Hungry Rice

(Digitaria exilis) The staple food of many African people, especially in northern Nigeria, where it is grown in open fields or in terraces. The grain is very small, hence the common name, presumably, and is used as a porridge mainly. But it has never been a popular grain in Africa, judging from Dogon mythology, for it was said that eight different grains were given to the first ancestor, who rejected the eighth, which was Hungry Rice, on the grounds that it was too small, and too difficult to prepare. Indeed, the grain is hard and very small, yielding very little nourishment for a great deal of labour. It was said that Dogon women would ask for a divorce rather than undergoing all the labour needed to prepare it. Harvesting it has to be done in a great hurry, the moment it is ripe, for the stalks will bend with the slightest breeze and let the grain fall off. So it has to be stacked and threshed very quickly, if possible on the same day. In practice, this is done in the early hours of the night, and both men and women take part. This has led to extraordinary ritual behaviour, with men and women exchanging joking sexual songs. The grain is forbidden to a great number of men, and only the "impure" could eat it with impunity. Priests could be seriously defiled by merely touching it; possibly there is some Dogon symbolism connecting it with women's menstruation. Respectable women could only be persuaded to pound it with difficulty, and winnowing could only be done outside the walls, in places set aside for the purpose (Griaule). For Europeans, Hungry Rice has been a substitute for semolina.

Hyacinthoides nonscripta > BLUEBELL Hydrocotyle vulgaris > PENNYWORT HYLDEMOER

In Danish folklore, Hyldemoer, elder-mother, lives in the ELDER tree, and will avenge all injuries done to it. So her permission has to be asked before an elder is cut. The idea of some spiritual being, fairy or witch, inhabiting elders is very widespread. (Cf the legend of the Rollright Stones, for example). One of Hans Andersen's fairy tales tells that those who drink elderflower tea will see Hyldemoer in their dreams.

Hypericum androsaemum > TUTSAN

Hypericum elodes > BOG ST JOHN'S WORT

Hypericum perforatum > ST JOHN'S WORT

Hypericum pulchrum > UPRIGHT ST JOHN'S WORT

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