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? 

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