Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Great and Powerful A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal!

This is my 6th year participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, and my 3rd year co-hosting it. It has been tons of fun every time, and I am looking forward to what 2017 will bring to the A to Z community!
It has become a tradition over the years for participants to announce their themes for the Challenge at the end of March. That day is today! I once again have a theme - and yes, it is once again storytelling-related.

*Drumroll*

My theme for the 2017 A to Z Blogging Challenge is

WTF - Weird Things in Folktales

Vegetable lambs. They are a thing.
(Check out this artist)
I got the basic idea from browsing through the Thompson Motif Index. For those of you not folkloristically inclined: The Index is a list of motifs that have been sorted and numbered by American folklorist Stith Thompson, and first published in 1955. Folktale motifs are smaller building blocks you can find in traditional tales, myths, and legends around the world; you will find such things in the book as "A1010 - Deluge" (collecting all the myths that involve a flood), or "D1065.1 - Magic boots." The numbers help folklorists find all the stories that have that same element in them, compare them to each other, and see the larger patterns in world folklore. For practicing storytellers such as myself, the Motif-index is a godsend, helping us locate stories about specific things.

Since the motifs in the book are categorized in groups from A to Z, I thought the Challenge would be the perfect excuse to browse through them, and pick out some of the most unexpected ones. Because while it is not exactly surprising to find things like "A101.1 - Supreme god as creator," one tends to run into completely out-of-the blue things as well, such as "F521.3.3.2. - Person with golden anus", or "A1319.3 - Why ear wax is inside the ear."

Our ancestors told tales about the weirdest things.

Each day of the challenge, I'll pick a motif from the Index, and bring you a folktale or myth that contains it. 
The motifs usually make a whole lot more sense in context. A descriptions that makes you go "whut now?" might be a completely common occurrence in folktales, that Thompson somehow managed to make sound strange when taken out of its element. My point, therefore, is twofold: One, to place some of the Motif Index into context, and two, to show off the stunning, amazing, endless richness of folk imagination that is rarely explored these days.

There will be...
... Poisonous eyebrows
... Assassin mice
... Thieving butterflies
... Women snacking on human nails
... lobsters mistaken for Norwegians
... Kings getting a Darwin Award for burning to death in an alcohol bath...

... and many other fascinating tidbits from around the world.

See you in April!

* * *

Don't forget to check out the other blogs participating in the Challenge! People will be posting the links to their Theme Reveal posts in the Comments section of today's post on the main blog.

My previous Challenge themes:
2012 - First year, no theme

Period is power (Following folktales around the world 17. - Paraguay)

Today I continue new 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!

It was no easy to find a collection from Paraguay. After getting two books that only talked about stories, I finally narrowed the search down to the oral tradition of one specific tribe. 


Folk literature of the Makka Indians
Johannes Wilbert and Karin Simoneau
UCLA Latin American Center Publications, 1991.

This book is one of a 24-volume series on the oral traditions of South American indigenous peoples. It collects the tales of the Makka (Maká, Macca, etc.), all collected in the 1970s when most of the informants did not speak Spanish yet. The book includes 108 folktales, myths, and legends, many of them in several versions, showcasing how the same narrative can be told differently by different storytellers (I really enjoyed this). It is a very high quality folklore publication: It has appendices, folktale motif numbers, footnotes, information about the tellers, a generous introduction, and everything a researcher could possibly need. The tales have been transcribed and translated word for word, so the text gives a glimpse of what they sounded like in live telling; they are also uncensored, which means there is a whole lot of sex and violence in them. They were quite fascinating.

Highlights

One of my favorite tales was that of a boy whom his father-in-law wanted to kill by sending him to the river infested by a giant serpent. The first couple of times friendly animals (otter, nutria) saved him, but he eventually got devoured, and spent two days fighting his way back out of the belly of the beast. When he emerged, he did not have hair or eyebrows anymore... I also liked the tale of The girl who married a tree, where a lignum vitae tree turned into a loving husband who brought a rich harvest to the people.
Rolled up armadillo
There was a whole chapter of Jaguar tales. Jaguar is not only an animal spirit, but also a shaman - and yet more often than not he was on the receiving end of some painful events. In one story, he killed Armadillo's children, for which Armadillo mother decided to take revenge. She pretended to be sick, and when they called the shaman and he leaned over her, she rolled herself up and clung to his snout through fire and water until the Jaguar dropped dead. While this ending was very satisfying, in most tales the ovenbird eventually brought the Jaguar back to life.
I loved it that the tales were full of colorful imagery. There were multiple stories explaining where the birds got their colors, and there was even a hero whose skin was made of yellow butterflies. There were also several mythical peoples, such as the fukus lei, a tribe of stick people who could easily be mistaken for firewood (Groot?...), and a group of blind men who lived on honey. The strangest creature was probably Pointed-Leg, a man who carved his tibia into a point and used it to stab unsuspecting travelers.
Say what?
Also strange, and definitely graphic, was the legend that claimed that at the beginning of time men could not have sex with women, because they had piranhas living in their vaginas. The wise shaman Hawk made the women dance until the piranhas fell out, the large ones first and then the smaller ones, until only one tiny piranha remained in each woman, gnawing at them - which is why we have periods (I can attest to the accuracy of this description). Menstruation, by the way, featured quite often into the stories; the above mentioned tribe of blind men was cured by a woman on her period, and there was also a popular legend about a woman who turned into a cannibal ogre because her husband forced her to cook food while she was on her period.

Connections

I did not expect to find a far cousin of Celtic kelpies and each uisge-s in Paraguay - and yet there was one, a water horse that dragged people into rivers and drowned them.
Once again, there was an abundance of trickster tales. The Makka's trickster is Fox, and also a person called Tip'a; the latter was not very likable, being a rapist and a murderer, and usually died at the end of the stories. Jaguar came to a similar end in a legend that reminded me of Daedalus and Icarus; he learned to fly from Vulture, but the sun melted the wax he stuck his feathers on, and Jaguar plummeted to his death.
I also encountered a legend about a star-wife; they seem to be common in American indigenous folklore, I am sure I will meet them again later on. There was also a legend about a sky-high tree that people used to climb to fish in the sky, until it was burned down. It reminded me of myths from Oceania, and so did the story of the woman who had an eel for a lover.
And finally, barely a country goes by without at least one folktale of two animals having a race, Tortoise and the Hare style. This time, it was Rhea and Tick (which would be a great title for an indie band), and the latter won.

Where to next? 
Argentina!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Myths, flowers, and an army of chinchillas (Following folktales around the world 16. - Bolivia)

Today I continue new 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!



Mitos, leyendas, y cuentos populares de Bolivia
Textos en castellano; quechua-castellano y aymara-castellano
Roberto Ágreda Maldonado (Ed.)
Grupo Editorial Kipus, 2015.

A little under 300 pages, this collection is a great introduction to the traditional stories of Bolivia (and it doesn't include nearly as much Quechua or Aymara text as suggested by the subtitle). It was created by an organization of poets and writers, and each chapter corresponds to a certain region of the country - each containing traditional stories of great variety, from indigenous myths through historical legends all the way to 20th century ghost stories. The original authors of the texts are always noted; some of the tales come from earlier written sources (some from the 19th century), but there was also at least one that came from the Internet, where someone posted stories from their grandma. It is a mixed assortment of stories, some gorgeous, and some slightly confusing, but I am very happy it exists. It even has a glossary at the end, and a handy table that explains the differences between myth, legend, and folktale.

Highlights


One of the most beautiful stories in the book was the origin legend of the kantuta flower (one of the national flowers of Bolivia). It told about the rivalry of two kings over whose star was brighter on the night sky, and how their vanity brought war to their lands. The kings, dying from battle wounds, left the war to their sons, who had to fight even though they did not want to. In the end, wounded like their fathers, the two young princes made peace on the battlefield, saving their people, and they were buried together. On their grave grew the kantuta flower, the symbol of unity.
There was a similarly beautiful myth about the birth of the chestnut tree, in which two deities wanted children, but did not know how to procreate. They observed the natural world around them and learned to make love. Their first child was the chestnut tree, and then all the other trees, until the jungle was born.
Because I have a soft spot for hummingbirds, I also loved the legend about the condor that kidnapped a wife for himself, and the hummingbird named Lorenzo who rescued her from her mountain cave. Similarly vivid and visual was the origin myth of the peanut, where a mysterious supernatural woman combed the first peanuts out of her hair to feed hungry people. In fact, there were origin legends for almost every indigenous plant in the book, from corn born from a murdered wife to potatoes born from executed lovers. Especially touching was one legend about how the Sun God gave the coca plant to indigenous people at the dawn of colonization, to ease their suffering.
Less serious and more amusing was the myth about four mountain deities competing for the love of the same woman, in which one brother sent an army of chinchillas to (literally) undermine his rival. Chinchillas were not the only native species featured either; there was also a nice little folktale about why the armadillo's armor is so uneven.
Among the historical legends, the most interesting was probably the chapter about Inca rulers playing chess. One story told about how Atahualpa, the Inca imprisoned by the Spanish conquerors, learned to play chess, and when his captors found out, he was ordered to be executed, perceived too smart to be allowed to live.
Finally, one remarkable ghost/monster story was that of the k'arisiri, a creature that hunts people at night in order to suck the grease out of their body...

Connections

I did not have to wait long to have my first encounter with the Crying Woman (the ghost of a mother walking along a river, crying for her children) on this South American journey. I suspect I'll be seeing her more later on...
Reminiscent of North American indigenous tales was the guarayo myth where two brothers (Sun and Moon) climbed up to the sky on a ladder created by shooting arrows into each other. There was also a flood myth from the chiriguana, where a boy and a girl were placed in a gourd so that they could survive. A story about raising the sky reminded me of Polynesian mythologies - in this case, earth and sky were so close to each other they sometimes smashed together, killing people. The sky was finally raised up by a giant worm named Nyucu, whom we can still see every night in the form of the Milky Way.

Where to next?
Moving on to Paraguay.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Fairy tales, Chilean style (Following folktales around the world 15. - Chile)

Today I continue new 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!

For the next 12 weeks, we will be following folktales all around South America. 


Cuentos folklóricos chilenos
Primera antología
Yolando Pino Saavedra
Editorial Universitaria, 1973.
(For non-Spanish-speakers, tales from the same collection have been published in English in Folktales of Chile)

It's a small little volume. The 25 tales have been selected from a much larger, three-volume folktale collection by the same author. This "first anthology" contains Chilean versions of fairy tale (or, rather, magic tale) types that are well-known to European readers; the local flavor mostly comes from the small details, and the language itself. The book has a list of Chilean words at the end, and also a folktale type index. If you are interested in the less Westernized, indigenous tales, I recommend reading Saavedra's other book, Cuentos Mapuches de Chile.

Highlights

My favorite was probably the Chilean take on the Twelve dancing princesses - titled The princess who went to play with a Moorish prince at the end of the world. It only had one princess, who shredded seven pairs of shoes every night on her journey. I especially liked that the tale was combined with The man in search of his luck - on her nighttime trip, the princess encountered various people who asked her questions, and she had to deliver the answers on the way back.
I also liked the take on the "hidden heart" in Body without a Soul. Here, the evil giant's soul was hidden in an egg; the egg was in a dove, the dove was in a fox, the fox was in a lion, and the lion was in a tiger that lived in a lagoon. Bonus on top of that was that the boy did not need helpful animals to get the egg - he himself turned into various creatures during the chase. Also, he rescued his own sister from the giant, and the siblings ended up ruling over the giant's wealth side by side.
Picture from here
It was fun to read the version of the Frog Princess titled The Monkey Princess. I especially loved the part where a wandering priest was asked to marry the prince to the monkey (before she turned back to human), and the priest thought to himself: "What a pity that a young man like that could not find anyone to marry but this animal!... But God knows what His plan is for them. Let them get married." Amen.
In the tale of The bull with the golden horns (a.k.a. Beauty and the Beast), the girl searching for her husband stopped in the houses of various winds (and their mothers) to ask for directions. I had to look up the names, because they were typical Chilean concepts. In most European folktales, you only visit The Wind - I liked the variety.
Another intriguing moment happened in the story of The three kidnapped princesses. Unlike other tales, where a prince finds oranges/apples/other fruit, and cuts them open to release the princesses inside, this one began with a king who wanted to keep his daughters safe so badly, he made an old woman turn them into oranges. Of course, the oranges were still stolen...

Connections

Technically, all twenty-five tales were versions of well-known types. I especially liked their take on Catskins, in which the girl fleeing from her evil father disguised herself by crawling inside a moving doll made of wood.
By the way, there are small deer in Chile
as well. They are called pudu.
And of course there is no folklore without a trickster. In this case, this role was filled by Deer (an unusual candidate), and several short stories were included within one longer chapter, detailing how Deer tricked Fox, Lion, and other animals. Many of the stories were familiar from other trickster traditions, such as Mouse Deer's from Indonesia. Even the notorious Tar Baby made an appearance - in this case, it was made of honey.

Where to next?
Bolivia!

Monday, February 27, 2017

The heroic frill neck lizard, and other legendary people (Following folktales around the world 14. - Australia)

Today I continue new 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!

Today, we arrive to our last stop in Australia and Oceania: Australia itself! Which means, this is also our last stop in the first complete continent of the journey! Thank you for sticking with me so far; it has been a lot of fun!
The opal that turned into fire
And other stories from the Wangkumara
Janet Mathews
Magabala, 1994.

Originally I picked this book because of the alluring title (I like shiny things), but it proved to be a great choice. Apart from the author's own collection of folklore, it also contains tales and beliefs from her grandfather-in-law, who traveled the southeast part of the continent in the 19th century, and noted many things that since have been forgotten. All the stories in the book come with notes, sources, and explanations; I only wished we would have found out more about the storytellers and their tribes (we did get a short biography of the collector). Another thing that I missed was a more detailed map and more visuals - many of the legends were so intricately tied to the landscape that it was hard to really appreciate them without seeing what they talked about. Still, the book was a fascinating read, full of vivid visual imagery.

 Highlights

The book opens with creation myths and origin legends - some of them old enough to remember the time when the ocean levels rose and cut Australia off from Southeast Asia (about 6000-8000 years ago). One of the best one told the story of how the animals - led by Koala - paddled over to Australia in a canoe that they stole from Whale while Starfish distracted him (for which Whale later flattened the poor thing).
Sandpiper (picture from here)
There were many stories that explained the appearance and behavior of various animals. One of my favorites was the one that claimed that Billidhu, the Sandpiper moves in a "dart and freeze" manner because once upon a time he was sent to spy on a lizard who know where water was hidden... Another story told about Weemulee, the Owl, whose eyes grew large because he was friends with Willanjee, the Cyclone, and he strained his eyes to try to catch a glimpse of his invisible hunting partner. Yet another legend claimed that in the beginning turtles were venomous and snakes were not, until the two tribes got together and negotiated an exchange of heads, believing that it was beneficial for both.
Animals, of course, were not the only creatures that appeared in the stories. There was, for example, a great travel-tale about a hero who crossed the lands of many strange beings - giant mosquitoes, people with emo legs (who were intrigued by human legs), and even people who had bushes growing on their back.
There was also a collection of legends about the "Hairy People", who seemed to be common in the lore of many tribes (in various sizes from tiny to gigantic, and various dispositions from man-eating to vegan). These were especially interesting to read since the Hairy People play an important role in Cleverman, a great Australian TV show based on indigenous lore that premiered this year.
Another favorite creature of mine was Gambel Gambel, the Spirit of the Bush, a female being that could create amazing illusions (colorful fungi in the shape of objects, exotic birds, ripe fruit, etc.) to lure people astray.
It was also interesting to note the stories that acknowledged European contact and its results. One of them talked about how a tribe found a colt, the first horse they had ever known, and raised it with great care and respect.

Connections

Once again, there was a myth about the journey of the soul after death. In this case, the voyage was made more difficult by hostile, fig-throwing spirits, giant parrots, and other obstacles, with which the deceased relatives and ancestors of the dead were supposed to help (if they deserved it).
The myth of how the animals stole fire reminded me of some North American indigenous legends. In this case, fire was hoarded by two old women (Rat Kangaroo and Bronzewing Pidgeon), and all the other animals danced and goofed around to entertain and distract them. Finally, Sparrowhawk managed to snatch the fire from them, and set the bush aflame.
Frill Neck Hero
The legend of Ga:ni, the heroic frill neck lizard, reminded me of flood myths around the world. In it, animal-people were stranded on an island during a flood, and they set out, one by one, carrying fire sticks, to find a distant shore. Only Ga:ni succeeded, but barely; the fire stick burned his chest, and left a mark.
There was, once again, a sky-high tree. In one story, people used it to commute up and down between earth and sky, visiting relatives that camped among the stars. In another legend, two man-eating spirit eagles lived on the tree, and they had to be defeated by two 'clever men', and the whole community acting as bait. In both cases, the tree was burned down, and the connection to the sky was lost.
There were also many tales about the stars themselves. One of them called the Pleiades Seven Sisters (much like Greek mythology), who fled to the sky from a hunter who pursued one of them with his love... (later, he ended up in the sky too, as Aldebaran).

Where to next?
Take a running leap, and go to South America! We'll continue with Chile next week, and move on up north.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Land of the Long White Cloud (Following folktales around the world 13. - New Zealand)

Today I continue new 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!

After a long voyage and many islands, today we arrive to New Zealand. 


Land of the Long White Cloud
Maori myths, tales and legends
Kiri Te Kanawa
Arcade Publishers, 1990.

This time I diverged from reading heavy folklore publications, and picked a picture book instead. I was intrigued by this volume, written by opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa who wanted to preserve the Maori legends she heard from her father and family as a child. I kept running into this book as I searched for stories, and I finally decided to read it. It was a good choice.
The volume itself is gorgeous, with full-page color illustrations. Kiri wrote down the tales as she remembered them (showing off oral tradition in action), but each one comes with a short note explaining some of the folkloric details, and how her telling might be different from the tradition. The nineteen stories are all beautifully written and exciting; so much so that I was having a really hard time trying to pick a favorite.

Highlights


There was a movie in 1914
It would be hard to list all of them. Maybe because I did not encounter many on the journey through Oceania, I was especially intrigued by the love stories - all of them came with some kind of an unexpected twist. In the legend of Putawai, a mortal girl was abducted by spirits of the Underworld; a friendly spirit (wairua) rescued and married her. Eventually, she returned to her mortal love, but she was pregnant with a spirit-child. When the child was old enough to be weaned, its father came and took it away (since spirits can't exist in the sunlight), and the girl lived happily with her mortal husband. I also loved the tale of Hinemoa and Tutanekai, where a girl swam across a lake, following the sound of her lover's flute, and then hid in some hot springs until he came and found her (and got her some clothes). One of the most interesting stories was that of Hutu and Pare, where a girl killed herself when the warrior she loved rejected her (he already had a family). The warrior, feeling sorry for her, willed his spirit to leave his body, and went to the Underworld to get her back; the best part was that they shot themselves back to the surface with a bent-down palm tree...
There were multiple stories about the "fairies" of Maori mythology, named patupaiarehe. They are described as light-skinned and light-haired; in one tale they taught people how to make a fishing net, and in another they were afraid of fire, but intrigued by the humans' jewelry. Other stories had other kinds of spirit-people, all with their unique looks and customs.
There were two monster-killing legends in the book; the monsters were called taniwha, and they resembled water-dragons. There was even a mention of warriors who were expert taniwha-hunters. One of the monsters could actually talk, and if someone scratched its back, it was even willing to negotiate - but the tales usually ended with the taniwha's death anyway.

Connections


Picture from here
It goes without saying that Maui the Trickster once again made an appearance - in four stories out of the nineteen in the book, including some of the classics such as fishing up the islands of New Zealand from the sea, or capturing the Sun (the latter done with the help of a whole lot of other people, yay teamwork!). I especially liked the story of his birth - he was raised by a foster-father, who was "both mother and father" to him, and only found his siblings and his birth-mother once he was grown up. It was a beautiful story.
Once again, we got to visit the Underworld, and see where spirits go after people die. Some residents of this world were friendly, while others were... not so much. Some of them occasionally married mortals, and/or had children with them.

All in all, it was a lovely book, with a lot of great stories. I highly recommend it.

Where to next?
Next week, we reach Australia!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Visiting the warrior goddess (Following folktales around the world 12. - Samoa)

Today I continue new 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!

Samoa was not an easy choice. The first two books I found were intriguing, but written by linguists and ethnomusicologists who collected tales on the side. I learned a lot from them, but they only had a few stories, and a whole lot of scientific text to dig through. The third one proved to be a lot more reader-friendly, so I chose that for today's post. 


Tala o le Vavau
The myths, legends, and customs of Old Samoa
C. Steubel & Bro. Herman
Polynesian Press, 1987.

This edition of the book claims that the stories had been completely re-written by Samoan scholars, which is definitely a plus (especially considering that aitu spirit tales are still grouped under "Demons"). The book is bilingual, presenting the stories in Samoan in the first half, and in English in the second. It contains 34 stories, and a sizable chunk of "customs" at the end (things such as weddings, social ranks, crime and punishment, etc.). It was a short read, but an interesting one.

Highlights


Picture from here
The legend of Nafanua, one of Samoa's most popular stories, is presented in two versions in the book. Nafanua is a war goddess, daughter of the lord of the Underworld, who is sent up to the islands to liberate a group of people living in slavery. It is a pretty epic story, going back to Nafanua's great-grandfather, and involving her killing not only her enemies, but also some of her allies in her frenzy... Nafanua, by the way, is one of the few Pacific women featured on Rejected Princesses, you can find her entry here.
One of my favorite stories in the book was the legend of Tiitii-a-Talaga. In this, Tiitii followed his father to see where he worked in secret, and found that his gardens were inside the mountain where the god of earthquakes lived. The boy fought the god, defeated him in wrestling, and then stole fire from him to give it to the people. Later, he also killed a giant octopus. Another intriguing story was that of King Mailetoa, a cannibal king who ate two strong young men a day, until his own son offered himself as sacrifice, changing the father's mind. The story reminded me of the Persian legend of Zahhak a little.
There were also smaller things I liked in the stories. For example, I really liked the goddess who picked a husband based on how well her name harmonized with his - she was called Mataiteite, and she chose a man named Matatalalo. Another fun moment was the one where a giant octopus spirit moved into a cave by a stream; when a pregnant woman went into labor while bathing, the spirit and all its companions fled, horrified by the sight of childbirth...

Connections

There was a part in the legend of Nafanua that reminded me of the myth of Eros and Psyche. A girl was visited at night by her husband, but he always left before dawn; one day she decided not to wake him, and in the morning light she saw that he had a cock's comb. The husband fled, and so did the girl.
It should be self-evident at this point that Samoa, like all the other islands, also has a legend about the origin of coconuts. In this one, a giant eel stalks a girl with his love, until he is finally captured and beheaded - and from the head grows the first coconut palm (no Maui involved this time). I also found a version of the popular story of the origin of the kava plant, in which people recognize the effects of kava by watching a rat chew on its roots and get drunk. And, of course, this collection, like most others from Oceania, contained a legend about where people's spirits travel after death.

Where to next?
Next week we arrive to New Zealand!