Monday, May 8, 2017

Sea Above, World Below (Following folktales around the world 24. - Venezuela)

Today I continue new 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!

Mitos aborígenes de Venezuela
Maria Manuela de Cora
Editorial Oceanida, 1957.

A lovely, colorful, eloquent collection of indigenous myths and legends. The book is divided into chapters by culture, and I think it says a lot about it that by the time I finished reading, my copy was full of post-it notes and reminders for the stories I want to go back and read again. The book comes with a bibliography and a glossary, but more importantly, it is full of gorgeous, little known stories.


Right in the first chapter I was enchanted by the world image of the Guarauno people: They called the sky the Sea Above, where the blue was the water, and the clouds are mountains and islands above it. People climbed down on ropes from there to feast on the fruits of our world, until a pregnant woman got stuck in the whole they used as an entrance, and no one could go either way anymore... Mirroring the world above is the World Underwater, the realm of the water spirit Nabarao, who rules over the rivers, mangroves, and all their creatures. There was a lovely story about one of his daughters marrying a mortal man, and taking him to visit the strange world under the river. When the girl left her home to live with her husband, she was accompanied by her pet shark in the form of a black dog, and refused to eat any fish, since all of them were her relatives.
I was similarly enchanted by the Taurepan-Arekuna-Kamarakoto myth of the World Tree, which bore all the different kinds of fruit there are at once. There were multiple stories about it, from when it was first found, until the day it fell (most world trees tend to do so). From the same people came one of the best tales in the book, The Two-headed Condor, where a mortal married the daughter of the vulture in the sky. His father-in-law gave him all kinds of classic fairy tale tasks, which he accomplished with the help of various unusual animals: Dragonflies helped him dry a lake, worms to break up a rock, the weaver bird to make a roof, and ants to build a bench.
Similarly awesome was the legend about the Electric Eel's rebellion against the Good Spirit. Humans were created as punishment for the animals that took part in the rebellion; therefore, humans don't eat any of the Good Spirit's helpers, such as toads, vultures, and hawks.

There was a beautiful Chaima legend about the Guácharo caves, where the souls of the deceased exist in the forms of rocks and crystals, keeping company with thousands of oilbirds that don't like the light. Similarly intriguing, but less elegant, was the chapter about the Kanaima, the spirit of vengeance among the Caribes.


The Guarauno myth about the Lord of the Sun told about a brave girl who stole the sun from a greedy man who kept it hidden. She did not only return the Sun to the sky, but also tied it to a turtle to slow it down... The first part of the story reminded me of North American indigenous stories (Raven steals the light), while the second half was similar to how Maui lassoed the Sun. There was also a tale about Darkness being kept hidden until someone foolishly let it out; I recently read a similar tale from Brazil. Echoed in several stories around the world was The mosquito who turned into a man (who married a woman just to be able to suck her blood in peace). The evil husband was burned in the end, but from his ashes millions of obnoxious insects were born. After Colombia, I found another flood myth here (from the Tamanaco) where humans were recreated from the nuts of the moriche palm. And, of course, there was a legend featuring vagina dentata; this time, like in Paraguay, the reason for the danger was the bunch of tiny piranhas that lived inside the woman's vagina...

Where to next?


  1. What a poetic mythology! The sea above, eh? How lovely!

  2. In "Brown Fairytales" - Alexander von Ungern-Sternberg's collection of a erotic literary fairytales - there is a story about mosqitos turning into young girls in order to be able to suck the blood of a rich, but ugly man more easily. I wonder if von Ungern-Sternberg was familiar with that motif or if the parallel is just a coincidence. Where else dud you encounter those misqito stories?