Imani’s Venture: A Punjabi Folktale

This is the first section of a story called “Kupti and Imani” from Andrew Lang’s Olive Fairy Book (1907). The story was collected in the Punjab by a “Major Campbell,” probably in Firozpur. There’s more to it than what I’ve retold, but the first half is the part I like best. I like to find fairy tales where the heroine is an active protagonist, and not just someone waiting to be rescued by a handsome prince.

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Once upon a time there lived a king with two beloved daughters, Kupti and Imani, whom he loved very much. He spent many hours of the day talking to them. One day he asked his older daughter Kupti:

“Are you content to leave your life and fortune in my hands?”

“Of course,” said Kupti. “Who else would I leave them to?”

But when he asked his younger daughter, Imani, she said:

“Oh no! I’d rather go out and make my own fortune!”

The king was a bit displeased to hear this, but he said, “Well, if that is what you want, that’s what you’ll get.”

And so he sent for the poorest man in his kingdom, a lame, elderly fakir, and he said,

“As you are so old, and can’t move around much, you could do with someone to help take care of you. My youngest daughter wants to earn her living, so she can do that with you.”

Personally, if I had been the fakir, I’d be a bit worried about this setup. But never fear — all goes well. You can read the story at my post on the Dholrhythms Dance Company blog.

In the second half of the story, Imani even rescues a handsome king! But since the antagonist in that section is Kupti (Imani’s sister), I can’t quite love it as much.  If you want to read the whole story anyway, you can find it here.

Enjoy,

A Find from my Basement

My second post related to the Lancashire witch hunts is almost finished, but other things have intervened in the meantime. We spent a few hours this morning fishing more boxes of books out of the basement and I found this:

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The copyright is 1958; I think I must have picked it up from a used bookstore in Pittsburgh, way back in grad school, because the original price tag is from Kaufman’s department store, on Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh (long gone).

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I paid $10 for the book, several decades later.

The purpose of the book is to illustrate by representative selections of prose and verse the artistic use of folklore by American authors.

Among the several divisions, there are sections on “Devil Tales”, “Ghost Tales”, “Witchcraft and Superstition”, and “Heroes and Demigods”. Possible fodder for the blog, don’t you think?

In the meantime, enjoy a few illustrations.

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The bookplate. I don’t know why, but that doesn’t look like fifties-era writing to me. The seventies, maybe?

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Davy Crockett, American Hero and/or Demigod.

Visits from Spirits: The Ingkanto Syndrome

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Balete tree. Image: Wikipedia

The only definition for “ingkanto” that I could ever get out my parents was “they’re like fairies”. According to the description given by Francisco Demetrio, they live in boulders, caves, holes in the ground, or in trees like the balete (a relative of the banyan tree) or the acacia. They are mischievous and capricious. On the one hand, there are traditions of them lending beautiful golden tableware for the weddings and fiestas of people in need; on the other hand, they can curse you and send diseases on you if you disrespect them (even accidentally), or if you don’t give proper greetings when you pass their homes. In the anecdotes that Demetrio collected, they are often described as fair-skinned, blonde and blue-eyed.

They also have a reputation for stalking people. The name Herminia Meñez gives to this phenomenon is “Ingkanto Syndrome”, though I don’t know if the term originates with her or not.

Meñez identifies three distinct stages to the phenomenon. In the first stage, the victim is visited by invisible beings, who try to seduce him or her away with displays of wealth and power. This is manifested to others who may witness the victim havings spells of stiffness and unconsciousness, disappearing for intervals of time without explanation, hanging from trees, or displaying other unusual behavior.

In the second stage, if the victim resists the spirits, they begin to abuse him physically and verbally. This manifests to witnesses as the victim becoming violent, and often extraordinarily strong. Often, family members have to tie the victim down to prevent him from “running away with the spirits”.

In the third stage, the victim’s family has brought the victim to a curer (a mananambal, for instance). Assuming the cure has been successful, the victim goes from wild and uncontrollable to “quiet and well-behaved”.

Demetrio describes the typical instance of the phenomenon similarly: “the disappearance of the victim and the seizure of madness usually accompanied by a show of extraordinary strength”.

In the traditional belief systems, the ingkanto syndrome can be brought about by any number of things. The victim might have accidentally violated the property of an ingkanto, for instance by destroying an anthill or mound that was their home, by building on an ingkanto’s land, or chopping down an ingkanto’s tree.

But there is another, more interesting folk hypothesis: the symptoms of madness were brought about because the victim was resisting their spiritual calling — namely, the call to be a shaman or healer. When the victim stops resisting and accepts the call, then the madness cures itself, and the victim becomes a more centered, thoughtful individual, one who is ready to serve the community through their spiritual or healing arts.

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Hokey-Pokey, Shakespeare Style

You put your left leg in, You put your left le...

You put your left leg in, You put your left leg out, You put your left leg in and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about…  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

O proud left foot, that ventures quick within
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin:
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.
Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke,
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! A wilde release from Heavens yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl.
The Hoke, the poke -- banish now thy doubt
Verily, I say, 'tis what it's all about.
— Jeff Brechlin. Backstory here.

Possible history of the term “hokey-pokey”. Apparently, it was a term for ice cream sold by Italian street vendors in the UK: “Gelati! O che poco!” — or something like that. Except in the UK, they call it the Hokey Cokey. Hmmmm…

Oh well. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading out for some ice cream, and then I’m gonna dance a jig…

Shuck Unmasked

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Shuck Unmasked, by Rick Smith and Tania Menesse.
Top Shelf Productions, 2003

I haven’t fallen in love with a comic book this way since I picked up Vampire Loves — the first comic I ever read by Joann Sfar, and still my favorite. Both books treat mainstays of horror fiction in a distinctly non-horror fashion. In a sweet fashion, even. Sfar’s book is about a vampire, obviously, while Smith and Menesse write about The Devil. At least, I think it’s The Devil, with a capital Tee and a capital Dee, but he isn’t in charge of hell, or anything else. In fact, he’s retired, and would like to stay that way.

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Popping It Back to the Top

It’s like in a movie — you aim for the “Save draft” button, and you hit the “Publish” button. 

“Noooooooooo…..”, you cry, but alas, it’s too late. 

Apologies to anyone who email subscribes to my blog for the last false alarm. But I’ve finished the post properly now: it’s retitled “Reinventing History”:

I have been trying to write a post about the Lousiana Manilamen, in particular, Lafcadio Hearn’s 1883 article on Saint Malo. It’s been going nowhere. But — while researching their history I came across a fascinating paper, the one quoted above. It tells the story of how the Grand Island population went from a long history of being markedly multiracial, to a conception of itself as entirely white. The narrative is drawn out from the memories of Grand Island natives with respect to the rumored existence of a indigent cemetery for African-Americans and Asians. One of the researchers has close ties to the island, having grown up there as a native.

Here’s the rest of the article.

Reinventing History

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Grand Isle, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana
Photo: John Messina, Wikipedia

Strangers visiting Grand Isle in the late 1960s would not have met any African Americans in permanent residence. For many years the United Parcel Service (UPS) deliveryman was the only African American anyone was likely to see there on a regular basis. But he lived “up the bayou,” as the islanders say, somewhere between Golden Meadow and Houma. Most week- days he drove southeast to Grand Isle – the dead end of Louisiana Highway 1, the only continuous piece of land on the 35-mile stretch of bayou, marsh, and prairie from Golden Meadow to the Gulf of Mexico. On rare occasions the UPS man could be seen waiting beside his truck on one of the island’s tree-lined lanes for some old islander, who did not want a black man even entering the yard, to saunter out for a package. Some of those old-timers perhaps descended – and not too distantly – from free people of color or slaves.

— From “He Didn’t Have No Cross”: Tombs and Graves as Racial Boundary Tactics on a Louisiana Barrier Island”, Keith M. Yanner and Steven J. Ybarrola, The Oral History Review (Summer – Autumn, 2003)

I have been trying to write a post about the Lousiana Manilamen, in particular, Lafcadio Hearn’s 1883 article on Saint Malo. It’s been going nowhere. But — while researching their history I came across a fascinating paper, the one quoted above. It tells the story of how the Grand Isle population went from a long history of being markedly multiracial, to a conception of itself as entirely white. The narrative is drawn out from the memories of Grand Isle natives with respect to the rumored existence of a indigent cemetery for African-Americans and Asians. One of the researchers has close ties to the island, having grown up there as a native.

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The Fun is in the Trip

A Texas cowboy lay down on a barroom floor,
Having drunk so much he could drink no more;
So he fell asleep with a troubled brain,
To dream that he rode on a hell-bound train.

The engine with murderous blood was damp,
And was brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp; 
An imp for fuel was shoveling bones,
While the furnace rang with a thousand groans.

The boiler was filled with lager beer,
And the Devil himself was the engineer;
The passengers were a most motley crew
Church member, atheist, Gentile and Jew.
“The Hell-Bound Train”; traditional, from Songs of the Cowboys, 1921, collected by Jack Thorp

Cowboys worry a lot about hell, don’t they?

“The Hell-Bound Train” is a traditional cowboy song, basically on the same theme as “Riders in the Sky”. A drunk old cowboy dreams of a train to hell. Its demonic engineer taunts his terrified passengers about the sinful lives they’ve led — “You’ve bullied the weak, you’ve robbed the poor, The starving brother you’ve turned from the door” — and how it’s time for them to have their due. The whole experience frightens the poor cowboy so much that he turns from his drunken ways: “he never rode the hell-bound train.”

Chuck Berry did a nice version of the song in 1955 (it was the B-Side to “No Money Down”). His version is called “Downbound Train”, and the Devil talks about the train approaching “home”, instead of that other H-place. Other than that, the lyrics are close to Jack Thorp’s version.

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Why Women Have Long Hair

Photo: John Mount

I’ve had hair down to at least the middle of my back since sophomore year of high school, so this little folktale amuses me.

Folklore and Fairytales

TWO women quarrelled, and one of them went out secretly at night and dug a deep pit in the middle of the path leading from her enemy’s house to the village well.

Early next morning, when all were going to the well for water with jars balanced on their heads, this woman fell into the pit and cried loudly for help.

Her friends ran to her and, seizing her by the hair, began to pull her out  of the pit. To their surprise, her hair stretched as they pulled, and by the time she was safely on the path, her hair was as long as a man’s arm.

This made her very much ashamed, and she ran away and hid herself.

But after a while she realized that her long hair was beautiful, and then  she felt very proud and scorned all the short-haired women, jeering at them. When they…

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O-Kame: A Japanese Vampire Tale

After watching Kwaidan last week, I spent some time flipping through Shadowings and Kotto, which I’d never read before. I found this little vampire-style story in Kotto. It seems familiar; I think I’ve read a similar tale before, possibly a Chinese version.

I don’t believe the vampire myth, as we know it in the West, exists in Japanese folklore. However, (at least according to Wikipedia) the Japanese do have two kinds of “hungry ghosts”. The gaki are the ghosts of jealous or greedy people who have been cursed with insatiable hunger (so O-Kame might qualify). The jikininki are ghouls (corpse-eaters). Neither type seems to suck blood or life essence, as a vampire does. So it’s likely that Lafcadio Hearn transposed a folk motif (or several) from another place, either Europe or perhaps China, to Japan.

Either way, it’s a good story. Enjoy.

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Illustration from Kotto: being Japanese curios, with sundry cobwebs (1902).
archive.org

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