Tuesday, April 4, 2017

C961.5. Person transformed into an anthill (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

The C category in the Folktale Motif Index stands for Taboo: Things that heroes in stories are not allowed, or not supposed, to do (for example "C50 - Offending the gods"), and also things that happen to people when they do the things they shouldn't. Case in point:

C961.5. Transformation to anthill for breaking tabu

I found this weird little moment in a folktale from the Thadou people in India, titled The Magic Fiddle. It is part of a longer tale than involves seven pregnant women, a blind king, a horned owl, some goat blood, and yes, a magic fiddle.

Thadou dresses are apparently
very beautiful, by the way
(Photo from Wiki Commons)
Aaaanyhow, at one point the hero of the story witnesses the seven daughters of God coming down to a spring to bathe, and immediately falls in love with one of them. This is not an unusual occurrence - in fact, it is very common for folktale heroes around the world to grab a wife by stealing items of clothing (seal skins, feather cloaks, silken scarves, etc.) of bathing women, and then blackmailing them into marriage. So much so that it - badumm! - even has its own motif number ("F302.4.2. Fairy comes into man's power when he steals her wings (clothes)").

But. You will not believe what happens next!

Madly in love with the youngest daughter of God, the boy snatches her petticoat off the rack, and runs away with it. Noticing that a stranger just made off with her underwear, the girl yells after him: "Hey! You! I had diarrhea last night and my petticoat is soiled!" The boy immediately stops in slight panic to look at the garment - and turns into an anthill.
Well, some time later the hero's aunt and uncle realize he is not coming back, so they go out looking for him. They dig up the inconspicuous anthill, and in the middle of it they find their nephew, "tiny and tender like the hidden leaf-bud in the centre of the stem of a plantain tree." They bring a fan, and fan him until he grows back to his normal state.

The story goes on for several more pages - notably, the second time he steals the petticoat, the girl tries the same trick, but it doesn't work, and they have to get married. Still, good for her for the first time. That was some pretty quick thinking.

(Find the full story here.)

C152.2. Tabu: refusing unreasonable demand of pregnant woman
C165. Tabu: marriage with person whose blood one has drunk
C181.4. Tabu: women not to climb on roof
C227.1. Why cannibalism is out of vogue
C281. Tabu: drinking without presence of dead heads
C461. Tabu: bearded man laughing when shaken
C568.1. Tabu: poets to be ignorant of national literature
C662. One must eat "death vegetable" whenever one sees it
C942.1. Loss of magic strength by smoking
C948.3. Tongue of woman who breaks tabu protrudes and entwines itself around a post in the home


  1. Diarrhea? Eww. But as you say, quick witted! That boy turning into anthill reminds me of the story of Ahalya from the Ramayana.


  2. Love those tabu topics! Reminds me of the Romance Hero taboos, i.e.: Our Hero must not kick puppies.

  3. LOL!!!!
    Oh, no! I can't believe it!!!!!

    The Old Shelter - 1940s Film Noir

  4. A very strange story. I suppose there's some kind of symbolism, but I'm too tired to think...ha-ha. An anthill??

    "Female Scientists Before Our Time"

  5. What a great story! I'm going to have to read the whole thing now, I'm so curious!
    Definitely quick thinking on the ladies part, I'm very impressed!

    And I, for one, never drink anything without a gaggle of dead heads surrounding me!
    So I'm safe there.

    Believe In Fairy Stories: Theme - Folklore & Fairy Tales

  6. Quick thinking the first time - but I'm thinking they all need armed guards on their petticoats if stealing them results in marriage! ;)
    Tasha's Thinkings - Shapeshifters and Werewolves

  7. An... anthill? Is there some kind of cultural significance to that? Some symbolism I'm missing? And then they fanned him until he grows back to normal size? This sounds sounds like some kind of Folktales MadLibs.

    C is for The Toronto Circus Riot of 1855

  8. I'm not sure why but it always delights me inordinately that there is a Folktale Motif Index - somehow that falls into right things about the world category. Love today's tale, but as Natasha commented, I'm thinking all bathing women need garment guards.

    1. I love the index to bits. It's very useful when you are looking for a certain story (e.g. "I need folktales about frogs!!"). It has its problems too, but it's still useful.

  9. Wow! They really are getting stranger and stranger as they go along. I like that she got his goat . Too bad she didn't think to keep her garments closer the second time around.

    Fantastic as always.

  10. well, that's just unfair, marry someone just because they steal your clothes? kind of wish the girl had some choices.

    have a lovely day.

    my C post-Curating Beauty

  11. Wow! Quick thinking by the girl! Too bad it did not work the second time.

    Emily | My Life In Ecuador

  12. An anthill? There must be some significance I'm missing...

    John Holton
    A to Z Challenge Co-Host
    The Sound Of One Hand Typing

  13. If she could work that magic on him, he should have been worried about what she might do after they were married. In the middle of an ant hill? Wow.

    <a href="http://findingeliza.com/”>Finding Eliza</a>

  14. growing up as a child i loved a korean folktale about a woodsman who stole a nymph's cloak so she had to stay on earth with him. :)
    Joy @ The Joyous Living

  15. C227.1. Why cannibalism is out of vogue - Gosh, I hope so!

    @dSavannahCreate from
    (not writing for #AtoZ this year)

  16. I'm wondering why the aunt and uncle dug up the anthill.

  17. So strange and yet so wonderful. I'm also feeling sorry for the woman who's tongue wrapped around a pole in her home???

    Pamela @ Highlands Days of Fun

  18. Why an anthill? Why didn't she change her underwear? Why did they know to bring a fan? So many questions, but I like the story!

  19. That fan - I can even see it! I love the tabu against poets being ignorant of national literature!

  20. Hah! Good for her. Although if she's willing to go as far as admit diarrhea, she could go a couple steps further and just wander around naked. Then he can't blackmail her. ;) http://bit.ly/2nypeoT

  21. OMG, these posts are even better than I thought they would be. Thank you! :D

    C662. One must eat "death vegetable" whenever one sees it. Well, bummer.

    A to Z 2017: Magical and Medicinal Herbs

  22. Underwear, anthill and a fan - sounds like one of those challenges to write a story including three unrelated objects. Quick thinking can save the day.

    @Raesquiggles from
    The Quiet Writer

  23. Yeah, the "seven daughters of God coming down to a spring to bathe" thing is pretty common. Just read an Indonesian/Malaysian version.


  24. My goodness - curiouser and curisouser - as Alice would say. I love that she threatened him that she had diarrhoea.
    Despair #Lexicon of Leaving

  25. These stories are so unique and creative! I also love how she got out of the predicament the first time.

  26. Love the tale and the runners-up list! Catching up on your AtoZ now, better late than never, right? 😁
    Jamie Lyn Weigt | Writing Dragons Blog | Ato...? 2017 - Dragons in Our Fandoms

  27. The question 'did she, or did she not, really have diarrhoea' may seem irrelevant...but I am reminded of Rachel concealing her father's teraphim...did she really have her period, or was it just fast thinking.