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?


  1. Any chance of a translation? My Spsnish is nonexistent! ;-)

    1. This was published in the 70s, so I am not sure... there are also Ecuadorian stories published in English, I just picked a Spanish book :)

  2. I have a friend who has lived in Ecuador for about 10 years now. He is always out and about among the regular people. I will have to sk him if he's heard any folk tales.
    Finding Eliza

  3. Hey! Ecuador fairy tales, just as you said! It figures that you had to struggle through a phonetic Spanish book only to find new versions of familiar tales.

    Funny how the queen held the fake eye in her mouth the whole time. Fairy tales are goofy that way - she presumably lived a normal life, ate, drank and still had the eye in her mouth. Anyway, about the young son who married a toad and got the eye back.... Why is everyone always marrying frogs and toads?

    Thanks, Zalka, for a fun read, as always.

    Emily | My Life In Ecuador

  4. I love tricksters! Brer Rabbit, Coyote, Odysseus, even Jacob in the Bible... They add real flavour to folk tales and mythology.

  5. Hang on, African connections... Would that Tar Doll story be the same as the one from Uncle Remus?
    T Is For Harriet Tubman

    1. Yep, same motif. I have also heard it from Southeast Asia.

  6. I denfinitely have heard the version wherr the princess is given to the father of the 4 brothers before. I think it was Greek?