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A Korean Folk Tale
Translated by Kathleen Cook
Illustrated by M.Romadin
Some two hundred years ago in the province of Hamgyong North, in the town of Kilchu, there was a society of tiger hunters. The members of the society were very rich. A poor young man sought in vain to enter the society and become a member.
“Who do you think you are?” the chairman said to him. “Don’t you know that a poor man is no man at all? Be off with you.”
Nevertheless the young man denied himself everything and made himself a steel spear just as good, and perhaps even better than those of the other hunters.
And when they set off to the mountains one day to hunt tigers he went too.
When they halted by a ravine he went up to them and again begged them to accept him.
But they were enjoying themselves, and had no time for a poor man; they again drove him away derisively.
“Well, in that case,” said the young man, “you drink and be merry here, and I will go alone.”
“Go, madman,” they said to him, “if you wish to be torn to pieces by tigers.”
“Death from a tiger is better than insults from you.”
And he went into the forest. Entering a thicket, he saw a huge striped tiger. The tiger played like a cat with him: jumping towards him, then back again, lying down and looking at him as it waved its huge tail from side to side.
This continued until the hunter, according to custom, shouted scornfully to the tiger:
“Accept my spear!”
At that moment the tiger leapt at the hunter and, meeting the spear, caught hold of it with his teeth. But then the hunter drove the spear, with superhuman strength, into his throat, and the tiger fell dead to the ground.
It was a tigress, and the tiger, her mate, was already bounding to her aid.
There was no need to cry “accept my spear!”, for as soon as it saw the hunter, it threw itself at him with a terrible leap.
The hunter managed to take aim with his spear at this one, too, and cast it into the tiger’s jaws.
He dragged the two dead tigers into the bushes, with their tails showing on the path.
Then he returned to the hunters who were making merry.
“Well, then? Killed a lot of tigers?”
“I found two, but could not deal with them and came to ask for your help.”
“That’s more like it: show us where they are.”
They left their merrymaking and followed the hunter. On the way they mocked him:
“So you didn’t want to die, and you came to us for help...”
“Be quiet,” the poor hunter ordered them, “the tigers are nearby.”
They had to keep silent. Now he was senior among them.
“There are the tigers,” the hunter pointed to the tails.
They stood in a line and shouted:
“Accept my spear!”
But the dead tigers did not move.
Then the poor hunter said:
“They have already accepted a spear, now they just need to be pulled to town; that’s for you to do.”
Author: A Korean Folk Tale; illustrated by Romadin M.
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