Monday, March 27, 2017

Armadillos rule (Following folktales around the world 18. - Argentina)

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 y leyendas populares de la Argentina
Berta E. Vidal de Battini
Ediciones Biblioteca Nacional, 2013.

This books was recommended to me by an Argentinian storyteller friend. It is a selection from a larger, multi-volume folklore collection project; it is almost four hundred pages long, and has dozens of tales in it, with an extensive introduction. The latter talks about the language of the stories, which was very useful, since the tales were transcribed in the dialects they were told in: They wrote "güeno" instead of "bueno," or "jue" instead of "fue," and most of the time I only understood what a sentence meant when I read it out loud phonetically. The tales also contained indigenous words and animal names, all of which were explained in footnotes. Every story was marked with the storyteller's name and age, as well as the place and year of its collection. The volume opens with animal tales, then it has wonder tales, local legends and beliefs, and some humorous tales at the end. The only things missing were some maps, and a folktale motif index, but the book was a very entertaining read, all in all. I especially loved that several tale types were included in more than one version; it was fascinating to see how the same story is told slightly differently in different regions of Argentina.


Tatu, armadillo, quirquincho, piche
Among the animal stories, I especially loved the ones that featured armadillos (there were a bunch of different words for them). In The armadillo, the fox, and the bread seller, the armadillo pretended to be dead on the road. The woman picked it up and put it in the bread basket so that she could cook it later; the armadillo tossed all the bread out of the basket, then jumped out himself. When the fox tried to do the same, he was beaten with sticks, to make sure he was dead...
Owlets are cute though
There was also a very educational tale about The children of the owl. In it, the King of the Birds fed on their chicks; the Owl decided to befriend the king, and she managed to extract a promise that he would not eat her young. When the King asked how he would know which ones were the Owl's, she told him that hers, of course, were the most beautiful. Just to be sure, the next time the King ate, he ate the ugliest chicks in the crowd... which just happened to be the Owl's. To every mother their own.
I also liked the legends about the protectors of the animals (sometimes called La Coquena, or Yastay), who were responsible for scaring or warning hunters when they killed unnecessarily, or killed too much at once.
Among the wonder tales I really enjoyed the about The greedy, the gluttonous, and the kind brother, where each brother met an old beggar who asked for food. The elder two demanded a wish in exchange of the food; the first one got the Midas touch (and the curse with it), and the second asked for an endless supply off food (which soon became too much). The youngest gave food freely, and was rewarded with always having money in his pocket. I liked seeing the Midas myth embedded into a tale like this.
I also liked the Argentinian version of the Three Spinners, here titled The souls from Purgatory. A mother and her daughter summoned souls from Purgatory to help them with their work; when a prince proposed to the girl, the souls spun and wove for them, and then appeared in the shape of the three spinners to scare him away from giving her any more work. Then they went to Heaven.
In a tale about a man who sold his soul to the Devil, the only was to escape being dragged to Hell was to recite The twelve words, an ancient chant no one remembered. The (otherwise kind and good-natured) sinner searched all over the world, until he found one ancient woman who had learned the chant as a child, and she managed to recall it. A living oral tradition can save lives, people...
There was also a very intriguing flood myth, where some people tried to burrow underground and hide in jars (which is why you can find jars with human bones in them in the ground), and some turned into giant cacti - the mother is the trunk, and the arms are the children.


There were many familiar stories among the animal tales. I encountered Fox riding a tiger (like Br'er Rabbit does in the Uncle Remus tales), and also Fox and Armadillo doing business together, where Fox got to choose which part of the crops he wanted to keep (if he chose "top", Amradillo planted potatoes; if "bottom", he planted wheat; if "both", he planted corn). There was also Fox and Seriema, who visited each other but could not eat together (like Fox and Stork), Toad and Rhea who ran a race (like Tortoise and Hare), and Fox and Raven which ended with Fox getting the cheese the first time, but getting a rock in the teeth the second. Sweet revenge.
I also liked the Argentinian Snow White, here titled The jealous queen. The queen was the princess' birth mother (á la original Grimm), and the girl found shelter with twenty-five bandits, who took her in as their little sister. In the end, she only agreed to marry the prince when he promised to pardon the bandits...
There were kings with antlers instead of donkey ears (Midas again), a tree that opened to "Open, sesame!", and little devils singing the days of the week, just like the Irish fairies do in Lushmore. But even the stories that were very familiar had a local flavor to them, and made for a very fun read...

Where to next?


  1. Very interesting post. You had me with "Armadillos rule."

  2. Thanks Csenge. I have to say the Owl story stands out for me. Thank you for this.

  3. I like this - we don't have many armadillo stories in the US (that I know of, anyway!)

  4. This is great! I'm really happy I found your blog, it's so interesting!
    Jamie Lyn Weigt | Writing Dragons Blog | AtoZ 2017 - Dragons in Our Fandoms

  5. How would planting corn keep the fox from getting food if he gets both parts of the plant?