Sunday, October 7, 2012

Curious History: The Legend of the Ubume

  According to Japanese folklore, an ubume is the ghost of a womam who has died in childbirth (birthing woman ghost). Appearing disheveled or in a state of desperation while holding a swaddled infant, the apparition will beg those who pass by to hold her baby, only to then disappear. The infant will grow heavier and heavier in the arms of the stranger, until when becoming impossible to hold, it is revealed to be a heavy stone.
  According to one legend, the warrior Urabe Suetake who was a retainer and guardian king to the Lord Minamoto no Yorimitsu, was traveling with a group of soldiers. One night he overheard his men telling wild stories of an ubume that haunted an upcoming river. She would appear to travelers who attempted to ford the river.  Standing in the rapids, she would beg them to help save her child, but upon accepting the child, it would grow so heavy that the good samaritan would sink below the waters and drown.
  After hearing of the story, his men became too frightened to cross the river the next day. Suetake chided his men for being superstitious and crossed the river himself to prove it was safe. At first the ubume didn’t appear, but on his return crossing, a woman with a crying child did appear and begged Suetake to save her baby. Suetaki, momentarily forgetting the old tale, took the bundled infant in his arms. The child grew heavier and heavier, but Suetake was a strong warrior, and he hefted the child across to safety. Upon arriving back at the camp he opened the bundle and found it to be nothing more than wet leaves in the rough shape of an infant.

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