In a time when people are traumatised, shocked and particularly vulnerable, the mischief maker comes to the fore and sets about causing as much distress, confusion and fear as possible. They spread misinformation, create and inflate rumours and cause unrest. To what purpose? Their own enjoyment of of course. You can be sure that whenever there is a natural disaster, they will surface, like cockroaches scuttling out of a drainpipe. In the recent floods in Brisbane and the surrounding areas, warnings were consistently issued by the media to check the sources of information, particularly on social network sites, where rumours and misinformation abounded.
I was reminded of the Burmese folktale about the mischief-maker’s tree, or the ‘gon-bin’ and I think it a most appropriate tale in light of understanding the power of the mischief maker. This is my retelling of this tale.
The Mischief Maker
Many centuries ago a raft carrying three people washed up onto the shore of the Burmese coast. They had all been banished from their country for the following reasons. One man was a thief who had stolen food, a woman was accused of witchcraft and another man a mischief maker who told lies about people.
When the King heard of the new arrivals he ordered hi ministers to give a thousand pieces of silver each to the thief and the witch and the mischief maker was to be executed immediately.
The King’s courtiers were shocked and asked the king why he had decided thus. The King replied.
The thief stole because he was hungry and if he is given enough money to grow his own food, then he will have no need to ever steal again. The witch too is poor and was envious and unhappy. If she is given money she too will have enough to live on and be a good person. But the mischief maker will always be a mischief maker.
So the mischief maker was taken to a beach and beheaded. The next day one of the King’s courtiers saw the head on the beach, its eyes and mouth wide open and it spoke.
‘Tell your King to come and bow before me or I will knock his head off.’
The courtier was so shocked, he ran back and told the King. But the King did not believe him and accused him of making fun of him. The courtier convinced the King to send another courtier with him to witness the mischief maker’s words. The King agreed to send another man, but when he appeared before the head, it said nothing. The courtier returned to the King and the King in anger, ordered the first courtier to be taken to the execution grounds and be dispatched for lying.
When the mischief maker saw that he had caused the death of another he laughed at the executioner and said.
‘I may be dead but i can still cause trouble.’
The executioner reported what he had heard to the King, who was filled with remorse for what he had done.
He ordered that the only way to stop the mischief maker was to bury his head deep in the sand. the executioner did that, but the next morning a strange tree grew in the spot. It grew and grew and finally it produced a most unusual fruit. It was shaped like the mischief makers head, complete with two eyes and a mouth. The King took the fruit and shook it and to his surprise he heard a gurgling sound inside, as though the mischief maker’s spirit was inside whispering his lies.
The ‘gon bin’, which is now called ‘ohn bin’, in English is known as the coconut palm.
Photograph by Roman W. Schatz