“What We Plant, We Will Eat” A Korean Folktale
Many moons ago, two brothers lived with their father in a small house in Korea. The younger brother worked hard and was kind to all he met. The elder, knowing he was to inherit his father’s prosperous rice farm, was arrogant and proud. He scorned his younger brother and ignored his aging father.
Every night after supper, the father would say: “Remember, my sons. What you plant you will eat. ” The younger son nodded politely, for he loved his parent and honored him. But the elder son would yawn and walk away. The father watched him go with sadness.
On his deathbed, the father beckoned the two brothers close to him. “Remember, my sons. Nothing is as important as family. Share this property and work together. I leave this land to both of you.” And so saying, he died.
The elder brother was furious. The law of the land said that an elder son inherited everything. As soon as the funeral ceremonies were past, he thrust the younger brother from their home, ignoring the last wish of his dying father.
Heartbroken, the younger brother walked for many miles, far away from his home and village, until he found some broken down land that nobody wanted. He tended it carefully, planting a small crop of rice and building a mud cottage that was thatched from the dirty straw that dropped from passing farm carts. By saving and scraping, he managed to make enough money to build a small house and make a profit. So he was able to marry and have a family.
One year, a drought overcame the land and the younger son’s rice crop failed. Without assistance, his family would starve. It broke his heart to hear his wife and children moaning with hunger in their sleep, so he went to his wealthy brother to ask him to share some of the rice raised on the property which their father had willed to them both. “It’s my rice crop now,” the elder brother cried with a cruel laugh. “Go away.” So saying, he slammed the front door in his younger brother’s face and locked it against him.
Brokenhearted, the younger brother turned away. As he left the village, he heard a shrill cry from a tree above him. A snake was attacking a baby swallow. Flapping frantically, the tiny bird tried to escape, but it was too young to fly and fell to the ground instead. The younger brother picked the helpless baby up and cradled the tiny bird in his hands. Its leg was broken, and so he tore a strip of cloth from his shirt and set the swallow’s leg. When the snake slid away, he returned the baby to its nest and went home to his starving family.
The next few weeks were hard. The younger brother gave every spare scrap of food to his tiny children, who were so thin he could count their ribs. His wife walked over the fields searching for any edible plants she could find, but her harvest was scant.
Then one day a tiny swallow flew to their house and landed on the thatch. It was the baby swallow the younger brother had rescued. Leg now healed and able to fly, the swallow sat on the thatch and sang a merry song of thanks to the marveling family. Then it circled the younger brother’s house three times and then dropped a large seed into a damp patch of earth.
The family stared at the seed, and the youngest daughter wanted to touch it, but her father held her back. As they watched, the seed put out a root, and started to grow. The starving family watching in astonishment as the seed became a vine and the vine grew and grew. Within minutes, luscious melons were growing on the vine. Within an hour, they were ripe and ready to pick.
“Father, father! May we eat a magic melon?” cried the hungry children. Laughing in delight, the younger brother pulled a melon off the vine and cut it open. Beside him, his wife gasped in astonishment. Inside, the melon was filled with so many gold coins that they spilled to the ground all around the starving family’s feet. Every melon was full of gold.
The younger brother and his family were rich beyond their wildest dreams. They had plenty to eat, they bought a large house with land, and they had brand-new clothes to wear. It was amazing.
When the elder brother heard of this good fortune, he was filled with jealousy and started searching for his own magic bird. He spent days combing the lands around his village, greedy for more power, more money, more land. When at last he stumbled upon a little bird with a broken leg, he picked it up, saying: “I will help you, little bird if you will help me.” The little bird stared up at him with wise eyes, seeing through the fake sympathy into the greedy heart beneath.
When the bird’s leg healed, it flew to the elder brother’s house, circled his head three times and dropped a seed into the moist soil. With a triumphant laugh, the elder brother watched the seed grow into a vine. Melons swelled up larger and larger until they were as tall as a man. The elder brother was delighted. Obviously he was much worthier then his brother, to merit such large melons. He picked the largest melon and cut it open. Instantly. a band of warriors burst from the melon and fell on him with clubs. They stole his money and left him moaning on the ground.
Unable to believe that all the melons were bad, the elder brother crawled over to the second largest melon, expecting to find enough gold and silver to make up for the beating he’d received from the warriors in the first melon. Whack! He cut open the first melon and was overwhelmed by a huge ball of hissing snakes that slithered straight into his house. He cut open a third melon, and had to dodge out of the way as a huge colony of rats rustled past. By this time, the magical melons were overripe and began bursting on their own. Spiders, ants, termites, bees, and many other hissing, biting, crawling creatures invaded the house and yard. Within an hour, the elder brother’s property was completely destroyed.
The elder brother ran away from his ruined house and lands. Poorer even then his younger brother had once been, he wandered from village to village, begging for food. One day, he looked up from his begging and saw his younger brother standing a few feet away, holding a hoe. Ashamed, the elder brother looked down, until the blade of the hoe landed on the ground beside his foot.
“I have lost everything,” the elder brother said, staring at the blade of the hoe. “I have no place to go. No food. I won’t blame you if you send me away too.”
He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Come, brother,” the prosperous farmer said. “Let us sew a new crop, together. For what we plant, we will eat.”
The elder brother looked up with tears in his eyes, and accepted the hoe from his younger brother’s hand.
(retold by S.E. Schlosser)