Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tricksters and fairy tales (Following folktales around the world 22. - Ecuador)

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!

Cuentos folklóricos de la costa del Ecuador
26 registros de la tradición oral ecuatoriana
Paulo de Carvalho-Neto
Instituto Panamericano de Geografía e Historia, 1976.

This book was not an easy read, and took me forever to get through. It is a folklore collection, which means it comes with notes on tale types - but it also means that the stories have been transcribed from the oral telling word for word, including repeated fillers such as "said" and "then," and that many words were written down phonetically, missing parts or letters. My Spanish struggled to keep up with the omissions, and I had to sound a lot of the paragraphs out loud. I realize that this was supposed to give us a better understanding of what these stories sounded like when told - but it also made reading them a very painful process.
The stories themselves were mostly local versions of well-known types. They had some fascinating details, but none of them really captivated me as a whole.


I loved the version of the Dragonslayer folktale type (here named The orphan boy) where the hero was helped by three hounds, who were really angels in disguise, named Santa María, Ligero (Light) and Pesado (Heavy). I also enjoyed The one-eyed king as the Moorish queen, where an old king lost an eye to the queen in battle, and his three sons set out to bring it back (later turned out the queen had been holding the eyeball in her mouth...). The quest was interwoven with the Animal Bride tale type, where the youngest prince married a toad, and she helped him bring the eye back. It was extra fun that the older brothers experimented with getting away with fake eyes, and the king did not even notice that he had been wearing the eye of a cat until his youngest returned...
It was also interesting to see a novel solution to the "Four Skillful Brothers" story. Here, four brothers - a thief, a musician, a marksman, and a carpenter - rescued a princess, and then could not decide who should marry her as a reward. In the end, they gave her as a wife to their father - since it had been the father that helped them start out in learning their professions...


Most tales in the book were Ecuadorian versions of well-known folktale types such as the Three kidnapped princesses (Juan del Oso, Mama Leche la Burra), or the Magic Flight (Bella Flor Blanca).
There were some trickster tales with African connections: Tío Conejo asking God to be large and menacing fell into the "Trickster asks for endowments" story type. God gave the rabbit all kinds of impossible tasks that Tío Conejo fulfilled easily - so well, in fact, that God began to worry what would happen if the wily little creature was also large and strong. Therefore, he only made the ears bigger. Tío Conejo had some classic adventures in these tales (including an encounter with the infamous Tar Doll). And while the rabbit had African connections, from Europe we had Pedro the trickster visiting - in this case, his last name was Imala (as opposed to Urdemalas or Malasartes, see earlier).
And finally, there is no folktale collection without animals running a race. This time it was Toad vs. Deer, and the Toad (family) won.

Where to next?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

S139. Brains of enemies fashioned into balls (as trophies for play) (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

S in the Motif Index stands for Unnatural Cruelty (it says a lot about traditional stories that this one needed its own category...). It includes things such as "S10. - Cruel parents," "S20. - Cruel children and grandchildren," and of course the all-time classic: "S31. - Cruel stepmother." Also, this:

S139. Brains of enemies fashioned into balls (as trophies for play) 

This is actually a pretty well known Irish legend, but it is worth repeating. 

The story starts with Mes Gegra, the king of Leinster, who is killed in single combat, and his brains are fashioned into a hard little ball with lime. (That'd the motif, everyone can go home now.)
The ball is kept as a trophy by the King of Ulster, Conchobar Mac Nessa. He likes to take it out sometimes to show it off. One day, the brain-ball-thingy is stolen by Cet, a notorious troublemaker from Connaught, who decides to save it for killing Conchobar. Every time there is a fight between Ulster and Connaught, Cet is there with the little brain-ball, until finally one day he gets a clean shot at the King of Ulster. He puts the brain-ball into a sling, and hits Conchobar right in the forehead.

And this is how Conchobar died.

Just kidding. He survived the shot, even thought two-thirds of the ball went into his own skull. The physician that examined him concluded that he would die if the ball is taken out, but he would live if it was left in there. Conchobar was keen on the latter, so they stitched the skin over the brain-ball with golden thread, and Conchobar went on living for another seven years. The physician also warned him not to ride a horse, lie with a woman, run, eat too much, or get angry, so those seven years were probably not much fun for him.
Eventually one day the sky darkened and the earth trembled. Conchobar asked his druids what was going on, and he was told that Christ, the son of God, had been crucified. Conchobar got so angry over the news, and so indignant about Jesus' death, than the brain-ball flew out of his skull, and he dropped dead. It's all good, though; according to some versions of the legend, the blood flowing from his forehead qualified as a baptism, as he was one of two people who believed in God in Ireland before the arrival of Christianity.

(Read the story here.)

Picture from here

S110.3. Princess builds tower of skulls of unsuccessful suitors
S110.3.1. Princess makes necklace of heads of unsuccessful suitors
S111.2. Murder with poisoned lace
S111.7. Murder with poisoned slippers
S111.9. Murder by placing a poisoned fingernail on step
S115.3. Murder by piercing with pins and needles
S139.5. Murder by cutting off uvula
S143.2.1. Tortoise placed in tall tree and left
S263.1. Highest ranking man in land to be sacrificed for good crops
S268.2. Son sold for transfusion of blood to sick king
S326.1. Disobedient child burned
S461. Tale-bearer unjustly drowned for lack of proof of accusation

Friday, April 21, 2017

R9.1.2. Sun and Moon captured by creditor, thus causing eclipse (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

R in the Motif index is for Captives and Fugitives - including such folktale staples as "R11.1. -  Princess (maiden) abducted by monster," "R11.2.1. - Devil carries off wicked people," and of course "R111.1.3. - Rescue of princess (maiden) from dragon."

R9.1.2. Sun and Moon captured by creditor, thus causing eclipse

This story was collected from the Didayi people in Orissa, India.

The whole thing starts with the wedding of the Sun and the Moon, arranged by Rumrok, the supreme god. Platters were made of leaves for the wedding feast, but the last platter needed one more bamboo pin. Rumrok borrowed one from a merchant, and the wedding was duly celebrated.
After the wedding, Rumrok had a quarrel with the Sun, and went to live separately. Some time later, the merchant showed up, asking for the return of the bamboo pin, but Rumrok sent him to the Sun, since he was now the head of the house. The Sun returned the pin, but the merchant did not accept it - saying that with interest, the Sun now owed him one lakh (one hundred thousand) pins. The Sun could not pay, so he sent the merchant away.
Years passed by, and the merchant kept showing up; the Sun kept hiding from his creditor. One day the merchant threatened him, saying he would take his wife the Moon as payment. So ever since then, whenever the merchant shows up to collect their debt, the Sun and the Moon hide in their house, only leaving a crack in the door so they can peek out and see when the debtor is gone...

(Read the story here. Pg. 52)

R5.1. Enemy host imprisoned by earthen walls thrown up by hero’s chariot wheels
R7. Men held captive in the Land of Women
R9.2. Grain and pulse in human form imprisoned by wicked king
R9.5. Cow imprisoned until it promises not to eat men
R9.6. King imprisons all living creatures
R13.1.3. Rhinoceros carries off man
R13.1.8. Abduction by rabbit
R13.2.3. Abduction by cat
R33. Fairy physician abducted to heal wounded mortals.
R115. King transformed to parrot frees captured parrots
R121.4. Ants carry silk threads to prisoner, who makes rope and escapes
R121.10. With her teeth woman files away chain tying up husband
R169.3. Boy saved by werwolf
R212.1.2. Captive buried alive to his neck fastens his teeth on jackal that comes to eat him and companions
R351.1. Milk drops from woman’s breast on tiger‘s leg and reveals her hiding place in tree

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Q551.1. Undutiful son punished by toad clinging to face (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Q in the Motif Index stands for Rewards and Punishments. You encounter some fairly common folktale elements in it such as "Q112. - Half of kingdom as reward", or "Q45. - Hospitality rewarded." This section also lists all kinds of horrible executions and punishments (which are also a folklore staple), including:

Q551.1. Undutiful son punished by toad clinging to face 

This very popular medieval anecdote, known from French, German, and English sources, tells of a son who is too gluttonous and stingy to share his meal with his own mother or father. 
According to the story, the son of a wealth family inherits all his money and properties from his parents - and yet when one of them pays him a visit, the young man hides the meat / roast chicken / other delicacies away in a box, and lies to them, saying he does not have any food to share. After driving the parent away, the son returns to the meal - only to find a toad (or sometimes two toads) sitting on it. The toad launches itself at the son's face and latches on, impossible to remove (and, in some cases, blocking his mouth so he cannot eat). The sinner then goes to the bishop /archbishop / other church person for penance, and is paraded around as a cautionary tale against gluttony and for the importance of filial duties.

Bring this up to your kids next time they don't want to share the Halloween candy.

(Read about this story here, here, here, or here.)

Q42.6. Reward for tearing out eye when demanded
Q57.1. Reward for shielding Mary in childbirth from gaze of onlookers
Q88.1. Fra Lippo Lippi is freed by Moors because of his greatness as a painter
Q115.2. King promises daughter she may marry anyone she desires
Q151.2. Death passes by man who fed his stepmother
Q211.7. Punishment for splitting head and eating man‘s brains
Q265.2.1. Blotches on face of satirist (judge) as punishment for wrongful satire (judgment)
Q281.3. Woman eats flesh and leaves cat only bones of fish cat has caught for them. Cursed by cat
Q291.1. St. Peter’s mother dropped from heaven because of hardheartedness
Q415.2. Mice devour hard-hearted man
Q451.0.3. Strong girl breaks impudent suitor‘s right hand and left foot
Q497.1. Moustache pulled out as punishment
Q499.8. Humiliating penance: king to rub nose five times on red hot griddle
Q551.1.1. Betel-nut grows upon a person‘s knee as a punishment
Q551.8.4. Man’s eye bursts forth when he urges saint to marry
Q589.2. Man goes forth naked: cursed with nakedness throughout life

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

P327. Barmecide feast (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

P in the Motif Index stands for Society, and the people in it: Kings and Queens and where they come from; artisans, peasants, people of the church - as well as families ("P233.8. - Prodigal son returns"). It also includes law, military affairs, hospitality, things that go with dealing with other people ("P361. - Faithful servant"). The story I found the most entertaining was

P327. Barmecide feast 

On the thirty-first of the Thousand and One Nights, a barber tells a tale about his past adventures (The barber's tale of himself).

The story begins in Baghdad, where ten highway robbers had been arrested, and they are being taken to the Caliph for judgment. They are being embarked on a boat just when the Barber walks up, and seeing the ten men getting the boat, he immediately jumps into the conclusion that they must be going to a wedding feast. Not wanting to miss out (FOMO), he gets in the boat with them.

The boat takes the prisoners to the opposite bank of the river, where they are chained - the Barber along with them. He is too polite to complain, and never says a word. The robbers are taken to the Caliph, who orders them to be beheaded. The executioner goes down the line with a sword, striking heads off... until only the Barber remains.
Here is where things get a little confusing. The Caliph demands to know why the executioner only killed nine of the prisoners. The executioner swears up and down that he cut ten heads off, but the Caliph points out that one man is still alive, therefore they must have miscounted. In the end, they count the heads again, and turns out that ten are dead, and the Barber makes eleven. At this point a very confused Caliph asks the Barber who he is, and just what on earth he is doing in the lineup. The Barber very politely explains what happened, how he misunderstood a situation, but he did not want to make a fuss about it. 
The Caliph falls over laughing.

(Read the story here.)

Now, "Barmecide" according to the dictionary means "illusory or imaginary." The term comes from the Arabian Nights itself - and it is directly related to our Barber above. The Barber tells the Caliph stories about his brothers. The sixth brother, impoverished, seeks charity at the house of the Barmecides, a noble family famous for its generosity. The old Barmecide pretends to serve him food and drinks - but it is all just play. Still, the beggar goes through the motions, even pretending to get drunk from the invisible wine. The lord of the house is so pleased with his miming capabilities that he keeps him around as a guest for twenty years.

P11.0.1. Prophecy that brother who first kisses saint will be king
P14.6. King‘s (prince’s) sulking chamber. He sulks here until his wishes are carried out
P14.7. None permitted to enter hall of king unless he possesses an art
P15.4. King is cursed by disguised dwarf-smiths whose work he criticised
P19.3. King must procure whatever visiting poets ask, or suffer from their satire
P192.4. Fool can live under water
P214. Wife drinks blood of slain husband
P233.3. Berserks scold their father who apparently without reason called their adversary invincible
P311.2. Flower-friendship
P341. Teacher dies of pride over success of pupil
P412.3. Hero as rabbit-herd
P427. Poets and fools closely allied.
P641. Injured husband will not kill a naked man.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Oil sold to iguana (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Once again, there is no O in the Motif Index (probably because it looks too much like a zero). So I just searched for random terms that begin with O in the Motif Index, and came up with this gem:

J1852.1.2 Oil sold to iguana

This is a folktale from the Shan people in Southeast Asia, titled The Poor Man.

The tale tells about a poor man who wants to make some money. He hears about a city where there is a shortage of oil, so he borrows money from his friends, buys two gourds of oil, and sets out to sell it. On the way to the city he sees an iguana; the iguana sees him too and runs. The man chases the iguana, hoping to catch it for dinner, but the lizard disappears in a hole in the ground. The man starts digging - and lo and behold, finds three pots full of gold, and three pots full of silver. He tosses the gourds of oil away, takes the six pots, and sets out to the city.
When he gets to the marketplace, he wants to walk around, but the pots are very heavy. He goes to a house, and asks the people who live there to watch his pots, saying "there is only a little oil in them." He spends the day strolling around the market, enjoying the thought of being rich... and by the evening, he completely forgets which house he left the pots in. So he goes from door to door, asking for his pots of oil, but everyone denies having them.
Disappointed and tired, the poor man goes back to the hole of the iguana, hoping to find more gold. What he does find, however, is a day's wages in coin, and a written note: "The owner of the gold and silver thanks you for carrying his pots to the city."
The poor man goes home and remains poor.

(Read the story here.)

I have so many questions. Who was the owner of the pots? Was it the guy the poor men left the pots with? Was it someone else? Was it the iguana?!?!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

N339.5. Uxorious king is burned to death while taking an alcohol bath (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

N in the Motif Index stands for Chance and Fate. It includes wagers and gambling ("N2.5. - Whole kingdom as wager"), treasure troves, divine helpers... and what I personally like to call the Folktale Darwin Awards. Behold an example:

N339.5. Uxorious king is burned to death while taking an alcohol bath 

For those of you like me, who never heard the word before: Uxorious means "having or showing an excessive or submissive fondness for one's wife." Which is totally NOT what is happening in this story. 

Although it is marked as a folktale motif, this story comes from the Novellas of Matteo Bandello, a 16th century Italian writer. His stories, just like other books of novellas such as the Decameron, are based on older tale types, anecdotes, and other folk genres. In this case, a very popular medieval legend about the death of Charles II of Navarre.

Bandello paints a none-too-kind picture of King Charles. He claims that he was a "man of very ill fashions and very cruel" - sins including siding with the English against the French, rebelling against the dauphin Charles (later Charles V) and killing many Parisians, sacking and burning towns and slaughtering people, ruling Navarre in terror by massacring men and ravishing women, and beheading envoys who were pleading with him to lower taxes. So, not a nice person.

Of course there is a painting
Legend says that Charles was "very old and decrepit", but still lustful and "never without a concubine." Shortly before his death he lusted after a woman of twenty-two years, and after a hard day of beheading envoys, he wanted to sleep with her - but alas, he "felt himself wax very feeble." In order to get his strength back up, he had himself wrapped in sheets soaked in spirits of wine (alcohol), and stood in a room, surrounded by copper vessels filled with red-hot coals. On top of this brilliant idea, he ordered his servants to blow on the coals with bellows, to keep them burning. As one would expect, sparks flew from the fire, alighted on the king, and promptly burned him to a crisp in his alcohol-soaked cocoon.

Bandello labels this as "an express judgment from God."
I'm surprised we have not seen this on Game of Thrones yet.

(Read the story here.)

N2.3.5. Intestines wagered
N7. Trained rat upsets pieces in gambling game: trained (or transformed) cat chases it away
N56. Wager: woman to turn somersault in middle of public square
N119.1. Dog tries to catch its fate in its own tail
N125.2. Luck determined by whether a crooked-necked demigod is looking at one
N211.2. Unavailing attempt to get rid of slippers; they always return
N228. Leopard tied in bag in water floats to shore and finds a mate
N271.9. Tree follows murderer
N314. Persons fall asleep on rock, which magically shoots upward
N318.2. Princess accidentally elopes with wrong man
N334.3. Practical joker asks doctor to castrate him
N335.2.1. Sick queen lying under red satin carried off by bird who thinks it is red meat
N340.3. Woman wrongly condemned for drunkenness when seen to take one drink
N383.1. Man falls dead when he realizes that he has been riding over frozen sea
N542.2. Treasure to be found when three-legged cat shrieks over the burial place
N684. Naked soldier becomes general