Lao Folktales: Phi Kongkoi, the Ghost Named Kongkoi

laofolktales

I’ve been searching for Lao folktales, and was told by a friend about SEAsite Laos website that have a good collection of Lao folktales.  Then I found a book called Lao Folktales by Wajuppa Tossa with Kongdeuane Nettavong, edited by Margaret Read MacDonald.  It’s in hardcover and has some of the great stories that my mom told me when I was little.  One of my all time favorite stories is the ghost story called ‘Phi Kongkoi:  The ghost Named Kongkoi’ and was surprised to find it in this book as well.  Here is the story, told by Suphaphit Khantha, mahasarakham, Thailand, collected and retold in English by Wajappa Tossa.

Once there was a man named Thid Kaew who lived with his old mother.  Thid Kaew was a grateful son who took very good care of his mother.  He earned a living by fishing.  At first he could get a lot of fish, but later there was no fish, not a single fish.  So he went to tell his mother about this.

“There must be someone stealing our fish.  Why don’t you go and watch the trap?”  suggested his mother.

So Thid Kaew went to hide near his fish trap.  Later that night he saw a dark shadow emerging from a bush, shrieking, “Kok kok kok Koi koi koi.”  It was Phi Kongkoi, the female ghost named Kongkoi.

Thid Kaew jumped on the shadow, and it cried, “Kok kok kok Koi koi koi, (Hungry! Hungry!).”  Thid Kaew wrestled the shadow down, and they struggled for a long time.  Finally he subdued the hungry ghost.  Now she looked beautiful to him.  He became the husband of Phi Kongkoi.  He was very happy.

As the golden rays of the sun appeared in the sky at dawn, the rooster crowed, “Egg-I-en-egg.” Thid Kaew woke up.  He stretched, but…whoops! He almost fell off the high branch of a tree.  “Oh, no.  How did I get up here?”  he asked himself.  He called out:

“Help! Help! Thid Kaew can climb up the tree, but not down.  Help! Help! Thid Kaew can climb up the tree, but not down.”

It was cool in the morning, but Thid Kaew was drenched with sweat.  Nobody came to help.  Thid Kaew tried to climb down, with difficulty, and finally he managed to get down from the tree.  Once his feet touched the ground, he began running, running, running.

He was running around and around in the forest until dark.  He came across a little hut in the field.  There he saw Phi Kongkoi, crying, saying, “Oh, dear husband, we can’t live together.  I have to go my way.  But before I go away, I will give you some treasures that I have.”  Then she handed the treasures to Thid Kaew, and Phi Kongkoi disappeared.

Thid Kaew grabbed the treasures and ran back home to his mother.  It was real treasure.  And the ghost lady was really gone forever.  So they lived happily ever after.

This is not as scary as when I heard it as a little kid. According to my mom’s version, he went by the water bank and saw Phi Kongkoi, and she had fish in her mouth, blood dripping from her lips.  She said ’Hungry! Hungry!’ and Thid kaew was scared but tried to be brave, he had a flame torch in his hand and told her to open her mouth wide, then wider, and when she did that, he shoved the torch into her mouth.  She cried out in pain.  I recalled that the image of Phi Kongkoi was very vivid in my mind when my mom told me.

I think if you love Lao folktales, this is a good book to have.  There is also another ghost story in the book that I like called Phi Khon Long:  The Ghost Who Carried Her own Coffin.

Description of the book:

This collection seeks to fill a gap in folktale literature by offering tales of the Lao. Organized by broad themes and types, it offers more than 50 tales, including creation myths, animal tales, Buddhist Jataka and moral stories, trickster tales, riddles, ghost stories, local legends and more from peoples on both sides of the Mekong River. In addition, the book includes general information about Lao geography, peoples, and history, as well as recipes, games crafts, color photos and line drawings.
Table of Contents:

* Chapter 1: Lao Folktales
* Chapter 2: Buddhist Jataka and Moral Tales
* Chapter 3: Trickster Tales
* Chapter 4: Tales of the Fools
* Chapter 5: Animal Tales
* Chapter 6: Riddle Stories
* Chapter 7: Ghost Stories
* Chapter 8: Magical Tales
* Chapter 9: Tales of Helpful Gods and Spirits
* Chapter 10: Place Legends
* Chapter 11: Origin Myths of the Lao People
* Chapter 12: Folk Epics
* Chapter 13: Lao Geography, History and People
* Chapter 14: Fun with Lao food, crafts, and games.

11 thoughts on “Lao Folktales: Phi Kongkoi, the Ghost Named Kongkoi

  1. I also remember the story of Phi Kongkoi when I was young. I think I heard the short version from my parents. It was mainly to say “don’t chew your food loud” lesson or something. I am still scared of this story. My grandma would not even let us talk about any kind of “Phi”, especially at night. 🙂

    This book is a great find, I’ve always wanted to have a collection of Lao folktales. Thanks for sharing.

    • Salat, I think in most of the stories is a lesson of some sort, but I often heard when I was little that ‘stories were meant to trick children’ but I enjoy it nevertheless. When I was little, my mom didn’t tell us a lot of story, but there was a radio talks show called ‘Loung Poun’ in Thailand that my sisters and I were a big fan and his stories were mostly ghost stories, I think that’s why I like ghost story so much.

      The book is great especially if you’ve young children that love to read, or something that you can read to them. I love folktales, when I visited my friend the last time, I asked his mom to tell me some of the old Lao folktales, hearing it in Lao version is a lot more fun imo, but it’s somewhat difficult to understand because it’s very poetic in nature.

  2. ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Pee KongKoi… !!!!!!

    When I was growing up, I was always scared of Pee Kongkoi. It was a favorite tale to tell during gatherings. They say that komgkoi’s feet are turned backwards. So even if he walked forward, looked like he was going backwards! Scary.

    • lady0fdarkness, I think there are many versions out there. I kind of thought that it was told to us so that we’d not wander off into the forest and get lost, but if there is such thing as Phi Kongkoi, I sure don’t want to meet him or her.

  3. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Lao folktales

  4. p’nye! when i was reading this i was a bit scared, but afterwards it didn’t seem scary at all. I’ve heard of Phi Kongkoi, just the name itself, but I have never heard the story of it. I like Thai and Lao folktales, but as I was growing up, I was never told of these kind of stories.

    • julie, might be because you grew up in the US, back in Laos and Thailand, the elders would tell the story to the village children in the Evening, and when we were growing up in Thailand, there was a radio station by Loung Phon that we loved to listen to. My sister (Danny’s mom) would also tell the story to the children in the evening, she was about 15 years old at the time, and when she got sick with malaria and had to be hospitalized, I took her place and tell story, I was a lot younger than her, but I heard plenty, it was fun.

  5. Nye, where did you find this book at? Phi Kong Koi is classic lao folktale.. I think every lao kids growing up in Laos knows about this story.

    What about this story… “thip kaow noi khar mae taiy”???? Have you ever heard of it?

    • seeharhed, I bought it from my local Barnes and Nobel, but they didn’t have it in stock, and they ordered it for me and had it shipped to my home, and I didn’t have to pay for the shipping charges. Lee loves most of the stories in there.

      I don’t think the story “thip kaow noi khar mae taiy” was in there, my mom told me about it when I was little, that it was about a man waiting for his mom to bring him lunch. He was so hungry, and when he saw that the rice basket that his mom brought him was so small, he became angry and killed her. He then sat down and ate, but couldn’t finish before he became full, and realized that he should have listened to his mom, that the small rice basket would be enough for him. Lesson learned, but it was too late…to apply this to today’s living, never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, you’ll end up buying more than you really need.

  6. The following story is the real one..
    Phi KongKoi still exist in the deep jungle in Laos.. One group of people who tried to live themselve by searching the Non-Timber Products in deep jungle experienced facing with Phi KongKoi.. The brief story is such:

    On the stone along the creek where the group of the villagers who went for the NTP set up their camp there were many opened crabs laying down, the senior villager told the group not to touch it because he realized by hearing from the oldest in the village that those should belong to “Phi KongKoi” and every one settled with that comment. However, one young guy who stayed alone in the camp to cook for the group didn’t believe on what commented, he wiped all opened crabs down to the creek while the group went to the jundgle.. When the sun was coming down like 5-6PM, the group returned back from the jungle and saw that there were no crabs anymore and asked the young guy where the crabs gone. The young guy said he cleaned all up to the creek.. Heard that the senior adviced to return back to the village immediately and the way back they had to take boat along the creek and took about 3-4 hours.. He realized not even wait until dawn but should be back ASAP.. Once the sun was down and got dark and they left the place for about hour, suddenly they heard the voice of Phi KongKoi from very far away (Koi, koi, koi,,….). The senior one knew that the “KongKoi” was following them and surely it needed the guy who wiped out its crabs.. The young guy was so frightened and scary and he was laying down under boat and covered with something.. The group swifted the boat as fast as possible but the voice of KongKoi was approaching very fast and followed them along the bank ..and finally disappeared.. Every one sighted and relaxed then called out the young guy to get out from the cover but quiet. Once found he was dead already…. Everyone believed that he was killed by that KongKoi ..

    • Hi PhouLuang, thank for a fascinating story. I heard so many stories about Phi Kongkoi when I was little since we used to live in Mueng Kao (near Pakse) and there are mountains not too far from our house. I often thought that the stories were told to prevent us kids from wandering into the wood after dark but deep down inside I feel that there was some truth in it. I think it’s one of those that you can’t prove, but the locals knew well that it exists. Sadly I was too young to remember any of those stories, and thanks again for the great story of Phi Kongkoi.

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