Lao Folktales : The Crescent Moon Comb
Author's Note: A word about mia noi or minor wives
For married men to have minor wives is a common practice in both Thai and Lao societies. A minor wife is a mistress in which a married man will have in addition to his major wife, who watches over his household and children. On the other hand, the minor wife obscurely takes care of the husband unbeknownst to the major wife. In some cases, a minor wife will share children with the husband in question and in most cases, she is younger in age than the major wife. Quite commonly, men of affluence will flaunt their minor wives as he is expected to. Popular belief dictates that the more money you have the more minor wives you have. It's important to note too that in many cases, the mia noi or minor wife will come from a poor family and will remain faithful to her husband for the duration of their agreement. Although some cultures frown at the practice of polygamy, Lao and Thai culture has long accepted it as a part of society as it has been the norm for hundreds of years.
The Crescent Moon Comb
Once upon a time a man from a farming village told his wife that he was going to go into town to buy some fishing supplies.
“Since you are going, maybe you could buy some candy for our son,” she said. “And while you’re at it, could you buy me a crescent moon comb? I always wanted one.” The man rolled his eyes.
“Oh, what a difficult name,” he said. “Once I get to the town, I won’t remember to. I am quite forgetful, you know.”
“That won’t be a problem. Should you forget, just look up at the moon. It looks like that.”
Later on that day, the moon would in fact be a crescent moon. The man had to walk many days and nights before reaching the town. Once he arrived there, he immediately went to buy all the fishing accessories he needed and by the time he finished, he completely forgot what his wife asked him to buy. Hoping that he would remember, he went to the store anyway. While there he browsed around looking at every item but found that he was clueless as to what his wife wanted him to buy. After watching this man for some time, the shopkeeper came around to ask him what he needed.
“May I help you find something?” The shopkeeper said. The man shook his head in defeat.
“My wife asked me to buy something for her, but now I forget what it is.”
“Is it this lipstick?”
“Is it this purse?”
“Is it this spoon?”
“Spoon? Oh, I remember now! She told me to look up at the moon!”
The shopkeeper looked up at the full moon. By the time the man from the farming village reached the town, the moon became full. Just then, the shopkeeper’s eyes lit up. He picked up a round object and smiled at the man.
“Here you are!” The shopkeeper said. “I’m willing to bet that this is what she wanted!”
The shopkeeper then wrapped the round object in brown paper and handed it to the man from the farming village. The man paid the shopkeeper and returned home happy and satisfied. Once he made it inside his house, he found that his wife, his boy, his mother and father were all waiting for him.
“Here you go, have a piece of candy,” he said handing the candy to his son who tore off the wrapping of the candy and placed it inside his mouth.
“Did you remember to get what I asked for?” The wife said smiling.
“Oh, yes,” the man said while walking over to the drinking jar as he was very thirsty. “It’s in my shoulder bag over there.” Just as soon as the wife reached inside his shoulder bag, her heart began to beat very fast.
“My crescent comb isn’t in here,” the wife said.
The man then walked over to the bag and reached inside. He brought out the round thing that the shopkeeper wrapped in brown paper so proudly and gave it to her.
“Here you go,” he said to her.
The wife ripped open the object and then stood, looking into the mirror with great disdain.
“What is it?” He asked.
“You are an awful, awful person old man! You bought home a minor wife. This is an outrage!” She screamed.
“What?” The man’s mother said. “Let me have a look.” The wife handed her the mirror.
“This is terrible! Indeed, you are awful! You really did bring home a minor wife and she is so old and wrinkled. What were you thinking? How could you do such a thing?”
While sitting near his grandmother, the young boy grabbed the mirror from his grandmother’s hands and immediately went on a tirade.
“Grandpa, look! He took my candy and is eating it!”
“Let me see who this wicked person is,” the grandfather said, taking the mirror from the boy. “He’s making faces at me, this villain! I’ll hit him with the broad side of my knife here!” So the grandfather set the mirror on the ground and grabbed his knife. “What? He’s grabbing his knife too!”
At the sight of this, the grandfather became so angry that he brought the knife down on the mirror and broke it into a dozen pieces.
“Now you won’t bother anyone anymore,” he said.
And that is the story of the people who had never seen neither a crescent-moon comb nor a mirror their entire lives.
© Copyrigjht 2009, O. Dohn Paditsone. All Rights Reserved.
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