New men come, and many fear. Many dwell in the fear of yester-year, the dread of changes that must be. But new men have always come, from the time the first man crawled down from the hole in earth’s ceiling; he lived not here, but made this his home. So too will new men follow the new men some day, and they, too, will move on or live together or die.
This, then, to slake your fears, the story of Hshnak, of Jujukong and Maioti, the first immigrants, the first new people who set up camp here and found before them a land that was not theirs and was already half-full with men.
Hshnak was a strong warrior, a chieftain born, and his people, our People, lived once in high mountains beyond the eastern rim of the world, the mountains that crawl like clouds into the night sky. And all the world was islands in the clouds, the blanket of white beneath them, day in day out, and they lived like men adrift on the sea. Great swinging bridges connected their islands, though no one knew who had built them. They were older than the People, said Jujukong, the memory-keeper, but he knew no more than that.
The air in the mountains is thinner than water, thinner than a leaf carried on the wind. The People grew hearty, but at last their lungs failed them, the soil at last failed them, no land left to grow crops on, no game left to hunt for, and they longed for a new home beyond the islands of the sky. They turned their gaze upward, but by nature it fell downward and Hshnak set out to penetrate the cloud-ocean, to find a new home down below.
At first none would come with him, but Jujukong drew near, for none can go forward without the memory of where he has been. Then Maoiti, the fair maiden, the princess of the People, demanded to go with them, for what new land without beauty, what beauty without woman, what life without the fertility of the womb? Her slender calves were graceful, her hand steady, eye determined, and Hshnak, enamored, at last gave in.
Down they set, down the mountain, down the sharp slopes and gullies, through the cloudrim that isolated their islands. Down and down they went, till they felt the very world must give way before them, but the air grew thicker, and it made their steps lighter, filled them with power, and they flew like great birds on the wing. At last, they reached a vista, a great open vista, that looked out from the mountain over the wide valley that snaked away below. And for the first time, they realized that the mountains were but the edge of the world, not its sum total, for a plain spread to eternity below them.
On the prairie, they found tents and wigwams, stretched out in little villages, and the people there greeted them with great surprise. They were small and hunched and dark-skinned, not proud and tall and red-skinned, and the travelers drew back at their sight. The prairie-men feasted on the calf and lamb and piglet, the fruit of youth’s first offering, and this caused the traveler’s bellies to turn ill.
But the prairie was wide and open, so there Hshnak made home with Jujukong and Maioti, and there they resolved to bring the People down. At first the plain was plentiful, but soon, they found the game was dwindling, the open prairie yielding less and less by day. Soon the prairie-folk came angrily, demanding why their game had gone to ground, and Hshnak, mighty hunter, could not say. There was no room for both, they said, no room for mountain and prairie-folk, disgusting towering mountain-folk, who eat not calf and lamb but feast upon the sacred horned goat.
It was too much for men to bear, and soon words turned to weapons, sharp hatchets from the mountain, swift arrows from the plain. Brave Hshnak bled his heart out there, though many prairie-men lost their lives out there, and their blood mixed together to create the Sullen Mire the People now avoid.
The prairie-men celebrated, but by the time Hshnak had fallen, more mountain-people had come, for Jujukong remembered the way to them well. The people sat at each other’s doors and stared, their lips uptwisting with disgust, but neither could make the other budge. So they strung skins on sinew in a fence between them, marked their borders with the flight of sharp arrows. Only then, they found the hunting grounds had moved to the land taken by the prairie-folk, and soon the mountain-folk were dying to cross lines and move in.
It is said that then Maioti, through her beauty, became handmaiden to the prairie chieftain, it is said she bewitched him to take her as his bride. It is said with time, more blood was shed, more loves were loved, more lives were lost, before this place became the place you so love, the home that is our home this very day, at least, for now.
But with strength and with beauty, and always with memory, the People made their place in the prairie, and from the people there they heard the story, the ancient, time-honored story, of Hshnak, of Jujukong and Maioti, the first immigrants, the first new people who set up camp here and found before them a land that was not theirs and was already half-full with men. And with time they took that story and made it their own story, and so too will the new people make it their own story, and all our stories live on to be retold again. For once when the new people met the old people, they built a fence between them, but with time, through love and death, there came to be but one People on the plain.
--Ancient Jushan Folk-tale, as re-told by Mark L. Podner
Senior Fellow, The Cultural Research Center
Translator’s Note: There are many who interpret the last line of this story to emphasize death, such that the mountain-people may have ultimately exterminated the men of the prairie. Whether this is true or not is unclear, though certainly the Jushan were a tall and red-skinned people. I prefer to leave the passage without emphasis, so that the possibility of consolidation through miscegenation is not underrepresented. - MLP