Fairy Tale: The Daughter of Buk Ettemsuch

Some day I’ll grow weary of using the cannibalism tag, but until then, you get another cannibalistic fairy tale.

“The Daughter of Buk Ettemsuch” is a story from North Africa. I read it first in Andrew Lang’s Grey Fairy Book. Under the cut is the synopsis from Wikipedia,

A man left his seven daughters with instructions not to leave the house, because they had provisions for three years. One day, the third year, the oldest suggested that they leave; the youngest tried to dissuade them, and all her sisters attacked her. They left the door open when they returned, and a witch got in and ate them all, except the youngest, who ran away. She hid in an ogre’s castle. He returned and persuaded her to come out; because she was young, he took her as his daughter and had her look after the house for him, keeping six of the keys, but reserving the seventh for himself.

One day, she asked for the key; when he refused it, she stole it. He learned this when he woke, but decided not to wake her to take it back. She opened the door and saw an ox, drawing up water to water a garden. It claimed the ogre was feeding her up to eat her. She cried. The ogre told her what to tell the ox, and she did, making it fall to the earth for seven days and nights. The prince, whose garden it was, came and found it withered. The ox begged for mercy and told of the girl. He hid and watched when she came to the garden again. The prince, being taken by her beauty, invited the ogre to dinner and asked about the girl. The ogre agreed to their marriage, but when he came to take the bride, the ogre forbade her to speak to him unless he swore “by the head of Buk Ettemsuch.”

The prince, annoyed at her muteness, took another bride. The girl worked magic in the kitchen, putting her fingers into boiling oil to make them fried fish, and jumping in the fire to become a fresh loaf. The bride said she could do that as well, jumped in the fire, and burned to death. The prince took yet another bride. The girl sat down on a stake to spin, and the bride ordered her off because she could do that as well, and impaled herself on the stake.

The prince spied on the girl. She went a pitcher and a water jug to fetch her water. The water-jug broke the pitcher, the pitcher asked her to beat it, and the water-jug begged her not to “by the head of Buk Ettemsuch.” She said if only her husband had said that, she could speak to him. He jumped up and told her to speak to him “by the head of Buk Ettemsuch.” They lived happily after.

But you can also read the full version from Lang’s book here.

Besides the cannibalism (and what else are witches really good for?), there are three points of particular interest to me. The consequences, the kindly ogre, and the power of words.

Consequences: As with most wicked sisters/stepsisters, the Daughter’s get what’s coming to them for disobeying their father and abusing the Daughter. It’s spelled out very clearly in that the witch starts eating them based on their specific abuse. It’s very poetic, and more magical to me than Cinderella’s stepsisters being pecked to death by pigeons or whatever. It’s very fey to be precise.

Kindly Ogre, aka Buk Ettemsuch: He’s so nice! And there isn’t a curse on him or anything. He trusts the daughter, doesn’t eat her, lets her marry well, never gets angry… it’s almost wrong. Nice ogres are supposed to be men under curses and by the end they’re beautiful again because of a girl’s true love. My question: is this sort of monster common in fairy tales from that region of Africa?

Power of Words: The Daughter makes inanimate objects work and curses the oxes by speaking. The witch makes the sisters tell her of their abuses by asking alone. The Ogre’s curse onto the Daughter is that she never speak to her husband. Simple words lift the curse. There’s no need for true love’s kiss or magic wands or rings or anything – just the word. I like that. A lot.

(Plus, any girl who keeps rivals away by tricking them into impaling themselves on stakes is all right by me!)

Can anyone tell me another story with a Kindly Ogre/Monster?

7 thoughts on “Fairy Tale: The Daughter of Buk Ettemsuch

  1. I know there are more kind ogres, but I can’t think of any right now. Female monsters, though, are always bad. I don’t remember ever reading about a good ugly creature–unless she’s ugly by magic and just under a spell.

  2. In his own way, Rumplestiltskin is kind. I mean, the miller’s daughter accepts what he offers, and agrees to his terms, and then she welshes on the bargain! Then, he kindly gives her a second chance to keep her baby, which he clearly doesn’t have to do. And then, when she guesses his name, he doesn’t curse her or the baby or anything cruel. He just leaves. She breaks the contract, and he is the one painted as the bad guy. That always bothered me as a kid, and still kind of does.

    Edit: Okay, he’s not exactly an ogre, but in the books I read he was described as monstorous, so that’s the best I’ve got, at the moment.

  3. I’m having trouble thinking of any good, ugly, female anythings in faerietales. Sometimes witches aren’t all bad. Sometimes. Um. Hmm. I have a mission now.

  4. No, no! I love this. He’s only bad from the selfish human POV. He’s totally lenient and forgiving, especially for a faerie. Sweet!

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