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Wiley and the Hairy Man


Sylvan

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I wasn't sure where to put this since what I saw was a play and it was based on an old recording from the African American oral tradition which is preserved in the Federal Writer's Project Folklore Collection in Alabama.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/10/24/2383113/review-childrens-theatres-wiley.html#storylink=cpy

Anyhow, the play is set in the Southern swampland and features a young boy, Wiley, who lives with his mother, a powerful "conjure woman." The boy's father, a lazy drunk, is either dead or disappeared, and they explain his absence by saying that the Hairy Man got him. The boy has nightmares of the Hairy Man, who lives in the swamp, and he thinks the Hairy Man is coming to get him too. His mother works hard to teach the boy various charms and "conjures" so that he can defend himself against the Hairy Man.

 

I won't tell the whole story, but what I found very refreshing about this tale is how positively magic is portrayed, but not in a fluffy way. The Hairy Man uses magic too--he's powerful but not really evil. He just is what he is. And while magic is an ordinary part of life in this setting, it's cleverness and cunning that defeats the Hairy Man, not magic, so there is this terrific lesson not to rely only on magic to solve your problems. Of course, another very basic purpose of the tale is to keep children from going into the swampland alone.

 

I also thought some of the content was interesting from a practitioner's point of view, especially the wind bag that his mother made for him and her "book" which she inherited from her own mother. I'm betting the original recording of the tale has even more clues to authentic practices of the time.

 

 

I don't know much about African-American folklore/magic traditions but anyone who does might enjoy tracking down this play or its sources in the folklore collection. I really enjoyed it.

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