Saturday, September 19, 2020

StorySpotting: People marrying trees (As seen on the news)

StorySpotting is a weekly or kinda-weekly series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

StorySpotting is usually for film, comics, TV shows, and other popular media, but every once in a while, I see something on the news that is also worth including. Like, in this case, where a true story reminds me of a few folktales...

Where was the story spotted?

A bunch of articles came out last week about "a woman married to a tree", who is celebrating her first wedding anniversary. Just google "Kate Cunningham" and "tree."

What happens?

Her maiden name is Kate Cunningham, and her married name is Kate Elder, since her tree-spouse is an elder (she also has a human boyfriend and two children). She is an environmental activist who married the elder tree in Rimrose Valley Park last year, in an attempt to stop a road being built through the park. She got the idea from Mexican activists who do the same to halt illegal logging. It is basically a very dedicated (and newsworthy) form of tree-hugging for environmental conservation. It even has its own Wikipedia page

What's the story?

Marrying trees is not exactly unheard of in world folklore. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn't, but either way, it makes for a good story. 

In a Sangu folktale from Tanzania a woman marries a tree while her sisters take animal husbands. She later discovers that her tree-husband sheds its bark at night in the form of a pangolin, and turns into a handsome human man. At dawn, the pangolin returns, and the man becomes a tree again. The marriage goes on like this until the woman eventually kills the pangolin (poor pangolin!), and the husband remains human.
There is a Makka legend from Paraguay about a woman who marries a lignum vitae tree. She falls in love with the beautiful tree and scratches it gently every day, until the tree bleeds, and visits her at night, becoming her husband. It brings abundance to the crops of the village, and has a child with the woman, but when she cheats on it, the lignum vitae ascends to the sky. But even then, it makes sure child and family never go hungry. 
In a Tlingit legend, a girl dreams about a man visiting her multiple times, and then gives birth to a boy. No one knows who the father is, and no man takes responsibility, so the girl's father invites all the "people of the trees". When they arrive, the boy crawls straight to the old man by the door, who turns out to be the spirit of an old spruce tree. The mother marries him.
In an Indonesian folktale from Sumatra, a brave princess named Kemang falls in love with a beautiful mango tree who turns out to be an enchanted prince. She manages to find a way to break the enchantment, and transform the entire forest into a kingdom.
In the heartbreaking Japanese tale of the Willow Wife, a young man saves a willow tree from being cut down for timber. Soon, a mysterious woman appears in his life, and turns out to be the spirit of the willow tree he loved so much. Sadly, people eventually cut the tree down anyway, and the willow wife disappears in the same instant. 
The Indian folktale of The Flowering Tree features a girl who has the power to transform herself into a tree filled with beautiful flowers. Eventually some jealous women trap her in her half-transformed stage and tear her branches and flowers, and she has to go through a lot of pain and suffering until her husband's love restores her.
In a Jamaican folktale, a lonely hunter sees a pretty tree, and wishes it was a woman, because I would love to marry her. Lo and behold, the tree transforms into a woman, and she marries the man. Later on another man kidnaps her, but her husband goes to the rescue.
Some tales are even darker than that. A storyteller named Emily Dean, of mixed Fox Indian and Black heritage, told a tale in the 19th century about a hunter who married a pretty but mysterious girl by the forest. At night, he felt like he was touching bark and branches, and during the day the girl disappeared, until he eventually figured out he is married to a tree spirit, and managed to reveal her as an old hag that turned into a hollow log. The Jewish tale of The demon in the tree is very similar to the story known (thanks to Tim Burton) as The Corpse Bride. Here, a young man practicing his wedding vows puts a ring on a tree branch, just to find himself married to a tree demon. The demon kills all his brides, until he marries a woman sensible enough to strike a deal with her. The double marriage is resolved by negotiation in the end.


I guess one could do worse than a tree for a spouse.

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