USC Digital Folklore Archives / Tales /märchen
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Witch in Georgia

Context: The collector is interviewing the informant for tales. The informant (as GL) is a Chinese USC student who went to high school in Georgia. His classmates told him this story in a history class, the content of which was related with witch hunts.

 

GL: The story happened when there was witch hunting.

Collector: In the US?

GL: Yeah probably. So there were too many hares and they ate up all the crops. So hunters wanted to hunt them down. There was one particular hare that was gigantic, very huge. And so they go consult the witch. They cannot catch the hare so they go to the witch for help. The witch is like, “Okay you guys should just go to this place to find it (the giant hare) and don’t let the giant black dog lose and just let it chase after the hare.” The hunters don’t know what that means. They keep that in mind and they find the giant hare. During the process (of pursuing the hare), a giant black dog jumps out of nowhere and takes a bite on the giant hare’s hind leg. The hare ran off. The giant black dog also ran off. The hunters went back to the witch and was like, “We found the hare, but sorry that we couldn’t keep track with the black dog coming out of nowhere.” But what they figured out was, you know, on the hip of the witch, there was a bite mark like where the dog bit the hare. I don’t remember what happened to the witch later. Sorry.

Collector: Do you think this story happens in Georgia?

GL: Yeah I guess so. You know, there was a time in the 17th or 18th century where there were witch trials and people were suspicious about witches causing misfortunes, you know.

Collector: Do you think people view the story as a legend or just a fairy tale?

GL: Apparently witches are not real. They were just unfortunate women accused as witches. I guess it has some sort of authenticity with it. Well it also can be completely made up by people.

 

Collector’s thoughts:

As the informant has mentioned, the legend is probably developed in the time of witch hunt. People of that period of time blamed natural factors that had negative impact on their daily production on witches and transferred their anger to innocent women. I think the tale is interesting, and it makes people remember the dark time of witch hunt.

Life cycle
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Peach Boy in Hawaii

Main Piece

Informant: “A story that I heard a lot growing up was about this boy who was born from a peach. They called him Momotarō. He was considered a blessing to this older couple, who had not been able to have kids, but had always acted humble and hardworking. They got the child as if they were being rewarded, and it’s explained that the Gods sent him to be their son.”

Collector: “That reminds me of a lot of stories, especially religious ones, too.”

Informant: “Yeah, that premise isn’t the most unique, but the peach makes it memorable. He grows up and then decides to leave and go fight some Oni, which are a type of demon. He has some animals that help him on the way, and I think one of them is a duck….Yeah. There are a dog, a monkey, and a duck. They stop the demons and then get to take their treasure.”

Collector: “Who told you this story?”

Informant: “My mom would tell me it, but I think most people in Hawaii know it. It’s Japanese, but there are books and a lot of stuff for kids based on it.”

Analysis

The story of Momotarō seems very easy to compare to a lot of other stories in Western culture, be it Superman or Moses. The popularity of it seems easy to comprehend, given the good values and morals that it is supposed to set forward for young children. The fact that the informant learned this story growing up in Hawaii exhibits how strongly connected those two geographical places are, and how the culture of Japan affects the state to this very day. It fascinated me that the  work generally is told the same in Hawaii, and that not many oicotypes were known to the informant. It can be assumed that the printed version of this book that popularized in the 1970s for the Bank of Hawaii’s 75th anniversary played a large part in the spread of this story in the same variation. The authored Momotaro: Peach Boy declares itself  an “Island Heritage book” that promotes its impact on Hawaiian culture.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Anansi Tales

The following is a tale from Jamaica.  The informant is represented by the letter T and I am represented by the letter K.

Piece:

K: Tell me about some of the folklore you learned growing up.

T: Growing up in Jamaica, my mom used to tell us stories about Anansi, who was a spider.  He was a pretty popular character in a lot of stories.  One of them was about Anansi and a snake.  In that story, there was Tiger, who was king of the forest and had a bunch of stuff named after him, and… Anansi, on the other hand, was a nothing and nobody.  All- all the other animals would make fun of Anansi while they called Tiger the bravest and the strongest… So, one day, Anansi got sick and tired of it all and he… met Tiger in the forest, and he said to Tiger, “Hey Tiger, you have it all. Can you just let me have one thing named after me?” The Tiger wanted to ignore Anansi, but he said to him- because he was curious- so, he asked him, “what is it that you want to have your name, Anansi?” And so, Anansi answered him that he wanted the stories to be called, “The Anansi stories,” instead of the Tiger stories.  So… Tiger didn’t want to give up the name of the stories because he loved the stories, but he wanted to have a good laugh, so he told Anansi that if he could do one small thing for him, then he would let Anansi call the stories the Anansi stories or anything else that he wanted to call them.  So… Anansi didn’t like the sound of it, but he asked Tiger what he would have to do.  Tiger said he wouldn’t have to do anything hard, all he had to do capture Snake by the end of the week. So, of course, Anansi was scared because Snake was very very big, while Anansi, being a spider, was very very small.  So, but- Anansi really wanted to have the stories named after him, so he said that he would do it. So, all the other animals were listening into the conversation and they started laughing. So, Anansi went home worried, but he was thinking about what he could do to capture Snake. So Tiger and Anansi had reached the agreement on Monday and the next day Anansi went down the trail, where he knew Snake always went down, and he cut down a large noose from a strong line and put some of Snake’s favorite berries in it. And, he hid in the bushes, holding the other part of the vine, so that when Snake came along, he would be able to tighten the noose and capture Snake. But when Snake came along, he saw the noose around the berries, so he put his weight on the vine and reached in and grabbed the berries quickly, and Anansi tried and tried, but he couldn’t pull the vines to close the noose because the snake’s body was too heavy.  So the next day, Anansi went further down the trail and… he dug a pit in the ground.  And inside the pit, he put some bananas, but then he also put some grease around the pit, so that when Snake went to get the bananas, he would fall into the pit.  So, when Snake came along the path, he saw the bananas and he wanted to eat them, but he also saw the grease in the pit, so he wrapped his tail around a tree trunk and then reached into the hole with his head and ate the bananas, and then when he was done, he unwrapped his tail and went away.  So, the NEXT day, Anansi made a trap out of some sticks and he put some mangoes inside and when a piglet came along, he went in for the mangoes and Anansi closed the trap behind him.  So… he had figured that… Snake would see the piglet and that he would be able to get into the trap through the spaces he had left in the trap, but he wouldn’t be able to get back out once he had eaten the piglet.  However, when Snake came along… and the piglet saw him, the piglet got so scared that he went crazy and he started squealing and he went berzerk and then he started smashing the trap into pieces and then he ran away as quickly as he could so that Snake didn’t even get a chance to eat him. Sooo, the next day, it was the end of the week, and Anansi was out of time, so he went directly to Snake’s house and sat outside looking all dejected, and Snake came out and he said to Anansi, “boy, you’re bright.  You’ve been trying to catch me all week and now you show up in my yard?” So Anansi looked at Snake and was like, “yeah, it’s true, but I’ve been trying to catch you for a worthy cause. All of the other animals are talking behind your back.” So, of course, Snake was curious and he said, “well what are they talking about? what are they saying?” and Anansi said, “well, I shouldn’t really be telling you, but they say that you believe that you’re the longest thing around and that you’re the mightiest and… and.. God’s gift to longness, when even the shortest bamboo is longer than you.” So Snake was MAD. So he said, “measure me Anansi! Get the longest bamboo you can find and show those animals that I am the longest thing around here.” So… Anansi said to Snake, “well Snake, there’s a problem.  You look longer than the bamboo, but how do I know that when I go up by your head, you’re not stretching to look longer and then when I go down by your tail, you’re not shifting down on that end.” So… Snake said to Anansi to tie him up if he didn’t believe him. So now all the animals were gathering around in curiosity to watch what was gonna happen. So, Anansi ties Snake’s tail to the bamboo with some lines and then told Snake to stretch and so… Snake stretched and then Anansi quickly tied his head to the pile and tied his middle up.  Now all the animals that were watching went silent because Anansi said that he would capture Snake and he did, so now all the animals were no longer laughing at him.  And then from that day on, all of the stories were called Anansi stories.  The end.

Context:

This took place in a hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton in Downtown Los Angeles.  The informant was sitting on the bed, watching TV while playing games on her iPad.  Her husband was walking around the room getting ready to go to sleep.  I was sitting next to the informant and asked her if she had any folklore she learned growing up.

My Thoughts:

This tale clearly has a few “lessons” or “teachings” and is intended for children.  The informant learned this when she was quite young from her mother.  From this tale, we can see that one of the large meanings, depending on perspective, is either to never judge someone’s capabilities based on appearance or to never give up just because something seems too hard to handle.  With all of the animals assuming that Anansi can’t capture Snake, just because he’s little, it’s clear that there’s this idea of great power within something so small. Hearing this as a child, you’re prompted to believe that you have great capabilities within you, despite being so young.  The story also has some undertones of not being too cocky because if Snake hadn’t felt the need to show off his longness, then he never would have been captured, and if Tiger had never assumed he was putting Anansi up to a task he could never complete, then he wouldn’t have lost the title of the stories.  I think this tale is really adorable and there’s a lot more like it that come from Jamaican culture.

Childhood
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Three Little Piggies- Bedtime Story

Main piece:

“There is the story about the three little pigs. They are brothers and there is a lazy lazy one, a lazy one, and a hard-working one. They build three houses. Each one builds one house, all out of different materials. One of them built it really quick and was like ‘yeah whatever’, the other one worked a bit harder, but not super hard, and the last one worked really really hard on it and made it out of bricks. When the big bad wolf came the house of the super lazy pig that made it out of straws and sticks blew off, and the other sorta lazy pig’s house also blew off, the only house that protected them was the house made out of bricks.”

 

Context and Analysis:

I asked my informant a 21-year-old female if she recalled any folk stories. The informant narrated to me the story of the “Three Little Pigs.” She claims this was a bedtime story told to her when she was a child. She believes the story speaks to the rewards of doing hard work and applying dedication. The informant identifies a lot with the story for her dad was a very charismatic storyteller, so as a child she was very invested in the lives of the little piggies and this story really stuck with her. She remembers her feeling of terror vividly knowing the wolf was approaching the houses of the first two piggies and they were going to blow away. The informant explains how having this story be such a large part of her childhood has taught her hard work and dedication. She will forever remember the hard work the third pig put into his house and the rewards that came from it.

I too remember hearing a version of this story as a child and agree with my informant on the interpretation. There are many versions of the story, but the meaning ultimately remains the same. The story emphasizes the rewards of hard work. The first two pigs did not do a good job of building their houses, and because of this when the wolf came to test their houses they fell apart. The last pig worked really hard and put a lot of effort into building his house making it the only house left standing between the three pigs.  I believe this story is a great tale to teach children about the value of hard work. 

By having the middle pig who did not do a bad job, but didn’t do a good job I think the story also addresses mediocrity. If the middle pig had put in a bit more work into building his house, it would have probably been successful in protecting him from the wolf. This highlights the importance of following through and putting in the full effort as opposed to just “good enough.”  

The use of animals makes the story more entertaining for children because it adds a sense of fantasy and simplicity by using non-human characters. Non-human characters are more relatable and flexible as a tool for storytelling because the author can make them do whatever he pleases. Having pigs be the main characters also makes the kids more invested in the story since talking pigs with houses are unusual and new to them. I think the use of three is also important to note as it is a prominent number in storytelling. Having a trio creates a pattern making the story more memorable and emphasizes an idea. 

 

 

Childhood
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Boy Who Cried Wolf- Children Story

Main piece: 

“There was a boy who was a shepherd. The boy would get very bored watching the sheep all day, so he decided to yell out that there was a wolf amongst the sheep one day. All the villagers came in a hurry to find out that there was no wolf. The next day the shepherd boy did it again. And the villagers came running, only to find that once again there was no wolf. On the third day, the shepherd boy was watching the sheep, and a wolf came. The boy yelled out to the villagers, ‘there is a wolf! Help! there is a wolf!’ but this time no one believed him, and the wolf ate all of his sheep.”

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 21-year-old female. I asked her to narrate to me a commonly known story she is familiar with. The informant narrated to me the story of the “Boy Who Cried, Wolf.” She claims this was a bedtime story told to her when she was a child. My informant believes the message of this story is that “if you lie people will catch on to it and then they will not believe anything you say ever, even if it is true.”

I agree with my informant’s interpretation of the story. The story of The Boy Who Cried wolf is often used to teach children about the dangers of lying. The story follows the plot of a boy playing around with the kindness of the village and the sense of community that made them reach out to help when the boy was in danger. Because of this when the boy was actually in danger, the villagers no longer believed him and did not come out to help. I think this story also emphasizes the fragility of community awareness and support. Most communities are known for caring for one another and wanting to help other members of that community, however, this bond takes work on both sides. Each member of the community must participate in making it strong. By tricking the village, the boy broke this bond and therefore he was excluded from the community. I think many times people take these communities for granted and do not put in what they are getting from it. This story does not just warn about the dangers of lying, but also about preserving the trust within a community.

I think the use of three is also important to note as it is a prominent number in storytelling. The boy cries out to the villagers three times. Having a trio creates a pattern making the story more memorable and emphasizes an idea. 

Legends
Tales /märchen

Why Lotuses are Pink and White

Main Piece

There were 2 sisters whose parents died, they were orphans. So one day, this generous Vietnamese opera singer finds them and brings them home to raise them like his children. He taught them how to sing and dance. They grew up and became very beautiful girls who sang and dance. The village loved them for their amazing talents! But…in the next village, there was a rich man who was very cruel. One day, the father went on a business trip and asked the girls if they wanted anything from his trip.

 

The older girl said, “I want white ballet slippers with golden thread and embroidery.”

 

The younger girl said, “I want a pink slipper with golden embroidery.”

 

While their father was away, the rich old man tried to kidnap the sisters. They fought and fought but they both got kidnapped. But the older sister didn’t want to be raped by the man, so she jumped in the pond and she died. The younger sister saw her jump and jumper after her older sister into the pond and they both died in the lake. The father came back and couldn’t find the girls so he went to the lake and cried. At the lake, he saw round, beautiful green leaves as big as the hat his daughters used to wear. Then there was one with white petals and one with pink petals but both with golden pistils, and those were the girls.”

 

Context

My grandma would tell me stories like this when I was little. It would usually be while we were baking, eating, or when she was playing with me. My grandma moved to the U.S. from Vietnam during the war so she knows a lot of stories that her parents and grandparents used to tell her.

 

Notes

There are a lot of different aspects of this story related to Vietnamese culture. One being comparing girls to flowers, loving and caring for your family like how the man took the two girls under his wing, and the bond of family going so deep that even the two sisters die together. It also explains why some lotuses have pink flowers and some have white flowers.

general
Legends
Tales /märchen

Why Ducks Sleep on One Leg

Context

While at my grandma’s house, she was serving me lunch. She used to live in Vietnam and came to the U.S. during the Vietnam War. I asked her to tell me a story she used to tell me when I was little and spend the day at her house. For context of the story, the Jade emperor is the king of heaven.

 

Main Piece

Grandma: “Oh I remember. Do you know why the duck sleeps on one leg?”

 

Me: “No, why?”

 

Grandma: A long time ago, there were 3 ducks that each only have 1 leg. So, the other animals ridiculed them. They were embarrassed and felt that they were short changed.

 

They were talking to each other saying, “It’s really unfair that the jade emperor only gave us one leg!”

 

So, they asked the rooster and the goose for help. Together, they all rode to the Jade emperor.

 

When they got to his palace the Jade Emperor was shocked with himself, “I forgot to give you two legs when I made you,” and decided to give them each an extra golden leg as compensation.

 

But the emperor warned them that from then on, they need to guard their appendages carefully. So now when they sleep, ducks sleep on one leg to protect their golden leg.”

 

Notes

This legend is a fun story to explain something about nature people in the past may have questioned. It also incorporates Vietnamese religion and culture of the Jade emperor who created all animals.

Legends
Tales /märchen

Why the Ocean is Salty

Main Piece

Mom: There were 2 brothers, a rich brother and a poor brother. The poor brother helped other people, so one day, he met an old man (a genie) who begged from the poor brother. He helped the old man who was actually a genie, so the genie gave the brother a grinder. The grinder could grind things that you wish: meat, food, and things like that. The poor brother became rich, grinding things for people and selling it.

 

So, the old rich bother went to visit him and asked him, “Oh wow! How did you become so rich?”

 

The poor brother said, “I have this grinder that grinds things up.”

 

The rich brother was fascinated and asked him how to work it. Then the rich brother stole the grinder from his brother so he could become richer. Then one day, he didn’t have any grinded up salt. So he started to grind the salt. But, he never asked his poor brother how to tell the grinder to stop. So the grinder kept grinding and grinding. The rich brother couldn’t figure it out so he threw the grinder in the in the ocean to get rid of it, so today it keeps grinding and grinding salt in the ocean making sea salt!”

 

Context

My mom escaped from Vietnam during the war when she was 12. While in Vietnam, she had to take a French class and they read a lot of stories in order to learn the language. This is one of the stories she read in her French book. She would tell this story to me when I was little to entertain me. She’d usually do it either after dinner or when I was getting bored in the car. I called her to tell me this story so I could get a fresh retelling of it.

 

Notes

I think it’s interesting that this story is similar to the other stories my mom told me even though it came from a French book. The other stories my mom told me explained things that occurred in nature that could not be explained by the science of its time. These stories are fun ways for kids to put reason to simple things in the world that are different – like fresh water and salt water.

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

The Peach Boy: A Japanese Tale

The following is a conversation with SS that details her interpretation of the popular, Japanese tale about the Peach Boy.

 

SS: There’s an old couple who wanted a boy and then the grandmother goes to wash clothes in the river area, and then she sees this gigantic peach coming down, and she thinks ‘Oh, great! I’ll this this home with me so we can have this for dinner!’ And when they cut open the peach, there’s a little baby in it. He grows up to become this super-power, amazing boy, and eventually goes and destroys these bad demons that were living on a nearby island and were coming and attacking the farmers or the people in the community.

 

EK: How did you learn this tale? What is your relation to it?

 

SS: I tend to focus on tales because it’s just what I teach, but there’s a lot about an old couple wanting a child, and then getting a superhuman child. It’s a pattern, but one really famous one is this story. So this is a story that everyone hears if you grow up in Japan, a story that, I think there’s probably some more sophisticated narrative originally from the Medieval period, that’s probably shared by the warrior community, and then there’s a repackaging of it into this cute little story and that’s just been passed down. So yeah, if you look at Japanese folklore collections, it’s like one of the first stories that will be there.

 

My Interpretation:

It seems that this is a fairly popular tale that many Japanese children learn when they are young. Like fairytales we learn in the U.S., such as Snow White or Pinocchio, it appears that the Peach Boy tale is the equivalent in Japanese culture. As Japanese children grow up, this is a tale that they take with them that they most likely will tell their children and will be passed on for generations.

Legends
Myths
Tales /märchen

The Legend of the Fox in Japanese Culture

The following is a conversation with SS that details her interpretation of the legend of the fox in Japanese culture.

 

SS: So, in Japan the fox is called ‘Kitsune,’ and in a lot of stories and literature and folklore, the fox is, like, a bad omen. In a lot of narratives, if characters are traveling and come across a fox, they’ll turn back or go a different direction. They’re also known to shapeshifters, so they can turn into humans. There’s actually one story about these two men who are travelling, and one is always suspicious of the people they come across on the road, thinking that they’re all foxes out to get them, that they, like, are just foxes transformed into humans. So, it’s almost like a supernatural creature, especially in the Early-Modern period of Japan.

 

EK: What do you make of this legend of the fox, then, as you grew up in Japan?

 

SS: Foxes were one of those things that were worshipped on everyday level, not really in religion, but more of just like a folk practice, to bring things like successful business and so on. You can see little local shrines or like little houses with tiny fox figures in them, so I think it’s all over the place, this belief in foxes. I think it reflects the, kind of, way that foxes can be sneaky, you know like ‘sly as a fox,’ sort of thing.

 

My Interpretation:

In my experience with literature and different cultures, foxes seem to be a mischievous character, especially in Japanese folklore. They can either be a friend or foe, depending on how you treat them/the circumstances that you run into them. They tend to be trickster characters. Like SS said, we even have the saying “sly as a fox.” How the Japanese look at the fox during travel reminds me of how the Irish look at black cats as a bad omen before travel.

I’ve never heard of the fox being able to shapeshift into human form nor being worshipped like they are in Japan, though. It seems like Japanese culture sees a power in the fox that other cultures don’t. They view the creature as something that could either give them a gift of wisdom or trick them in some way, therefore they pay their respects to the animal through worship so as to make sure they aren’t tricked.

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