Monday, September 25, 2017

Ants digging up folktales (Following folktales around the world 44. - El Salvador)

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!

Leyendas, cuentos y adivinanzas de El Salvador
Victoria Díaz de Marroquín
BANCASA, 1995.

The volume contains five legends and six folktales, along with several riddles and rhymes. Most stories have been re-told by the author, but she makes sure to note the original tellers and sources as well. It was a short, but entertaining read, with most legends taken from indigenous traditions, and most folktales showing motifs from European and African sources alike.


I immediately liked the opening story of the volume, in which the gods decided to hide corn from the people who were not respectful to them anymore. Luckily, the zompopo ants (giant winged leaf-cutter ants) dug up the corn, for which the gods tried to punish them by trying them to a tree. The insects broke free, but during the struggle their ties cinched their waists tiny. I liked how the introduction to the book compared the ants digging up life-giving corn to storytellers digging up stories.
I also found the tale of two best friends of supernatural descent, Ifraín and Mausimolú, very exciting. They set out together to find a princess, but then had to go through all kinds of adventures, shipwrecks, and strange islands, to finally find her.


The legend of the Siguanaba had much in common both with La Llorona, and La Sucia from Honduras. She was a careless mother who left her child alone to admire herself in the water; Tlaloc, god of the waters, cursed her into a demon that haunts riversides and seduces careless men.
The story of Money and Luck was another common one - this time with the twist that the two powers competing by making or breaking a man's life were actually husband and wife. There was, of course, a variant of the Singing Bones, called Flor de Olivar - except this time the youngest prince was not actually killed by his brothers - rather, beaten senseless, and he learned about his own past from the song of the magic bush.
The local trickster is Tío Conejo, Rabbit, who managed to trick Coyote with the age-old tar baby move while stealing some watermelons.

Where to next?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Horror from Honduras (Following folktales around the world 43. - Honduras)

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!

Cuentos y Leyendas de Honduras
Jorge Montenegro
Litografía López, 1976.

One hundred and fifty ghost stories, urban legends, folk beliefs, and other tales from Honduras, representing some of the most popular spooky tropes around the world - from tormented souls to vanishing hitchhikers, from witchcraft to demonic possession. It is real, living-breathing 20th century folklore, peppered with motifs from more ancient traditions.
This extremely popular collection was gathered by author and journalist Jorge Montenegro, who has been sharing them in a radio program since 1964, and published the first volume in 1972. The book now has a 50th anniversary edition. Most of the stories can be found all over the Internet (including the La Prensa newspaper's archive here); since I don't have access to ILL anymore, I read them online.
And the cherry on top: Some of these stories were turned into a horror movie in 2014!


Ocote, or Montezuma pine
My favorite story in the book (and one of the few non-spooky ones) was that of the Ocote Tree, in which a young boy learned from his grandma that people should talk to trees, and invited a giant pine to their house for Christmas.
My little feminist heart also loved the Old Man in Love, who was not in love at all, but rather a notorious cat-caller, at least until a pretty young girl seemed to give in to his propositions, and asked him to meet by the river at night. Of course she was not a girl at all, but rather the La Sucia female demon, there to teach the old lech a lesson about "compliments"... A similar lesson was taught to the Mocking Girl, who liked to scare people at night, hiding behind a window and pretending to be a ghost or the devil. One day, she accidentally scared someone to death, so the real Devil showed up, and turned her into an old woman as punishment. And while we are on the topic of morals: the legend of the Grumpy Gravedigger (heh) told the story of how a mean old man was taught a lesson about the spirit of Christmas by being scared half to death by the souls of the dead (Christmas Carol much?).
The story of The Worms was an interesting reverse take on Bluebeard or Mr. Fox: This time, the young wife found hidden treasure in the basement of her husband, and decided to kill him for it... but when she succeeded, the Devil turned all the money into worms in front of her. Similarly, there was an interesting variant of the Vanishing Hitchhiker (the Moramulca cliffs) where someone rescued a girl from a car wreck, only to find out later that the wreck had happened ten years earlier...
Tegucigalpa, site of most stories
Some stories were dark, but also meaningful. In the tale of the Cruel father, a young man was abused physically and verbally. When he fell in love, the father killed his girlfriend to keep her from taking the boy away. Of course her ghost returned - she beheaded the father, and took her lover with her. Similarly, in the story of the Girl from Catacamas, a child was beaten regularly by both parents, until she subconsciously cursed their home, and turned it into a place full of terrifying occurrences.
Some ghosts, however, were nicer than others. For example, there was the Nurse that kept visiting and treating patients in the hospital where she worked, long after her death; and also the Girl with the flowers, who befriended a lonely woman who visited the cemetery every day.


There are few "real folktales" (magic tales) in the book, but several stories contained recognizable motifs from older traditions - for example, that of the Serpent Bride, where a young pianist fell in love with a woman, just to see her turn into a serpent on their wedding night (reminiscent of Melusine, and other serpent bride tales). There were several versions of classic urban legends and ghost stories, such as The Ring (where grave robbers try to cut off a dead woman's ring with her finger, just to find out she was not actually dead); grateful ghosts pointing out the place of buried treasure; Vanishing Hitchhikers (several of them); and even a ghost bus, this time filled with nuns for some reason...
I have already encountered stories about loyal dogs that protected their owners even after death; Angelina's Dog was one of them, attacking and mangling men who had killed it to get close to the defenseless girl.

Where to next?
El Salvador!

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Amazons of Corn Island (Following folktales around the world 42. - Nicaragua)

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!

Cuentos, leyendas y mitos de Nicaragua
Pedro Alfonso Morales
Ediciones Distribuidora Cultural, 2014.

This volume contains a total of 24 stories: 12 folktales, 11 legends, and 1 myth. Nine out of the folktales have been collected by students from their families; three are re-tellings by various authors and researchers. Similarly, the legends are longer or shorter depending on the version. The volume itself is visually eclectic: It was printed on color paper, so the stories are told in pastel blues, yellows, greens, and pinks, and complete with illustrations that range from simplistic to annoyingly childish. The book comes with an introduction about Nicaraguan oral tradition, as well as a study guide for students; all in all, it is more an educational project than a folklore publication. With that said, I am still a fan of having children collect stories from their own family traditions - and in this case they came up with some really great ones.


The most memorable story in the book is, without a doubt, the legend of The Women of Corn Island. It is a classic Amazon tale, in which the island is ruled by a women-only society; they hunt, fight, work the land, and only allow men to visit once a month, in order to make babies (amazing detail: Women know they are pregnant because at the moment of conception a glowing butterfly emerges from their belly button).
Women and men marching for
indigenous rights, source here
Male babies are sent to their fathers, while the girls are raised by the women, and their roles are determined by moles that are found on their body (on the back for farmers, on the thigh for hunters, and on the belly for potential mothers).
Legend says that when the white colonizers arrived, the women, rather than being killed or taken as slaves, all walked into the ocean, and turned into sea foam, leaving their island abandoned.
I also had a soft spot for the story of a girl who loved swimming in the ocean so much that she even did so on Holy Week, despite her mother's warnings. In the water, she turned into a mermaid, and swam away, singing. I am not sure it was a punishment for her.
On a darker note, there was the bone-chilling tale of María Angustia, a young wife who refused to cook, and kept pestering her neighbor for food and for feeding her husband. In the end, the neighbor lady told her that she should bring some intestines from the cemetery to supplement pork in the dinner - which María did, except the deceased owner of said intestines began haunting her, and dragged her away in the dark of the night.


Similar to most other South- and Central American countries, there was a legend about the La Llorona; and similar to many Caribbean islands, there was also a legend about a woman that peeled her skin off to shapeshift. In this case, she turned into a coyote every day, until her husband sprinkled salt inside her discarded human skin, and she could not put it back on.
I also encountered familiar tale types such as Cricket the Fortune-teller, the Loquacious Princess, and the Extraordinary Helpers (with a flying steamboat!). And of course there was another Devil husband with golden teeth, who in the end got lured into a bottle by his mother-in-law, the way djinn are usually tricked... Ever since then, when the Devil shows up in the shape of a whirlwind, people just have to yell that his mother-in-law is coming with a bottle.
Picture from here
Another classic legend also made an appearance: That of the Procession (or in this case, Cart) of the Dead, which appeared in three or four stories in the book. It is a ghostly procession of skeletons, penitent souls, and other dead things. In one story, a man who lived a sinful life made fun of the procession, saying it was a hoax - but then it came for him, and he had to follow them, carrying a candle made of a human bone, for all eternity.

Where to next?

Monday, September 4, 2017

The knight in shining armor is a bunny on an armadillo (Following folktales around the world 41. - Costa Rica)

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!

I have been looking forward to Costa Rica; one of my all-time favorite story collections is from this country! 

Las semillas de nuestro rey
Leyendas de los aborigenes de Costa Rica
Carlos Luis Sáenz
Las Americas, 1958.

This tiny volume collects 27 tales from the indigenous traditions of Costa Rica. The author grouped them by culture, so we can find separate chapters representing the stories of the Bribri, Brunka, Chorotega, Guatuso, and Miskito peoples. Some of the stories come with footnotes and glossaries attached, while others are prefaced with quotes from anthropologists, travelers, or folklorists. The book is a short read, but a fascinating one - especially because it manages to show a glimpse of the cultural diversity of the country's indigenous peoples.


Illustration from here
My favorite story from the collection is that of Nandayure and his magic wand. The power of the wand is that it can make anything that contains lime evaporate - shells, limestone, and people's bones (accidentally). I have  never heard of another magic item quite like it. Another story close to my heart is the Sisimiqui, which is a part of my repertoire and one of my top favorite folktales. In it, a brave rabbit riding an armadillo fights and defeats a terrifying monster via a game of whack-a-mole.
There were various stories about heroes being kidnapped by giant eagles. My favorite was the Brave in the seven baskets, in which a warrior hid himself inside seven baskets, and the man-eating eagles carried him up to their nest. He managed to kill one eagle and the chicks, and then climbed down the mountain - but his rope ran out halfway, and his people had to help him down the rest of the way. Interestingly, the morning after the victory feast the hero disappeared; it is possible that he was taken by the other eagle, but the story ended at this point abruptly.


Golden pigs, from pre-colombian
Costa Rica
I have already encountered legends from other cultures in South America in which a hunter followed a wounded animal and ended up in its kingdom, where he was forced to heal the wounds he had caused. In this case, a clumsy archer was kept by the King of Pigs. The King was not opposed to hunters - he just demanded that his subjects should be killed with one shot, without suffering.
I was reminded of a Dominican tale by the legend of the Boy with hands of fire, in which all the hunters of a village turned into snakes after eating the meat of a giant snake. A boy tried to save them, and then tried to help their loved ones save them, but people only listened to his advice after he sacrificed himself...
After Southeast Asia, I once again encountered Tiger People (who are not actually tigers, rather jaguars or maybe pumas, but they are called tigers). They appear as humans, but turn back into their feline form at night and eat people, or sometimes marry mortal girls and eat them on the wedding night.
There was also a legend about the birth of the first hummingbird; it was about two young people from warring tribes, but instead of a Romeo and Juliet tale, the man tried to abduct the girl, who was shot dead by a stray arrow in the fight, and turned into a bird.

Where to next?