The Bread Tree

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

There once was a boy who lived with his mother and was engaged all day in tending cattle. Every morning when he started his mother gave him two pieces of bread called “hunger bread” and “stuffing bread,”—one to satisfy hunger with and the other to over-eat oneself on. One day the boy could not eat all his bread and he left the piece that remained over on a rock. When he went back the next day he was surprised to see that from the piece of bread a tree had grown which bore loaves of bread instead of fruit. After that the boy no longer took bread from his mother, but lived on the fruit of his tree.

One day he had climbed his tree to pick a loaf when an old woman came by with a bag over her shoulder and saying that she was very poor begged for a piece of bread. The old woman was really a Rākshasī. The boy was kindhearted and told her that he would throw her down a loaf, but the old woman objected that it would get dirty if it fell on the ground. Then he told her to hold out her cloth and he would throw it into that: but she said that she could not see well enough to catch the loaf: he must come down and give it to her: so the boy came down to give her the loaf and when the Rākshasī had him on the ground, she seized him and put him in her bag and went off with him.

After going some way she came to a pool of water and as she was rather thirsty from carrying such a burden, she put down her bag and went to drink. Opportunely some travellers came by and hearing the boy’s shouts let him out of the bag. The boy filled the bag with stones and tied it up as before and made the best of his way home. The old Rākshasī went off with the heavy bag and when she got to her abode told her daughter with whom she lived that she had captured a fine dinner but when the daughter opened the bag she found in it nothing but stones: at this she was very angry and abused her mother: then the old woman said that the boy had escaped on the road: so the next day she went back to the place where the boy was tending cattle and by the same trick she caught him and put him in her bag and this time went straight home. She made him over to her daughter and went out to collect fire wood with which to cook him. The boy being left alone with the daughter began to ask how he was to be killed; she said that his head was to be pounded in a Dhenki. He pretended not to understand and asked how that was to be done. The girl not understanding such stupidity put her head under the striker of the Dhenki to show him what would happen. Then the boy at once pounded her head in the Dhenki and killed her: he then put on her clothes and cut her body up in pieces ready for cooking. When the old woman came back with the fire wood she was pleased to find that her daughter, as she thought, had got every thing ready; and the meal was soon cooked and eaten. After the old woman had thus made a hearty meal off the remains of her own daughter she felt sleepy and took a nap. While she slept the boy struck her on the head with a large stone and killed her; thus he saved his life and took all the property of the old Rākshasī and lived happily ever after.