Monday, October 23, 2017

Is there such a thing as a white American folktale? (Following folktales around the world 48. - USA)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

TL;DR: Hell yes there is.

I have heard it a lot from white Americans (even storytellers): "But... I don't have a culture! What tradition should I be drawing from?..." Not liking some stories is totally okay, but claiming they don't exist is a whole other issue. This is why I picked this wonderful collection for today's post.
(While it does contain some indigenous tales, I am planning on doing a whole separate reading challenge for indigenous nations soon). 

Cinderella in America
A book of folk and fairy tales
William Bernard McCarthy
University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

The goal of this collection is to offer a diverse selection of tales (122 to be exact) that are of European origin, but have become thoroughly and deeply American over the course of generations and centuries. They are American in their symbols, their performance, their setting, their characters, and their exceptional cultural diversity. The author accomplishes his goal with great efficiency, and includes delicious end notes, sources, and comments, making the book both enjoyable and fascinating. Chapters are divided by culture; after introducing some of the earliest collected tales, we get to read selections from Iberian, French, British, German, etc. traditions (including some rarities such as Armenian and Roma tales), as well as examples of European (or European-sounding) motifs that surface in African-American and indigenous traditions. Every chapter highlights a new slice of cultural diversity in the USA: For example, inside the Ibero-American chapter, we get sub-sections for Puerto Rican, Southwestern Hispanic, Louisiana Isleño, and New England Cape Verdean folktales. It was a treat to browse carefully selected gems from all of these sources.
Folklore map of the USA
The author states that the book focuses on American tales of European origins. If the collection was expanded to African, Asian, Native, etc. traditions, it might be a series of several volumes (and some volumes like that are already available separately). It still acknowledges the existence and richness of those other cultural sources, and manages to offer glimpses into them. It also accomplishes a very important goal: Showcasing that there are various "white American" story traditions that are rich, lively, and thoroughly representative of American culture.
If you don't believe me, read the book.

Highlights


One of the prettiest stories in the book is also one of the earliest: Lady Featherflight, a version of the Magic Flight tale type, was collected in Massachusetts in the 19th century. It is especially interesting (and stunning, so close to Salem) that the fairy princess that sits in a tree is accused of being a witch by the villages that find her, and almost ends up executed - until the priest shows up, listens to her side of the story, and finds Jack, the hero that eloped with her in the first place.
One of my favorite tale types, the Basil Maiden, also made an appearance among the Puerto Rican folktales. In it, a clever girl and a young king try to out-sass each other... until the girl wins, and they get married.
My love for Cajun folktales was affirmed through such wonderful selections in the book as Golden Hair (once again, a favorite tale type of mine) and Snow Bella, the Cajun Snow White who ended up marrying the youngest dwarf brother after he repeatedly saved her from the witch's assassination attempts (instead of meandering into the tale at the end).
From the African-American traditions came the tale of Peazy and Beanzy, a "Kind and Unkind Girls" type story, which was unusual because here the unkind girl ventured forth first, and the mother loved them both, instead of being cruel to the younger one. Also from black storytellers came a short, rhyming variant of Sleeping Beauty (La Dora), in which the girl was saved and awakened by a princess. This was explained by the author as the result of a mishearing... but it did not seem to bother the original teller.
From the Polish tradition came the tale of the Black Kitty, in which the hero had to cuddle and pet a black kitten (princess) while all kinds of horrors and illusions tried to get him to give her up. From Scandinavian sources came the legend of the Powder Snake, a giant reptile that spat venomous powder at everyone until a poor boy managed to kill it. The Armenian story tradition was represented by two variants (mother's and daughter's) of the same tale of the Two Dreams, in which a man followed his dream to find the love of his life - and then rescue her by trickery from her tyrannical husband.
Of course the Appalachian tale tradition was also fairly represented in the book. My favorites were Rawhead and Bloodybones, and other kind-unkind type tale, in which a girl had to clean and bleach talking, bloody skull drawn from a well - and White Bear Whittington, which, if my personal opinion was asked, I would nominate as the most beautiful American fairy tale I know.

Connections

I am not going to list all the connections, since by definition all tales in the book have their European counterparts. I simply want to highlight some less common examples: The book contained variants of Molly Whoopie (Polly, Nancy, and Muncimeg), Grimm's Crystal Ball (The enchanted sisters), the Irish's favorite Fairy Midwife (The fairy birth), The Princess in the Shroud (The Bewitched Princess), and Mistress Cockroach (Mousie Perez).
Due to the great cultural diversity, of course, the book's pages were teeming with tricksters. Hermana Zorra outfoxed Coyote with the help of a tar baby; Quevedo (Spanish author turned trickser) switched places with a shepherd who got punished instead of him; Lapin drank Bouqui's wine and claimed he'd beet at a baptism; Br'er Rabbit did the same with Fox, Wolf, and Bear, and then fell for the tar baby too; Hodja Nasreddin taught and learned important lessons; Coyote was defeated by Little Pig, and then a cannibal baby; and Tyl Eileschpijjel shared his crops with the devil, coming out the winner every time. And Jack... Jack was, of course, everywhere.

Where to next?
Saying goodbye to the Americas with Canada!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Gods and storytellers (Following folktales around the world 47. - Mexico)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a while; I found it in an antique store in the USA, sitting under a pile of porcelain cups. Not the most authentic source (not a folklore publication), but I really wanted to read it. I plan on circling back anyway, to read some indigenous collections later.

Star Mountain
and other legends of Mexico
Camilla Campbell
Whittlesey House, 1946.

This volume is old, and it shows: The tales are definitely re-told, not collected from tellers word by word. With that said, most of them hold up the structure and feel of the original legend or folktale pretty well, despite occasional dated words and phrases (such as calling the Aztecs "red" or a Chinese girl "oriental"). It does include some conquest era legends, but doesn't pretend that the Spanish were heroes. There is a pronunciation guide in the end, but no sources or comments on the tales whatsoever, which I sorely missed. All in all, it was a pretty read with pretty pictures, but I'll definitely come back to Mexico for more later.

Highlights 


I absolutely adored the legend of Baby Jesus and Brown Sugar (El Niño de la Panelita). It was about a jolly monk who lived in Puebla and brought food every day to the monastery, but his fellow monks believed that he kept sugar cones for himself. One say they caught him in the chapel, handing the sugar to the statue of the baby Jesus, who was giggling happily... According to Campbell, the statue still has a panela in his hand.
Without much historical credit, but also lovely is the origin legend of the "china poblana" folk costume, said to have originated from a Chinese girl that ended up living in Mexico. She told stories to children, and they brought flowers to decorate her dress. As a storyteller, of course I enjoyed this tale a lot. Storytelling also saved the day in the legend of the Brave Mixtec warrior, who fought an archery duel against the Sun (or so said the Mixtecs to scare the Aztecs away).
The Mayan tale of the Moon God and the Turtle was similarly great. The Moon used to be always full, until a turtle started to show up in his bed while he was away, and it got bigger and bigger. Ever since then, the Moon tends to leave a bit of himself at home, to guard the bed from the intruder...
In the beautiful legend of the Street of the Deer, a girl was almost kidnapped by some men, but her pet deer fought them off.

China poblana fountain, Puebla

Connections

Of course we can't be done with Mexico without talking about La Llorona - in this book, her legend was waved into that of Malinche, but it noted that not everyone believed the lover of Cortez was the Crying Woman.
The story of the Cú bird was another variant of "showing off with someone else's feathers" - and the Cú did, and then vainly took off, and the birds (doves, owls, roardrunners) have been looking for him ever since.
The local trickster is Hermano Coyote.

Where to next?
U! S! A!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Guardians of Nature (Following folktales around the world 46. - Belize)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!


If Di Pin Neva Ben
Folktales and legends of Belize
Timothy Hagerty & Mary Gomez Parham
Cubola Productions, 2000.

The stories in this book have been collected in the 1970s, mostly by the two editors, in Spanish and Creole, and then translated to English. The volume has two parts: legends and folktales, grouped into smaller sections by topic. They mention in the Introduction that they considered grouping them by culture, but too many motifs reach across cultural groups to make that distinction. In the ten folktales included in the second part they left the dialogues in Creole, to show the flavor of the original language; once again, I had to read aloud to understand what was being said... Every story came with a source, as well as the place of collection, and the age of the storyteller.

Highlights


There are many legends in the book about guardians of nature, beings responsible for keeping people from torturing animals, or killing more than what they need. One of them was Tata Balam, the "owner" of nature; Burucat, his helper (a donkey with a man's face) watched out for animals specifically. Warri Massa was responsible for wild pigs (and whipped a hunter for shooting all over the place). Nohochtat, the Lord of the Forest, chastised a hunter for wounding animals without killing them - but was also willing to show him a grow of valuable gum trees. Coconut groves also had their guardian, but the most important of all was Tata Duende, the guardian of the forest, who watched over all of nature (and sometimes kidnapped children).
Another, chilling and beautiful legend was that of the Day of the Dead (Los Finados), when people lay a table full of food for the returning souls of their deceased relatives (and a separate place for the forgotten souls). In this story, a sick little girl saw the ghost-women come to the feast, even though no one else could see them.
Out of all the folktales, one of the best was that of the Bird of Seven Colors, a Belizean variant of Cinderfella (yes, there is a male Cinderella tale type). In this story, a a farmer's peanut-field was being eaten up by a magic bird, until the youngest son managed to catch it - and then the bird talked him into letting it go, and they stuffed a parrot with peanuts instead, to trick the father. The bird helped the boy through various adventures - including a test where people riding a horse at full speed had to slip a ring onto a princess' finger (but she only held the finger straight for the one suitor she liked).
There was also an amusing pourquoi tale about Why mosquitoes buzz in people's ears (there are various story-answers for this question around the world). In this story, Mosquito lent money to his friend, Wax, but Wax never paid it back; it hid in people's ears instead, and Mosquito has been demanding his money ever since... Ew.

Connections

Belize also has beliefs of female demons haunting the riversides. Here they are known as Xtabay, and they don't only punish men, they also have a protective role: One of them scared a little boy away from shooting randomly at birds. There were also witches that could take off their skin and fly around at night (here called Heg).
The Sisimite monster that kidnapped people reminded me of the Sisimiquí story from Costa Rica; and so did the story of Rabbit and the Giant, which was a local variant of the same Costa Rican tale. There were also several Anansi stories among the folktales; I suspect that we have seen the last of Anansi until we cross over into Africa...

Bonus: If you'd like to know more about the Beliezan oral tradition, and how it can be used in education, I highly recommend storyteller Kristin Pedemonti's book on the subject!

Where to next?
With Mexico, we officially arrive to North America!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Red-haired girl goes traveling - Storytelling festival in Transylvania!

This fall I was invited to be a featured teller at a Hungarian language storytelling festival in Transylvania (which is a region within Romania with a large Hungarian and Hungarian-speaking Székely minority). I could not have been more excited about the invitation. The last time I visited Transylvania I was 9 years old, and the place stuck in my memory as a land of endless beauty and magic. In addition, the program they requested also holds special meaning to me: My new storytelling show, titled The Cheerful Prince and the Girl with Red-gold Hair, contains folktales from my upcoming collection, Dancing on Blades (available January 2018). These stories, collected from uniquely talented folk teller Pályuk Anna at the turn of the last century, have been with me since the beginning of my storytelling career, and I am just as much in love with them now as I was 10 years ago. I finished the last round of editing on the book the day before I left for the festival.

The festival, attached to the Day of the Hungarian Folktale (September 30), lasted a whole week. I visited three cities, and had eight performances. The first two days were spent at the Székely National Museum, where schools brought in groups of children to listen to stories. To the little ones I told world folktales (Utgard-Loki and the Pumpkin Girl won best of show), while for the 6th graders I brought dragon legends (including Dietrich and Sistram), and medieval stories such as Dame Ragnell.

I also had the chance to tell in an almost 500 year old fortress church in Sepsiszentgyörgy (Sfântu Gheorghe). The audience consisted of the local Calvinist community, parents and children together, and there was a special magic to telling tales with values (kindness, love, hard work) inside the medieval walls.

In Csíkszereda (Miercurea Ciuc) I told tales on the main square on a chilly yet sunny day, surrounded by children, curious adults, and various TV reporters (watch the video here). It was a dubious choice to make the kids stand in the cold wind, but they cheerfully followed me into the stories, and listened while they wiggled. The best moment of the whole day was when I told Pályuk Anna's tale about the Boy who walked on the clouds, and we all looked up at the fluffy clouds above us while I was telling. It was a bright, unforgettable experience.

In Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mureș) I told at the Spectrum Theater, to an audience of almost 100 people (and therefore a lovely full house). There were children in the audience, but a lot less than adults, so I could bring out the tale of the Cheerful Prince (Anna's lovely, mother-in-law-positive variant of Rumpelstiltskin), which speaks to adults through emotion and imagery. It was my first time telling it in Hungary (English-speaking audiences always love it), and it worked great.

Returning to Sepsiszentgyörgy for the actual Day of the Hungarian Folktale, we closed the festival with a two-hour storytelling event. In the first hour I told tales from Dancing on Blades (once again, we had a fairly full house of about 100 people), and then handed the stage over to two Csángó tradition-bearers, elder ladies who still carry the oral tradition of folktales, and speak in an archaic Hungarian dialect. Their presentation was lively and lovely (and occasionally hilarious, since they were telling Jesus and St. Peter legends), but I had to work hard to follow what they were saying. It was definitely a unique cultural experience. And fun.

St. Anne's Lake in a volcanic
crater
In the midst of all the telling, I also had time to play tourist a little bit. I visited the former home of Hungary's famous storyteller and story collector Benedek Elek (I would not be a storyteller without him!), the Lake of Saint Anne (according to legend, fairies used to live in it, until they were chased away by the sound of church bell - there's an amazing story about it), Bran Castle (which is a nice historic site, with absolutely nothing to do with Dracula), the Castle of Déva (subject of our most famous folk ballad in which a woman is killed so that the castle can be built), and other famous sites of history and culture. Many of the Hungarian and Székely folktales I read and love were collected in these towns and all over this landscape, which made every river, every mountain, and every castle special, and every forest filled with fairies. Transylvania is still a land full of history, beauty, and tradition. 
(After this, if one more person asks me if I have met Dracula over there, I'm going to beat them with a folktale collection.)

In addition to the travels, I was also grateful for the chance to bring Pályuk Anna's tales to audiences in Transylvania (she was Transcarpathian). The stories took a new life, worked their magic, and, hopefully, will travel on to new places in people's memory. 

I hope to return again soon. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Trickster Jesus and corn spirits (Following folktales around the world 45. - Guatemala)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!


According to our ancestors
Folk texts from Guatemala and Honduras
Mary Shaw
Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of Oklahoma, 1971.

This volume contains stories from Mayan storytellers (and lorekeepers), mixed in with a few Carib and Jicaque texts. All were collected by linguists working with various groups in Guatemala (crossing over to Honduras and Belize). The book contains a total of 103 stories in the original language and English translation, as well as a long and detailed introduction, and copious footnotes and references. Stories (of which most are folktales, with the occasional myth, historical legend, and folk belief) are grouped by language, divided by illustrations. It is a detailed and informative collection, with a lot of good stories.

Highlights


I was struck by the legend of the Food of the Holy Earth. It told that when people first began to cultivate the land, the earth cried out and complained, and trees and plants that were cut down screamed in pain. They went to God to complain about the people torturing them, and God made them a deal: They would feed His children, but in exchange the earth can eat them when they are dead. The teller claimed that diseases and disasters happen because people put their dead in coffins and mausoleums, instead of giving them back to the earth as agreed.
I also found  the story of the Man and the Buzzard interesting; in it, a lazy farmer switched places (bodies) with a buzzard, because he thought it would be easier to be a bird. He was wrong.
The true highlights of the volume, however, were the local Biblical legends. In one, Jesus Christ's name got tagged onto a local trickster; the story told about how he repeatedly outwitted the Jews that persecuted him (once by throwing chili into their eyes and running away). In the origin story of the copal, two men visited Jesus' pregnant sister (!) and brought incense; the smoke colored the face of one of them black (a picture of the Three Wise Men?). Also Biblical was the legend of Adam (sic) and the Flood, in which not only rain fell from the sky, but also resin, and it trapped hiding people underground - a story explaining urn burials unearthed by people in the mountains. The origin of domesticated animals was explained with Jesus planting the bones of animals his brothers (!) had eaten, and reviving them after three days. Some escaped the farm, however, and those became the wild animals....

Connections

Obviously, there was a race between animals (Frog and Deer this time), and multiple Magic Flights (with objects thrown over the shoulder, and a princess born from a grapefruit). There were also common tale types such as Open, sesame!, and the Contest between magicians.
Quetzal, Guatemala's
national symbol
Last week in Salvador there was a myth about God hiding the corn from people, and the leafcutter ants finding it; that story was included in this volume too. The Guatemalan version also noted that since corn is the most important food source, and it has a soul, hiding it meant all other food ceased to exist as well. Similar to Honduras, Guatemala had its vengeful female demons too - a girl that made men disappear if they treated their wives badly, and a woman with horse legs and horse eyes who lured men into the river if they beat their wives. I was reminded of North American myths by The serpent and the angels of lightning, in which angels shot (with guns) at a snake that caused rivers to overflow (in the North, they are Thunderbirds). In the legend, a mortal hunter joined them too, to take part in defending the world.
Illustration from the book
I was reminded of Loki by the legend where the three goddesses of corn chained the giant Sipac under a mountain. He had been moving mountains around, and selling land to the whites, so they tricked him into captivity - whenever he tugs on his chains, he causes earthquakes. And talking about earth: After Thailand, I once again encountered a mythical person who could swim in the soil as if it was water. This time, it was Yew Achi, the evil, cannibal king of the Quiche.
Among the tricksters, Pedro Urdemalas made an appearance (here called Pedro Tecomate, Pedro Gourd), as well as Rabbit, who once again fell for the usual tar baby trick (but eventually pawned it off on Coyote). Rabbit was the protagonist of various trickster classics such as "Trickster seeks endowments", and "Trickster rides his enemy like a horse." The suffering party was usually Cougar, Tiger, or Lion.

Where to next?
Belize!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Ants digging up folktales (Following folktales around the world 44. - El Salvador)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!


Leyendas, cuentos y adivinanzas de El Salvador
Victoria Díaz de Marroquín
BANCASA, 1995.

The volume contains five legends and six folktales, along with several riddles and rhymes. Most stories have been re-told by the author, but she makes sure to note the original tellers and sources as well. It was a short, but entertaining read, with most legends taken from indigenous traditions, and most folktales showing motifs from European and African sources alike.

 Highlights


I immediately liked the opening story of the volume, in which the gods decided to hide corn from the people who were not respectful to them anymore. Luckily, the zompopo ants (giant winged leaf-cutter ants) dug up the corn, for which the gods tried to punish them by trying them to a tree. The insects broke free, but during the struggle their ties cinched their waists tiny. I liked how the introduction to the book compared the ants digging up life-giving corn to storytellers digging up stories.
I also found the tale of two best friends of supernatural descent, Ifraín and Mausimolú, very exciting. They set out together to find a princess, but then had to go through all kinds of adventures, shipwrecks, and strange islands, to finally find her.

Connections

The legend of the Siguanaba had much in common both with La Llorona, and La Sucia from Honduras. She was a careless mother who left her child alone to admire herself in the water; Tlaloc, god of the waters, cursed her into a demon that haunts riversides and seduces careless men.
The story of Money and Luck was another common one - this time with the twist that the two powers competing by making or breaking a man's life were actually husband and wife. There was, of course, a variant of the Singing Bones, called Flor de Olivar - except this time the youngest prince was not actually killed by his brothers - rather, beaten senseless, and he learned about his own past from the song of the magic bush.
The local trickster is Tío Conejo, Rabbit, who managed to trick Coyote with the age-old tar baby move while stealing some watermelons.

Where to next?
Guatemala!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Horror from Honduras (Following folktales around the world 43. - Honduras)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!


Cuentos y Leyendas de Honduras
Jorge Montenegro
Litografía López, 1976.

One hundred and fifty ghost stories, urban legends, folk beliefs, and other tales from Honduras, representing some of the most popular spooky tropes around the world - from tormented souls to vanishing hitchhikers, from witchcraft to demonic possession. It is real, living-breathing 20th century folklore, peppered with motifs from more ancient traditions.
This extremely popular collection was gathered by author and journalist Jorge Montenegro, who has been sharing them in a radio program since 1964, and published the first volume in 1972. The book now has a 50th anniversary edition. Most of the stories can be found all over the Internet (including the La Prensa newspaper's archive here); since I don't have access to ILL anymore, I read them online.
And the cherry on top: Some of these stories were turned into a horror movie in 2014!

Highlights


Ocote, or Montezuma pine
My favorite story in the book (and one of the few non-spooky ones) was that of the Ocote Tree, in which a young boy learned from his grandma that people should talk to trees, and invited a giant pine to their house for Christmas.
My little feminist heart also loved the Old Man in Love, who was not in love at all, but rather a notorious cat-caller, at least until a pretty young girl seemed to give in to his propositions, and asked him to meet by the river at night. Of course she was not a girl at all, but rather the La Sucia female demon, there to teach the old lech a lesson about "compliments"... A similar lesson was taught to the Mocking Girl, who liked to scare people at night, hiding behind a window and pretending to be a ghost or the devil. One day, she accidentally scared someone to death, so the real Devil showed up, and turned her into an old woman as punishment. And while we are on the topic of morals: the legend of the Grumpy Gravedigger (heh) told the story of how a mean old man was taught a lesson about the spirit of Christmas by being scared half to death by the souls of the dead (Christmas Carol much?).
The story of The Worms was an interesting reverse take on Bluebeard or Mr. Fox: This time, the young wife found hidden treasure in the basement of her husband, and decided to kill him for it... but when she succeeded, the Devil turned all the money into worms in front of her. Similarly, there was an interesting variant of the Vanishing Hitchhiker (the Moramulca cliffs) where someone rescued a girl from a car wreck, only to find out later that the wreck had happened ten years earlier...
Tegucigalpa, site of most stories
Some stories were dark, but also meaningful. In the tale of the Cruel father, a young man was abused physically and verbally. When he fell in love, the father killed his girlfriend to keep her from taking the boy away. Of course her ghost returned - she beheaded the father, and took her lover with her. Similarly, in the story of the Girl from Catacamas, a child was beaten regularly by both parents, until she subconsciously cursed their home, and turned it into a place full of terrifying occurrences.
Some ghosts, however, were nicer than others. For example, there was the Nurse that kept visiting and treating patients in the hospital where she worked, long after her death; and also the Girl with the flowers, who befriended a lonely woman who visited the cemetery every day.

Connections


There are few "real folktales" (magic tales) in the book, but several stories contained recognizable motifs from older traditions - for example, that of the Serpent Bride, where a young pianist fell in love with a woman, just to see her turn into a serpent on their wedding night (reminiscent of Melusine, and other serpent bride tales). There were several versions of classic urban legends and ghost stories, such as The Ring (where grave robbers try to cut off a dead woman's ring with her finger, just to find out she was not actually dead); grateful ghosts pointing out the place of buried treasure; Vanishing Hitchhikers (several of them); and even a ghost bus, this time filled with nuns for some reason...
I have already encountered stories about loyal dogs that protected their owners even after death; Angelina's Dog was one of them, attacking and mangling men who had killed it to get close to the defenseless girl.

Where to next?
El Salvador!

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Amazons of Corn Island (Following folktales around the world 42. - Nicaragua)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!


Cuentos, leyendas y mitos de Nicaragua
Pedro Alfonso Morales
Ediciones Distribuidora Cultural, 2014.

This volume contains a total of 24 stories: 12 folktales, 11 legends, and 1 myth. Nine out of the folktales have been collected by students from their families; three are re-tellings by various authors and researchers. Similarly, the legends are longer or shorter depending on the version. The volume itself is visually eclectic: It was printed on color paper, so the stories are told in pastel blues, yellows, greens, and pinks, and complete with illustrations that range from simplistic to annoyingly childish. The book comes with an introduction about Nicaraguan oral tradition, as well as a study guide for students; all in all, it is more an educational project than a folklore publication. With that said, I am still a fan of having children collect stories from their own family traditions - and in this case they came up with some really great ones.

Highlights


The most memorable story in the book is, without a doubt, the legend of The Women of Corn Island. It is a classic Amazon tale, in which the island is ruled by a women-only society; they hunt, fight, work the land, and only allow men to visit once a month, in order to make babies (amazing detail: Women know they are pregnant because at the moment of conception a glowing butterfly emerges from their belly button).
Women and men marching for
indigenous rights, source here
Male babies are sent to their fathers, while the girls are raised by the women, and their roles are determined by moles that are found on their body (on the back for farmers, on the thigh for hunters, and on the belly for potential mothers).
Legend says that when the white colonizers arrived, the women, rather than being killed or taken as slaves, all walked into the ocean, and turned into sea foam, leaving their island abandoned.
I also had a soft spot for the story of a girl who loved swimming in the ocean so much that she even did so on Holy Week, despite her mother's warnings. In the water, she turned into a mermaid, and swam away, singing. I am not sure it was a punishment for her.
On a darker note, there was the bone-chilling tale of María Angustia, a young wife who refused to cook, and kept pestering her neighbor for food and for feeding her husband. In the end, the neighbor lady told her that she should bring some intestines from the cemetery to supplement pork in the dinner - which María did, except the deceased owner of said intestines began haunting her, and dragged her away in the dark of the night.

Connections

Similar to most other South- and Central American countries, there was a legend about the La Llorona; and similar to many Caribbean islands, there was also a legend about a woman that peeled her skin off to shapeshift. In this case, she turned into a coyote every day, until her husband sprinkled salt inside her discarded human skin, and she could not put it back on.
I also encountered familiar tale types such as Cricket the Fortune-teller, the Loquacious Princess, and the Extraordinary Helpers (with a flying steamboat!). And of course there was another Devil husband with golden teeth, who in the end got lured into a bottle by his mother-in-law, the way djinn are usually tricked... Ever since then, when the Devil shows up in the shape of a whirlwind, people just have to yell that his mother-in-law is coming with a bottle.
Picture from here
Another classic legend also made an appearance: That of the Procession (or in this case, Cart) of the Dead, which appeared in three or four stories in the book. It is a ghostly procession of skeletons, penitent souls, and other dead things. In one story, a man who lived a sinful life made fun of the procession, saying it was a hoax - but then it came for him, and he had to follow them, carrying a candle made of a human bone, for all eternity.

Where to next?
Honduras!

Monday, September 4, 2017

The knight in shining armor is a bunny on an armadillo (Following folktales around the world 41. - Costa Rica)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

I have been looking forward to Costa Rica; one of my all-time favorite story collections is from this country! 


Las semillas de nuestro rey
Leyendas de los aborigenes de Costa Rica
Carlos Luis Sáenz
Las Americas, 1958.

This tiny volume collects 27 tales from the indigenous traditions of Costa Rica. The author grouped them by culture, so we can find separate chapters representing the stories of the Bribri, Brunka, Chorotega, Guatuso, and Miskito peoples. Some of the stories come with footnotes and glossaries attached, while others are prefaced with quotes from anthropologists, travelers, or folklorists. The book is a short read, but a fascinating one - especially because it manages to show a glimpse of the cultural diversity of the country's indigenous peoples.

 Highlights


Illustration from here
My favorite story from the collection is that of Nandayure and his magic wand. The power of the wand is that it can make anything that contains lime evaporate - shells, limestone, and people's bones (accidentally). I have  never heard of another magic item quite like it. Another story close to my heart is the Sisimiqui, which is a part of my repertoire and one of my top favorite folktales. In it, a brave rabbit riding an armadillo fights and defeats a terrifying monster via a game of whack-a-mole.
There were various stories about heroes being kidnapped by giant eagles. My favorite was the Brave in the seven baskets, in which a warrior hid himself inside seven baskets, and the man-eating eagles carried him up to their nest. He managed to kill one eagle and the chicks, and then climbed down the mountain - but his rope ran out halfway, and his people had to help him down the rest of the way. Interestingly, the morning after the victory feast the hero disappeared; it is possible that he was taken by the other eagle, but the story ended at this point abruptly.

Connections


Golden pigs, from pre-colombian
Costa Rica
I have already encountered legends from other cultures in South America in which a hunter followed a wounded animal and ended up in its kingdom, where he was forced to heal the wounds he had caused. In this case, a clumsy archer was kept by the King of Pigs. The King was not opposed to hunters - he just demanded that his subjects should be killed with one shot, without suffering.
I was reminded of a Dominican tale by the legend of the Boy with hands of fire, in which all the hunters of a village turned into snakes after eating the meat of a giant snake. A boy tried to save them, and then tried to help their loved ones save them, but people only listened to his advice after he sacrificed himself...
After Southeast Asia, I once again encountered Tiger People (who are not actually tigers, rather jaguars or maybe pumas, but they are called tigers). They appear as humans, but turn back into their feline form at night and eat people, or sometimes marry mortal girls and eat them on the wedding night.
There was also a legend about the birth of the first hummingbird; it was about two young people from warring tribes, but instead of a Romeo and Juliet tale, the man tried to abduct the girl, who was shot dead by a stray arrow in the fight, and turned into a bird.

Where to next? 
Nicaragua!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Zombies in a matchbox (Following folktales around the world 40. - Panama)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!


Leyendas chiricanas
César Samudio
Imprenta Universitaria, 1994.

This book is a collection of stories from one province of Panama, called Chiriquí. Unlike most of the previous books in the series, this one does is less a volume of folktales, and more a display of various urban legends and folk beliefs, often with names, dates, and places proving that people telling them believed firmly that they really happened. Usual creatures of belief, such as ghosts, witches, fairies, gnomes, and the Devil make appearances, as well as curses and hauntings. Not much information is provided for the stories other than a short introduction, and the illustrations are quite disturbing - and yet, the book was definitely an intriguing read.

Highlights


Picture from here
I enjoyed the tale of Orik and the Washer Girl, in which a poor girl who went to  the river to do laundry made friends with a fairy/gnome creature named Orik. Orik gave her a gold coin every day, which she used to help her family, but eventually her relatives became worried that the mysterious benefactor would take their child, and used some tricks suggested by an old aunt to chase Orik away.
There were also some classically creepy, horror-like stories, such as the Ghost Bus, which appeared and disappeared on the roads at night, sideswiping other buses (I heard about a ghost street car in New Orelans) - and also Zombies in a matchbox, a series of tales about people who owned a matchbox with seven small zombie creatures in it that fulfilled their every command (including hijacking and airplane), and fed on the blood and tongues of live cows.

Connections

I once again met the Crying Woman here in Panama; she is known as the TuliviejaAccording to the legend, she was a young woman fond of dancing and parties, and she left her crying newborn at the side of a water gorge so that she could sneak out to a dance. Her horse stumbled, she fell, died, and turned into the Tulivieja, who goes around every night along waterways, looking for her child. Another classic legend also made an appearance: The tale of The man who danced with Death told of a guy who danced with a beautiful young woman at a party and then walked her home, only to find out the very next day that she had been dead for years - a car-less variation of the infamous Vanishing Hitchhiker. (Anyone reminded of the pilot episode of Supernatural yet?)
The Man with Golden Teeth (aka. the Devil) also made an appearance. This time, he pretended to be a well digger, and made a bet with a widow that if he could dig a well in one night, she would marry him. Noting that he was the Devil, she put her rooster in front of a mirror, and the rooster became so agitated that it crowed well before dawn, breaking the Devil's deadline.



Where to next?
Costa Rica!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Anancy meck it (Following folktales around the world 39. - Jamaica)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

There could not be a more fitting volume to say goodbye to the Caribbean than a collection full of Anansi stories.


Anancy and Miss Lou
Louise Bennett
Sangster's Book Stores, 1979.

I cam across this book by accident, in a used book store in Knoxville, TN, a week before I flew home from the USA. Even though most of my books were already packed, I could not resist buying it (especially for $2!). It was a very lucky find.
The volume contains thirty-one Anancy stories, re-told by famous Jamaican singer, storyteller, and folklore artist Louise Bennett. The stories are written down phonetically from her telling; while the Jamaican dialect is hard for an outsider to decipher in writing, once you get the hang of it, both Miss Lou's and Anancy's personalities jump off the page is bright colors. I have not heard Louise Bennett before, so I spent a lot of time looking up YouTube videos and voice recordings online. I wish I could have heard her live...
The book contains a short introduction about Miss Lou and Anancy, and musical notes for the songs that appear in the stories. Every story closes with the same formula: "Is Anancy meck it" ("Anancy made it so" - all stories are pourquoi tales), and "Jack Mandora, me noh choose none" (According to the Introduction, this translates into "I take no responsibility for the story I have told").

Highlights


The opening story in the book is, naturally, about Anancy stories - or rather, how Anancy decided he wanted to star in bedtime tales, and how he got Cat and Rat to fight in order to achieve his legendary trickster status. I was also happy to find Miss Lou's lovely version of Anancy and Fire, a story I have heard from Eshu Bumpus, and never found again since. In it, Anancy tries to seduce Miss Flame, but she soon turns out to be more than he signed up for.
By far my favorite tale in the book was that of Anancy and Sorrel, in which the trickster, while stealing fruit on Market Day, just happened to invent this very popular, spiced Jamaican drink. I also laughed a lot at the tale of Anancy and Fee Fee, in which Anancy dressed up as a little girl (called Fee Fee) just to get free food at a Christmas party for children.

Connections


I found a tale that I read earlier from Trinidad, in which Crab helps a poor servant girl find out an evil witch's secret name - except in this case the poor girl was Anancy in disguise, going for the rich rewards of guessing the name. Guessing names was a common theme in the collection; I also found a couple of versions for the African tale type where Anancy had to guess a princess' name in order to marry her. I was reminded of the Haitian story of Owl's wedding by the story of Po Pattoo, the Jamaican owl, who tried to marry a pretty girl by hiding his feathers, but Anancy gave him away. On a slightly more serious note, there was once again a tale of A girl marrying a Yellow Snake - she was rescued by Anancy and his clever tricks (I have encountered this tale type on almost all Caribbean islands).
And, of course, there were the all-time trickster classics, such as Riding Tiger, the Deadly Rock, and the Tar Baby. And it almost goes without saying that this book was not without an animal race either: This time, Donkey ran a race with Toad, and the latter won by the help of Anancy's cunning advice.

Where to next?
Next week we start our trek north across Central America. Panama first!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Cuba in all its colors (Following folktales around the world 38. - Cuba)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!


From the Winds of Manguito / Desde Los Vientos de Manguito
Cuban Folktales in English and Spanish / Cuentos Folklóricos de Cuba, En Inglés y Español 
Elvia Perez
Libraries Unlimited, 2004.

An excellent volume, created with care and attention by a professional storyteller. Elvia Perez picked the stories from her own repertoire, which draws from various oral traditions that have contributed to Cuban culture - indigenous beliefs, Afro-Cuban religions, tales of European and especially Canary Islands origins, and many local flavors from all of those blending together. All stories are presented both in English and Spanish, and the book comes with ample notes, glossaries, a bibliography, historical introduction, Cuban games and rhymes, recipes, color photos, and even black-and-white illustrations drawn in mesmerizing ways. It is a lovely, concise volume to hold in one's hand, and definitely a delight to read.

Highlights


Oshún is synchretized
with the Virgin Mary in
Santería traditions
Many of my favorite stories were found in the chapter on Afro-Cuban traditions. For example, in The Roads of the Island, a pair of twins won a dancing contest with the Devil, because he could not tell them apart, and they could switch places and keep the music going. Elegba (Elegguá), the trickster of the Yoruba, also made an appearance, in a legend that explained who he used to be before he became a deity. In the story of Oshún, the Keeper of Honey, a young goddess only got to rule over honey (unlike her more powerful siblings), but she managed to use it with such care and ingenuity that she even saved another deity's life. The best story, however, was that of the Invincible Women, in which two sisters, one warrior and one wise, both earned their own kingdoms in different ways, and then helped each other save them.
Among the animal tales, that of the Herons was really lovely. Baby herons set out to find their parents by comparing their song to various other birds' and animals'. In The Headless Dance, animals saved the world from a fighting devil couple (who set fire to everything) by hosting a party where birds danced with their heads under their wings, and telling the devils that they could only join if they agreed to be beheaded... And finally, I loved the story of Kikirkí the Rooster, who saved his owner by fighting Death and chasing her away multiple times until the doctor got there.

Connections



Yemaya, goddess of the sea,
is also portrayed as the Virgin Mary
I found yet another flood myth; this time it was Yemaya, goddess of the sea, who tried to flood the people out because they forgot about her.
The fairy of the river was the local variant of Frau Holle, with the good girl jumping into the river and earning a reward, and the lazy girl following after. Except in this case, the lazy girl was not punished, just threatened, and she changed her ways, becoming friends with her sister and making amends.
Of course there was an animal race in this collection too - this time it was between Ambeco the Deer, and Aguatí the Turtle.

Where to next?
Jamaica, our last stop in the Caribbean!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Trickster bonanza (Following folktales around the world 37. - Bahamas)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Once was a time, a very good time,
Not in my time, but in b'o' Rabby time...


Folk-tales of Andros Island, Bahamas
Elsie Clews Parsons
American Folk-lore Society, 1918.

Once again, an early collection from Elsie Clews Parsons (I'm getting curious about this lady's life story). It contains 115 folktales (or more, since variants are listed under the same number), all collected from just one island of the Bahamas, Andros. Tales are transcribed meticulously and in dialect, which makes them difficult to read, but also gives a hint of what they originally sounded like. Each story comes with ample footnotes, references to other versions from the Caribbean and beyond, and the informants are all introduced as well. Parsons points out that not only was Andros a cultural melting pot at the turn of the last century (including tales from indigenous, Euro-American, and African traditions), but it was also a "dump" for refugees, adventurers, and other migratory people within the Bahamas. The result is an amazingly diverse mix of stories.
In the Introduction, Parsons notes how, when she initially asked for "storytellers," she was pointed to fortune-tellers; it took her time to figure out that she had to ask for people who "talk ol' story" to get the actual folktales. Also, almost all stories in the book begin with the same type of formula ("There was a time, a very good time, Monkey chew tobacco and spit white lime"), and end the same as well ("The bow bent, the story end", "If you think my story's not true, go ask the captain of the longboat crew"). I addition, much like I have read in the Haiti collection, many stories end with the storyteller claiming to have been present personally, until one of the characters slapped/kicked/pushed them, and they flew right here, to the audience, to tell them what happened.

Highlights

The book itself (based on claims from informants) gives a definite answer to 'what is the most popular tale on Andros Island?'. It is a story I have encountered before on the island of St. Vincent as well: A woman in labor sends a message to her husband, trying various birds before the hummingbird manages to track the man down and bring him home. It is kind of an unexpected candidate for popularity, but a lovely story.
There was a very neat local variant for the Magic Flight tale type. A girl kidnapped by the Devil was rescued by her brother, Jack, who was adept in witchcraft. I liked how the transformations during the flight were also obstacles, combining the two usual forms of the story: Every transformation made the Devil turn and go back home to get something (e.g. a pole for the banana tree and the ripe bananas). An yet another Magic Flight Jack ran away with the Devil's daughter named Greenheart-Er-Knowledge, and when he forgot about her and left her on a tree (as it usually happens in these stories), the "ugly servant girl" that found her did not try to take the true bride's place, but rather ran and reminded Jack about her. And while we are on the topic of Jack saving women, there was also a lovely version of the Maiden saved from the gallows ballad, where Jack fell in love with a princess at school, and came to her aid when she was accused of theft and about to be hanged.
The tale of the Witch Wife gave me some chills. In this story, a wife never ate at home, but rather secretly turned into an egret and went hunting. When her husband found out, he sang the magic song that slowly turned his wife into a bird, and then killed her. On a more light-hearted note, I found a new trick in the Trickster bag of tales: Rabbit got away from Lion by suggesting that he should be dipped in ashes before killed, for flavor (?), and rolled around in the ashes so much that Lion was blinded by the cloud.

Connections

The cultural diversity of the island showed beautifully in the lineup of local tricksters: Rabbit, Bouki (sometimes the trickster, sometimes the fool), Anansi, and even Jack all made an appearance. Sometimes they were even related in various ways; e.g. in one story Jack and Rabbit were brothers. With them, of course most of the classic trickster tales had versions in the book: The tar baby (which in these stories was female, and people who tried to grope her or kiss her got stuck), the secretly eaten cream, the mock plea, the trickster's horse, the deadly rock, the tug-o-war, etc.
And of course there were tales of races between animals; this time it was Conch that raced Lobster and Horse (separately), and won both times. I especially liked the former story, since it combined the two variants of this tale type: Conch planted other little Conches along the way, but Lobster also stopped lazily to eat along the way - so slow, steady and crafty eventually won the race.
There were versions of many well-known fairy tale types in the book, such as the Kind and Unkind Girls; Mother Killed Me, Father Ate Me; the Four Brothers (this time, it was the hunter that got the girl in the end); Bluebeard (with a room full of dead children, not wives); the Brave Little Tailor; the Beanstalk; the Brementwon Musicians; the Fish Lover; and the Extraordinary Helpers. The latter included intriguing new characters such as Laughwell, Crywell, Fartwell, Pisswell, and Spitwell, although the fragmented story text did not tell us much about them... Another Helpers tale, the Unfinished Story of Princess Greenleaf, was selected for my book about superpowers from this collection as well.
Among local beliefs I once again encountered the loogaroo (loup garou), this time as the name for the witches that can peel off their skin and fly around at night. We are getting closer to Louisiana...

Where to next?
To Cuba!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Of singing turtles and magic orange trees (Following folktales around the world 36. - Haiti)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

I was tempted to read The Magic Orange Tree for Haiti - but in the end, I decided to pick a less well-known and well-read book by a Haitian storyteller instead. Most of the American storytelling community is very familiar with Diane Wolkstein's volume already.
 
When Night Falls, Kric! Krac!
Haitian Folktales
Liliane Nérette Louis
Libraries Unlimited, 1999.

Liliane Nérette Louis is a Haitian storyteller of great skill and a long family tradition. Reading the tales in this book, you can sense that they were honed in the oral tradition; the text is alive, showing call-and-response elements, rhymes, songs, and other features of live storytelling. The thirty stories are organized by themes (Stepmothers, Love, etc.), representing various facets and genres of the oral tradition. The book has introductions written both by the author and the editor, introducing Haitian history and culture; in the back we can find color photos, a glossary, and some wonderful Haitian recipes. A very complete and compact volume, much worth reading.

Highlights


My favorite tale from the book was about The turtle that could sing. In it, birds go to steal peas from a man's garden in the time of famine; they give their feathers to their friend, the singing turtle, so that he can go with them (he doesn't even like the peas, he just enjoys the flight). Of course the garden's owner eventually catches the turtle; when he finds out it can sing, he makes a whole lot of money from putting Turtle on display. Eventually the king decides he wants the magic turtle, but the animal is exchanged for a non-singing turtle by a boy the night before, so both gardener and king are left empty-handed. But at least the turtle got away...
Talking about singing: I would love to hear the story of Kinan Kinan told live. In it, a prince is reluctant to select a wife; his advisers offer him all kinds of willing princesses by singing their praises, but in the end, he takes a liking to an "ugly" peasant girl, who turns out to be lovelier and more beautiful than any other woman. There were no music notes attached to the story, and I am really curious how it sounds in live telling.
This book also contains the story of the Stepmother and the orange tree. In it, a stepmother abuses a girl constantly, and even eats the oranges the father brought home for the both of them. The girl plants the seeds of the oranges on her mother's grave, and from them grows a wonderful orange tree that does not only feed and obey her, but it also throws the stepmother off hard enough to shatter her into a million pieces. This is not the only story that was familiar from Wolkstein's collection: I also found a version of Taizan the Fish-lover, where a girl fell in love (and made love to) a fish, and when her parents wounded him, they merged into one body, and became a mermaid.
I also enjoyed the tale of Bouki wins the king's contest, in which suitors had to count to ten before an orange tossed into the air landed, in order to win a princess (I read this in a Liberian folktale before). Bouki won by trickery, but the princess hated him, since he only wanted her so that he could eat meat from the royal kitchens. In the end, his greed led to a hunting accident, in which Bouki was shot. At least the princess got away...


Connections

In the chapter about stepmothers there were multiple Kind and Unkind Girls type tales. In one of them (The lost silver spoon), the old woman helper's back had to be washed, but it was covered in shattered glass and made the girls' hands bleed; it reminded me of the Trinidad version that I really liked.
I was also familiar with the tale type of King Vletout, in which a king had all old people killed, so that the youth in a village could not resist his conquest. One family hid a grandmother, and she gave them advice that helped save the entire community. I have read this story from various cultures, but this was one of the best variants I have encountered so far.
There was a terrifying Bluebeard-like tale called the Case of the Key, in which a girl found out that her aunt kept zombies (zonbies) in the closet under the stairs. There was an entire chapter of zombie and monster stories, by the way, following their popularity in the Haitian oral tradition.
The local trickster is Malis (Konpé Malis or Ti Malis), usually accompanied by his silly and greedy friend, Bouki, who never fails to gets into trouble (with or without help). I remember reading that originally Malis was a hare and Bouki was a hyena, but in these tales they both appear as people. Several of the stories was already familiar from the other half of the island, the Dominican Republic (where, according to the other book's notes, they migrated from Haiti).

Where to next?
To the Bahamas!