Informant: “This is a very very old story, and it goes back to way…back when…it’s very, like, back when the Koreans thought like, um, like there were kind of gods and supernatural beings that lived with them. Ok, so basically there was this princess from one region and there would be…there was a prince in another region. And it’s not really like Romeo & Juliet, but um they were like from two different sides and they fell in love. So um, they would spend like every minute that they could together. And um, so their parents got mad, the royal families got mad because their prince was tryin to like train to become a king, and he’s basically tryin to learn and like be serious. And he was just like, literally just head over heels in love and he was really distracted. So his family forbid him to see her and um, the princess was also punished because they just didn’t want her to be with him, I guess? And I forgot the details, but um, basically they were forbidden to see each other. And they were banished and um, oh! [informant claps] I forgot to mention. They lived in heaven, like they were like a godly family. And he…so they were not able to see each other, and they were really really devastated and depressed. And um so…both of them were punished to labor, like, even though they were a princess and a prince. So like the princess would have to like work and like oh she had to like weave and sew and like make bunches and bunches of fabric and clothes so that the heavens can like bring those clothes back to earth. And um…um…basically the prince was required to labor but um farming-wise. So he had to like cultivate animals and like…like…what is it? Plough? Yeah, farm. And…so that the food would be available for like down on earth or whatever. So they spent years and years apart and um…but the gods they like took pity on them and they said ok, like once a year, you guys can see each other. Yeah. So, once a year you guys are able to reunite. But they were on different sides of heaven, so when that day came they like ran to those sides but they were separated. There was no way to get across from like one side to another cuz I guess it’s like a sky. So like they were just like ok what do we do? And like all these crows and birds basically came and like flew over and made a bridge for the prince and princess so they could walk across and see each other. So they would kinda like run across the birds. And they finally reunited! Um but…I think that’s supposed to be why there’s a lot of birds at certain points in the year? I’m not sure what the purpose was but that’s like the most well known fairytale.”
Me: “I think it’s why there’s a constellation in the sky. Like that’s the version I heard…”
Informant: “It’s not a constellation, but I think it’s something about the weather.”
Me: “The one that I heard was like—there’s a Chinese version—was that that was the Milky Way.”
Informant: “Yes! [informant claps] Yeah, that’s it.”
The informant currently lives in California, but was born (and grew up) in South Korea. When asked if there was a bedtime story or tale that every child knew, she immediately thought of this one, which she said either her mother or grandmother told her. Interestingly, when she got to the story’s conclusion, she immediately knew there was a purpose or a reason for the tale, but could not remember it at first. There is an identical Chinese myth of the same name, which is why I interjected at the conclusion. The reason I have also included this under ‘festivals’ is that in the Chinese and Taiwanese tradition, this myth is an integral part of the Qixi festival (which I grew up knowing as the Double Seven festival), which is similar to Valentine’s Day. However, my informant did not associate this myth with any type of festival in Korean culture. On another note, this type of ‘star-crossed lovers’ tale has trickled into many works of literature over time. As my informant pointed out, it’s not exactly like the tale of Romeo & Juliet, but there are definite parallels there.
Ng, Teresa. The Cowherd and the Weaver. 2011. eBook.