The informant is a 45 year old Panamanian woman, LF. She has a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies and she is particularly interested in the way that animals play into folklore and literature throughout history. LF recounts a folk belief she learned as a child regarding the magical properties of dogs:
“It is believed that during the night, when dogs perceive something that humans cannot hear or see- you can see the dog’s reaction. They perk up, and they move their ears, and sometimes they bark or they howl. It is believed that when this happens at nighttime, it is because they can see supernatural stuff that humans cannot. It could really be, like, a mouse or a cat moving somewhere and they are reacting to that, and we don’t see it because we can’t see as well in the dark as they can. But some people believe that this means that they can see spirits, or devils, or that kind of entity that lurks in the night unseen.
It is said that if it’s nighttime and the dogs are howling, and you go up to the dog and you take the secretions of the dog’s eye- the ones that form in the corner of the eyes, just like humans- if you take these secretions and rub them in your own eyes, and you look in the direction the dog is howling at, you can see the spirits too. And you can see whether it is a devil or a spirit- you can see it because the secretions briefly give you the powers of the dog.”
You have to be in the right place at the right time. Then you have to go through this nasty ritual (laughs). And then you get to see.”
Why do you know, or like this piece?
“I really like this one because it’s like a superpower- you get to do something that only animals can do with their senses that are better than human senses. So you get to see something that humans can’t normally see.”
Who did you learn it from? And have you ever known anyone who has done this?
“I think I learned it from my cousins. We were teenagers. They were trying to gross me out, because it’s kind of a gross process!
I have never known anyone who has done it or seen anything. My cousins hadn’t tried it. I personally wouldn’t do it because I don’t want to get an eye infection! But it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s someone out there who had the courage to do it and deal with the consequences of seeing a demon- and getting pink eye, probably.”
So I know that one academic area of interest for you is the role of animals and the way they fit into medieval society, culture, and literature. Have you ever heard of anything like this at all in any other society?
“Animals in medieval folklore are usually used in fable-like discourse. Like if you were talking about a king who was too ambitious, in the tale you would reppresent him with a lion who was too ambitious who was deceived by other animals. They usually appear in fables- less so in rituals or magical beliefs.
In late medieval folklore though, there are stories of dogs who have magical properties. There was a trick witches might use to deceive people. They would have a dog who was crying or fussing, and the witches would say she was a maiden who did something wrong, so they turned her into a dog- when really it would just be a dog who was fed a pepper or something like that in order to trick people. And the witch would then try and sell the person who asked about the dog a potion so that they would be protected from being turned into dogs themselves. Essentially, people tell themselves all kinds of stories to explain animal behavior that we humans can’t understand.”
My thoughts: I agree with informant when she says that folk beliefs like these arise from the desire to explain animal behavior that may seem unusual ot incomprehensible to us. Because dogs have such fine-tuned senses, they may seem to react to things that “aren’t there”. I enjoyed the connection with medieval folklore that the informant brought up because it shows that humans from many different times and cultures have wondered about this themselves and come up with explanations for it through folk belief.
The informant, LF, is a medievalist from Panama. She comes from an agricultural family that largely lived in the countryside. LF recounts a family story involving a curse transmitted by a snakebite:
“So in my family- in the part of my family that lived in the countryside- my relatives earned their livelihood through the raising of animals and crops. Everyone participated. Even in our home closer to the city we had a chicken coop and a little bit of corns and tomatoes. We have a deeply-rooted agricultural tradition in our family.
So my great-great aunt had her own farm in the country. She was working on the farm and there was this snake. She didn’t see the snake and it bit her on the hand, and she had to be taken to the doctor- she was very close to dying but miraculously she recovered. When she went back to her farm, it was after the harvest and it was time to plant again. But when she planted the seeds, the plants never came up. So she went to tend to the trees that had been growing on the farm for generations, but according to the family story, the trees withered and died after she tried to prune them.
No one in the family knew how to explain it. The only thing they could come up with was that after the snakebite, she couldn’t touch plants because she had been damned. It was like something from the garden of Eden- if you get bitten by a snake, you cannot have a beautiful garden. You cannot touch a plant, because you will kill it. Upon contact, you kill the plants because you have been cursed by the snake’s poison.”
Was this a common belief, or was it exclusively told within your family?
“No, I think it was something my family came up with because they couldn’t explain what had happened to their relative. It was like a family superstition.”
Who did you learn this story from?
“I think I learned it from my mother. It supposedly happened to her great aunt. I never met this person and I don’t even know if it’s true. I heard it when I was a little kid. It came up actually when we were all watching a documentary about snakes, my mom suddenly goes- “Do you know what happened to your great aunt?”- It was just a casual thing.
It means that people come up with explanations for things that are unexplainable. It could have been that it didn’t rain that year, or that it rained too much, and the plants died naturally. But it was such a drastic change- this farm had been in the family for generations and it had always been successful until that year.”
My thoughts: I agree with the informant when she says that folk beliefs often arise when people want to explain strange events. It’s a way of rationalizing things we can’t explain otherwise, like a sudden lack of crops. I think it’s interesting that the informant makes a connection with Christian religion when she mentions the Garden of Eden- perhaps folk beliefs sometimes subconsciously reflect aspects of organized religion.
I collected this piece of folklore from my dad while he was visiting. We ended up just sitting in the car in a parking lot while he shared some more Chilean folklore with me.
In Chile, people often give each other animal names as nicknames. The animal is supposed to somehow resemble or represent the person, so that they can be identifiable by that name. For example, the tallest kid in the class may be called the giraffe, and the annoying one could be call the mosquito. My dad’s nickname back in grade school was “el mono” or “the monkey,” because he was always seen climbing a tree of some sort.
Jokes can also be made using these animal nicknames and creating a pun with the sound that the animal makes.
Ex) -¿Por qué se llamas el gato? (Why do they call you the cat?)
-Mee-oowbuela me dice [
Mi abuela me dice.] (My grandma calls me that.)
Many years ago in Chile, people used to live in the country side more than in the city, so there are many jokes about roosters, and chickens, and ducks, etc.
To foreigners or outsiders, this type of joking might not always make sense, especially if the definition of joking might be completely different. What was particularly difficult for me to get, was the pun-making using animal sounds. Not only do the puns have to match words in spanish, but the onomatopoeia sounds that animals make vary from country to country.
The informant’s family originated in Samoa, his parents were born and raised there before traveling and moving into the United States. He takes many visits to Samoa and is very in touch with his Samoan heritage and culture. He shared some common folklore with me that he could think of off of the top of his head.
“During a time of a huge famine and starvation spread across Samoa a blind grandma and granddaughter were put out of there family because they were seen as kind of a burden. They decided to jump into the ocean to cast their fates upon sea because it was giving and caring. Magic turned them into a turtle and a shark. The grandma and granddaughter wanted to find a new home. They traveled for a long time and were constantly turned away from potential homes until they found the shores of Vaitogi. Vertigo had high cliffs and a rough coastline, the shores were occupied by a compassionate and generous group of people. The old woman and her granddaughter turned back into their human form. They were welcomed by the people of Vaitogi. They fed them and offered that they make this village their new home. The old woman decided to make it her home, but she felt a connection to the sea as if it were her home too. She couldn’t stay on land, so she told the villagers that she and her granddaughter had to go back to the sea. She said that they would make village waters their permanent home. She gave the villagers a song to sing from the rocks and a promise that when they sang the song she and her granddaughter would come to visit. They returned to the sea and turned into their turtle and shark forms. To this day, the people of Vaitogi still sing the song and many villagers will tell you that they have personally seen the Turtle and Shark. To each of them the legend is as alive today as it has been.”
The informant also told me that there is a song that goes along with the legend, he said that he doesn’t know it and only certain people in the village of Vaitogi are able to know the song.
This legend of Samoa is different because it goes against the Samoan value of family by throwing the grandma and her granddaughter out of the house. However, this legend depicts that it is hard to be accepted into the different samoan communities but when you are accepted they treat you as family and give you the upmost respect. This legend helps to show the culture of the people of Samoa and how they do things. The grandmother wanted to be a part of the ocean so she left the village that accepted her but lived in the nearby shores and visited only when a song was sang. Also, this legend shows the importance of animals in this society. The grandmother and granddaughter were both transformed into two common sea creatures, and shark and a turtle. The informant wasn’t sure why but it is important to the story. The informant said that this story originated in Vaitogi by its natives, but he heard it from his grandma.
Information about the Informant
My informant is a freelance editor and translator living in Taiwan. She was born in Taiwan and has lived there essentially her whole life, except for a few years in America. I asked her specifically about this proverb that I’d heard my grandma tell me when I was young as I’d never really understood it, and she told me the origin of the proverb and how it became the version that I heard as a child.
“‘Having a crow’s mouth.’ Because we Chinese believe—no, not believe, Chinese always claim that crows are bad luck. The story’s very simple. It’s just…we feel the crow—because it’s black, so it’s bad luck. So when it—and other people say…uh…most of the time, it’s just that we believe, it may go against biology, but we believe that most of the time, crows don’t speak. That they don’t go, ‘Wah, wah, wah, wah.’ So when they do speak, it’s that bad things are about to happen. That it’s kind of like…a…prophet, can predict, can tell you that bad luck or bad things are coming. So, so, when they speak, they just…they tell you that you will have misfortune—not necessarily you, not you specifically, just somewhere around there or Taiwan or something. Just that there’ll be misfortune.
So then people started saying ‘having a crow’s mouth,’ became like ‘you’re acting like…a crow.’ That is to say, what you say, after you say this thing, it’ll actually happen. So they’ll say you have ‘a crow’s mouth.’ But if…if a person says something and then it doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t count as ‘crow’s mouth.’
Collector: “But you…you—when you say someone has the ‘mouth of a crow,’ you don’t know yet if the thing will happen. Just, as soon as they say, ‘Oh, this bad thing might happen,’ then you need to say, ‘CROW’S MOUTH.’
Collector: So you haven’t even checked, to see if it’s really happened.
‘Yes. And, when it—when it first started, ‘crow’s mouth,’ this term was…was…changed—it was that the thing the person said, if it really happened, then we would berate him, saying, “It was you having a crow’s mouth.” That is, for instance, uh, we at NTCH [informant’s work place], each of us wishes…wishes that our boss won’t, won’t do a certain thing. And then a person then, then says, ‘Oh!’—never mind, if we, let me give an example, for instance, we have our first day off, we just had, let me see, Memorial Day. And the day before we get Memorial Day off, someone says, ‘Let’s hope that…after the holiday ends, the first day we come back to work, we don’t get called to a…kind of…meeting…that starts at 8 in the morning and lasts till 7 in the evening kind of meeting.’ I’ve heard that the person who likes our English writings, that boss has that kind of meeting a lot. And then…and then—because everyone thought he was just kidding, ‘No, no, no, that won’t happen,’ and then, yeah, the first day back at work, it actually happens that there’s a meeting from 8 in the morning, as soon as you get to the office, you get called to the meeting, lasting until the afternoon, 7 o’clock, getting home at 7 pm. And then people will yell at the person who said it, ‘You have a crow’s mouth.’ However, if it was this person, it happens that every thing he says like that always has this kind of effect, that is, whenever he says something, it always has this effect, for instance, he eats lunch, that one, that one, at that place that [a coworker of hers] took you to eat once, and then, the dish that they like to eat, they say, ‘I hope they’ll have that dish today,’ and then that person says again, ‘They won’t have that dish today because it’s that…um…that—lately that dish has been going up in price. They definitely won’t use that dish.’ And then when they go, they really don’t have that dish, they’ll say, ‘You had a crow’s mouth!’ And then…um…in the future, when he talks, people will say, ‘Don’t have a crow’s mouth,’ to stop him first. So when he’s prepared to—before he, um, starts to talk, you have to say, ‘Don’t have a crow’s mouth.’ But then, that is, nowadays, um—actually, Taiwanese people are becoming more and more superstitious. Because we’re having more and more bad luck. Don’t we say a lot that we are a bad luck family? The whole country, it has more and more of a workload, things like that. Less and less money. Then everyone starts to become really nervous, whenever someone starts to say something, they say, ‘Don’t have a crow’s mouth!’ Meaning in case, meaning if you say it, then it’ll become a bad thing. So, this phrase became a sort of ‘stop someone from becoming’—it’s superstitious, in case what they say becomes a thing that, um, comes true.”
The meaning behind the proverb and how it became a preemptive warning instead of a way to blame someone after a misfortune is pretty clear in the transcript. I do agree with her that this change from a comment or exclamation after the fact to a warning (and the time I remember hearing my grandmother tell me the proverb, she did sound pretty horrified and frantic) does reflect a change in the culture of Taiwan. I don’t believe necessarily that it is due directly to a sort of economic crisis or “bad luck” for the whole island, but it does seem to at least reflect a change in behavior from a more relaxed one where such prophecies were not welcome but tolerated, to one that actively tries to prevent these prophecies from ever being made in the first place.
Continue reading Crow’s Mouth
I had met with one of my friends for lunch, and we got to talking about games we had played as children and teenagers.
Informant: Here’s something that came from the theater world. It’s a game called, I’m gonna go with “King Moose,” no it was “King Elephant.” I’ve played this game in other places where it was called King Moose or King Whatever, but the game we played was called King Elephant.
Informant: Yeah. And it was a passing game and you had a rhythm. And it was like hit your thighs clap your hands, hit your thighs, clap your hands.
Me: Oh yeah.
Informant: And we would have – there was only two signs that had to be in there, you had King Elephant who would have a trunk with like one arm over the other with the bent one holding their nose.
Me: Okay yeah.
Informant: And then you had dunce. Which was just a really crappy hat. Some people would do chopped liver which was just kind of spazzed out, ’cause you were chopped liver. You know? [Laughter] But most of the time we just played dunce. When we wanted to be mean we would do chopped liver. [Laughter] and so everyone, as many people as you have, sit around in a circle, and the first time around each person picks a sign. And its just like a word or a name and then a gesture. It doesn’t have to be animals, but I have played this game where it was only animals, and played it where it could be anything you could think of. We had a couple of ones that everyone knew, like 7-eleven was like two guns, New Yorker was a “screw-you” sign, we had fish, sometimes it would become Nazi fish, [laughter] because people would get too excited (me mainly) and instead of waving their hand like a fish swimming it would go up so it became Nazi fish. [Laughter] And like sometimes there would be inside jokes. One of my favorite ones was pink, and it was ’cause, I think it was my freshman year, and there was an improv show, and this guy in our theater troupe was supposed to like, paint something pink. And so he got up, moved his body about and was like, “Piiiink.” [She stood up and waved her body from side to side as she waved her arm in exaggerated painting motions] Like he was splashing paint everywhere, so that was one of the signs that we would always use, was pink. I mean people would do like Batman [she demonstrated the gesture], they could do whatever they want, as long as it was an easy sign to remember and do. And that sign became attached to the chair. And the whole point of the game was to get to the king elephant’s spot. And the to that, you had to knock people out. And so the king would set the rhythm and then he would call out his name and do his sign and then would call out someone else’s name and do their sign. And then it would pass to that person who would have to do their sign and then someone else’s sign.
Me: Oh yeah.
Informant: And it gets randomly passed around the circle.
Me: I’ve played something similar before.
Informant: Yeah. And if you messed up the beat, said a sign that didn’t exist, or you messed up on a sign, then you were kicked out and you had to go to the dunce’s seat, and everyone moved up a seat. And of course, you had to learn a new sign because you were in a new seat. Which of course causes more people to get kicked off, since they forget whose sign is whose. And so yeah it’s a fun game, trying to get to the king’s spot.
Me: Yeah, I’ve played something similar where there is no dunce seat, it’s just going round. It’s essentially just an elimination game, there is no king elephant or dunce. Yeah, I’ve played something similar.
Informant: Yeah we had one where it was king moose and it was just animals, but I like king elephant better because you could get really crazy. And then we would do murder round, for the people who were really into it, where the beat would go really fast. We had to come up with a new rule where you couldn’t go back and forth more than three times, ’cause what people would do, especially people who were really competitive, would simply go back and forth on and on, which became really boring for the rest of us. So we had to make a rule that you couldn’t go back and forth more than three times. It’s a fun game.
Me: Yeah it is. I haven’t played it in years.
Informant: Me neither. But it was really fun.
This is a children’s game that to me would encourage creativity, quick thinking, an understanding of rhythm, and memory. My informant went to school in Northern California, where she played the game, and I went to school in Washington, DC – o the opposite side of the country – where I also played this game, albeit slightly differently. This game is something that I played with my sports teammates before practice, and sometimes before games, as a warm-up to get the blood going, or even as an icebreaker-type game to get everyone to know each other a little bit better. The fact that it is children and young teenagers – middle and high school students – that play this game could possibly mean that it is a game that is used more often than not to bring a group of people together, such as a sports team made up of people that you might not know very well. I have fond memories of playing such games with my volleyball team back in high school, and it helped us get out some of the competitiveness and animosity that some of us may have had with and towards each other. After all, better to work that out off the court than to have it interfere with the game on the court.
My informant was told this story as a child by his Iranian grandmother. He explained to me that she would often tell him stories when he was growing up, but he remembers this one the most vividly. He characterizes it:
“So this is a story that my grandmother (my mom’s mom) used to tell me when I was younger, and it’s a story that’s pretty rooted in Iranian culture because other Persian friends I have also know it. So it kind of shows that a lot of families tell this story. It’s a story of… love I guess, but I guess I’ll just tell the story:”
“So, as translated, Madame Beetle which is considered to have human-like qualities, goes out on a search for love, as demanded by her mother upon her mother’s death bed, and she goes… Madame Beetle goes out on a search for love and encounters many different animals that are personified um, so this, for example like a rabbit who’s a carpenter, uh she would encounter, and this question she asks every guy she meets is: how would you beat me if I was your husband?… If you were my husband. And she receives responses from these different personified animals. So the carpenter says for example “I would beat you with this two by four” and the butcher says “I would beat you with my cleaver” and so the search goes on and she eventually comes in contact with this mouse and she asks me how would you beat me if you were my husband and he says “I would pet you gently with my tail” and of course she chooses the mouse to be her husband, and, you know they’re happy together, they’re living together; one day the mouse gets sick and Madame Beetle cooks a bowl of soup for the mouse and while drinking the soup the mouse falls into the soup and drowns… and that’s the end of the story.”
I asked my informant why he thought he remembered this specific story, and if it had any other significance to him personally. He responded:
There are some interesting things about this story. One, you can tell that it has a sad ending which is very… it’s a kind of thematic thing in a lot of children’s stories in Persian partly because, uh, of the dominant religion in Iran is Muslim and Islam has a lot of appeals to sadness for some reason, and a lot of these stories end in sadness-a lot of children’s stories, not a lot of happy endings. Another element of the story which is kind of lost in translation is the element of rhyme. Every time Madame Beetle meets a prospective spouse there’s this interplay of rhyming and repetition which goes on back and forth and that’s what makes it a very goods children’s story: because every time it’s repeated the child can, you know- as I would – say oit or jump ahead of my grandmother and say what is to come because it’s repetitive. Um, and, yep that’s the story of madame beetle.
The fact that this story is popular among many Persian families indicates that it represents broader themes in Persian culture. The treatment and subservience of women, preached by many Muslim texts, would seem to be supported by this story, which establishes the male as dominant even at a young age. However, the fact that this story was told my informant by his Grandmother, suggests its misogynistic values may have been acceptable within its cultural context. Insofar as it is a piece of children’s literature, it follows the general plot of many children s stories today: that of the seeker (who is often an animal.) However, its unhappy ending is unique among most similar children’s stories, and perhaps reflects a part of the cultural gap between the east and the west.
Informant Bio: Informant is my father. He was born in Mumbai, India and moved to the U.S . when he was 22. He still remembers many of the poems and songs from his childhood. He is fluent in over five languages and recounts a translated tale below.
Context: I was interviewing the informant about childhood traditions, rituals, songs sung and tales performed.
Item: “Abukhan was an old, lonely man living in the village of “Almoda” in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains
He would keep one or two goats at a time and spend his time walking with them around the village and farmland.
At night, he would tie the goats with a rope in his yard.
One after the other, in matter of days he would lose the goats as they would run away into the mountain and be killed by a coyote.
Finally, he got tired and decided, no more goats! I will spend the rest of my life without any goat, he thought.
A few days passed and he was very sad and lonely without the goats.
Yes, he went and bought a very pretty little goat and named her “Chandni” (meaning “moonlight”).
He thought if he gave her nice feed and grains and showered her with lots of attention, this one won’t run away.
But sometimes he felt that the goat was getting bored. Time to make her life more interesting.
He thought and thought and then decided to move her from his small yard to his much larger fenced-in farm. There he would tie her with a long rope. She had much larger area to run around in and it was safe.
Chandni seemed happy with this greater freedom seemed to have bonded with the old man
They bonded so well that they could as if talk and understand each other like human beings. Abukhan was really happy that this goat was a keeper and would never run away.
More time passed and Abukhan slowly realized that Chandani was showing fresh signs of boredom.
Secretly she was longing to go up the mountain. He knew this because he had seen her gazing in that direction for hours. She was definitely more restless.
And then she started eating less and less. She wasn’t happy to be confined in that farm – as big as it was, it was no longer big enough for her…
She was all grown up and wanted to explore the world – that mountain -seemed as if it was beckoning her
All of a sudden the rope around her neck felt like a noose. She’d gaze at the top of the mountain and think the air there must be so fresh, the scenery from there… the greenery around there… the smell of freedom and here I am confined in this small, pitiful little farm… Yes, Abukhan is nice to me but mountain is calling and I have heard the call now…
She kept looking at the mountain all the time. She was smitten. Nothing else would make her happy.
This went on for a while. Abu was very unhappy. Chandni was very unhappy.
Abu talked to Chandni everyday telling her that it is not a good idea to go to the mountain. There are dangers and a certain death. What more can I do to make you happy? Longer rope? Better feed?
Nothing seemed to work. Finally, Abu told her, if you go to the mountain, coyote will surely kill you. How are you going to fight him?
Chandni showed her horns and said these… these will fight the coyote…they have grown in the past few years and I am strong…
Abu said your horns are no match for the coyote. I just can’t let you do this.
Abu said to himself, this is it. Chandni must not be kept here in this field. It is time she is put in the cabin on the farm with the door locked.
That afternoon Chandni was taken to the cabin and the door was shut and locked.
Little did he realize that the back window of the cabin was wide open. Well, that was the opportunity Chandni was waiting for.
Night fell and Chandni escaped running straight to the mountain.
She reached there and the smell of freedom… Her beloved mountain… she was finally there… all that greenery.. So much to eat… so much to see… so much to enjoy..
She enjoyed herself beyond her wildest dreams. Ever so slowly heading towards the top of the mountain. She had enjoyed a few days of freedom.
She was re-invigorated, she felt young again and there she met a herd of other mountain goats. They welcomed her in their herd. They roamed together for a while. A male goat even showed some interest in beautiful Chandani, even she felt the attraction. But she didn’t want to jeopardize her freedom being tied to a life in a herd with other goats.
She was a true free spirit. There was no time for emotional attachment. She had to go her own way wherever her heart was leading her – to the top of the mountain.
But Chandani was a smart goat. In her new found life, she was still ever so vigilant of the coyote. Goats in the herd didn’t have to remind her. The encounter was destined to happen at any moment.
And came the dusk. Cool breeze felt ever so pleasant on the skin. In the valley she could see the village and Abu Khan’s hut, his yard, the farm and the cottage. It looked wonderful from far away…
In the distance, she even could hear Abu’s pleas for her to return home. For a moment, she felt maybe she should return, but then she remembered the rope, slavery, dependency and her life there – may be more comfortable, but certainly not as sweet as this freedom. Whatever the price – she couldn’t – she wouldn’t give up her newly found freedom
She is deep in thoughts as she heard some noise in the leaves behind her… yes, coyote was closing in on her… Should I run down the mountain and back to loving Abu Khan or face this deadly encounter!!
The decision was made in a split second. She chose to fight and die rather than live in comfort of Abu’s home and rope tied around her neck
She saw the coyotes shiny eyes in the darkness. There was no other option left. Coyote gave her a look as if saying, Oh, here we go again. This one looks like Abu’s well-cared for goat. They have all been special and delicious and such easy kill…
Chandani kept her head down, straightened her horns and in a split second charged straight to the coyote at lightening speed and bam!! Smack into him…
Coyote didn’t expect this, he had never been attacked like this before by a goat! Yes, this was an attack…
He was truly taken aback. In a moment, he regained his balance and composure and the fight was on..
As the fight went on, Chandani was gradually losing ground, but earned a healthy respect of her opponent. Coyote has never had to work so hard to overwhelm a goat prey.
Chandni was bloodied but kept on fighting. The dance of death went on into late night. Stars were disappearing one by one in the sky. Dawn was about to break thru.
She was taking her last breaths. She fell to the ground. A moment more and it was going to be over. Million thoughts raced thru Chandni’s mind. It was over… Ground was bloodied… Chandni had taken her last breath but in freedom. Fully aware of this outcome as the final price. She did have a smile on her face as she lay dead.
Up on the tree, a whole group of birds were watching this fight almost since it started. Coyote won the general consensus declared. Said “No” an old bird, “Chandni is the winner here.”
Analysis: This tale came to popularity during the time of British occupation of India. It is a tale describing that for the self-aware, freedom must be the ultimate goal. No matter how nice the accommodations are under the oppressor, one will always wonder and always be drawn to freedom. The desire of the sheep to fight against the coyote despite knowing the eventual outcome shows that freedom is worth any cost, even one’s life. The initial surprise of the coyote at the attack from the seemingly week sheep parallels what colonizing countries exhibit in the face of a rebelling colony. The coyote, or colonizing country exhibits judgment and prejudice against the subject, much like colonizing countries do of their subjects. This idea of resorting to fighting was not held by all in India. The famous Mohandas Gandhi advocated nonviolence and an approach of demonstration and sacrifice to show commitment and enact change. Obviously in the animal world, in which you are either a predator or you are prey, these issues have to be simplified, as they are in this tale.
Note: This tale is also recounted in the publication Abu khan ki bakri dusri kahaniyan by Zakir Hussain.
Primary Informant: “The Chupacabra, which is one that I heard from my dad all the time ‘cause he thinks it’s hilarious, um and basically, Chupacabra is like, like “goat sucker” and so, I don’t know if it’s just specifically from people in, like, the rancho or, like, the more, um, I don’t know, pueblo, village, type of areas that talk about this because they own animals. And it’s basically this kind of— they can’t, no one has seen it, but they have seen—or people have said they’ve seen it, you know, speculation – um, but it’s this kind of animal that comes and it, like, literally just, like, sucks or, like, sucks the blood out of and kills goats and other small animals like that, and so there was, I think there was an article recently where some guy was like, ‘Yeah I totally caught it.’ And it was just like a big ol’ rat or something, but that’s basically what it is, the Chupacabra. And so that’s the one he always talks about because he thinks it’s hilarious and thinks he can, like, scare us with that, you know.”
Secondary Informant: “The one that I grew up with was, ah, the Chupacabra was like this fucking, um, government, um, experiment gone wrong that escaped and, uh, is this alien, this half-breed alien thing, you know and, that’s what I got…”
Primary Informant: “And, like, no one can find it?”
Secondary Informant: “Yeah, no one can find it, it’s just, like, this fucking thing…”
Primary Informant: “Roaming Mexico and Latin America.”
Secondary Informant: “Yeah, it’s like—it’s an abomination.”
Primary Informant: “Right.”
Secondary Informant: “To life.”
Both informants who shared information about the Chupacabra are of Mexican descent and heard this story from their families. This story was shared in the primary informant’s apartment. We spent the afternoon sharing stories and combining the information we all had about each legend. These stories are important to the informants because they have been passed on from the older generations in their families. Because they value their older relatives, they value and enjoy the stories they’ve been told.
The Chupacabra is a legend that has been around Latin American for innumerable years and almost anyone from a Latin country could tell you the story. It’s primary purpose is to explain away bizarre disappearances of animals on rural farms, but in all likelihood those animals were probably harmed by a coyote or a bobcat. Now the Chupacabra just serves as a tale to help scare children into proper behavior.
For more information on the Chupacabra:
Contextual Data: I asked a friend of mine if he could remember any stories from his childhood, and he offered me this story — a Persian folktale — that his mother and his maternal grandmother used to tell him. They would tell it to him in the original Farsi (his family’s first language), but over a cup of coffee, he recounted this translated version of the tale. The following is an exact transcript of his account.
“So this is the story of Bōz Bōze Ghandí — which Bōz Bōze means ‘goat’ and Ghandí means, like, ‘sweet’ so like ‘the sweet goat.’ [Laughs.] And Bōz Bōze Ghandí had three children, baby goats: Shangúl, Mangul, and Hapeyē Angur — those are their names. Um, Shangúl means ‘joyful’ in Farsi, Mangul means — Mangul is like the bell on the collar of an animal — and Hapeyē Angur means ‘a single grape.’ Um, so… And every day Bōz Bōze Ghandí would go out and tell her children, ‘I’m gonna go out and eat the alfalfa so I can make milk for you to drink.’ Um, and she would admonish them, ‘Be careful not to open the door for the wolf, who’ll come and ask you to open the door for him.’ And every day the wolf would come and say, ‘I am Bōz Bōze Ghandí open the door for me.’ And Shangúl, Mangul, and Hapeyē Angur would say, ‘No you’re not. If you’re our mom, show us your paws.’ (‘Cause she has white paws.) And the wolf would put his paws and obviously they were gray and had like long nails and claws. And they would say, ‘You’re not my mom. Go away.’ And they would not open the door for him. So one day the wolf comes back — and wolf is ‘gorg’ in Farsi — the wolf would come back and the one day the wolf dipped his paws in flour and cut all his nails and went back to the home and said, ‘Open the door. I am your mom, Bōz Bōze Ghandí.’ And they said ‘No you’re not. If you are, show us your paws.’ And so he slipped his paws under the door and they saw that they were white and the nails were short and they said, ‘Okay,’ and they opened the door. And he leaped in and ate Shangúl and Mangul, but Hapeyē Angur hid. And as much as he looked, the wolf couldn’t find him, and then the wolf left. And then Bōz Bōze Ghandí comes home and says, ‘Shangúl, Mangul, and Hapeyē Angur, where are you?’ And no one answers, and after a while [Pause: Coffee dropped off at the table by waitress]. After a while Hapeyē Angur comes out and he’s very sad. He’s crying or something. And Bōz Bōze Ghandí says, ‘What happened?’ And he says, ‘We opened the door for the wolf and he ate Shangúl and Mangul.’ And his mom is like ‘Okay. I’m gonna go find this wolf.’ So Bōz Bōze Ghandí goes and finds the wolf and says, ‘Did you eat Shangúl and Mangul?’ And he says and laughs, ‘Yes. I ate them. They’re in my stomach.’ And she says, ‘Then I will fight you.’ And he says, ‘You can’t fight me. How are you gonna fight me?’ And she…And she says, ‘With my horns. You will see. Tomorrow I will fight you.’ And so she goes to the local knife sharpener… Or blacksmith and trades him some alfalfa to sharpen her horns. At the same time, the wolf goes to the same blacksmith — not at the same time, but later — the wolf goes to the same blacksmith and asks him to sharpen his teeth. But I think by threatening him instead. And the blacksmith doesn’t like the wolf, so instead he pulls out all his teeth and replaces them with cotton balls… And the wolf can’t tell for some reason. [Laughs.] So the next day, Bōz Bōze Ghandí shows up to face the wolf and they fight and she stabs him in the stomach and he bites her, but it has no effect ‘cause his teeth are gone and he… She ruptures his stomach and he dies and Shangúl and Mangul pop out. [Laughs.] And then they go home and the moral of the story is don’t open the door for strangers. [Laughs.]”
- End Transcript –
My informant explained that when this story is told in Farsi, it has a rhyming pattern, and so, it’s something that children would enjoy hearing. There were no specific times or reasons that his mother and grandmother would tell him this story — they weren’t too concerned with the moralistic aspect of the story. It was more just something “to pass the time,” and he would enjoy hearing it often because of its rhymes. You can get a sense of the story’s fun rhyming quality just through the names of the three children — Shangúl, Mangul, and Hapeyē Angur.
I think the story’s rhyming structure (in it’s original Farsi) certainly would help make it more enjoyable to hear, memorable, and therefore easier to pass on. But there could also be a bit of significance in the fact that my informant heard this story from his mother and his maternal grandmother, as the heart of this story is about a mother fighting to protect her three children. My informant mentioned that in spite of the slightly violent nature of the ending, when he heard the sound of this rhyme coming from the soothing voice of his mother or his grandmother, he found it to be rather innocent and placating. Therefore, while the rhyming aspect is certainly one reason that a child would want to hear this story, there also seems to be something about the reassuring mother figure that also gives it some value.