Laos: The Fortunes of Ai Powlo

This story is part of the Laos unit. Story source: Laos Folk-Lore by Katherine Neville Fleeson, with photographs by W.A. Briggs (1899).

The Fortunes of Ai Powlo

Once upon a time a father and mother had a wicked son whose name was Ai Powlo. One day, while in the rice fields together, the father sent the son to his mother with a message. Instead, however, of delivering the message, Ai Powlo said his father had been eaten by a tiger. Leaving his mother in great distress, he returned to the rice fields and told his father that both his mother and the house were burned, and for three days did the father mourn for his wife, as he lay in the watchhouse.

While the father was mourning, Ai Powlo moved his mother and the house to a new place and then sought his father, saying, “I saw a woman in a new house by the stream who resembles my mother. Would you like her for a wife?”

“If my son seeks her for me, I would be thankful,” replied the father.

Going to his mother, Ai Powlo said, “I have a man who would make thee a good husband. He would work in the rice fields. Will you take him for a husband?”

Thinking of the work, the mother said, “I will. Go, bring him to me, my son.”

Lo, when the father and mother met, they recognized one another, and they knew their crafty son had deceived them!

As Ai Powlo fled from the wrath of his mother and father, he journeyed many days, and upon a day it happened he stole some pork from a Chinaman. Taking the pork, he sought the rice fields, and there he saw an old man at work. Running up to him, he called, “Father, do you not hunger for some pork? I have some to share with you.”

“I do, my son,” replied the old man.

Together they went to the watchhouse to cook the pork, but found no pot there.

“Whilst I make a fire, go thou, my son, to my house and ask my wife for a pot.”

“Your husband wants you to give me all the money in the house, as he has heard of an elephant which he can buy now,” said Ai Powlo to the wife.

The wife refused to give it to him, and Ai Powlo called to the husband, who sat by the watchhouse waiting for the pot, “She will not give it to me.” The old man called back, as he was hungry for the pork, “Give it to him. Make haste,” and receiving all their store, Ai Powlo fled into another province.

Upon a day, as Ai Powlo walked by the highway, he saw four bald-headed men pouring water on their heads to cool themselves. Running up to them, he said, “I know a medicine which will make the hair grow. Rub your heads until the skin is broken, whilst I make the medicine.”

Taking some red peppers, he pounded them to a soft paste, put some salt in it, and then handed it to the four simple-minded old men, who had already rubbed their heads until they bled.

Having used the medicine, they suffered great pain and would have killed Ai Powlo, but he fled and took refuge with the chow, to whom he said, “I saw four old men on the way who butted their heads together, trying to see which could overcome the other. All have much strength, and their heads are scratched and bleeding.”

Even as Ai Powlo spoke to the chow, the chow espied the men, and when they came up, he commanded them, saying, “If you are able thus to wrestle for your own pleasure, you can wrestle for my pleasure.” Not daring to disobey the command of the chow, the men painfully wrestled. While they struggled, Ai Powlo, fearing their wrath, fled, and as he fled, he fell into a deep stream and was drowned.

Many years after, two fishermen were fishing in the stream, and as they drew in the net, they found not a fish, but a skull, and lo, the skull both laughed and mocked!

As the fishermen talked together of the curious skull, a man with a boatload of goods approached, and they called to him, asking, “Did you ever see a skull which laughed and mocked?”

“Never did I see such a skull, nor ever will I believe there is such a thing,” replied the man.

“If we show you such a skull, what will you give unto us?” asked the fishermen.

“All the goods in my boat,” laughingly answered the man.

On beholding the skull, which of a truth did both laugh and mock him, the boatman forfeited his goods, but in his anger he cut the skull and broke it into pieces, and of these pieces he made dice with which to gamble, and was it not fitting as Ai Powlo, whose skull it was, in life had but deceived and ever done evil?

(800 words)

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