July 7, 2007

Folk Motif Recycled or Real Life?

The official reported that on a couple of occasions in Baqubah, al Qaeda invited to lunch families they wanted to convert to their way of thinking. In each instance, the family had a boy, he said, who was about 11 years old. As LT David Wallach interpreted the man’s words, I saw Wallach go blank and silent. He stopped interpreting for a moment. I asked Wallach, “What did he say?” Wallach said that at these luncheons, the families were sat down to eat. And then their boy was brought in with his mouth stuffed. The boy had been baked. Al Qaeda served the boy to his family.

--Michael Yon
This story is an old "folk motif"--a recurrent pattern found in folk tales and songs. These things are indexed by scholars, this particular one as G61.2--"mother recognizes child's flesh when it is served to be eaten." This motif appears in "The Merchant's Daughter":

Meanwhile, the ghouleh arrived with her guests. "Yee!" she exclaimed. "It looks like my daughter (Allah bless her!) has already slaughtered her and put her on the fire. And here, she's almost done. Allah bless my daughter!"

The food served, they sat down to eat, but the daughter's scalp came into the mother's hand and she recognized it. "Yee!" she screamed. This is her daughter (the distant one!).

I have great respect for Michael Yon, who is merely retailing what he was told, as he says. Whether this story is true or is a contemporary recycling of an old, old tale, I cannot venture to say.

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