USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Trickster’
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Creation Myth: Raven, the Trickster

This myth is known to mirror Christian theology and was spread by the natives of Alaska, specifically the Inuit culture.

Inuits first of all believe in a “divine spirit” that created the Raven. The Raven was originally a seagull, who was brilliantly white and pure. The “divine spirit” also created man and the man lived in a hut. The divine spirit forbade the raven from going in to the man’s hut. However the raven would continually intrude on the man’s hut. Yet one day the raven was caught by the divine spirit in the hut. The raven in fear of the divine spirit escaped through the smokehole, and thus turned black due to all the soot. This is the story of how the seagull became a Raven and from then on the Raven became a trickster. The raven is known as the source of sin and trickery to humans, as this Raven taught humankind to lie, steal, and other evils.

My informant stated that in Alaska, that many regions have variations of this story. This version of the story comes from the Chignik Tradition. My informant has heard this from elders of Chignik as he was listening to their stories while at a fishing stop. He shares this myth as he belives that it is very interesting as it is a variation of the fall of Lucifer. My informant states that the elders love to share this myth and keep the Inuit stories alive and he also think it is a creative take.

This is a very entertaining creation myth as seagull must be prevalent on Alaska, yet so are raven. It is an interesting connection that the Inuit people have made that the a raven use to be a seagull. What is also interesting is how similar this story is to the fall of Lucifer: the raven betrayed the divine spirit’s trust and thus spread evil to get back at the divine spirit, Lucifer betrayed God and thus has a vendetta against him. This legend also has a nice narrative structure where a seagull which is white is pure, and a raven which is black contains all of mankind’s evil. Not only is this a creation myth about the raven, but also the birth of all the sins in the world.

Folk Beliefs
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Tales /märchen

Chinese Folk Belief and Folk Tale – Weasel the Trickster

This folk tale was collected from my Father. My father was born as a farmer’s son into a veteran’s family in Taipei, Taiwan. His father and mother ran away from China to Taipei during the Chinese Civil War. Much of his cultural practices and beliefs are taken from the mainland Chinese culture. Because of his background, he is considered a “mainlander” in Taiwan (Chinese in Taiwan are divided into Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese or indigenous). My father graduated from Iowa University with an MBA. His B.A was obtained in Taiwan.

During one of our telephone sessions, he mentioned the following story his mother had once told him in Chinese. I’m paraphrasing and translating it here to the best of my memory:

“Your grandmother once told me this story about tending cattle. There’s a big rat-like creature…um, a weasel. Yes, a weasel. It attacks big and small animals. So, back in the day, “cow” boys, who tend the cattle, would take the cattle into the mountains to graze and then bring them back after they’ve had their share of grass. And the weasel though it wants to eat the cattle… can’t–they are much too big. So the weasels, being as sneaky and clever as they are, would come around to the back of the cow and plunge its claws into the cow’s behind. Reaching in, the weasels would pull out the cow’s intestines and tie it to a tree. Feeling pain, the cow would run forward which would cause more of its intestines to be pulled out which would result in more pain which would result in the cow running faster. The cow would run and run until it collapsed…which is when the weasel comes and eats the cow. While I don’t really believe that weasels are able to do this, parents often tell their children this folk tale as to scare them into standing more alert and being more prudent when they are tending the cattle. This way, the children will be ready when real dangers, such as mountain wolves, appear.”

As we can see from what my father said, the implicit moral of this folk tale is to be extra prudent when tending the cattle. We can confirm it as a folk tale because it is not a story to be taken seriously. Although the tale is set in the real world, my father reiterates that no one actually believe weasels have the ability to hunt cattle like the tale depicts. Interestingly, the main character of this folk tale is a weasel. In his description of the weasel, my father describes the weasel as a sneaky and clever creature, but more sneaky than clever. This suggests that the weasel is the trickster character, similar to the fox in Western folklore, in Chinese folk tales.

I, the collector myself, have heard another folk tale featuring the weasel as this sort of trickster character. In this one, a chicken invites a weasel to dinner during Chinese New Year only to find himself the dinner of the weasel. I believe this attribution of the trickster character to the weasel is due to its small size, agile capabilities and carnivorous nature.

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