Monday, January 20, 2020

Pearls from India (Following folktales around the world 139. - Mauritius)

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!

Folk ​tales of Mauritius
Pahlad Ramsurrun
Sterling Publishing, 1982.

The book contains nineteen folktales from the island of Mauritius. They are prefaced by a short introduction that makes some stunningly wrong statements, such as that black people didn't have their own folktales because their memory is bad (?!), and they only repeated stories from other colonizers (?!). On the other hand, the author praises Indian storytelling and storytellers. All nineteen stories are from the Bhojpuri tradition (Mauritius has always had a mixed population, since it did not have indigenous inhabitants before the Portuguese showed up). Despite the awful introduction, the tales themselves were enjoyable and interesting, and had lots of mixed African and European motifs.


I liked the legend adjacent to the Ramayana that explained the birth of the island. The evil sorcerer Mareech, who assisted in the abduction of Sita, was killed by Rama, but before his death he begged to be able to hear his name forever.His body turned into pearls, which Rama cast into the ocean, where they turned into islands. Later on when the first Indian settlers arrived to Mauritius (Mareech's island), they told legends of Rama, and thus his name is still heard there today.
The story of The guru and his apprentice was full of unexpected turns. The two protagonists ended up in a kingdom where a king did justice all wrong. A bunch of thieves wanted to rob an old woman, but the wall of her hut collapsed and killed one of them. They then complained to the king, asking for her to be punished, and the old woman blamed the builder of the house. The king ordered the builder executed, but since he was too skinny for the noose, they found a fatter person randomly instead to be hanged. Eventually the guru and the apprentice managed to trick the unjust king into killing himself instead.


There was a devil-husband story that reminded me of the Cajun tale of Marie Jolie, and was elaborated really well. A girl married a rich werewolf, who wanted to devour her, but a fairy in the shape of a rat helped her get away with an egg, a broom, and a sagai leaf. The latter, when thrown behind her, turned into plants that "shredded the wolves like sausages in a Chinese restaurant."
The story of the king's horns was the same as King Midas; here the sandalwood tree told the secret. Sabour's fan was a distant variant of the Italian Canary Prince; here the girl did not only save her injured lover, but also tested him to see if he would marry anyone else. I was reminded of Bantu stories by The miracle of the colophane tree - a king sent animals to ask a wise person how a dry lake could be refilled, but all of them forgot the answer on the way back. Eventually Tortoise made the trip successfully, and told the king all colophane trees had to be cut down for the lake to refill. The story was supposed to explain why these trees are rare on Mauritius.
The resident trickster is Hare, who played some very nasty tricks on other animals until he was tricked in return. He muddied the king's bathing pond in a story I have already read from Zimbabwe, until Tortoise caught him by covering her shell in tar. In a few stories Monkey was also a trickster, and usually was punished for it.

Where to next?

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