This year, starting on Saturday Jan. 28, the Rooster reigns, his early morning cock-a-doodle-doo proclaiming the start of a new day. The 10th animal in the Chinese Zodiac will struct through our lives for the next 12 months.
The Rooster figures prominently in many cultures, as these four stories show.
How the rooster got his crown
In the early days of the earth, there were nine suns in the sky. People named them with ancient icons such as Yin-Yang, the spiral, the maze, the raven and a star.
When the rains fail, the suns started to roast the earth. All soil, rivers and lakes were in ruins; all living things died one after another. People had to live in caves and could not come out in the daylight.
Wise people gathered together to discuss how to take action to save the earth. A clever and skillful archer named Yi was called from a remote land. He faced the nine suns bravely, used his powerful arch to shoot each sun’s reflection in a pond. Eight suns dropped, and only one sun survived.
Nine suns were too many; only one sun was essential.
But the surviving sun was so scared that he hid in a cave and never came out.
The earth turned dark. People made every effort to coax the sun out, but the sun refused to come out.
Until one day the lowly rooster started to sing, and the sun was so bewitched by the rooster’s song that he came out of his cave. When the sun heard the people’s cheers he relaxed, enjoyed the encouragement, and then went back to heaven.
The people gave the crown to the rooster as a reward for his outstand- ing achievement in saving the earth, and the rooster gots his glorious task to wake up the sun by singing every morning.
(Amy Lowry Poole, Holiday House, c1999)
The little rooster and the heavenly dragon
In days long ago, the Rooster had beautiful, golden horns. Every morning he would struct up and down in the yard calling, “Look at my golden horn!” He was so proud of those horns.
One day as the Rooster was crowing, the magnificent Heavenly Dragon came soaring down from the skies. “Little Rooster, you have such beautiful golden horns!”
“Aren’t they marvelous? I have the finest horns in the universe!”
“Little Rooster, I would like to ask you a favor. I have been invited to a banquet at the Jade Emperor’s palace in heaven tonight. If I could wear your golden horns, I would be the most mag- nificent creature there. Do you think I could borrow your horns? Just for one night?”
“I don’t think so. I never lend my horns to anyone.”
“But little Rooster, you can trust me. I am the magnificent Heavenly Dragon!” “How do I know you will bring them back? You might just stay up in heaven and never return.”
“If you aren’t sure you can trust me, Why not ask my cousin the Centipede? He is your neighbor. He lives right there in the farm yard. You can trust his word.”
So little Rooster called his neighbor, the Centipede. “Centipede! Centipede! Come over here and talk to me.”
Centipede began to wriggle his one hundred legs. He came out from his hiding place and wobbled over to see what Rooster wanted.
“Centipede, is this Dragon really your cousin?”
Centipede looked at the Dragon. Dragon was glaring at Centipede.
Dragon looked very dangerous. “Say yes,” he hissed.
“Yes,” whispered the little Centipede. “Can I trust him to bring back my horns?”
“Say yes,” hissed the Dragon.
“Yes,” whispered the Centipede.
“Since you are my neighbor, I trust you little Centipede. All right, Dragon. I will lend you my horns. But bring them back first thing tomorrow morning.”
The Rooster removed his golden horns. He placed them on the head of the Dragon.
Off flew the Dragon. “Now I am the most magnificent creature in the universe. See my golden horns!” Dragon tossed his head proudly and flew back and forth through the air, showing off.
That evening, the Dragon wore the horns to the banquet at the Jade Em- peror’s palace in heaven. How everyone admired those golden horns.
The Dragon was so proud of his new adornments. “Such horns belong on the head of a magnificent creature like myself… not on a puny little Rooster!”
Next morning, the Rooster was up early watching the skies. He was waiting for the Dragon to return his horns.
“Bring back my horns!” he called to the skies. “Bring back my horns!”
But the Dragon did not return. He did not return that morning, or the next. He never returned.
To this day, the Heavenly Dragon still wears those beautiful golden horns. The Rooster was so angry. He called the little Centipede. “Centipede, you told me the Dragon would bring back my horns! You lied to me!” Rooster was so angry, he pecked at Centipede and ate him.
To this day, every time Rooster sees a Centipede he pecks at it and eats its.
The king of all roosters
In a chicken coop on a large farm, there was once a rooster which never failed to whoop it up each morning. This in itself is not strange, but this particular rooster was very noisy indeed.
Come every sunrise, he’d cock-a-doodle-do from one end of the farm to the other, and, believe me, when he crowed, everybody heard it.
“Wo, wo, wo!” he’d cry. “I’m the king, the emperor, the sultan, the khan of all chickens, be they black, white, yellow, golden, red or all the above! I am your sover- eign, your monarch, so obey me!”
And many chickens – hens and other roosters alike – be- lieved him. They would gather around him, chanting, “You are our king, our emperor, our sultan, our khan! You, O Khan, are our eternal leader! May you live a long, long life!”
He’d then reply, “On earth, whose roar is louder than a lion’s? Whose legs are most powerful and majestic? Whose feathered robes are most exquisite? Who is simply most awe inspiring?”
“You are the one, O Majesty!” they’d all cry back.
“And tell me, O subjects, whose crown is the largest?”
“Yours! Yours! Yours, O Majesty!”
This went on morning after morning.
On one particular morning, it had happened once too often. When the cook was awakened just a bit too early on this morn- ing by all the blustering, he mut- tered to himself that he had had quite enough, thank you.
He stomped out to the chick- en coop, grabbed the self-styled king, emperor, sultan and khan by his feet and whisked him off to the chopping block, where he was chopped up for that night’s big dinner.
“Delicious!” the master of the house and farm declared as he tasted that night’s chicken soup. “This chicken is tender, fresh and absolutely delicious!”
(A Tatar folktale. http:// chinesefolktales.blogspot.com)
The fighting rooster
There once was a man who wanted his fighting rooster to be more ferocious. He took the rooster to a trainer. In a few weeks’ time he returned and saw that his rooster didn’t squawk as loudly.
“Not ready yet,” said the trainer. Two weeks later, he saw that his rooster barely raised his neck feathers and wings.
“Not ready yet,” said the trainer. Another week passed. His rooster looked as tame and docile as a chick.
“You’ve ruined my fine fighting bird!” screamed the man at the trainer.
“Not at all,” the trainer replied, “See how calm and secure he is, how serenely strong he stands today. The other fighting birds take one look at him and they all run away!”
(A Taoist tale by Chuang Tzu. http://www.storyarts.org)