that offer only rice
and vegetables; and among the Bed Karens, the Bghai rite in which a hog alone is
sacrificed is unknown.
There is much confusion in the minds of the Karens in relation to the character of the beings addressed, and contradictory statements are made by different tribes, and by different individuals of the same tribe, and much diversity prevails in the forms and prayers.
The following is a Sgau prayer, when offering a fowl:—
"Mothers and fathers, The-klu, I will offer you a great cock with a spur fit to stick a rice mortar upon. Take away sickness, take away disease, take away laziness, take away inefficiency, take away sleepiness, take away drowsiness, take away inability to obtain, take away inability to make a living, take away unsuccessfulness, take away want of success, take away debasedness, take away wretchedness, take away the whole."
The Bghai forms, given below, are used when the sacrifice is a hog, but the Bghais do not seem to have any definite ideas of the Beings to whom the offerings are made; much less so than the Sgaus. They require that the officiating priest shall be a woman, the oldest of the family. The husband has nothing to do in the matter; the woman and her relatives are the only parties concerned. If the husband is rich, he has to look to his own relatives to make the necessary offerings for him, in which he joins. A Bghai writes:
"The first thing is to brew or distil spirits for three days. Then a little table is made with four bamboo posts. Leaves of a plant of the ginger tribe are next rolled up in a sugar loaf form, and three joints of bamboos are cut off even. Spirits are then poured into these three bamboos, and the conical rolls of leaves with bamboo bottles of drink are all set upright on the table. Then a living hog is put on a fanning basket.
"The head of the offering, or priest, is a woman, and she takes one of the conically rolled leaves, and, turning to the table, she prays to Yau, as if he were present there. She prays thus:
"O, Yau-peu, thou dost now devour the whole family. We feed thee with old spirits, and a great hog. Heal us, watch over us, defend us. When we fall, raise us up; when we slip clown, set us up [p.207] again. Make us strong, make us vigorous; all of us. When we fall on the wood, hew it through; when we fall into the coffin, split it open, [i.e. raise us up from the point of death]. Establish us, make its immoveable. Let not plots, let not devices against us succeed. Let us have large crops, let us have good paddy. Let us have little grass, let us have few weeds. Let our labour be light, let us eat whatever we want. Let us succeed in our works; let us eat with little work. Let the effects of our labours increase, let our produce swell up, like rice in boiling. Let us ascend to the tops of the mountains, let us descend to the depths of the valleys. Let us spear hogs, let us seize captives. Let us purchase kyee-zees, let us dig out the pangolin, [i.e. let us accomplish difficult things]. In the water, let us be great rocks; on land, let us be large wood-oil trees. Let not the tiger seize us, let not the tiger kill us. When the tiger would leap on us, may he growl; when man would seize us, may he cough. When tigers would leap on us, may they wait for each other; when men would seize us, may they feel abashed. Let us devour a stream to its source, let us eat a creek to its mouth, [i.e. get possession of the whole valley]. Let us eat up the rock to atoms, let us eat the sand to dust, [i.e. overcome every difficulty]."
The priestess next lays her left hand on the neck of the hog, and with her right, she grasps the hand of the oldest person in the company, and shaking it slowly up and down, she repeats the above prayer. In this way, she goes round the whole company from the oldest to the youngest, repeating the prayer with each.
The hog is killed next, but it is not killed with a knife or spear; but a sharpened bamboo is forced into it on the right side, under the fore leg. When the bristles have been singed off, a part of the flesh is cooked with rice flour in a chatty, and a part in joints of bamboo; but the head is hung up whole on the posts of the table.
When the rice and meat is spread out, the priestess shakes hands again with each one, and prays as before. She then tastes the food, and after her the others taste it in succession, from the oldest to the youngest.
This done, they rise up, and the priestess tastes the spirits; and, as before, all the rest follow her example according to seniority. After this they all return to the food again. [p.208] At evening, the stomach of the hog is roasted, and all taste of it, in the manner described above.
Next morning at dawn, they take the posts of the table, and throwing them away endwise, as they would throw a javelin, into the earth without the village, they say: "Now it is done, it is finished. Go thy way, return to thy place."
After it is light, they cook the head of the hog, and eat it with any meat that may be left. On that clay the people do not go away from the house.
Witches and Wizards.
Next in order to the spirits of the departed dead, in Karen
mythology are their witches and wizards; but witches, among the Karens, are not
persons who have made a compact with Satan, as European believers in witchcraft
suppose, but persons possessed with a demon which they call Na, and the Red
Karens Ne. The name does not correspond to the Burmese Nat, as some have
thought, which denotes an entirely different being, but is equivalent to the
According to one myth, the Na is an animal that God commanded man to eat at the beginning, with other animals, but neglecting to do so, it became invisible and now eats him.
According to another legend, it is a human stomach; those possessed of Nas having stomachs, while others are destitute of that organ. One story represents a woman, who had incontinently married a man possessed of a Na, as saying: "I saw his stomach under his finger nail, but thought it was an insect."
One man, with a Na, was observed when asleep to be without a head, and to eat and breathe from the top of his neck. These are headless demons in the Hindoo mythology.
A person possessed of a Na is said to devour people, but it is the La, or vital principle that it devours, not the body. When it eats the eyes of another, the eyes remain, but they are blind; the matter is left, but the life has gone.
Sometimes the stomach is represented as going about devouring men, but more often the act is attributed to the person. One possessed by a Na sees men as beasts, and their eyes as fruit.
In one story, a young man had married a woman with a Na, and [p.209] soon after marriage, she was seized with an intense longing for glittering fruit." He brought her all the fruits he could find, but none were of the right kind; and she sent him off to her mother, who lived in another village to ask her for some. Her mother said she knew what her daughter wanted, and told her son-in-law to go and visit the neighbours till she procured some for her. The old woman then went to pounding rice in a mortar before the house, when the children, who were playing around, came up, peered down into the mortar and said: "Grandmother, what are you pounding here?" and as each one looked down into the mortar, an eye dropped in, and the children were suddenly struck blind. After she had thus obtained a sufficient quantity, she gathered them up, put them into a hollow bamboo, and sent them to her daughter by her son-in-law, with the charge that he should not unstopper it and look in by the way. He did, however, when half way home, pull out the cork and look in, when he saw the eyes rolling about, and some of them jumped out, of the bamboo; and the eyes of the children that escaped were restored to sight again. Those that remained he carried to his wife, who devoured them with great relish.
Human beings often appear to a person possessed of a Na as rats, and are devoured as such. In one story a man is represented as going to the field, followed by his child, and on reaching the foot of a large tree, the power of the Na came upon him and he devoured his little boy, thinking him to be a rat. He then returned to his house, and brought back with him his other child, which he devoured in the same place that he had eaten up its brother. He next went and brought the mother to the scene of his former barbarities, but left her there a little while to look for a club to kill her. In the interval, a lizard in the tree that had witnessed the death of the children, told her what had occurred, and drew her up the tree out of her husband's reach. When he returned, and could not get at his wife, he was so enraged that he began to devour his own flesh, and eat up his arms and legs close to the body.
A person possessed of a Na has the power to take the form of another. In one story, an old man asks his nephew in the morning, why he came and shampooed him so severely during the night. The nephew declared he had not been near him, and gave his uncle a sword [p.210] to smite the visitor if he came again. The next night, the supposed nephew was at the old man's bedside again, and his uncle looked at him from head to foot, and he seemed to be his nephew so accurately in every part, that he could not use the sword against him. In the morning the nephew called, and asked if he had cut down his visitor. "No," he replied, "he was from one end to the other so exactly like thee, that I did not dare to strike him." The young man sharpened up his sword and made his uncle promise to cut down the man when he came again without hesitation. This he did, and struck off his head at a single blow, when he immediately disappeared. Next morning it was reported that a man had died in the village during the night, and when the nephew went to look at the body, behold it was headless; "so he then knew that a Na had attempted to devour his uncle."
The interchange of persons is sometimes represented as a change of skins. It is related that—
"Anciently there was a woman possessed of a Na whose name was Po-kla, and she was as black as a crow. She would exchange skins with other people; and when she met with a woman with a white skin, she would put on the white skin and clothe its owner with her own black skin."
In one story she is said to be the black slave of a young man of property that went abroad and brought home a handsome white wife. Soon after his return, Po-kla succeeded in exchanging skins with her mistress, and took her place as her master's wife, without her master suspecting the change. The mistress was now beaten and cruelly by her former slave.
At the time of early paddy, she was sent into the field to drive away the birds; when all the doves and little birds came around her daily. She charged the birds not to eat the paddy, and she had now on to run after them, for they remained with her in the booth all day long. She ordered the dove to go and bring her fragrant oil from her grandmother's house; but when the dove reached there, she broke her wings, and for a long time she was unable to return. So soon, however, as the wings healed, she picked up the bamboo joint, which contained the fragrant oil, unobserved, and flew away with it to her mistress. Her mistress anointed herself with the oil, and became herself again, and even more beautiful.
She then went and told her husband that she was his true wife
and the other woman his slave, as he might know by looking at her tongue, which
he would find to be black. It was found difficult, however, to obtain a sight of
her tongue, for she was aware of the consequences. All attempts to make her
laugh failed, but they struck her suddenly, when she screamed and exposed her
tongue, which was seen a jet black. Her master then slew her with the sword.
Then he wished to live with his true wife again, but she said ha had defiled himself by his connection with the black slave, and she would have nothing to do with him, till he had steeped himself in water seven days and seven nights. He agreed to do the prescribed penance; but after he had been in the water one day and one night, he was almost dead with cold, and could scarcely speak, so his wife had compassion on him, took him oat of the water, warmed him by the fire, and lived with him happily ever afterwards.
The sensation in sleep, called "night mare," is produced, the Karens say, by a Na being seated on the region of the stomach; an idea very analogous to that received anciently in Europe of its origin.
Such an evil influence is supposed to emanate from persons possessed of Nas, that their praise is deemed injurious to the person or thing possessed. If one looks on a piece of grain and says: "This is a very fine field;" the grain withers, and becomes sickly. If he says to a parent: "You have nice children;" the children become sick and perhaps die.
Hence it is not always safe to praise the Karens or their possessions; for if any accident happens to them subsequently, there is great danger that the person who praised them will be reputed a Na.
The belief in the existence of these Nas is still very strong, and the persons who possess them are deemed worthy of death.
A few years ago, two young men appeared before a Karen G-oung-khyruk in Mergui with a charge against a man of having a Na. The magistrate's reply was of such a character, that they immediately went and killed the man in open day.
In Karen mythology, every natural object has its lord or god in the signification of its possessor or presiding spirit. There is not only [p.212] a lord of the earth, but there is also a lord to every country and land and district.
Lord of the Earth.
The lord of the earth appears to he confounded with the king
of Hades, and clearly comes from the Hindu pantheon, but probably through the
Buddhists. The Sgaus furnish the following account of him:—
"The lord of the earth existed at the creation of the world, and the elders say, he rules over the whole world. If we go to a distant region, and swear or use foul language, he makes the tigers devour us, or the serpents bite us, or brings sickness upon us. Hence, if we go to another district, or into the jungle, we are afraid to speak unadvisedly, or to use bad language. We fear the lord of the earth will hate us. Therefore before we eat, we offer him a little of our food, and pray: 'Lord of the earth, eat first and preserve us, lord!'
"If we transgress in our language, while in a distant land, the lord of the earth will kill us before dark; but if we are in our own country, and are guilty of swearing or using indecent words, we make him an offering and pray: 'We are dark ignorant people. Whatever transgressions we may have been guilty of in our words by swearing or obscenity, do not, lord, set against us. We will make offerings to thee annually, every year. If we do not die, your lordship shall eat of our food continually and of our children's food, generation on generation.'"
The spirits which are denied admittance into Hades and are condemned to become evil spirits on earth, are regarded as the servants of the god of the earth, and employed to execute his orders.
Among the Sgaus in the south, an annual festival, usually in January, is observed, for making offerings to this god and his followers. The Bghais observe a similar custom, but it is varied a little. Once in three years is the usual period for its performance; but in calamitous times once in two years, while a succession of good crops and general prosperity will delay it to four or five years. The Bghai festival is held, when the paddy is well up, about the month of July. As the rite has been described to me, the first thing done is to take a hog to a central position in the village lands, and placing it [p.213] under a Eugenia tree, there erect a booth. The Eugenia is chosen because regarded as a more holy tree than any other. The booth is for the "four heads of the sacrifice," or priests, and elders to occupy.
When the booth is built, every man cuts three bamboos, one long one to represent a post in his barn, and two short ones which he ties to the long one, to represent the height to which he wishes his crop of paddy to reach when it is gathered into his barn. Then he makes in miniature, a paddy bin, a long pen, a hen coop, a trap, and a snare.
When these preparatory measures have been taken, one of the heads of the sacrifice calls the people together, and all the men assemble about the booth. The most wealthy elders sit together with "the heads of the sacrifice" in the booth, but the young people and the poor stay without. No women are allowed to be present.
The ceremonies are introduced by "the head of the sacrifice" taking a small branch of the Eugenia tree in his hand, when all present imitate him and take a leafy sprig of the tree. The leader lifts his clasped hands to heaven with the sprig between them, and prays; when all follow his example, each asking in his prayers for whatever he most desires.
After the prayers, the head of the sacrifice rises up, and taking a spear, spears the bog to death. So soon as the blood begins to flow, all the people jump up, and each one seizes his bamboo which had been set against the tree, and calls out with a loud voice: "May my barn be filled with paddy as high as my bamboo!" Some cry out, "I have caught many rats in my trap ;" and others: "I have snared many wild fowls in my snare." Some dance with shields that they have prepared for the purpose, and others beat drums, and blow pipes.
They next take the hog to the village, and every man, young and old who is able, kills a fowl; and after they have cooked the hog and fowls, and prepared the food and drink properly, they carry the whole to the booth. There they place the food on a raised platform prepared for the purpose, and taking again sprigs of the Eugenia tree between their clasped hands, they all pray, saying:
"Lord of the seven heavens and seven earths, lord of the water, lord of the land, Thie-kho-mu-kha, all of you, eat our property, eat our pork, eat our fowls, make our paddy good, our rice good, make [p.214] our daughters handsome, our sons skilful; give us food, give us drink, give us to become governors, give us to become elders; enable us to buy kyee-zees, to spear with fatal effect; make our names famous, heard above and below; make us joyous and happy with our wives and children."
After praying, they rise up and dance again. When the dancing is done, they set the food in order in the booth, to remain there all night, as not a bit of it is to be eaten before the next day, and then return to their houses, dancing all the way home. The remainder of the day is spent in their houses, drinking, dancing, and beating kyee-zees and gongs.
The next morning they all repair again to the foot of the Eugenia tree, when the heads of the sacrifice and the elders commence eating the food and drinking the spirits that have been prepared and placed in the booth. All are allowed to partake that choose, but the food is considered holy, and none but the holy, clean, and upright persons are considered as proper persons to partake of it. The question of fitness is left, however, for every one to decide for himself. If a man feels persuaded in his own mind that he is guilty of no transgression, but is upright and holy, he goes forward and partakes of the food; but if his conscience reproves him for some wrong deed or word, he joins the throng outside the booth and occupies the time with others in dancing. Nor is unfitness to partake of this holy food confined to unmoral acts. There are certain ceremonial uncleannesses which are regarded as unfitting a man to partake. For instance, if a man's wife is pregnant, he is deemed unclean, and unfitted to eat of this holy food.
After the feast is finished, the company returns to the village, dancing all the way as before; and on arriving at the houses, one or two of "the heads of the sacrifice," go to the brook and draw two bamboos of water for every family in the village. After the water has been drawn, "the heads of the sacrifice" call all the members of each family to the hall or veranda; men, women, and children, and then he sprinkles or throws the water from one bamboo upon them. Those who get wet are said to be free from evil, because the water is "holy water." One bamboo full remains in the house till next morning, when the owners go to the fields, and sprinkle it on their growing [p.215] paddy; and they say, because it is "holy water," the paddy being wet by it will be good and abundant.
In all these ceremonies women are carefully excluded, except in participating of the "holy water."
The four elders that are called "the heads of the sacrifice" or priests, have special names or titles given them to distinguish their office.
The first is called Deu-sai, i.e. Lord of the village.
" second " " Pghai-sen, " The Messenger.
" third " " Ywa-san, " Keeper of the village.
" fourth " " Sa-kai, " Signification uncertain.
These offices are strictly hereditary. The fathers of the
present occupants held them, and their places, when they die, will be held by
When the priests officiate, they have embroidered tunics given them by the people. Sometimes they are embroidered with silk, and often with red silk, and are made longer than ordinary garments. The people give them also ear knobs and beads, and think that it is very meritorious to do so.
Some villages offer a cow or bullock instead of a hog, and one of the Mopaha villages near Toungoo were always in the habit of seeking a black bullock for sacrifice. Their desire was for one perfectly black, without a single white or red hair on it; and for such an animal they would give almost any price.
GODDESS OF THE HARVEST.
Another distinguished character is an old woman called
grandmother Bie-yau, who presides over the paddy. She seems, from the account
given of her first appearance, to have been originally a serpent, and is now a
"It is said, that in former times, a certain person cultivated paddy, and grandmother Bie-yau with her husband took the form of two pythons and wound themselves around his pile of paddy, when the paddy increased enormously. The owner of the paddy ignorantly killed the male snake and the female ran away, but she cursed him saying: 'We came in compassion and helped thee with so much paddy, and thou hast killed us! May thy three barns of paddy last only three months!' His paddy was done in three months, and the [p.216] owner had to borrow money to buy more, that he might live; and he finally became a slave."
Offerings are made to her in a little house built in the paddy field for her residence, in which two strings are put for her to bind the La of any person that may enter the field. The following prayer accompanies the offerings:—
"Grandmother, thou guardest my field, thou watchest over my plantation. Look out for men entering; look sharp for people coming in. If they come, bind them with this string, tie them with this rope, do not let them go. If they will pay fines of money, do not let them go; if they will pay fines of silver, do not let them go; but if they will pay fines in piles of paddy, barns of paddy, dismiss them. Eat, grandmother, guard my field, watch over my plantation. Pour down thy children's rice and paddy, grandmother, or thy children's fields will come to nought, sweep it off with thy hand, bring it down continually."
At the threshing out of the paddy another form of prayer is used as below.
"Shake thyself, grandmother, shake thyself. Let the paddy ascend till it equals a hill, equals a mountain; ascend as high as Mount Than-thie, as high as Mount Pshan-ghau; ascend and become a conspicuous object, ascend and become a distinguished object; ascend and look at the sun; ascend and look at the moon; ascend and look at the heavens, ascend and look below the earth. Let my paddy pile, grandmother, be as large as a mountain. Shake thyself, grandmother, shake thyself."
Goddess of Fortune.
There is a divine female who dwells on the summit of Than-thie,
the highest mountain known in Burmah, who spends all her time in blessing and
cursing. The elders said: "If she curses the leaves that they may fall, they
fall; if she blesses the young leaves, they sprout. If she curses the trees to
die, they die; if she blesses them to live, they live. Every thing, the elders
say, takes place according to her imprecations."
When the long-armed apes are heard screaming at night, it is said they scream on account of having heard the imprecations of the goddess Ta-la, the name given to this lady. The apes on Than-thie, at the [p.217] south-east corner of Toungoo, hear her words and cry, and the language is taken up by all the other apes within hearing, and is thus passed on from one to another throughout the whole land.
Thunder and Lightning.
The thunderbolt is regarded as a living being. It has been
seen and described by the elders as tearing up trees in the form of a hog, and
about the same size, but with bat-like wings. When it utters its voice, it
thunders, and when it flaps its wings, fire is produced, and it lightens.
When it lightens in the evening near the horizon, and no sound is heard, it is said that the young thunderbolts are flapping their wings, but they are not old enough to make a noise so as to be heard far.
The Rainbow is deemed to be a spirit or demon, but the people
are not united in regard to its true character. Some say it is a woman who died
in pregnancy ; others, that it is a demon which devours the spirits of human
beings, and then they appear to die by accidental or violent deaths ; and other
theories are propounded.
"The Rainbow can devour men," says one. "When it devours a person, he dies a sudden or violent death. All persons that die badly, by falls, by drowning, or by wild beasts, die because the Rainbow has devoured their ka-la, or spirit. On devouring persons it becomes thirsty, and comes clown to drink, when it is seen in the sky drinking water.
"Therefore when people see the Rainbow, they say: 'The Rainbow has come to drink water. Look out, some one or another will die violently by an evil death.' If children are playing, their parents will say to them: 'The Rainbow has come down to drink. Play no more, lest some accident should happen to you.' And after the Rainbow has been seen, if any fatal accident happens to any one, it is said the Rainbow has devoured him."
The waters are inhabited by beings whose proper form is that
of dragons, but that occasionally appear as men, and who take wives of
[p.218] the children of men, Unlike the Naiads of
classic antiquity, they never take the forms of females, but always appear as
One girl, who had been deceived and had taken an inhabitant of the water for her husband, was told that she might ascertain his true character by watching him privately when he bathed. She did so, and 6aw him in the water change to a monster dragon, with a crest as large as seven wide mats. He threw up the waters to the heavens, which descended in heavy rain.
A water spirit called Mau-lau-kwie figures largely in the Karen myths. A girl is represented as having formed an acquaintance with this personage, and as holding clandestine meetings with him, when she went down to the stream to draw water. Standing on the bank she sung:
"Mau-lau-kwie, come, let us bathe together.
Mau-lau-kwie, come, let us wash our faces together.
Mau-lau-kwie, come with beads and rings;
Come, come, as thou art wont."
"Mau-lau-kwie came, and they washed their faces together, and combed their heads
This occurred frequently, and the girl's parents wondered at her long absence, when she went to draw water; so they sent the younger children to see, and they came back with the report that their sister had a meeting with Mau-lau-kwie. Her father then sent her off to help her grandmother, and in the interval he went down to the water and called Mau-lau-kwie, as his daughter had done. He came at the call, when his father-in-law cut off his head with a sword, and split open his head with an axe.
When the girl returned from her grandmother's, she went down to the banks of the stream, and called her lover as usual; but instead of Mau-lau-kwie, there came a long procession of tadpoles, crabs, cray-fish, shrimps, prawn, fish and crocodiles. She asked: "What does all this mean? Where are you going?
"A crocodile replied; 'Mistress, we are going to weep at the funeral of Mau-lau-kwie,
His father-in-law cut off his head,
Split open his skull;
Mau-lau-kwie is dead, is dead."
"She answered: 'I will go with you.'
"The crocodile said: 'Thou canst not go;' But she replied: 'I will go.'
"The crocodile then said: 'If thou wilt go with me, prepare seven cakes of
bread, seven chatties of steamed rice, seven hams, and seven white cloths.' She
made the requisite preparations, and started off with the crocodile. The
crocodile said to her: 'When I wriggle my body about, throw down a cake, a
chatty of steamed rice, and a ham.' She went along, and fed the crocodile as he
directed; and they reached the body of Mau-lau-kwie, where she wept and sung:
'There is no one to build the house, There is no one to build the dwelling; The
flying squirrel's wings are split unequal. Would that I had died with my
At this juncture Mau-lau-kwie rose to life again; and, on uttering a word, the tortoise said Ta-lau; when Mau-lau-kwie, exhausted, fell down, and hit against the breast of the tortoise.
Again they wept for Mau-lau-kwie, and when his wife sung, again he rose to life, and spoke a word; but the flying squirrel said Ya-lau, and Mau-lau-kwie fell against the flying squirrel, and tore his wings unevenly. Again they wept, and again his wife sung, and Mau-lau-kwie rose to life again; and now to die no more.
After Mau-lau-kwie's wife had born a child, the family went to visit her parents; and one day she went out to visit the neighbours, and left the child in charge of its grandmother; saying to her: "Mother, if the babe awakes, do not bathe it in the brass bason."
After the mother had gone out, the child awoke, and its grandmother put it into the brass bason to bathe it, when it turned into a little yellow-tailed carp. The old woman broiled it, and when her daughter returned, told her what had happened, and what she had done. The mother took the fish, went down to the stream, and threw it into the water. Her sister followed to weep with her for the loss of the child, but the mother ran down the bank on the crooks of the gigantic bean creeper, and she did not dare to follow, but stood weeping at the top of the steep bank. Her father came and asked her, what she was crying for; and on hearing, he cut off the vine in anger; and it fell down into his son-in-law's great hall and filled it up.
His daughter called out: "Father, thou hast given me up now.
Thou hast cut off the gigantic creeper, and I can no more visit thee." Her
father heard these words, and he also heard his grandchild.
"I visited grandmother, I visited grandmother; grandmother gave me an egg to eat: I visited grandfather, visited grandfather; grandfather gave me a fowl to eat."
He heard the voice of his daughter and the voice of his grandchild, and he dived down into the water time after time all day, but found nothing, and returned home at eve sorrowing.
DRYADS AND OREADES.
The elders relate that Mount Kie-ku, in the Bghai country,
and the peepul Tha-ka-u beyond the seas engaged in war.
It arose on this wise. The peepul had a daughter whose name was Bu-ban, and the mountain had a son whose name was Phai-thau-o; and the two were married. After the marriage, she came and lived with her husband's family.
She was possessed of miraculous. powers, and did not pound paddy. She would take a single kernel of rice, and split it in two, and then throw one half into the rice bin when it was filled with rice immediately, and the other half she threw into the rice chatty which became filled with rice in the same manner.
Her neighbours were envious, and mount Bai-tha-lu seized her, and gave her to mount Po-phau; and mount Po-phau gave her to mount De-pha-ho; and mount De-pha-ho put her in the stocks, which still remain. There she sat, and wept, and blew her nose; and the marks of her finger nails, where she wiped her hand on the rocks, are yet visible.
The peepul, Tha-ka-u, became very angry with mount Kie-ku on account of treatment his daughter had received, and made war with him.
The peepul being in the sea, made the crocodiles his soldiers, and mount Kie-ku's soldiers were thunderbolts. When they fought, the peepul made the waters rise, and soften the earth, and the crocodiles thrust their tails into the ground, so that the sides of the mountains slipped down. At each land slide, they would say: "There dies an officer."
When mount Kie-ku attacked, he made it so hot that the sea
was dried up, and the crocodiles could not live in it; and he threw his
thunderbolts at the peepul, and when a branch was struck off, they said: "There
dies an officer."
The peepul came and fought the mountain several days, but getting the worst of it, he said: "I will retreat." In his retreat Phai-thau-o, his daughter's husband, intercepted his path, and hid himself in a gorge by the way, watching for his father-in-law to come along. He had a sword, and a gold comb that shone like the sun, and to keep himself from being seen, he put his comb under his foot and trod on it. There he stood in the interstice of two rocks, and when one of the peepul's officers came along, he smote him with his sword and killed him; and so on, one after another, till he had nearly killed off the whole. There was only one left. He said to himself: "They are all ended, and took up his comb, and put it in his hair again, which made him visible."
The remaining officer said, as he came along: "A great many people have gone before, and yet the sound of horse or elephant is not heard;" and starting on, he saw Phai-thau-o, whom he cut down and killed with his sword.
Until this day, people say the matter is not finished. They have a saying: "Mau-khe's contention is not settled: Mau's contention is not settled."
Now and then, we find a good natured spirit appearing in
Karen stories that comes for some one's benefit. Here is a specimen:
"The elders say that there was once a poor orphan boy, that owned nothing but a dog with seven tails. On one occasion, he noticed his dog go and bark on a hillock in the field near his house; but when he went there, he found nothing, so he came away. Still the dog remained barking, and he went again and dug into the hillock, when he found a cavity with an egg in it. He took the egg, intending to eat it, put it in a basket, and went to work in his field. During his absence, the spirit in the egg cooked the poor youth's rice and curry for him; and when he came home, he found his meal ready prepared for him, but he was afraid to eat it, and he went to the neighbours to inquire if they could explain the matter. They [p.222] replied to him roughly: 'Thou art an orphan, thy house is nasty and dirty, who dost thou think would go up into it?' He returned to his house, and being very hungry, he said to himself: 'If I die, I die, I will eat.' So he ate, and nothing happened to him.
"The same thing occurred next day. His food was cooked and ready for him on returning from his labour. The following day, he determined to watch; so after going away, he returned cautiously, and he saw a young woman come out of the basket. She went to the brook and brought water, and then cooked the rice. He showed himself to her, and she no more took the form of an egg, but became his wife. She said to him: 'My name is Miss Egg, but never speak my name. If thou dost, I shall disappear, and thou wilt see me no more.'
"People frequently asked him for his wife's name, but he never told, till they induced him to drink arrack to intoxication. Then he revealed her name." When he came to himself his wife was gone, and he wept bitterly.
"His dog said to him: 'Master, don't cry. We will go to where Mistress is.' He answered: 'If we go, shall we find her?' The dog said: 'Follow me.' So away they went together, till they reached the banks of the Salwen, when the dog said: 'I will swim across. Take bold of my tail, and on reaching the other side, do not say: 'Good! Thou dost, my tail will drop off.' He failed, however, to do as he was commanded, and on getting on shore he exclaimed: 'Good!' when one of the dog's tails dropped off.
"They kept on their way, till they reached another large river, where the same scene was enacted; and so on, till they had crossed seven large rivers and all the dog's seven tails had dropped off. On losing the last, the dog said to his master: 'I shall die, and there are many cross-roads on the way. If master goes on, let him take my body with him. On reaching the first crossings, cut off my head, and try on which road the blood drops. Follow the road on which my blood drops; and on coming to a multitude of houses, try the foot of the steps of each house till my blood drops down on one. The house in which my Mistress lives, is the one on which my blood drops upon the steps.' The dog ceased speaking, and immediately expired. This time the man followed his dog's directions, and found his wife."
The Karens, in some of their observances, come very near to the worship of "stocks and stones." Many keep stones in their houses that they suppose possess miraculous powers, and which seem to re- present the household gods of the ancients.
A Bghai writes:
"The elders say: Some stones are possessed of superhuman
powers, and if we possess them, we shall succeed in our undertakings, and obtain
a sufficiency of food. If we possess bat a little, that little will not be
expended by using, but will always be enough to supply our wants.
"Some stones are called paddy stones, because those who possess them, obtain good crops of paddy. Some stones are said to make us invulnerable; so that when javelins are thrown at us, spears thrust against us, or blows aimed at us with swords, we shall not be hit; or if hit, they will not enter our flesh.
"These stones crave blood. If we do not give them blood to eat, they will sometimes eat us. So people kill hogs and fowls, and then pour the blood into a vessel, and put the stones into the blood.
"If the stones are thrown away, after a considerable time, they will be sometimes found to have come back again to their old accustomed places.
"In a village of thirty families, perhaps ten will have these stones; but in some villages nearly every family will have them. They are sometimes bought and sold, and those that are reputed good ones, will sell at from thirty to fifty rupees. Some that have been in a family a long time, the owners dare not sell. If a stone is sold at less than its real value, or is stolen, it will return to its former owner.
"We have heard that the inhabitants of the village of Deu-mu-kha had a number of stones, the principal one of which they called Lwai. No one dared to touch or even look on these stones, excepting the officiating priests in the sacrifices to the lord of the earth. They had charge of the stones, and were called their lords or masters; and when a black bullock was sacrificed to the lord of the earth, a fowl was sacrificed to these stones in the same place.
"It is said that the Burmese on one occasion made an attack on [p.224] this village and carried away all their stones; but afterwards all the stones came back to their old places.
"When the teacher arrived, they carried away all their stones into the jungle, and built a chapel, and said; 'If the stones come back, we will not worship God, but if they do not come back, as formerly, we will worship God.' The stones have never returned, so the people worship God to this day. The inhabitants of that village stand in great fear of stones, more than ordinary.
"We have also heard that the Pakus have stones, like a man's fist, and when they have any hatred against any one, they will strike the impressions of his foot on the ground with one of these stones, and the man dies."
I have seen many of their stones, but there is nothing remarkable in them, and they possess nothing in common, They are most usually bits of rock crystal, or jasper, or some variety of chalcedony, but never of any value, or in any way curious. Occasionally they are mere lumps of stratified rock, remarkable for nothing but the numerous thin lines of strata displayed on their edges.
The possession of one of these miraculous stones had much to do in dividing the Red Karens into two tribes, eastern and western, as they are now found. The story has been related to me thus; "There was a Sgau called Shapau, who possessed an exceedingly good stone. He set himself up as a kind of political teacher, and travelled about from village to village among the Sgaus and Pakus. They said to him, 'We cannot receive thee. If we receive thee, should the king at Ava hear of it, the Burmans will kill us all.'
"As he could not succeed among his own countrymen, he took his wife and wife's sister, and went away to the Red Karens. They received him and built him a house, and it was not long before he began to work miracles with his stone. The stone was remarkable, it is said, for having the power to change its colour. It could change from black to yellow or white at pleasure. The result was that all the Red Karens believed in him. They believed in him so fully that they were discussing the question of making him king.
"At this juncture, a son of the king of Ava rebelled against his father, but his father overcame him and he fled to Toungoo. He did not dare to remain long there, however, for fear of his father, so he [p.225] went into the Red Karen country, where he met with Sbapau, and married his wife's sister. In the end, the Burman succeeded in establishing himself in the eastern part of Karenee, killed his brother-in-law Shapau, stole his stone, and became king or chief of all the eastern part of the Red Karen country, where his descendants rule to this day."
Karens believe in the magical properties of things, as illustrated in the following story:—
The Magic Ring.
"The Elders say, there was an orphan child brought up by his
grandmother, who was so lazy that he would not open the skins of the wild
plantains when he wanted to eat them, but made his grandmother do it for him. He
would do nothing but play, so he got the name of Mr. Laziness.
"His grandmother, finding a trading boat going down the river, persuaded the boatmen to take him along. When on board, he would not do anything. If the boatmen gave him food, he ate; if they gave him none, he fasted. They found Mm good for nothing but to watch their boat when they left it; and for this they gave him an occasional two annas or a quarter of a rupee.
"One morning, when all the men had gone up into the town, and he was left alone in the boat, he heard that one of the citizens was about to kill a cat, and he asked permission to buy it, and it was sold to him.
"Again, about noon, he heard that another one was going to kill a rat, that had done some mischief, and he bought off that also for three pice.
"Towards evening, several of the citizens came along with a crocodile, that they had just taken, and were about to kill, for having devoured several men. This, with a dog, he bought for a quarter of a rupee. He put the crocodile into the boat, when it spoke and said to him: 'Master, thou hast had mercy on me and bought me, and I shall not die. The reason I devour men is, that there is a gold ring in my head. The ring is under the flesh in my head, and whatsoever I desire, I obtain. Chisel it out, take it for thyself, and let me go into the water.' So he took a chisel belonging to one of the boatmen, [p.226] cut the gold ring out of the crocodile's head, and let it go free in the water.
"He put the gold ring on his finger, and when he desired silver, silver came into his box; and when he desired gold, gold came into his box. The boatmen came back to the boat at night, but knew nothing of what had happened; and he returned with them to his home.
"He told his grandmother to go to the king of the country, and ask his daughter in marriage for him. She said: 'Dost thou want to be killed by the king's sword?'—and refused to go. He replied: 'If thou dost not go, let thy arm come out of the back,' and immediately her arm come out of her back. Being unable to withstand her grandson, she finally went to the king, and asked his daughter for him.
"The king said: 'Let thy grandson build a bridge of silver, and a bridge of gold from the foot of the steps of your house, to the foot of the steps of my palace, and then he shall have my daughter in marriage; but if he does not, then you shall die.' The old woman returned weeping, but when she told the king's terms, he bid her cheer up, for he could easily comply with them.
"During the night, he desired a silver bridge and a golden bridge to stretch itself between his house and the palace, and it was done. So in the morning the king led his daughter over the golden bridge, and gave her in marriage to Mr. Laziness.
"There was a Brahmin at court, who came to the princess, and said: 'Thy husband wears a gold ring, and he will not allow thee to put it on thy finger.' She replied: 'If I ask him, he will.' So she asked her husband to allow her to wear the gold ring, and he at once granted her request.
"When the Brahmin saw the ring on her finger, he asked to see it; and she handed it to him. Immediately he put it on his finger, and exclaimed: 'Fly away, fly away palace; ' and the king's palace flew away to the other side of the ocean with the Brahmin and the princess in it.
"The king said to his servants: 'Because I received Mr. Laziness, I have lost my palace, go put him in prison, and to-morrow go and kill him.' The king's servants went and put him in prison.
"He was accompanied to the jail by his dog, his cat, and his
rat; and he ordered them to go and fetch his gold ring from the Brahmin that
night, and to he sure to be back before morning. Away they went at once. The dog
swam across the sea, and the cat and rat rode on his back.
"When they arrived at the Brahmin's, they found him asleep under wire mosquito curtains. The cat told the rat to gnaw a hole through the curtain, which it did large enough for the cat to get in. They both went in, and the cat said: 'Rat, smell about, and tell me where my master's ring is.' The rat replied: 'I smell the ring in his mouth.' The cat then said: 'I will bite him in the throat, and if he vomits up the ring seize it quickly.' The rat replied: 'Perhaps our master will think we killed the Brahmin, and then he will kill us. To make him throw the ring out of his mouth, I will put my tail up his nostril and tickle him till he sneezes, and then he will throw the ring out of his mouth; and then you must snatch it up immediately.'
"The plan succeeded. They obtained the ring and both ran out of the house to the dog, that was waiting for them outside. He asked, if they had gotten the ring; and on being told they had, he said: 'Give it to me, you cannot carry it safely.' So they gave it to him, and he put it in his mouth.
"The whole three returned then across the sea, as they came; but when half way back, the dog saw a pack of otters in the water and he barked at them, when the ring was thrown out of his mouth into the sea, where it was swallowed by a fish.
"The cat said: 'This is hard. The ring is lost, and our master will be killed in the morning.' The rat said: 'The otters were the cause of this misfortune. Dog, go bite them on the rocks.' The dog leaped on the rocks, and bit an old otter, saying: 'It is on your account that we have lost the gold ring into the sea, and our master will be killed in the morning.' The otter replied: 'Do not kill me, I will get the fish for you.' So he plunged into the water, brought up the fish that had swallowed the ring; and the cat ripped it up and took the ring out of its belly. They then continued their journey, and arrived with the ring without further accident, which they delivered to their master; who then delivered himself from prison, and brought [p.228] back the palace with the Brahmin in it. He slew the Brahmin with all his relatives, and exterminated the whole race."
Men-eating giants are among the supernatural beings with
which a Karen has to contend; and their exploits are heard as often in Karen
nursery tales, as they formerly were in Europe. Here is a specimen:
"The elders say that a little girl went down to the brook to draw water in the usual Karen bucket, made of a joint of a large bamboo. When she laid it on the surface of the stream to fill with water, it escaped from her hands, and floated away. She ran after it clown the bank, till she reached a dam, which proved to be the dam of a giant. Soon after her arrival, the giant came down to fish, and was about to devour her; but she told her artless tale, and the giant spared her, and took her up to his house. Here they were met by the giantess who congratulated her husband on having picked up so nice a morsel for their dinner. However, the old giant protected the child, and she became their adopted daughter.
"On one occasion, when the old people went out, as they said, to search for greens, they left the little girl in the house, and charged her not to look into two baskets that were in one corner of the room. Her curiosity being excited, no sooner was she left alone, than she peeped into the baskets. One was found filled with gold and silver, and the other with nothing but dead men's skulls.
"Ever after making this discovery, she importuned the giants to allow her to return home; and they finally consented, but the old giantess required before her departure to look over her head once and pick out the vermin; an act of courtesy often performed by Karens for their friends. On looking into her hair, the little girl was astonished to find it filled with green snakes and centipedes. She called for an axe, and chipped away in the head of the old giantess till she could endure it no longer, and then permission was given the little girl to depart.
"Before going, the giants told her she might take one of the baskets with her; whichever one she chose. She said; As you are getting into years, and cannot well weave baskets, I will take the old [p.229] one. This she knew contained the gold and silver; and she was permitted to take it.
"When about to start, the giantess said: 'When thou reachest black water, comb thy hair and wipe thy teeth. When thou reachest red water, wipe thy lips; but when thou comest to white water bathe thyself.' She observed the directions given her, and reached home in safety, where the fame of her gold and silver brought together all her friends and relatives; to each of whom she gave a bowl full.
"Among those who received a bowl full of silver and gold, was one dissatisfied young man, who coveted more; so he determined to try his future with the giant, and endeavour to obtain a whole basket full for himself. He succeeded in being adopted into the family, in being allowed to return, and in having the offer of a basket to take with him. He had not looked into the baskets, but like his predecessor he chose the old one. The same charge was given him in regard to crossing the streams, but he paid no attention to his instructions, but dashed across them and got home as quick as possible. On reaching his house, he opened the basket, when to his horror and disappointment, he found the basket full of dead men's skulls. Little time, however, was given him to brood over his misfortunes, for the giant followed rapidly after him, and devoured him on the spot."
The Karens, like other nations in their ignorance, believe in
omens; and desist from a journey or an undertaking, when they occur. Like the
Romans, a snake crossing the path, or a woodpecker tapping, stops a man by the
way; as does the falling of a branch of a tree, or the bleating of the barking
deer. Sickness is supposed to be the consequence of non-observance, and a
sacrifice is offered for an atonement.
Among the Bghais an elder is called, and all the family assembled together: male and female, young and old. The elder then leads a dog round the assembled family three times, praying as he goes: "When we work, or labour; when we go, or return; at the bleat of the barking deer, at the voice of the otter, at the crash of a falling tree, at the sight of a snake, at the sight of a scorpion, at the sight of a large serpent, at the sight of a python, we ought to pause, or [p.230] we become sick, we suffer and die. Now we offer thee food to eat, a great dog. Heal this man, let disease leave him."
The dog is then killed, and the elder sits down facing the whole family, with a green bamboo raised two or three feet, and stretched horizontally between them, over which he throws the dead dog, taking it by the legs; and the family catches it and throws it back at him. This ceremony is repeated three times, and then the dog is cooked and eaten.
Subjected, as a Karen is, to the multifarious dangers
proceeding from the wrath of unseen spirits; he tries, when he has come under
the ban of one, and is prostrated by sickness thereby, to ascertain which, it
is, that he may propitiate it by suitable offerings.
To make the discovery, he resorts to prophets or necromancers, persons that have eyes to see into the unseen world, and to fowl's bones. Omens too fall within the same category, as giving indications of the future.
There are persons among the Karens who profess to have eyes
to see unseen spirits, to tell what they are doing, and even to go to Hades and
converse with the spirits of the dead there. When a person is sick, these
people, for a fee, will tell what spirit has produced the sickness, and the
necessary offering to conciliate it. They will sometimes go to Hades and bring
back the La that has gone thither, and resuscitate the dead body. This is proven
by the following story:—
"The elders relate that there was a woman who had two daughters; and her husband died and left her a widow.
"After their father's death, their mother treated them very cruelly, beating them continually, so that both died and left her alone. Then she grieved, and wept unceasingly, and refused to be comforted. In her distress, she went to a necromancer, and induced him to visit her children in Hades. He found the La of the youngest, and said to her: 'Thy mother on earth weeps for thee exceedingly. Go comfort her.' The younger then sang to her elder sister.
'Return sister, mother requests,
She weeps for us in deep distress.'
"The elder sister responded:
'Return not to her, sister dear,
'Twas mother beat and sent us here.'
"The elder sister positively refused to return to the earth, hut the La of the younger one came hack with the necromancer, and on her arrival at home, the body came to life again."
In the beginning, say the elders, Grod gave to the Chinese a
book of paper, to the Burmese a book of palm leaf, and to the Karens a book of
skin. The Chinese and the Burmese studied their books, and taught them to their
children; but the Karens were indolent, did not value their book and laid it on
the end of their house, where it was thrown down on the ground, and a hog came
and tore it up. After the hog had gone, a fowl came and picked up all the
It soon became apparent even to the Karens that the Chinese and Burmese greatly excelled them in knowledge through their acquaintance with books; and they then regretted the loss of their own book.
They concluded, however, that the fowl which had eaten up the book must possess all the knowledge that the book contained. They resolved therefore to consult its thigh bones, and note the marks and indentations made by the tendons on them as letters, and pray to it to reveal its knowledge.
There is no superstition so commonly practised among the Karens as this. No measure of importance is undertaken, till a favourable response has been obtained from the fowl's bones.
The thigh bones of a chicken are taken out, and after prayer, and making a condition that the bones may exactly correspond, or they may differ in some particular; that the indentations for the tendons, may be alike or unlike, that the bones may be even or uneven; the two bones are held up abreast of each other, between the thumb and finger and carefully examined. It requires a practised eye to read the result accurately, and there are many nice distinctions known only to the elders, who do not always agree in their readings.
From my house in Karenee, I looked down into the court-yard of the Saubwa, where he was in consultation with some of his chiefs over the chicken bones. They were passed round from hand to hand each [p.232] giving his opinion, and the conclusion reached was, as I afterwards learned, that the omens were favourable for a contemplated attack on a village in eastern Karenee. The fowl, however, deceived them that time; for some half a dozen wounded men of the village were brought in next day, and no plunder.
The Bghais seem to regard the fowl as the bird of Indra, the king of the Deva heavens. Once a year, in February or March, every Bghai family holds a festival, in which every person's wrist is tied with a thread, and prayers are addressed both to the fowl offered, and to Thie-keu, Mo-khie, or Indra. The rite is called: "The good to do;" but of its origin and object, the natives can give no account beyond what is found in the forms themselves. An intelligent Bghai assistant furnishes the following statement:
"When the time approaches, the people prepare beforehand ardent spirits, and buy hogs and fowls, and get every thing ready. When the time actually comes, the villagers perform the ceremony, two or three or four families a day, till it has gone through the whole village.
"The first thing done is to bring up two jars of arrack, and secure them by tying them to a bamboo, and the next is to bring up a hog and fowls. Then an eating dish is washed and filled with water, and Bel by the side of the jars with spirits.
"An elder is now called on, any one skilled in interpreting fowl's bones, and a fowl is put into his hands. He cuts off the bill of the fowl, dips its head and feet in the water, and then drops the blood from the bleeding head on the forehead of the oldest man of the family that is performing the ceremony.
"The master of ceremonies then addresses the elder, and says: 'The hand-tier devours thee. Thou hast the jaundice, thou art shrivelled up, thou art not strong, thou art weakly. Now we give food and drink to the hand-tier. Mayest thou be strong, mayest thou be vigorous. Mayest thou be established as the rock, indestructible as the hearth stones. Mayest thou have long life, mayest thou have a protracted existence.'"
After besmearing the elder's forehead with the fowl's blood, the master of ceremonies pinches a few feathers and a little down from the fowl's neck, and sticks them on the blood, where they adhere, perhaps for the whole day.
He next addresses the fowl, and says: "Arouse, arouse,
Thiekeu's fowl. Mo-khie's fowl, we give thee food, we afford thee sustenance.
Thou drinkest in a knowledge of the future, thou eatest superhuman power. In the
morning, thou seest the hawk, in the evening thou seest man. The seven heavens,
thou ascendest to the top; the seven earths, thou descendest to the bottom.
'Thou arrivest at Khu-the; thou goest unto Tha-ma [i.e. Yu-ma, the judge of the
dead]. Thou goest through the crevices of rocks, thou goest through the crevices
of precipices. At the opening and shutting of the western gates of rock, thou
goest in between; thou goest below the earth where the sun travels. I employ
thee, I exhort thee. I make thee a messenger, I make thee an angel. Good, thou
revealest; evil, thou revealest. Arouse thee fowl, arouse; reveal what is in
thee. Now I exhort thee, I entreat thee, if this man is to live to an old age,
if his head is not to be bent down, if he is not to come down crash, like a
falling tree, let the right hand bone come uneven, let the bones be short and
long. Thou art skilled in the words of the elders, thou knowest the language of
old men. The good, thou fully knowest; with the evil thou art perfectly
acquainted. Fowl, I exhort thee, I entreat thee; reveal whatever is in thee. And
now, if this man's head is to bend clown, if he is to come down crash, like a
falling tree, if he is to be unable to rest himself from incessant trouble; if
unable to overcome obstacles which shall meet him on every hand; if unable to
rise up or lie down, if his life is not to be prolonged, if he cannot live,
then, fowl, come up unpropitious, come up with the tendon short on the right
side, come wrong end foremost. If he be able to obtain sufficient to support
life, if he be not overcome by feuds, fowl, come up even. Thie-keu's fowl, Mo-khie's
fowl, I pull out thy feathers, I pull at thy skin, I dip thy head, I dip thy
feet. Arouse fowl, reveal what is in thee."
Every one in succession is then besmeared on his forehead with the blood of a separate fowl; and then every one marks his own fowl by tying a string to it that he may recognise it after being cooked. Some tie a string on the neck, others on the leg, others on the wing, and others elsewhere. They next scorch off the feathers, and boil them.
The hog is taken if the gall bladder be deemed a good one, otherwise it is rejected. When the rice and meat is cooked, they bring the rice, [p.234] and the pork, and the fowls, and the threads, and the bamboo tubes to suck up the drink and the spirits; and all are placed together.
The master of ceremonies then goes and puts two bamboo tubes into the left hand of one, and the gall bladder of the hog and the head of the fowl into his right band; and then the elder of the family takes the thread and ties his wrist. Each one in succession takes the articles in his or her hands mentioned above, and the elder ties every one's wrist, at the same time praying with each: "Mo-khe, the hand-tier, the good-to-do, we offer thee food and drink, spirits well prepared, a great hog. Defend us; when we go to and fro, look after us. If we fall, raise us up. When we go or return, when we walk on a branch or a beam, when the branches or creepers break down, when we go among the Burmese or other tribes, when we climb trees or descend into the waters, when we go up into the house, or return to the paddy field, may no accident befal us! Stretch forth thy hand, and help us; put forth thy foot and assist us. Go before us, follow behind us. Deliver us from demons, deliver us from ghosts."
After this the person whose wrist is tied, changes the things in his hands from right to left and left to right. Then each one tastes the spirits; after which each one tastes the fowl; and when this is done, an elder is called upon to pray, who prays thus:
"Mo-khe of mountain Kie-ku, Mo-khe of the seven heavens, Mo-khe of the seven earths, assemble together, even the blind, the deaf and the lame; and eat and drink the valuables."
A libation of spirits is then poured out; and after this the drama closes with spirits being served out for all to drink.
"There are seven heavens and seven earths." This expression occurs frequently in Karen stories, but the people have no definite ideas on the subject. The sun is supposed to go round the earth. In the west are two massive strata of rocks which are continually opening and shutting. Between these strata the sun descends at sunset, but how the upper stratum is supported, no one can describe.
In the western ocean is an immense volcanic mountain, which
is continually fighting with the water. They have a story which must be of
common origin with Sinbad the Sailor.
The Elders say there are fish in the sea as large as mountains, with trees and bamboos growing on them as on land. Voyagers have to be careful where they land to cook. They carry axes, and cut into the ground to try it. If juice springs up where it is cut, they know that they are on a fish; but if the ground seems dry, they are on land, and go to cooking.
It is related that a man landing on an island, went to cooking without trying his ground, and it proved to be a fish which sunk with him into the sea, and then swallowed him. When the man was in the fish's belly, he said to the fish: "When males acquire large game, they shout, and cry out in exultation, but you are silent. Are you not a male? On hearing this, the fish opened his mouth to scream, when the man leaped out and escaped."
The Elders say that when people kill one of these fish, it is impossible for them to eat it all up, and they burn its fat. With its bones they can make beams and rafters for houses.
The Karens have names for a few of the most prominent
constellations. The great Bear they call an elephant, and so do the Burmese and
Hindus. The pole star is a mouse crawling into the elephant's trunk.
The southern cross they call Mai-la-ka, a name whose derivation is not obvious, but they regard it as some kind of animal; for they say that Mai-la-ka and the elephant once dwelt together in the middle of the heavens, but they quarrelled and fought. Mai-la-ka seized the elephant by his tail, and the elephant took Mai-la-ka by his thigh, and in the struggle which ensued the two were thrown to the opposite extremities of the heavens, where they remain to this day.
The Pleiades is called "the great house," and is regarded as a family of persons, consisting originally of seven persons, but one has been lost, and there are only six now. Two men, one of their myths states, married here two sisters. The names of the men were Lan-to, and To-phau; and of the women Tha-bgheu-mu, and Tha-bgheu-bghai. [p.236] While the men were out fishing, "the wife hearer," or Orion, came and carried them off on his shoulder. The women cried out to their husbands:
"Lau-to, oh, Lau-to dear,
Snatch up thy how and spear,
To-phau, oh, To-phau come,
We're carried away from home."
After calling a long time, their husbands heard their cries, and returned home, when they discovered that their wives had been carried away. They seized their bows and spears and followed on after "the wife bearer." When they came within a spear's throw of him, Lau-to poised his spear or javelin to throw it at "the wife bearer;" but his younger brother came behind Lau-to unobserved, and struck the handle of the javelin, so that it flew against his father-in-law's house, and knocked a part of it down. To encourage their wives, the men sung:
"Tha-bgheu-mu, suffering dear,
Tha-bgheu-bghai, have no fear.
The bow's bent, the string tight,
Arrows ready, you in sight."
Then they followed on silently, and "the wife bearer"
thinking he was not pursued, stopped and set down his burden to rest; but while
he was gone down into the water to bathe, the husbands arrived and carried their
wives back home, and repaired their father-in-law's house.
Though the resemblance is remote, yet this story must have had a common origin with the Greek myth of Orion and the daughters of Oenopion.
Some of the Karen constellations, to judge from their names, are of Karen origin. One is called the "Burmese yoke," from the resemblance the stars are supposed to bear to the yoke a Burman carries on his shoulder.
Some names are local and vary in different places. For instance the Karens in the south call the Milky way the "Paddy Bin;" while the Bghais denominate it the "Bazar street," because the streets in the bazar are usually an undistinguishable mass of people.
Comets are sometimes called "Tailed-Stars," sometimes "Fire-Stars," and sometimes "Smoke-Stars." In common with all other unenlightened nations, the Karens regard their appearance as indicating approaching war, famine, pestilence, or other public calamities.
The Karens do not seem to recognize any planet, excepting Venus. They know the evening and morning star to be one and the same, and by some process not clearly understood, she is sometimes before, and sometimes after the sun. When a morning star, she is called the "Star receiving the morning;" and when an evening star, the "Star receiving the evening."
Shooting Stars are said to be "Youth Stars," going to visit the "Maiden Stars." When a Karen girl sees one she exclaims, "May my hair grow as long as the path thou fliest!"
Meteors, the Karens say, are the animals that produce gold and silver, and when seen in the heavens descending to the earth, are supposed to be returning home. When a report is heard, as the Karens say there often is, it is the roar the animal makes on entering the earth. Wherever they fall, gold or silver is certainly to be found in the neighbourhood.
Division of the Year.
The Karens divide the year into twelve lunar months, and,
like occidental nations, they begin it with January, and end it with December.
This is contrary to the usage of all the nations that surround them; the
Burmese, the Talaings, and the Shans commencing the year in March. "The civil
year," says the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, "commences differently
in different parts of Thibet, varying from December to February. At Asadakh, it
begins in December. The months have several names expressive of the seasons, &c,
but they are usually denominated numerically; first, second, &c." The Karens
would seem then to have derived their calendar from Thibet, for while they make
now the year to begin in January, yet [p.238] the months corresponding to June and July are designated numerically "the
seventh," and "the eighth" months, which must have originated from a system that
made December the first month; as our September and October must have been
named, when the year wag made to commence in March.
The names of many of the months show that they were given when the Karens had the same habits that they have now. Thus January is "the searching month," from the habit of going about in search of a suitable locality to clear a field. And February is "the hewing month," because in this month the trees are cut down. Other names show that the seasons were the same when and where the names were given as they are now. Thus April is "the seed month," because in this month the seed is sown; and August is "the month of gladness," because the corn is then in the ear; like the month of Abib among the Hebrews; but that corresponded to April, indicating a different climate from the Karen. May is "the Crinum" or holy month, because the Crinums, popularly called lilies, are then in flower; while December is denominated "the month of the shades," because in this month the Karens make their annual offerings to the shades of the dead.
The Red Karen names are usually coincident, but a few of the months have different names. July is not with them "the eighth month," though June is the seventh; and August is not "the month of gladness," but is named from a feast that is made this month, and which is peculiar to themselves.
A correspondent writes: "In the month of Ai-du, the Red Karens kill hogs, and fowls, and oxen all at once, and make a feast in which the whole village eat and drink together. They beat drums, and fire off muskets, and have sham fights, firing at each other with nothing but powder in their guns. Accidents often happen, and houses are frequently set on fire. The feast is kept up for three days, and during their feasting the people send food and drink to their friends and relatives in other villages. The origin of the feast is not known."
The following table exhibits the pronouns in all their forms, in the various dialects.
* The following pages have been prepared in reply to "Queries respecting the human race addressed to travellers, by a committee of the British Association for the advancement of science."