This is an enjoyable book of folklore from the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. Though the author’s writing in the introduction is a bit stiff, the 80 tales included are characterized by strong storytelling, and paint a vivid picture of the traditional culture of the Maldives. The stories are perhaps best described as legends, featuring kings, ghosts and spirits, good and evil sorcerers, and monsters from the sea, alongside regular people who interact with all of the above, and of course a few animal stories. A few tales are based on recent historical incidents, while most seem to be set sometime in the distant past. Despite the large number of stories, ranging in length from 1-2 pages to 12 or 14, they felt fresh and engaging throughout. In fact, two different stories about a man who falsely sets himself up as an expert have opposite endings.
I would have appreciated more information about the Maldives and the storytellers, who are identified by name and place of residence but not otherwise discussed, though the author might reasonably have seen that as beyond the scope of this book. I was surprised to learn that the book is actually banned in the Maldives, which currently has a strict Muslim government; Islam has been in the islands for centuries and appears in many of the stories, but the stories treat it casually, as part of the backdrop. More information about life in the islands today, to put all this in context, would have been helpful. That said, I think this is an excellent choice for those who enjoy folklore, and I enjoyed reading it.
This book and I got off to a rocky start because I didn't really learn anything new in the chapter about foxes and then I got a little overwhelmed by all the dog breeds and landraces in the dog chapter. Each chapter focuses on either a single domesticated (or somewhat tamed) animal or related groups of animals, from dogs and cats to camels and ultimately humans. It discusses the changes that that particular animal experienced relative to its wild counterpart and the commonalities between domesticated animals, like a lessened fear response to both humans and "crowds" of its own species and neotenic features (juvenile behavioural or physical attributes that persist into adulthood).
Humans, you say? How could we be domesticated? By whom? Well, apparently some people have wondered whether some of our evolution away from the other apes was due to a kind of self-domestication process that would have brought out attributes common to other domesticated animals in us. After discussion various aspects of this theory, Francis has this to say:
"Whatever its ultimate fate, the self-domestication hypothesis is valuable in reorienting our focus somewhat from our singular intelligence to our emotional constitution, which is every bit as singular. Our pro-social emotional tendencies are what afford human groups unrivaled capacities for coordinated action and, ultimately, our capacity for culture. Intelligence is secondary in this regard. Spock-like creatures, much more intelligent than we are, would never have achieved what we have, for lack of motivation."
Doesn't that give you the warm fuzzies?
Anyway, my attention waxed and waned a bit as my interest peaked and ebbed according to the topic, but overall I think it's a great book that discusses the process of domestication intelligently. I'm kind of curious about the author's other books now too, although I'm not sure whether they'd be as interesting as this.
Previous updates (and boy are there a lot):
48 / 351 pages (dog chapter)
50 / 351 pages (dog chapter: bulldog/breeding quotes)
53 / 351 pages (cat chapter: Sylvester the cat quote)
58 / 351 pages (cat chapter: cat teeth quote)
82 / 351 pages (other predators chapter: raccoons in Toronto)
166 / 351 pages (sheep and goats chapter: Jacob sheep quote)
199 / 351 pages (camel chapter: camel protest quote)
200 / 351 pages (camel chapter: war camels)
245 / 351 pages (rodents chapter: mice as weeds)
248 / 351 pages (rodents chapter: popcorn-like jumping mice quote)
284 / 351 pages (humans - sociality chapter: evolutionary psychology dig)
351 / 351 pages (done!)
It never occurred to me to indicate what team i was on.
Fixed. : )
After some thought, I'm going to use this one for a Victim card.
Henry rarely, if ever steps on the bad side, sometimes to his own detriment.
Henry is incredibly single minded.
His sister got duped big time.
As long he's sniffing out 'stuff' Cortez is happy a as a clam most of the time.
Henry was smart enough to leave the dog behind safe with an Amish family.
At least the whining didn't last long.
I can only use one at a time unless I'm collecting, so I'm going to hold this one for a bit.