Lydia Cabrera–Afro-Cuban Tales


In a sublime synthesis of traditional folklore and imagistic surrealism, Lydia Cabrera’s Afro-Cuban Tales questions the normative spaces occupied by bodies. Deriving from animist tradition, her characters exist in an impossible multiplicity of spaces, being at once animals and plants, humans and gods. Cabrera’s characters endure trials of biological identity and social co-existence, and through these problems they internalize authority, evince taboos, and create a social code. Cabrera’s trickster characters provoke, challenge, or otherwise disrupt the symbolic order of this code. In “Bregantino Bregantín,” a story that recalls Freud’s primal horde theory, as well as the work of more contemporary theorists such as Julia Kristeva and Judith Butler,  narcissist Bull kills all the males of his kingdom and takes all the women for himself.  The sadistic titular turtle of “Papa Turtle and Papa Tiger” uses the power of his dead friend’s antlers to shame, torment, and torture the other animals of his community. And in the magical realism of “Los Compadres,” Capinche seeks to put the horns on his best friend Evaristo by sleeping with his wife–a transgression that ends in necrophilia. This union of sex and death, creation and destruction is the norm in Cabrera’s green and fecund world; the trickster’s displacements of order invariably result in reanimation, transformation, and regeneration—the drawing, stepping-over, and re-drawing of boundaries. A couple of days, Bob hipped me to this really cool Run Wrake short film called Rabbit. While not directly related to Afro-Cuban Tales, this film nonetheless captures the book’s key themes and motifs of death and resurrection, transformation and language, and the trickster’s power to disrupt social and familial codes. Highly recommended.

Pissing in the Snow

…and Other Ozark Folktales. (ed. Vance Randolph)

What a great book. I procured this from one of those free boxes they sometimes have at the library…curiously it’s not a library edition.

An excerpt:

1. Pissing in the Snow

Told by Frank Hembree, Galena, Mo., April, 1945. He heard it in the late 1890’s. J.L. Russell, Harrison, Ark., spun me the same yarn in 1950; he says it was told near Green Forest, Ark., about 1885.

One time there was two farmers that lived out on the road to Carico. They was always good friends, and Bill’s oldest boy had been a-sparking one of Sam’s daughters. Everything was going fine till the morning they met down by the creek, and Sam was pretty goddam mad. “Bill,” says he, “from now on I don’t want that boy of yours to set foot on my place.” “Why, what’s he done?” asked the boy’s daddy.“He pissed in the snow, that’s what he done, right in front of my house!”But surely, there ain’t no great harm in that,” Bill says.“No harm!” hollered Sam. “Hell’s fire, he pissed so it spelled Lucy’s name, right there in the snow!”“The boy shouldn’t have done that,” says Bill. “But I don’t see nothing so terrible bad about it.”“Well, by God, I do!” yelled Sam. “There was two sets of tracks! And besides, don’t you think I know my own daughter’s handwriting?”

The Florida Reader

 go gators!

In The Florida Reader, edited by Lane and O’Sullivan, colonialists from three European countries fight or don’t fight with Indians, Ralph Waldo Emerson is mildly disappointed in the laziness of St. Augustine, Silvia Sunshine defines what a “cracker” person is, Hemmingway and Harry Crews come off as awful macho, and John Lee Williams advises against the consumption of “ardent spirits” in Florida’s hot climate. Also some fantastic Seminole folk tales. Here’s the second half of “Why the Rabbit is Wild”:

Then a horse and dog talked to one of the men. They talked like people. At that time the rabbit stayed with people, and he told lies all the time, but the dog and horse told the truth.One day somebody found out that the rabbit lied. At that time he was always trying to be something he wasn’t. He would go away, and when he came back he would say he had seen things that he had not seen. He would say he had seen snakes, alligators, turkeys, and turtles. The people did not know if they should believe this rabbit. So one of the men said to the rabbit, “If you find a snake, kill him and bring him back to camp. If you find an alligator, kill him and bring him back to camp as well.” The rabbit then left the camp and found a snake. He killed it and started to bring it back to show to the people. When the rabbit was bringing back the snake he saw an alligator. The alligator talked too, at that time. So the rabbit said to the alligator, knowing that the alligator could be a pretty dangerous character, “Somebody wants to see you back at the camp.” The alligator believed this and went along with the rabbit. When they had gone about half way, the rabbit tried to kill the alligator. Rabbit beat at the alligator but could not kill him. Pretty soon the alligator got tired of the battle, and he went back to his cave. Then the rabbit came home with the snake. When the man who had challenged the rabbit saw him, he was impressed. Rabbit had brought a snake, but not an alligator. But at that moment, the man thought he would like a turkey instead. So he said, “If you see a turkey, kill him and bring him home.” So the rabbit started out to get a turkey, but figured it would be better to ask someone else to do the job. So he went to a wildcat and said, “You kill a turkey for me.” Wildcat went and found a turkey and killed him. Rabbit brought the turkey back to the camp and told the man that he had killed it. The man believed the rabbit’s story, and the rabbit continued to live with the people and tell his stories. One day the rabbit wanted to get married. The man thought that because the rabbit had killed the turkey, he could provide for a family, so he married a girl. But, after the rabbit got married, he didn’t bring any food at all. The people found out that the rabbit did not kill the turkey, so they drove the rabbit away from the camp. And that is why the rabbit is wild today.