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.

Highlights

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.

Connections


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.

 Highlights
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.

Connections
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."

Highlights

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...).

Connections
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.

Highlights


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!

Connections

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!