Monday, May 9, 2022

Brave girls and great loves (Folktales of Chinese minorities 21. - Kam/Dong)

As a sequel to the Following folktales around the world reading challenge, I decided to start reading minority and indigenous folktales. First up are the minority peoples who live in China. You can find previous posts here, and you can follow the challenge on Facebook here.

I gathered the stories of the Kam people (officially called Dong in China) from various books - herehere, here and here. I managed to find a total of eight folktales. The Kam are an ethnic minority numbering close to three million people in Southern China and in Vietnam. They are known for their beautiful folk songs and embroidery. You can read more about their culture here.


The tale of the Long Haired Girl was a lovely story about a girl who discovered a hidden spring and saved her people from drought. A monster wanted to punish her for disclosing the secret of the spring, but an old man helped create a statue that looked just like her, and the monster punished the statue instead. (This story appears in another collection as well.)

The story of the two brothers reached a sad end. The elder brother gave all the fish he caught to his little brother, and only kept the heads for himself. A mean neighbor told the younger boy that the heads were the best part, and he got so upset that he pushed his brother into the river. Once he found out the truth, he turned into an egret, and he has been calling his brother ever since. Another sad story was that of Ding Lang and the Dragon Princess; the girl brought him good fortune and prosperity, but he chased her away for not giving birth to children - and she took the luck with her.

The story of Suo Lao is one of the famous Kam love songs. A girl was not allowed to marry the man she loved, and she died of heartbreak. Another girl, Shu Mei, managed to find a happier ending: while a jealous man tried to separate her from her beloved (with whom she stayed in contact from a distance with the help of a magic scarf), in the end they found their way back together, and the troublemaker turned into a crow.


The Kam tradition also had a myth about saving the sun, and an especially beautiful one too! A demon hid the sun underground, and two siblings, brother and sister, set out to rescue it. The girl found it and tied a rope around it, and the boy pulled it back to the sky. The girl, sadly, was killed by the demon - from her blood came sunflowers.

The story of the stonecutter was familiar: a man wanted to turn into something stronger, and each time a fairy fulfilled his wish. He became a rich merchant, then an official, then a Kam warrior (and thus stronger than the Han Chinese), then sun, cloud, wind, and stone, until he returned to his old self. The story of the older brother who neglected his siblings was also familiar - his wife pretended that he'd killed a man, and only the siblings showed up to help bury the body. Go figure.

Who is next?

The Hezhe/Nanai people!

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

White dragon, golden frog (Folktales of Chinese Minorities 20. - Tu/Monguor)

As a sequel to the Following folktales around the world reading challenge, I decided to start reading minority and indigenous folktales. First up are the minority peoples who live in China. You can find previous posts here, and you can follow the challenge on Facebook here.

China's Monguor minority
Ethnography and folktales
Kevin Stuart & Limusishiden
Sino-Platonic Papers, 1994.

The Tu/Monguor are a Mongolic ethnic group with strong cultural ties to Tibet. They number about one hundred thousand people. The book contains 94 folktales, translated from written and oral sources.
In the first part of the book we get a lot of information on the traditional Monguor way of life. Some of this text is strongly political (e.g. "in the days before the Liberation, when people were exploited by the ruling class", etc.). Shorter chapters introduce us to beliefs, Buddhism, traditions, marriage, folk arts, history, clothing, etc. - as well as mythology, epics, and proverbs. The stories themselves are divided into two chapters: Huzhu Monguor and Minhe Monguor tales.


The myth about the origin of the five elements and the creation of the earth was interesting: the first dry land was placed on the belly of a golden frog. Another, very beautiful origin story concerned the tung tree: a boy set out to find a way to make the moon shine and give warmth every night. He acquired a potion from an old sage, which turned him into a tung tree. The oil of the tree has been used for lamps for centuries, so the boy is still bringing people light and warmth. I also loved the legend of the White Dragon Horse, who brought rain to people against the orders of the Heavenly Emperor, and was sent to hell for it. People solved an impossible riddle to win his freedom back.
One of my favorite stories was the love between Dala and Shalan Gu. A poor boy borrowed money from his rich uncle, and lied that he needed it for a wedding. When the uncle came to visit, the boy needed a fake wife, and decided to steal a goddess statue. In the darkness, however, he accidentally stole a real girl who was sleeping in the temple. They fell in love, obviously. Prime romcom material.
There was a story about three abandoned sisters that illustrated how women are just as valuable as men. The girls had been abandoned because their parents wanted sons. They found their fortune and lived happily; when later on they returned to help their old, miserable parents, they found them still mourning that they could not have sons. So the girls left them to their own devices. I also liked the story where three brothers set out to find their fortune; two became wealthy merchants, and the youngest became a musician. The daughter of the Lake King fell in love with the latter's music, and fulfilled all his wishes. The funniest moment was the proof of a perfect wife: when a piece of noodle fell onto her shoe while cooking, she gracefully flicked it back into the pot with her foot.
This book also had of the best versions I have ever read for a "language of animals" story: a young man found out, with the help of a small green stone, that an earthquake was imminent. However, people wouldn't believe him until he disclosed where he got the knowledge - and he willingly broke the secret, turning into stone to save his people.


There were several familiar story types in the book, including some unexpected complications. The Black Horse, for example, started as a "three kidnapped princesses" tale, but then turned into one of those stories where someone borrows fire from a monster. In the end, the three brothers killed the monster together. Bawo Mori was a classic Frog Husband story, but in the end we found out that if the frog skin had not been burned ahead of time, the hero would have ended social injustices... There was also a "princess in the shroud" tale, where the hero exchanged his dead father's head for useful gifts that helped him defeat serpents that crawled out of the cursed princess' nose (yup). I also found another tale about the magpie teaching birds how to build a nest, as well as a myth about a hero shooting down nine suns.

Further familiar tale types: contest of Truth and Lies (The blind healer), kidnapped princesses (The evil whirlwind), donkey, stick, tablecloth (Stick of revenge), Brementown musicians (where animals and objects helped an old woman get rid of a monster), multiple "kind and unkind" tales with boys and girls (the best one was about a girl who stole a chicken for her mother-in-law), frog husband, unjustly punished animal (here a monkey protected a baby from a wolf). I was reminded of Vasilisa the Beautiful by the story where a kind girl was helped in her journey by a doll gifted to her by her mother-in-law. There was also a tale where a man wanted to abandon his old, feeble father by taking him to the wilderness in a basket - and his little son reminded him to bring the basket back, because one day he'll need it too. There was a "clever girl" tale with a boy hero who outwitted an evil lama. I was reminded of the story of the ay-ay-ay nuts by the story where a boy had to bring a pot full of "ow" for a rich man.

The trickster in residence is Huairighasuu, a boy born from a lamb's tail, who played a series of tricks on an evil lama. Further tricksters included Fox (who played the classic tail-fishing trick on Wolf), Hare (who cruelly tricked wolf and other animals), and occasionally Frog. The latter was featured in the "animals racing" tale where he did not only defeat Tiger, but also managed to convince him he ate tigers for dinner. Frog also starred in the "talkative animal" story where he was carried by birds while holding on to a stick (but couldn't keep quiet, and fell down), as well as a "monkey heart" type tale where he tried to trick Fox out of his fur.

Who's next?
The Kam/Dong people

Monday, May 2, 2022

A to Z Challenge Reflections: Gemstone Folklore

#AtoZChallenge 2022 WINNER badge

I have completed my 10th A to Z Challenge!

My theme this year was Gemstone Folklore. You can now find a list of all my posts on this page. It was a theme years in the making, and probably the one that has required the most research ever. I greatly enjoyed it, and it seemed to resonate with people too!

Over the course of April, the blog had more than 10k hits and almost 300 comments (fun fact: diamonds got the most comments, go figure). Hits and comments both tapered off a little towards the end of the month - likely because every participant was running out of steam, and also because I got covid a week ago (owww), and did not have the energy to do as much visiting as I wanted to.

I have a lot to catch up on, in terms of visiting - there were a lot of awesome blogs and themes this year!

Here is a list of some of my favorites, in no particular order:

Fanni Sütő's Ink, Maps & Macaroons - she is a writer friend of mine who participated for the first time this year, and I had great fun reading her personal and honest posts about life intermingled with fiction

From Cave Walls - a fellow mineral & gemstone theme which I loved reading

Brizzy Mays Books and Bruschetta - a theme of Trailblazing Australian Women, from which I learned a whole lot, and put a bunch of books on my TBR about women's history

Sarah Zama's The Old Shelter - an A to Z veteran, Sarah once again brought a really cool historical theme to the challenge, this time about the birth of the New Woman in the 1920s

Anne E.G. Nydam's Black and White - an amazing and artistic theme about designing mythical creatures, and the many features they can have. You can tell it's well researched because she showed me a bunch of new creatures I didn't know about!

Story Crossroads - a fellow veteran with a folktale theme, about dualities in folktales :)

Literacious - the theme was Reaching Reluctant Readers, with a whole lot of cool advice on how to inspire childen to read

Deborah Weber - Pointed Ponderings, a series of posts based on rare and fascinating words. Deborah's A to Z posts always inspire me

Timothy S. Brannan's The Other Side - an A to Z of conspiracy theories, which was great fun to read, and also sometimes mind-numbing

Shout out to the A to Z Challenge team! I love working with you guys :)

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Z is for the Zircon and the Idol (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Zircon is a gemstone also known as zirconium silicate. It comes in various colors, from colorless through blue all the way to brown. The yellow, orange, and red variants are called jacinth or hyacinth.

The King's Idol and His Daughter
14th century Arab legend from Spain

This is a story within a story. According to the 14th century manuscript, Dulcarnain (Alexander the Great?) comes across a great idol on an island, and asks to know the story of who created it. An old man tells him the tale of The King's Idol and His Daughter:

A great and powerful king has a thousand concubines, but only one child: a daughter. When she is born, astrologers all agree that she will give birth to a son who will become a great hero. The king constructs a fortress and locks his daughter - Omr - inside, giving her all she could wish for, except freedom. When she grows up, the girl looks out the window, falls in love with the vizier's son Xams, and finds a way to sleep with him. From their union, a child is born in secret. The princess puts a jacinth stone around his neck and a gold band on his ankle, puts him in a wooden coffin, and sets him out on the sea, praying to God to take care of the baby.
The baby is guided by the winds to an island inhabited by animals only. A gazelle finds a child and gives him milk. He grows up among the animals, observing their behavior, and when he grows up, he learns to make tools and hunt. He soon becomes the leader and judge of the animals.
Meanwhile, the kind is looking for his precious jacinth stone, and can't find it anywhere (he kills six thousand people who can't present it to him). When his vizier dies, Xams ascends to the position. The king sees a dream of Xams' son taking over his throne, and in a fury exiles the young man in a ship alone. The winds take the ship to the same island. Father and son meet and get to know each other. Eventually they are picked up by a ship and taken to the kingdom of the princess' father. The king recognizes the scene from his dream, including the precious jacinth around the boy's neck - and the princess claims the young man as her child. The sos ascends to the throne, and becomes a wise and powerful ruler.

Sources: Read the story (in Spanish) here. Read more about it here.

This is it, people! Another year of the A to Z Challenge completed!
Did you enjoy the ride? 
Which one was your favorite story?
See you on Monday for Reflections!

Friday, April 29, 2022

Y is for Yellow Diamonds (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


I have already written about diamonds earlier in the challenge. Yellow diamonds gain their color from nitrogen being trapped in their crystal structure. They are the most common among the colored diamonds.

The death of the demon Bala
Myth from India

This myth is from the Garuda Purana, a Hindu religious text written in Sanskrit. Manuscripts originate from the 9th-10th century CE, but the myths themselves are likely much, much older.
This story takes place at a time when there was a fierce battle raging between the gods and various demons. The most fearsome duel ensued between the god Indra, and the demon Bala. Bala's body was radiant and no weapon could pierce it; at his laughter, pearls fell from his mouth. Seeing that he could not kill him, Indra praised him, and asked for a boon. Bala agreed to grant a wish for the gods - and they asked him to sacrifice himself. Bala gave his life willingly as a sacrificial offering. Indra struck him with a thunderbolt, shattering Bala's body into pieces - and because of the merit earned by voluntary sacrifice, various parts of the body, falling to the ground, became gemstones. 
Bala's eyes turned turned into sapphires, ears and blood into rubies, bone marrow and nose into emeralds, tongue into corals, teeth into pearls. His semen produced silver, his urine turned into copper, from his sweat came brass, his nails gold, his blood mercury, his marrow crystals. The gods fought over the gems, and as they flew in the air with their chariots, many gems scattered, landing in places where they are still mined today. Bala's grieving widow, Prabhavati, transformed into a river, uniting her body with her husband's, and polishing the gems that came from him.
The text says that yellow diamonds, coming from Bala's body, were especially reserved for kings. They were also sacred to Indra, for doing the original sacrifice.

Sources: The death of Bala here, more lore about diamonds in the Garuda Purana here. Find another text here.

If you could pick a colored diamond, what color would you go for?

Thursday, April 28, 2022

X is for Fairy Crosses (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Staurolite (lit. cross-stone) is a type of mineral that often crystallizes twinned, forming a natural cross shape. These crystals are often found in Georgia and Virginia, and generally well known in Appalachia.

"Fairy crosses"
Cherokee legend

There are legends among the Cherokee that claim that they knew about Jesus Christ before the first white people landed on their continent. One of these stories claim that the news arrived through the Aniyvwi Tsunsdi, the Little People (often translated as "fairies"). They gathered one day for a day of dancing and celebrations, when one of them arrived late, bringing the news from far away that Jesus had been crucified. At the news the Little People wept in sorrow, and their tears transformed into the small cross-shaped crystals one can still find on the ground today. They are believed to bring good luck, and ward off evil.

Sources: Read about the legend here, here, here, or here.

Have you ever found a natural fairy cross?
Or another stone of peculiar shape?

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

W is for the Weise Stone (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Der Weise (originally Die Waise, the orphan) was a famous gemstone set in the Holy Roman Emperors' crown. Some sources (like the Grimm Wörterbuch) claim it was probably a milky white opal. White opals are quite magical looking gems anyway. It was lost sometime in the 14th century, and its alleged place is taken up by a large sapphire in the crown (see top of the left plate in the picture above). Reading the story below, I wondered if the sapphire was the original gem, since the legend resembles other stories about Sri Lanka and its gemstones.

The legend of Duke Ernst
12th century German legend

This story begins with the young Duke Ernst losing his father when he's still a child. His mother, Adelheid, marries the Holy Roman Emperor Otto. The emperor treats the duke (now a grown lad) kindly, but then a jealous count fills his head with lies. The emperor, believing Ernst is trying to take his crown, starts a war against the young duke who holds out for six years but finally has to go into exile. He takes the cross along with a thousand of his knights, and journeys towards the Holy Land. In Constantinople they all board a ship, but a terrible storm takes them out to sea, and they only find land again after three months.
They first land on an island named Grippia, with a splendid city built from colorful marble. They don't find any people living there, so they help themselves to food and supplies. Duke Ernst and his best friend Count Wetzel return to the city in the afternoon to look around. They explore the palace, full of jewels and precious stones, take a bath in tubs that have hot-cold running water, sleep in the royal bed. In the evening they see from the window the people of the city finally returning: they are all finely dressed, but they are human from the neck down and cranes from the neck up. They have kidnapped a princess from India, and they are forcing her to marry the Grippian king (who has the head of a swan). The duke and the count want to attack the wedding but decide against it; instead, they wait to rescue the bride later. However, they are soon discovered, and the Grippians kill the hostage princess. Duke Ernst and Count Wetzel fight their way back to their ship with the help of their men, but lose five hundred knights to Grippian arrows in the process.
Sailing on from the island in a hurry, the travelers encounter the Lodestone (magnetic) Mountain next. It draws in the ship by its iron nails, and they crash and sink. The men swim ashore, but now they are stranded among the various treasures of all the other sunken ships - and no food. Most of them starve to death, until only Ernst, Wetzel, and five others are left. Every time someone dies, griffins fly in and take the corpse. Eventually Wetzel suggests the survivors should wrap themselves in hides, and let the griffins take them too. Him and Ernst go first. In the griffins' nest on the mainland they cut themselves out of the hides, and escape.
Coming down the mountain the survivors encounter a river that flows into a cave. Having no other way out, they make a raft and float inside the cave, which is lit up by precious gems. Duke Ernst reaches out and takes one - a stone of such exceptional, unique radiance that it is later named Lapis Orphanus, the Orphan Stone. It is set into the imperial crown (the writer of the legend notes this proves that the story is true).
After this the duke and his men have more adventures; they befriend a Cyclops king, and help him defeat his warlike neighbors the Flat Hoofs, the Big Ears, a flock of giant cranes that eat the tiny nation of the Prechami, and the Canaanite giants. He collects one of each and eventually (after six years) sails on to Enthiopia with his ragtag band, where he fights for the Christian king against an invasion from Egypt. Then he moves on to Egypt, then Jerusalem, where he gets news from Germany about the emperor discovering the truth and forgiving him. He travels to Rome (losing the Flat Hoof on the way), and then to Bavaria, arriving to the imperial court on Christmas Eve for a big family reunion. He makes peace with the emperor, gets his lands back, divides up his fantastic retinue, and apparently gifts the Orphan Stone to the ruler, who sets it in the imperial crown.

Sources: There is an entire book about the stone (see review here), and also an article here. You can read Duke Ernst's story in this book. By the way, this story sounds a whole lot like Sindbad's journeys.

What gems would you want to grab from a magical cave?