Lao Folktales: The Magic White Swan
Once upon a time there was a lonely farmer who decided to go fishing one day. He wore a shawl around his head to save from being bitten by mosquitoes and other bugs and carried a long fishing net. When he reached the river, he cast his net but caught nothing. He did this again and again but still caught nothing. Not a single fish could be found inside the webbing of his net. He repeated this once, twice, three times but still found nothing when pulling in his net from the river. He didn't find any kind of fish either big or small. Finally, he decided to try just one last time. When pulling his net from the river, he was pleasantly surprised at the resistance: “Oh, this is so heavy,” he said out loud.
Though expecting a large and appetizing fish, the farmer found instead a white pebble in his net. It was the most beautiful pebble he had ever seen. He then took the pebble home with him and placed it atop the high altar above his head. After finishing his meager dinner, the farmer went to sleep. The next day, he was surprised to find that his white pebble had turned into a beautiful giant white swan. Upon seeing the farmer, the swan walked over to him.
“I can take you to a beautiful place far here, to the Land of Flowers. Once there, you can have whatever you wish.”
The farmer happily accepted the invitation and climbed atop the swan. As soon as he did, the swan beat her broad and powerful wings and off they went, soaring higher and higher into the crisp morning air. Once there, the farmer took in the beautiful scenery of the Land of Flowers and its abundance of scents and array of colors. He could not remember another time when he was so happy.
He picked one flower and found it to be surprisingly heavy. He picked a second flower and found it to be heavier. He picked a third and found it to be almost unbearably heavy.
“Oh, I don’t think you should pick any more flowers!” The swan said. “It will be much too heavy for me to carry both you and all of those flowers!” Feeling sorry for the swan, the man stopped picking any more flowers and soon enough, the two were flying back to the farmer’s house. Once there, the farmer placed the new and beautiful flowers inside. The next day when the farmer awoke, he found that all his flowers had turned into gold! He was rich!
The news of his wealth traveled fast and so reached the ears of his friend who became very curious. He insisted that the farmer tell him everything and so he did.
The very next day, his friend went to fish in the river with his long net just like his friend the farmer before him. And just like his friend, he cast out his net once, twice, three times and found his net to be empty. He cast out his net one last time and pulled. “Oh, it is so heavy,” he said while pulling up his net. He found a white pebble inside the net, just like his friend told him he would. He then took the white pebble home and placed it high above his head at the altar. He was so excited he could barely fall asleep that night. He was going to rich tomorrow!
When he awoke the next day, he found the swan standing in front of him, patiently waiting. She walked over to him and spoke:
“I can take you to a beautiful place far away to the Land of Flowers. Once there, you can have whatever you wish.” The man smiled and soon enough the two were off into the early morning.
“Oh, I don’t think you should pick any more flowers!” The swan said, after the man picked his third flower. “It will be much too heavy for me to carry both you and all of those flowers!”
“But it’s only three flowers!” The man argued. “I’m sure you can carry more than that!” And so the man went back to the garden and helped himself to two armfuls of flowers. “Okay, take me home now.” the man demanded. “I will put these away and then we can come back for more.” He then jumped atop the swan (who winced when he did) and the swan began beating her wings as hard as she could. She barely managed to take off because of all the extra weight she was carrying. The two flew, swaying side to side with the weight of all the man’s flowers. The swan managed to land but only with great difficulty. The swan rested her head on the lawn completely exhausted. The man jumped off her back and turned to look at her.
“Now wait here,” the man said to her while carrying his armful of flowers. “Don’t go away! I still want to go back and pick more flowers.” The man then walked inside his house. When he returned, the swan had disappeared. In horror, the man ran inside his room and found that his flowers were just ordinary flowers instead of a treasure trove of gold. And that’s the story.
© 2009 dohn121