Remember the story of Noah’s Ark? It started with a warning from God that there was a massive flood coming. Noah, the Tiller of Soil, was commanded by God to build an ark to save mankind and the world's most precious creatures. Noah did as he was commanded and rallied everyone and everything onto the ark. And when the flood finally came, they were all saved.
Not familiar with Noah's Ark? Well maybe you’ve seen Evan Almighty starring Steve Carell, a movie with pretty much the same story arc, no pun intented.
In the movie Evan Baxter is a newly elected member of Congress and promises to change the world. Upon taking up his seat in the Capitol, he is warned by God that there is a flood coming and that if he is to change the world, he will need to build an ark. Not necessarily by choice, Evan builds the ark and by the end of the movie saves his family, the community, and the hundreds of pairs of animals that flocked to the ark.
The story of Noah’s Ark is one of the popular flood myths around the world, as it is part of the Abrahamic tradition and is told by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
But did you know that we have a similar myth? It’s called the Chie Biung Sui Yiem (The Great Flood), and it tells of how the world was repopulated after a great flood and why we started off as people of the mountain.
I have here a version of "The Great Flood" from my book From Mountains to Skyscrapers: The Journey of the Iu Mien:
Wishing to bear child, an infertile lady ascended to heaven to speak with the god Dorng Hung. While sympathetic, he denied her request and sent her back to the lower realm. But again, and again, she went back to see him. Feeling bad for the poor lady, the god eventually fulfilled her wish. He gave her a twelve-sectioned fruit and instructed her to eat one section at a time. The lady, overly anxious, devoured all of it at once and became pregnant with twelve babies. The first ten babies were boys and gifted with special powers. The two youngest, brother Fu-hei and sister Tze-mui, were unlike their older siblings.
The mother complained one day that she had consumed all kinds of meat except for the meat of Ba-ong—the God of Thunder and punisher of unruly children. As filial sons, the ten boys were at the behest of their mother. They promised to fulfill her wish and came up with a cunning plan. If they tied up their mother, it would compel her to call upon heaven for help, and they could lure Ba-ong down to the lower realm. And since the god was vulnerable to dog blood, they could weaken him by pouring the blood over the floor. Sure enough, the God of Thunder came roaring down from the skies. As he stepped onto the floor, he became crippled. The boys then locked him up in a cage.
None of the boys nor their mother had ever prepared Ba-ong meat, so they thought it would be suitable to pickle him. But pickling required salt, which was a distance away. Before leaving, the ten brothers warned Fu-hei and Tze-mui to resist giving Ba-ong any water. The god pleaded for water after the brothers departed, but the youngest siblings did not wish to be disobedient. The god tried again, only this time asking for water from a dirty jar. The siblings did not remember their older brothers mentioning any dirty water, so they relented. As soon as he drank the water, the God of Thunder regained his strength, roaring and spitting out flashes of lighting. They were bedazzled by the spectacle and gave him more water. After a few more sips, Ba-ong set himself free.
Before returning to heaven, Ba-ong presented them with a molar; they were to listen for a bird to sing a song on what to do. The youngest siblings were intrigued and accepted the molar. As was told, the bird arrived and sang a song, whispering for them to plant the molar. The siblings did what they were told, and soon, the vines of a gourd plant sprang up from the ground. Day by day, the gourd grew bigger and bigger, reaching an immense size, large enough to fit the both of them inside. The bird returned and instructed them to slice the gourd open and to collect some of its flesh and create a sticky dough. They did what they were told and stepped inside and sealed it with the dough.
Ba-ong returned to heaven still angry at the ten brothers. In a fit of rage, he asked the Dragon God to “close” the floodgates. For many days, the God of Thunder poured rain down on the people of the earth. The siblings, however, were safe inside the gourd. The ten brothers, noticing that the flood was insuppressible, jumped on the gourd and held on until it reached heaven. Ba-ong was curious to see who survived. He was disappointed to see the ten brothers, who declared then that they wanted to kill him. Ba-ong ordered the dragon god to open the gates. The flood was released, and every human had died except for the two siblings snuggled inside the gourd.
Fu-hei and Tze-mui walked the earth but could not find any humans. They were advised by animals that survived the flood to get married and procreate. Shocked by the suggestion, they killed any animals that gave them such taboo thoughts. The turtle, a victim of the siblings’ rage, was chopped into twelve sections.
Uncertain of what to do, they consulted the gods. Their first revelation came when they planted bamboo on opposite banks of a river. The plants grew quickly and reached for one another, twisting their tips into a knot. They next built fires on two separate mountains, only to witness the individual flames emit a rising smoke that joined together. Still not convinced, they positioned themselves on a hill and rolled stone mortars down the slope. The two stones met at the bottom of the hill.
After the two siblings were married, Tze-mui became pregnant with a winter melon, which they used to repopulate the world. As the smarter one, she advised her husband, Fu-hei, on how the seeds should be planted. She chopped up the melon and divided it into two groups, the flesh and the seeds. The flesh was to be planted in the lowlands and the seeds, more plentiful, were to be sprinkled on the mountains. Regrettably, Fu-hei fell while en route and accidentally planted the flesh on the mountains and the seeds on the lowlands. His misstep led to there being more people on the lowlands and less people on the mountains. The “less people,” thus, became the Mien and the “more people” became the non-Mien (janx). Consequently, the Mien focused their energy on procreation, while the more people fought one another.
One takeaway from this myth is that it presents a rather personal and lopsided relationship between the gods and the people. It sort of reminds me of the gods of Olympus and how they toyed with the ancient Greeks.
At the beginning of the story, Ba-ong takes it upon himself to punish the misbehaving sons, first for tieing up their mother and then for wanting to kill the Thunder God himself. A lesson that can be learned from the myth is that children should not defy the gods, ever. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why our parents were fond of warning us when we were children that Ba-ong would punish us if we were bad.
Toward the end of the story, Fu-hei and Tze-Mui were tasked with repopulating the world. Unfortunately, due to a mishap, the seeds of the melon were sprinkled onto the lower valleys, while the flesh was planted on the mountains. Thus, we became a mountain people.
The myth essentially suggests that we were supposed to have developed a higher form of civilization, one that included towns and cities. Instead, we became a mountain village people, somewhat of a disadvantaged people that has had some catching up to do; anyone that has grown up in a Mien household probably recognizes that there is some truth to this notion.
At the same time, the myth can also be seen as a tool for nationalistic purposes. For one, the myth separates the Mien from the rest of the people in the world. It's probably not a coincidence that Mien not only refers to our ethnicity but also means "us," while Janx refers to all other ethnicities and means "them."
Images source: Pixabay