Monday, February 11, 2019

Every hero gets and ogre (Following folktales around the world 98. - Algeria)

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 here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

La ​princesa cautiva y el pájaro del viento
Mitos y cuentos del norte de Argelia
Óscar Abenójar · Ouahiba Immoune · Fátima-Zohra Menas
Editorial Verbum, 2015.

I spent a lot of time looking for a collection of Algerian folktales, and finally found one in Spanish. Which makes me sad because I would love to recommend this book to my storyteller friends who only read English and/or Hungarian. It is an excellent, well edited collection. It contains 48 stories collected from the oral tradition in Northern Algeria, proving that folktales are alive well into the 21st century. Some have been translated from the Arabic, while many from Kabyle. There is an abundance of extra information provided about the stories, as well as the storytelling tradition - which seems to be local, domestic, and mostly nocturnal. Apparently, Berber grandmothers would not tell stories in daylight, believing a close relative would die or their hair would fall out if they did.
The stories included in the book are fascinating, and there is a long opening study that explores their origins and connections. Many of them have not been recorded yet outside of Europe. The authors note that Kabyle folktales have stronger European connections than Middle Eastern or African, and, contrary to previous belief, they do not originate from the Middle Eastern Arabic story tradition (in other words, Berber folktales are not Arab folktales). There are some stories that don't have parallels at all, and there was at least one that seemed to be so old that it only survived in distant, isolated cultures in Djibouti and India. Berber folktales therefore are not a melting pot of African, Arab, and European traditions, but rather an archaic island tradition with various influences. The book contains folktales, wonder tales, pre-Islamic myths, and even anecdotes to show off the richness of this tradition.


I especially loved the title story about The captive princess and the Wind Bird. It was one of the longest and most complex stories in the book. It started with a princess locked in a tower who was visited every day by the bird, until she decided to follow it. To do so, she asked her father if she could leave the tower... and he said yes. Huh. She followed the bird around half the world, ended up being a servant in its mother's house, killed all evil members of the family, and flew away happily on the bird's back.
Another exciting but darker story was about A girl who rescued her brother from beasts. The mother and children ran away from the father; the mother was killed in the woods by beast, but the daughter rescued her baby brother. he kid returned the favor by exiling her from his house (by his wife's orders) later on. In the end, the girl found a husband and started her own happy family, and the earth swallowed up the evil sister-in-law. A similar dark fate befell The man who was eaten by an ogre (sadly, every supernatural being was translated to Spanish as "ogre", in most cases they were originally ghouls). He didn't listen to his wife, who suspected the stray goat he brought was was a monster in disguise. The clever woman got away with her child, and the foolish husband was consumed.
Apart from the belief about the dangers of telling stories by day, there was also a story about the dangers of telling stories by night - about A woman who told stories all night, got older with each tale, until she died in the morning. According to the informant, this story was told to children to explain why they could not ask for one more bedtime story...


I was happy to find a version of 'the treasures of the giant' tale type in The seven brothers and the ogre. This is the tale type where one clever sibling (in this case, literally half a boy, born from half an apple) saves the others from a man-eating monster, and then keeps sneaking back to steal the treasures of said monster. Another favorite tale type of mine, that of the 'talented brothers' also made an appearance - three brothers with extraordinary powers rescued their sister from an ogre. There was, of course, a 'magic flight' story, titled The daughter of the ogre and the son of the sultan, which was long and elaborate, featuring various adventures after the actual flight. At one point, the girl killed and skinned a servant girl, and took her place, wearing her skin as disguise... (many stories had gruesome details like this, by the way).
There were several familiar stories among the wisdom tales and jokes, such as The lost camel (in which three clever men used their detective talents in finding a lost camel), a Road shortened by a story, and The miller, his son, and the donkey.
I have encountered stories in other cultures about why human children can't immediately walk after birth like the young of animals. In this case, Berber shepherds believe that when the First Mother gave birth to the First Child, she refused to lick it clean, which is why the child didn't gain the power to walk until much later...

Where to next?

1 comment:

  1. So nice to see a Hungarian reading about Kabyle fairytales, I know vaguely some of them that my grandmother used to tell me, but I always thought those stories were so weird that a European would not understand them, well, i was wrong :D