Occupation: Restaurant Owner
Residence: New York
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: Thai (laotian)
Other Language(s): English
The following informant is a 61-year-old Thai immigrant who heard the following story growing up as a kid in the Issan region of Thailand. This interview was carried out in a mix of Thai and English. In this I will be denoted as C and the informant will be denoted as U
U: If you look up at your sky there are seven stars together, I don’t know what they are called in English. They’re very small and there are seven of them they are easy to see in the sky. This is a history of where these stars come from. In the past there was, there was a small cottage with an old man and an old lady living together. The grandmother would cook and the grandfather would bring rice to the military and also to a mother hen and her six chicks. Every day the mother hen takes her six chicks to the forest to walk around and find stuff to eat. Once it is in the evening they return back to the cottage with the old couple. Now the grandmother and the grandfather are eating together and there is a rumor that there will be a monk coming to the village they are living in. So, they decide they should kill the mother hen and so they can provide an offering to the monk. They’re doing this because they want to receive good karma. The mother hen is sleeping with her six chicks and hears this, and when she hears this she says, “Oh my children it is time for your mother to die. It is time to repay my debt to the grandfather and the grandmother who raised me by giving me rice from when I was a chick to now.”
Once the six chicks hear this they all start crying and stay with their mother hen crying. The mother hen then says, “You six children need to take care of each other. The younger siblings should listen to their older siblings. Even after I’m dead don’t play too far away from the cottage in case you can get lost.”
The mother hen and the chicks hug each other all night crying. When the morning comes there is a strange feeling, so the mother hen doesn’t walk her chicks to the forest from the cottage like usual. Instead she stay with her chicks all day waiting to die at the cottage. Right before the mother hen is going to die to pay back her debt to the old couple she feels like she doesn’t want to leave her children and stays at the cottage hugging her children. Sometimes she thinks about escaping with her chicks but is worried it will be difficult for them to live outside the cottage. So, she accepts her death so her children can get raised by the old couple. The old couple come out of the cottage at this point and easily grab the mother hen. Normally when you capture a chicken, they don’t want to be caught. You have to help each other by running after the chicken like you’ve seen in movies. You understand?
U: But in this case, in this case, the mother hen let the grandfather grab her because she was willing to die to repay her debt for being raised. Tear are flowing uncontrollably from the chicks and the mother hen. They won’t stop and the chicks all run after their mother but there is no way to stop the grandfather from killing her. The mother hen then starts getting her feathers plucked out by the grandmother. She’s plucking the feathers off around her neck and the mother hen is screaming from the pain of having her feathers plucked. They have to pluck the chicken before they can kill it. You understand?
C: I thought they killed the chicken first then plucked it?
U: No, they don’t kill the chicken first, they have to pluck it before killing it. This is how they do it in Thailand. Once half of the chicken’s neck has been plucked the old man grabs a knife to cut to the throat of the mother hen. The mother hen squeezes her eyes shut and the chicks are bawling. Once the knife cut her throat blood runs out slowly and the grandmother bring a bowl to collect the blood. Once all the blood flows out of the hen’s body all the strength has left her body. Even though she is in pain everywhere she doesn’t have any strength left. She shudders twice and dies. And the chicks have been watching the whole time and they start crying and saying “Our mother is dead. How are we going to be able to live? Now that our mother is dead were going to be mourning her and calling for her.”
At this point the water is boiling so they can blanch the chicken, they blanch the chicken first before removing the rest of the feathers. The mother can no longer show the pain of getting plucked and her children want to die for their mother after seeing all the pain she’s been in and seeing her killed like this. So, the chicks start saying, “We’re going to die for you mother. No matter where you go we will follow you. No matter what you are reborn as we will be reborn as your children. So, we can be mother and child forever.”
At this point the grandmother has removed all the feathers and is going to bring the chicken to the grill to burn off down. This is a technique to remove the down to clean up the chicken before cooking. In the fire they have for the grill the mother hen the six chicks come to a decision to jump into the flames to die with their mother. Because of the determination of the mother and her chicks, the mother and her six chicks became the Chick Constellation. There is the mother and her six chicks in the sky.
Analysis: I did some research the the stars that this legend refers to is the Pleiades. It is a vert gruesome tale, but also I think it emphasizes how repaying ones debts is very important in Thai culture.