Translating Recipes 4: The Girl, the Scorpion, and the Doctor

By Carla Nappi

Hi there! In my previous post, I described an experiment in translating a Manchu medical recipe into a fairy tale. This is the second half of that discussion.

What you have below, similar to what we did in Part 1: Narrating Qing Bodies and Part 2: A Drama of Butter and Pearls, is a comparison of two translations of the same Manchu medical recipe. This is a short recipe from the Si yang-ni okto-i bithe [Handbook of Western Drugs], in Xiyang yaoshu 西洋藥書 (Haikou: Hainan chubanshe, 2001), 294.

You’ll notice several things as we move from the first to the second text. This recipe concludes with directions that are specifically geared toward use in children, and I’ve used that to inspire the second rendering of the text. Once again, as we saw previously, the power and danger of (Manchu) language is at the center of the story. And repetition, as it is central for both drug and fairy tale literature, is an important feature of the story of the girl and her family. There are additional little tricks hidden in the fairy tale for the savvy reader to spot. Enjoy, and I’ll see you again for the next installment in Translating Recipes!

Translation 1:

Fourth recipe. An oil to expel worms inside the body. [Can be used for] each kind of worm that forms inside a person’s body. Heat this oil and smear it on the navel, on the place of the opening on the stomach, or on the nose, and all worms inside the body will be expelled. After drinking this oil, each person’s worms will be expelled. It is very good to use this with small children who otherwise aren’t able to take drugs. If one is poisoned by scorpions and similar creatures and the wound develops worms, smear this oil on the place where the person was stung or bitten.

A Manchu archer, taken by John Thomson in 1874. Image GC Hist. G. O/S 2  from the General Collections, Wellcome Library, London.
A Manchu archer, taken by John Thomson in 1874. Image GC Hist. G. O/S 2 from the General Collections, Wellcome Library, London.

Translation 2:

I. Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived with her parents. They lived by a forest, and the little girl would often run into the woods and play for hours with the other animals that lived there. Her parents knew the forest creatures well and they didn’t mind, but there was one rule that they insisted on. “If you ever come upon the scorpion, make sure to run straight away. It is proud and fickle, and it doesn’t like to be looked at. Play with any of the other creatures you like, dear daughter, but you must not bother the scorpion.”

One day, while running through the woods the little girl came across a very small and very beautiful animal she hadn’t seen before. She realized immediately that it must be the creature her parents had warned her about. “What would be the harm in giving it just a tiny peek?” she thought, and bent down to admire it. The scorpion stared back at her without moving. “What would be the harm in giving it just a tiny touch?” she thought, and reached out her hand to stroke it. When she moved to touch the scorpion it flicked its tail and stung her on the hand. She cried out in pain and ran home to her parents. Her mother put her in bed and her father ran to summon the doctor.

II. The doctor came and looked at her wound, which was now swollen and red. He rummaged in his bag for a handful of herbs, which he gave to the mother. He pointed to the stove and the wine, and the mother went off to boil the herbs into a hot potion. She returned a while later with a steaming cup and gave it to the daughter, but the daughter refused to drink.

The doctor looked again at her wound, which was now oozing and green. He rummaged in his bag for another handful of herbs, which he gave to the mother. He pointed to the honey and the spoon, and the mother went off to dissolve the herbs into a sweet potion. She returned a while later with a sweet, sticky bowl and gave it to the daughter, but the daughter refused to eat.

The doctor looked again at her wound, which was now black and crawling with worms. He rummaged in his bag for a bottle of oil, which he gave to the mother. He pointed to the fire and the brush, and the mother went off to warm the oil. She returned a while later with a warm bowl and a brush, and smeared it on the daughter’s wound. In no time at all, the girl fell asleep. After several minutes, the worms dropped away. After several days, the bite had nearly healed. After a week, the doctor came in to check on the girl’s wound, which was completely healed.

III. The father asked the doctor, “Doctor, what was in the oil that you gave our daughter?” The doctor was silent. Then the mother asked, “Oh doctor, please tell us what was in the oil that cured or daughter!” But the doctor still did not utter a single word. Finally the daughter asked, “Dear doctor! I must know what was in the oil that saved my life! If you don’t tell me, I shall run back into the forest and find the scorpion once again!” At this, the doctor looked at the girl and finally opened his mouth. “Jai hiyedz i jergi ehe horon bisire umiyaha de xexebuhe saibuha de ere nimenggi be julergi songkoi ijuci sain..,” the doctor cried, and left the house.

Neither the father, the mother, nor the daughter understood a word of what the doctor said, and they looked at each other, perplexed. The mother opened her mouth to comment on the strangeness of the doctor’s behavior, but all that came out was, “Hefeli i dorgi umiyaha be wasimbure nimenggi!” The father, having no idea what his wife had just said, worriedly asked, “Okto omici ojorakv ajige juse…” and then covered his mouth in disbelief. The daughter, frightened and confused, cried out, “…baitalaci ambula sain!” as she and her parents stared terrified at one another. They ran out of the house to look for the doctor, but he was nowhere to be found.

From that day on and until the end of their days, the family could only speak to each other in this language that none of them understood. The daughter cared for her parents as they grew old, and none of them ever went back into the forest again.


2 thoughts on “Translating Recipes 4: The Girl, the Scorpion, and the Doctor”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *