Nanai Fairytales about the Cruel Bride


  • Tatiana Bulgakova The Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia


fairytale, marriage competition tale motif, shamanism, kinship, spiritual conflict


Fairytale plots are studied in the present article in the context of the shamanic practise of the Nanai people; they are mainly dealt with from an emic perspective. The plots about the cruel behaviour of the bride, which are in contradiction to real Nanai traditions, are divided into two categories in the present article – on the one hand, plots connected with the cohabitation of humans and the spirits, and, on the other hand, plots that speak about the marriage of two people in which the cruelty of the bride is very often expressed by the perishing of the bridegroom, who loses a pre-marriage contest with the bride or her relatives. Our analysis shows that the task of the pre-marriage contest is not to find the worthiest pretender to the bride’s hand, but to find a bridegroom with more powerful shamanic strength than that of the bride’s family in order that, in ‘virtual battles’, he is able to beat shamans who are hostile to the bride’s family. The pre-marriage contest is an episode in the shaman ‘war’, although the marriage itself can be unreliable, producing only a short truce between the two hostile tribes of shamans. The gender asymmetry of these marriage problems (a cruel bride, but not a cruel bridegroom) can be explained by Nanai ideas that, as a result of cohabitation, the man is involved in hostile relations with those shamans who are hostile to the bride’s family.


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