Kiranti mythology

Kiranti languages share a mythology which is highly distinct from the Indo-Aryan and Tibetan cultures (the two written cultures with which the Kiranti are in contact). The complex mythological cycle has been partially documented by various authors. Martin Gaenszle (1991, also in Ebert and Gaenszle 2008) has described the common structure and content of the four major parts of the cycle--myths of creation, myths about the culture hero, myths of ancestral migration, and myths about first settlements and village foundations.

N. J. Allen, a specialist of comparative mythology who documented the Thulung language, has written widely on Thulung myths. Of particular note is his 2012 book Miyapma: Traditional Narratives of the Thulung Rai, which describes a great many of the cycles and individual myths he recorded among the Thulung. Grégoire Schlemmer has written about the mythology of the Kulung Rai people, for example in his 2004 dissertation.

Linguists working on individual languages have also, in the process of documentation projects, collected traditional narratives that are part of the same mythological cycle. Our longer-term dream is to increase the size of the corpus presented here through collaboration with the researchers mentioned above, in order to have an aligned corpus which takes into account all the languages for which mythological material has been collected. The result would be of great interest not only to linguists interested in language comparison but also to ethnographers wishing to document how the myths have evolved across the different groups from a common origin.

The stories we have collected in the present corpus have been given the following labels:

This is the story of the first female, and of how she gave birth to all plants, animals and humans.
This is the story of three orphans, two girls and a boy, who have to fend for themselves after their parents' death. The boy is separated from his sisters early in the story, which then becomes the tale of his adventures, on the one hand, learning the skills to survive in nature and create a settlement, and of his sisters, on the other hand, who must in turn separate and move to the highlands and lowlands in search of livelihoods.
Other stories

We also have stories which appear to be more local, shared by the neighboring Thulung and Khaling. One such story is the Leper story, about a sick man who, as he is carried from Thulung country back to Khaling country, loses body pieces, which turn into places of worship. Another is the Ogress story, about a mother who is kidnaped by a vulture, leading her children on a quest to find her that puts them at the mercy of an ogre couple, which they must defeat to survive.

Others yet are stories which we found in a single language, but for which several recordings exist. It seemed interesting to use the same comparable corpus methodology to look into linguistic choices made by the various tellers of these stories, despite their apparent non-generalization to the entire Kiranti group.

Further reading

Allen, NJ. 2012. Miyapma: Traditional Narratives of the Thulung Rai

Ebert, K. and M. Gaenszle, 2008 Rai Mythology: Kiranti Oral Texts. Harvard Oriental Series 69. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press.

Gaenszle, Martin 1991 Verwandtschaft und Mythologie bei den Mewahang Rai in Ostnepal. Eine ethnographische Studie zum Problem der 'ethnischen Identität'. Beiträge zur Südasienforschung 136. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

Schlemmer, Grégoire, list of publications on his website.

Corpus and dictionaries compiled with ANR funding.