Uruguay – Jungle Tales

Misiones is Argentina’s jungle province. It is the home of the Iguazu falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and the Paranaense Forest, one of the world’s largest remaining pristine forests. It’s also a biodiversity hotspot.

The jungle has 52% of Argentina’s biodiversity. This translates itself into several hundred species of bird and fish, large amounts of reptiles and mammals, including the kings of the jungle, the jaguars. And of course several forest levels, which also include trees that stretch up to 45 meters tall.

I’m not going to get into the “is it a jungle is it a forest?” question. This intro was meant to help illustrate why Uruguayan author, Horacio Quiroga, fell in love and relocated to the province, and why he used it as the setting in so many of his stories and poems. These also include some rather charming children stories, which he collected in Jungle Tales (1918). This very short volume provided me with a very dated kid-friendly experience that raised a lot of smiles, but I’m not going to read it to my kids.

Animal Stories

“In South America there is a river called the Yabebiri; and it flows through the city of Misiones. In this river there are many rays, a kind of mud fish like the salt-water skate; and the river, indeed, gets its name from them: “Yabebiri” means the river of ray fish.”

There are eight short stories in this collection. Each story introduces different animal characters living in the jungle. These animals have some very human characteristics. For example, there are slow-swimming rays who will fight to the death for their human friend; the coral snakes organize a costume ball; a lazy bee is banished from her hive by policemen after failing to pull her weight; and there is a young doe who fails to listen to her mother’s lessons, and gets stung by bees. Each story offers a different lesson, while also providing important information about the jungle, and how humans have nothing to fear from it.

In this book, the animals are very much aware that they occupy a lower position in the food chain. Humans can be friendly. They offer shelter, food, and protection. They also offer healing and support. Not all humans are nice of course, but generally speaking it is the animals that need to be cautious around humans not the other way around. It’s a lesson that for the most part won’t sit really well with modern audiences.

Lessons are Dated

“And every time she came in with a feather, the hunter gave her a jar of honey; and occasionally he offered her a cigar, which the little deer ate, but, of course, did not smoke. Smoking is bad, even for deers.” 

I chose this book because while researching South American magic realism, I stumbled on Quiroga as one of the authors who influenced Gabriel Garcia Marquez. While reading about him, I learned that he wrote a book of jungle stories for children, and I was very curious about the book to see what type of stories he wrote, and how much he borrowed from local myth and legend. Quiroga excels at horror, and he wrote many jungle survival stories. I probably should have read some of those as well, but it was also interesting to explore his softer side.

Personally, I enjoyed these rather charming stories, but I’m not going to be reading them to my kids. The lessons are wrong for me. In the first story, brave rays die by the thousands to save a human from panthers. Afterwards, we learn that the rays have many children so they “were as numerous as ever after one season.” In several other stories we learn that jungle animals are better off when they befriend humans and go live with them. An extreme example is a raccoon cub who is captured, caged, and then killed by a snake. The raccoon cub’s brother then volunteers to take his place in the cage because he doesn’t want to break the heart of the human children. This is not how you treat children to respect animals.

I think what Quiroga was trying to do here was to introduce the jungle by showing how the animals are really very friendly to humans – so friendly that the animals themselves would love to come live with humans. There is of course useful cautionary information, but these are lessons that are relayed to animals, and not to humans. It’s a useful teaching method, I think, because it doesn’t come across as preachy. It’s just a shame that the information comes packaged with the wrong lessons for my kids.

The Omer today is kingship in eternity. The animal kingdom has been around for a long time, longer than human civilization, in fact. We can learn a lot of lessons from it, such as the value of hardwork in ants and bees, or fidelity in beavers who mate for life. These core lessons haven’t changed and don’t need to change. They just need to be retaught because humans are forgetful. We have more important things to instill to our children, such as a fashion sense, or trigonometry.

At the same time humans aren’t animals. We are capable of asking questions, analyzing the answers and figuring out how to make things better. Ants and bees may be hard workers, but they do the exact same thing every day with no attempts to improve the process. Fidelity is also important, but it shouldn’t be used to trap you in an abusive relationship. The animal world may not have changed, but we have, and that’s a good thing.

Don’t #beeternal #bechange

About the Author

Horacio Silvestre Quiroga Forteza (31 December 1878 – 19 February 1937) was a Uruguayan playwright, poet, and short story writer.

He wrote stories which, in their jungle settings, use the supernatural and the bizarre to show the struggle of man and animal to survive. He also excelled in portraying mental illness and hallucinatory states,[1] a skill he gleaned from Edgar Allan Poe, according to some critics.[2] His influence can be seen in the Latin American magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and the postmodern surrealism of Julio Cortázar.[3]

Jungle Tales

Author: Horatio Quiroga

Translator: Arthur Livingston

Publisher: Tot Books

Published: 1918

Pages: 76

Format reviewed: Digital