M a r g a r e t A. M illsOhio State UniversityColumbus, OhioThe Gender of the TrickFemale Tricksters and Male NarratorsAbstractWestern theories of myth (Radin, Babcock-Abrahams) have defined the trickster as aparticularly complex and ambivalent mythological figure involved with creative cosmo logical events and with mythical moments when the order of things, physical or social,is undergoing transformation. Tricksters in folktales are akin to, but not identical with,the mythological forms. While one prominent feature of the trickster’s personality isgender ambiguity, the trickster is almost always conceived in Western comparative theo ry as a male who can transform or disguise himself as a female, usually with comical andhighly disorderly results. These theories do not adequately address the very rich topic offemale tricksters (mat{t{dra) in Middle Eastern popular literature and folklore genres.This paper compares two female trickster tales performed by a single adult male narra tor in Herat, Afghanistan, particularly the portrayals of female agency by a male speak er, with reference to theories of the trickster and of gender-centeredness in texts.Keywords: trickster— gender— oral literature— genre theory— myth theoryAsian Folklore Studies, Volume 60,2001: 237-258

H E TOPIC OF W O M E N ’S TRICKS — m 吹r-ezan or kayd un nisa— is aparticularly rich one in Islamic literature, written and oral, and inpopular thought. Women are considered to excel even the devil himselr in trickery, as various Persian proverbs and aphorisms attest.1A very richdiscussion on this topic with regard to Persian literature has been initiatedby MERGUERIAN and NAJMABADI (1997),and continued by NAJMABADI andother authors in Iranian Studies 32(2) (1999). Among the topics taken up byNajmabadi herself is the question of female participation in the enjoymentof stereotyping narratives that portray women as ruled by nafs, the earthlypart of the soul and its appetites, and serving it through their guile. Najmabadi’s own reflections on possible feminist readings of the fusof-Zolayxa”story, the locus classicus for literary concepts of the guileful woman in theQur’an and its derivatives, by implication inspire closer inspection of possiblesubversive/resistive uses of misogynist oral tradition by traditional womenwho are observably not participants in the last century’s feminist movement(M ills 1999 and 2000a).In the same time frame as this discussion, Marilyn J u r i c h ’s ambitiouslyresearched Scheherazade Sisters (1998) has appeared, undertaking a world wide review of female trickster stories, juxtaposed to and critiquing, in adistinctly late-twentieth-century feminist mode, the predominantly malecentered comparative theory of the trickster in myth and literature. Unfortu nately, her primary positioning as a contemporary feminist reader of folktaleand related literature from the earliest known texts (Pharaonic Egypt)onward, and from all over the world, while it presents a rich tapestry,involves her at times in highly presentist, under-contexted, and under-theorizedreadings of individual stories of vastly differing (and often uncertain) prove nance, genre, and formal qualities. This contrasts with Najmabadi verysophisticated contemporary feminist reading procedure, which directly dis cusses the repositioning of texts in the minds of their audiences over time.Jurich’s less reflexive exercise also involves her in intermittent over-general izations about the psychosocial positions of male (and by implication, female)[238 ]

THE GENDER OF THE TRICK239storytellers and audiences both oral and literary.The discussion I want to extend here has thus centered, in various ways,on feminist reclaiming of texts that have passed through a masculinist filterin literary treatment. On examining oral performance texts of folktales Irecorded in Persian-speaking Afghanistan in the peacetime of the 1970s,I donot find that the pervasive misogyny observable in some literary texts, andassum ed (e.g., by JURICH 1998,292) to be operating fairly uniform ly am ongmale narrators, applies very well to the oral corpus I am able to examine. Myanalysis of examples from this group of about 500 separate performances isfacilitated by better knowledge of contexts of performance: I was able tointerview and record at least basic biographical data from the tellers, andknew the time, place, occasion, and who else was present at each recordingsession, being present myself in almost all cases. Extensive exposure to oralperformances by women and men in a single community and time periodalso informs one’s reception of individual performed texts. All of these fac tors have direct effects on the storyteller’s particular framing of a wellknown tale (cf. R a d n e r 1989). By framing, I mean the opening and closingcircumstances that provide the proximate motivation and evident resolutionfor the chain of events that comprise the tale’s main plot. While a particularframing may not be part of deep narrative structure in any obvious way, inso far as framing can be very varied from one performance or one tale variantto another,3 nevertheless framing is crucial to questions of how male- vs.female-centeredness is accomplished narratively, and of misogyny vs. inter gender solidarity and the particular forms those positions can take. Issues ofcentering or focus must be addressed to specific performances of tale vari ants, not to composite or abstract tale types. Torborg L u n d e l l (1989) hasalready explored gender-biased distortions in the basic analytic researchtools for folk narrative, the tale type and motif indexes devised by AnttiAarne and Stith Thompson. She traces the distortion problem to the schol ars5analytic assumptions characterizing female actors as supporting, ratherthan central, characters.The task of this essay, then, is to begin to rethink manifestations ofmale- vs. female-centeredness and of misogyny vs. inter-gender solidarity (orfor that matter male-bashing) in traditional folktales told by men andwomen. By the “gender- (male or female) centering” of a text I mean thefocus of the narrative on one or more characters as protagonist and/or chiefbeneficiary of the plot, and also, more generally, the perspective of the char acter from which the tale achieves resolution. I shall illustrate some of thepossibilities for male-centering of texts with female protagonists, using justtwo traditional tales performed by one adult male storyteller within a sixmonth period. Because these protagonists are tricksters, the tales in their

240MARGARET A. MILLSperformance context also serve to illustrate complexities of the ma\r-e zan(women’s tricks) stereotype or topos, which is by no means univocallymisogynistic,even in the hands of men (cf. M i l l s 1999).1 he refinement offeminist reading that tms limited comparison puts forward is that male sto rytellers, while remaining male-centered in their renditions of tales, may notnecessarily be misogynist in any obvious way. This interpretation offers datafor understanding dimensions of male-female solidarity in a highly patriar chal environment, such as the village and working-class urban of MuslimAfghanistan tms storyteller inhabits. While the gender ideology of theTaliban regime in Afghanistan between 1995 and 2001,much criticized inthe West, has promulgated abroad and at home a stereotype of a particularlysevere misogyny and fear of female mobility (intellectual, professional orphysical),a close study of oral tradition helps to reveal more complex posi tive and negative dimensions of power relations among the sexes, as playedout in traditional expressive culture.The discussion here is limited to afsana, one type of oral fantasy litera ture, which should not be confused witn real-world” ethnographic data anymore than Bay Watcn in late-twentieth-century American television shouldbe conflated with U.S. gender ethnography in daily life. Expressive culture,however, is itself a complex system and an important dimension of total cul tural practice which, within the genre constraints of different types of speechevents (e.?.,folktale as compared with oral history,personal experience narra tive, religious legend, epic, romance, lament, lyric poetry), provides a windowon conceptual possibilities if not directly on other types of cultural practice.Gender politics are inevitably wrapped up with the ethos and aestheticsof power relations in general in afsana (as is true of folktale worldwide).Lruile {makr, \ayd) or trickery can be categorized as a weapon of the weak,and thus quintessentially of women. There is an abundance of male trick sters as well, and not all of them are underdogs, but a trickster in a positionof power or acting on behalf of the power elite (e.g., an evil vizier and/or hisold-woman accomplice) is inevitably the one who loses to the less sociallypowerful hero or heroine. Iricks work best for underdoes, though not onlyunderdogs are tricksters. Inckery as a concept includes various forms ofdeception, including duplicitous persuasive techniques (seduction, etcsieight-of-hand, and conjuring (which may in some cases cross over intojadu ,sorcery), and, of course, disguise (which may include magical disguiseor shape-changing).One might, among male heroes strategies, distinguish between strate gies of guile and strategies ot torce (combat, etc.),but in the case of femaleheroes, the strategies of force generally entail the woman functioning as apseudo-male, in male disguise, so that the performance of martial feats for a.),,

THE GENDER OF THE TRICK241woman is subsumed under theguileful category of disguise, orat least necessitates its co-deployment. No matter how much of avirtuoso such a woman is inmartial arts, the well-kept secretof her sex, which is both an addi tional weapon and an additionalrisk or vulnerability, gives hermartial capacities the force oftrickery as well.The two stories under dis cussion here illustrate two typesof female tricksters, the onewhose sphere of action is domes tic, private, and female (theandarun or harem-space), andthe one who ventures as well intothe male sphere of martial,,r icFIGURE 1.The storyteller Abdul W&hed, 1975endeavor and quest he story orthe first type was told to me by Abdul Wahed, an impoverished villager res ident in Injil uistrict, Herat Province, in February 1975,only a month aftermy arrival for research. This was the very first story he tola in our firstrecording session together. My grasp of Herat dialect Persian was quite lim ited at that point, and I believe he simplified his speaking style, making thestory text more simply, almost ritually, repetitive in its details, to accommo date my limited comprehension. The story of the second type he recordedfor me six months later, when my conversational abilities had considerablyimproved and we had gotten to know one another more. His style in thatperformance was more expansive.Due to space constraints, close textual analysis of the complete texts,which certainly has relevance to the portrayal of women, must be left foranother venue. The present analysis will be based on observations availablefrom propositional analysis of tale summaries offered here in English.On both recording occasions, Wlhed and I were joined and supportedby my research associate, Aminollah Azhar,then an economics student atKabul University on home leave for vacation, and his father, Nizamuddin,a respected elder and former village headman. They knew Wlhed well as alocal agricultural worker and gifted storyteller and they invited him to comeand tell me stories. The recordings were made in the guest room of theirhouse in Taw Beryan Village.4.丄

242MARGARET A. MILLSAbdul Wlhed, called lang or “the lame,” was a small man, under fivefeet, with a hunchback from an accident at birth. He was single, withoutchildren. In one conversation about his life experiences, he mentioned hav ing worked at various guard jobs in the city of Herat. He did not know theplace or date of his birth, but estimated that he and his family had first cometo Taw Beryan Village about thirty years before. I estimated Wlhed’s age atbetween 45 and 50. rie was not literate and had had no opportunity to go toschool. He had come back to reside in Taw Beryan, at his deceased brother’ssons house, within the past year. One nephew lived there, keeping thehousehold going, while the other two were guest workers in Iran. In the vil lage he worked at various minimally-paid jobs that did not require greatphysical strength and helped his nephews with house maintenance, e.g.,making mud bricks to repair some rain damage. In the summer among otherthings he would work as a night guard on melon fields, which were subjectto theft during the harvest season. He had been poor all his life and, accord ing to him, had a wife who left him. Others were under the impression thathe had never married. He was a well-known figure in the village, appreciatedfor his verbal skills and invited occasionally to household social events as araconteur/storyteller. Ultimately, he recorded forty different prose tales forme, plus a few verse recitations. Despite his lack of literacy, he performed,item s th at also exist in p o p u lar literature, including a version o f the Tale o fNur ud-din Ali and Anis al-Jalis from the Thousand and One Nights, episodesfrom xhcAmir Hamza Narna, versions of the chapbook romances of SahzadaSerbiya and Najma Sirazi, and the frame tale of the Tuti-nama. As far as Iknow, no one paid for storytelling in Herat villages at that time. I made apractice of compensating storytellers for the time that they spent with me,sometimes extensive, at about the same rate they would earn as a dailywaged agricultural worker, since that rate was deemed appropriate locally.Let us look at the story summaries in order of performance.F i r s t S t o r y :A b d u l W A h e d , “N a jjA r i” (A C a r p e n t e r ) 5A successful carpenter with a good house, a wife, etc.,goes to another city insearch of better work, leaving his wife with a servant and a supply of food.The Carpenter goes to a carpenter’s shop in the new city and is hired.The King sees some doors he has made, admires them, and questions himabout where he got his skill. “From my father,” he replies. The King inviteshim to come to court, because he considers him a man of understanding.The King offers him a daughter in marriage but he declines, saying “I havea wife who is perfectly virtuous.”The King asks where his home is. “In Herat,” he replies. The King asksfor and gets the exact address then, leaving his vizier to rule, he goes off to

THE GENDER OF THE TRICK243Herat to see whether the woman is as virtuous as the Carpenter has said.The King arrives in Herat and gets local directions to the Carpenter’shouse. The Wife’s female servant sees the rider coming and they prepare theguest room to receive him. (Wahed inserts “local color” details about heat ing up the room, it being winter, etc.)The King tells the servant that he,s been sent by the Carpenter to getnews of his family. He insists the Wife come and eat with him, or he won’teat. She finally complies, but sits behind the lamp-stand, where she is lessvisible, while he eats.The King notices large stakes, four pieces of wood, driven into the cor ners of the room. The Wife explains that she has four brothers who, whenthey return shortly and find out she has a male guest, will string him up bythe four stakes, beat him to death and drop him down a well. The King says,“Don’t you have a place to hide me?”She takes him to the innermost room (“of forty”)in the house, andlocks him in. In the morning he asks to be let out “to pray,”6but she replies,“If you were a religious man, you wouldn’t have come here like this,” andleaves him imprisoned there. She forces him to work for food, picking thefiber out of cotton bolls (goza) for his daily bread and water.After the King has been away for two months, the Vizier goes to theCarpenter’s shop, sees the Herati,repeats the King’s questions and hisoffers, and gets the same response: “My wife is so pure your daughter’s handwould pollute her shoes.”The Vizier asks where his house is in Herat, leaves the Vakil (deputyminister) on the throne, and rides to Herat, to the Carpenter’s house. Theservant girl sees him coming again and they ready the guest room, with thestakes, etc.,as before. The guest is again received hospitably by the servant,and the Vizier, in turn, demands that the Wife join him for dinner.There is a polite exchange of greetings, then the same inquiry about thestakes, and the same answer. She puts him in the inner room with the King,who curses him, in the dark, for messing up the cotton he,s been cleaningand sorting (audience laughter).In the morning, the Vizier also asks to be let out to pray and she repeatsher answer. The King recognizes the Vizier, but he doesn’t recognize theKing in his unkempt whiskers, etc. The Wife also makes the Vizier work forfood, combing the seeds out of the cotton fiber the King has extracted fromthe bolls. The Vizier wears out his hands, which swell up, being unaccus tomed to women’s work.Meanwhile the Vakil, back in the King’s city, goes to the bazaar, meetsthe Carpenter, repeats the King’s question and the offer of a daughter, andgets the same response from the Carpenter, including the address of the

244MARGARET A. MILLSCarpenter’s house in Herat (with further details of local color added).The Vakil leaves the Qazi (chief judge) on the throne and goes off toHerat to test the woman. Asking directions locally, like the others, he arrivesat the house and is received like the others. The conversation over the mealand the threat of the Wife’s brothers are repeated, and then she hides him,at his request, in the inner room with the other two. The Vizier yells at him,“Don’t step on the alaji (carding tool) and break it!” The King yells, “Bastarddon’t mess up the cotton!” (more laughter).In the morning the Vakil calls to be let out to pray and the Wife repeatsher response. She also sets him to work for his food, giving him an old quiltto take apart and beat the matted cotton stuffing with two pairs of thin sticks(see Figure 2),to fluff it up.Another month passes and another king gets word that the King hasdisappeared from his city, so he demands tribute from the now kingless city.The Qazi asks the King’s young son what to do but he replies, “I,m just achild, how should I know?”The Qazi then asks officers of the army, in turn, but “They said nothing.” The King’s son then goes to the Carpenter’s shop, tells the Carpenter,who is now the head of the carpenters, what has happened and asks hisadvice. On the back of the second kings farman (order) demanding tribute,the Carpenter writes that the King et al.have gone traveling and haven’t yetreturned. He asks for a period to find the King and pass on the demand, say ing, “You’re confronting children here” to shame the aggressor. The secondking accepts the request for delay.One month passes with no news and the second king sets out to get ananswer. Asking for fifteen days more, the Carpenter says to himself,“Whateverwas done, my wife dia it, and goes home to investigate.His wife welcomes him, but he says, “What did you do with them?”“Nothing.” He says, “I know you did it.” They go and open the room (witha comic description of the three prisoners). All three recognize and greet theCarpenter. He brings them out, cleans them up, gets them bathed andshaved, clothes them properly, and tells them to go defend their city.They insist that he come with them. He moves to the new city with hishousehold.They make the Carpenter king, the old King giving him his daughteras wife with a large (and formulaic) wedding feast. Wlhed ended the storywith traditional closing formulas and audience laughter.In the brief interview after the performance, he reported that he learnedstories from other people (not from books), and called this one xanegi(“household,” thus not \etabi “literary”).,

THE GENDER OF THE TRICK245S t o r y A n a l y s isThe options for male- vs. female-centering in this story are manifest: whilethe core action of the story, elaborately repeated, is perpetrated by a femaletrickster, her deeds are caused and framed by the words and deeds of herabsent husband. Thus, depending on the teller’s framing, this tale could beabout a wife with an absent husband, passing tests of her virtue, or a hus band with an accomplice trickster-wife,whose actions contribute to his proj ect even at a distance.7Wlhed from the outset frames the tale as belonging tothe man, since he entitles the story simply “A Garpenter” {najjari). Mostafsana did not have explicit titles. If I asked a teller for a “title” (onvan) I mightget a plot summary, or a recapitulation of the first few events of the plot. If Iasked its “name,” I usually got nothing more than a blank look or an obser vation that the tale didn’t have any particular name. So it is questionablehow stable Wlhed,s designation of this story is, but for present purposes, hehas designated it as being “about” (centered on) a carpenter, not about hiswife primarily.Secondly, the Carpenter’s response to the King’s question, “Where didyou get your skill?” confirms a respect for patriarchy that the King shares:“From my father.” This answer is partly responsible for the King’s decidingthat the Carpenter is a sagacious man, worthy to be invited to court. Theurban artisan’s exceptional skill also qualifies him for the status of courtier.The Carpenter has migrated from his home city, Herat, to another city insearch of professional advancement: the consciousness of the story is thussituated in the male urban artisanal world, with the royal court as an alienbut possibly fruitful opportunity zone.The Carpenter’s refusal of a royal second wife might at first seem to bea rejection of polygamy. There is enough comic narrative in the traditionalverbal art of Herati men, portraying the miseries of the man with two wives,to support an hypothesis of male rejection of polygamy (or at least ambiva lence toward it). Yet in the end, the Carpenter unhesitatingly accepts a royalsecond wife as “reward” for his virtues and services rendered in rescuing theKing and his colleagues. Certain details in the telling help us to understandthis change of heart. First of all, his bold response to the offer of a royaldaughter, “My wife is so pure your daughter’s hand would pollute hershoes,” does not reject second marriage as such; it only calls in question therelative quality or status of the offered bride, compared to the wife he alreadyhas.8In the end, when he is offered and accepts a royal bride, it is part of hisapotheosis, as the ratification of transfer of the kingdom itself to him. Hemarries not as a courtier taking a spare daughter off the King’s hands, but ashis adoptive heir. In this scene, his virtuoso first wife has no part and noapparent say; it is this aspect of the story that seems to me to be a most defin

246MARGARET A. MILLSitive male-centering of the story in its overall trajectory.The Carpenter’s prideful rejection of the first offer of a princess, nodoubt an offensive challenge to the King, Vizier, etc.,is also a kind of asser tion of local pride. The proud and able Herati artisan yields little deferenceeven to the “royals” of the other city. He boasts about his wife’s virtue, andimmediately his place of origin, and her location, are brought to bear on thecase by the King’s questions. The King will challenge the Wife’s virtue, buthe must do so on her turf, which is also, emphatically, the Carpenter’s homeplace. Herat is so featured in this story, through its repeated mention andthrough Wlhed’s specific descriptions of the neighborhoods through whicheach traveler finds his way to the Carpenter’s house, that it almost becomesone of the characters. Wlhed is not alone among Herati male narrators inmy collection, in his aesthetic use of geographical pride of place for narrativeelaboration. The description of the city’s public geography also evokes amasculine consciousness: street maps are perhaps less prominent in women’sheads, since they spend much less of their lives in the public zones of the city.Wlhed’s evocation of the inner world of the Carpenter’s Wife, thefemale sphere of her home, is no less vivid, however. Sitting as we were inthe warm guestroom of our hosts, on a wintry February day, Wlhed evokesthis coziness in describing how the Wife has her servant warm the gue stroom to prepare for the guest. Thus he links the hospitality of our actualhosts to that of the fictional Herati household and evokes a sensory parallelbetween our own immediate experience in the performance setting and thesensorium of the imagined world, making it more immediate, more “real.”The Carpenter’s Wife’s sphere is exclusively female. She lives in herhome alone with the support of one female servant, with supplies of food theCarpenter has left them to tide them over while he goes off to find work.When she realizes that they are about to receive a strange and apparentlydistinguished male guest, allegedly sent by her husband, she makes appro priate arrangements to receive and host him without compromising hervirtue. She directs the servant to provide him with refreshment and relaymessages to and from the guestroom. The King’s (Vizier’s Vakil’s) refusalto accept food unless the Wife appears at dinner is an act of guestly tyranny:to let a guest go unfed is a source of great shame, but for a woman to eat witha strange man is tantamount to fornication.The predicament of temporarily female-headed households of absentmale guest-workers was an everyday reality for a good many Herati andother families in the 1970s,when Afghan labor migration to Iran, and sec ondarily to the Lrulf States, was at its peak. Most families, like Wlhed’snephews, would contrive to leave one adult male in residence to supervisethe extended family while the other men migrated, but not all families had,

THE GENDER OF THE TRICK247the configuration of brothers or father and sons needed to do this. TheCarpenter’s Wife’s virtuoso defense of her chastity is an ideal statement of acommon and current social concern. She invokes the apparently fictionalthreat of her brothers in order to put the King, Vizier, and Vakil into her ownpower. It is interesting, too, that Wlhed has her express no fear for her ownsafety in enunciating the threat. The logic of this dramatic moment can beinterpreted in two ways: the Capenter’s Wife is either (1)taking as given theeveryday understanding that a woman taken in adultery could herself bekilled by her husband or brothers, without criminal responsibility, or (2) thethreat of the brothers, in a generic folktale frame, simulates the psychologi cal “slot” of the threat of the returning ogre or band of thieves in tales witha questing male hero, such that the King et al. readily assume that thewoman, though at first visibly reluctant to interact with them at all, has beenseduced (or else needs to act in self-protection) and will therefore be theirally and protector.The female trickster in defense of her own virtue frequently makes sucha switch from potential prize/victim to pseudo-ally, as her definitive strategicmove in taking control of those who threaten her. Furthermore, in this storyas in others, what she does to them is a quintessentially female move: sheincarcerates them in a dark, close space (a trunk or cupboard, or in this case,a darkened inner room o f her house, “the innerm ost ro om ” in W lh e d ’s play ful hyperbole). In this story, though— unlike other variants— not only doesshe immobilize them in this womblike prison, pointedly forbidding themthe normal adult male’s access to public communal prayer9 (and thus,escape), b u t also she deftly annexes th em to her ow n dom estic fem ale econ omy: she forces them to take up w o m e n ’s w ork in order to be fed and sur vive.The processing of raw cotton of a closed-bole type was the commonwinter task of Herati village women prior to the Afghan government’s intro duction of open-bole cotton, the seed of which was furnished to farmers aspart of a government monopoly. The government would then buy back thecrop and machine-process it for export. In the 1970s,this conversion of thecotton technology was recent enough (late 1950s—1960s) that all adults werefamiliar with the old work pattern, in which women would break open theclosed bolls of the traditional crop using a wooden stick, pick the fiber out,card it by hand, and spin it, and weave the homespun cotton (kayrbaz) orhave it woven in bazaar shops operated by men. The processing work wasdone indoors on winter days and evenings, sometimes in groups, and (as Iwas told) provided an occasion for gossip and storytelling. The cloth was tra ditionally used for clothing as well as household linens. Locally hand-wovenkayrbaz was still available in the Herat bazaar in limited quantities in the

248MARGARET A. MILLSmid-1970s, but hand-processing ofcotton had all but disappearedfrom Herati women’s lives. Someconversational attention was givento what women might do for domestic work and income to replace it,but no substitute was found. Thework was regarded as demanding;thus in Wahed portrayal, theVizier’s elite male hands are comi cally weak compared to those ofwomen accustomed to this work.The dismantling and revamp ing of cotton batting—stuffed quiltsand mattresses, the task assigned tothe Vakil, in the 1970s was still anormal female domestic chore,rather dusty and nasty. More afflu ent village homes might hireanother woman to come, bringing FIGURE 2. F lu ffin g cotton batting w ith w illowwands (Taw Beryan, summer 1975).with her a set of light willow sticksor wands with which she would rhythmically beat the matted cotton battingremoved from the quilts, fluffing it back up and releasing large quantities ofdust in the process. In the citie

male- vs. female-centeredness and of misogyny vs. inter-gender solidarity (or for that matter male-bashing) in traditional folktales told by men and women. By the “gender- (male or female) centering” of a text I mean the . be conflated with U.S. gender