7. Cannibal Sister
An oil seller's wife had several children. Her seventh one turned out to be a monster. At birth it looked hideous, terrifying. Its eyes were set in the crown of its head. All day, it would play and cry like other babies. But at dead of night it would change into a horrible demon. It would roam in the dark, eat the townspeople one by one, come back at dawn, and sleep in the cradle like a baby. In a few days, the town was full of the news of a son gone, a father's bloody remains in the alley, a daughter who had disappeared. Nobody knew what had happened to the missing persons.
One day a brother of the demon woke up at night for some reason and he saw the baby change into a monster right before his eyes. Then, when it went out he followed it and saw it eat a couple of people and return quietly to the cradle as a baby.
Next day, he talked to his parents and relatives in secret. “This is no baby. It's an ogress. I've seen it eat people, with my own eyes. Let's leave the house and go far away,” he said.
But they didn't believe what he said.
“Look at it,” they said, “that's a harmless baby. You should get your head examined.”
He replied, “If you don't want to go, I will,” and mounted his horse and left town.
In a few days, the demoness had devoured the townspeople and then went after the family. Having finished them, it waited to snare and eat anyone who visited the town.
The brother meanwhile went galloping through strange cities till he came to one where he heard of a contest. There was a crater outside the town and any one who was able to leap across it on a horse would receive a reward and a bride. As soon as he heard this, he egged his horse on and, in one jump, cleared the crater. So he won the reward and married into that town. He settled down there and prepared himself for what he had to do.
First, he captured a tiger cub and a lion cub and reared them carefully. He taught them various tricks; he even taught them to understand human language. Soon they grew into big powerful animals, and he was ready to go back to his hometown. Before he left, he told his wife, “I have to go visit my parents and brothers. Don't worry about me. If these pets of mine, this tiger and this lion, cry and make unhappy growling noises, that means I'm in danger. Untie them at once and set them free.”
When he rode his horse into his hometown, he couldn't believe his eyes: it was a ghost town. He couldn't recognize it. The demoness sat on the threshold of their old house in the form of a woman. She called to him sweetly, “O Brother, I was waiting for you. Tie your horse in the stable. Come in and eat.”
Though he was terrified and shook in his bones, he managed to say, “All right,” and went into the kitchen. She sat him down and gave him something to eat. While he was eating, she went out, became a demon, broke his horse's leg and ate it. She called out, “Brother, Brother, do horses in your part of the country have only three legs?”
He had seen it all from the kitchen window.
“Yes, yes, Sister. Only three legs,” he answered, not knowing what else to say.
She ate another leg and asked, “Brother, Brother, do horses in your country have only two legs?”
He answered, “Yes, yes, only two legs.”
Then she finished the fourth leg and asked, “Brother, Brother do horses in your part of the country have no legs at all?”
He answered, “No, not even one.”
When she was eating the horse's chin, he jumped out of the window and started to run. By this time, she had eaten the whole horse. She came in looking for him, found he was gone, saw the open window, and jumped out to pursue him. He ran up a tree. She began to climb after him, growling at the branches.
Meanwhile, at home, his tiger and lion had become restless and they were straining at the leash. They howled and growled. His wife quickly untied them and let them go free. They came galloping to where their master was. They attacked the monster as she was getting close to her brother and tore her limb from limb.
Now he could go home in peace and live with his wife and pets.
They are there and we are here.
Types and Motifs
Type AT 315A, The Cannibal Sister, is a special Indian variant of Type AT 315, The Faithless Sister. In other Indian variants, the cannibal is a father/king, an older sister (fought by the younger), or a sister-in-law. In each case, the psychological nuance would be different: for instance, the cannibal father would express fear of an all-devouring father, but a cannibal sister-in-law would indicate suspicion of and rivalry with a female outsider who usurps one's brother.
In this tale, an aspect of brother/sister relations is explored—the reverse of the loving ones, as in AT 450 or 450A (see No. 5, A Brother, a Sister, and a Snake), where brother and sister save and protect one another. Here the younger sibling, the newcomer to the family, is seen as a predator, a destroyer of the very family she is born into, and therefore fit only to be destroyed. As in all such cases, projection of the older child's own murderous feelings is never absent. Furthermore, the tale explores the fear of the evil child, the “bad seed” (a favorite motif of horror movies), or of the psychotic or grasping relative who devours and savages an entire extended family—which depends for its existence on the limits placed on any one person's use of others' attention and resources. Such tales also more than hint at the fear and hatred of the strange new child who supplants the older child in the affection of the parents. The tale, of course, is told from the point of view of the triumphant savior, the older child, the survivor.