You’ve probably heard of the tiger mom, but do you know of the tiger aunt? Taiwan has its fair share of—call it—parents-with-high-standards, but to the island’s children, far more frightening is the so-called “tiger aunt” (Taiwanese: hóo-koo-pô). Adding to our collection of tigers in Taiwanese culture, we explore this infamous classic, instructing children to be wary of strangers.

Photo: Tiger and sunset

Story of Hóo-Koo-Pô: The Tiger Aunt

The Sisters

Once upon a time, two young sisters lived with their loving parents in a remote part of Taiwan. One day, mom and dad had to go on a business trip for a couple of days. And so, they instructed their two lovely daughters to watch the house and not to open the door to strangers.

“Got it!” replied the sisters enthusiastically as they waved goodbye to their parents.

Tiger Aunt

Unbeknownst to the children, however, was that just behind some bushes, an ancient tigress spirit was hiding and watching. The spirit, after thousands of years of difficult training, had become an evil tiger witch. And her awful specialty? Eating children!

The witch waited until the parents were out of sight before emerging from her hiding place to knock on the sisters’ door. To entice the children to let her in, she brought with her some sugary treats.

“Who are you?” the girls asked the tiger witch.

“I’m your great-aunt—the tiger aunt!” came the reply, “and I’ve come on the request of your parents to come stay with you while they’re away. Also, look what I’ve brought with me! Candies!”

Hearing this, and seeing the treats, the girls dropped their guard and invited their tiger aunt into the house. The tiger aunt assured the sisters that she’d keep them safe.

“I’ll stay the night with you,” she said, “that way you won’t be afraid of the dark!”

Long Night

Fast-forward to the middle of the night, the elder of the two girls woke up by chance. When she opened her eyes, much to her horror, she saw the tiger aunt devouring her sister in one giant gulp. The older sister fought hard not to scream. When she’d calmed down, she pretended not to notice her sister’s disappearance and asked to go to the outhouse. Once outside, the older sister quickly climbed up a tree, well out of the reach of the tiger aunt.

When the wicked tiger witch finally noticed, she was furious and demanded that the child climb down the tree immediately.

“You know,” the young girl explained, “if you prepare some piping hot peanut oil to season me with, I’d taste much better!”

Thinking that this was pretty decent culinary advice, the tiger aunt obliged and began heating up a pot of peanut oil.

Tiger Aunt Defeated

When this was done, the girl suggested bringing the vat of oil up to the tree with a rope so she could apply the oil herself. The tiger, again, obliged, but when the girl got the pot, she immediately poured its boiling content on the eager witch anticipating her meal just beneath the tree.

And thus, even though she’d lost her younger sister, the clever girl eliminated the evil tiger spirit, who could no longer prey upon innocent children in Taiwan.

Image: Wolf and full moon

Similar Stories Around the World

Taiwan’s story of the Tiger Aunt has similar cousins in many parts of the world. In China, a similar story features the character xióngjiāpó, the bear grandma. And in Japan, the yama-uba, or the mountain crone, also plays a similar role.

In the West, stories with similar morals include the English Three Little Pigs and the Brothers Grimm’s The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats and Hansel and Gretel from Germany. Indeed, children all over the globe learn this important lesson from a young age: Beware of strangers!

Posted by:Island Folklore

An online repository of Taiwan’s folktales, history, legends, myths and traditions.