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Manoa 14.2 (2002-2003) 21

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The Tale of Tan'gun

[ The Valley of Utopia]

Long ago, the Heavenly King's son, Hwanung, desired to live in the world of humans. His father chose for him the region around Mount T'aebaek and sent him there with three celestial ministers to assist him: Wind, Rain, and Clouds. Beside a sacred sandalwood tree atop the mountain, the Heavenly Prince established his Sacred City, brought culture to the people, and made their lives orderly.

At that time, a bear and a tiger lived in a cave near the sandalwood tree, and they prayed ardently to the divine Hwanung to transform them into human beings. Hwanung gave them a bundle of sacred mugworts and twenty cloves of garlic and said, "If you eat these and remain deep in your cave for one hundred days, you will become humans." Both animals did as they were told. After twenty-one days, the bear became a beautiful woman. But the tiger, who couldn't endure the trial any longer, ran away and remained a tiger. Unable to find a husband, the bear-woman prayed under the sandalwood tree for a child of her own. Hwanung lay with her and granted her wish. They named their son Tan'gun Wanggom, the Sandalwood King. When he grew up, he became the first human ruler of the kingdom he called Choson (Morning Calm). Tan'gun made the city of P'yongyang his capital and ruled for 1,500 years. After that, he became the Mountain Spirit.


Adapted from a Translation by Peter H. Lee



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