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!


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.


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.


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.


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?

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.


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.


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? 

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.


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.


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").


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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...


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!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Familiar tales with unexpected twists (Following folktales around the world 35. - Dominican Republic)

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!

Folklore de la República Dominicana
Manuel José Andrade
Sociedad Dominicana de Bibliófilo, 2009.

This book was originally published in English in 1930 (since the collection work was done with the support of the American Folklore Society), and only later in Spanish, the original language of the collector and the storytellers. Andrade, the collector, was a linguist who spoke more than forty languages, and recorded the tales in dialect, with laser-like attention to reflecting pronunciation in writing - which makes the book somewhat difficult to read. It has transcriptions like 'suidá' for 'ciudad', 'epa' for 'espada', 'toitiya' for 'tortilla', and 'jacé na' for 'hacer nada.' I had to read the tales out loud and listen to myself to understand what I was reading.
The book is more than 700 pages long, by the way, and contains 304 folktales, as well as riddles and proverbs. The stories are organized by type (for example, all local versions of the Magic Flight next to each other). Each tale is marked with the name and town of the storyteller, and the Introduction includes a wealth of information about tellers, collectors, and the methods of collection. Most tales belong to well-known European fairy tale types, but there were also trickster stories reminiscent of African traditions, and tales borrowed from the neighboring Haiti.


The absolute highlights of this volume, for me, were the unusual local variants (thanks Jeana for cleaning up the term!) of well-known fairy tale types. For example, I loved the Godfather Death story where the doctor, seeing how low his life's flame was burning, distracted Death with an exciting story, and managed to refill the lantern with enough oil that he lived forever (storytelling saves lives, people!). Another tale with a creative solution was that of the Four brothers, an astronomer, a thief, a hunter, and a carpenter, who rescued a princess from a dragon together, and then argued over who deserved her the most. In this case, a random king made an appearance, who suggested that he should marry the rescued princess, and give his own four daughters to the brothers instead. Everyone walked away happy. In another variant, Three princes decided the same dilemma by hosting an archery contest, which was won by the middle brother. The eldest killed himself in defeat, while the youngest set out, went through some adventures, and found himself another wife.
I found a surprising variant of the Love for Three Oranges tale type - while usually it is a prince who cuts up three magic oranges, winning a wife from the last one, this time it was a girl who stole three grapefruits from a magic garden, and gained a prince-husband in the end.
There were, once again, several versions of the Magic Flight, usually, following Spanish tradition, under the name of Blanca Flor. My favorite was the one where the items tossed back over the shoulder to create magical obstacles were a head of garlic, an orange pit, a grain of salt, blue paper (?), and a piece of soap. The orange pit turned the lovers into a tree and a gardener, while the blue thing and the salt made an ocean; sadly, the storyteller seems to have forgotten about the rest.
I snickered at the variant of the Extraordinary Helpers where the hero, after hiring classic helpers such as Sees-far and Runs-fast, ended up paying a companion named Caguín Cagan, the famous defecator, who competes with the king's own champion in who can defecate more at one go. I have collected more than 50 versions of this tale type for my thesis and my book, but this superpower was definitely new to me...
Of course, there were tales that were new for me too, and some were quite inspiring. One was the Tale of the giant, in which three brothers set out to rescue a princess kidnapped by a giant and kept in a crystal tower. The youngest brother had already met her and they were in love, so he did not give up like his brothers, until he managed to get into all kinds of adventures involving dwarves and giants, and found a way inside the tower. In The enchanted forest, an orphan girl saved her village from the dragons that lived in the forest - dragons that turned out to be cursed humans, her own parents among them. In The sparrow and the dog, a dog was hit by a cart, and his friend, the sparrow set out to take a very bloody revenge for the death of his companion (beware of birds).
One of the prettiest tales in the book, however, was that of Juanito el Valeroso, which was a mix of various fairy tale motifs. Juanito was given away by his father as a child ("give me whatever you don't know about in your house"), and ended up serving in a giant's house as an adult, and falling in love with the giant's daughter, Flor de Abril, who had to live in an invisible form, because she was so beautiful that people dropped dead at her sight. After various adventures and obstacles, the young couple got away from her evil family and got to live happily together. Flor de Abril covered her face with sooth, and only gradually washed it off, to allow her husband's eyes to get used to her beauty.


There were many other interesting moments in the stories. Some unexpected tale types made an appearance too, such as the Silent Princess, the Revenge of Stories, Cricket the fortune-teller, the Yellow Dwarf, or the Corpse Bride. In Boots and the Beasts (also included in my book in its Norwegian version), the boy who turned into an ant turned into a monstrously large ant, and scared his enemies away; the father of the Twelve Ravens exchanged his sons for a daughter with a dwarf king; Hansel and Gretel (Mariquita and Periquito) wandered into the woods on their own volition, despite their parents' warning, and Beauty, who had already been in love with the prince before he was turned into a Beast (The Bull Prince) set out to save her love from the curse on her own.
I especially liked the trickster stories where European and African tricksters got to meet and interact. We got to meet Pedro Urdemalas (usually called Pedro Animales here), Juan Bobo, as well as Ti Malice, Compaire Lapin, and Buqui the Hyena, the latter group being visitors from the neighboring Haiti. Of course with these characters came the usual classic stories such as the tar baby, the exchanged punishment, or riding each other like a horse. Tricksters are tricksters everywhere.

Where to next?
To Haiti, the other half of the island.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hostile Hummingbirds and Helpful Horses (Following folktales around the world 34. - St. Kitts and Nevis)

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 II.
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.
Unlike the previous country, this one had stories collected for both major islands: No less than fifty-two for Nevis (all collected from the same 30-year-old storyteller), and twenty-two for St. Kitts (many of which have been gathered from children between the age of 10 and 16, signaling that the oral tradition was alive and well). Bonus points for the fact that all of them were in English this time.

Purple-throated carib
I was a little shocked to read a tale where Brer Hummingbird and Brer Rabbit had a cooking contest. Defying expectations, Rabbit proved to be the better cook with the sweeter food - for which the Hummingbird unceremoniously shot him dead. I don't usually encounter hostile hummingbirds in stories...
The most intriguing story in the collection was The horse that rescues - a tale about a girl who marries a man with golden teeth who turns out to be the Devil (duh), and ends up being rescued by the ugly yellow horse her father gave her. The horse takes her to another country, gets her a job as governor, and even takes her home in the end.

There were two resident tricksters, Anansi and Brer Rabbit, with all the mandatory trappings of tricksterhood, including swapped punishment, tricked horses, and tar babies (to which this time not only Anansi got stuck, but also his wife). There were also popular fairy tales such as Cinderella (whom her stepmother kept in an over, and a friendly parrot told the prince where to find her), Little Red (who got devoured by a giant dressed as grandma, end of story), and Bluebeard.
Of course there was no collection without races: My favorite this time was Cat and Turtle competing for a girl's hand in marriage. Turtle swam to be faster, but Cat hitched a ride on his shell unnoticed, and jumped to the shore first. Still, the girl wanted to marry Turtle, so Cat flipped him on his back to see how helpless he was...

Where to next?
We are moving on to the Greater Antilles next week! Starting with the Dominican Republic.

Friday, July 14, 2017

MythOff Budapest 2017 - Sun, Moon, and Stars

There is no summer without MythOff in Budapest! It was Szilvia's idea to pick the theme of Sun, Moon, and Stars, in honor of this summer's upcoming solar eclipse (and the lucky people who will get to see it). Everyone really liked the suggestion, so the agreed to choose our myths accordingly.
We made some good choices.
Once again, we outgrew our venue, so this time we performed at the RS9 theater; a space of almost 100 seats, which we managed to fill to capacity! (We would like to take this time to thank our wonderful, loyal, and ever-growing audience). Behind the emcee's microphone we had Varga-Fogarasi Szilvia, who did not only suggest the theme, but also took care of the music, the prizes, the announcements, and some fiery spectacles at the end of the show.
The myths and tellers were as follows:
(Watch the videos by clicking on the names!)

Round one: Lights in the night sky
Lovranits Júlia opened the evening by telling us a myth from the Philippines about the birth of the Moon. In it, the Sun demanded a princess for a wife; the girl, defying her protective father, rose up to the sky to light up the night for the people she loved.

Next we had Hajós Erika telling the heavy yet beautiful Greek myth of Callisto and Arcas (the Big Bear and the Little Bear) - she talked with grace and empathy about Zeus' violence, Hera's vengeance, and all the topics this story tend to bring up.
Voting question: If Hera went hunting, and her prey was defended by the kind-hearted Sulamyn, who would win the confrontation?
The winner: Greece

Round two: Sunrise 

This round was all about the Sun. Bumberák Maja told the Japanese myth of the goddess Amaterasu, how she hid herself from the world, and how she was lured out of her cave by the goddess of happiness and a mirror. Her telling was graceful and poetic, and showed some of the many meanings and layers of this important story.
She was followed by Gregus László, who brought is the Chinese myth of Yi the Heavenly Archer, who shot down nine of the ten suns in the sky to save the earth from being scorched to ashes.
(I blogged about this epic earlier)
Voting question: If you had to light up a storytelling event, what would you rather use - the chariot of the ten suns, or Amaterasu's mirror?
The winner: Japan

Round three: Lucky stars

In this round, the storytellers drew cultures (or cultural regions) from a hat, and they had to find their sun-moon-star myths accordingly.
Yours truly had the luck of pulling South Africa as a region. I spent a couple of weeks reading myths and folktales from various South African cultures, especially from the San and Khoikhoi peoples. In the end, I settled for a KhoiKhoi story called Windbird and the Sun - it is a tale about a girl who was loved by the Sun and the Wind and who loved colors, so both of them tried to make the world as colorful for her as they could.
(Video here, original source here, picture book here, I got my mythical background information here and here, among other sources)
The evening concluded with Nagy Enikő, who brought us some Hindu myths about the Pleiades, Mars, and the birth of Kartikeya, the god of war. Enikő is an elegant teller, who told us the stories with grace and wonder.
Voting question: If someone wanted to start a new fashion trend, should it be based on the colors of the Khoikhoi myth, or the sparks and lights of the Hindu myth?
The winner: Khoikhoi mythology

All in all, we had a great lineup of diverse stories, and a lovely audience that supported us, voted, and asked many questions about mythology. MythOff, once again, was a special experience.

We will do it again soon!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Six little pigs and a lion (Following folktales around the world 33. - Antigua and Barbuda)

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.
Sadly, the book contains no tales from Barbuda, but it has eighteen of them from Antigua, all in English (although in such a heavy dialect transcribed phonetically that I had some trouble sounding it out). The tales were collected from four different storytellers, the youngest of whom was only noted as "a boy of fifteen."


I found a very neat little pourquoi tale about why chickens lift their heads while drinking. According to the story, during a drought in the past God only allowed one mouthful of water to each animal - so chickens still drink and then look up saying "it was only one mouthful!" (multiple times...).

I found yet another tale about a girl marrying the Devil (or in this case, a snake) - she was rescued by her brother, who was an "old witch" of some sort. In a "silent princess" story, a prince pretended to be dead to make the girl speak, and in the local version of the Three Little Pigs, there were no less than six pigs, with houses made of shingles, bricks, iron, copper (?), trash, and stone (iron won, btw.). There was also a fun guessing-the-name tale, which beat Rumpelstiltskin in sheer length by calling the old woman Paleewashreerahlickereewah...
Resident trickster is still Anansi.

Where to next?
To Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The girl who lived to dance (Following folktales around the world 32. - Dominica)

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 chapter for Dominica contained more than a hundred stories, collected from twenty-three tellers - but most of them were in French, so I only skimmed them with the best of my wobbly knowledge. Fortunately, enough were in English to provide a glimpse into a wonderfully rich oral tradition.


I found The girl who lived to dance very interesting, even though it was not a happy story. A dance-loving girl was lured away at night from home by the sound of distant drumming by the devil. On the one hand, the moral seems obvious - but on the other hand, I suspect there is more to the cultural background of this story in the Caribbean context than "don't go out at night"...
I found one of the little anecdotes very amusing: An old woman's goat got stolen, and every time she received the sacrament from the priest, she would complain and whine about her goat. The priest finally told her to quit the complaining, but she mournfully said she could not - the priest's face reminded her too much of the goat...
Trickster made an appearance (both in storyteller and in protagonist) in the story of The frightened guest, where a cook ate the two doves meant for his employer and a guest - and in order to cover up the theft, he managed to convince the guest that the lord wanted to cut off his ears for dinner...

BonusA shout out for a wonderful storyteller from Dominica!


I am not bored yet of noting that once again, the trickster classics (e.g. the deadly rock) were featured in the collection, courtesy of the resident tricksters, Anansi and Brer Rabbit (Compére Lapin). There were also some classic fairy tale types (Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast), and some stories that are popular in the region, such as the Salted skin (in which a woman takes off her skin at night and goes around flying - until her husband finds the skin and fills it with salt and pepper, so that she can't put it back on anymore). Of the darker tales, there were various zombie and loup garou (werewolf) stories - most of them in French.

Where to next?
Antigua and Barbuda!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Trickster slays a dragon (Following folktales around the world 31. - Saint Lucia)

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.
Fir Saint Lucia, the book lists 34 tales - 10 of them in English, luckily (for me). The French texts have been written down phonetically in dialect, and my French is not that excellent... The stories were collected from fifteen different storytellers, many women among them.


There was a fascinating (and very dark) version for the Marrying the Devil tale in this books. A girl married the guy knowing that he was the devil (she was too much in love to care, she even hid the fact from his friends and brother), and then his brother ended up having to rescue her from her husband. I liked the dark details in this story. I knew it from Louisiana as Marie Jolie, but this rendition was definitely heavier on the horror.
I also liked the trickster tale where, between two times tricking Tiger, Brer Rabbit even had time to kill a dragon with nothing else but a small knife... I kinda like the idea of Trickster as the Dragon-slayer. Similarly entertaining was the anecdote about a priest who loved hot sauce, and people believed he had a sample off hellfire with him.


We are still in classic trickster territory. There was a tar baby tale, swapped executions (more than one, actually), and "trickster seeks blessing" (this time, Rabbit had to steal the golden tooth of a pregnant female gorilla to get into God's favors). There were also classic tale types like "mother killed me, father ate me" (I'm starting to wonder why the heck this type is so popular around the world), and Cricket (in which a poor man pretends to be a fortune-teller, even though he is simply very lucky). I was especially happy to find a version of the One-legged turkey - a story my grandfather used to tell me when I was little, and it can also be found in the Decameron. Some tales travel far.

Where to next?