jueves, 6 de abril de 2017



This tengu tale (for once, a tengu tale!) presents similarities to a tale heard in my own native land, surrounding witches and the days of the week. Note the symbolism of the left and right sides, as well as the story fitting into the general kind-and-unkind pattern that is especially found in mukashibanashi.

Mukashi mukashi, once upon a time,  there were in the same village two old men, each with a cumbersome wen the size of a tennis ball on a different side of his face. The old chap with the wen on the right side, whom we shall refer to as Mr. Right for convenience's sake, was your typical Fezziwiggian jolly old chap, friend to all children, life-loving, and always ready for celebration. The grown-ups said he was a good-for-nothing lush; while the children were always pleased with his presence.
Now he was returning home at twilight from the shrine where he had gone to say his prayers for the umpteenth time (never despairing that the gods didn't seem to care about the cyst on his right cheek, proximal to the ear) when our jolly old chap was surprised by a dreadful thunderstorm. Luckily, he found a cave in the volcanic rock where he should hopefully be safe from lightning strike until the storm cleared. Presently he heard many excited footsteps, and slurred song, and drunken laughter. And whom did he see entering the cavern where he had sought shelter from the storm?
Tengu. Tengu, or flying goblins. Kurama tengu with raven wings and beaks, and red tengu with glowing, long noses and leaf fans. Drunken tengu, dancing tengu, partying tengu.
Now Mr. Right was sober and wide awake, and eager for glad company. Without any disbelief, he greeted them, told them in a friendly tone about having sought shelter from the storm in their cavern, and was subsequently heartily welcome. Weary as he was with the long journey and the pursuit of shelter from the storm, he felt terribly thirsty; the sake offered by the tengu, of amazingly good flavour, slipped down his throat like a priceless elixir. They quaffed the same sake and danced to the same tunes, and the old chap with the wen like a tennis ball on the right half of his face was the life and soul of the party, singing folk songs and downing more sake than he had ever drunk before. 
When the sky cleared at morning twilight, the King of the Tengu, a soused old kurama tengu with ruffled raven feathers and a pillbox hat for a crown, clapped his wings and thanked Mr. Right for the best night ever. The old chap swore that he would come the next day, and the day after that, and so ad infinitum. 
As a pledge of his loyalty, the Tengu King reached for the old man's wen and gently pulled it closer with feather fingers; the cyst came off like a freshly-picked fruit. And Mr. Right, elated, caressed the right side of his face and returned home dancing and whistling those lively tengu tunes.
The elation he felt was such that he didn't suffer any hangover from that night's intoxication!
In little hamlets, rumour spreads like wildfire. So it came as no surprise that everyone, even the old chap with the wen on the left side of his face, whom we shall refer to as Mr. Left, was soon aware of Mr. Right's good fortune. And thus, Mr. Left turned at least slightly green with envy and resolved to coax the secret out of his fellow old chap.
Now Mr. Left was exactly the kind of person you would never like to invite to supper. He was a curmudgeon, very wary of children and of his personal space, and abstaining entirely from strong drink, music, and anything else that might disrupt the focus he had on his labour. And he had entirely given up every last shred of hope to get rid of the wen and subsequently stopped praying to the gods, resigned as he was to bear with the wen for a lifetime, no matter how impressive sideburns he had grown (the wen always popped out from his left whiskers). Another "endearing" quality of Mr. Left's was his envy of those more fortunate. And, when it came to Mr. Right's wen, he listened attentively, being all ears, to the latter's account of the stormy night in the tengu cave. Now Mr. Left didn't believe in tengu or other magical creatures, but the prospect of losing the cyst was so tempting that he decided to give it a try.
When the tengu came that evening, one hour before their human friend should come and visit them (that hour before was to make the preparations for his welcome), for their feast in the cave, they found a far surlier old chap with a cyst on the left side of his face (instead of a cheerful, cystless one), pinching his earlobes to see whether he was really wide awake and the tengu had really come.
And Mr. Left was definitely out of his element that night. He scowled, he spat out the sake, and, when it came to dance, he had two left feet and, to prove he could dance, stamped about like an oni (ogre) or a rabid macaque. Offended by the sacrilege of having a curmudgeon spoil their precious soirée before a good friend arrived, all the tengu unanimously agreed to give a rightful punishment for his joy-killing. And by RIGHT-ful punishment, I am referring to putting Mr. Right's lost wen on the right half of Mr. Left's face. The Tengu King, flushed with sake and with anger, threw the cyst at the curmudgeon like a tennis ball, and onto his right cheek it firmly fixed itself.
So he returned home a pitiful, broken man, with two wens, each one on either side of his face.


  • Tengu are commonly depicted as tricksters (as oni are depicted as brutes, or tanuki as lushes).
  • There is a tengu emoji, some of whose versions, like the Google version, retain the pillbox hat. The emoji depicts the prototypical humanoid red tengu, while the corvid kurama tengu are a far rarer sight in popular culture (the Yo-kai Tengloom being one of the most memorable portrayals of the latter).
  • The Pokémon Shiftry (Dirtengu in Japanese) is inspired by both red tengu and Pinocchio.

This tale sounds pretty much like one from my own hometown of Castellón, involving two Moorish hunchbacks' encounters with the Witches of the Plain. The kind-hearted Moor Al-Phabet, hidden in the undergrowth, overhears the witches chanting:
"Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, three! Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, three!", constantly, and decides to spice up the song by adding a second verse:
"Thursday, Friday, Saturday, six!"
So the witches sing: "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, three! Thursday, Friday, Saturday, six!" and they thank the hunchback for improving their song by removing the hunch from his back.
Envious, curmudgeonly hunchback Al-Marduix coaxes the secret out of Al-Phabet and decides to seek out the witches on the plain and add yet another day of the week to their rhyme. The witches come and begin to chant: "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, three! Thursday, Friday, Saturday, six!"
And Al-Marduix, seeing his chance, bellows: "Sunday, seven!"
The witches, however, hate Sundays because the church bells are too loud and disturbing. So they smite Al-Marduix by placing Al-Phabet's hunch on his back, forcing him to walk on all fours like a human Bactrian camel.
A similar story, which only differs in the names of the hunchbacks, I have read of in an Irish fairy book. Not only does it replace the witches with fey maidens; Al-Phabet is here called Lusmore and Al-Marduix is Jack Madden. The folktale type is 503.


Benizara and Kakezara
Kaguyahime (Princess Kaguya)
Taro Urashima
Momotaro (Peach Taro)
Grampies with Wens (Kobutori Jiisan)
Grampy Blossom (Hanasaka Jiisan)
The Hatted Jizos (Kasa Jizo)
The Tengu's Cloak
Mount Crackle (Kachikachiyama)
The Macaque Vs. the Crab (Saru Kani Gassen)

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