When I was young, I found this compilation of folklore concerning the origins of local fruits. My favorite story was of the origin myth of the durian fruit.
The durian is definitely not my favorite fruit to eat. I remember wanting to try durian, but my mother insisted that I try out the candies and jams first (probably because she herself wasn’t fond of fresh durian.) I was a picky eater as a child. For durian, though, I remember making the effort to acquire the taste, just because I enjoyed the origin story so much. My efforts were all in vain, and even our rather intimidating cook who scolded me almost nightly for letting food go to waste, allowed me to leave it unfinished. I thought that it only tasted so terrible to me because it was preserved, but years later my mother found a recipe that involved mashing the fruit flesh in fresh cream, wrapping it in same sort of rice bread wrap used for Chinese dumplings, and freezing it. This was the only durian recipe that she liked. She made a batch, I took a bite, and the moment that it touched the back of one of my teeth…
I only remember that I had to rush to the bathroom to wash my mouth out. My memory has blocked out the actual flavor, so I can’t even begin to describe it, but it must have been terrible.
The story went as follows:
Once upon a time, there lived a king named Barom-Mai. That the storyteller refers to him as a king and not a tribal chieftain suggested to me that this must not be a story from the north, where, to my knowledge, we only had tribal chieftains, and were eventually granted political centralization by foreign colonists, and this has lasted into modern times. I don’t know how far south or even what era this story originates, that perhaps Barom-Mai would have been more accurately referred to as a Caliph or even a Sultan.
In any case, he was betrothed to the daughter of Pirate King Tageb, and what troubled the old and ugly king Barom-Mai was that this young beauty did not love him back.
That last peculiarity is what gets the rest of the story unfolding, and I refer to it as a peculiarity because… well, political marriages don’t need love to make it work. He might as well have been troubled that Pirate Princess Madayaw-Bayho was so shallow, or troubled that she was suffering from a patriarchy of which Barom-Mai would otherwise have been a beneficiary if it weren’t for his romantic idealism unbecoming of a man his age and in his position: how anachronistic would that be?
By the way, was he really marrying a pirate? He could have been troubled about that. I keep hearing about princesses getting seduced by outlaw swashbucklers, although I’ve never actually been told such a story in any form. The closest I can think of is The Princess Bride and they started that relationship while he was just a stableboy, so Princess Buttercup didn’t fall for Westley because he was a pirate. But the general idea I got was that royals fall from grace. Pirates are like… sea terrorists, they don’t marry into royal families!
What I think would be more likely was King Tageb was an actual king of semi-nomadic seafarers. I remember learning about a similar tribe in Indonesia, though it troubles me that I can’t remember what they were called. They sounded awesome, all brightly-colored fabrics from sea trading (not pirating) sewn into practical shapes for fishing (not pirating) and ingrained gender egalitarianism. They weren’t pirates. They were honest folk with culture and governance who just didn’t like to live on the land and stay in just one place very much.
Or maybe “pirate” like “king” just sounded more romantic, and they were both tribal chieftains but one had a lot of boats and another had a lot of huts.
This will be the last time I try to contextualize this story into any sort of historical accuracy because we’ve got talking turtles and wind goddesses with love potion flowers in their hair coming up!
As I mentioned, King Barom-Mai wanted his fiancee to love him. He sought out Impit Purok, which was the name of a hermit who lived in the volcanic Mount Apo.
Impit Purok asked four things of the king, the first three being ingredients that the hermit could work his magic with, and the fourth being the condition that Impit Purok be invited to the wedding.
The first ingredient was twelve ladles of milk from a water buffalo with a hide of purest white, which would make those who drank the milk more kindly-disposed.
The second ingredient was nectar from the flower of a Make Believe Tree, which only the wind goddesses had access to. The nectar was a love potion.
The third ingredient was the egg of a sea turtle.
King Barom-Mai found the pure white water buffalo ready for milking, easily enough. He was the King, after all, and he had loyal subjects and plentiful resources.
For the flower nectar, he had to call in a favor from one of the wind goddesses, whose sister was planning to change up the flower that she wore in her hair anyway.
For the third ingredient, King Barom-Mai met with the King and Queen of the sea turtles, who were (of course) sea turtles themselves. As King Barom-Mai had saved the sea turtle kingdom from a successful war of conquest waged by King Tageb, that explains to me how King Tageb became condemned as a pirate and his daughter taken into a marriage for the victor’s prize… but not why the King and Queen of Sea Turtles agreed to essentially sacrifice their potential child so that King Barom-Mai could have a happy marriage to their would-be conquerer’s daughter.
At least that gave Barom-Mai some difficulty, as turtles bury their eggs in the earth, and sentient talking sea turtle royalty bury their egg (singular, but larger than ordinary turtle eggs) much deeper than ordinary turtles. They allowed King Barom-Mai to do his own digging.
I think that the first version I read went more that King Barom-Mai consulted the sea turtle about the habits of a rare species of magical bird that did bury its egg deep in the ground. I prefer the more morbid version, where it’s a sea turtle egg.
However it went, King Barom-Mai returned to Impit Purok with all the necessary ingredients. Impit Purok bore a hole in the egg, through which he poured the nectar and milk, and he told King Barom-Mai to bury this egg-seed in his orchard.
Other versions describe other ways that he did it, of course, but I just really like the idea of an egg that was also a seed.
The egg-seed grew into the first durian tree, bearing smooth-skinned and rounded fruits with milky and sweet flesh. Pirate Princess Madayaw-Bayho arrived to her new kingdom just as the first durian was in season, and just the sweet smell of this new crop wafting around the orchard convinced her that she wanted to spend her entire life with King Barom-Mai and his kingdom with the good magical fruits. I prefer to think that she was a pragmatic young woman, and not that the magical ingredients of the first durian crop compelled her to fall in love with King Barom-Mai when she first ate the fruit.
The magical dubiousness of consent issues aside, they were wedded, and lived happily ever after.
Or, that’s how the story would have ended had King Barom-Mai not completely forgotten to invite the hermit to the wedding as they had agreed upon.
As punishment, Impit Purok cursed the durian fruit so that the smooth skin would instead grow gnarled thorns. The once-fragrant aroma turned unbearably foul, so that even in modern times the durian is outlawed or prohibited in many areas. However, the flesh of the fruit remains golden, creamy, and flavorful: a worthy reward for anybody who can get past the prickles and the stench.
Oddly enough, I personally like the smell of durian. It’s really the taste that I can’t bear. In some versions, only the thorny skin was the curse of the fruit while the aroma remained as sweet as when Pirate Princess Madayaw-Bayho first caught whiff of it. In no version of this story does it say, “Impit Purok cursed the fruit (that people still eat for some reason) to taste horrible.”