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Manoa 16.1 (2004) 36-40

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The Origin of the Kounlok Bird

Translation by David Chandler

The bird known as the kounlok has an appearance resembling the krolung krolong bird's, but it is slightly larger and colored gray and has red speckles. It can mostly be found on wooded hills or in light forests. Elderly people in Cambodia tell a story about its origins that goes like this.

Long ago, two poor farmers, a man and his wife, had three little girls. The eldest girl knew how to draw water and cook, the second knew how to look after her little sister, and the third knew how to run around and play.

The husband died, and his young wife was left a widow with three little girls. Every day, she cut wood and gathered vegetables to take to the market to sell.

One day at the market, she met a good-for-nothing man who had plenty of money because he robbed the people who came to the market. When he saw the young widow, he pretended to be a decent, well-behaved person and asked her ever so politely, "Young woman, what village are you from? Is it near or faraway? Why don't you have a husband to help you with your heavy shoulder pole? Why do you carry so much by yourself?"

The young woman answered in a straightforward manner. "I'm a widow," she said. "My husband died. I'm very poor. I gather vegetables to sell for a little money so that I can buy food for my three little girls."

The good-for-nothing man was delighted by her reply and thought to himself, This young woman's a widow. She has a pleasing appearance. If I follow her home and talk to her, I might be able to take her as my wife. He said to her, "Young lady, I feel very sorry for you. Here, I beg you to take these ten coins as a gift: buy something for your children." Greatly pleased, the young widow hastily accepted the money, and when she had sold her wood and vegetables, she headed home. The good-for-nothing man followed her from a distance so as to find out where she lived, and when it was dark, he visited her. They talked sweetly for a while, and soon thereafter, they began to live as man and wife.

From that day on, the good-for-nothing man would leave to rob people in faraway places. Sometimes he'd be gone for three or four days and sometimes for half a month. His wife now had plenty of gold and silver to spend. [End Page 36] She wore only the most beautiful clothes. She became haughty, and when her husband was home, she'd go off with him to eat and drink at the market.

She neglected her poor children. At first, she was annoyed by them. Then she came to hate them. Whenever she saw their faces, she wanted to grab a knife and kill them. When she made soup, she cooked only enough for her husband and herself. If there was a little rice left in the bottom of the pot, the girls would try to scrape it out for their food. Sometimes they'd sleep near the fireplace, and sometimes they'd sleep in a lean-to, suffering mosquito and midge bites. In the mornings, their mother would go off to the market to eat and drink with her husband, the good-for-nothing man.

One day, the good-for-nothing man said to her, "I'm ashamed by all your devotion and by the way you follow me around when I go to the market. I beg you, please, stay at home and take care of your three little girls."

Hearing her husband talk like this, the widow thought to herself, My husband is a terrible show-off. The bad women in the market know him well. If I obey him, he will abandon me. I need to find a way to kill...


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