Monday, August 21, 2017

Anancy meck it (Following folktales around the world 39. - Jamaica)

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!

There could not be a more fitting volume to say goodbye to the Caribbean than a collection full of Anansi stories.


Anancy and Miss Lou
Louise Bennett
Sangster's Book Stores, 1979.

I cam across this book by accident, in a used book store in Knoxville, TN, a week before I flew home from the USA. Even though most of my books were already packed, I could not resist buying it (especially for $2!). It was a very lucky find.
The volume contains thirty-one Anancy stories, re-told by famous Jamaican singer, storyteller, and folklore artist Louise Bennett. The stories are written down phonetically from her telling; while the Jamaican dialect is hard for an outsider to decipher in writing, once you get the hang of it, both Miss Lou's and Anancy's personalities jump off the page is bright colors. I have not heard Louise Bennett before, so I spent a lot of time looking up YouTube videos and voice recordings online. I wish I could have heard her live...
The book contains a short introduction about Miss Lou and Anancy, and musical notes for the songs that appear in the stories. Every story closes with the same formula: "Is Anancy meck it" ("Anancy made it so" - all stories are pourquoi tales), and "Jack Mandora, me noh choose none" (According to the Introduction, this translates into "I take no responsibility for the story I have told").

Highlights


The opening story in the book is, naturally, about Anancy stories - or rather, how Anancy decided he wanted to star in bedtime tales, and how he got Cat and Rat to fight in order to achieve his legendary trickster status. I was also happy to find Miss Lou's lovely version of Anancy and Fire, a story I have heard from Eshu Bumpus, and never found again since. In it, Anancy tries to seduce Miss Flame, but she soon turns out to be more than he signed up for.
By far my favorite tale in the book was that of Anancy and Sorrel, in which the trickster, while stealing fruit on Market Day, just happened to invent this very popular, spiced Jamaican drink. I also laughed a lot at the tale of Anancy and Fee Fee, in which Anancy dressed up as a little girl (called Fee Fee) just to get free food at a Christmas party for children.

Connections


I found a tale that I read earlier from Trinidad, in which Crab helps a poor servant girl find out an evil witch's secret name - except in this case the poor girl was Anancy in disguise, going for the rich rewards of guessing the name. Guessing names was a common theme in the collection; I also found a couple of versions for the African tale type where Anancy had to guess a princess' name in order to marry her. I was reminded of the Haitian story of Owl's wedding by the story of Po Pattoo, the Jamaican owl, who tried to marry a pretty girl by hiding his feathers, but Anancy gave him away. On a slightly more serious note, there was once again a tale of A girl marrying a Yellow Snake - she was rescued by Anancy and his clever tricks (I have encountered this tale type on almost all Caribbean islands).
And, of course, there were the all-time trickster classics, such as Riding Tiger, the Deadly Rock, and the Tar Baby. And it almost goes without saying that this book was not without an animal race either: This time, Donkey ran a race with Toad, and the latter won by the help of Anancy's cunning advice.

Where to next?
Next week we start our trek north across Central America. Panama first!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Cuba in all its colors (Following folktales around the world 38. - Cuba)

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!


From the Winds of Manguito / Desde Los Vientos de Manguito
Cuban Folktales in English and Spanish / Cuentos Folklóricos de Cuba, En Inglés y Español 
Elvia Perez
Libraries Unlimited, 2004.

An excellent volume, created with care and attention by a professional storyteller. Elvia Perez picked the stories from her own repertoire, which draws from various oral traditions that have contributed to Cuban culture - indigenous beliefs, Afro-Cuban religions, tales of European and especially Canary Islands origins, and many local flavors from all of those blending together. All stories are presented both in English and Spanish, and the book comes with ample notes, glossaries, a bibliography, historical introduction, Cuban games and rhymes, recipes, color photos, and even black-and-white illustrations drawn in mesmerizing ways. It is a lovely, concise volume to hold in one's hand, and definitely a delight to read.

Highlights


Oshún is synchretized
with the Virgin Mary in
Santería traditions
Many of my favorite stories were found in the chapter on Afro-Cuban traditions. For example, in The Roads of the Island, a pair of twins won a dancing contest with the Devil, because he could not tell them apart, and they could switch places and keep the music going. Elegba (Elegguá), the trickster of the Yoruba, also made an appearance, in a legend that explained who he used to be before he became a deity. In the story of Oshún, the Keeper of Honey, a young goddess only got to rule over honey (unlike her more powerful siblings), but she managed to use it with such care and ingenuity that she even saved another deity's life. The best story, however, was that of the Invincible Women, in which two sisters, one warrior and one wise, both earned their own kingdoms in different ways, and then helped each other save them.
Among the animal tales, that of the Herons was really lovely. Baby herons set out to find their parents by comparing their song to various other birds' and animals'. In The Headless Dance, animals saved the world from a fighting devil couple (who set fire to everything) by hosting a party where birds danced with their heads under their wings, and telling the devils that they could only join if they agreed to be beheaded... And finally, I loved the story of Kikirkí the Rooster, who saved his owner by fighting Death and chasing her away multiple times until the doctor got there.

Connections



Yemaya, goddess of the sea,
is also portrayed as the Virgin Mary
I found yet another flood myth; this time it was Yemaya, goddess of the sea, who tried to flood the people out because they forgot about her.
The fairy of the river was the local variant of Frau Holle, with the good girl jumping into the river and earning a reward, and the lazy girl following after. Except in this case, the lazy girl was not punished, just threatened, and she changed her ways, becoming friends with her sister and making amends.
Of course there was an animal race in this collection too - this time it was between Ambeco the Deer, and Aguatí the Turtle.

Where to next?
Jamaica, our last stop in the Caribbean!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Trickster bonanza (Following folktales around the world 37. - Bahamas)

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!

Once was a time, a very good time,
Not in my time, but in b'o' Rabby time...


Folk-tales of Andros Island, Bahamas
Elsie Clews Parsons
American Folk-lore Society, 1918.

Once again, an early collection from Elsie Clews Parsons (I'm getting curious about this lady's life story). It contains 115 folktales (or more, since variants are listed under the same number), all collected from just one island of the Bahamas, Andros. Tales are transcribed meticulously and in dialect, which makes them difficult to read, but also gives a hint of what they originally sounded like. Each story comes with ample footnotes, references to other versions from the Caribbean and beyond, and the informants are all introduced as well. Parsons points out that not only was Andros a cultural melting pot at the turn of the last century (including tales from indigenous, Euro-American, and African traditions), but it was also a "dump" for refugees, adventurers, and other migratory people within the Bahamas. The result is an amazingly diverse mix of stories.
In the Introduction, Parsons notes how, when she initially asked for "storytellers," she was pointed to fortune-tellers; it took her time to figure out that she had to ask for people who "talk ol' story" to get the actual folktales. Also, almost all stories in the book begin with the same type of formula ("There was a time, a very good time, Monkey chew tobacco and spit white lime"), and end the same as well ("The bow bent, the story end", "If you think my story's not true, go ask the captain of the longboat crew"). I addition, much like I have read in the Haiti collection, many stories end with the storyteller claiming to have been present personally, until one of the characters slapped/kicked/pushed them, and they flew right here, to the audience, to tell them what happened.

Highlights

The book itself (based on claims from informants) gives a definite answer to 'what is the most popular tale on Andros Island?'. It is a story I have encountered before on the island of St. Vincent as well: A woman in labor sends a message to her husband, trying various birds before the hummingbird manages to track the man down and bring him home. It is kind of an unexpected candidate for popularity, but a lovely story.
There was a very neat local variant for the Magic Flight tale type. A girl kidnapped by the Devil was rescued by her brother, Jack, who was adept in witchcraft. I liked how the transformations during the flight were also obstacles, combining the two usual forms of the story: Every transformation made the Devil turn and go back home to get something (e.g. a pole for the banana tree and the ripe bananas). An yet another Magic Flight Jack ran away with the Devil's daughter named Greenheart-Er-Knowledge, and when he forgot about her and left her on a tree (as it usually happens in these stories), the "ugly servant girl" that found her did not try to take the true bride's place, but rather ran and reminded Jack about her. And while we are on the topic of Jack saving women, there was also a lovely version of the Maiden saved from the gallows ballad, where Jack fell in love with a princess at school, and came to her aid when she was accused of theft and about to be hanged.
The tale of the Witch Wife gave me some chills. In this story, a wife never ate at home, but rather secretly turned into an egret and went hunting. When her husband found out, he sang the magic song that slowly turned his wife into a bird, and then killed her. On a more light-hearted note, I found a new trick in the Trickster bag of tales: Rabbit got away from Lion by suggesting that he should be dipped in ashes before killed, for flavor (?), and rolled around in the ashes so much that Lion was blinded by the cloud.

Connections

The cultural diversity of the island showed beautifully in the lineup of local tricksters: Rabbit, Bouki (sometimes the trickster, sometimes the fool), Anansi, and even Jack all made an appearance. Sometimes they were even related in various ways; e.g. in one story Jack and Rabbit were brothers. With them, of course most of the classic trickster tales had versions in the book: The tar baby (which in these stories was female, and people who tried to grope her or kiss her got stuck), the secretly eaten cream, the mock plea, the trickster's horse, the deadly rock, the tug-o-war, etc.
And of course there were tales of races between animals; this time it was Conch that raced Lobster and Horse (separately), and won both times. I especially liked the former story, since it combined the two variants of this tale type: Conch planted other little Conches along the way, but Lobster also stopped lazily to eat along the way - so slow, steady and crafty eventually won the race.
There were versions of many well-known fairy tale types in the book, such as the Kind and Unkind Girls; Mother Killed Me, Father Ate Me; the Four Brothers (this time, it was the hunter that got the girl in the end); Bluebeard (with a room full of dead children, not wives); the Brave Little Tailor; the Beanstalk; the Brementwon Musicians; the Fish Lover; and the Extraordinary Helpers. The latter included intriguing new characters such as Laughwell, Crywell, Fartwell, Pisswell, and Spitwell, although the fragmented story text did not tell us much about them... Another Helpers tale, the Unfinished Story of Princess Greenleaf, was selected for my book about superpowers from this collection as well.
Among local beliefs I once again encountered the loogaroo (loup garou), this time as the name for the witches that can peel off their skin and fly around at night. We are getting closer to Louisiana...

Where to next?
To Cuba!