Monday, August 23, 2021

The new and the familiar (Folktales of Chinese minorities 15. - Salar)

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.

The ​Folklore of China's Islamic Salar Nationality
Kevin Stuart, Ma Wei, Ma Jianzhong
Edwin Mellen Press, 2001.

The Salar are a Muslim minority of Turkic origin who migrated to the area of Qinghai Province in the 13th century. Today they number about 130 thousand people. They have strong cultural ties to Tibet, Mongolia, and the surrounding Muslim groups.
The book contains 32 traditional stories, as well as several folk songs and proverbs. All of them are published in three forms: in Salar, in phonetic transcription, and English translation. Twenty years ago, when the book came out, it was the only publication in the Salar language. The short introduction talks about Salar culture and literacy, and also contains several color photos.
The texts themselves were hard to follow sometimes, because the three kinds of text alternate every paragraph, and the English parts are full of notes and in-text comments. Sadly, the only copy of the book I could find was not complete, but I still managed to read most of the stories.

Highlights and connections

Most of the highlights were also connections, so I am not separating the two.

For example, the legend about Lake Qizi belonged to the familiar type where people are punished for not respecting natural treasures. In this case, a woman washed dirty clothes in the lake's clean water. A mysterious old man soon showed up, and with the help of two borrowed mules he moved the whole lake to another location in a single night.
Boylir Boko was a legendary strong man, who lifted a millstone to give directions to his opponent (Hungary has similar legends too). Other than his storied strength, he also had magic abilities - for example, no matter how much grain he threshed, it always multiplied (a trope familiar from the Nart sagas). 
There was an exciting "magic flight" story: a girl fled form an old cannibal woman with the help of a friendly calf. The calf in the end turned into a lion to protect the girl. There was also a cool "three kidnapped princesses" variant with a hero named Masinbo, that once again featured the motif of an offended cat peeing on the fireplace, kicking off a quest for new fire. The hero was rescued from the underworld by a man who could turn into an eagle.
The story of Hasen Beser was a classic "swan bride" tale, but it had an interesting and beautiful start with mushroom picking and a magic garden full of edible flowers. The tale of Agu Kharaji belonged to another classic, the "clever maiden" type, where a girl speaking in riddles found herself a matching husband - sadly, however, the story came to a tragic ending when jealous relatives killed the husband.
The book also contained a version of the legend of Joseph and his brothers, likely transmitted through the Muslim tradition.

Image from here

Who's next?
The Yao people

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