The Manole Maester and Hitobashira

Earlier today I was wasting some time on 9Gag and I came across some really nifty Japanese horror tales. As I was scrolling through them enjoying some ice-cream, I came across the story of Hitobashira:

Tales of “human pillars” (hitobashira) — people who were deliberately buried alive inside large-scale construction projects — have circulated in Japan since ancient times. Most often associated with castles, levees and bridges, these old legends are based on ancient beliefs that a more stable and durable structure could be achieved by sealing people inside the walls or foundation as an offering to the gods.

One of the most famous tales of construction-related human sacrifice is associated with Matsue castle (Shimane prefecture), which was originally built in the 17th century. 5fb3036a246d6944d4c85ef1c7e05c401According to local legend, the stone wall of the central tower collapsed on multiple occasions during construction. Convinced that a human pillar would stabilize the structure, the builders decided to look for a suitable person at the local Bon festival. From the crowd, they selected a beautiful young maiden who demonstrated superb Bon dancing skills. After whisking her away from the festival and sealing her in the wall, the builders were able to complete the castle without incident.

Matsue Castle – or the black castle

Romanian Folklore

The reason I got so intrigued by this story is because when I was growing up, we got taught in school the story of “Manole Maester” (Mesterul Manole) – who was a great architect and a great visionary asked to build a wall for one of the land lords of old next to the river Arges (central Romania).
The lord hires 9 grand builders and with Manole making 10 to finish this wall and build a monastery there, or else be faced with a death warrant, being built inside the foundation. The place sounded doomed to begin with, a place surrounded by mystery that the dogs would bark at and the stench of death was all around it.

He kept on trying and trying, day after day, but the walls would always collapse by morning time and no structure would hold.
One night Manole has a dream.

– Nouă meşteri mari,
Calfe şi zidari,
Ştiţi ce am visat
De când m-am culcat?
O şoaptă de sus
Aievea mi-a spus
Că orice-am lucra,
Noaptea s-a surpa
Pân-om hotărî
În zid de-a zidi
Cea-ntâi soţioară,
Cea-ntâi sorioară
Care s-a ivi
Mâni în zori de zi,
Aducând bucate
La soţ ori la frate.
Nine grand builders
Helpers and bricklayers
Do you know what I dreamt
since I went to bed last night?
A whisper from above
True has told me
That whatever we would work on
Will collapse at night
Until we decide
To build in the wall
The first little wife,
The first darling sister
Who will show up
at the break of dawn
delivering food
to husband or brother.

Unfortunately, the first one to show up at dawn was Manole’s own sweet and beloved wife. He cried to the heavens asking for heavy rain to turn her around but even God’s downpour could not stop her from coming to her man. He asks for wind and the powerful wind God sends down (which destroys mountains) still does not stop her.
She finally arrives at the new monastery construction site and the other builders are rejoicing while Manole is sad while he tells his wife:

– Stai, mândruţa mea,
Nu te speria,
Că vrem să glumim
Şi să te zidim!
Ana se-ncredea
Şi vesel râdea.
Sit here, my darling,
Don’t be scared
We wish to joke around
and build you in!
Ana was trusting
And happily laughing

He starts building her in and as the walls around her get higher and tighter, the laugh disappears from her voice and she starts pleading with her man to stop. She tells him that she’s pregnant and Manole, heartbroken but unmoved by her pleas, continues to build her in..

The monastery is soon finished and the lord is very happy with their work but afraid that the builders will create something more magnificent somewhere else, decides to let them die on the roof of the building where they were sitting.
The builders make makeshift wings and try to fly off the building just to be killed in the fall. The last of the nine, Manole, is crazed with pain and from the walls a whisper comes to him:

Manoli, Manoli,
Meştere Manoli!
Zidul rău mă strânge,
Ţâţişoara-mi plânge,
Copilaşu-mi frânge,
Viaţa mi se stinge!
Manole, Manole,
Manole master!
The wall is too tight,
My bosom is crying,
My baby is dying,
My life is fading away!

He jumps off the building, sees the clouds rolling as he falls and where he lands, a salt water fountain appears.

So sad but we were taught that the moral of the story was that great works are done with great sacrifice.
I would say there’s another moral to the story – always have a clear contract with your employer and have an exit clause.

By the way, they were building the Arges Monastery:

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