Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Stories in Culture....

Hello everyone,

I thoroughly enjoyed class today. I'm sorry I had to rush out again and wasn't able to hang around, but I was meeting a friend to go kayaking. It was such a beautiful day!

Now, I'm back to work on my stories for tomorrow. While I was going through my story repertory I came across a traditional Mongolian legend which made me think of Chapter 7 in Schank's book titled, "Telling the Stories of your Culture." In this chapter Schank discusses how we may come to understand a culture (or subculture) by learning their stories. (In fact, he implies that it crucial to ever being accepted by a particular group of people.) When I lived in Mongolia I became fascinated by the fact that whenever Mongolians ate a marmot (considered a delicacy) they would always throw away a little part inside the body. I was interested because Mongolians never waste any part of any other animal. When I asked my host-family and neighbors why they did this, most said they didn't know, but only that it had always been done this way. Finally someone told me that the reason this one part of the marmot was not eaten was because it was once a part of a man. "What man?" I asked. This person didn't know the answer to my second question, but along my journey collecting stories around the country I finally found the answer, which was hidden in the ancient legend of Erkhii Mergen....

Once upon a time, there rose seven suns in this universe, and it, was exposed to a burning drought. The earth was heated fiercely, the streams and rivers evaporated, the plants and trees were parched. People and living beings suffered from intolerable heat, and horses and animals were tormented by painful thirst. It was dreadfully difficult to live or even survive. However, there lived a very good archer, called Erkhii Mergen. He was an excellent archer, who could shoot skillfully what he saw and he hit accurately what he aimed at. A stream of people went to him, and requested him to shoot and destroy the many suns which rose in the sky. Erkhii Mergen was very proud of his accurate shooting. Because he was born a real man among men.

His thumbs were great with strength,

His liver was bursting with health,

He was blessed with the fullness of youth,

His blood was flaming.

Then he said, "I will shoot the seven suns with one arrow each and destroy them," and he made a promise and swore an oath, "If I should not succeed, I will cut off my thumbs and be no longer a man! I will become an animal which never drinks pure water and eats the dry grass of the preceding year and lives forever in a dark hole!" From the Eastern side Erkhii Mergen began shooting the seven suns, those rose in a file from the East to the West, in the sky. He hit and destroyed six of the suns with six arrows. As he shot his seventh arrow, aiming at the seventh sun, a swallow crossed in front of his arrow, its flight screening the sun. Erkhii Mergen's arrow hit the swallow's tail and ripped it. Since then, the swallow's tail has been forked. Nevertheless, the last sun was afraid of the p archer and it disappeared to hide behind a western mountain.

When Erkhii Mergen, the archer wanted to follow on his piebald horse and kill the swallow that had impeded his shooting, his horse said, "I'll chase and catch up with the swallow from dusk to dawn," and he vowed, "If I should not succeed, my master, you may cut my legs off and throw them away in a desert. Then, I would no longer be a horse with a saddle, but would live in a hollow and shallow place!" So Erkhii Mergen chased the swallow on his piebald horse, and when the horse had almost caught up with the swallow, the swallow flew a tortuous twisting path to avoid the horse. This went on from dusk to dawn, but the horse could not catch it.

Then Erkhii Mergen got angry and he cut off his piebald horse's fore-legs and threw them away in a desert. Thus this horse changed into a jumping mouse (or jerboa) and for this reason the jerboa's front legs are snorter than his hind ones. Also the swallow still flies to and fro around a man riding a horse. The swallow flies around the man mocking,
"Can you catch up with me?
Can you catch up with me?"

According to his promise as a man, Erkhii Mergen cut off his thumbs and was no longer a man, but changed into a marmot, which never drinks pure water and eats the grass of the preceding year, and lives in a dark hole. The marmot's claws are four, because of the fact that Erkhii Mergen cut off his thumbs. The marmot comes out from its hole by the morning and evening sun. Erkhii Mergen the archer, wants to forget that he has changed into the marmot, and wants to wait and shoot the last sun at its rising or setting. However, in the marmot's flesh there is a piece of meat called 'man meat', which was Erkhii Mergen's flesh, and to this day people never eat it. People say the last sun of this world was frightened of Erkhii Mergen and went behind a mountain, and it is for this reason that the day and night appear in succession.

This legend is full of unique Mongolian cultural elements. First, the main character is an archer. Great archers are heroes in Mongolian society and have been since time immemorial. Second, the narrative explains the origin of the jerboa (jumping mouse), the marmot, the swallow’s forked tail, and why there is only one sun. Marmot is a very special animal for Mongolians, being their preferred delicacy during the summer months. There are entire rituals that have developed around killing, preparing, and eating the marmot when it’s in season. One of which is the ritual of throwing away the “man’s meat” toward the sun instead of eating it. This is believed to be the last remnants of Erkhii Mergen’s human body.

How great! By learning about this legend I was able to understand an important ritual Mongolians engage in. I also found it very interesting that many people practiced this ritual without being conscious of why! Schank states, "The stories of our culture are those stories that we hear so often that they cease to seem like stories to us. They are the stories that we take for granted." (pg. 218)

After I prepare for our storytelling performance tomorrow I want to examine some traditional prose narratives in our own culture that we either take for granted or have so fully incorporated that we don't even know we're telling them. Please let me know when you all think of some good ones. I'll see you all tomorrow....your bud, Josh

1 comment:

Barnabus said...

Erkhii Mergen was the William Tell and Robin Hood of another culture.