The tiger and its brother man: a Lhoba myth and some thoughts


Long, long time ago, the world was completely black. Absolutely, nothing existed. Then, heaven and earth separated, and the man from the heaven went down to the earth. Many years passed, and the earth suffered a great earthquake. There were some men who could not go down to the earth, and they stayed in the heaven and others that flew only to half the way, from where later they fell to the earth. (1)

In those years, on the earth there was a girl (2) that lived with her uncle. Each one depended on the other to live, and they only live a poor and simple life. When the girl arrived to the age of be married, there was nobody to whom marry. Then a lama passed by and said that the girl should marry her uncle (3). However, she didn't agree. She then climbed a tree to hide. She had hardly climbed to the tree, when she felt pregnant (4). Her womb started to hurt, as if they were cutting it. Then she got off the tree, and in the moment she touched earth she gave birth to a tiger (5) first, and a moment later, to a man. The tiger, hardly born it could already jump, but the man was not able even to move.

When the siblings grew, one day they left to the forest to hunt. The tiger, without hardly an effort got a deer, but the man, no matter how much he tried, it was not able to capture neither a rabbit. The tiger got very angry. He ran next to his brother, and taking him for the neck, it insulted him to be so clumsy (6).

After several days, the tiger said to his brother man to go hunting again. After having captured some wild animals, the man took two sticks, and rubbing them, made a fire. He took the meat and put it to the fire to roast it, when the delicious fragrance of the roasted meat spread everywhere, the tiger with his sharp claw took the whole meat, and while he chewed anxious the meat that didn't fit him in the mouth, said to its brother: "You are a fool. As soon as I finish eating this meat, I will eat up yours."

When the man listened to him, frightened ran house. Still panting he said to his mother: "Mother, my brother tiger wants to eat me." When the mother listened to his words got scared: "Your brother is an evil one, it is necessary to put an end to him." Then the mother thought a form of putting an end to her tiger son, and communicated it to her son man. The following day, the man simulated before the tiger to want to go to hunting again. This time he took his bow, and he took also a small insect that placed on the back of the tiger without he realized. When arriving next to the river, the man crossed first, hiding after a great tree. The tiger followed him crossing the waters; the insect began to bite him in his back producing him a great itching. The tiger was scratching with his claws. The man, seeing the tiger in the middle of the current scratching, took advantage to place an arrow in his bow, and to shoot him. The tiger now had pain and itching, and it could not swim against the current. He fell to the bottom of the river being dragged by the waters.

The man returned home very happy. There he told his mother, who felt also very happy. Since there were not tigers that ate up the men (7), these multiplied a generation after another.

(1) The first paragraph seems to almost pass trough numerous old traditions. It is seen that it is not the objective of this myth to deepen in the origin of the world and the people, nevertheless touch some common places in the mythological literature: an empty world in the beginning, the separation of heaven and earth, the man's descend from the sky, catastrophe, separation of the human stocks that give place later to the celestial beings, the earthly ones and other kinds of beings.

(2) Although chronologically one should think that the uncle is previous to the woman, in the story the woman is previous to the uncle. It is not accepted by all the specialists that the primitive society of the Lhoba was matriarchal, although between them and other peoples linguistically related with them, there are profuse vestiges of matriarchal societies. In this own paragraph, the woman's protagonism is evident, as is in the rest of the myth. It seems to correspond to the time described from the old sources in China: "they know their mother, not their father."

(3) It seems that the appearance of the lama, as the uncle, are later additions to a very old myth. Nevertheless, the taboo of the incest that it doesn't end up carrying out here, it happens more frequency among siblings, in other similar myths.

(4) This pregnancy, in which the uncle doesn't play any part, it is described in a way similar to myths that we know on the origin of the clans among the minorities of China (and even of some dynasties). His succinct description seems to follow a general model.

(5) The tiger has a tremendous symbolic meaning among the peoples who speak languages of the Yi branch of the Tibetan - Burmese family. These peoples may have been related historically with the Lhoba. The Yi are considered the "the people of the tiger". Among the Bai, Naxi, Moso, Pumi, Lahu and Lisu, the tiger also has great importance. Some recent publications suggest that the tiger is in fact, a tigress, and that the cult to the tiger among these peoples is an inheritance from the cult to the mother.

(6) In view of the symbolic meaning that the previous elements can have for the Lhoba, the confrontation between the tiger and the man that constitutes most of the myth, can refer so much to confrontations with the called "peoples of the tiger" in remote times; as to a war of sexes among the feminine elements represented by the tiger, and the masculine ones, for the man.

(7) Although the victory doesn't have to correspond with the reality, maybe reflects a former defeat before the peoples of the tiger that forced them move away from theirs original lands. It is clear that only with the disappearance of their enemies can the men multiply a generation after another.

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