The Story Of “Toh Meh Pah”. Is Toh Meh Pah a real or symbolic person?

Once there were two brothers who lived and farmed together in the far north. In time, both married and raised large families, but they stayed living and farming close to one another.

One day a wild boar came and wrecked the rice fields. The elder brother, although sixty years old, pursed the boar through the forest and found its lair. The boar was rooting about nearby. The old man raised his spear and aimed for the pig’s head, just where the long and lethally sharp tusks joined the skull on each check. He thrust forward with his spear which passed through the boar’s head and pinned it to a tree. The animal was so big that the old man couldn’t move it by himself, so he returned home and told his sons to go and fetch the carcass. But when they reached the place there was no pig – only the spear fixed in the tree, and the two giant tusks lying on the ground. The young men picked these up and brought them home, giving the old hunter the name Toh Meh Pah, or ‘Boar Tusk’.

Toh Meh Pah decided to make a comb out of one of the tusks. When he had done so, he combed his hair with it – and instantly felt quite young again, not sixty but a mere twenty years old. He realized that the comb had magical properties, so he kept it safe. In future, whenever age weighed in him, he’d simply take out his comb and shed a decade or two.

With his youth and vitality assured for ever, it was not surprising that Toh Meh Pah’s family rapidly increased in number. Soon there were too many of them for their land in the hills, so Toh Meh Pah declared that they have to go and find a new home where the soil was richer and could support them all. He would go ahead and find the place first – and so he set off.

In ever region that he passed through, Toh Meh Pah tried the same experiment. He dug eight holes in the ground, all the same size, and used the earth from the first to try and fill the others. The richer the soil, the more it would spring out and expend. Generally the soil from one hole would fill two or three more but at last he found a place where seven holes could be filled in this way. This was perfect, he concluded, and he returned to fetch his family.

So he and his brother and all their children packed up and moved, following Toh Meh Pah through the forest. After a long march they reached a river where they sat down to rest and eat. In the water they found some snails, and on the bank they was roselle (hibiscus) growing. They’d never tried eating either but they looked good, so fires were lit and snails and roselle put on to boil. After a while someone poked one of the snails with a knife and said, ‘It’s still hard. And you can see the blood coming from it; can’t be cooked yet.’ So they waited, but after several hours the snails were still hard and the blood (which was of course the color from the rolelle) was still bright. Toh Meh Pah grew impatient, wanting to move on; after another hour he announced that he was going ahead with his family, and that they’d blaze a trail by cutting down banana trees so that his brother could follow when the snails were cooked and eaten. Off he went.

But, wait as the brother’s family might, the snails never cooked – until at last some Chinese travelers came by and laughed at them and showed them how to take the end off the snails and suck out contents. They ate quickly and set off to follow Toh Meh Pah – but they’d waited so long that the bananas had grown up again and the trail was obscursed. And that was the last the Karen ever saw of Toh Meh Pah, or his children, or his magic comb.


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