The Blossom, the Humming Bird, and the Bee
This is a Hmong folktale similar to the Cinderella story. It was brought to us by Nhia Yang. It is unclear whether this story came from Nhia Yang’s grandmother, or from a book. It is one of the many different stories about new step-moms. | www.wipps.org
There was once a man, a woman, and daughter whose name was Noug. They had a good life together, but the father really wanted a son who would keep the family name after he was dead. Since the wife could no longer seem to have any more children, he decided to go and marry another woman. One day the father brought home a new woman along with a girl, about the same age as Noug. He said to his wife and daughter, “This is my second wife. She’s a good woman, and this is her daughter Sheng.” Noug and her mother were sad that there was a second wife, but they didn’t say anything since what was done was done. Life was good for a while, but soon the second wife became more and more jealous of the first wife for getting more of the husband’s attention. One day, the second wife, who was now with child, told the husband to go to the rice fields with his first wife. Afterwards, when they were coming home, the husband should kill the first wife.
The husband objected, but the second wife threatened to kill herself and the child she was carrying if the husband did not do what she wanted. The husband did not want his baby dead, so he said he would do it. The next day the husband and his first wife went to the rice fields. On the way home, the husband said that they should rest awhile. While the wife was turned away from the husband, he grabbed a knife and was about to kill her, but he couldn’t find it in himself to kill her. He didn’t know what to do. Then, he saw some vines. He grabbed the vines and started whipping his first wife. The first wife cried out, but soon, instead of a human cry it was the cry of a cow’s. The husband looked at his wife who was now a cow and said, “I’m sorry, I had to do this. If I did not tum you into a cow, I would have had to kill you.” After saying this he picked up his things and started for home. The first wife, now a cow, was really sad and started to cry.
When the husband got home, Noug asked him where her mother was. The husband’s reply was, “On the way home she was killed by some people who robbed us.” Noug, not knowing what to do, ran out of the house and blindly started running. She soon got tired and started walking. She walked for a while, and then she saw a cow. “Isn’t that cow odd,” she said, “It’s crying.” The cow then looked her way and said, “It’s me Noug, your mother. Your dad turned me into a cow.” Noug then ran to the cow and asked, “Are you really my mother?” The cow told Noug what had happened. Noug was so happy that her mother was still alive, even though she was not in the form of a human. Noug took the cow home. When the father saw the cow, he did not say anything for he had already told his second wife that he killed his first wife. Noug told everyone that as she was walking home, the cow followed her. And since it did, they might as well keep it until someone carne to claim it.
A couple weeks later as the husband and the second wife were corning home from the fields; the husband saw some beautiful fruits on the ground. Curiously, he picked one up and tasted it. It was delicious, so he ate more. “You shouldn’t do that!” cried his second wife when she saw what he was doing, “They are very dangerous!” “I will be alright.” Replied the husband, and he kept eating. Later that night the husband had a very bad stomachache. He moaned and cried all night long. The next day a shaman was called to see what was wrong with the husband. After seeing him, the shaman asked if the husband had eaten any strange fruit. The second wife told him about the fruit that the husband had eaten the day before. The shaman then said that an evil spirit had gotten into him, and that he would die soon. All the family could do was comfort him. A couple of days later, the husband died. Days, then weeks, then years went by. During those years, the step-mom treated Noug worse and worse.
She made Noug do most of the chores and gave her only the leftovers of everything (clothing, food, etc.) Noug was sad that she had lost her father and that her step-mom didn’t like her, but she was really happy that she still had her mother, the cow. One day the step-mom saw Noug talking to the cow. She was very curious so she decided to listen to what they were saying. When she heard the cow talk she was so surprised she almost fell over. The step-mom listened closely and soon realized that the cow was the first wife. The second wife was still so jealous after all these years that soon a plan came to her. She decided she would have the cow killed. Later that night, the stepmother told Noug that they were going to kill the cow for food. Noug protested and said they could eat the chickens instead. The step-mom would not listen. She then said, “The new- year is coming and we really need the meat, so we will have to kill the cow. Tomorrow you will go and get the water for boiling.
That’s my final decision.” Noug felt so sad. That night, Noug went to talk to her mother. “Don’t cry,” the cow said after hearing what was to happen to her the next day, “I’ll always be with you somehow. When they ask you what part you want tell them you don’t want any of the meat, just the head and feet.” The next morning Noug went out and got some water. She couldn’t bear to watch them butcher her mother so she dumped the water she carried each time. After a couple buckets of water she put a sharp knife in the middle and called her mother over. The cow came and not watching where she was going, she slipped on the water and was killed by the knife. Noug was so sad that her mother was dead, but she did what her mother told her. When she was asked what part she wanted, she said she wanted the cow’s head and all four feet. Noug laid the head and feet outside in a small covered pan. A couple of days later the stepmother, Sheng, and her son were going to go to the big new-year celebration.
“Noug, since you were so lazy and you don’t have anything to wear, you’ll stay home and do chores,” the step-mom said and left. Noug was so sad she started crying and ran out to be near the cow’s head. “Oh, mother how I• wish you were here . . . you would have sewn me some beautiful clothing and …” “Don’t cry my Noug.” The head suddenly spoke, “I’m still here. Now look, here are some nice clothes. Go put them on and go to the celebration.” Noug looked up and indeed near the cow’s head was a beautiful set of clothing. “Oh, thank you so much mother!” Noug cried and ran to put them on. The new-year celebration was taking place in a wide-open area and there were many people ball tossing, dancing, singing, talking, and much more. As Noug was walking around she heard the sound of a flute. Curious as to who was playing the flute, she went towards the music. As she got closer she saw that it was a very handsome man playing the traditional Hmong instrument while dancing.
As she looked at him, he happened to glance up, and he saw her standing there. Noug asked the people around her who he was, and they told her that he was the greatest flute player around, She-Na. After finishing his song She-Na looked around for the girl that he had happened to look upon. He kept looking around and finally spotted her. As quickly as he could he went to her and asked, “What’s your name?” Noug replied, “I don’t have a name.” “Everyone has a name.” “I don’t.” “Well, than I will give you my name. I am She-Na.” “Nice to meet you.” “You too. Where are you from?” “Over the hills.” Noug said, and then she noticed her step-mom, Sheng, and her stepbrother coming her way. “Oh, I’m thirsty! Will you go get me some water?” she asked She Na. “Yes, I will be right back.” As soon as She-Na was out of sight, Noug started walking as fast as she could home.
When the family came home, they told Noug about Sheng’s good fortune to have gotten to talk to She-Na, the famous flute player. Sheng was so happy to have gotten to talk to him. “Oh, you should have been there, Noug, it was fun! Maybe next year.” Noug said nothing. The next day the family again left for the celebration. Noug went again to see her mother, and there she found a new set of clothing. Noug quickly got dressed and went also. Once there, she headed over to where she saw She-Na the day before. She found him performing. After finishing his song, She-Na looked around; hoping that the girl he had seen yesterday would be there. He spotted her quickly and ran over to where she was. “Hi there! How are you?” he asked her. “Good.” Noug said. “Will you tell me your name?” “No, I can’t.” “Well, where do you live?” “I …” Noug started, she but noticed her step-mom and Sheng coming. “I find myself very thirsty. Will you go and get me some water?”
“Yes, I will get you some water.” She-Na said, he and started towards the water. He took two steps when he remembered what had happened the day before and turned just in time to see her running towards the road. Quickly, he ran as fast as he could after her. As Noug was running she turned to look back, and saw She-Na running after her. She ran faster. As she was running, she wasn’t looking where she was going, and she stepped in a large pile of cow droppings. Her foot was stuck and seeing She-Na was getting closer, she pulled her foot out, leaving her shoe. She ran the rest of the way home. When She-Na came to where the shoe was, he stopped and took the time to get the shoe out of the droppings. He then kept running and trying to catch up to Noug, but he did not see her anywhere. He soon came to a village. In the village there was hardly anyone except some animals, a couple of old people, and a girl separating rice grains.
The girl was Noug, who had quickly changed, and had just started her chores. She-Na didn’t know where to start looking, so he decided to go and ask the young girl who was separating the rice grains. Without her beautiful clothing, She-Na did not know that it was Noug. “Excuse me Miss, but did you see a girl run by?” he asked. “No, I’m sorry. I’ve been here all day and haven’t seen anybody run by.” “Well, thank you anyway. Bye.” “Bye.” Just as She-Na was leaving, he saw people coming from the New Year celebration. A girl came up to him and said, “Do you remember me? I’m Sheng we met yesterday.” “Well-” “Please, do come in,” the step-mom insisted. “Okay, I’ll come in.” “Good, Noug dear, go and’ get supper ready please.” Noug nodded and quickly went to start the fire for the stove. As Noug moved about She Na saw one of her feet full of mud or something wet and brown.
As he looked more closely at Noug he soon realized that it was she he had spoken to on the street and it was she with whom he was in love. “What’s her name?” Sha-Na asked the step-mom. “Oh, she is Noug, one of my daughters, the very lazy one. She’s always dirty and has lice. Come here Noug and give me your jacket, I’ll clean it for you.” As Noug handed her jacket over to her step-mom, the step-mom grabbed a handful of rice and as she shook out the jacket. She let the rice fall with it, hoping that She-Na would think it was lice. When supper came the food was set out. She-Na was disgusted by how the treated Noug. He saw what the step-mom had done with the rice, and now at supper, Noug was getting the stale rice and scrap of bone while he, Sheng, the brother, and the step-mom were served freshly cooked rice and huge chicken drumsticks. Sha-Na could not eat. “Why aren’t you eating?” asked the step-mom. “I’m too shy. Please blow out the candle,” She-Na said.
The step-mom blew out the candle. When the light was out She-Na switched the plated of food around so that Noug would get the good plates of food and the rest would get the stale rice and bones. “Mom, this rice seems stale.” Sheng said. “That’s probably because you’ve never had it in the dark before.” She-Na said. After supper the mats were set up. “Sheng you sleep on the right and Noug you sleep on the left of She-Na.” After the lights were out the two girls seemed asleep. She-Na took and switched the girls. He didn’t know what was going to happen but knew the step-mom was up to something. During the night the step-mom got up and took a very hot cloth, put wax on it, and covered Noug’s eyes with it. Very early the next morning, before dawn, She-Na woke up and told Noug they were leaving. Just then, the stepmother woke-up and saw them. “Oh, my daughter can go with you but you have to promise to love her.” The step-mom said. “Yes, I promise to love her always.”
“I give you two my blessing and here’s some food I packed for the two of you. Good-bye!” “Good-bye!” they said and went on their way. At dawn the step-mom was sewing near the door and started talking to herself “Oh, by now my Sheng has probably gotten to her new home.” “I’m right here!” “No, not you Noug, I’m talking about my Sheng. She’s with She-Na now.” “No, I’m right here!” “What?” the step-mom cried and got up to see if it was true. And yes, there was Sheng with the cloth of wax, that was meant for Noug, covering her eyes. “Darn that She-Na. He probably switched the two of you around!” The step-mom was so furious, she swore she would get the two of them back somehow. Four or five years went by and finally the step-mom and Sheng decided to go and visit Noug and She-Na. When Noug and She-Na saw them they greeted each other warmly. They spent the next day talking. Later, when it was dark, the step-mom said that they should be going on their way.
Sheng did not want to go and no matter how much her mother insisted she wouldn’t go. Noug finally said, “If Sheng wants to stay, let her stay. We haven’t seen each other in a long time, and I have missed her.” “Well, if you say that she can stay, then she can stay,” said the step-mom. With that, she started for home. When night came Sheng couldn’t sleep. She was filled with envy and hatred for Noug. “It was I who was supposed to marry She-Na, not that good-for-nothing Noug,” she thought. The more she thought about it an evil plan began to take form in her head. The next morning Sheng asked Noug to take a walk with her. As the two were walking along Sheng said, “I have to go to the bathroom, will you stand in back of me and tell me when there is someone coming.” “Okay!” After Sheng was done, Noug took her turn. As Noug was squatting down Sheng looked around and saw no one, so she pulled out a small knife that she had under her sash and stabbed Noug to death.
“Finally, you are dead! I’m the one who gets She-Na.” After switching clothing with Noug, she started back to the house. When she got to the house the Sha-Na and Noug’s son were there. “Where’s my mother?” asked the son. “Why, I am your mother. Have you forgotten me so quickly?” “No, you look different somehow.” “Well, what do you think, She-Na? Am I different?” “Yes, you look different. Where is Sheng?” “Oh, she decided to go home,” Sheng answered. She-Na did not know why, but today Noug seemed very odd. Later that night She-Na asked Sheng, “Did you cut your hair Noug?” “No, I did not cut my hair. Why do you ask?” “Never mind! I just thought it was longer.” After hearing this, She-Na knew the woman with him was not Noug. Noug, his wife, had every single night they were married, made a pillow out of her long, beautiful hair to sleep on. She-Na knew something was not right, so he finally decided that early the next morning he would set out to find what had happened.
At dawn the next morning, She-Na started out. With him he took his magical small boat that was used for fishing. Far from the house, She-Na put the small boat on the ground and said, “Magical boat, please find my Noug.” The boat then started sliding. It kept going for a while and then the boat stopped in front of a pile of branches. She-Na took the branches away and there was Noug, lying dead. After crying his heart out, She-Na took the magic boat and went to fill it with water from a nearby stream. Then, he took the water to Noug and gave her a drink. Soon afterwards she came back to life and told She-Na what had happened. Before returning home they came up with a plan to punish Sheng. When they were near the house they saw Sheng outside combing her hair near the barrel of water. When Sheng was not looking, they ran up behind her and pushed her into the barrel. Then, they tied her up and turned her into a pig. Later that day, the step-mom and her son came to visit them again.
“Where’s Sheng?” she asked them. “Oh, she left a little while before you came.” Noug and She-Na answered. “Why, I didn’t see her.” “She probably went home another way.” “Well, then we better start on our way, too.” “Why don’t you stay for a meal? We are cooking a pig, and we won’t finish it by ourselves. Won’t you stay and have some?” “Well, since I am here…yes, I’ll stay for a meal.” After eating Noug and She-Na packed the step-mom some of the leftover meat. Noug then went with her step-mom and brother to send them on their way. Noug stopped on top of the hill, and watched them go. Then when they were near the bottom she cried, “Look in your basket, and there you will find your daughter!” “What!” cried the step-mom not hearing what was just said. “I said look in your basket and there you will find your daughter!” The step-mom heard Noug this time, and she looked in the basket.
Not quite knowing what to think, but knowing that Noug and She-Na had killed Sheng, the step-mom asked Noug to come down to .her. Noug went towards her step-mom. When they were a couple of feet away, the step-mom asked, “What does this mean? Where is my Sheng?” “Well, she killed me and then pretended to be me. She-Na found me and gave me life again. We turned Sheng into a pig for her evil deed, and you’ve just eaten her.” After hearing this, the step-mom threw the meat from the basket behind Noug, and the meat turned into two very monstrous mountains. “Since you have killed my Sheng, I have separated you and She-Na. You will never be able to see him again.” With that, the step-mom walked away. Noug started to cry, knowing that she would never see her son or her husband again. She Na, on the other side, had seen the mountains suddenly appear and decided to investigate. Soon he could hear Noug crying, “Noug where are you?” “I’m here, on the other side of the mountain! Help me!”
“Noug don’t cry! This is our punishment for killing Sheng. We can’t go back. You turn into a blossom and I’ll turn into a humming bird. That way I will be able to find you, and we will be near each other again. As for our son, he can turn into a bee, and come and drink the honey that you will produce.” It came to be that Noug turned into a blossom, Sha-Na turned into a humming bird, and their son turned into a bee. At last, they were free from the evil step-mom and her son.