Sister Sun and Brother Moon
This tale narrates the origin of the sun and the moon.
A tiger ate up an old mother returning home after providing labor at a rich household, and after disguising himself with the mother’s clothes and headwrap, went to the home where the mother’s son and daughter were waiting and asked them to open the door. The brother and sister peeked out and realizing that it was a tiger, they ran out through the back door and climbed up a tree. The tiger climbed the tree after them and the brother and sister prayed to the heavens, upon which a metal chain was sent down for them and they climbed up to become the sun and the moon. The tiger tried to come after them on a crumbling straw rope, which broke and the tiger fell on a sorghum field and died. The heavens first assigned the brother as the sun and the sister as the moon, but the sister was afraid of the dark and their roles were switched. The sister, shy of all the people looking up during the day, illuminates with intense light.
This tale has evolved into many variations in the course of transmission. One version takes the form of an imitation tale, in which the tiger tries to copy the siblings’ prayer, saying, “Please send down a thick rope to save me, or send down a crumbling rope to kill me”; another version turns into an origin tale, in which the tiger’s fall turns the sorghum stalks red, with some variations that leave out the part about the sun and the moon and only include the origin of the sorghum color. There are also variations that feature a dog or wolf in the tiger’s place.
The switching of the siblings’ roles emereged as a controversial issue in transmission, giving way to many variations. While in the creation mythology about the sun and the moon, the brother turns into the moon since he always trails the sister. In the folk tale versions, however, the sister becomes the sun because she is afraid of the dark; or in the course of a quarrel the brother pokes the sister’s eye, which makes her the sun; or the sister pleads that darkness scares her but the brother insists that the assigned roles cannot be changed. The variations seem to have been based on the instinct to adhere to the convention association of the male with the yang energy and the sun.
The chase motif provides the narrative drive in this tale, and the chaser is not always an animal but also humans, often family members in conflict. And as in the myth of the great flood, this tale is also related to the incest taboo motif, which underlines the tale’s connection to creation myths. An Inuit mythology tells the story of an unidentified man who visits a woman every night, and to track him down, the woman mixes soot with oil and rubs it on her nipples. The following morning she sees that her brother’s lips are black with soot, which shames the sister and makes her leave the village, but the brother chases after her and in the course of their long chase, the sister turns into the sun and the brother turns into the moon. The solar eclipse occurs when the brother is finally able to catch up with the sister. Another example of the incest motif in the creation of the sun and the moon can be found in a Manchurian mythology, in which the mirror that belongs to the brother who is chasing the sister turns into the moon and the lamp that belongs to the sister who is running away turns into the sun. On the other hand, the motif of the mother being eaten by the tiger is a distinctively Korean one.
In other words, this narrative is based on the creation myth of the sun and the moon, in which the chase between brother and sister is central to the plot, on top of which the motif of the mother-eating tiger has been added, with the tiger as a stand-in for the brother. This narrative is found in many cultures across the world and serves as an important reference for studying the shift from mythology to folk tale.