Friday, April 27, 2018

Animals that attack their own reflections: Tales from Africa, Asia and Europe

From the Avatime ethnic group of Ghana:
A dog got into its master's house when its master went out and left the door open. It took meat from the table. Then it saw its own reflection in the large mirror in the room. Seeing another dog with meat in the mirror, the dog attacked it to get the other dog's meat. The mirror fell on the dog and killed it.1
From India:
In the Foolish Lion and the Clever Rabbit from the Panchantara tales, an old rabbit saved itself from becoming the lion's meal by setting the lion against its own reflection in a well.
From Greece:
The Dog and Its Reflection" is one of Aesop's fables.
  1. "The Greedy Dog", West African Folktales, translated and collected by Jack Berry

Monday, March 26, 2018

Portrait of a Jengu

Close up of the Cameroonian water goddess in Jengu.
face of Cameroonian mermaid

Monday, February 26, 2018

How NOT to choose a husband: Fairy tales about willful maidens who pursue handsome strangers without parental approval

A recurring theme in supernatural folktales from various ethnic groups in West Africa is an arrogant maiden marrying a good-looking young man who turns out to be a disguised serpent, devil or big cat:

From the Mende ethnic group of Sierra Leone:
There was a young woman Magotu who said that she would only marry the most handsome man in the world. Her parents were worried that she was refusing all her suitors.

A devil, having heard of the matter, disguised himself by borrowing the best features from the handsomest young men. Magotu accepted his proposal and left the village with him. Before long, the devil gave up his borrowed features and showed his true form. A small dog that had followed them along the way encouraged the woman to run away before the devil ate her. The devil pursued them, but the dog and the maiden met a human ally who told them how to shake off their pursuer. They returned to Magotu's village where the elders concluded that "It was not good for a woman to be so particular in the choice of a mate". 1
From the Fon ethnic group of Benin:

Monday, December 25, 2017

The price of giving false alarms: cautionary tales from three continents

From the Kamba ethnic group of Kenya:
A man named Ndothya would go out drinking every night. On his way home, just before reaching his house, he would call out to his wife Mbuti, yelling that a hyena was attacking him. His wife would come running with fire to drive off the hyena. Instead, she would find her drunk husband and no hyena.

One night, the man really did run into a hyena on the way home. He called for his wife, but Mbuti, thinking that it was one of her husband's usual lies, ignored him. Ndothya was bitten by the hyena.1
From China:
The 8th century King You of the Zhou dynasty was a debauched man. He divorced Queen Shen in order to install a beautiful lower-ranking consort, Bao Si, as queen in her place.

Now Bao Si had never smiled since the day she arrived at the king's palace. King You a offered thousand taels of gold to anyone who could make her laugh. The evil courtier Guo Shifu suggested lighting the alarm beacons that summoned the king's vassals to defend the capital in event of an attack.

King You did as Guo suggested. When Bao Si saw that the dukes and marquises of the vassal states had rushed to the capital with their armies only to find no threat, she started laughing. In this manner, King You made fun of his vassals multiple times.2

One day, the father of Queen Shen, angry at the way his daughter had been treated, attacked the capital with the military support of Quanrong nomads. The king tried to summon aid using the alarm beacons, but the vassal lords ignored him, thinking it was another trick. King You was killed by the Quanrong, who looted and burned his capital.3

Note that this story is probably more legend than history. Historical records have a different narrative of the conflict between the Lord of Shen (the deposed Queen's father) and King You. False alarms were not part of the historical account.4
From Greece:
The Boy Who Cried "Wolf"
  1. "Ndothya and Hyena", East African Folktales, Dr. Vincent Muli Wa Kituku
  2. 烽火戏诸侯, Baidu Encyclopedia. Web. 15 October 2017
  3. Bao Si, Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 15 October 2017
  4. Guo Shifu, Baidu Encyclopedia. Web. 15 October 2017

Friday, November 24, 2017

Let's show some love to Puerto Rico

My friend Gloria, a Puerto Rican artist/scholar, was doing research in P.R. when Hurricane Maria cut all power to the island in September. She was able to return to mainland U.S. safely after a number of very challenging weeks.

Puerto Rico is on a long road to recovery after being hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Please consider donating or volunteering to help Puerto Rico. Volunteer lawyers, tech experts and medical staff are needed.

Despite numerous stories of people inside Puerto Rico selflessly helping their neighbors, some people have put out a false narrative that Puerto Ricans are not doing anything to help themselves and are only sitting around waiting for the U.S. government to help them. (We've probably heard the same false narrative applied to other groups of people, but that's a topic for another time.)

If compassion cannot move us to extend a hand to Puerto Rico, perhaps self-interest can motivate us. Puerto Rico is one of the world's biggest centers for pharmaceutical manufacturing. It supplies the rest of the U.S. with medicines.  Now the medicine supply in the U.S. may be impacted by the disasters that struck Puerto Rico..

Btw, do check out Gloria's artwork on Etsy. There are some fun holiday cards that you can color. And other cool stuff too.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


Inspired by, but NOT claiming to be an accurate representation of, the people and wildlife of South Africa. The lady's attire is influenced by Xhosa clothing designs. The birds are modeled after purple rollers. As for the gemsbok, you can read the rest of the story below: Xhosaa woman playing bow instrument, accompanied by gemsbok and purple rollers