Laos: The Origin of Lightning

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 Origin of Lightning

There was once a great chief who desired above all things to be happy in the future life; therefore, he continually made feasts for the priests and the poor, spending much money in making merit.

He had ten wives, nine of whom helped him in all the merit-makings, but the head wife, his favorite, would never take part. Laughing and making herself beautiful in soft garments and jewels, she gave naught to the priests.

And on a day, when the great chief and his nine merit-making wives were no more but had gone to live in the sky on account of their merit-making, the great chief longed for his favorite and, taking a glass, he looked down on the earth to see her. After many days, he beheld her as a crane hunting for food on the border of a lake.

The great chief, to try her heart and to see if she had repented, came down from his home in the sky in the form of a fish and swam to the crane. Seeing the fish, the crane pecked at it, but the fish sprang out of the water, and when the crane saw it was alive, she would not touch it. Again the fish floated near the crane and she pecked at it, but on finding it was alive let it escape.

Then was the heart of the great chief glad, for he saw that his favorite wife would not destroy life even to satisfy her hunger, and he knew that her merit was such she could be born in the form of a woman again.

It happened on a day that the crane died and, when again born, had the form of a gardener’s child. As the child grew in years and stature, she was fairer than any other in the land and, when a maiden, the father and mother made a feast, inviting all the people to come. During the feast, they gave a wreath of beautiful flowers to their daughter and said, “Throw this into the air, and on whosesoever head it falls, that one will be to thee a husband.”

The great chief, her husband of old, seeking her, came down to the earth in the form of an old man and, when the maiden cast the wreath into the air, it fell on the head of this old man.

Great sport was made of him, and tauntingly the people cried, “Does this bent stick think he is mate for our lotus flower?”

But the fair maiden placed her hand in the old man’s hand and, together, they rose into the air.

In vain they sought to detain them — the father even shot at the old man, but they were soon lost to sight and to this day, when the people see the chain lightning in the sky, they say it is the wreath of the beautiful maiden; when the lightning strikes, they say it is the gardener shooting at the old man; and, when the heat lightning flashes, they say it is the great chief flashing his glass over the earth in search of his favorite and beautiful wife.

(500 words)

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