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Saturday, March 2, 2019

Parker - How the Sun Was Made - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

This is the blue-winged Kookaburra from the Northern Territory
Do you remember the song about the Kookaburra?   Surprisingly it's still under copyright, so I'll not give it here, but Girl Scouts and others around the globe enjoy it and it fits today's story.  (I also saw that various YouTube videos offer it, if you don't already know about the bird who "sits in the old gum tree.")

There are so many stories about how things came to be the way they are, called "pourquois tales."  Many fit this summer's reading theme of "A Universe of Stories" and will often come from the native or aboriginal people.  Today's story comes from the native people of Australia's New South Wales as collected right before the end of the nineteenth century by K. Langloh Parker.

Years ago I began to study Australian folklore, but worried that Ms. Parker's work might be flawed and come from the colonialist view.  Her work in this century has been reevaluated.  I'll let her own methods and some of that recent view follow today's story which includes the bird now known as the Kookaburra and just how its song fits into a Pourquois tale of the making of the sun.  But before Kookaburra (or  Gougourgahgah) we must meet two other birds, Brolga and Emu.
Brolga, formerly called the native companion


 How the Sun Was Made

For a long time there was no sun, only a moon and stars. That was before there were men on the earth, only birds and beasts, all of which were many sizes larger than they are now.

One day, Dinewan, the emu, and Brälgah, the native companion, were on a large plain near the Murrumbidgee. There they were quarrelling and fighting. Brälgah, in her rage, rushed to the nest of Dinewan, seized from it one of the huge eggs in it, which she threw with all her force up to the sky. There it broke on a heap of firewood, which burst into a flame as the yellow yolk spilt all over it, which flame lit up the world below, to the astonishment of everything on it. They had only been used to the semi-darkness, and were dazzled by such brightness.

A good spirit who lived in the sky saw how bright and beautiful the earth looked when lit up by this blaze. He thought it would be a good thing to make a fire every day, which from that time he has done. All night he and his attendant spirits collect wood, and heap it up. When the heap is nearly big enough they send out the morning star to warn those on earth that the fire will soon be lit.

They, however, found this warning was not sufficient, for those who slept saw it not. Then they thought they must have some noise made at dawn of day to herald the coming of the sun and waken the sleepers. But they could not decide upon to whom should be given this office for a long time.

At last one evening they heard the laughter of Gougourgahgah, the laughing jackass, ringing through the air. "That is the noise we want," they said. Then they told Gougourgahgah that as the morning star faded and the day dawned he was every morning to laugh his loudest, that his laughter might awaken all sleepers before sunrise. If he would not agree to do this then no more would they light the sun-fire, but let the earth be ever in twilight again.

But Gougourgahgah saved the light for the world, and agreed to laugh his loudest at every dawn of day, which he has done ever since, making the air ring with his loud cackling "gou-gour-gah-gah, gou-gour-gah-gah, gou-gour-gah-gah."

When the spirits first light the fire it does not throw out much heat. But in the middle of the day when the whole heap of firewood is in a blaze, the heat is fierce. After that it begins to die gradually away until only the red coals are left at sunset, and they quickly die out, except a few the spirits cover up with clouds, and save to light the heap of wood they get ready for the next day.

Children are not allowed to imitate the laughter of Gougourgahgah, lest he should hear them and cease his morning cry. If children do laugh as he does, an extra tooth grows above their eye-tooth, so that they carry a mark of their mockery in punishment for it, for well do the good spirits know that if ever a time comes wherein the Gougourgahgahs cease laughing to herald the sun, then the time will have come when no more Daens are seen in the land, and darkness will reign once more.

I mentioned the well-known song is still covered under Australian copyright law, but Sesame Street wrote its own song about the Kookaburra and shows in this YouTube video the brown Kookaburra more likely to have been the one in the story since it originated in the territory of New South Wales.

Talking about location reminds me that one view of Australian Aboriginal tales was they shouldn't be told outside the area where it was originally told.  I do understand the feeling that away from there we won't understand all the original meaning.  That may be true any time we tell beyond a community where we grew up.  Another Aboriginal concern is robbing their culture.  This is clearly a story from the time often called the Dreamtime, a sacred era for the Australian Aboriginal.  As a storyteller my hope is a respect for a story already released into the world and now deserving to be shared with those of us trying to understand. 

originally published in 1898
This brings us to evaluating Ms. Parker's work.  She was somewhat fluent in the language of the Ualarai, but wanted to be sure to get an accurate version of the stories she collected.  She explained her methods involved eliciting material on a legend from an elder, then getting the English version re-translated back by a native more fluent in English than the elders, in order to enable the latter to correct any errors that might have arisen. The interpreter would then translate the revised version, which she would write down, and then have the written account read back to the elderly informant for final confirmation of its accuracy.

Her dedication page says
Her own personal views seem to be omitted in recording a story, but probably influenced her selection and certainly any personal comments made.

You can read More Australian Legendary Tales and its predecessor, Australian Legendary Tales online.  Her work was thought highly enough when published that Andrew Lang wrote the introduction to each volume.

For more online stories, try this slightly enlarged list of suggestions.  (Can you spot the change?)
This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!
    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!

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