Tuesday, October 08, 2013

[Lao Classic Legends] Horse-Face Keo

Over at the archives in Northern Illinois University they have a number of very rough translations of Lao classic folktales there. Among them is Kaew Na Ma, although I prefer the spelling Keo Na Ma, or Horse-Face Keo.  You can find iterations in Khmer, Thai and many other Southeast Asian storytelling traditions. This should NOT be confused with the North Korean song of the Excellent Horse-Like Lady.

Horse-Faced Keo raises some great questions about bravery, valor, and beauty in Lao culture. I particularly like the aspect that her end goal isn't to stop having her 'horse-faced' form. When a Lao woman pregnant with triplets can defeat a demon army, that's worth a look. She's also a weather forecaster: Able to predict the weather, but not apparently able to change it.

Often, this legend is played for comedy in other cultures. I think it would be interesting to see the subject addressed through the lens of high fantasy, and even horror, considering the prominence of demon armies in this case.

The NIU translation of the story goes three generations to her grandchildren, so there's room for further adventures, and if you read it all of the way, I think you can see there's plenty of room for side-adventures as well.

There's dispute over whether it's a fully 'Lao' story, but I would argue it's been a part of our tradition for long enough that we should still embrace it and build upon it as only Lao writers and artists can. It begins like so:
"King Phuwadon and Queen Nantha of Mithila City had a handsome son named Pinthong. At about the same time, an old couple who lived outside of the capital city had a daughter who looked like a horse. She was called Kaew Na Ma or Horse-faced Kaew. When this girl grew up, she was able to forecast the weather. Her parents and her neighbors loved her in spite of her unattractive appearance...”

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