Trickster Tales: Soongoora the Hare


This article was first published in Enchanted Conversation Magazine titled Soongoora the Hare: An African Folkltale, on 6th April 2019, written by zteve t evans. 

Soongoora the Hare

Soongoora the Hare was hungry, and wandering through the forest, came across a huge calabash tree. Hearing a strong humming sound, he looked and saw buzzing in and out of large hole in the trunk, many bees.Thinking he would like some honey, he went into town looking for someone to help him.

He met a big rat name Bookoo, who was in fact a very respectable citizen of the town. Smiling, Bookoo invited him to sit down and rest in his house.  Soongoora thanked him, and sitting down sighed,“Sadly, my father has recently passed away and left me in his will, a bee’s nest of honey. Would you like to help me eat it?”

Bookoo loved honey and readily accepted the invitation and accompanied Soongoora to the calabash tree. Soongoora pointed up to the hole where the bees were buzzing in and out and said, “There, we must climb up.”  

First, both cut a bundle of dried grass and climbed up to the hole where they set the grass alight, causing lots of smoke. The bees became too sleepy to bother them, allowing Soongoora and Bookoo to tuck into the honey.

As they were enjoying the feast, out of the forest sauntered Simba the Lion who sat at the bottom of the tree looking up at them and growled, “Who is in my tree, eating my honey, looking down on me while I look up at them?”

Soongoora whispered to Bookoo, “Shhh – keep quiet! He is old and crazy. Keep quiet, and he will go away.”

Simba did not go away and grew angry roaring, “Tell me who you are, now!”

This terrified poor Bookoo who stammered, “It is only us, only us!,”  

Soongoora rolled his eyes and shook his head.  He knew this meant trouble and whispered to his friend,“Wrap the grass around me and shout down that you are going to throw grass down.  Tell him to stand back, well out of the way. Then slowly climb down the tree.”

Bookoo loved honey and readily accepted the invitation and accompanied Soongoora to the calabash tree. Soongoora pointed up to the hole where the bees were buzzing in and out and said, “There, we must climb up.”  

First, both cut a bundle of dried grass and climbed up to the hole where they set the grass alight, causing lots of smoke. The bees became too sleepy to bother them, allowing Soongoora and Bookoo to tuck into the honey.
As they were enjoying the feast, out of the forest sauntered Simba the Lion who sat at the bottom of the tree looking up at them and growled, “Who is in my tree, eating my honey, looking down on me while I look up at them?”

Soongoora whispered to Bookoo, “Shhh – keep quiet! He is old and crazy. Keep quiet, and he will go away.”

Simba did not go away and grew angry roaring, “Tell me who you are, now!”

This terrified poor Bookoo who stammered, “It is only us, only us!,”  

Soongoora rolled his eyes and shook his head.  He knew this meant trouble and whispered to his friend,“Wrap the grass around me and shout down that you are going to throw grass down.  Tell him to stand back, well out of the way. Then slowly climb down the tree.”

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Raven and the Haida People

The Haida people are native to areas of British Columbia, Canada and Alaska, USA. The  the archipelago of Haida Gwaii, is considered to be their heartland especially the two main islands.  The Haida tell many wonderful stories featuring Raven who in their mythology, legends and traditions is seen as a provider and bringer of light to humanity while also being a trickster.  It was Raven who was the transformer, healer and magician and yet is often presented as being greedy, lustful and mischievous. Yet despite these contradictions Raven is very much a cultural hero of the Haida.

Raven and the First People

In one creation myth they tell that before Raven all of the world was one enormous flood. The myth tells how there was once a time when there was nothing but water everywhere. One day Raven became bored and spread his wings and flew.  As he flew the waters began to recede. When Raven became hungry land was formed and Raven  settled on it and found food.

One day Raven heard strange noises coming from a shell.  This both intrigued and confused Raven. The strange sound from the clam became louder and more frantic and so Raven having a fine singing voice thought he would sing to it in the hope of soothing whatever was making the noise.  So Raven sung to it and eventually a small but extraordinary creature broke out of the shell. Indeed, it was a very peculiar with two legs, a head that was round and covered at the top in long black hair and soft skin. Unlike Raven it had no wings and no feathers.   This creature was the very first of the First People and more came from the shell and all of these were male.

To begin with Raven was intrigued but gradually grew bored with them and thought about putting them all back in the shell. Then he decided he would look for some females to keep all of these males company.   It so happened that Raven found some more people who were inside a another shell. Setting them free Raven discovered they were female people. He was enthralled as he watched how male and female interacted with each other and began to feel protective and responsible towards them.

Creation Myths

The Haida have other versions of  tales that tell how the world was created such as the one that follows.  There was a time when the world was just sky and water and in the water was a reef where the first beings lived.  The greatest of these beings lived upon the highest part of the reef and looked down on the lesser beings who lived on the lower parts of the reef.

Raven flew over the reef looking for a place to settle but could see no room to land. Therefore he decided to fly to the sky country and there he found the daughter of a Chief who had a young baby.   In the darkness of night Raven stole the child with the intention of taking its place as Raven Child.

Raven Brings the Sun, Moon and Stars

There is a very old story that tells how Raven brought the Sun, the Stars, the Moon and fresh water and fire to the world to benefit the people.  It tells how in the the beginning of the world the guardian of the Sun, Moon, Stars, fresh water and fire was Gray Eagle. He hated people and hid beneficial things from them. He hid the Sun, the Moon, the Stars and fresh water and fire from them and the people were cold and lived in darkness.

In these early days of the world Raven was pure white and he fell in love with the daughter of Gray Eagle who thought him very handsome in white.  One day she invited him to visit her in her father’s longhouse. When Raven arrived he saw that the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, along with fresh water were all hanging up around the sides of Gray Eagle’s home. When he knew no one was looking he stole them and also took a burning brand from the fire and flew out of the smoke hole in the roof  with his loot.  Flying up high in the sky he hung the Sun up and its light flooded out over the Earth lighting and warming  he day. In fact there was so much light he could see far enough to fly out across the ocean to an island situated in its middle .  When the Sun wet down he hung up the Moon and Stars in different parts of the sky and by this light he flew back to the land carrying the fresh water and the firebrand.  

When he reached the land he found what he thought was a good place and dropped the fresh water.  Where it landed on the ground became the source of all of the freshwater that creates all of rivers, lakes and  streams in the world today.

Raven flew on holding the flaming brand in his beak and as he flew the smoke from the fiery brand flowed over his snowy white feathers turning them black. As he flew the brand burnt smaller and smaller and eventually it began to burn his beak and Raven was forced to drop it.  The burning brand fell from the sky and crashed into rocks and instantly concealed itself inside of them. This is how the sparks that appear when two stones are struck together got in the stone and why we can make fire from them.

As for Raven he lost his white plumage after it was covered in soot from the firebrand and that is why today all of his feathers are black.

© 11/04/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 11th, 2018 zteve t evans

The Tikbalang in Philippine Folklore: A Shapeshifting Trickster

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Tikbalang of the Philippines – By Rodsan18 – CC BY 2.5

In Philippine folklore, a tikbalang is a bizarre, shape-shifting, trickster spirit that haunts certain places in the wildlands of the country.   It is said to be a tall humanoid creature that dwells in the forests and mountains of the Philippines and often described as a reverse form of a centaur.  Where the centaur has the body of a horse and the torso and head of a man, the tikbalang has the head of a horse and the body of a human.  Although descriptions vary they are generally described as being tall and bony creatures with limbs that tend to be disproportionate to their body.  For example, because its legs are so long and skinny, when the creature squats down its knees are higher than its head.  It is usually said to have animal-like feet usually similar to horse hooves.   In some traditions, it is said to have evolved from an aborted human fetus that was held in limbo and sent back to Earth.  In some traditions, tikbalangs can change their shape into that of humans and can also become invisible.

Shapeshifting Tricks

One of the tricks of the tikbalang is to change its physical form into that of a relative, friend or someone closely associated to any traveler that it may come across in the wilds. It then appears to the victim in this familiar form pretending to know the way deceiving them into being led through the dark woods or along remote mountain paths to a place far from the help of others.  When the time comes the for the tikbalang to reveal itself the victim may experience the smell of tobacco before the face and the body of their guide blurs as it changes from the that of the victim’s, relative or friend, into its own true monstrous form.

Those few victims unlucky enough to experience such an encounter have been known to stumble into to villages or towns muttering or raving incoherently.   It is said that people who have tried to help them say that the unfortunate person will tell how they were pushed and struck and knocked to the ground repeatedly.  All through this ordeal all they could do was giggle nervously like they were children.  The more they resisted the more they were abused but once they stopped resisting they found themselves alone in the forest in the night completely disoriented.

Some people claim tikbalangs are purely mischievous rather than malignant spirits arguing they only eat evil people or those who do not practice the form of Catholic devotion known as the angelus.  That may be so but they can certainly be alarming and according to tradition one of the tricks of the tikbalang is to lead solitary travelers astray and get them lost.  No matter which way they turn will keep on returning to a certain place in the forest.  Sometimes this can last for days until the tikbalang tires of the game.  Sometimes the victim becomes completely lost and is never seen by his family and friends again.

Protection Against Tikbalangs

Tikbalangs have many undesirable characteristics that give the good reason for most humans to avoid them.  They are known to be tricksters who try and trick travelers making them lose their way or go round in circles.  However, the savvy traveler could ward against tikbalangs by wearing their shirt inside out.  Another way is to ask loudly for permission to pass by a known tikbalang lair, or by moving silently through the forest so as not to disturb or upset them in any way.

Superstitions and Traditions

In the Rizal Province of the Philippines, the Tagalog people have a superstitious tradition that says tikbalangs were benevolent guardians of the forests.  They were the spirits that were responsible for the forces of nature that made the trees and plants grow and the land to flourish in an area which became their territory. They were said to station themselves at the foot of large trees and stand on guard against anyone who should appear to offer a threat against their territory.

In the Philippines the people say, “ May kinakasal na tikbalang “, when ran falls from a clear sky which means a tikbalang is getting married.    Many cultures from different parts of the world have similar sayings when supernatural or trickster characters get married.  For example, there is a Spanish proverb that says when rain falls on a sunny day a witch is getting married.

Some traditions say that tikbalangs were once very beautiful women who had lived to be very, very, old.  Another says that they will only bathe during a night of the full moon. It is also believed that sometimes a tikbalang will fall in love with a mortal and become infatuated with them.

The Lair of the Tikbalang

Tikbalangs are believed to prefer to live in places where there are many trees and lots of dark, dense foliage and few humans.  They are said to like bamboo and banana groves and the tops of the Balite (Ficus indica) and Kalumpang (Sterculia foetida) trees. Sometimes they are seen sitting in the topmost branches of trees smoking tobacco.  Underneath bridges is also a favorite place for a tikbalang to live.

Taming a Tikbalang

It is possible for those who have the will to tame a tikbalang providing they go about it in the correct way.  Once tamed they can be very useful servants but it is important to remember the following points when taming a tikbalang.

Tikbalangs have a thick mane that consists of sharp spines. The three thickest spines are the important ones to identify for those who want to tame a tikbalang.  According to Philippines tradition, it is possible to tame and train a tikbalang by obtaining any one of these three spines which will give the holder of the spine power over the beast and the tikbalang will then be their servant.

However, as may be expected, it is not an easy task to get one of these spines in the first place and the creature must first be subdued.  To do this it is necessary to leap upon its back and try and tie a specially prepared rope around it.   The tikbalang will respond by flying wildly through the air trying to buck off the rider who must hang on until the beast becomes exhausted and subdued.  The rider must then seek out the three spines which may be gold in color and thicker than the rest and pluck them out.  Once the rider has plucked out these spines the tikbalang will become their servant and serve them for the rest of their lives.

© 25/04/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 25th, 2017 zteve t evans

Welsh folklore: Twm Siôn Cati the trickster

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Twm Sion Cati’s cave – By Hywel Williams – CC BY-SA 2.0

Twm Siôn Cati

Twm Siôn Cati was a real person who entered Welsh folklore for his exploits as an outlaw, thief and a confidence trickster.  There are many stories about him but it is generally agreed he was born around 1530 in the Tregaron area of Wales. His mother was Cati Jones of Tregaron and his father was said to be  Siôn ap Dafydd ap Madog ap Hywel Moetheu.  His mother named him Thomas Jones and he became became popularly known as Twm Siôn Cati.

Twm had hideout known as Sion Cati’s Cave on Dinas Hill above Tregaron. The cave is quite difficult to access requiring a steep climb and is hidden by rocks and trees and overlooks where the River Pysgotwr joins the River Towy.  Many tall stories grew up around him and it is difficult to separate fact from fiction as there are many versions of the same tale.  The following are examples of these tales.

Twm and the highwayman

In one such story Twm is carry a large wad of money gained from his illegal activities and needs to stay overnight in an inn.  It may be that thieves have a way of recognising another thief,  but Twm gets wind of a plot by a highwayman to steal his ill gotten gains.   The next morning Twm prepares his horse making a show of fastening his saddle pack as if it contains something valuable and then rides off.  He has not gone far when he notices the highwayman is shadowing him.  While not letting on he knows the highwayman is there he throws the saddle pack into a nearby pond and then rides off.

The highwayman waits till Twm has disappeared into the distance and then dismounts and wades into the water to find the saddle pack which has sunk to the bottom.  Meanwhile Twm has doubled back and while his adversary is searching the pond Twm steals his horse and rides off with it.  Now the highwayman has trained his horse well and he shouts at it to stop.  After a few apt expletives Twm finds the right words which  set the horse galloping away again and escapes selling the horse for more profit.

Twm and the farmer

Another tale tells how an angry farmer hunted after Twm after he had stolen one of his cows.  The farmer on arriving outside the home of Twm’s mother sees a beggar outside the house and asks him if Twm Siôn Cati lived there.  The beggar tells the farmer that indeed he does live there.  The farmer then asks the beggar to hold his whip and horse while he goes into the house to confront Twm.

The farmer storms into the house looking for Twm but the beggar is really Twm and gallops off full pelt on the  horse straight to the farmer’s house.  Once there he jumps from the horse and rushes to find the farmer’s wife.  He finds her and tells her that the husband is in deep trouble and is in desperate need of money.  To convince her he presents her husband’s horse whip and horse as proof.  Convinced, she gives him the money but instead of taking it to the farmer he rides off to London and sells the horse when he gets there.

Twm and the shopkeeper

On another occasion Twm enrolled the help of a beggar to steal a pot from a shop.  After entering the shop separately Twm began talking to the shopkeeper, saying his pots were not very good, while the beggar looked around as if interested in buying something.  Twm further distracted the shopkeeper by telling him one of the pot had an hole in.  This annoyed the shopkeeper who took great pride in the quality of his wares and began to examine one closely.  Twm told him to put his hand in the pot, which he did and then Twm pointed out that there must be a hole for him to get his hand inside.  Meanwhile with the shopkeeper distracted his accomplice has sneaked off taking the best pot in the place with him.

Twm and the squire’s daughter

Another tale tells how Twm robbed a young woman who was accompanied by her father, a local squire.  According to this, Twm fell in love with the woman at first sight and gave her the jewellery back.  He tried his best to win her affections by conventional means but he was unsuccessful.

However, not being one to give up easily he came up with a more unconventional way. One night when there was a full moon he crept up to her bedroom window, tapped lightly on the pane and when she opened it he grasped her hand tightly.  Kissing it  passionately he refused to let go until she had agreed to be his wife.  Defiantly, the woman refused to accept the proposal. Twm drew his knife and cut her wrist slightly causing it to bleed.  He then told her that unless she promised to marry him he would cut her hand off.

Hardly a romantic moment but she agreed to the marriage, which despite her father’s opposition took place soon after.  Now, some say the woman had been married before to the Sheriff of Carmarthen who had died leaving her a widow.   The Sheriff was said by some to have been Twm’s arch enemy.  Nevertheless, whatever the truth in this, they married.

Respectability

Ironically, it seems that with marriage he eventually gained enough respectability to become a justice of the peace, judging others until his death in 1620.  At some stage he appears to have been given a Royal Pardon by Elizabeth Ist and apart from his outlaw days is remembered as a justice of the peace, bard, Welsh historian, genealogist and a pillar of respectability.

© 13/01/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright January 13th 2016 zteve t evans