USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘afghanistan’
Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

Afghan Parable: Blindness and Truth

Main Piece: “So once my mom told me a story about a group of boys playing near a bridge. So they see a blind kid… um… and they ask why God would make this boy blind? And they feel very sorry for him. So in this story they ask God, ‘why did you make this boy blind?’ and then they tell God, ‘you should give him sight.’ So God does. God gives the boy sight. And then the boys are very pleased with themselves… uh… so they go to the top of the bridge because they have a game of jumping off of it…it’s a low bridge. But the blind boy who now can see has set up sharpened sticks underneath the bridge. So that when the boys jump, they all die.”

Background: The informant’s mother recently told her this story after her grandfather died a few months ago. Her mother had been told this story by her father as a cautionary tale about coming to the U.S. The informant says her mother understood this parable as an implication to not always trust what you think you know. The informant understands it’s meaning to be: “don’t question God ever because purpose is not in our hands.”

Performance Context: The informant and I had lunch together and sat at a table across from each other.

My Thoughts: A generational parable has survived through the family’s telling. The story’s dark nature evokes fear in the receiver of the story. I understand the telling of it as partly religious, partly cautionary, and partly moralistic. I find it interesting that the informant’s mother was reminded of the parable after her father’s death. The symbolism of blindness in terms of truth is a consistent metaphor in moralistic tales. Also important to note is the hesitance to trust American culture as an immigrant. I understand this story as told outside the context of religion, implying more about belief and trust than religion and morals.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ritual: Water

Main Piece: “One ritual that my family partakes in is when we go on long trips or vacations. So basically when you leave the home for an extended period of time, someone will throw a cup of water while you’re walking away from your house, so, to the back of your feet kind of”

Background: This is a ritual for the informant and her family. The informant was born in the U.S. and her parents were born and raised in Afghanistan. The family has been in the United States for about 30 years but still practices many pieces of Afghan folklore. The informant thinks this particular ritual uses water as a symbol of purity for leaving a place with “good and clean intentions”. She notes that this ritual takes place at the doorway.

Performance Context: The informant and I had lunch together and sat at a table across from each other.

My Thoughts: This Afghan ritual uses the symbols of water and the threshold of the doorway. Besides the notions of water as a symbol of purity, I understand the threshold of the doorway as significant as an entry and exit point. It is interesting that the informant and her family continue to practice this ritual, even in the U.S. The informant mentioned how rarely her family takes vacations and trips. I wonder if her family may have a reluctance to go to new places, as the informant noted earlier that their immigration and assimilation to the U.S. was somewhat troubling and disturbing to their culutral beliefs and traditions. I also intepret the ritual as a combination of valuing the past and looking forward to the present. The U.S. is known to have a forward looking mentality, while countries of the Middle East hold the past in high regard.

Protection

Afghan Superstition: Feet

Main Piece: “So when you step on the back of someone’s foot accidentally, giving someone a ‘flat tire,’ it’s bad luck if you don’t immediately take your hand and squeeze the other person’s hand.”

Background: This has been a tradition in the informant’s family her whole life. The family is Afghan, but lives in the U.S., and values their culture very much. The informant’s mother told her that stepping on the back of someone’s foot is bad luck. Bad luck is significant for the informant’s family; she notes that Afghan people are extremely superstitious. Her family believes in “jinn,” that demons, ghosts, and evil spirits can inhabit one’s body and mind. The informant believes this superstition is connected to one’s past life, where people are shunned for their “bad luck.” According to the informant, bad luck can be a disease someone is born with, but is punished regarding decisions in the past life.

Performance Context: The informant and I had lunch together and sat at a table across from each other.

My Thoughts: Stepping on the back of someone’s foot seems to be an act of callousness, but squeezing the hand indicates care and respect. The generational superstition has continued through the informant’s mother to the informant; in fact, I have accidentally stepped on the back of the informant’s foot before and she asked me to squeeze her hand. Readings in ANTH 333 touch on the ways superstitions guide daily life and routine. The fear behind something that may compromise one’s luck is obviously a factor in being accepted by others as well as an indicator of future well-being.

Further References:

For another version of this superstition, see: http://weirdrussia.com/2014/08/31/russian-traditions-and-superstitions/ for the Russian version.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Protection

Evil eye sayings

Context: The informant is a grandmother of 8 whose parents were originally from Afghanistan but settled in Pakistan. She also lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and has a working knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, and Punjabi along with her native Urdu. She says that a common thing to say when you see someone  in new clothes, or looking particularly beautiful; or when someone has very good fortune in (for instance) an exam or a job; or, especially, with children and new babies; is

“Nazr-bad-door” or “Chashme-bad-door”

 

 

 

 

 

 

which, word-for-word, means “look-bad-far-away” or “eye-bad-far-away”, but translates to, “May the Bad Gaze/Evil Eye stay far away from you.”

Analysis: The purpose of this little saying is basically to keep away the Evil Eye, which the informant says can be put on someone if they are envied or have something that others covet (eg, good grades or good health). When the Evil Eye is put on you, you may fall sick, fail in your job or school, lose your money, etc. Children are especially susceptible because they are often the center of attention, especially in the informant’s Pakistani family, and so if someone merely looks at a child with selfish or ungracious thought in their mind, the child could fall ill or have an accident, etc. It is thus important to remember to praise God when you see something beautiful and not be jealous or ungrateful, and this phrase is a way to remind oneself of that, and also to express the desire to protect someone from others’ ill gazes as well. The informant said all this as what people “used to believe”, implying that the traditional phrase is kept even though the specific belief may have been altered or abandoned altogether.
Tales /märchen

Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi

Context: The informant is a grandmother of 8 whose parents were originally from Afghanistan but settled in Pakistan. She also lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and has a working knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, and Punjabi along with her native Urdu. This story is a popular one among her grandchildren; here it is transcribed in English, though it was originally told in Urdu.

“Once in a house near the jungle there lived a goat with her three kids. Their names were Ungus, Bungus, and Tipopi. One day, the mom goat had to go out, maybe to get groceries, but she told her children: lock the doors and don’t let anyone in except me. I will say, Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And only when I say that do you let me in. So the kids said, ok Mama, and she walked out and locked the door and she went.

Now in the jungle next to the house there lived a big scary wolf: he had long hair and big eyes and hungry and he saw the mom goat leave, and he heard what she told her babies, and he said to himself, I think I’m going to go eat those delicious goats.

So he went up to the house and he knocked on the door and he said, Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And Ungus and Bungus ran to open the door, but Tipopi said to them, wait! This is not out mom! Our mom’s voice is light and sweet, and this voice is heavy and ugly. So Tipopi said to the wolf, You’re not our mother! You’re the wolf that lives in the jungle! Go away and don’t come back!

And the wolf was very mad but he had to leave.

And now when the mother goat came back and she opened the door and her babies rushed to tell her what happened, and she was so relieved that they were all safe.

Then the next day, she had to go out again, but was so worried and scared that she said, now when i come home, I will say to you, Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And you ask to see my hand, and i will show you my hand. And only then do you open the door. And her kids said, Ok, Mama. So she went out the door and locked it and went.

Now the wolf had seen the mother go out again, and he wanted to try again to eat the kids; but this time he ate a whole spoonful of honey before he went, to make his voice light and sweet, and went up to the door and said, Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And the kids heard a light, sweet voice so they rushed to the door and asked, Mama, show us your hand! And the wolf showed his paw, and it was big and black and hairy and ugly, and Tipopi said, This is not our mother! Our mother’s hand is small and white and pretty. This hand is big and hairy and black! And he said to the wolf, You are not out mother! You are the wolf that lives in the jungle! Go away and don’t come back!

So what could the wolf do? He left.

And again the mother goat came home and the kids rushed to tell her what happened, and again she was so happy they were all safe.

And when she had to go out again the next day, she was very worried and scared so she said, this time when i come home, i will say, Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And you will ask me to see my hand, and I will show you my hand. Then you ask me to show you my foot, and I will show you my foot. And only then will you open the door. And the kids said, Ok Mama. So she went out and locked the door and she left.

And the wolf was watching and he saw her leave, this time before he went to their house, he ate a whole spoonful of honey to make his voice sweet and light, and he covered his whole paw in flour to make it look pretty and white, and he went up to the door and said Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And the kids rushed up to the door and asked, Mama, show us your hand! And this time, the wolf showed them only one finger, and his one finger was as big as the Mama goat’s whole hand! And the kids said, Mama, show us your foot! And the wolf showed them his foot, and it was huge, and black, and it had long claws–this long claws! [holding hands about a foot apart] And Tipopi said, this is not out mother! Our mother wears pretty shoes and her feet are small and white. This foot is big and black and hairy. This is the wolf that lives in jungle! Go away, Wolf! Don’t come back!

And the wolf was so angry, and he was so hungry, but what could he do? So he left.

And when the Mama goat got home, her kids rushed to tell her what happened.

And the next day she had to leave again, and she said, now when i come back today, and i say Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! Just do what you did yesterday, and you will be safe.

And the wolf was waiting for her to leave again, and this time he ate a whole spoonful of honey to make his voice sweet and light, and he covered his whole paw in flour to make it look pretty and white, and he covered his feet in flour too, and we put tiny beautiful shoes on his big toes–just one big toe fit into the whole shoe, can you imagine that?

And the wolf went up to the door and said Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And the kids rushed up to the door and asked, Mama, show us your hand! And the wolf showed them only one white finger, and the kids said, Mama, show us your foot! And the wolf showed them his one toe covered in flour in the pretty shoe, and the kids rushed to open the door…

And there he was…standing in the doorway…his big big eyes…and his long long hair…and his drool dripping off his teeth…it was the wolf! And the kids ran screaming into the house, and the wolf came chasing after them, and he swallowed up Ungus and Bungus in one gulp. But Tipopi hid inside the milk jug, and wolf looked everywhere, but he couldn’t find him. So he left.

And when the Mom goat came home, she saw the open door…and she went in and she saw the ripped curtains, and the broken tables and chairs…and she started calling, Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, where are you? Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, come out! Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, your mom is home!

And Tipopi heard her and he peeked out of the milk jug and there was his Mom, and he leapt out and hugged his mom and started crying and he said, Mama the wolf came and ate my brother and sister! And the Mom goat was very sad and very scared and angry, but she said, Tipopi, go get my sewing kit. And Tipopi ran and found his mother’s sewing kit and the Mom said, You stay here, and I will go find the wolf.

And she went out into the jungle and she walked and walked, and then she came to a river, and it was warm and sunny, and there was the wolf, lying against a tree asleep. The mom goat crept up to the wolf and began to cut his belly open, and when she opened it, there was Ungus, and there was Bungus, and they were scared and they started crying, but the Mom goat went, Shh! Shh! [puts finger to her lips and makes a "come on" gesture with one hand] and she got them out of his belly. And then she went down to the river and found two huge stones, one for Ungus and one for Bungus, and she carried them all the way up to the wolf, and she put the stones in his belly, and then she sewed it up, and it was so fine you couldn’t even tell it was there. And then she took her kids home, and then they were safe and together at last.

And when the wolf woke up he felt so thirsty, so went down to the river to drink some water, and he was so heavy the he just tipped [tilts her whole body to the side] over and he fell into the river and drowned.”

Analysis: This story can be examined through multiple facets. It’s a simple fairy-tale, along the lines of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf here could be symbolic of nature/the wild, and how it is dangerous to people living in villages where the border between the wild and the domestic is very thin. It is notable that it is not just any herbivore that is attacked in this story, but goats, domestic animals which are an important source of sustenance and incomes in some of the more rural areas, as they provide milk, meat, and hides. So in that respect the story is a simple study of the dichotomy of village/jungle and civilization/wild, and how it is dangerous, but nevertheless not uncommon, for the two to meet or mix.

It is also notable that, while in the Western version of Little Red Riding Hood it is a little girl who is sent by herself into the wild and disobeys her mother and therefore gets into trouble; in this version it is three siblings of mixed genders who are attacked in their own home while trying to obey their mother. This would seem to squarely place villainhood on the wolf’s shoulders, and none of the blame on the innocent(s); while Little Red Riding Hood is often blamed for what happens to her by pointing out that she shouldn’t have disobeyed her mother. As such the message  in Little Red Riding Hood seems to be, listen to your parents and if you don’t it’s your fault if something bad happens to you. Whereas  the moral  in this story seems to be that bad things happen even when you’re good and smart and listen to your parents, and it’s nobody’s fault but the bad people who hurt others.

It’s also interesting that, in some versions of Little Red Riding Hood, the girl and her grandmother are eventually rescued by a father figure, the woodcutter; but in this story, the kids are rescued by their very brave and clever mother. I think this reflects the fact that in the informant’s family and culture, the bond between mothers and their children are usually very strong, whereas the relationship between father and children depends on each individual family: some fathers are strict and distant, others indulgent and doting. The informant’s own father, she reports, was strict but loving, but her relationship with her mother, and especially the relationships between her younger sisters and her mother, were very very close. Contrast this with the heroicizing of the father figure in Western culture, where any time the child is in trouble, it is the big strong dad that comes to the rescue, and perhaps the mother figure comforts the children afterward (for instance, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, the character of Wolverine).

And finally, the reasons it appeals to so many kids of different generations are pretty obvious: especially when there is a good storyteller, who knows her audience and how to get the reactions from them. The description of the wolf is something the informant says she usually embellishes to get the kids really frightened, and then making gestures to go along with the story (for instance, imitating the mother goat’s small, pretty white hand) is always part of the act of storytelling too.The fact that there is a happy ending for the kids (with whom the children usually identify) and that the wolf gets what he deserves also makes it a popular story in the informant’s repertoire.

Folk speech
Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Lilli Lilli Auzak: Farsi nursery rhyme and hand game

Context: The informant is a grandmother of 8 whose parents were originally from Afghanistan but settled in Pakistan. She also lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and has a working knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, and Punjabi along with her native Urdu. The following nursery rhyme is one in Farsi that she and her siblings learned from their mother when they were very young, but that few of their children (and subsequently grandchildren) learned in their turn.

Audio File

Text in Farsi:

Text in Farsi for Nursery rhyme "Lilli Lilli Auzak"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transliteration:

Lilli lilli auzak

dowre auzak sauzak

Tutti (murghe) aamad au khord

Paish lakkad au bourd

Ee gereft, ee pukhte kard

Ee rasad kard, ee khord

Ee  aamad:

     “Khala khala?”

               “Jaane khala.”

     “Rasad-e-ma kojaast?”

              “Meene doli.”

     “Meene doli neest.”

               “Peeshek khourd.”

     “Peesheke softe neest?”

               “Une aamad, miaouw, miaouw, miaouw”

Translation:

[note: This translation was not a line-by-line rendering; rather, the informant gave a general idea of what the little narrative was about, in Urdu. The conversation was then translated into English, which is what appears below.]

Inf.: There was a auzak, you know, like how do you say?

Me: Like a fountain?

Inf.: No, not fountain.

Me: A pool?

Inf.: No, not a pool–but anyway, there was–and you know how at the edge of the water that greenish chip-chip [sticky] stuff that grows you know? Around the auzak that slippery stuff was growing and a murgha [rooster*] came to drink water, and his foot slipped on the green stuff, so, he fell in and drowned. One got him, one cooked him, one served him on the table, one ate him; and the fifth came and said, khala (mother’s sister=aunt), where is my piece? And she said, It’s in the doli (pot). And he said, No it’s not. And she said, Then the cat must’ve eaten it. And he says, the cat’s not here, there’s no trace of the cat, and she said, No look, here he comes going “meow meow meow”.

*[note: in the transliteration above, both murgha (rooster) and tutti (parrot) are mentioned; in the audio, the informant almost says tutti but says murghe instead; and in the written text, only tutti is mentioned, but spelled two different ways.]

Physical description: Like the Western nursery rhyme “This Little Piggy”, this rhyme also has a tactile/physical component. The performer takes the child’s hand in theirs and begins the first two lines by tracing a circle on the child’s palm. At the third line, the performer imitates a bird’s peck coming to land in the center of the child’s palm (representing the rooster/parrot coming to drink water from the pool) then twists the tips of the fingers around to indicate the drowning. At lines 5 and 6, the performer closes one finger into the child’s palm for every action mentioned (i.e., “one caught it”=a finger down, “one cooked it”=second finger down, etc.) and at the seventh line, the performer holds the child’s thumb and wiggles it to match the conversation between the little boy and his aunt. At the mention of the cat coming (“meow meow meow”) the performer usually walks their fingers up the child’s arm and tickles them.

Analysis: This nursery rhyme is one of the only ones that is somewhat familiar to the informant’s children, who are all Urdu-speaking themselves, not Farsi-speaking. It is relatively easy to remember because so much of it rhymes and many of the words are the same in Farsi and Urdu (like rooster, parrot, foot, pot, aunt, etc.). Like many nursery rhymes with a physical component, this one in particular may be popular with young children because an integral part of the performance is the physical contact and the subsequent connection established between the parent (or other beloved adult) and the child, who relishes the special attention. The tickle at the end especially is eagerly waited and enjoyed, because the child and the adult both know it’s coming, and the slow buildup to it is part of the appeal.

As for the content, it seems to be a common occurrence in nursery rhymes, both Western and otherwise, for animals or even people to be violently injured or killed, and/or cooked and eaten (for instance, Sing a Song of Sixpence). The cat taking the blame for the boy’s missing share is an interesting element: the aunt (and other family members, of course) have eaten their find and left none for the boy, who immediately notices and outright asks the aunt, who outright lies to him and redirects his attention elsewhere. Both are quite aware of what the other is up to, but engage in this playful banter anyway. I think this may exhibit and model a joking relationship between aunts and their sisters’ kids, or more generally, between children and their parents’ siblings that is also present in real life. In the informant’s family, for instance, her youngest sister is only a few years older than the informant’s oldest daughter, and so the aunt and niece maintain a very casual, joking, teasing (but still respectful) relationship.

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