Giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) are well known as a poster child for the conservation movement, perhaps what is not as well known, is the roots they have in Tibetan and Chinese mythology and folklore.
Pandas are known to some as “sacred creatures of the forest” and Empress Dowager Bo (180 BC – 157 BC) was buried with the skull of this noble creature by her side.
The story goes that pandas were once all white. One day four shepherdesses came to save a panda from a leopard that was hunting it down, but they were all killed. All of the pandas in the forest were saddened by this tale, they came to the funeral, and died their arms black in mourning and honour. The pandas cried great bear tears of grief at the loss of these women, and as they wiped away their tears, the black dye became worn off around their eyes.
They put their heads in their hands in sorrow, and their ears were dyed also. They hugged each other amidst their grief and the dye went onto their bodies. The pandas made a solemn vow never to wash away the dye, in memory of these women.
The pandas then turned the four shepherdesses’ bodies into a tall mountain, with four peaks going up into the sky. This would remind panda clans, now and forever of the sacrifice these women had made. These shepherdesses are can still be seen today in the ‘Four Girls’ Mountain’ in Sichuan province, Wolong Natural Reserve in China.
The mountain is a symbolic reminder of sacrifice, perhaps it be a reminder for humans to be willing to make sacrifices to protect the natural world, and the pandas that continue to roam in the Chinese mountains.
A Panda’s Tears
I will wear mourning forever
And black until the end.
I would have lain there
Blood and dust
If it weren’t for you dear friends.
I shall remember a time
Where ties were forged
Between my kind and man.
There they stayed and fought and bled
Where lesser would have ran.
I send your bodies toward the sky
Where pain and grief can’t touch.
For you I will make mountains move
Even the stars will envy thus.
We are the sacred creatures of the forest
We owe our lives to you .
Where we roam through age and youth
You may watch over too.