Monday, June 19, 2017

Trickster continuity (Following folktales around the world 30. - Barbados)

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!

Because I could not find a book of folktales for Barbados, I once again turned to folklore articles for appropriate reading. 

Barbados Folklore
Elsie Clews Parsons
The Journal of American Folklore, 38/148 (1925), pp. 267-292.

Exploring the Folk Culture of Barbados through the Medium of the Folk Tale
Linden Lewis
Caribbean Studies, 23/3 (1990), pp. 85-94.

The first article contains fifteen folktales, and more than a hundred riddles. It was written by the same author that wrote Folk-lore of the Antilles, but her collection of Barbados folktales was published here separately. The presentation is the same: The stories are written phonetically, in dialect, and sometimes you have to read them out loud to understand what is going on. The second article contains more "modern stories," anecdotes and later versions of folktales, embedded in a study of Barbados folklore. The stories in it focus on two main themes - thievery and necromancy (obeah) -, but other beliefs and folk creatures also make an appearance.

Highlights

There was a great version in the first article for the Brave Little Tailor - and accompanying it another, shorter one, which I especially loved, because the tailor spoke in his sleep and revealed that "seven at a whack" was actually seven flies, and both princess and king got really angry at him for that. When I was little, I always thought it was stupid that no one asked him "sever what?!", so I really appreciated the practicality.
There was an interesting tale in the second article about a boy who stole pumpkins, and his community cursed him with a ritual so that he grew up to be a kleptomaniac. He eventually was caught because he stole a wet dish rag, and his pants soaked through...
I also found a creature called the bacco quite fascinating. It is kept in a bottle or in a blanket, feed it bananas and milk, and it can be both useful and harmful, depending on its owner. The only way to get rid of it is to throw it in water. All cultures in the region blame someone else for it: Barbados people say they came from Guyana, Guyana people say they came from Suriname, and in Suriname, they say the Dutch sailors brought them in...




Connections


In "Trickster seeks trouble", this time Anansi (Brer Nancy) teaches Brer Rabbit what trouble is, by setting him up to be eaten by Tiger - but in the end, he also saves his fellow trickster, which is pretty nice. Rabbit, in turn, does what he does in the Uncle Remus tales, and rides Monkey like a horse, pretending to be sick. There was, of course, the classic mock plea story, where the captured Rabbit begs not to be thrown into the bushes - and then he is, he gets away laughing. I also found a Magic Flight tale - this type appears to be one of the most common I have encountered in this journey so far.

Where to next?
Saint Lucia!

Monday, June 12, 2017

King Rufus gambles with the Devil (Following folktales around the world 29. - St. Vincent and the Grenadines)

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!


Folk-lore of the Antilles, French and English I.
Elsie Clews Parsons - Gladys A. Reichard
American Folk-lore Society, 1933.

For those small Caribbean countries where I could not find an individual book of folktales, I'll be reading chapters from this collection. Folk-lore of the Antilles is a three-volume opus that contains hundreds of folktales in French and English, organized by island. The Saint Vincent chapter contained ten tales, collected from four storytellers whose cultural backgrounds were diverse, to say the least - they were a mix of German, Portuguese, Carib, African, Cuban, and "sailor." The youngest (and the fountain of Anansi stories) was only 14 years old. All 10 tales had been recorded in English.

Highlights

The best tale out of the ten was the one titled King Rufus gambles with the Devil. In it, Prince Rufus the Second decided to learn a trade - and he picked gambling. He was not very good at it, though, because he promptly lost all his belongings to Don Pedro, the Devil, along with his own life. After the game, he set out to meet Don Pedro at the seven gates of Hell by the River of Ever Ever of Crystal. He was pointed in the right direction by three consecutive old women who all combed coffee and sugar from their hair. In Hell, he encountered the three foster-daughters of Don Pedro (Roses of Night, Moonlight of Night, Sunlight of Day). From this point on, it was a Master Maid story, with the exception that in the end, Rufus made a mistake and ended up in Hell anyway...

There was also a lovely story about the doctor bird (story and teller came from Jamaica where the bird is very popular). In it, a pregnant woman sent the bird to tell her husband she was in labor - then rewarded the helpful animal with a pretty velvet cap it still wears today.


Connections

Of course there are no trickster - especially Anansi - stories without the classics: The tar baby, the cheating of execution, the deadly rock, the tricking of other animals (Shark and Lion), and the tug-o-war between Elephant and Whale. Note: I don't know if it happened because of the place, or the era of collection, but Anansi was not always his usual spider-self - he was named as a cat and a wolf too, among others.
There was also a fun version of the Magic tablecloth story - the last gift in the lineup was a bottle full of fairies. If someone opened the bottle, the fairies came out; in the end, the thieves who had stolen the previous magic items from the poor man got their asses handed to them by a jarful of fairies...
 
Where to next?
Barbados!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Susan and the Sesame (Following folktales around the world 28. - Grenada)

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!


Folk-lore of the Antilles, French and English I.
Elsie Clews Parsons - Gladys A. Reichard
American Folk-lore Society, 1933.

For those small Caribbean countries where I could not find an individual book of folktales, I'll be reading chapters from this collection. Folk-lore of the Antilles is a three-volume opus that contains hundreds of folktales in French and English, organized by island. The Grenada chapter contained 32 tales, most of them in English and some in French with English variants. All texts were transcribed phonetically, which made reading a little hard sometimes. Especially interesting was the list of informants: Most of them were between 13 and 18 years old, and the oldest was 35.

Highlights

My favorite story from the collection was from the island of Carriacou, and told about a girl who knew all the Nancy stories ("Nancy story" or Anansi story is the generic term used for folktales and especially trickster tales). In this tale, the girl wanted to marry a man who could tell her a story with a meaning she could not understand. A boy, whose mother was trying to kill him, managed to recount a series of adventures that baffled the girl in the end.
Another tiny but deep story was Cat and Rat bathe together. In this, a young kitten and a young rat were friends and went bathing together every day until their parents told them they were supposed to be natural enemies. The story had a very clear point to make, about hate being a learned behavior...

Connections

After Ecuador I once again encountered a "Trickster asks for a boon" type tale (of African origins). Rabbit asked God for wits, and had to bring various things (lion's teeth, large snake) to prove that he was worthy. There were also other classic trickster tale types, such as swapping places before an execution, the deadly rock (a.k.a. Anansi and the Moss-covered rock), and Trickster looks for trouble, which I have also read from Trinidad last week.
I also found a Grenadian Hansel and Gretel, a "Mother killed me, father ate me" fairy tale, and a version of the Haitian tale of Tayzanne about the friendship (or maybe love) of a girl and a fish. Also from Haiti (or rather, from Diane Wolkstein's Haitian story collection) I knew the story of Filomena, where the cruelty of a stepmother comes back to destroy her own children - this one showed up in the Suriname collection as well. Here, the stepchild was called Crocodile.
I chuckled a lot at a tale where thieves could open a door with a magic word - but instead of "Open, Sesame!" the call was "Open, Susan!" I wonder how that happened...

Where to next?
In the logical line of succession: St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Road of the Warriors - Archaeology Day storytelling, 2017.

Once again, I just got back to Hungary in time for Archaeology Day (the last weekend of May). Following the tradition of the past two years, I was invited to the Damjanich János Museum in Szolnok, to participate in their weekend events with a brand new storytelling program tailored to this year's theme. After Sarmatians in 2015, and Gepids and Goths last year, 2017 was the year of the nomadic cultures of the steppe - Scythians, Sarmatians, Huns, Avars, Hungarians, Cumans, and the Jász people. 

I love dressing up for museum gigs, and this one was no exception (after the past 2 years, I felt kind of obligated to keep up the trend). Luckily, I already had a Hungarian conquest era (9th century) outfit lying around with all the necessary accessories (from my days as a traditional archery reenactor). I left the bow and arrows at home, but the final appearance was pretty complete anyway. The belt ornaments, pouch decorations, and the braid disc in my hair were all replicas of actual conquest era archaeological finds. The traditional belt pouch was also great for storing such authentic items as my cellphone, room keys, and lipstick. 

After last year's scramble to find Gepid stories, this year I had the opposite problem: I had a wealth of folktales, legends, and traditions to pick from. I made sure that I had at least one story for every culture listed above - while some were easier than others, I still ended up with a colorful and rich lineup of tales to tell (and once again, I had tons of fun with the month-long research). There were two sets of storytelling on Saturday afternoon, one for younger kids and families, and one for adults and older children. 

The first set was titled Treasure of Griffins. I filled it out with traditional Hungarian folktales that preserved a lot of the motifs and symbols of our pre-Christian, shamanistic world view and traditions. I told the story of the Winged Wolf (one of my all-time Hungarian favorites), the tale of the Seven-legged Horse (this one has a female protagonist that rescues the Sun, Moon, and Stars from the Dragon King), and the story of Csorha János, a folktale hero from the Jász region of our country, who has magic powers and uses them to hide from a princess who can see everything. It was great to see how these old, formulaic stories work wonders in live telling with an audience - especially with children. There was a little boy in the front row who kept muttering out what will happen next in the story, and then nodded sagely when he turned out to be right... Event the adults rewarded certain plot twists with laughter or gasps. 

I was happy to see that several people returned for the second set as well. This one bore the title Footprints on the Road of the Warriors (the Road being our name for the Milky Way), and it was my chance to tell the longer, more complex historical legends of my repertoire. In chronological order, I started with the Scythians, telling the tale of Arsakomas and his blood brothers from Lucian of Samosata's Toxaris, or Friendhsip. It is a story of adventure, where a Scythian warrior proves that friends are more valuable than money or land, and his two blood brothers help him elope with his love, and win a war. It was tons of fun to tell. Next up came the Huns. For them, I told my version of Attila and the Comedians, a tale that I crafted and fleshed out from a medieval chronicle. It was both familiar and new for a Hungarian audience, and got great reactions from them (we do love our King Attila). For the Avars, I told the legend of the Csörsz ditch (Csörsz-árok), a system of Roman era fortifications that people later made up stories about. Since it is very close to Szolnok, it played well with the local audience. In the end, since I had time left over, I added the Ossetian Nart legend of Alimbeg's daughter to the lineup - one of my favorite Nart sagas, and also a story that features intriguing representations of gender.
This second set was especially lovely. People stayed and listened, allowing me to take my time fleshing out and delivering each story without a hurry. Some of them specifically showed up to the event for the storytelling, and they stayed to talk afterwards. I also loved the fact that I was telling these stories inside the museum, surrounded by archaeologists knowledgeable of all these cultures, and artifacts that represented them. If there was ever a perfect setting for telling these age-old tales, this was definitely it.

I am looking forward to what next year's Archaeology Day may bring!