Author Archives: mujahidn

The Fox and the Rooster

Context: The following is a story told by the informant, my grandmother, when recounting to me a story she had heard during childhood. 

Background: My grandmother heard this story from her older cousin when chatting after school. She remembers it because unlike most stories she heard, this one was from someone closer in age to her.

Main piece: 

Once there was a fox that lived in the forest. Seeing a rooster sitting in a tree, the fox was eager to sink her teeth into it. Thinking about what a nice meal it would make, the fox decided to come up with a plan to get the rooster out of the tree. After thinking long and hard, the fox approached the tree and called out to the rooster, “Rooster! How are you doing today?”

The rooster responded, “I’m doing just fine, thanks to your prayers.”

“Did you know that there has been a new change in the forest?” the fox asked sneakily. 

This was news to the rooster, who hadn’t heard anything, so he asked in return, “No, what do you mean?”

“A decision has been made that from now on, everyone in the forest will live in peace and harmony. You don’t have to be scared of me anymore. Come, get down from that tree and let’s just sit in the shade and chat,” said the fox, greedily eyeing the bird.

“Oh really?” replied the rooster. “That’s great! Actually, I see that someone is coming over quickly.” Hearing this, the fox became frightened and looked around cautiously.

“Someone is coming? Who? Tell me quickly!” the fox said, afraid a predator might be approaching.

Seeing her reaction, the rooster was confused and said, “It’s just some hunting dogs, and they’re closing in fast. Why are you so frightened? Now that everyone is living in peace and harmony, we can all sit together and relax. Come, let’s wait for them to get here.”

Knowing her plan had been foiled, the fox could only grit her teeth and mumble an excuse that she had somewhere else to be before darting off into the forest, stomach empty.

Analysis: This story has the common trait of a more “evil” character that wants to hurt, or in this case eat, the “innocent” character, but has their plans ruined, either by being outwitted or mere happenstance. In this case, the narrative is quite open to interpretation as to whether the rooster actually did see the hunting dogs coming, or was clever enough to conjure up that tale to scare the fox off. Also, knowing the age of the storyteller to be quite young, it is no surprise that this tale focuses more heavily on entertainment than teaching a lesson or moral, although this could also be due to the way it was retold, perhaps being told to the girl in a different manner or emphasizing different parts of the tale.

Lazy Donkey Tale

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my mother. It was told casually as both entertainment and to teach a lesson at the same time

Background: The informant heard this from her grandmother in her mountain village. They remember this for the entertainment value that the story provided as well as for the moral advice.

Main piece: 

There was once a merchant who loaded his salt onto his donkey and took it to the market every day. On the way, they had to go through the forest and pass over a small stream. One day, the donkey slipped as it was crossing that stream, and the salt on its back dissolved in the water. As it stood up, the donkey noticed with glee that its heavy load had lightened considerably. 

Remembering this the crafty donkey made a plan. From that day on, every time he crossed the stream, the donkey purposely dove into the stream and pretended it was an accident. However, the merchant understood what the donkey was doing, and one day he loaded the donkey up with cotton instead of salt. When they reached the stream, the donkey once again plunged into the water. This time, however, his burden was increased several times over, and he was forced to continue with the sopping wet cotton on his back.

By the time that the donkey reached the market, it could barely walk. The next day, the merchant put salt on the donkey’s back yet again. However, the donkey didn’t fall into the stream this time but passed over it without issue. It had learned its lesson from the previous day and didn’t try to act up out of laziness again. 

Analysis: This fable is similar to many others with its inclusion of animals as characters and a negative characteristic resulting in a bad outcome, leading to the learning of a lesson. Although it is a specific version of a story, this seems very similar to any such story that might have been told around the world to children in order to teach them not to try to take advantage of things and be lazy, or else there may be consequences.

Burning Salt

Context: The following is an account of a ritual told by the informant, my paternal grandmother. 

Background: My father’s youngest uncle was sick as a baby, so the consensus was that he must have received the evil eye. In order to find out who gave it to him, this ritual was conducted. This same thing was repeated when one of my father’s brothers got sick and died as a baby.

Main piece: 

To find out who gave the child the evil eye, a solid chunk of rock salt was but in a burning fire. As the salt burned, those watching would carefully observe the fire to see what shape the flames would make. If they formed the shape of a person, they were the source of the evil eye. In my father’s uncle’s case, it was determined from the flame that a woman from one of the neighboring houses gave it to him. In his brother’s case, an odd inhuman shape was formed, leading people to believe it was jinn.

Analysis: It is not clear where this practice originated, but it seems to have come about as a result of people not wanting the cause of their child’s death to remain a mystery, so as to attach a name or face as to who was responsible. That being said, it is unknown from my conversations whether there was any confrontation with the person who was seen in the fire, and there was almost certainly no action taken on that basis.

Day of the Dead Ritual

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my younger sister. She told me this from one of her conversations with a friend at school.

Background: The informant was relating to the annual Day of the Dead rituals her Mexican friend and her family performed. Although they didn’t necessarily believe in everything, such as the dead actually eating food, they still performed the ritual without fail.

Main piece: 

Friend: Every year on Día de Muertos, my family makes pan de muerto, which is just normal bread with decorations like bones on it. We always make a lot of it, and although we eat most of it, we always leave some for my grandmother also.

Informant: Did she –

Friend: Yeah, she’s dead. So we usually just leave it out overnight along with the things that she liked.

Informant: Like what?

Friend: Oh… things like some stuff she knitted, I guess? That’s all I really remember right now.

Informant: What do you do with the bread the next day?

Friend: We just throw it out. But we eat the rest of it ourselves though. I don’t think my parents really believe in the whole thing, but we always leave it out anyways.

Analysis: Looking at how the friend describes pan de muerto as “normal” bread, I’m led to believe she may be from Oaxaca as it seems that fits the description for the area. It’s interesting to see that she and her family appear to be participating in this festival perhaps due to a mix of social festivities and nostalgia rather than due to actual belief that it is the Day of the Dead.

Crow Heralding Visitors

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my father. He was introduced to  this during his childhood while travelling to his grandmother’s village.

Background: This information was about a common superstition that he heard from his grandmother when he arrived at her house. Upon his arrival with his brother, his grandmother exclaimed that she had already known visitors would arrive because she had seen the signs described in the superstition below.

Main piece: 

If a crow comes and sits down somewhere in front of the house and begins to caw vigorously, it means that a visitor will be arriving shortly.

Analysis: This is an interesting superstition because it seems to be a Hindu or at least an Indian superstition. Although the people are majority Muslim in Pakistan, Hindu and Indian superstitions and ideas are still very ingrained in culture. However, some sources say that the cawing of crows heralds uninvited or unwanted visitors, while my father’s grandmother was very happy to see them and attributed their arrival to the cawing of the crows. Perhaps this is a slight difference in that she didn’t view the omen as negatively as some might. 

Gathering 40 Days After Death

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my paternal grandmother. She told this during a conversation over the phone.

Background: This information was about a customary ritual that people participate in widely throughout Pakistan, at least in the Punjab province. It is called چالیسواں which translates into ‘fortieth’.

Main piece: 

Informant: Forty days after a funeral, the women of the deceased’s family sacrifice an animal and cook food. They then invite relatives and neighbors over to their house, giving them the food and getting together to pray for the deceased and make supplication on their behalf.

Me: Why is it specifically after a period of forty days?

Informant: The mourning period after a death lasts for forty days. This ritual takes place after the mourning period has concluded. 

Me: What is the purpose or goal of such a ritual?

Informant: The purpose of this gathering is to pray for the deceased, so that their sins will be forgiven and their good deeds will be increased.

Analysis: Although the forty day period of mourning is an Islamic religious commandment, this particular ritual after that period is over is not a religious ritual but a cultural one, although it is often followed religiously and one who doesn’t participate in it is often considered to be doing something wrong. Also, it is interesting to note that the Eastern Orthodox religion also holds a traditional memorial service forty days after death, as well as a Shia festival called Arba’een, marking forty days after Ashura commemorating the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

Joint Marriages in Gujarat

Context: The following is an account from the informant, a family friend. She told this during a conversation at a get-together.

Background: This information was regarding the wedding customs of her village in the state of Gujarat in India. She had firsthand knowledge from her family and her own wedding.

Main piece: 

Informant: In our village, it is common and customary to have big joint weddings. Families will get together and plan to have five or six different couples getting married at the same time. 

Me: So do they know each other, or are they just random couples from the village?

Informant: Since most people in the village are either related to each other at least distantly or know each other well, people can coordinate without much difficulty. Everyone gets together to help, and my own grandfather helped cook the food in traditional cauldrons. Usually it ends up working well, and is much more economical since multiple marriages happen at the same venue, and the attendees who would have otherwise had to have been invited separately can all come at the same time.

Me: Wouldn’t there be extra attendees because there are so many families?

Informant: No, most of the villagers will come to any wedding that is happening anyways, so the number is about the same as there would be for just one couple getting married.

Analysis: This is a unique way of performing the wedding ceremony that seems to work well mainly due to the close-knit nature of the village, especially since many of the families of those getting married are actually relatives, whether close or distant. It seemed surprising at first because usually weddings are considered to be a special event for the couple, but this style of marriage seems to have more of a social aspect.

Hanako-san

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my younger sister. She told me this after I asked if she had heard any interesting stories lately, as many happen to pop up at schools. When I asked for more of the conversation or more detail, she said her memory was fuzzy and she was unable to recall.

Background: The informant was relating to me something interesting she had heard from her Japanese friend in high school recently. She had never heard of such a story before, so she thought it was interesting.

Main piece: Once, I mentioned to my friend that I always changed my clothes in the third bathroom stall. She said, “Oh, did you know that in the third stall of every girls bathroom is a Japanese ghost?” 

Analysis: After doing some research, the friend appears to be referring to the Japanese urban legend of Hanako-san, the spirit of a young girl who haunts school bathrooms. In order to summon the ghost, individuals are required to go to the girls’ bathroom, usually on the third floor, and knock on the door of the third stall, asking for her presence.

I think it is interesting to hear about such a tale, which is popular in Japan, in the United States, where it is relatively unknown. Also, this ritual of calling upon a ghost in the bathroom bears stark similarities to the commonly known Bloody Mary ritual. It’s also interesting to note the frequent occurrence of female ghosts or spirits haunting school bathrooms, which would normally be a rather odd place to haunt, since people don’t spend too much time in the bathroom, such as Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter series.

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves Variant

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my father, that was told to him as a story during his childhood in a Pakistani village.

Background: The informant was recounting a story told to him by his great-aunt when he went to visit her. She regularly told him and his siblings many different stories whenever she saw them. This story is a version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, specifically the portion where Morgana manages to outwit the thieves’ plots.

Main piece: As the forty thieves tried to track down who had taken their gold, they traced the trail to Ali Baba’s door. Initially, they attempted to leave a mark on his door so they could recognize it the next day, but the slave-girl Morgana sees this and marks the other household’s doors similarly, foiling their plot. 

For the second attempt, Morgana cooks a pot of halwa, a sumptuous dessert, but she mixes glue into it. When the thieves once again find their way to Ali Baba’s place, they are distracted by the wonderful smell coming from the halwa that is left outside. Unable to resist, the thieves stick their hands into the pot, only for their hands to become stuck, forcing them to cancel their plans to attack.

Lastly, the head of the thieves comes to Ali Baba’s house with his men in barrels, claiming to be an oil merchant who needs a place to stay for the night. In actuality, he is planning to attack Ali Baba with his men in the night. However, Morgana nears one of the barrels of oil and discovers that the contents are thieves, not oil. Quickly, she pours scalding oil into each of the barrels, killing all the thieves.

Analysis: This version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, specifically the section included above where Morgana proves herself clever enough to foil the assasination attempts, is interesting in that for the most part, it is identical to the standard version included in every children’s story book. However, the second part about the pot of halwa is something that I have never heard before, and seems very specific due to halwa mainly being a dish eaten in South Asia.

For a French text of this story heard from an oral story-teller, see Les Mille et Une Nuits by Antoine Galland. 

Meaning of the Dove’s Cooing

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my father, that was told to him in a casual setting during his childhood in a Pakistani village.

Background: The informant was recounting some common sayings that his aunts and older relatives mentioned in their everyday life. This particular saying is an explanation for the cooing of doves, mentioned to him by both of his aunts. Such things were told in a matter-of-fact manner, and widespread throughout the region.

Main piece: 

Aunt: Do you hear the sound of the dove cooing? It always makes the same sound over and over again, ‘Coo coo coo’. If you listen closely, however, you can see that it sounds like it is saying, ‘Yusuf coo’. 

Informant: Why would it say that?

Aunt: It’s been saying that for hundreds of years, after the prophet Yusuf (Joseph) was thrown down the well by his brothers. Ever since then, the dove has been trying to let everybody know what happened to him.

Analysis: This is another myth that I hadn’t heard before, attempting to connect the unique cooing of the dove to a sacred, religious story. ‘coo’ in Punjabi, the language that the informant and those around him were speaking, translates to ‘well’.