Monday, May 15, 2017

Of Women and Jaguars (Following folktales around the world 25. - Guyana)

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!

Guyana legends
Folk tales of the indigenous Amerindians
Odeen Ishmael
Xlibris Corporation, 2011.

This book contains 50 tales from the oral traditions of Guyana's indigenous peoples (who make up about 10% of the population). It is a well-selected collection; no story is too long, too short, or too convoluted to enjoy, and the fifty of them together show the diversity of the country not only culturally, but also in terms of natural habitats, from mountain to seashore, from savannas to rainforests. I was a little disappointed that the stories were not tagged with the name of the peoples they belonged to, and that the black-and-white photos were of very low quality. Still, it was good to get visual aid for the various animals, objects, and landmarks mentioned in the tales. The book also has a very useful glossary at the end.


My favorite story in the book was the simple yet powerful legend of Bat Mountain, in which an old woman defeated a giant, man-eating bat, and at the expense of her own life saved everyone else.
I also loved the tale of The girl who was once a monkey. It started out as a classic animal bride story - up to the point where the husband began mistreating his wife, and she ran away with her child. Fleeing, she came to a river she could not cross, and called out to her people - the monkeys on the other side all worked together to bend a tree down over the river, and help her return to them. A similarly powerful message to women was the legend of The woman who defeated two tigers (and it was very typical how no one believed her heroic deed when she returned home).
I found the story of Kororomanna and the Hebus amusing. Hebus are forest spirits, usually nocturnal; in this case they were small, hairy, noisy, and had eyebrows so bushy that if they wanted to look up, they had to stand on their heads. Most often they were hostile to people, but they were occasionally known to help those in need.
From a folkloristic standpoint, the legend of the Haiarri root was fascinating. The root was originally a boy, whose power was to stand in water, and make the fish faint and float to the surface. The plant has the same power now - fishermen use it for a better catch. I also appreciated the fact that I found the first, lovely albeit sad legend about the birth of the manatee of my journey in this book.


I found many similarities to the tales in last week's Venezuelan collection - no wonder, since several tribes whose traditions are included actually exist on both sides of the border. I found familiar tales about people descending from the sky (and a pregnant woman getting stuck); the World Tree that bore all kinds of fruit; two girls rescuing the Sun; a water goddess marrying a fisherman; the birth of the Victoria Regia flower; and there was, as usual, a flood myth too. I especially liked the stories about the World Tree - they spoke volumes about the sharing of resources, the importance of life, and the disastrous consequences that can occur when some greedy person chops the tree down for personal gain (great themes for environmental storytelling).
I was reminded of North American indigenous myths by two stories that involved stealing fire. In one, Hummingbird stole it from the jaws of Caiman, while in the other a boy managed to snatch some embers from a mountain spirit's fire, and pass them on to his friends. I also recognized other indigenous motifs in Tiger's yellow eyes flying out of his head, and the story in which Possum and Tortoise had a fasting contest (Possum lost by dying of hunger). This latter one reminded me of tales from the Andes where Condor and Fox have a contest in who can last longer in the cold.
Once again, there is no folktale collection without a race between animals. This time, it was Tiger (Jaguar) versus Tortoise. The fun part is, they also had a hunting contest (which Tortoise won with a trap), and a body-painting contest which Tortoise simply won because he painted Jaguar's coat so beautifully.
The local trickster (with several stories) is Koneso, the rabbit.

Where to next?

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