Tales in Colour and Other Stories and Bhutanese Tales Of The Yeti by Kunzang Choden

Two collections of short pieces by the same writer, which I read as books from Bhutan for the Read The World challenge. I was intrigued to read the yeti stories but also wanted something more contemporary; in the event Tales of Colour is the more interesting book.


It was certainly interesting to read some yeti lore: I learned that they smell horrible and have hollow backs, for example. And it’s clear that they are regarded as magical/folkloric creatures rather than just another species of wild animal; people may believe they are real, but they are not just another wild animal like a bear. There are stories of women bearing them children, for example. But although I was pleased to get some sense of the yeti’s place in Bhutanese culture, the stories themselves were not especially fascinating; a selection of four or five of the best ones would have been enough for me.

Tales of Colour is a collection of short stories about everyday life for women in rural Bhutan, touching on alcoholism, illness, infidelity, the lure of the city, age… universal themes, really, and simple stories, but very well told and with a strong sense of place.

» The photo Chimi Lhakhang 01 is © Buddhist Fox and used under a CC by-nc-sa licence.


Folk wisdom empirically confirmed

I made plans to go birding yesterday in the expectation it would be sunny again; in the event it was grey, overcast and drizzly.

But I did see one swallow.


Legends, Traditions and Tales of Nauru by Timothy Detudamo

Does very much what it says on the tin; a section of ‘legends’ (origin myths, broadly speaking) then ‘traditions’ (clothes, tools, fishing techniques and so on), and then 17 other folk tales. To quote the blurb:

In 1938, Head Chief Timothy Detudamo had the foresight to transcribe and then translate a series of lectures relating to the legends, customs and tales of Nauru, delivered by what he termed ‘native teachers’.

The book packs quite a lot of stuff into its 98 pages. And it’s all quite interesting. There is something fascinating about these Pacific island cultures where people were so isolated, and Nauru is isolated even by Pacific standards: one island two or three miles across which is hundreds of miles from anywhere.

I find the stories from oral cultures intriguing and slightly baffling: I just don’t understand the narrative logic of them; often they just seem to develop by a process of free-association. There probably is a narrative logic there, but it’s not what I’m used to.

The book also has a glossary which is so wilfully unhelpful that it’s actually rather brilliant; here’s a sample of it:

Demauduru: A type of food seen only at feasts and special occasions
Deneno: A type of food seen only at feasts and special occasions
Denodoro: A type of food seen only at feasts and special occasions
Denuwanini: A plant – a type of creeper
Derugu: A type of fighting weapon
Doboj: A type of food seen only at feasts and special occasions
Dobwidu: A type of fighting weapon
Dogoro: A type of fighting weapon

Legends, Traditions and Tales of Nauru is my book from Nauru for the Read The World challenge.

» The photo of the frigatebirds on perches is from the British Museum website; apparently in Nauru they use trained frigatebirds for fishing, a fact I somehow didn’t manage to learn from a book about the traditions of Nauru but found in Wikipedia.


In your face, folk wisdom!

A green woodpecker has been calling all day, and the sky is clear and blue. There’s a slight haze, but I think that’s all pollen and exhaust fumes rather than cloud.

So that’s one data point against the ‘rain bird’ theory.

Culture Nature

God’s cock and hen

I woke up this morning to see something fluttering against the inside of the window-panes. Without my glasses, I couldn’t think what it was – it seemed too big for a moth and too small and whirring for a bird. It turned out to be a wren. They’re such nice things, but they are slightly unbirdy – like little russet mothmice.

Lucky it wasn’t a robin; I recently learnt from Birds Britannica that if a robin flies into your house it’s a omen of death. I assume that only applies to the European Robin and not its American namesake, but maybe the power of superstition is transferable through the power of names.

The robin and the wren are God’s cock and hen;
The spink and the sparrow are the de’il’s bow and arrow.

The ‘spink’ is the chaffinch. I guess it and the sparrow are damned mostly by rhyme and alliteration. You can find more wren rhymes and folklore here (pdf).