Nkauj Nog: A Hmong Cinderella story
By: Nouchia Moua
Around the world, many cultures and people have their own variation of the Cinderella story. Here is the Hmong version.
A long, long time ago there lived a farmer, his wife and his beautiful daughter named Nkauj Nog (pronounced Gao Naw). Even though they lived a happy life, they were poor because they had no cattle to help till the fields in order to grow crops. And with only little bit of money they couldn’t afford to by cattle. So Nkauj Nog’s mother decided that she will become a cow to help in the fields. Her husband was against this at first but then agreed to his wife decision. He then took some vines, wrapped it around his wife 3 times, and then taking a banana leaf, hits her in the back 3 times and magically his wife transforms into a cow.
Nkauj Nog then rushes out to meet her father, excited that he was able to get a cow. She then asked where her mother was. Her father then nodded towards the cow and said, “Nkauj Nog, this cow is your mother.” Nkauj Nog was puzzled and then told her what had happened and what her mother had told him to do. Shocked at his answer, she begged and cried for her mother to come back. But being no longer able to hear the words of man, the gentle cow simply mooed and Nkauj Nog sadly led the cow away into the fields.
And because her mother transformed into a cow to till the fields, their farm soon became prosperous. But instead of turning his wife back into a human, the farmer selfishly decided to get himself a second wife. The second wife that he married already had a daughter of her own named Nkauj Nrhee (pronouned Gao Cheng) from a previous marriage and the daughter was about the same age as Nkauj Nog. The farmer had given the second wife the duty of taking care of the cow. When she found out that the cow was really the first wife transformed, she was furious. She was also jealous of Nkauj Nog’s beauty and so she refused to have her own daughter work around the house and fields. And so to keep the peace, Nkauj Nog and her father worked from day ’till night while the stepmother and Nkauj Nrhee just lazed around the house.
To keep Nkauj Nog happy, her mother although a cow could still talk. She told Nkauj Nog to take some hemp thread and wrap them around her horns. The hemp threads would magically weave into beautiful cloth for Nkauj Nog to sew into clothing. The stepmother soon found about this and attempted to try it herself along with her daughter, but the threads would just turn into vines. Angry, the stepmother decided to get rid of the cow and devised a plan. One morning she woke up screaming and moaning in pain, feigning illness and blaming the cause of her illness on her husband and her “stressful” life. The farmer believing his wife is ill followed her instruction on how to cure her illness. She told him to go the giant tree at the edge of the forest and the tree spirit will tell him what to do.
Once the farmer was out the door, she jumped out of bed and ran on a shortcut to the giant tree. There the farmer lit some joss sticks. He prayed and asked the tree spirit on how to cure his wife. Disguising her voice, she pretended to be the tree spirit and told him that the only way to cure his wife was to kill the cow and offer it as a sacrifice. Shocked at what he heard, he mournfully asked if there was another way, but the “tree spirit” insisted that it must be done. Thinking that there is no other way, he sadly walked back home.
The cow already knew what was going to happened so she informed Nkauj Nog of what was to come. The only way to teeter the stepmother’s fury away from Nkauj Nog was to have the cow killed. Not wanting her husband to have her blood on his hands, she instructed for Nkauj Nog to plant a sharp knife upwards in the muddy road so that when her father leads the cow away to be slaughtered, the cow will then trip herself and land on the knife thus killing herself. She also told Nkauj Nog to collect her bones and cow hide once she dies and hide them in the cow feed container. Nkauj Nog refused to do so but sadly she had to anyways. She did as she was told and then the cow died and was offered as a sacrifice. It was then a sad time. Eventually the farmer fell into despair and soon joined his dead wife, leaving Nkauj Nog behind with her cruel stepmother and stepsister.
As for the stepmother, she became more talkative and boasted of her good health as well as her future plans for her daughter, Nkauj Nrhee. When the New Year came and the New Year festival began, the stepmother and stepsister wanted to be the very first ones at the village festivities. Before leaving, the stepmother stirred in thousands of tiny pebbles into the batch of rice kernels and ordered Nkauj Nog to clean out the rice and prepare it for dinner. Nkauj Nog then spent the first 2 days of the New Year festival picking the pebbles from the rice.
After finishing on the third day, Nkauj Nog sat down to rest. She then went over the to cow feed container where she had hid her mother’s bones and hide and cried, fearing she will never be able go to the New Year festival. The spirit of her mother then said, “Don’t cry my child. Just jump into the cow feed container and soon you will be able to join the others in their joy and festivities.” She did as she was told and jumped right in. Lo and behold, she came out wearing the most beautiful clothes with the most beautiful embroideries and silver jewelries. And upon her feet were beautiful dainty slippers. “Now hurry and go join the others,” said her mother. Happily, she went off down the path towards the village’s New Year festival.
Once she arrived at the festival, all of the attention of the villagers were on her, each whispering to each other of where that beautiful mysterious maiden came from. Nobody in the village recognized her, not even her own stepmother and stepsister. And because of her beauty, she had caught the attention of Sis Nab (pronounced Shi Na),the most eligible and handsomest bachelor of their village. The stepmother had hope that her daughter would catch his attention, but instead his focus was on the beautiful mysterious girl and was courting her. She then furiously snatched Nkauj Nrhee’s arm and stormed back home. Seeing that her stepmother has already left the festivities, she knew that she had to get home first otherwise the stepmother might figure out that the mysterious girl is actually Nkauj Nog. In her haste, she stepped into a muddy puddle and one of her dainty slippers got stuck and slipped off while she ran as fast as she could home. She didn’t even look back to get her slipper for she must get home quick.
Sis Nab then set off after down the same road for the mysterious maiden only to find a dainty slipper in the mud puddle. He then picked it up, wiped it clean and vowed to himself that he shall find the beautiful mysterious girl and he shall do so by finding who can fit into this tiny slipper. Door to door, house to house, village to village, he searched for the owner of the slipper. Everyone heard of his search for the maiden whose slipper he had found. But none of the girls he tried the slipper on fit. Eventually, he came upon Nkauj Nog’s home. The stepmother seeing who it was, kindly beckoned him into her home,” This way kind sir! I know whose shoe it is!” In a loud whisper, she called “Daughter, come over here!”
But to her dismay, both Nkauj Nrhee and Nkauj Nog came at the same time. She tried to shoo Nkauj Nog away saying that she only called for Nkauj Nrhee, but Sis Nab insisted that Nkauj Nog stays. The stepmother then pushed her daughter onto a stool and tries to fit the dainty slipper onto Nkauj Nrhee, but she couldn’t fit onto her bulging foot. Sis Nab then turns to Nkauj Nog and asks her to try on the slipper. Immediately, both of them could see that the slipper would fit perfectly on her, but due to fear of her stepmother’s anger, Nkauj Nog backed away. The stepmother, still scheming on how to entrap Sis Nab for Nkauj Nrhee decides to ask Sis Nab to stay a while and have dinner with them and due to being tired from his long search, he agrees.
Of course, the stepmother devised another deceitful plan. She made one dish full of tasty rice and meat and another with dry bones and rice hulls. Before serving the food, she blew out the oil lamps to darken the room. She then sets the best dishes before her daughter Nkauj Nrhee and Sis Nab and gave the other to Nkauj Nog. By doing so, she hoped that Nkauj Nog would become weak from hunger and not distract Sis Nab from Nkauj Nrhee. But Sis Nab had seen what the stepmother did and how Nkauj Nog endured such cruel act. He then turned to Nkauj Nog and asked her where the oil lamps are so they can see better. She then led him from the table to the doorway where their eyes met and immediately he knew that she was the girl he was looking for. Already in love with one another from the time they met at the New Year festival, they decided to elope to Sis Nab’s parents home where they can be wed but before leaving, Nkauj Nog goes to collect the remains of her mother in the cow feed and together they ran off into the night, leaving her stepmother and stepsister speechless as they watch them go off into the night
In the end, Nkauj Nog and Sis Nab lived happily ever after while for the stepmother and the lazy stepsister kept on making life even more miserable for themselves.
Here is a video of the story: