May 24, 2023

A Lao folktale - as told by an AI

With the recent popularity and rise of AI (artificial intelligence) chat, I thought I'd test it out myself to see what could come of it,  And more importantly, to test if it knew anything about Lao culture.  Here's a Lao story that the the AI told me...

AI Robot

But before I share its story, I should explain that I used Microsoft's Bing AI chat, the rival to ChatGPT.  I asked it simply to "tell me a Lao folktale".  (Note: No preference on either AI chat engine, nor is this an endorsement.)

To be frank, I was surprised but what it told me.  Mainly because information on Lao culture tends to be difficult to find and source online, especially Lao literature.  The assumption is that the AI would be relying on information available online and other online databases of information.  But would it have stories and folktales from Laos?  The short answer is yes. 

Here's the story it told me:

This folktale is about how the sun and the moon came to be.

Long ago, there was a young couple who loved each other very much. They lived in a small village by the river. One day, a terrible drought struck the land and all the crops and animals died. The people were starving and desperate. The couple decided to leave their village and look for a better place to live.

They walked for many days and nights, but they could not find any water or food. They became weak and tired. One night, they saw a bright star in the sky. The husband said to his wife, "Look, my dear, that star is so beautiful and bright. Maybe it can help us." The wife agreed and they prayed to the star for help.

The star heard their prayer and felt sorry for them. It came down from the sky and spoke to them. "I am Phaya Naga, the king of the nagas. I live in a palace under the river. I have seen your suffering and I want to help you. If you follow me, I will take you to my palace where you will have everything you need."

The couple thanked Phaya Naga and followed him to the river. He turned into a giant snake and carried them on his back. He dived into the water and took them to his palace. There, they saw many wonders and treasures. They met Phaya Naga's wife and children, who welcomed them warmly. They ate delicious food and drank sweet water. They felt happy and grateful.

Phaya Naga said to them, "You can stay here as long as you want. You are my guests and friends. But there is one rule you must follow: you must never go to the top of my palace where there is a golden chamber. That chamber contains a secret that you must not see."

The couple agreed and promised to obey Phaya Naga's rule. They lived happily in his palace for many years. They had two children, a son and a daughter, who were very beautiful and smart. They played with Phaya Naga's children and learned many things from him.

One day, when Phaya Naga was away on a trip, the couple became curious about the golden chamber. They wondered what was inside it and why Phaya Naga forbade them to go there. They decided to break their promise and sneak into the chamber.

They climbed up to the top of the palace and opened the door of the chamber. Inside, they saw a large golden box with a lock on it. They opened the lock and lifted the lid of the box. To their astonishment, they saw two bright orbs inside: one was yellow like gold, and one was white like silver.

They did not know what they were, but they felt drawn to them. They reached out their hands and touched them. As soon as they did, the orbs burst out of the box and flew into the sky. They became very hot and bright, like fireballs.

The couple realized that they had made a terrible mistake. They had released the sun and the moon from Phaya Naga's box. They had broken his trust and his rule.

They ran out of the chamber and tried to catch the sun and the moon, but it was too late. The sun and the moon were too fast and too high for them to reach.

Phaya Naga returned from his trip and saw what had happened. He was furious with the couple for their disobedience and betrayal. He said to them, "You have done a great wrong to me and to all living beings. You have unleashed the sun and the moon into the sky without my permission. Now they will burn and freeze everything with their heat and coldness. You have ruined my secret and my power."

He banished them from his palace and cursed them to become the sun and the moon themselves. He said, "You will never see each other again except for once a month when you will meet briefly in an eclipse. You will never see your children again either, for they will stay with me in my palace as my own."

He took their children with him and left them alone in the sky.

That is how the sun and the moon came to be according to this Lao folktale.

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