USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘bedtime story’
Narrative
Proverbs
Tales /märchen

Persian Sleeping Beauty

Main Piece (direct transcription):

Dad: Iranians believe that if something is predicted, it will happen.  There was a king, and he had a son.  Somebody came, and told him that that boy… It’s the same thing as Disney, the same concept, do you remember…

Me: Sleeping Beauty?

Dad: Yes, with the spinning wheels.  In our story, the king had a son, his only son, and a magician told him that his son would be bitten by a scorpion and would die.  The king told all his people to kill all the scorpions and took his son to an island where there were no scorpions.  He was guarded by many servants, and when the son was older, he was sitting by the beach with one of his servants, and he asked the servant,

“Why did my dad do all of this for me?”

The servant told him what happened.  And the son said,

“But I’ve never even seen a scorpion.  What does it look like?”

The servant drew the picture of a scorpion in the sand, and it came to life.  The scorpion then stung the son and killed him.

 

Context: The informant, my father, is a pharmacist who was born in Shiraz, Iran.  He moved to the United States after growing up in Iran, and now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  His first language is Farsi, his second is Spanish, and his third is English.  He lived in Spain for several years before moving to the United States, and therefore has collected folklore from his time in these different countries throughout his lifetime.  My dad was telling me about different Iranian folktales, since my dad was originally born and raised in Iran.  We were originally talking about superstitions, and he decided to tell me this story.  The moral of the story, he said, was that “if it has to be, it will be”, and that we could not escape our fate.

 

 

My Thoughts:

I thought this story was particularly interesting, because it had the same basic plot as Sleeping Beauty.  Since I grew up with Disney, and know the story of Sleeping Beauty well, my dad did not even need to get very far into the story before I made the immediate connection between the two.  I thought it was funny how my dad, before even really starting the story, asked me if I could already see the connection between his story and Sleeping Beauty.  Being from Iran, he is not as familiar with the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and he knows many of his European fairy tales through Disney movies that he watched with me and my brother as we were growing up.  My dad had never told me this Persian tale before this moment, and so I was unaware that there was an Iranian equivalent to the Sleeping beauty story in their culture.

 

For another version of this tale, please see Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Little Briar-Rose (1857), which can be found here

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Seven Fishes – Telugu Bedtime Story

“Once upon a time, there was a king who had seven sons. One day, the seven princes went out hunting; each of the princes caught one fish and laid them out on the ground to dry. However, all but one fish dried. The king as the fish:

‘Fish, why did you not dry?’

The fish said to the king: ‘King, there is hay on the ground so I could not dry.

The king asked the grass: ‘Hay, why are you still on the ground?’

The grass replied: ‘The cow did not eat me.’

The king asked the cow: ‘Cow, why did you not eat the hay?’

The cow replied: ‘The farmer did not feed me the hay.’

The king asked the farmer: ‘Farmer, why did you not feed the cow hay?’

The farmer replied: ‘My mother did not feed me today.’

The king asked the farmer’s mother: ‘Mother, why did you not feed your son the farmer?

The mother replied: ‘The little baby was crying, so I didn’t feed the farmer.’

The  king asked the little baby: ‘Why were you crying?’

The baby replied: ‘The ant bit me.’

The king asked the ant: ‘Ant, why did you bite the baby?

The ant replied: ‘If the baby stick her finger in my home, will I not bite her?’

Context: This tale is a classic Telugu bedtime story for children that I have heard many times growing up. The informant, GH, re-told me a bedtime story on a stressful night, which was a story that she herself had heard when she was a child. GH always remembers her mother and her own childhood whenever she tells the story to my sister and I, and feels more connected with her family by passing down this family story to the next generation. GH thinks that bedtime stories are an important part of childhood–not only to help the parents put their rowdy kids to sleep–but also to develop the children’s understanding of their culture and cultivate interest in reading. She believes that bedtime stories are very important in producing a love for stories, story-telling, and reading in children, which is crucial in a child’s development. Along with this, GH believes that bedtime stories are important for creating a bond between parents and their child.

Analysis: This story has the components of common bedtime stories, such as various animals, kings, and princes. Along with this, it reflects the agrarian society present in much of Andhra Pradesh, the Indian state in which most Telugu people live. The moral of the story also reflects the idea that even a small being, in this case an ant, is capable of creating a big change. In India, most of society is either working class or in poverty, so the moral is representative of the power of the “little man”. The story explains how even the small players can create a chain effect that impacts many different people. Many Indian folktales usually involve how some sort of smart, small animal–such as a crow–vanquishing a large, dumb animal such as a lion. The smart small animals uses their intelligence to outsmart a brawny animal that is trying to overpower them. While the story of seven fishes does not necessarily follow a small animal vanquishing a larger animal, but the ant’s anger towards having his home destroyed leads to a pretty large effect that impacts many members of the society, even going all the way up to the princes of the land.

Along with this, many Indian stories will show that kings that communicate with their subjects and the people in their kingdom will be the most successful and noble rulers. While the role and personality of the king is not explicitly described in this particular story, the king was able to find out the reason why his son’s fish had not dried because he had a good relationship with his subjects–and interestingly, the animals–of his kingdom. If he did not have this relationship, he would not have been able to find the cause of his problem and probably would have had to use a fear factor to get the answers that he wanted. This is an important commentary on the societal hierarchy that is present in India. In Indian society, when the ruler or monarch of a specific region is disrespectful of the common folk, regardless of caste or religion, then it it will be difficult to have a good rapport with them.

There are also particular folklore techniques used in this story that enable those performing it to remember it with ease. Even as a child, I was able to know the story and know exactly what would happen next because of the format and progression of the story. The repetition of the flow, along with cause-and-effect style allow the story to be easily recalled and performed–especially over the various children’s sleepless nights. For bedtime stories especially, the performer of the story needs to be able to recall properly; if the story-teller beings to forget what happens, then the audience will get confused or upset that the story is not being told “correctly.”

This story has significance for GH and myself as this story has been passed down the generations of our family. The story is also one that is specific to the region from which GH is from, so knowing this story is a way to define the region from which the individual is. I had heard this story on many nights before bed, so know whenever my family or I hear the story, we immediately feel calm–or even sleepy–even if it is the middle of the day.

general
Narrative

Aunt Margy

My informant is Persian and he told me a story that his mother used to tell him when he was little. In Farsi, a lot of the words in the story rhyme and flow a bit better than the english translation.

“The story is called Aunt Margy. So Aunt Margy had a lot of chickens and a rooster. Every morning she would take them out of the chicken coop to come and eat their food. At night, Aunt Margy asked them kindly to go to their chicken coop, so they can stay safe and away from the wild animals. One night, Aunt Margy went to go put them in the coop, but the rooster was very arrogant and didn’t want to listen to her. He was running around and didn’t go in. Aunty Margy decided to let him stay out and deal with the consequences that night. It started to rain very hard and Aunty Margy decided to keep him out and get punished. The next day the rooster did the same thing and he was very sick and he kept sneezing. He was sitting by Aunty Margy’s door desperately. Aunt Margy told him, ‘See what happens when you don’t listen to me?’ So she brought him in, made him some soup, and he felt better. Next day when Aunty Margy was calling for everyone to go in the coop, he was the first one to go in and he learned his lesson. This was one of the stories that my mom used to tell me as a kid and it was obviously in Farsi. In Farsi, a lot of the words rhyme, so it was meant for kids.”

This story takes place in a fictional world where roosters can talk, and is intended to entertain and educate its audience. These attributes make the story of Aunt Margy a tale. It also follows Axel Olrik’s Epic Laws of Folk Narratives. The first one is that the tale does not open or close abruptly. The second is the use of repetition. Repeating things in a story helps the audience follow along easier, especially if they missed information the first time around. Another law that the tale of Aunty Margy follows is that it never has more than two characters to a scene. It becomes difficult for children to keep track of characters when there are too many introduced at once.

Myths

Winken, Blinken, and Nod

About the Interviewed: Max is a twenty year old college student at Pasadena City College studying Architecture and Fashion Design. His ethnic background is remotely Swedish, though his family has been in America for a couple generations.

I got Max to tell me a bedtime story his grandmother used to tell him a long time ago.

Max: “There were once three children: Winken, Blinken, and Nod. They were bored of their dull, ordinary lives and sailed out to sea in a wooden boat to find their fortune. While they were out adrift, Winken, Blinken, and Nod found three beautiful golden nets that they decided they would each use to catch all the fish in the sea.”

“They used their nets to capture as many fish as they possibly could, and soon the ocean was empty. Not satisfied with that, the three sailed into the night sky to catch the stars themselves. They began to round up the stars, but soon the night sky was black.”

“Lost in the cosmic abyss, the fishermen couldn’t find their way home. Tired and bloated from collecting all the fish and stardust, the trio dosed off. As they slept, the stars and the fish began to unravel from their nets. As the fish fell, the became shooting stars, which shot Winken, Blinken, and Nod to the moon. There Winken and Blinken became the eyes, and Nod the mouth, of the Man in the Moon. If you look out into the night sky, you can still see them, smiling at their catch.”

I asked Max if he knew where it came from, but he had no idea. His grandmother is long since passed away, and he thinks that she carried on the tale from her mother. It’s a very sweet, but kind of melancholy story. It has almost some mythic proportions, explaining the origin of the Man in the Moon.

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.

Foodways
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Vietnamese Bedtime Story

Story:

“It’s a bed time story that my mom used to tell me about this human eating monster that like terrorized a village in Vietnam. And I don’t know, this one hero got him to like try this delicious Vietnamese chicken dish and he liked it so much that he just ate chicken”

My informant liked this story because was funny and so easily resolved.

In this little story, it connects my informant with her Vietnamese heritage, not only in the location, but also in food.  It presses that Vietnamese food is so good, that it can stop a terrifying monster who now loves it so much, it is all he eats.  It is her mother telling her that their culture is important for her to know.  It is the last thing she hears before she goes to sleep and what she eats every day.  It was important for my informant to hear this because she grew up away from Vietnam in American culture.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Chinese Hansel and Gretel

(Translated from Chinese) Once upon a time, there were these two children, a brother and a sister.  The brother and sister had both been very bad children so their mother sent them out into the forest and told them not to come back until they had learned their lesson.  The children wandered around. It became very dark, and they began to look around for shelter.  They came upon this little house and knocked on the door.  An old grandma answered the door and let the two children stay in the house.  She led them upstairs where there were two separate bedrooms and told them that they each could have their own bedroom.  The brother and sister went into different rooms and went to bed.  A couple hours later, the sister heard a really loud crunching noise (made a crunching noise).  She tried to ignore it, but the crunching was so loud that she went downstairs to see where the sound was coming from.  Downstairs, she saw that the old lady was eating something, and the crunching was coming from the old grandma chewing.  The little girl asked, “Granny, what are you eating?” The grandma replied, “I’m just eating some peanuts, go back to bed.”  The little girl went back to her room but did not go back to bed.  Instead, she waited for the grandma to go to bed and then, she came back down to inspect what she was eating.  When she looked into the bowls, she saw small, little bones.  Horrified, she ran back upstairs to find her brother but found that her brother was nowhere to be found, only his clothes were laid on his bed.  The sister was able to figure out that the old grandma had eaten her brother.  She quickly ran out of the house and back home, where she told her mother that she had learned her lesson and begged her to take her back.  The mother let the daughter back in the house, and the girl was never disobedient again.

My informant has told me this story quite frequently when I was child.  This story was usually told at night as a bedtime story.  She told me that this story had been passed down through the family as her grandmother had told her when she was younger.  I asked my informant what her interpretation of the story was, and she replied that it was a way to teach children to be obedient to their parents.

After rehearing this story again, I realized that there is definitely a connection with “Hansel and Gretel.”  Some common elements include the presence of a brother and a sister, the setting in the forest, and an old woman who likes to eat children.  However, there are some major deviations such as the fact that the brother dies, the mother is the one who sends the children out, and the old woman does not die in the end.  While “Hansel and Gretel” served more as just a fairytale, this story had a pretty clear lesson to it; listen to your parents, or else you will be eaten by an old lady.

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