Monday, August 2, 2021

Stars from the sky, tales from the mountains (Folktales of Chinese minorities 12. - Tibet)

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.

A hóoroszlán meséi
Tibeti mesék
Ábrahám Linda & Szántai Zsolt
Sudhana Könyvkiadó, 2010.

Tibet was mostly a sovereign country for hundreds of years on the borders of China, until in 1951 it was occupied by them. Since then, the six million Tibetans have been counted by Chinese authorities as one of the 55 official ethnic minorities. This book sadly didn't contain any information other than the tales themselves (a total of 96). The stories were selected and translated from Shelton's Tibetan Folk Tales, as well as other English and Tibetan sources.


I liked the tale of the wise bat who saved all the birds in the world from being silenced. A king was going to make them mute on the order of his evil wife, but the bat's cleverness and bravery made him see he had been wrong. Another story that featured an evil woman (a stepmother) was about two half-brothers who loved each other so much that their devotion could even soften a cruel serpent-spirit's heart.
I enjoyed the exciting tale about the illusionist who drew a king into a whole alternate life, and only got away in the end without punishment because the king had signed a waiver ahead of time.
The most beautiful story in the book was about a boy named Chering, who traveled into the sky with the help of a magician. There he could see how dragons were causing storms and distributing rain, and he even managed to pluck a star and put it in his pocket. Another likable tale was about a little shepherd who used his magical music to gather animals, and teach a lesson about generosity to a greedy landlord.
There were several teaching tales in the book. In one of them, a judge announced that he was going to sentence a rock and a donkey for a disputed accident - then fined everyone who showed up to the hearing, for chasing sensation instead of demanding justice. In another, a fox tried to cause strife between a bull and a tiger who had grown up together. The two animals realized the trick just in time, and trampled the fox instead. My favorite, however, was that of the foolish judge who did not want to listen to people. His wife gave him sleeping powder, dressed him as a beggar, and abandoned him in the street. Having to survive among the poor, the judge learned about their life and returned to his post wiser and kinder.


Despite people thinking of Tibet as a place far removed from the rest of the world, there were many familiar tale types in the collection. I encountered international classics such as the Bremen town musicians (The two kittens), animals running a race (Hare and frog, with a duck stealing their prize in the end), wise woman solving a king's riddles (and she became an adviser in the end, not a wife), gold-spitting princes (The prince and his friend; The gold-spitting frog), six brothers who rescued a woman together (and then couldn't decide who should marry her, so they cut her into pieces...), chatty flying tortoise, "who is the strongest" (Mouse Princess, who was sadly married to a cat), Solomon's judgment (between a tortoise and a peacock), Death deceived with a clever trick (The woodcutter and death), a king who had horns; clever chicken, ungrateful animal in a trap (with wolf and hare), ebony horse (The iron fish and the wooden horse), a boy who saves his grandfather from being abandoned (Fathers and sons), Beauty and the Beast (The white rooster, which ended in separation), and even Cinderella (The white cow). The adventures of Nyima were a combination of the Aladdin tale and the journey of the man seeking his fortune.
I once again encountered the tale (in multiple versions) where someone rescues three animals and a human, and while the grateful animals later return the favor, the treacherous human doesn't. The tale of Pelzang was similar to European and Indian legends: it was about an illusionist who tricked a skeptic into living half a life inside an illusion. There was also a story about a hunter who accidentally killed an animal (here a raven) that tried to warn him of danger. The story of the foolish family who did not know what a mirror was sounded familiar from Japanese collections.
Among the tricksters there was a frog who made the tiger believe he fed on tigers. The most popular trickster seemed to be Uncle Tinpa (a clever old man featured in multiple stories), but there was also a young lad named Big Mouth who placed tricks on a greedy landlord. I was amused by the story where clever thieves stole a king's diamond by replacing it with a piece of ice.

Who is next?
The Yugurs

1 comment:

  1. You seem to have many countries and stories to keep writing. Good.
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