The Origin of Batik: a “Fairy Tale”

Batik Fairy Tale


(a summary, from the excellent research book called: H’mong Batik, a Textile Technique From Laos by Jane Mallinson, Nancy Donnely, Ly Hang – Silkworm Books ISBN 974-7100-21-5)

There lived a man and his wife with their young daughter.

One day the wife needs a cow to sacrifice. The man goes too late to the market and cannot buy one. He returns home, puts a rope around his wife’s neck and beats her. She turns into a cow and is kept in the garden waiting for sacrifice.

The man takes a second wife who has also a daughter.

The first daughter has to do all the household work and also the sewing of the traditional skirts. She does everything perfectly. The stepmother discovers that the cow in the garden turns back into the mother to help her daughter sew such wonderful skirts.

The stepmother is displeased as her own daughter has not got such a good reputation. Therefore, the stepmother pretends she is very sick and asks her husband to sacrifice the cow in the garden so she can be cured.

It is the New Year Festival. The stepmother decides to take her own daughter there to meet a very eligible young man – while leaving at home the first daughter to follow all the domestic tasks.

The sacrificed monther's cow head speaks up and tells her daughter to go to the animal pen where she will find a beautiful newly embroidered skirt. She is so lovely that the eligible young man falls for her; when by magic she jumps back home before sunset he cannot recognize her in the dirty little girl staying at the house. The second day they meet again. He steps on her foot before she disappears at sunset; at the house he recognizes her footprint and asks her to marry him. The stepmother is very angry as she wanted him to marry her own daughter. In spite of her nasty tricks, the young couple manages to run away. The stepmother asks her daughter to find them and kill her stepsister:

...The fairy tale tells us the "bad stepsister" does manage to kill the "good stepsister" who has now a son. He, in turn, kills the "bad stepsister"!

Different circumstances bring back to life the stepsisters, so the chase continues...

The family decides it has enough of this life of bad luck, suffering and pain. The son is turned into a lovely hummingbird; the mother becomes the honeycomb and the father the hemp.

When the son is hungry he can go to the mother for food. When the hummingbird goes to the honeycomb, they say, even the bees move away! The father is the hemp which is used to weave the cloth for the clothes. The mother contributes the wax to make the patterns of the batik on the cloth. The H’mong families are strong and tied together forever just as the batik is strong and cannot be destroyed.

(After Simone has settled nearby the Hmong village in Northern East Nan province, she will research the local version of the story of the Origin of Batik.  And she will enquire why, in the story, there isn’t a daughter in the Hmong family… to draw the wax patterns with a pen on the cloth!!!)