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.
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.