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?

Monday, June 19, 2017

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

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

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

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

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

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


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


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

Where to next?
Saint Lucia!

Monday, June 12, 2017

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

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

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

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


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

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


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

Monday, June 5, 2017

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

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

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

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


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


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

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

Thursday, June 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

Wise crabs, sweet crabs, grumpy crabs (Following folktales around the world 27. - Trinidad and Tobago)

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 begin our Caribbean cruise!

Trinidad and Tobago Folk Tales
Eaulin Ashtine
U.W.I. Extra-Mural Department, 1966.

The book contains nine folktales, all collected and re-told by a local author who wanted to help the children of Trinidad and Tobago become familiar with the stories of their own cultural tradition, rather than just reading fairy tales from Europe. The tales show a lot of similarities with African and South American traditions, and even some European connections, reflecting the cultural diversity of the islands. They were a very enjoyable read, and it clearly shows that they would be even more entertaining in spoken word.

Frigate bird
One of my favorite tales in the book was How Pelican got his beak. It featured several local birds such as the Booby, the Frigate Bird, and of course the Pelican, and described how a group of them managed to trick the haughty Frigate Bird into giving up his very practical beak to Pelican. (It was good to see a frigate bird again, after several tales about them from Oceania).
The powerful story of Young Nelson and Old Nelson was about a great old bull who ruled the pastures in tyranny, killing all young bull calves. The forest animals helped a pregnant cow get away, so that a young bull could grow up, and take revenge on the tyrant.
On a lighter note, How Agouti lost its tale told about Dog who tried to infiltrate a party reserved for horned animals only (by wearing fake horns), and how he was outed by Agouti.


How Tortoise's shell was cracked was familiar from some South American cultures. It featured Tortoise who wanted to be a bird, and flew up to the sky wearing feathers, to join a party - but was kicked out when he proved to be rude and greedy. In Madam Crab loses her head, an old witch captured a girl, and would only let her go if she guessed her name - which she did, with the help of Old Madam Crab (similar to the Rumpelstiltskin stories, except the name here was En-Bois-Chinan).
Crabs also featured into my favorite story from the book, How crab's shell got cracked. This was basically a Frau Holle story, except instead of girls there was a kind crab (Mamselle Sweet) and an unkind crab (Mamselle Sour). I really loved this one.
The local trickster is Compare Rabbit, who usually tricks Compare Tigercat. In one story, he managed to make Tiger believe that he could wither animals simply by looking at them. Talk about a superpower.

Where to next?
To Grenada! (Which is not the same as Granada, and also not the same as St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which will be the next stop after)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Enter Anansi! (Following folktales around the world 26. - Suriname)

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's Anansi time!!!

Suriname folk-lore
Melville J. Herskovits - Frances S. Herskovits
Ams Press, 1969.

This book was first published in 1936, and it definitely carries the signs of its time ("Notes on the culture of the Paramaribo Negroes"). It is quite heavy, being almost 800 pages long. The upside is that it is a folklore publication, which managed to dodge the judgmental tone, reporting facts and observations instead, about the culture, beliefs, and customs of the black population (of African descent) of Paramaribo and its region. The folktale chapter contains almost 150 stories in mirror translation, along with ample footnotes (including sources for other variations of each tale), an introduction to the storytellers, and multiple versions of certain stories collected and published side by side.
The introduction chapter on folklore and folk belief was just as fascinating. There was an entire section on the meanings of head kerchiefs tied in different ways, and the stories they told by each variation. I also read about such intriguing things as the mati (a birthday party organized to celebrate lesbian relationships), the trefu (individual food-related taboos that people inherited from their parents), the various souls each person has, and the personal gods that regulated their life and their worship (which, interestingly, could be of African descent, but also local indigenous gods). In the back of the book, there are chapters of dreams, riddles, sayings, and musical notes for the songs inserted into the folktales.


With this book, we arrive to the home turf of Anansi the Spider! More than half of the tales were Anansi stories, and the entire folktale chapter was traditionally labeled as Anansi-tori (Anansi stories), a common name for tales in general.
I was very excited to find several Anansi stories that I have not encountered before. For example, Lies hurt more than a wound featured Anansi proving the title proverb by (quite literally) smearing a king's reputation. In Monkey's urine is sweet, he tricked Tiger into drinking monkey pee repeatedly (poor monkey did not fare well in the process). There was a fun story where Anansi competed in eating hot peppers to win a princess' hand, and another one where his wife enchanted kitchenware so that it would run away from her greedy husband. I especially loved the story where Anansi pretended to be American, putting on a hilarious fake accent, in order to be welcomed as a special guest to a feast. In another story, he pretended to be an angel. Spider-angels for the win.
If course there were also cool stories that did not feature Anansi. For example, in Plot to Cook Goat, Tiger and Dog captured a goat for dinner - but Dog felt sorry for it, and helped it get away. In Animal Gratitude and Human Duplicity, a hunter rescued a Rat, a Snake, and a Human Being. Guess which one betrayed him, and who saved him, in the end...


Orlando Jones as (an amazing) Anansi
in Starz's new American Gods show
Most of the well-known, classic trickster tales appeared in the book, many of them in several variations. Of course we had the Tar Baby, the tug-o-war between Elephant and Whale, the Magic Rock, Riding Tiger and Escape by Switching Places (see also: Br'er Rabbit in the Uncle Remus tales), Eating Tiger's intestines (as opposed to balls or tail, in other versions), and the Feast of Anansi and Tortoise, where they mutually tricked each other.
Of course, once again, we had a race-running tale (Tortoise vs Deer), and also the Contest of the Birds about who can fly the highest (won by Hummingbird hitching a ride on Eagle's back). There was also a version of King Midas' ears, featuring Anansi and the unusual beard of a Pharaoh, and a version of the fairy tale known as Filomena from Haiti, where the cruelty of a stepmother comes back to harm her own children.
The second half of the tale collection featured a lot of classic fairy tale types. I found a close variation on the story that I know as Marie Jolie from J. J. Reneaux's Cajun folktales. There were also local variants for Cinderella, the Magic Flight, the Extraordinary Companions, Beauty and the Beast, Rumpelstiltskin (Akantiudu), the Marks of the Princess, and even the tale I know as the Canary Prince from Italy.

Where to next?
Next week, we are entering the Caribbean! Starting with Trinidad and Tobago.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Speak Story Series, Shepherdstown, WV

I could not have asked for a more perfect goodbye performance for my American experience.

Four days before leaving the USA, and after six years spent studying, traveling, and performing in this vast and fascinating country, I was invited to tell stories in the Speak Story Series of Shepherdstown, WV, courtesy of Adam Booth. I said yes, and I am glad I did. As far as gigs go, this one was pretty close to ideal.

I flew to West Virginia from Ohio; Adam drove me from the Baltimore airport to Shepherdstown. It was a beautiful drive, and I happily immersed myself one last time in Appalachia. Shepherdstown itself is an enchanting place, with a pretty, historic main street, a university, good food, and lots of extremely friendly people. They are used to storytellers visiting, and that makes them great hosts - and an even better audience.

Both of my performances happened on the same day. In the morning I visited the Morgan Academy, a small local school where seventy children, from the ages of five to fourteen, piled into the building's main room to hear my stories. It was an interesting system for a performance: After the first story, the little ones left, and after the second, the next youngest group left too, until I was left with the older kids, whose attention span was longer. I told Hungarian folktales - Princess Hide-and-Seek, Kingdoms of Ice and Fire, Bird with the beautiful voice - because they are fit for wider age groups (for the last one, I asked if a scary story was okay, to which they all yelled YEEES!). The kids had a lot of great questions, and seemed to enjoy the stories; the biggest compliment, however, was that they asked for an encore. One little girl wanted to know what the most popular folktale was in Hungary, and after I tried to shorthand-explain Son of the White Horse, I eventually just asked if they wanted to hear it. The answer was a resounding YES, so I told a fourth story, and had great fun with it. Bonus point: This folktale type also exists as an Appalachian Jack tale. I was told by the teachers that the kids have never asked for an extra story before. This is the best kind of compliment.
(I also loved that the school had its own ducklings and chickens, hatched and raised by the students right there in the hallway.)

The evening concert took place on a theater stage downtown, and was attended by more than a hundred people. I was happy to discover that there were several people in the audience who were Hungarian, or of Hungarian descent. It is a treat to be far away from home, and yet telling to people who have a personal connection to the culture I come from. My set consisted of all Hungarian folktales - stories from my upcoming book, Dancing on Blades, told a hundred years ago by Transcarpathian storyteller Pályuk Anna. I selected my favorites. I told Three princesses and a ring, which is a funny and lovely tale about a king who is too willing to give his daughters away for treasure; then I told the Cheerful Prince, which was Anica's kinder, more feminist telling of Rumpelstiltskin (with a good mother-in-law). Next, I decided to tell Mistress Tuberose, because my hosts told me they had an upcoming Garden Tour event, and I assumed I had a audience of gardeners. I did. The story worked like a charm, and at the moment where the cruel father tears up the flowers his daughter has planted, the entire audience gasped in horror as one.
I ended my set with Pályuk's version of The twelve dancing princesses. It is my favorite telling of that tale, and one that is kinder to the princesses than all others I have read. When I have time to tell it fully and comfortably, it is a fantastic experience.
This audience also had a lot of questions. I spend almost another half an hour on stage, answering them one by one; once they ran out, and I was presented a gift basket by the organizers, I still stayed for a long time, signing books and talking to friendly, curious people.

The trip only took three days, but I'll treasure the memory for a long time. I hope I will be back one day, and visit Shepherdstown again. Every storyteller dreams of performances like this.