This was my favorite story from a compilation of folktales from the Southeast Asian archipelago (reaching all the way over to New Zealand): Water in the Ring of Fire, edited by Carla M. Pacis and beautifully illustrated by Felix Mago Miguel, except that I can’t show you those beautiful illustrations because I can’t find them anywhere online right now and I don’t know why. Just the cover would be lovely.
Oh, and the problem with being a custodian of The Wandering Library (lending to and borrowing paperback books from friends) is that, while I do my best to get the books back to their original owners, I never know where anything is anymore. So, I can’t show you an actual photograph of this book or the illustrations in it.
I do remember that this particular story originates in Thailand. An online search for different versions turn up spelling variations of the main characters’ names.
I’ve never been to Thailand and know nothing of its culture or history except that it has the distinction of being the only nation in Southeast Asia that has never been colonized by a foreign power.
Unfortunately, then, I can’t quite contextualize this story in a way that would do it justice.
The main message that I took from this story personally is how needed and helpful mischief really is. Suffering is real, anticipation of suffering to come is inevitable, and often to turn the responsibility onto the victims for something done to them is appallingly unhelpful. Nevertheless, there are times where laughter can transform fear.
Once upon a time, there was an ocean spirit named Makala who was given to marriage to one of the sky spirits. While this sky spirit loved Makala enough to propose, obviously, there were also duties that a sky spirit had to attend to that left Makala alone in a palace and terribly bored for long stretches of time.
Makala’s father had given her the present of a crystal ball, which she would play with to abate her boredom, letting it catch the sunlight and split it into different colors. She would handle and polish this crystal ball so much that the colors mixed into blinding white light.
One day, Makala had enough and slipped out of the palace to explore the rest of the sky.
She had more fun that morning than the entirety of her married life thus far: making shapes out of clouds, bird-watching, and just seeing new things and running free.
Unknown to her, the dreaded Ramasoon with his long cape of heavy rains often enjoyed terrorizing wayward lady-spirits with his hammer. The dark cloud fell over the sea spirit and, in horror, she witnessed this terrifying figure rush towards her with his weapon.
She leapt out of the way of his strike and bolted back for her palace, but Ramasoon recovered quickly and gained on her in his chase.
To slow him down, Makala got her crystal ball out of her pocket and flashed the light into Ramasoon’s eyes. Ramasoon gave a shout of surprise and pain, dropping his hammer into the clouds, where it rumbled with thunder.
Makala thought that it was hilarious enough to wait until Ramasoon had recovered, then lead him around for a little bit before pulling the crystal ball out again. After a dozen or so rounds of that, elated by her new game, Malaka finally became exhausted. She blinded Ramasoon one last time before fleeing back to her palace.
Every time she gets bored, she escapes her palace again, always careful to bring her crystal ball with her in case Ramasoon tries to attack.
The flash of white light from Makala’s crystal is what produces lightning, and the thunder that follows is Ramasoon dropping his hammer.
What this unfortunately also carries is the message that it’s Makala’s own responsibility not to come to harm, conveyed by her continued habit of pursuing vulnerable situations, and the care she takes in bringing her crystal ball with her. While both Makala and Ramasoon are personifications (of lightning and thunder, respectively) Makala is more personified: she has a family, she feels loneliness and boredom, and she performs actions out of motivation.
Why does Ramasoon attack other spirits? It’s a mystery.
That he does so, however, as a person or personified being with a name, and not as some non-personified event, tells me this story incompletely conveys the accountability that Ramasoon could have for the harmful actions that he takes. Makala might have reclaimed some empowerment and freedom, but remains subject to a greater palatial trap: here, the violation of rights is taken as default, as something more real somehow than the notion of individual rights and personal sovereignty, when both respect for and violation of rights are performed within societal constructs and conditions. To take a matter-of-course attitude towards negotiating and navigating acts of harm perpetrated by other individuals (to treat one person’s desire to murder and another person’s desire to live as a tragically irreconcilable, mere difference of opinion rather than the false equivalency that it is) is to construct conditions that support violence, violation, and oppression; to make such awful things more acceptable and expected than freedom and safety and rights that a person can enjoy without harming others.