The idea for this post came from the Batman marathon that HBO aired last Saturday. I must admit that it has been a while since I last saw Jim Carrey‘s incarnation as The Riddler, maybe during a time that I may have found his riddles a little interesting. Not so last weekend.
I have long been mulling about riddles, ever since my classes in ancient mythology and folk literature. I liked their form as simple mental games. But during school I found out that they were not just meant for costumed villains or for the amusement of adolescents and children.
Though now they form part of the leisurely activities of tribes in the Philippines, there was a time when riddles meant life or death.
Of course everyone knows about the famous Greek story of Oedipus and the Sphinx, a monster with a human head and the body of a beast, who asked this to the future king of Thebes: What animal is four-footed in the morning, two-footed at noon, and three-footed in the evening? The answer of course is man (woman also, for that matter).
Recently I found out that Homer the great poet was said to have died of vexation after not being able to solve this: What we caught we threw away; what we could not catch, we kept. You are right if you thought of the louse.
The list goes on, involving Odin, Samson, King Solomon, and the Queen of Sheeba. From a prehistoric age where failure to answer a riddle meant the loss of life or honor, to the ancient times where riddles were used as tests of intelligence and even used before marriage, riddles are now mostly used to impart knowledge and wisdom to the young, or as entertainment and pastime.
Below are eight riddles drawn from the many parts of the Philippines, invented across the tribes. I have supplied the pictures representing the answers, but of course they are jumbled up. See how many riddles out of the eight you can figure out:
They have never met.
Tall when sitting,
Short when standing.
I bought a slave
Who is taller than I.
My pig in the field gets fat
Without being fed. (sweet potato)
The skin covers the bone;
The bone covers the flesh.
When it is young, its hair is white;
When it is old, its hair is black.
I have a beard, but no face;
I have teeth, but no mouth;
My body is dead but I still have life.
Leaves that bore fruit,
Fruit that bore leaves.