Prometheus (out of the cage)

Torche-Promethee-peinture

 

“When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.”

– D. H. Lawrence.

Since the beginning of September, I’ve been officially storytelling in two very different primary schools in Paris, and despite the first moments of black despair for my little voice (sometimes, the louder you scream, the more they respect you, but I don’t like to rise my voice, so let’s change the rules of the game!), the children and I both enjoy ourselves telling the adventures of greek gods and heroes.

Sometimes, their remarks can be truly thought-provoking.

Speaking about the myth of Prometheus, who robbed Athena’s fire and a sparkle of her divine intelligence too, trying in that way to help poor humanity, left naked and defenseless by his not-so-smart brother Epimetheus – not to tell about Pandora! – one of the children asked : “But why did the gods enable humanity to reproduce itself, if men were so weak and fragile?” – “Does the woman make the man stronger?” – “Why man has to suffer in life”

It is not easy to answer to children, looking at you with demanding and curious eyes. Not easy, too, because they don’t like the idea of man being vulnerable, exposed to illness and suffering.

“Because even if humanity is naked and fragile and must struggle and suffer in life, to live is still a beautiful gift, and we have to do it the best we can, with our intelligence, warmth, hope, respect and generosity. Isn’t it great to achieve so much, starting with so little?”

Their eyes began to sparkle, as if the Pleiads were dancing in them : “Can we become gods, then?”

Let’s ask to Orpheus, Achilleus, Odysseus, Heraklès, let’s their voice travel through time to lull our hopes, soot our longing and make us shiver and laugh. Man and Life, challenge accepted!

Erika

A year ago…

Yes, a year ago, we got on a plane that took us far far away, on an amazing journey. I can’t believe how fast time has gone. So, today is the perfect day to announce the creation of an exhibition about this trip around the world and all the myths and tales we heard along the way. It will be shown at the end of September in my hometown in France, and kids from the local school will come see it. I’ll have some time with them to chat about the trip and everything else, I’m so happy!

So, here’s the poster, I hope you’ll like it (even though it’s in French!).

affiche

The Day After Tomorrow (the end is near…)

Fellow travellers, adventurous nomads, myth lovers and Veganians, good morning!

Yes, although my sporadic apparitions, I’m still alive, trying my best not to evaporate in the tremendous and sticky heat of Sukhothai and Bangkok : it was not useless, too, to perform the Rain Dance with the children of the sweet family hosting me, since a huge storm is now approching, with its army of black clouds full of heavy raindrops, grumbling thunders and crazy gusts of wind shaking the mango and banana trees.

Even Buddha sometimes can have his own little black cloud over the head (Sukhothai Old City)

Even Buddha sometimes can have his own little black cloud over the head (Sukhothai Old City)

However, despite our silence, we have not been idle (not so much!), and I had the chance to hear some very interesting Thai legends about Kings, twins and sacred elephants! Some of them were told by laughing children, some by jovial tuktuk drivers (many mosquitos have been unwillingly inhaled while storytelling and bumping on a country road) ; two monks, in Ayutthaya ruins and at the White Temple in Chiang Saen, exposed to me few anecdotes on Buddha and the Buddhist Hell.

Beware of the appearances...

Appearances can be deceiving…

... those two notebooks are full of wise and enlightening stories!

… those two notebooks are full of wise and enlightening stories!

To enter into the White Temple, you must cross the bridge over the Damned Souls... like Orpheus looking for his Eurydice.

To enter into the White Temple, you must cross the bridge over the Damned Souls… like Orpheus looking for his Eurydice.

I still have to finish the drafts on the shamanic Korean legends and the Japanese myths before I could report the Thai stories, and I will do it as soon as I’m home (I apologize for the suspense! But I need calm and time to think, verify and compare the stories, before writing them here). Yes, it’s almost time to go back home ; Janyce is already safe and sound in Paris while I’ve still three days to spend in amazing Thailand. I’m happy and excited to get back, see my family and friends, yet somehow it feels strange, and I’m a bit afraid…

Time flies and ten months have elapsed since we left Paris, last August. We lived many adventures, met wondeful people, laughed a lot, loved, had some issues (fortunately not very important!) and moments of deep homesickness or tiredness from the rigours of the journey (commonly known as the “E.T. phone home” crisis), sometimes even experienced fear (especially in Australia, thanks to Josh and his stories of drop bears), we were often sunburnt and dirty and covered of dust and soil, our shoes destroyed from walking… yet, it was a damn good experience, unforgettable, proving and wonderful.

I thank with all my heart my family and friends who supported me and enabled me to live this amazing adventure, and also the schools that accepted to participate to our project, as well as the people who shared their stories with us.

It was great to travel with Janyce, but also to travel alone. Two very different ways of traveling. I was scared as hell to go out on my own in countries whose languages I did not master or even hardly knew, face to face with my powerful sense of disorientation and wistfulness and bad character, but then everything turned out to be really nice, and I enjoyed those last four months across Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Thailand very much. I could almost cope with my being awfully shy, and open up, meeting the most helpful and sweet people I could ever imagine. And I could almost cope with my being lame. Almost.

I learned a lot, but am conscious there’s still so much to learn yet, to discover and travel. The common question “Where do you come from?” used to baffle me : am I Italian still, or should I say I’m French, since the greatest part of my life has been spent in Paris? Does it really matter? I’ve got two hearts, two homes, and as Socrate once said, I’m a citizen of the world, committed to a long-lasting affair with baguette and spaghetti.

Another question thrilled me : Why do you travel? At first I could not give a sincere answer.

Weeks later, watching the Maekok River flowing by and munching magic mushrooms mango slices, during my first night in Bangkok, I realized how much time and energy was wasted upon self-loathing and nurturing impossible desires, that of constantly being another person or finding peace, freedom and happiness elsewhere… Why do I travel? Of course, because I want to see, learn, experience, but also… to overcome the awful fear of what is unknown, to put my ideas – or should I say prejudices?- to the test of reality, to be free, accepting my own humanity and others’. I travel because I want to love truly. And maybe one day, I’ll be wise enough to learn how to stay.

And you, why do you travel? Why do you stay?

While waiting for your precious answers (and forgiveness for my philosophical fluff), little observations from Skias in Wanderlust :

1. Your passport is your preciousss best friend. Never let him in the wrong hands, or absent-mindedly abandon/drop it somewhere after drinking your second Terremoto cocktail/soju bottle. Keep a copy in a different bag.

2. Mp3 player and earplugs are vital in chaotic cities, crowded dorms, crammed trains or buses and apparently endless journeys.

3. Be patient and open to the unexpected. Plans can change, timetables can vary without prior notice, you’ll lose lots of trains and buses. But you can always manage to get where you want to. Moreover, you will learn to jump on and off crumbling trucks while they’re still (slowly) going on.

4. Trust people, but not too much. Follow your instinct and discriminate between a deceitful scam and a kind local who will introduce you to hidden pearls, out of the tourist traps. For instance, having lunch with Argentinian coastal guards and going into the Guarani Village in the jungle with Carlos was amazing, although highly inconsiderate. And yes, at some point someone will cheat on you, especially on the prices or visa procedures, or rob you in the street :  learn from that slap to your ego, learn to bargain and be more informed, then go on. If you rent a scooter, carefully examine the state of your engine and note down every scratch before you sign something. Most of people are very kind and helpful, some others are not that honest and few are real jerks.

5. Have fun and cheer up at the bar, but try not to get too drunk. Especially if you’re a lone woman traveller, never accept drinks that haven’t been prepared under your eyes or in trustful restaurants. As elsewhere, some gentlemen think that buying you a beer will imply a night of passion : just be aware of your mutual intentions.

6. It seems stupid to remind this, but sometimes it tends to be forgotten : be respectful of the people and habits of the country your traveling into. It’s often basic politeness, little things that will be rewarded with kind acts and big smiles. Take off your shoes before entering in houses or temples, dress properly (even if it’s impossibly hot, especially in temples or Palaces), don’t lose your temper in public, don’t drink or eat while walking in the street (Japan – but make noise when you suck up your udon!), try to greet/thank people in their own language or gestures (bow or joined palms)… Yes, English is not enough, more often than less. You can always communicate with broken words, mimes and pictograms, though, and it’s very funny. Be careful, some body language is ambiguous : in South Asia, people smile when they are pleased or, on the contrary, embarassed. And you will soon handle the chopsticks like a true master (I can’t yet catch flying mosquitos as Miyamoto Musashi did, but I won’t complain so much of my actual skills – as long as I don’t spill food everywhere). Be decently dirty, if you can’t be all clean.

7. Get lost! Keep your sense of wonder alive, enjoy life and have fun!

"Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light" (John Milton)  -After a storm in Sukhothai Old City-

“Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light” (John Milton)
-After a storm in Sukhothai Old City-

Legends and myths coming soon! 

Bonus! General state of your PokErika:

*Lungs : Gone with the Wind (Cusco, my killer queen)

*Legs : Dead Walking (sitting in the grass can be very dangerous indeed)

*Stomach : Sick Sad World (grasshoppers are made of peanut butter)

*Bag : The Big Bang Theory (you never know what nerdy quasars you can find at the bottom of the Universe) – the Romans called the luggages impedimenta = hindrance. They were awfully right, especially if too heavy and big!

*Clothes : Expendables (and no, I wasn’t talking about strip-tease)

*Heart : It’s a Wonderful Life! (Happy and grateful, singing Oooh-ohh)

=> Ready to evolve!

Kumara.

Do you remember the legend of the potato from the Bolivian stories we’ve heard in La Paz? Yes, this one:

The Sapallas were a peaceful and prosperous people who were invaded by the belligerent Karis, enslaved and reduced to misery. Choque, a young descendant from the last Sapalla cacique refused to acknowledge this state of things and cried out for help from the father of the gods, Pachacamac. He heard young Choque’s petition and showed him some seeds from a plant unknown to men of that time, telling him to plant it and eat its roots, but never touch the sprouts, flowers or leaves, as they were poisonous. The Sapallas did as they were told, but the Karis found the new plantations, confiscated them and ate everything the plants produced, except for the roots. As a consequence, they became ill and debilitated, prompting the former slaves to rebel against them and expel them from their land. The new plant was then considered as a divine gift, and called papa (potato).

SOURCE

Well, it seems like the maoris have one too, to explain the origin of one of their most basic ingredient: the kumara (a kind of sweet potato). This important ingredient is no ordinary food. It is said that the god Rongo-Maui went to heaven to see his brother Wahnui, guardian of the kumara. Rongo-Maui stole the divine food from his brother, hid it in his clothes and came back to earth to his wife, Pani. Very soon after, Pani got pregnant, and one day, she gave birth to Kumara. That’s how the sweet potato, so important for the Pacific people, was given to men on earth.

Hey, when you think of it, this story reminds us a lot of how Prometheus stole the fire, so important for mankind, from the gods, no?

Korean Folk Tales (part I)

Annyeong-haseyo!

Since I’m in South Korea, it seems that I’ve been transformed into a mountain-freak. Are you ready to climb thousands stairs and keep up with crowds of fully-equipped, flashy-clothed trekkers? You’ll discover that mountains can tragically fall in love too, that dragons haunted beautiful lakes and shamans spirits still survive not far from Seoul. Moreover, thanks to my innate sense of disorientation, I very often got lost and thus been kindly hosted by some very sweet elderly people who were delighted to share some stories about their country, even if in broken Korean and English, or simply with drawings and gestures…

Ulsanbawi (from Seoraksan near Sokcho)

In the northern corner of Seorak mountain, an impressive rock stands up from east to west, rather aloof, shaped as Ulsan city. It is often called The Face of Mount Seorak. According to the legend, one day the Great Creator called all the mountains, and immediately rocks scattered all around the country to form one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, Geumgangsan. Ulsanbawi answered the call of the God too, but its huge body made its path very difficult and it came too late to be part of Geumgangsan. Nevertheless, on its way home, Ulsanbawi fell in love with the awesome and wild landscapes of Seoraksan and decided to stay there, its gaze always admiring the broken valley.

On the top of Ulsanbawi

Yeonggeumjeong-bawi and the fairies of Biseondae (marine of Sokcho)

From the lighthouse in Yeongmyeong-dong, if you cast a glance towards the East, you can behold a strange rock. People call it “Yonggeumjong”, namely “the pavilion-shaped rock that makes soul-stirring melodies” (Western language cannot equal Korean synthetic poetry, sometimes!) : when the waves break furiously against this lonely rock, a sweet melody  full of melancholy arises, as if some invisible musician was playing the geomungo, a six-stringed sithar. In ancient times, the area was called Biseondae, because fairies used to descend from Heaven at night to bathe and sing wonderful songs. Nowadays, however, the mysterious sirens, as well as the suggestive scenery, have been replaced by the busy horns and whistles of the ships in Sokchohang port, built at the end of the Japanese colonial period.

The Two Dragons and the Hwarangs

1500 years ago, under the reign of Silla dynasty, four young Hwarangs (men of the elite) named Yeongnang, Sulrang, Namrang, and Ansang came to Samilpo, Goseong from Mt. Geungang, and spent three years training in the mountains before taking their own path. Yeongnang, especially, loved to raw on a little boat on the lake.

Yet those lakes were sacred and inhabited by two mighty dragons : Cheongcho was the home of the male dragon, while the female dwelled in lake Yeongnang. The couple used to visit each other by an underground waterway linking the two lakes.    

One fateful day, a fisherman set accidentally fire to the forest of pine trees surrounding Cheongchoho, and the smoke and flames killed the male dragon. His mate went mad with rage and dismay, and punished the fishermen with severe droughts and poor fishings. To soothe her anger and relieve their sufferings, the fishermen called a shaman, who institued a Sea God festival and performed a ritual dance for the rain. During the festival, a boat fight is still held to ensure the protection of the boats passing through Manchon Dong and Cheongdae. But this wasn’t enough and the Hwarangs had to fight the dragon, who, since then, every winter, hides and freezes the whole lake Cheongcho to remember the death of her companion. The frozen lake takes the shape of a Dragon Plowing the Soil (Yongkyeong), and the locals use to foresee the next harvest by the direction of the beast.

       IMGA0177

Frozen Cheongcho... where's the dragon?

Frozen Cheongcho… where’s the dragon?

The Mermaid Of Haeundae (Busan) : Princess Hwangok

Once upon a time, the Princess Hwangok of Naranda, the mythical land of mermaids and tritons hidden under the sea, married King Eunhye of Mugung, a legendary kingdom, and came to live on the shores washed by sunbeams and heavy rains. But she missed her native Naranda very much… every full moon, she would come out and gaze at the open sea, where she could see her beloved lost land reflected on the silver velvet of the waves.

Where is your home, Princess Hwangok?

Where is your home, Princess Hwagok?

  

I hope you enjoyed those legends of Mountains and Sea! But the Korean stories aren’t finished yet… Coming next : tales of shaman spirits and wise Buddhas!

Tales from the Realm of Morning Calm (part II)

On March 14th, it happens to be the Korean Valentine Day, and Korean boyfriends must offer chocolate truffes to their beloved (otherwise imminent break-up for the rule-breaker).

I just remembered a story I heard in Taiwan, when I was ranting against Valentine’s Day, like the true shrew spinster I am. It’s a sad yet beautiful one about star-crossed lovers, and it reminds me of the tale of Bata the Egyptian (one of my favourites!), or even the Puss in Boots (challenge! could you find the common features and tell which kind of archetype they belong to?) …

Ladies and gentlemen, the story of Niulang and Zhinu, aka the Cowboy and the Tailor, will begin soon. Please take a comfy seat and don’t forget to turn off your smartphones (don’t try to fool me, young man in the back! I can see the flashy blue reflection of the display on your glasses!). Usually, it is told to children at the Qixi celebration, or the Festival of the Seventh Night, at the beginning of August, when rain starts to fall.

Once upon a time, a young cowboy named Niulang lived with his elder brother and his wife, but the latter disliked him so much and was so cruel towards him that he had to eventually set off, with a lone cow for companion. Yet, this was no ordinary cow : it was formerly a god, but convicted of rebellion against the Emperor, he was thrown in the mortal world under a bovine shape.

One sunny day, the cow drove his young master to a sacred lake where few fairies were taking a bath. Among them was Zhinu, a heavenly skilled tailor, and beautiful beyond compare. As soon as their eyes met, both fell madly in love and they decided to get married on that very day. They had two children, a boy and a girl, and their happiness knew no cloud.

Nevertheless, such perfect happiness couldn’t last long : the Mighty Jade Emperor, supreme taoist divinity, considered such an uneven union between a mortal and a fairy as unlawful and thus sent the Emperess to recall to Heaven the gifted Zhinu.

Niulang was desperate. Touched by its master’s misfortune, the cow told him to make a pair of shoes out of its skin, once dead.

With these magic shoes, Niulang could chase the Emperess through the sky, crying to let Zhinu go back to him and his children. The Emperess thus threw her hairpin to make a barrier between the two lovers whose hands were almost touching, and the Milky Way was born to tear them apart. However, the divine magpies, deeply moved by such a strong love, decided to make a bridge over the Milky Way and Niulang and Zhinu could finally be together again, even if for an instant.

The Jade Emperor, whose heart was not made of stone, allowed the couple to meet once a year, the seventh day of the seventh month.

So remember to lift your eyes in the summersky and look for the brightest star in the constellation of the Eagle ; just on the other side of the Milky Way, the proud Vega shines flawlessly… these are Niulang and Zhinue waiting to meet again.

Tales from The Realm of Morning Calm (part I)

Annyeong-ah-seyo!

I hope you enjoyed the Guarani folk tales and Bolivian legends faithfully reported by Janyce! Did you notice some similitudes with stories told in Europe?

Since it is a bit difficult to visit schools in Asia, I’m exploring another way to discover and exchange myths : whenever I can, I try to speak with local families or elderly people, who are usually the guardians of popular wisdom and sassy jokes. Of course, sometimes it is quite complicated to communicate because of the linguistic barriers (I can understand some Mandarin and I’m beginning to figure out Korean), but I’m always surprised at how many things we can actually tell with hands, drawings or very simple words – besides a lot of good will and laughters. I could say I have the incredible luck to experience storytelling beyond words.

Sometimes, when  similar or official versions cannot be found by further research, I suspect some stories to be self-made – not to say simply invented – or at least heavily personalized by the storyteller, who has adapted them to a certain public or context of enunciation. Traditions can be preserved while slightly modernized… This is not that bad for our recollection on folk tales and myths : it proves that storytelling is still alive and dynamic, involving multiple interactions between the speaker and the listener.

There are ghost stories, Buddhist moral tales, historical legends, etiologic myths, fables and fairytales… Some of them can serve a moral purpose, educating the children in a funny or scary way, others give a soul to landscapes and natural phaenomena. It could be said that folk tales, in general, are a beautiful attempt to give sense to man and his surroundings.

Thus, while Janyce will tell you the fascinating myths of Peru and Chile, let’s discover now some stories from the mysterious Asia… So tune your ears and listen carefully…

SINGAPORE

 The Street of the Dead

There is a street in Singapore‘s Chinatown, called Sago Lane, where all the death houses were. In those shabby shacks, old and very poor Chinese immigrants came to die. The houses were dark and sad, no young foot ever stepped in nor lively childish voice echoed in them : once you entered  there, you could not get out alive. The elderly were afraid of such a terrible place and prayed day and night not to die, offering cakes and fruit to the divinity. But men must die, it is part of life and even the gods cannot interfere with it. Thus Death itself decided to make the last journey less fearful, and taking the shape of an old man wearing white garments and selling dried fruits and knick-knacks, he put colourful paper flags and drawings at the door of the dying ; he told jokes to make them laugh their heart out, carving their last smile on a mask of clay or paper that shall be burnt with the dead, so to remind him the good times, and let little fish kites fly with their last breath. Little by little, the dark lane began to cheer up, the old people weren’t so frightened anymore, and some of them waited for the old man like children the toy-seller… Nowadays, the death houses have disappeared in Sago Lane, but not the colourful lanterns and papercuts, and sometimes when the wind shakes the doorpaths, you can almost hear an old man’s laughter…                   

TAIWAN

Chang’Er, the Lonely Moon Goddess

Chang’Er was a beautiful nymph serving at the Palace of the Jade Emperor in Heaven, where the gods, fairies and saint souls dwelled. One day, while she was dancing at the feast of gods, she accidentally broke a precious vase in porcelain and the Emperor, furious, cast her away, down in the land of mortals. The only way to come back to Heaven was to perform a good deed on earth. Meanwhile, she was reborn in a poor family.

Eighteen years had passed since that fateful day, and Chang’Er had become e beautiful maid. While he was chasing in the woods, the brave archer Hou Yi spotted her and fell in love at first sight.

Yet something strange occurred : ten suns instead of one arouse the next day, and the earth was withering and burning. The rice fields were dry and full of scars, the Great Yangtse, once storming with its mighty voice, was just a murmuring little brook. The trees started to crackle and burn and the animals, the men, all were desperately looking for shade or a drop of water to quench their thirst. Hou Yi climbed on the highest mountain, tended his bow towards the sky and shoot an arrow, then another and another. Nine arrows had been shot and nine suns had already burst out, when the Emperor stopped Hou Yi, asking him to let just one sun in the sky.

As a reward for his valiant deed, Hou Yi became King and married the beautiful Chang’Er. Years passed, and Hou Yi became a tyrant afraid of death. He that once shot nine suns should soon never see the sun. He ordered to find an elixir of immortality and the moon rabbit make it with magic herbs and powder of stars. Hiding the elixir in a box, Hou Yi smiled with satisfaction. Soon he would become immortal. But what about Chang’Er? Should she die, or should he offer her half of the beverage? Would they still be immortal then? While he was walking in his garden, pondering such existential questions, Chang’Er found the box and swallowed the whole phial, so to save her people from her tyrannical husband. The bitter liquor burnt her throat and she felt strange, as if she was becoming lighter and lighter… soon she was floating in the sky, higher and higher. “Hou Yi, Hou Yi, Hou Yi” called the wind, and the King caught a last glimpse of his beloved wife disappearing behind the clouds. She flew to the moon, where the cassia tree, endlessly cut off by the demon cutter, endlessly buds again.

Hou Yi was furious, but he loved so much Chang’Er that he didn’t shot the moon. Instead, he flew away in dismay and ascended to the sun : darkness in the sun, silver light in the night, Hou Yi and Chang’er became the Yang and the Ying, always intertwined, always apart.

To commemorate the lonely Chang’Er, the people instaured the Moon Festival… paper lanterns are set flying in the nightsky, and moon cakes are baked to remember the rebels against the Sung Dinasty : they used to hide secret messages on the cakes.

But hey! Let’s not forget! who are the moon rabbit and the demon cutter? They have a story too!

Once upon a time, three wise fairies took the shape of old beggars and asked some food to the fox, the monkey and the rabbit. Moved with pity, the fox gave them some mice and a squirrel, while the monkey offered them his nuts. The rabbit, empty-handed, was heartbroken. He thus decided to offer his own flesh to the poor old men and threw himself into the fire. The three fairies were so touched by this extraordinary sacrifice that they transported him to the Moon Palace, where he became the Jade Rabbit.

Wu Kang was a restless young man, always stung by the greatest curiosity, but quite inconsistent : he jumped from master to master like a butterfly. Unsatisfied by mortal teachers, he went to live in the mountains, importunating a god, asking him incessantly to accept him as an apprentice. He learned the healing power of plants to cure his restlessness, but after three days his old disease came back, and he craved for something else to learn. The immortal thus teached him how to play chess, then gave him the book of the immortals to study, but Wu Kang kept asking for more, always more to escape boredom. He went so far as to propose to his master to travel to exotic and faraway lands. Indignant with the annoying young man, the god banished him to the Moon, telling him that he had to cut down a huge cassia tree before coming back on earth. But as soon as Wu Kang cuts down one of its branches or trunks, a new one grows up instantly, simbolizing the endless renewal of desire and life.

Doesn’t this last misadventure of poor Wu Kang remind you of another greedy character from Greek mythology? A special reward for those who can answer!

The Wandering Miners

Jiufen, at the North of Taipei, was once a gold town, until the first half of the XXth century. Labyrinths of tunnels were excavated under its soil, and you could hear the clinking and wailing of chariots, spades ans spikes day and night, day and night, so greedy were the men to find the precious metal. In order to stay awake for so long, men kept sipping tea whose leaves had a strong taste, because the plants grew on the steep cliffs where the sea angrily breaks in thousands waves. But the spirits of the mountain couldn’t sleep because of the frantic noise and became very angry. They hid the gold so deep into the womb of the earth that men had to dig more and more, and drink more tea. Yet the tunnels became unstable, many miners died and the golden veins disappeared. The tunnels were closed, many houses were abandoned, an old dust covered everything, the face of the town wrinkled and withered, and many lanterns where hung on the walls to honour the dead miners, who are said to have become cats. Now the town once so busy dwells in a peaceful, forlorn atmosphere, and in the tunnels the spirits have planted many seeds, building a wonderful hidden garden for their amusement. Meanwhile, cats are lazily sunbathing…

602049_155501657938439_203340602_nBy talking to very kind fishermen, I also managed to get some interesting stories about the weird rocks of Yehliu, but I still have to decipher the ideograms and drawing they’ve made. I’ve also in my pocket two aboriginal taiwanese fairytales from Hualien and Alishan. Lots of myths to tell and such a long post already!

In the next episode : the tragic story of Niuliang and Zhinu, and… Korean legends! dragons, Hwarangs, Buddhist tales, mermaids and mountain love!

Hope you enjoyed (I did, especially when mimed by children and grandpas)!

Bolivian tales

Here are the stories we’ve listened to as told by the students of the Alliance Francaise in La Paz, Bolivia. They told their tales and legends in French, so what you can read here is my translation of what they said, trying to stick to the way they actually wrote the stories. Thus, don’t get offended by the strange syntax or way of speaking that you may notice: I found that important to keep it that way, so that you can see how these teenagers remembered the stories and decided to tell them.

_____

At Lydia’s, by Rafaela, Alejandra, Daniela and Valeska

At Lydia’s (Rafaela Vasquez, Alejandra Alvayero, Daniela Rojas, Valeska de Cordenas)

Lydia was the daughter of two farmers, and was very spoilt. However, she never saw how much her parents were doing for her. She was going to the most expensive boarding school of Bolivia, she enjoyed her easy life, and had absolutely no sense of reality. When she finished her studies, she was really concerned about her reputation. She came back to her parents’, and learned to live in the real world. She went working in the country with them, and finally valued everything they did for her.

La Kantuta, by Annelise, Lilian, and Anvi

Kantuta (Annelise Choque, Lilian Zeballos, Anvi Quispe)

The Inca who ruled at the time was the most cruel and violent of all the ones who ruled the empire. Every winter, the Inca visited the sanctuary of Copacawana. One year, he took his daughter there. She was known in the whole empire for her beauty and her virtue. The young woman, who came along on this journey for the first time, saw a handsome young man sitting by the lake. Although he was low born, she immediately fell in love with him. His name was Kento, and he also immediately fell in love with her. As long as the girl was in Copacawana, they lived their love in secret, hiding it from the Inca.
One day, a messenger came giving news that they had to come back at once. The princess, hearing this, went at night to see Kento: they had to find a way to stay together. Unfortunately, she fell into a pit full of spiky bushes which stabbed her to death. With the morning dew, tiny green leaves grew on the bushes, lit up by the first rays of sun. When they discovered her body, she was lying surrounded by an unknown plant with beautiful flowers, that was called Kentu-uta pankara (“Kento’s flower house”). These flowers are green as the fields, yellow as the first sunrays, and red as the princess’s blood. Kento never got over the death of the one he loved, and this flower still exists today: it is called Kantuta. It is the national flower of Bolivia, and its flag bears the same colors.

The Fox and the Condor, by Denise, Julia, Grecia and Paula.

Le Renard et Le Condor (Denise Achata, Julia Colodro, Grecia Valdez, Paola Gutierrez)

The Fox and the Condor (Denise Achata, Julia Colodro, Grecia Valdez, Paola Gutierrez)

One day, in the forest, a fox met a Condor. He said to him: “You think you’re better, because you can fly?”
The Condor flew down and said: “Well, dear Fox, if you think you’re better than me, let’s make a bet.”
The Fox, intrigued, asked: “What kind of bet?”
The Condor, in a superior tone, answered: “We will go at the top of this mountain, and we will stay there all night, and the one who will win will eat the other one.”
The Fox, a bit scared, said: “All right, let’s go.”
Thus they went to the top of the mountain, and sat down. Later, the Fox asked the Condor: “Condor, are you still alive?” And he said: “Yes, I am still alive.”
A few hours later, the Condor asked the Fox: “Fox, are you still alive?” And he said: “Yes, I am still alive.” But his voice was weaker than before.
All night long, they asked this question to each other, and every time, the Fox’s voice sounded weaker. After a while, the Condor asked: “Fox, are you still alive?” And the Fox did not reply. The Condor asked the question many times, but the Fox did not answer anymore. At dawn, the Condor had won his bet. So he ate the Fox. Since that day, foxes are scared of condors for one day, one of them ate one of theirs.

Jaen Road, by Arnold, Fabiana, Alfonso, and Mariana

Jaen Road (or The Green Cross)

The legend says that at the time of the colonization, the ones who were hanged went on the street until they got to Murillo Square, where they walked in circle. At that time, people living near this street heard coach noises and saw ghosts. Later, they built a green cross to scare the deads’ spirits.

The Black Cat and the Devil, by Diana, Mariana, Natalia, Diana, Maria Paula and Ariel

Witches from Bolivia say that it is good to have a black cat at home. So that he wouldn’t get inside, the cat said to the Devil: “You cannot enter in my house.” And the Devil said: “Oh, please!” So the cat said to the Devil that if he wanted to get in, he had count the hairs on his tail, and tell how many there were. And when the Devil started counting, the cat kept moving his tail.
The Devil’s bridge (Diablada)

 Le Pont du Diable (Diablada)

The Devil’s Bridge (Diablada)

We are going to tell a little tale about a bridge called the Devil’s bridge. This bridge is near a city called Potosi. Potosi is a city in the south of Bolivia, and it is very rich because of its world famous silver mines in the mountain, the “Cerro Rico de Potosi”.
One day, a man wanted to go back home, but he couldn’t, because the bridge had collapsed. The man stay angry for hours, and he screamed and he cried, and then the Devil finally heard him. So he offered him to rebuild the bridge in exchange for his soul. The Devil started to build the bridge until only one brick was missing: an angel had sat down on the last brick so that the Devil could not take it, and the man was saved and did not have to give up his soul.

Potosi’s Bridge, by Angel, Hugo and Edwards (another take at the Devil’s bridge)

Once upon a time, there was a boy who was a miner. One day like another, he decided to go to the Cerro Rico to work, but found himself in a dangerous and hazardous situation. He got lost and could not find his way, when he met the Devil, “El Tio”. He thought he would die, but h thought about his family and found the way to the mine where he found a big pile of gold. Then he lived happy with his family.

The legend of the potato, or Wiracocha, by Pablo, Maria Cristina, Bruno and Adriana

P1050861

Wiracocha 2

Wiracocha

In the Altiplano, there was a rich city that had been invaded for 15 years. A young man called Choque climbed up a mountain and met a white condor, called Wiracocha. He gave grains to Choque, which his people had to eat. They were potato roots. The invaders ate the poisoned fruit and Choque’s people vanquished them.

(To understand the story better, you can read a more complete version here > Click!)

Back to Argentina: Guarani mythology

Come and discover the many creatures who wander around in the Argentinian forest…

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The Pombero
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He is the owner of sun but is a little shaggy and dark. He usually stalks houses and causes problems like opening gates of stockyards, braiding horses’ tails or putting out fires. He is also famous for his talent as lady’s man. The Pombero is the spirit who protects the birds. He looks over the forest and if he sees children hunting them, he takes them away and let them far away from their home. He usually kidnaps them during siesta hour, although he can also kidnap them at night, when they walk behind the fireflies. He does not make a sound when he walks. For this reason, in some places, he gets the name of Py-ragüé, Downy Feet. He can imitate the singing of the birds, and also, according to some stories, become a trunk or a water plant, or even become invisible. He likes fresh eggs and honey from the forest. He chews black tobacco and usually sleeps in the subdued stoves. Certain versions say that people who celebrate agreements with him may benefit from his help. To invoke him, you have to go to the forest and repeat his name three times in the evening; but the legend says that this is not advisable, because those who have seen him have remained mute or crazy. If one speaks about him at night, it has to be done softly, trying not to offend him, and it is a good idea to leave some tobacco for him to chew next to the house. To repel him, you have to put a clove of garlic in every corner of the house.

The Curupí or Curupiré (rough skin)
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He is a small man with his ears on top of his head, his feet backwards, ad his skin as scaly leather. He is always represented naked. As his feet are facing backwards, he moves very awkwardly, and he can’t swim: because of this, people make fun of him. His principal feature is his virile member which turns around his waist. He uses it to get women pregnant from a distance: he usually waits for solitary girls wandering in the forest. It is said that cutting his phallus makes him inoffensive.
Mothers usually scare their daughters with this story so that they don’t go alone in the forest. Meeting the Curupí is dangerous for them: if the Curupí gets them, they would end up pregnant, and even if they manage to escape his attempts, they would lose their mind due to his obscenity. This kind of phallic myth is a symbol of the multiplication and the continuation of the species. With this story, Guarani justify the birth of children of unwedded mothers, or try to scare girls from having sexual intercourses outside of marriage.

The Yasí-Yateré
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He is a fair-haired and muscular dwarf, who walks around the world with a big hat of straw and a golden cane, to kidnap children. He takes them to the forest, play with them and then leave them there wrapped in lianas. During siesta times, he hisses to attract curious children, boys and girls. The legend says that if a mortal manages to steal his golden cane, he would acquire his power to attract children and young girls.
This myth seems to take its origin in the habit of kidnapping children and women as plunder of war between tribes. Parents use this story to scare their children so that they don’t end up disappearing.

The Teyú Cuaré
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The legend says that at the bottom of the hill today called Victoria, in the park of the same name, was living in the maelstrom of the river the Teyú Cuaré, a giant animal half lizard, half dragon, which would sink the boats that were sailing on the Parana River. This was meant to explain the movements of the water when it would hit the cliffs of sandy stone by the river, as much as the shipwrecks or other navigation accidents.

The Yaguareté-Abá
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He is described as half human, half animal: he has the body of a tiger with a short tail, and human head, feet and hands. He was a man magically turned into the fiercest animal, and he uses his new abilities to take revenge from his enemies or to get to women. He cannot copulate with a female tiger or he will never become a man again. He always goes hunting at night. He is a very strong and dangerous creature, but it is possible to defeat him by cutting his head. You can escape him by climbing up a palm tree, the only one the Yaguareté-Abá cannot climb.
The Cainguá people of the Alto Parana think that if a tiger is sitting next to a grave, the soul of the dead person has been reincarnated into the animal and this belief has been passed on the Guarani tribes.

The legend of the Yerba Mate
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In ancient times, Guarani used to leave the elders behind so that they would not be a burden to these nomadic people. When the Spanish arrived, The Guarani were the most widespread indigenous people in South America, and were in the process of settling. This implied an important change in their habits (hunting, harvest…), and also in the way they were treating the eldest. It is probable that the legend of the Yerba Mate explains this period.

An elder person was left behind by his tribe, and while he was complaining about his misfortune, he saw two beautiful maidens coming towards him. They were the sun and the moon personified. Suddenly, an enormous tiger (yaguareté) jumped from the bush in order to attack the two girls. The old man used to be a warrior, so he took his long and heavy cane and attacked the beast, defeating it after a fierce struggle. The Sun (Cuarají) and the Moon (Yasi), grateful, gave him a small plant that would grow into the tree of the yerba mate (caá mate). They taught him how to dry its leaves by placing them on the fire, to grind them and to prepare the potion which is, for the Guarani people, the mother of all teas thanks to its vigorous qualities. When the old man shared his gift with his people, he was received with honors back into his community.

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Stories found in the Teyú Cuaré Park, near San Ignacio, Misiones, Argentina.