Monday, February 22, 2021

Royal wisdom and trickery (Following folktales around the world 190. - Myanmar)

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!

The Snake Prince, and Other Stories
Burmese folk tales
Edna Ledgard
Interlink Books, 2000.

I usually love Interlink folktale collections, but this one was not my favorite. Not because of the stories - they were great - but rather the collector's attitude. Edna Ledgard is the child of American Baptist missionaries who spent the first 9 years of her life in Burma in the 1930s. She has love and nostalgia for the country, which colors this book with romantic notions as well. In addition, she says the morals of these tales "had to be changed for Western audiences" (ouch). According to Buddhist tradition, villains don't necessarily have to be punished at the end of folktales, because everyone is aware they will be punished in the next life. Ledgard, however, added all kinds of arbitrary punishments to the end of the tales, for "improvement" (including a dragon climbing out of the sea and eating the greedy rich man). At least she tells us in the Notes what she changed, but still, not ideal for a folktale collection.


There were several great tales in the book. One of my favorites was Princess Learned-in-the-Law, who rendered judgment in classic tales such as "smell of fool, clinking of coins." I also loved the legend about the Magic Pincers, which cut off people's hands if they lied - until a young monk tricked them on a technicality, proving that blind tools can't always render justice.
My top favorite tale, however, was The Shy Quilt Bird. The Lion, king of the land animals, agrees to fight the evil Naga, ruler of the seas. The animals of the land decide to work together to save their king, lead by the wise trickster, Golden Rabbit. They make a plan to pretend they are the giant Galon bird to scare the Naga off, helped by the giant but shy Quilt Bird, who, by the end of the story, turns into the tiny wren. It is a lovely cooperation, community, and teamwork tale, and it became an instant favorite in my repertoire. 


There was a snake-husband story that appears in multiple countries around Southeast Asia - here, an old woman sold her daughter to a snake for some fresh fruit.
The resident trickster is Golden Rabbit, who had a tale similar to Mouse Deer stories I know.

Where to next?

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