Monday, July 26, 2021

Tales within the clouds (Folktales of Chinese minorities 11. - Nakhi)

 As a sequel to the Following folktales around the world reading challenge, I decided to start reading minority and indigenous folktales. First up are the minority peoples who live in China. You can find previous posts here, and you can follow the challenge on Facebook here.

Tales from within the clouds

Nakhi stories of China
Carolyn Han & Jaiho Cheng
University of Hawaii Press, 1997.

A slim, but beautifully illustrated volume that contains ten folktales. The Nakhi number about 300,000 people, and they have migrated from Tibet to the area of Yunnan and Sichuan around the start of CE. They are known for the fact that a large group of them is still matriarchal, marriage is not common among them, and they only have a word for mother, not father.
The tales were translated from Chinese to English by Jaiho Cheng, and retold by Carolyn Han with close attention to the original content and meaning. The short introduction talks about Nakhi culture, storytelling, and the importance of folktales and women heroes. The book is illustrated by the paintings of Li Ji, an artist from Yunnan.


An old favorite of my from this book is the Nakhi creation myth, in which four women - Thinker, Doer, Seer, and Wisdom - find a way to rid the world of an evil serpent. They trick the serpent into stealing the egg of Golden Wings, a giant bird that kills the monster in revenge. The serpent's body transforms into mountains.
I also loved the tale about the Heavenly sisters, Sun and Moon. Sun was lazy and easily angered, while Moon was patient and hard-working. When they wanted to go on a journey together, Moon set out without waiting for her sleeping sister. Sun ran after her in a hurry, forgetting she was naked - and has been blinding people ever since to cover herself up.
The tale of the cicadas was a bit creepy: it explained why they spend several years underground, but it also claimed they "grow little umbrellas" against the sun... except said green umbrellas are a parasitic fungus that grows out of the cicadas it kills. The same phenomenon appeared in the story of Miss Chongcao, the origin legend of the Chinese caterpillar fungus. The caterpillar in the tale put on green or brown clothes, depending on who wanted to eat her.
I liked the message in the Arrogant azalea story: in a beauty contest among flowers, the azalea belittled and bullied the Pine Tree - who ended up getting the award from the Queen of Flowers for its inner beauty anyway.


I was reminded of folktales from Africa by the story that explains why dogs lap water. Here, the lazy dog did not help others deal with channeling water, so he was forbidden from drinking it. Ever since then, he has to lap water secretly, in a hurry.
Tricksters were represented by Flea, who had a race-like contest with Louse about who could collect more wood. In the end, Flea was defeated by his own impatience.

Who's next?

1 comment:

  1. I was nominated for this little challenge and I would like to nominate you and see your answers... -