Saturday, January 25, 2020

Year of the Rat: Favorite rat folktales

Today is the day of the lunar new year, and according to the Chinese zodiac we are entering the Year of the Rat. Rats get a bad reputation in Western cultures, even though they are smart and empathetic creatures. To celebrate the new year I have collected some of my favorite rat folktales:

The egg, the broom, and the sagai (Mauritius)

This is a classic "devil husband" tale. A girl marries a rich and suave stranger, who takes her home. One day she shares her coffee with a hungry little rat, and in exchange the rat warns her that her husband is a wolf in disguise who wants to devour her. The rat (who is a fairy woman) helps the wife escape with some magic items; once she is safely home she swears never to harm rats ever again.

The commoner's daughter who was given in marriage by three kings (Tanzania)

A girl is given to a prince as a wife, but he refuses to have anything to do with her because she's a commoner. He orders his servants to bury her alive. The girl is rescued by a group of rats, who dig her a tunnel back to her parents' house. Then they help her spy on the prince, and she makes a plan to pretend to be a princess three times over. Her husband never recognizes her, but he falls in love and marries her three times before she reveals what's going on.

Turtle, dove, and the rat (Vanuatu)

A dove drifts out to sea, and a turtle rescues her. When the turtle in turn is caught by people, the dove teams up with a rat to rescue their friend.

The god that turned into a rat (Fiji)

A god decides to visit the deity of a neighboring island. He turns into a rat and travels across the water inside a piece of bamboo. However, when he arrives he is so exhausted that he can't shapeshift back into his real form - so he has to live as a rat for a while until he can gather his power again.

The spider who won Nzambi's daughter (Congo)

In order to win the goddess Nzambi's daughter, Spider has to go up into the sky and steal fire from there. He gathers a team: Tortoise, Woodpecker, Rat, and Sandfly. They all ascend into the sky on spider silk, and meet Nzambi Mpungu, who gives them various tasks to fulfill in exchange for the fire. One of the tasks is that someone has to withstand a bonfire. Rat burrows into the ground under the pyre, and comes out unhurt.

Rat and Leopard's friendship (Gabon)

Leopard keeps killing the animals, so Rat befriends him, and every time Leopard thinks of killing someone he warns them in advance. Leopard eventually finds out, and pretends to be dead to lure Rat close to him. Rat, however, is a lot smarter, he discovers the trick, and manages to get away.
(Rat is the trickster in a lot of these tales.)

Leopard's hunting camp (Gabon)

Rat and Leopard go and set up hunting camps together. However, Leopard keeps cheating Rat out of the best bits of their catch, until Rat finds a way to trick him. Leopard then captures Rat with the use of the age-old tar baby trick, but Rat finds a way out, and on the way home from the jungle he even steals the remaining meat from Leopard.

Cat and rat bathe together (Grenada)

A short but powerful tale about how a kitten and a small rat play and bathe together until their parents tell them they are supposed to be enemies.

The rat and the man (Adi people)

Rat discovers that people build nice little huts for their dead, and wants to have a grave like that when he dies. He makes a deal with a man, promising to reveal secrets of food and wealth in exchange for a grave. However as the man grows rich he becomes mean. Rat decides to test him and pretends to be dead - instead of a grave, the man throws him away in the jungle. Rats lodge a complaint with the village chief, and because no justice is served, they swear to keep eating people's food and crops as revenge for all eternity.

The rat princess (Japan)

A very pretty rat princess wants to get married, and her parents are looking for the most powerful suitor in the world. By the end of the chain tale, they discover rats are the most powerful, and the princess happily marries another rat.

Happy New Year!

No comments:

Post a Comment