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.


  1. Thanks for the tip, and I've just found and ordered a second-hand copy!

  2. The dog and sparrow story is also in the Grimm collection (it's creatively called "The dog and the sparrow";)