Monday, March 11, 2019

Bedtime lions (Following folktales around the world 102. - Sudan)

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!

Dinka Folktales
African stories from the Sudan
Francis Mading Deng
Africana Publishing Company, 1984.

The book contains 21 stories from the Dinka tradition. The Dinka are the largest ethnic group in Sudan; at the time when this book was written, they lived in twenty-five separate tribal groups. Dr. Deng collected the stories with the help of a recording device that was sometimes left in the care of the people for the night, so that bedtime stories could be recorded as they naturally occurred. The book comes with a densely worded foreword about the role of stories in Dinka society, an introduction from the collector, and an afterword about Dinka culture and society to provide context for the tales. The introduction reveals some fascinating tidbits such as bedtime stories are generally known as "lions" (lions are feared and respected), or that the word the Dinka use for storytelling, paar, literally translates into an "attempt to reconstruct as much of the truth as possible from the scanty information available." Dinka tales are usually told in the evening, when everyone goes to bed, and storytellers pass the word around until everyone falls asleep. Calling them "lion" is very appropriate - I only found two stories in the book that did not feature lions.


One of my favorite stories in the book was Ayak and the Lost Bridegroom. A lioness kidnapped the groom from his wedding, so the bride set out to rescue him; she even wrestled the lioness to win him back. In another, friendlier story (Achol and her adoptive lioness-mother) two abandoned children were adopted by a lioness. The boy ran away, but the girl stayed, and was raised by the lioness, who eventually helped her find her family. This was also the only story where the lion was not killed in the end, but accepted into the human family.
In the story of Diirawic, the heroine's brother wanted to marry her, so she ran away into the wilderness with all the girls in her village. They built a fortress, and lived there for five years; they tamed a lion whom they adopted as a brother. Eventually, they returned home, and a girl found herself a husband. She gave birth to twelve human children, and a lion cub...
In the tale of Aluel and her loving father, an active and caring father figure appeared next to the wicked stepmother. He did his best to keep the stepmother from hurting Aluel. When she ran away anyway, the girl was adopted by the Sun and his two wives (since they could not have children of their own, more than one sun would have been risky for the earth). She was raised in the Sun's house, and eventually returned to her father. In the story of Deng and his vicious stepmother, it was the half-brother that helped the hero: both boys were named Deng, but one had a mortal woman for a mother, and the other a lioness. When the lioness went feral, Lion-Deng saved his brother repeatedly. They even rescued two children from lions. In the story of Achol and her wild mother, the mother sold herself piece by piece to a lion (to help her family) until she turned into a feral lion herself. Her children had to campture her, beat her, and tame her, to turn her human again.


The story of Acienggaakdit és Acienggaakthii fit the tale type of the kind and the unkind girls, although not perfectly. The older, mean half-sister sent her kind little sister away; the little sister had broken her favorite gourd, and the mean girl insisted it should be repaired with lion hair. Luckily, the little half-sister's full-sister was married to a lion, so she turned to them for help. Following her loving sister's advice, she managed to make friends with the lion, and get away with a handful of hair. Her mean half-sister, seeing proof of her bravery, grew jealous, and decided to go on the same quest... but, of course, being rude and brash, she never returned.

Where to next?

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