The Split Horn

Why Some People Are Left-Handed and Some People are Right-Handed

Long ago, [in the land of Laos,] there was a town of 3,000 people, ruled by a king. But a huge eagle kept eating the inhabitants, until he had eaten almost all of them.

It's hard to imagine how big this eagle really was. Whenever he came to the town, he would cover 11 houses.

It didn't take much to attract the eagle. Just grinding corn on a grindstone, or working the lever of a foot-powered rice-husking mill, was enough to make him come.

And each time he flew away, some more of the town's people had disappeared.

Fearing they would all be eaten by the giant eagle, the few who were left came together and killed three oxen and three buffaloes, as a great sacrifice to the spirits of the sky and the sovereign spirit of the region. They asked the spirits to send them a rescuer to save them from the eagle.

The sky agreed, promising to send a deliverer to help the people of the town.

After making the great sacrifice, the remaining people put the king's daughter in a very big drum. Then they closed the drum to hide her, inside. This was so that if no help ever came, she would be the last one to be eaten by the eagle. But if the promised rescuer ever came, the king's daughter could help him save the people.

Soon after that, the eagle came again, and ate everybody in sight.

Meanwhile, in another village, a wise and capable man was being chosen by heaven to come as a rescuer.

He followed the rhinoceros's trail many days, until it came to a place where there were many cow and buffalo tracks. There was a town nearby, but no people at all!

The man walked through the deserted town until he came to the king's house. He beat the king's large drum, hoping to rouse someone. When he did this, a voice came from inside the drum....

"Have no fear," the man assured her. "I want to bring the eagle back here so I can kill him."

"It's easy to make the eagle come," answered the girl. "Just pour some grains of rice into the bowl of the rice-husking mill and work the pestle lever with your foot. Then separate the kernels from the chaff by bouncing the grains in a woven bamboo tray. Just winnow three trays of grain in this way, and the eagle will appear from over the horizon and fly right here."

So the girl poured some rice into the mortar of the rice-husking mill, and worked the pestle lever three times with her foot.

Before long, a huge eagle appeared over the horizon and his enormous silhouette approached them like a black cloud.

The man quickly drew his crossbow, aimed, and let fly an arrow. The eagle fell to the ground, dead, in the broad open space in front of the king's house.

The man walked over to where the dead eagle was lying, and with his saber, cut open its belly. The eagle was full of human bones!

The man took the bones out of the eagle's stomach and started immediately reconnecting them. He put together arm bones, and leg bones, and that way, put people back together again. He worked nine days and nine nights, without stopping.

At first he was alert and energetic, and paid close attention to his work. He chose the bones carefully and put them the way they should be, right bones on the right side, left bones on the left side.

But as he grew tired, the last few days, he would sometimes get careless. At those times, he would take just any bones, left or right, and put them on either side to make bodies. This is why, from that day on, some people are left-handed, and some people are right-handed.

From Myths, Legends & Folk Tales from the Hmong of Laos as told by Pa Chou Yang ... [et al.]; written and translated by Se Yang ... [et al.] ; Charles Johnson, editor. St. Paul, MN : Linguistic Dept., Macalester College, 1992.