(5/30/02 8:53:58 am)
| Robber Bridegroom Revisited|
Carolyn and Midori,
I hunted for the Robber Bridegroom thread but that discussion apparently took place before I assumed management of the board. I did find a follow-up discussion we had in August 2000. It was a wonderful discussion and and it is too bad there is now no physical proof of its existence. The link is below:
(5/30/02 11:55:03 am)
| Robber Bridegroom (again!)|
Thank you Heidi for renewing this thread. Midori, I seem to recall that you had a great insight into the role of the bride of the Robber Bridegroom story---do you remember that? I think we discussed the powerlessness/ woman's power aspect to the story and was wondering if you remember this...
(5/30/02 5:53:03 pm)
| very fine gentleman|
As I recall, I was thinking of stories like the Robber Bridegroom such as the Nigerian tale "The Very Fine Gentleman." In that story a young woman is rather spoiled and selfish, resisting suitors and offers in marriage. One day in the market she sees a truely handsome young man and without much thought decides he's the one. She follows him out of the market and into the bush---however, once in the bush, the gentleman begins to return body parts back to various donors, until there is nothing left of him but a skull. The poor girl is of course "enchanted" unable to return home and arrives at his house, which is constructed of human bones where she becomes a slave. Eventually, she frees herself and returns home, a wiser woman. The heart of the story of course turns on the cautionary tale--following strange men is dangerous--but it is also in a more subtle way, about the complicated rituals of marriage--and the reason they are so intricate and involved. As women move out from the home in an exogamous marriage, they must settle and survive in the new home of their husband--a potentially frightening and hostile place. The more that is known about the families, the more complex the rituals of interaction (bridal dowaries, exchange of gifts--which are not so much about "buying" a bride as constructing social interaction between families) the safer, the more secure it is for the young bride. When the young, headstrong woman resists the very social insitutions that are there to support her, and insure her safety, she marries into trouble--at her own whim, and without ceremony she goes out in a rather foolish and immature way following the beautiful young gentleman. She has perilously surrendered the involvement of her family.
other narratives have versions of this subtle interweaving of the role of family and ritual in marriage. In the Xhosa version of "Armless Maiden" even when the young wife has her arms returned to her, she will not return to the Prince. He must come out to her--court her again, go through the rituals that establish repsect, and recognition and only afterward will she return with him. Her first marriage to him was incomplete--he didn't know her family (even though they're horrible--mutual knowledge of families is still imporatant), she hadn't completed her rite of passage, and the marriage was out of pity and love, rather than respect and love. It is so important, because once a woman leaves home, it is very difficult for the family to be there for her--so everything is long and drawn out before hand to insure and mutual connection. In Untombi Yapansi (a Zulu tale very similiar to the Goose Girl) the girl hides out in the fields tending the corn--but because she understands the importance of her journey and the place to which she has come, she does not eat the food of the Prince's house (it would be wrong to do so until it is acknowledged that she is the bride). Instead, she magically brings her village out of the earth and they feed her. In the final scene, when the Prince discovers her (by witnessing this activity--and hence recognizing her family) the young woman, surrounded by her family newly restored to the world above ground, enters the village as the bride.
It's perhaps much stronger in the African narratives than the European tales--but I do believe that it is still there--and as I recall, you had recognized something similar in Native American narratives?
I hope this is what you were thinking of? Otherwise, what are you working on? I'm oh so curious.
(5/31/02 11:21:02 am)
| Re: very fine gentleman|
A contemporary story that bears some relationship to that Nigerian tale is Joyce Carol Oates' "Where are you going, where have you been?", where a very foolish girl elects to pay far too much attention to a figure who may or may not be the devil, but who has near-supernatural powers of persuasion, and eventually "collects" her.
(5/31/02 12:45:43 pm)
| African/American Indian narratives|
Midori---thank you! I was trying to remember the connections we had discussed surrounding the African tales, the Robber Bridegroom, and the Deer Woman narratives. I have always been intrigued by the Robber Bridegroom and by Deer Woman, and other similar stories such as Bluebeard, in which women (and in the case of Deer Women, men) go outside of the normal social structure and foolishly fall for the first beautiful, sometimes wealthy face they see. I did my master's thesis on the Yellow Woman narratives of Laguna Pueblo, in which Yellow Woman, aka Irriaku, the sacred ears of corn created by the Laguna deity Naostete, is kidnapped by Evil Katsina (sometimes Whirlwind Man, sometimes Buffalo Man). Evil Katsina takes Yellow Woman way up into the mountains, far away from family and friends where she has to learn to survive on her own. She learns some of Evil Katsina's powers and is able to escape and run back home, with the knowledge and power she has gained from the outside world, or wilderness. In some versions of the story, Yellow Woman is married to Arrow Boy, also a Laguna, and Buffalo Man kidnaps her, takes her north, and she becoems pregnant. Arrow Boy "rescues" her, but Yellow Woman wants to stay with the Buffalo People (I read Lakota) and Arrow Boy kills her.
Many of these traditional narratives relate to societal norms, especially when young people reach adulthood and will soon marry. The Deer Woman and Elk Man narratives of the Dakota are similar to the Deer Woman stories of the southeastern tribes, in that running off with someone who causes such intense sexual love and desire usually related to magic is not always the person one should end up marrying in order for tribal survival. The traditional goals of marriage with the Dakota, according to Ella Cara Deloria, was insuring tribal survival; marriage and family were the mainstays of tribal survival. I have made the connection between the Dakota stories and the Cherokee/Muskogee/Choctaw et al stories in that these stories teach young people the correct way to choose a spouse to ensure survival, not only of the self but of the tribe or the communnity as well.
It seems as though the European stories leave out the important issue that the tribal stories don't: the power of sacred knowledge and the tests and trials the female characters go through in order to receive the knowledge, and in that sense power. In the Yellow Woman stories, and in Deer Woman southeastern stories, the characters journey out into the wilderness to receive the power. Of course there are tests, and in the Deer Woman stories one has to look down to recognize her as the deer before one can escape her magic and take that magic, or knowledge, home. Some do choose to stay with Deer Woman and they are driven insane as a result.
I did, however, read a version of the Robber Bridegroom that the witch that the girl encounters at the Bridegroom's home is really her mother, and that the mother gives her the spells to defeat the Bridegroom, which to me signifies the mother/daughter power connection. I suppose in some sense the fact the daughter goes off with the groom is because she has never had the wise woman counsel of her mother, who most likely would have seen the groom for who he is, the monster.
I have been working on my Deer Woman novel and upon finishing it.
I'm formulating some plans for a Robber Bridegroom story. Plus,
I may work these narrative similarities into my dissertation if
I can ever get to that stage of the game!
Thanks, Midori & Greg, for the insights and recom-mendations. Now I can go water the roses, and ponder it all!