Banyan Tree Spirit and the Mien Priest

Veun Ta Seng Saephan

In the olden days, the banyan tree spirits could transform themselves into humans and socialize with human beings. At that time there was a sai ong, a priest, who did not have an assistant priest to help him perform the capture the soul, zoux mienv, * rituals. One day, while the priest was on his way to help a family perform this ritual, he met a strange man.

The stranger asked, “Are you in need of an assistant?”

Since he didn’t have one and he really needed one, he answered, “Yes, it would be great if you could be my assistant.”

So the stranger followed the priest to the ritual. As an assistant, the stranger was exceptionally brilliant. He knew everything about the ritual performance.

When they had completed the ritual, the host prepared the pig thighs for them to take home as their payment. The host put the thighs in a jui-saa, a loosely woven back basket, and the assistant carried the basket on his back as they left for home.

The closer the priest and his assistant got to home, the faster the assistant walked. They became farther and farther apart until they couldn’t see each other anymore.

When the priest arrived home, he asked his family, “Didn’t you see a man bringing pig thighs home?”

They answered, “No, we didn’t see anyone bringing pig thighs home.”

That was that! All his payment for his ritual performance disappeared along with the stranger. He didn’t get any of the pig thighs to eat.

The same thing happened every time they performed the rituals together.

Finally, the priest realized who the stranger was; he was sure that he must be a banyan tree spirit. So the next time, when they had completed the ritual, the priest advised the host, “Put some ashes in the bottom of the basket and cover the ashes with banana leaves before putting the thighs in.”

When everything was packed and ready, they let the stranger carry the basket home again. Once again they became farther and farther apart, and eventually, the stranger disappeared again.

This time, though, the ashes fell through the holes in the bottom of the basket and left a trail behind the stranger. The priest followed the trail across a mountain to a valley. At the bottom of the valley there was a huge rock. Beneath the rock there was a shiny hole.

The priest used his magic power to cast a spell closing the hole and preventing the banyan tree spirits from escaping. Then he went home to put away his scroll, the ritual paintings of the Mien.

When he returned, he gathered some bushes and dry wood. He piled them on and around the rock and the entrance. Then he lit the pile. As the fire began to burn violently, the banyan tree spirits began to scream and cry.

The whole banyan tree spirit family blamed the banyan tree spirit thief. “It is all your fault. You were so greedy that you stole the priest’s meat. Now see what’s happening. Because of you, we’re all burning to death.”

There was no way out for the banyan tree spirits. Every exit was blocked. The whole banyan tree spirit family was burned to death.

When the priest went inside the cave, he found gold and silver lying everywhere. He took the silver and gold home.

It is because of stories like this that the host of “capture the soul rituals” today has to walk the priest home. The host has to make sure that the priest gets his payment, the pig thighs.

zoux mienv is pronounced zou, with a rising tone, and mien, with a high tone. The final x and v are tone markers and are not pronounced.