New Telling of an Old Tale
Chamnongsri Rutnin Hanchanlash
1. First Narrator
The origin of gibbons: A new telling of an old tale
2. Second Narrator
As sunset, the tropical jungle awakens and comes alive with a symphony of sounds that gradually swells as the daylight mellows and fades. It is also the time of day when the western mellows and feds. It is also the time of day when the western sky glows with unpredictable combinations of colours. These sights and sounds of the dying day must have stirred the imagination of the Thai people of olden times, and engendered a fanciful link between the redness that tinges the sunset sky with the saddest of all sounds in the natural symphony of the jungle--- the high- pitched cries of the gibbons. The calls of the gibbon are near-human renderings of the sound ‘pua’ which resembles the sound of the Thai word for ‘husband’. This together with the soulful yearning of the gibbon’s call, gave birth to an old tale of love, blood and a moral weakness that accounted for the origin of the gibbons.
3. First Narrator
In ancient times there lived a young prince named Chantakorop. At the age of twelve, he left his father’s palace in search of the kingly arts and wisdom that would make him worthy of his father’s wish—the wish that he should succeed to the throne of the kingdom.
Chantakorop set out alone on his quest. He journeyed for months through deep and inhospitable jungles, for it was only in the solitude of a wilderness that supreme masters of kingly knowledge were to be found. Known as ‘rishi’, they were ascetics who had attained supernatural powers through the ancient practice of meditations. After months of terrible hardship, Chantakorop came upon a rishi seated silently by his meditation fire. The prince begged the ascetic to accept him as a pupil. With his supersensible perception, the rishi realized Chantakorop’s inborn intellingence and courage, and agreed to teach him the secret arts.
In the years that followed Chantakorop mastered all the martial and kingly arts. The day came when the rishi had nothing more to teach him and told him that it was time to return to his kingdom. The old man gave him two weapons that befitted a future king—a bow, and a long dagger that rose from the magic flames of the meditation fire. He told the prince to always keep the dagger on his person, never to allow it to be out of reach.
4. Second Narrator
Contemplating the manly grace of his princely protege, the rishi thought of creating a woman of comparable loveliness – worthy in her beauty to be the young prince’s paramour. He magically created a beautiful crystal jar. In it, he placed the soft bright feather of a gorgeously coloured bird called ‘omra’. On the inner side of lid, he inscribed the name ‘Mora’. He breathed life into the feather and turned it into a woman of exquisite beauty magically confined in the tiny crystal jar. This he gave to the prince with a warning not to open the jar before he had reached the kingdom.
5. First Narrator
Things were not destined to be as the rishi had planned. The crystal jar with its tantalizing mystery so kindled Chantakorop’s curiosity that by the fifteenth day of his journey homeward, he threw his wise old teacher’s warning to the winds; with eager hands and a beating heart, he uncovered the most fascinating of all the rishi’s gifts.
6. Second Narrator
And in the moment, the newly created feather-born Mora was released from her crystal prison. A rare vision of dazzling feminine beauty, she appeared before Chantakorop…the man for whom she was turned from windblown feather into a breathing woman. He became the first young man she had ever set eyes upon, the first human-being she had ever known besides the old rishi. Mora saw his surprise turning to delight, then his admiration blazing into desire; and when she was wooed with tender words and masculine ardour, her untutored instincts were touched and she was easily charmed. When the rishi had brought her to life, he had given her the knowledge that she was to be a possession of Chantakorop, this handsome young man whose advances fluttered the heart that had just newly begun to beat. It was thus that the feather—born woman become the wife of the brave young prince. She was told by him that she was to be the future queen of a great kingdom, a kingdom that she had never seen.
For Mora, the journey was full of unbearable hardship. The gavels and thorns of the forest’s rough ground tortured her tired feet; the tropical sun seared the silky skin of her lovely face; the upward slopes of the hilly terrain cruelly exhausted her slender frame; and when they were crossing a sun-parched plain, the thirst became unbearable for the woman who was intended by the rishi to be carried in a crystal jar.
7. First Narrator
Chantakorop was pained by the sight of his wife’s distress. In his love for her, he did all he could to make the journey easy for Mora. He broke off large shady leaves to shield her from the scorching sun. despite his exhaustion, he carried her up rocky paths and treacherous slopes. As they crossed a sun-parched plain, heat and thirst grew grievously cruel: but he forgot his own suffering when Mora threw herself on the ground crying that she could go no further. Cradled against his breast, the woman wept pitifully and begged him to find water to save her from dying of thirst. The prince took his dagger, slashed his own right thigh and cupped the flowing blood in his hands for her to drink. For Chantakorop, all the suffering and pain were small payments for the pleasures he derived from his wife’s wondrous charms.
In the forest not too far from Chantakorop’s father’s kingdom, there lived a murderous bandit and his five hundred men. The lawless band was hated and feared by all. They raided and plundered villages, they robbed and slaughtered innocent travellers. The leader’s skill in the art of magic which he used in fighting made him the most terrible of all the robbers in the forest.
One day, while out seeking for victims, the bandit came upon the handsome pair of travellers whose beauty and refinements far surpassed those of other wayfarers he had ever seen. His greed was roused by the man’s princely ornaments, and his lust fired by the extraordinary loveliness of the woman. The bandit shouted orders to his men to kill the male stranger.
Suddenly Chantakorop found himself surrounded by a horde of bandits intent on taking his life. For the second time, he acted against the warning of the rishi. He gave the dagger to Mora in case she should need to defend herself. He held Mora’s wrist in his left hand, and with the great bow in his right, he fought the bandit. With the martial arts learned from the rishi, he held his own against the blood-thirsty horde and finally killed all the five hundred. He now faced the bandits’ leader in single combat. The man was mad with gage at the death of his men. In a murderous fury he attacked Chantakorop.
The two men fought for hours with equal skill. They reached a deadlock when the bandit seized Chantakorop’s bow. Chantakorop thought of his dagger in Mora’s hand. He cried out for it.
8. Second Narrator
Mora, the feather—born woman, had watched the whole scene with the fascinated wonder of the woman who was still in the dawn of her existence. She had watched five hundred men urged on to their deaths by the leader who wanted only to win her for his own. She was strangely thrilled by the sight of this rough man grimly fighting her husband without any fears of death. His crude obstinacy was new to her. In her short life, she had known only Chantakorop – the gentle prince to whom she belonged. At one moment, her feather heart fluttered with the flattery of the rough bandit’s desire for her; yet, at another, with the thought of her husband’s tenderness. To be queen one day in the future had no significance to his newborn woman.
Unskilled in choice and judgment, she trembled between the two men, both so strong yet so different. When her husband called for the dagger, she closed her eyes and extended the dagger—letting chance decide towards whom the handle should turn.
The moment of uncertainty was one of tragic fatality. The handle was turned towards the bandit. The man grabbed it and stabbed its owner in his right breast.
9. First Narrator
To the dying man, the pain of the woman’s treachery was far more agonising than the death wound. He chided the unfaithful Mora for her ingratitude. With his last breath, he reminded her of the blood he had given to quench her thirst. Hearing the dying man’s words, the bandit realized the worthlessness of the woman over whom so many lives had been lost. And yet, her physical beauty was too extraordinary for him to ignore. So, he enjoyed her for the night meaning to kill her the following morning. But, Mora was so beautiful in her sleep that he could not find it in his heart to murder her. To rid himself of the burden, he abandoned Mora to her lonely fate in the forest.
10. Second Narrator
Waking at dawn, Mora found herself all alone in the midst of the hostile jungle. The noises seemed to grow more and more threatening. With all her heart, she yearned for the warmth of human company. Without her husband’s tender card, she knew not how to fend for her herself. As time dragged painfully by thirst and hunger grew agonising and unbearable. As Mora thought she was on the point of dying, she heard a flapping sound from above. Gazing up the saw a bird of prey coming to perch on a high branch, carrying a large piece of meat in its beak. The wretched Mora begged the bird for the meat.
11. First Narrator
The bird was, in fact, the god Indra who had transformed himself to give Mora her final test. In reply to Mora’s plea for food., he said that he would let her have the meat in return for her favours.
12. Second Narrator
The feather-born Mora was conscious only of the cruel pangs of hunger. With on hesitation, she told the bird that in return for the meat, she would give herself for his pleasure.
13. First Narrator
The god Indra was so disgusted by the woman’s moral frailty that he thought her unfit to remain a part of the human kind. He punished her by transforming her into an animal of the simian race to be known as the gibbon.
And so the exquisitely beautiful Mora, born of a feather, was doomed by Indra to become a black-faced hairy beast that retained a faint human semblance. The god took away from her all traces of human instincts, but he left her only a vague and lingering memory of her days as a woman – the memory of the blood of her husband. It was to be the memory that would torment her and her descendants for as long as the gibbons shall inhabit this earth.
14. Second Narrator
And that is why the Thai people of old say that the reddened sky at sunset would remind the gibbons of the blood of Mora’s husband. They say that it is the reason for the animal’s heart-rending cry—the tormented cry of yearning for a husband who will never again be found.
Note: The tale of the origin of the gibbons is centuries old and in the course of repeated retelling, there came into being more than one version of some of the details. This narration is based on an old verse version of an unknown authorship the manuscript of which is kept in the National Library of Thailand.
‘THE ORIGIN OF GIBBONS, A New Telling of an Old Tale’ in audio-visual presentation is produced by Cre-arts. The script is by Chamnongsri Rutnin. Slide and sound product on by Suradhaj Bunnag. Narrated by Chamnongsri Rutnin and Suradhaj Bunnag.