Four lucky men, some unlucky ones and a witch

I had an enjoyable experience reading some Visayan folktales that Berton L. Maxfield and W. H. Millington compiled for The Journal of American Folklore in 1906. These tales, published by the American Folklore Society, are meant to introduce Americans to the “few of the tales related by Visayan parents to their children, or by the public story-teller in the market, as the people gather to the material for the evening meal”.

There are seven tales in the first of its series but I will talk only of the first six. The last one, Juan Pusong, a more popular story and longer, will be reserved for another post with much discussion.

Visayan folktales

At The Well (1901). Art Nouveau (Modern) Poster by Ivan Bilibin. Retrieved from on December 29, 2016.

The other stories are new to me even when I’m a Visayan. I live in the Central Visayas of the Philippines. The compilers were stationed separately in Iloilo and Mandurriao (both in Western Visayas), a long trip by ship from where I am. Still, I find these tales highly interesting for they share similar themes with those of the Cebuano folktales and with some of those I’ve read from outside the country.

In How Jackyo Became Rich, a supernatural element is embedded with the main character, a poor farmer, who is trying his best to please the king of evil spirits with the only monotone song he knows.

Now Jackyo knew but one song, and that was about the names of the days of the week except Sunday. He did not like to sing it, but the old man urged him, saying: ” If you do not sing, I will cut your head off.” So Jackyo began to sing. (Source: Visayan Folk-Tales. I)

The tale of Truth and Falsehood amplifies the meaning of the Golden Rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you. It also reinforces that principle in a way that animals like the eagle and the fish, esteemed animals in the country, participate in helping a good person.

When Falsehood saw that his former companion sat at the table with the king and was always clean and dressed in good clothes, while he himself was dirty and had to eat in the kitchen, he was very angry and determined to do something to ruin the one whom now he hated so bitterly. (Source: Visayan Folk-Tales. I)

In Camanla and Parotpot, it reflects the fatalistic mentality of some Filipinos such that no matter how hard you work, if you’re really born unlucky in life, including being given an unlucky name, you can never catch up to the rich, happy and lucky ones.

When his neighbors saw what was in the taon, they laughed, and Parotpot said: “I can never be as happy as my friend Camanla. (Source: Visayan Folk-Tales. I)

Juan, The Student is a quite a sad tale. The parents of Juan who love their son at first grows to hate him for his wickedness and waywardness. There is no evidence of such traits in the story. After Juan knows of his parents’ intent to kill him, he left home and found good fortune in another place.

The boy at once perceived the inten- tion of his parents and returned home. As soon as he arrived there, he declared to his father and mother his intention of leaving them and going elsewhere to live. As soon as they heard him, they were full of joy, and readily gave him the desired permission. (Source: Visayan Folk-Tales. I)

In The Two Wives and the Witch, the woman experiences what Oiwa does in Yotsuya Kaidan, but in lesser proportions. The wife here is assisted by a witch by the well who makes her beautiful, which is her wish after her husband left her for another woman. That other woman, after learning of the ex-wife’s beauty, went to the well to ask the witch a similar request. The consequences can be considered comical.

The other woman was very angry when she heard the news, for it was reported that the pretty woman was the man’s first wife, who had been changed by a witch. She determined to try what the witch could do for her, and went to get water at the same well. (Source: Visayan Folk-Tales. I)

The Living Head, the last of the tales I have read from the volume, tells the origin of the orange tree. The origin is from a broken hearted head, a gift from God Diva. He dies in despair for good reason. (You can read a more detailed post about this on Nina’s blog, Multo (Ghost))

Diva pitied them, and gave them a head for a son. Head, for that was his name, grew up, and gradually his father and mother ceased to think of his misfortune, and grew to love him very much. (Source: Visayan Folk-Tales. I)

Which of the tales did you find interesting? I encourage you to read the complete stories from the compilation that you can read online.

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