Monday, September 16, 2019

Genets and genesis (Following folktales around the world 122. - Democratic Republic of Congo)

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!

Tortoise and Crocodile
and other folktales from the Komo People of the Democratic Republic of Congo
Barbara Thomas
Amazon Kindle Services, 2011.

The twenty tales in this book were collected from the Komo people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The collection is intended as a children's book, but it does contain stories that might be "sensitive" for Western readers. These have been marked with parental guidance warnings. The book notes the names of the original storytellers, but doesn't assign them to the tales, and the introduction is mostly just a foreword about sensitive content.


I was fascinated by the tale of Motondo, the Magic Carpet, in which sisters went fishing and wanted to leave their little brother behind. He followed anyway, and when at night Father Spider stole the eyes of the girls (repeatedly), he stole them back. Eventually he warned his sisters of danger, and they wove a magic carpet and flew away to safety. The same moral (don't leave at home someone who wants to go with you) showed up in some of the Ashanti folktales in Ghana as well.
I was delighted to find a tale featuring one of my favorite feline creatures, the genet. The story was fairy simple; Rooster tricked Genet, and Genet died as a result, so his children have been revenge-hunting poultry ever since. The tale of Ingee's betrothal was one of the "parental warning" tales - a man heading out to find a wife took a dump where he was not supposed to, and his feces kept rolling after him everywhere as an ever-present reminder of shame. Needless to say, he did not get a wife.
Tortoise, the resident trickster, appeared as a fairly questionable character in many of the stories. In Tortoise and his friends, he invited animals along on a journey, then tricked them out of their food and weapons, framed them for theft, and had them killed. He did so with Endo, the red antelope (a symbol for death), and many others, until Mboko, the white antelope turned the tricks against him. In another tale Tortoise pretended to be a midwife for Crocodile's wife, and ate up all her eggs - that's why crocodiles have been hunting tortoises ever since.


I was reminded of Adam and Eve by the story of Abha-Betombetombe, Father of the Forest, where he warned fisherwomen not to eat from his sacred plantains. Of course they did, so he cursed them with monthly bleeding. After last week I once again encountered the story about why hens scratch the ground, looking for tasty morsels. The tale of Kaunga and Tombai was an all-devouring type folktale where a monster ate up everything and everyone, until a wild man named Kaunga had himself swallowed and rescued everyone by cutting the monster open from the inside, and staring a new world.
As I said before, the local trickster is Tortoise. I was reminded of Anansi and his moss-covered rock by the tale where Tortoise tricked animals into climbing a tree and being eaten by Leopard, until Mboko, the white antelope, once again came to the rescue. There was also another trickster figure, He-Spider, who tried to copy elephants and got hurt in the process, as tricksters sometimes do.

Where to next?
The Republic of Congo!

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