A TALE OF A GOLDEN TREE

TAI KHAMTI FOLK-TALES

J.ERROL GRAY: Diary of Journey to the Bor Khamti Country,
1892-3, 1893, p. 54 f

A TALE OF A GOLDEN TREE
 In the evening I went to see a large rock at the mouth of the Nam Yun which was said to have imprinted on in the mark of a Child’s foot, also that of a bird’s claw. This stone was so large that we had to make a rough ladder before we could climb on to it. There were certainly some marks on the stone, but it required a good effort of imagination to find the likeness to either claw or foot. The legend says that in olden days an enormous bird used to haunt this part of country, preying on children; and that on one occasion it perched on this stone to devour a child it had seized, when the marks alluded to were left. The legend goes on to say that this bird at last grew so rapacious that the whole country took up arms against it, but the more it was hunted the more wary it got, and whenever it seized a child would go off with it to a high hill in the Nam Yun valley called Noi Kham (the golden hill) on which grew an enormous tree whose branches were of silver and gold and which was held sacred by the Khamtis, and there perched on the topmost branches it would devour its prey in safety. No other trees in the country were strong enough to bear the weight of this bird on their branches, so a general consultation being held it was determined to sacrifice the sacred golden tree and cut it down, when the bird finding no resting place would either quite the country or perching on some stone or rock would afford an opportunity to destroy it. So the tree was cut down and things turned out just as had been calculated: the bird in vain tried to rest on the branches of other trees; they all gave way under its weight: at last in desperation it perched on a huge slab of rock at the mouth of the Sada stream (we had passed this yesterday) when it was killed by four slaves who pierced it through with their arrows. The tree of gold disappeared after it was cut down in a small lake which had formed around it. This lake is now overgrown with weeds, and in the cold season when the water dries up these weeds are said annually to take fire by spontaneous combustion. This is the tale as it was told to me by one of our Khamti guides. Khamti means ‘a place of gold’.