Monday, January 25, 2021

Serpents, leopards, rainbows (Following folktales around the world 187. - Taiwan)

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!

Aboriginal Folk Tales of Taiwan 
Animals, heroes, and heroic adventures 
Charles P. Beaupre 
Edwin Mellen Press, 2008.

The book contains 44 folktales divided into 3 categories: Animal stories, Heroes, and Heroic Adventures. The tales have been collected from the aboriginal inhabitants of Taiwan, who roughly make up 2% of the island's population. The introduction talks about their storytelling traditions and their history. There used to be several plains and mountains tribes, but with the arrival of the Han Chinese the plains people were assimilated and their stories didn't survive. The book therefore contains folktales from 13 mountain tribes (which are noted at the end of each story). Each chapter gets its own short introduction, which mainly talk about the strong connection between indigenous people and nature. The book is a fascinating read, I found a lot of great stories in it.


The legend about the snake warrior was interesting because he did not lose his snake aspect in the end. Quite the opposite: with the help of his serpent ancestors he learned to fly and shapeshift, and helped defeat his tribe's enemies in the form of a giant snake. Serpents figured into multiple stories. A Bunun tale talked about a time when humans and snakes lived in friendship (they still have the same word for snake and friend), but a careless woman accidentally killed a baby snake, and the close friendship was replaced by a mutual treaty. In another story a giant evil serpent caused a flood, and a heroic giant crab fought it, rearranging the island's topography and saving people from extinction. This epic battle had another version in the book too, where a brave toad and a blackbird helped people get fire so they could survive the flood. In fact, great battles were a common theme in the tales: one legend talked about the war between humans and giants (won with special fire arrows), and another about the war between humans and the Little People who lived underground. 
The tale of the rainbow fish was a beautiful story about a girl whose body shone with radiant rainbow light that could not be obscured. She was abducted by the Spirit of the Sea, and her parents turned into rainbow fish to go find her.
I liked the story that claimed that in the old days firewood used to come to the house voluntarily, and millet multiplied magically - until a woman got frustrated with them and offended them. She got turned into a mouse, but people forgave her for her mistake, and allowed her to keep living in houses to this day. Other transformations also happened: for example, two competing but loving brothers became a bear and a clouded leopard. The latter appeared in another tale too, where a tame leopard led a hunter to a beautiful place in the mountains where he could establish a new home.


There was a beautiful "sun seeking" legend in the book: three warriors set out with three babies to shoot the sun for being too scorching hot. The journey took long, and eventually the children took over, splitting the sun in two so day and night were created. In another story a grieving father wounded one of the two suns, and created the moon. I also liked the origin story of sweet potatoes, where a windowed father wanted to take care of his grieving son from beyond the grave, so he sent up the first potato plants. 
The serpent husband was similar to a Beauty and the Beast / False Bride tale. The serpent was not a cursed human but an actual serpent spirit, who lived in his own village with his people. However, his sister killed the human bride, and the tale ended in tragedy. There were also other animal grooms in the book, such as a bear (also with a tragic ending) and a dog (who turned into a man, eloped with a girl, and became the ancestor of the people of Taiwan). The most interesting supernatural bride was a flint stone, who turned into a human at night to visit a lonely man. The tale did not offer a solution, but rather her husband was happy to live with her as is.
There was a nice trickster tale about Crab and Monkey who kept trying to prank each other, but when monkey was accidentally hurt, crab gave him a piece of his own heart. There was also a similar story about a Raven and a Pangolin

Where to next?
Last big jump, to Mongolia!

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