Thursday, April 13, 2017

K366.7. Thieving butterflies (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.

K is another very long list in the Index: It stands for Deception - which is a fancy way of saying these are stories about cheating. One famous example is "K11 - Race won by deception" - most commonly known as The Tortoise and the Hare. Or "K112.2. - Stone soup." The category also includes murder, villains and traitors, false accusations, bluffs, and...

K366.7. Thieving butterflies 

When I read the name of this one, I just had to look it up.

The story is titled Rongo and the Lizard-God, and it is a Maori legend from the Cook Islands. In it, Rongo, god of cultivated lands, and Matarau, the eight-headed, eight-tailed lizard god are at war with each other. Rongo captures a warrior, turns him into a swordfish, and intends to sacrifice him - but Matarau steals the swordfish from the altar, places it in a cave, and guards it with his two hundred eyes day and night. 

NZ copper butterfly
Rongo at first sends colorful little songbirds to find the swordfish and bring it back - but Matarau kills them. Then he sends large birds and birds of prey - but they die too. Then he sends two red-and-black velvety butterflies, but Matarau squashes them with his tail. Finally, he makes a plan involving two yellow butterflies, as well as other butterflies and moths. They all use mimicry to hide themselves among the yellow leaves of a nearby banyan tree, as well as pieces of bark, all according to their color, so that Matarau never notices he is surrounded by insects. Then, when the evening wind picks up and creates a shower of yellow leaves that blind the lizard, the yellow butterflies descend among the leaves, alight on the swordfish, and give a signal. All moths and butterflies descend, grab hold of the fish, and fly away with it, back to Rongo.

And this is how the first human sacrifice in the world was made possible. By "thieving butterflies."

(Read the full story here. And here is an article about it.)

K11.7. Race won by deception: blinding opponent by spitting pepper into face
K12.5. Wrestling between porcupine and deer
K42.2.1. God cheats devil at mowing
K74. Deceptive contest in pulling fingers
K83. Deceptive scratching contest
K95. Finger-drying contest won by deception
K137.1. Two jars full of live black wasps sold as interpreters of foreign language
K219.7. Devil gets a flea instead of man‘s soul
K335.0.4.2. Porcupine, made to believe that rabbit‘s ears are horns, flees and leaves food behind
K335.1.5. Robber frightened from his goods by playing of bagpipe
K343.4. Monkeys lure tortoise into a tree and carry away his load of salt
K366.5. Speaking goat swallows gold coins in temple and voids for master
K417.1. Flower thief eats flowers to escape detection
K425. King‘s daughter put into brothel to catch thief
K437.3. Sausage as revolver
K499.6. God cheats birds by giving false description of tamarind fruit
K522.1.1. Woman covers fleeing man with placenta of goat and with blood to convince pursuers she has just given birth and thus prevents their capturing him
K546. Pope escapes captivity and death by dressing in full regalia and overawing captor
K602.2. ”Bee is eating the sweets.“ Man has eaten sweets and says his name is B
K771. Unicorn tricked into running horn into tree
K922. Artificial whale made as stratagem. Enemies surprised and killed
K951.6. Murder by feeding with honey-covered sharpened cross-pieces of wood
K952.1.2. Ungrateful rat defecates upon head of (or kills) octopus that rescues him from sea.
K1025.1. The fox suggests eating his own brains
K1211. Vergil in the basket
K1215. Aristotle and Phyllis: philosopher as riding horse for woman
K1227.10.1. Abducted princess tells her abductor to wait for her menstrual period of 12 years to terminate


  1. Butterflies as burglars - too cute! Vote goes to sausage as gun among the runners up :) and that princess with the longest period didn't do a bad job either.


  2. "K1227.10.1. Abducted princess tells her abductor to wait for her menstrual period of 12 years to terminate" >> twelve YEARS? What? Very gullible, that one.

    1. One would be surprised at the things some men do not know about female anatomy.

  3. Deception seems to be a popular theme, and quite the wide variety too! Fox eating his own brains is a rather self destructive zombie, isn't he? Just guessing it's a he. ;)
    Discarded Darlings - Jean Davis, Speculative Fiction Writer, A to Z: Editing Fiction

  4. I'm intrigued by the gold-swallowing goat!

  5. technically, it's Rongo that commands the butterflies to do the thieving and isn't it his fault that the swordfish is not in his human form in the first place? he pretty much stole what he technically stole, isn't that true?

    have a lovely day.

    ~ my K post - Korean Dramas ~

  6. Boy, that's a lot of fuss over a swordfish, but then again, they are quite tasty.

    K is for Kevlar—Gift From Aliens?

  7. Boy, that's quite a list of runners-up!

  8. This is a cool story. Plus, it's fun to now think of butterflies as agents of human sacrifice. So many excellent runner-ups too! I can't pick a favorite out of them.

    A to Z 2017: Magical and Medicinal Herbs

  9. That seems like an awful lot of trouble to get one guy back they were just going to kill anyway. There really wasn't anyone else available for a human sacrifice?

    Also, is "God cheats Devil at mowing" at typo? I hope not. :-)

    K is for Kanata, the origin of the name "Canada" (probably)

  10. I have heard that butterflies eat carrion so I guess it's not too far fetched that they brought the poor victim back to be sacrificed. Maybe they had a feast afterwards.
    Finding Eliza

  11. Very interesting. It's fun how butterflies are "coming out" more often as flesh eaters and less as happy creatures that hang out with faries and unicorns and stuff. An even more magical transformation than turning from a caterpillar. ;)
    Keep rocking the A to Z.
    J -- Co-host the #AtoZchallenge, Debut Author Interviewer, Reference and Speculative Fiction Writer

  12. I'm not sure I want to believe bad behavior from butterflies.

    Loved the list of runner ups - I'm not sure I could choose one.

  13. He really wanted that swordfish back. I wonder if part of the rationale for transforming someone into such an animal was to get a nice dinner out of the whole thing?

  14. Now we know where the idea of pepper-spray came from: K11.7. Race won by deception: blinding opponent by spitting pepper into face