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Hailibu the Hunter is a popular folk tale in Mongolia that imparts the values of courage and having a strong moral compass. Delve into this heroic legend and learn more about the animals and mythical creatures of Asian folktales in a quiz along with an activity sheet.
There was once a hunter named Hailibu who called the vast grasslands of Mongolia his home.
With a heart of gold, he would share the food that he caught with others in his village. Treating nature with deep respect, he would only hunt for survival, and would never hurt a living creature in vain. Everyone looked up to Hailibu for his generosity and impressive hunting skills.
It was another regular day of hunting in the remote mountains for the great hunter. As Hailibu wandered through the dense forest, he heard an urgent plea for help. Gazing up at the sky, he caught sight of a vulture. In between its powerful talons was a small white creature that looked like a snake.
“Please save me!” it cried out. This prompted Hailibu to aim an arrow at the vulture, causing it to let go of its prey.
Hailibu searched around for the mysterious creature once the vulture had flown away. To his relief, it landed safely among the bushes.
“You are no longer in danger. Please go back to your family,” Hailibu reassured the creature as he knelt beside it. The creature nodded its head and slithered away. Glad that he saved the snake from certain death, Hailibu proceeded to pack his hunting gear and returned home after the unusual encounter.
The next morning, Hailibu bumped into the creature again whilst taking the same route. It thanked him profusely.
“You’ve saved my life and no words can describe how grateful I am towards your good deed. I am the daughter of the dragon king. I would like to repay your kindness. Please follow me to see my father today.”
The dragon king’s daughter led Hailibu deep down the steep mountain valleys before stopping in front of a large cave. Just as Hailibu was about to step foot into the cave, the creature stopped him.
“My father will offer you many rewards, but listen to my advice. Only ask for the precious stone kept in his mouth. Anyone who has it will be able to understand the language of all animals, which will help your hunting immensely."
The dragon king was elated to welcome Hailibu and his daughter, and led them into a spacious room. It was filled with luminescent pearls, sparkling gemstones and all sorts of treasures that one can ever imagine—a truly memorable sight!
However, Hailibu politely refused every one of them, befuddling the dragon king. With a slight quiver in his voice, Hailibu spoke up.
“Thank you kind king, for your generosity. These treasures are beautiful but have little use for us who hunt for a living. Forgive my bold request, but may I have the stone in your mouth?”
The dragon king did not expect this request and lowered his head, deep in thought. After what felt like an eternity, he finally removed the stone from his mouth and handed it to Hailibu. Before his departure, the dragon king’s daughter issued him a word of caution.
“It is a privilege to understand the words of birds and beasts. However, anyone who repeats what the animals have said will be punished and turned into stone.”
With the precious stone in his mouth, Hailibu grew to know the mountain and common areas where his prey resides, like the back of his hand. This allowed him to hunt with greater ease and share food with more villagers in need. It was also wonderful to learn more about the thoughts of nature which he loves. This routine went on for a few years.
One day, Hailibu chanced upon a flock of birds engaged in fervent discussion. Curious, he leaned in and listened intently.
“The mountains here are going to collapse tomorrow, and the flood is going to drown all of the living creatures here!”
“This is a catastrophe! What are we going to do?” cried one as panic rang through the flock.
“But we can’t leave our homes. They’re all that we have,” reasoned another.
“There is no choice, we have to leave now.”
Whilst alarmed, Hailibu knew that he had to act swiftly—his village was just in as much danger as the animals in the mountains. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him back to the village in an attempt to urge his fellow villagers to evacuate as soon as possible.
“Pack up your things everyone. We must leave!” Naturally, this left everyone puzzled. They pressed him for an explanation.
“Hailibu, we know you as an honest and sensible person. This has been our home for many generations—we have everything we need here.”
“Why should we move? Moving is no easy feat. Surely you understand!”
Desperate, Hailibu pleaded, “I cannot tell you why, but please believe me! Otherwise all of us will be in grave danger!”
“Hailibu, we can only act if you tell us why. If not, we will just carry on with what we’re doing now.”
With tears streaming down his cheeks, Hailibu knew that a difficult decision had to be made. He composed himself and spilled the truth.
As soon as the first words left his lips, the soles of his feet began to harden, spreading to his lower body, turning him slowly into stone.
“The mountains here are going to collapse tomorrow and the flood will drown the entire village. Thanks to a precious stone that allows me to understand the conversation of birds and beasts, I learnt about this impending tragey from a flock of birds. So please, I beg you...Listen to my words and leave our village now.”
By the time he was done telling his entire village the truth, the curse had consumed him from head to toe, from the bottom of his feet to the tip of his hair. Hailibu had been turned into stone, just as the snake had warned.
The villagers could not believe their eyes. While they were shocked by the tragic fate of their hero who was now just a statue, they were even more shocked that Hailibu would sacrifice his life for theirs.
With a heavy heart, they packed their belongings, herded their cows and sheep, and evacuated their homeland.
Thick thunderclouds draped over the sky, and rain poured like never before. It rained all day and night. True to Hailibu’s words, the mountains collapsed the very next day destroying the village and everything that stood in its way.
The villagers never forgot Hailibu’s selfless sacrifice. His courageous deed continues to be passed from generation to generation, with people searching for the rock of the brave hero who sacrificed his life for the good of others.
Illustrations by Sarah Cheok Ling Fay
Intrigued by the dragon that gave Hailibu the precious stone? Download the activity sheet below and learn to make a paper dragon, and discover more magnificent creatures of Asian folklore in our quiz!
For another heroic tale in Asia, check out The Legend of Bukit Merah: Hang Nadim and the Garfish at March On on 11 and 12 Mar 2022.