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MAHAKA & KOTOFETSY – Trickster deities to the Merina people of Madagascar. Mahaka and Kotofetsy are depicted like Coyote is depicted in Native American myths. In some tales their deceptive nature is applauded and in others condemned.
On occasion Merina people who prided themselves on their own wit and trickery would try to outdo Mahaka and Kotofetsy. In one myth the pair transform themselves into old men to put their adversary at ease, only to trick him out of everything he owns, right down to his clothing. The defeated man runs home naked, pursued by a jeering mob.
Other myths involving the pair:
Mahaka and Kotofetsy frame a would-be antagonist for sorcery, causing him to be beaten with sticks by his neighbors, who think he has desecrated their loved one’s tomb.
They trick a member of Merina royalty out of a hundred piasters (currency) during cricket fights.
They deceive a shepherdess into cooking some of her own sheep, thinking the animals are gifts brought by the two tricksters.
The traveling pair once planted phony amulets in a man’s grave, then pretended to be diviners warning his family about amulets a sorcerer supposedly buried with the dead man.
Mahaka and Kotofetsy punish superstitious villagers who stray from the true Merina gods by posing as holy men. The pair create their own pantheon of fake gods and goddesses and make over 10,000 piasters and many tribute cocks – “offerings” from the villagers to the phony deities.
The pair gave a greedy man his comeuppance by tricking him into buying a bird that they convince him lays golden eggs.
In a solo con-job Mahaka transforms himself into a child and relentlessy annoys a grouchy rich miser no matter where he goes or what he does. When the exhausted man asks what he can do to get some peace, the disguised Mahaka tells the rich miser to make him his heir. The wealthy man agrees, and when he dies, Mahaka transforms himself into the child (presumably aged a little) and inherits the miser’s estate.
Teamed up again, Kotofetsy and Mahaka trick another greedy rich man into thinking they are messengers for the reigning King or Queen and are transporting the monarch’s special pet – a cat with feathers instead of fur. After spending the night and mooching a lot of food and drink the duo peel the phony feathers off the ordinary cat they had glued them to.
In mock outrage the pair accuse the rich man of stealing the “real” feathered cat and replacing it with this counterfeit version. The rich man bribes them into not spreading that accusation lest he get punished by the Merina ruler.
Depending on the time period of the myths, Mahaka and Kotofetsy are motivated either by pure mischief or by a desire to punish wrongdoing. A much later variation presents the two as heroic figures giving the nation’s poor all of the money and other valuables that they con from the wealthy.
Yet some of the stories feature the pair simply being spiteful and cruel, like the myth in which they deceive an old woman with bad eyes. They pretend to be doctors and treat her eyes with lemon juice. While she is blinded and helpless from the stinging they steal all her sheep. +++
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