Truth in the Tale

Folktales can do many things. They can help explain the world around us. They can connect us to our past. They can tell us how to live our lives and how to tell right from wrong. They entertain us.

Folktales are often strange or magical. They are not necessarily meant to be taken literally. But often there is some truth in them. In several old folktales from St. Martin, we can learn something about people, nature and the connection between the two.

The book Folk-Lore of the Antilles, French and English collects folktales recorded in the 1920s on many islands. Many of them were recounted by young people, and many of them include birds and other animals.

The story Cockroach Fools Fowl was told by 13 year-old Samuel Saty of Marigot. In the story, a cockroach pretends to be sick so a chicken will feed it. The chicken gives it pap, a thick drink made from arrowroot or other starch. When the trickery is discovered, Fowl is so vexed he swallows the cockroach whole. Though chickens don’t make pap, they do spend much of their time looking for—and swallowing—insects.

A Blue Pigeon, and perhaps a farmer’s wife.

Pigeon Wife was told by Hilton Liburt, an 18 year-old from Philipsburg. In this story, someone was stealing a farmer’s corn from his field. The thief was his wife, who was a pigeon. She was eating the corn in the field at night. People and birds sometimes do compete for food. When people replace wild areas with farms, birds may eat the crops because their normal food is gone. This can be a problem for both farmers and birds.

The story Bo Pigeon and Mountain Dove Race for the King’s Daughter comes from St. Croix. A pigeon and a dove agree to race for the chance to marry a princess. In a twist that may be familiar to many St. Martiners, they agree to each drink a demijohn of rum before the race, but the pigeon drinks water. The dove is too drunk to fly and loses the race. The native Blue Pigeon is usually seen high up in the sky, and the Mountain Dove is often on the ground so perhaps this tale was invented to explain why these birds act the way they do.

The Mountain Dove on the ground, but probably not drunk.

Do you have a favorite local folktale? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or [email protected].

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