Saturday, October 21, 2006

Fusang (Glossary)

In the earliest Chinese literature, "Fu Sang" describes a legendary solar tree on which Xihe hangs the Ten Suns to dry after their diurnal journeys. In latter literatures, it is a place where Buddhism is brought in the fifth century.

This latter location has been variously identified by different researchers as North America, Mexico, Peru, Hokkaido, Siberia, southeastern Japan and Taiwan to name a few suggestions. It may be that this place is related to the solar Fusang Tree of earlier legendary history.

"Sang" 桑 refers to the mulberry tree, and "fu" 扶 means "supporting," referring apparently to the large size and interwining and thus self-supporting branches of the Fusang Tree.

Located in the "Southeastern Sea" at the top of a mountain, I believe it should be placed either in Taiwan or Luzon, probably the latter as it appears to be associated with the cosmic mountain where the Suns are born (in other mythologies).

The reference to the mulberry tree has generally been taken as meaning that the Fusang resembled the mulberry or was related to that tree. The word "sang" though may simply refer to any tree that provided fiber used in making cloth or paper, the manufacture of which is mentioned in latter descriptions of the place called Fusang.

The Paper Mulberry appears indigenous to Taiwan and this species was carried out into the Pacific where it was extensively used to make tapa or bark cloth.

However, the descriptions of the Fusang indicate a huge tree, and in the latter works it is described as having purplish-red fruits and oval leaves. In the Philippines, the Balete Tree, a name for various types of Ficus, was most commonly used to make bark cloth.

The Balete is a massive tree with intertwining roots, branches and trunks, which may related to the "supporting" and "hanging" descriptions of the Fusang. Balete species tend to have ovate leaves and some like the Ficus benjamina have purple fruits when ripe.

Balete trees

The Balete was considered sacred in the Philippines when the Spanish came, a dwelling of spirits and anitos (ancestors), indicating it was associated with the Cosmic Tree. The crow and raven were also considered sacred and were called Meilupa, a title indicating "Lord of the Earth (Soil)".

Of course, giant figs like the Balete and the Banyan are famed as bases for crows and ravens, appearing as such repeatedly in folklore throughout South and Southeast Asia. The Fusang Tree, again, was the place where the Ten Suns, in the form of ravens, rested after their journeys.

Some explicit myths of human descent from birds also survive in the region. The Mandaya believe the first man and woman came from two eggs of the Limokon or dove. Among the Paiwan, there is a myth of the first couple coming from two eggs of the Sun hatched by a serpent. There are also legends in the Philippines of the first couple found in one or two bamboos rather than eggs, pecked open by a bird, usually a hawk or kite.

Myths of two birds created by a Supreme Deity and then going on to create the world are also found among many peoples in Insular Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, for example, we find such beliefs connected with the gods Lumawig and Batala. These two birds may represent the dual creative forces of the Sun and Moon.

The Sun is linked with the raven and crow also in Philippines folktales that explain the darkness of the raven/crow as occuring after the latter raced another bird, usually a kite, and flew too close to the Sun, scorching its wings. In ancient Chinese legends, sunspots were viewed as created by a three-legged sun crow.

Worth mentioning with reference to bird descent also is the widespread Insular Southeast Asian concept of the bird-soul, or more importantly the bird-double. The latter is the person's second self that escapes from the body usually at night when sleeping. The bird double flies about on its own adventures returning before the person awakes. In some cases, spiritual adepts claim to be able to send their bird doubles on journeys while awake and active. A giant crow or raven called Wak-wak appears in folktales of the Bisayas and is especially said to be a form taken by witches when they fly around at night. The bird cries "wak-wak" as it nears human habitations.

Ficus trees with intertwining trunks/branches clearly visible

Image of Fusang Tree with intertwining trunk and branches from Wu Liang Shrine, Shangdong, 2nd century CE. The archer Yi can be seen shooting the Sun-Crows.

The shooting of the Suns theme is very diverse among the indigenous peoples in Taiwan. In Borneo, a blowpipe takes the place of the archer's bow. These myths refer more to the diurnal movement of the Sun during daylight rather than to the tropical year. Themes of the snaring of the Sun, of the descent of the Sun down toward the horizon on a ladder, and of the Sun moving into different tiers of a multi-tiered house or building are clearly related and involve the cooling of the day as the Sun moves to lower positions in the sky.

The idea of the Sun rising from the Fusang Tree would logically imply its location in the tropical latitudes.

As the Sun is said to rise from the Fusang Tree specifically at the beginning of the year, this latitude could be that of the equator or also possibly that latitude marked by the star Spica. Spica represented the horn of the "Dragon of Spring" in Chinese astronomy, and was seen as marking the beginning of spring and the seasons.

The emperor Yu was said to have used the Fusang Tree to mark off the beginning of the solar year.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Lucy said...

This is an amazing site. I have linked to it on my posting today, I love the images and the whole concept. I have put a link so that those who have an interest (there are many in the perfume community) to the natural world and source places of all the fragrant materials used in perfume will visit here...thank you so much for doing this work and sharing your knowledge...

Paul Kekai Manansala said...

Thanks Lucy. I checked out your blog ( ) and found it very well-researched and informative. I have an interest in natural, organic perfumes. One day I hope to find a big chunk of ambergris on a beach somewhere!