USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Folk Tale’
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Old Man, the Boy, and the Mule

Context: I collected this from a friend on a trip over Spring Break, after he’d heard me talking about folklore with another friend I was collecting from.

Background: This is a story that my friend read when he was learning to speak Mandarin as a child.

Dialogue: This old guy and his young son are on their way to the market, and they’re riding a mule and taking all their stuff with them. They start off, uh, the, the young guy, er, the… The old man is walking alongside the mule and the young, the young boy is sitting on the mule, and as they walk by a group of people, they overhear the people, like, criticizing— er, like, gossiping about them, criticizing: “Why is the, why is the young guy riding the mule and forcing the old guy to walk?” So the, the pair hear this, and don’t really wanna be judged, so they switch places. And so the old guy starts to ride the mule, and the young guy starts to walk, um… And, so then, they, as— They keep going, and they pass another group of people, um, and, they overhear some more gossip. These people are like, “Wha- Why is the, why is the old guy not letting the, the young boy ride the mule? How selfish is he?” And so, at that point, they… switch again, cuz of, after overhearing those people, um… So then they keeping going for a bit… And then they walk past another group of people and they overhear some more gossip, er, some more, um, talk. And these are like, “Wow, look at those two, they’re forcing that mule to carry so much stuff, poor mule!” Uh, so, at that point, the two decide to, they basically start carrying the mule on the way to the market.

Analysis: The friend who told me this story said that the moral he gained from hearing it was to avoid letting judgment from others affect your own actions. According to him, this is an older story that he read as a a way of learning more Mandarin. I would agree with him about the story’s moral, but I’d like to compare his delivery to that of the original.

Annotation: Upon further research, it was found that this is one of Aesop’s Fables. The moral given in the strict Aesop version is “Please all, and you will please none.” This was very enlightening to me, since it showed how differently the story appeared to my friend once it reached him as a child.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Three Soldiers Coming Home From War

The interviewer’s comments are denoted through initials JK, while the interviewee’s responses are denoted through initials SO.

 

SO:  “This is the story of three soldiers coming home from war.  And they’re walking through the countryside and they’re really hungry and they’re tired.  And they come across this little village.  And they walk into the village and the people aren’t overly friendly and the soldiers say to them, ya know, “Do you think you could give us some food?”  And the one house says, ya know, “We’d love to but the harvest hasn’t been good….. and we just don’t have any food to give you.”  So the soldiers go on to another house and said, “Do you think you could give us some food to eat, ya know, we’re really hungry, we just fought in the war to help all of you people… and um this other couple, this other family said, “Ya know there were soldiers that came by here recently and we gave them all of our food.”  And what really happened, uh, was these people had seen the soldiers coming and they hid all their food cause they didn’t wanna share it with the soldiers.  So the soldiers were kinda upset and they’re in the town village and they said, “Well, there’s no food, we have a good idea… we’re gonna make stone soup.”  And all the people in the village were like, “Well, what’s that?  I’ve never heard of that before”  

 

JK:  “Stone Soup?”

 

SO:  Stone. S-T-O-N-E.  Stone soup.  So the soldiers said, “We gotta get a big, big pot of water and let’s build a fire, and they boiled this big, big pot of water.  And then the soldiers said, Go find us three nice, round, smooth, stones.”  And the villagers were, uh, kinda excited, they went and they got the stones and they put the stones in their and the soldiers were stirring them.  And the soldiers said, “Ya know, do you think maybe we should….put some carrots in there?”  And the villagers said, “Yea, that sounds like a good idea, we could find some carrots.”  So they put some carrots in there.  And then they stir it up, and then they said, “Uhh maybe we should put some celery in their.”  And the villagers ran home and got the celery  and put it in there.  And then the soldiers said, “Well, what if we put some barley in there?”  And the villagers ran home and got the barley.  So it was startin’ to smell really, really good and then the villagers said, “Wait a minute, we need something more than this… we need some bread.”  And they went home and got their bread, got the bread.”  And then the villagers said, “Nah, we need, we need to have a big, big dinner here.”  So they set up all these tables in the town square and it ended up turning into this big, big party.  And the villagers were so, so happy that they had this big party.  And then the soldiers said, “Well, we do need some place to sleep.”  So they go the best houses in the village.  One of the soldiers slept at the Mayor’s house, one slept at a priest’s house, and the the other slept at a really wealthy person’s house.  The villagers thought the soldiers were so clever to have this soup made out of stones.”

 

JK:  Where is that from?

 

SO:  It’s an old tale, it’s an old French tale.  It was just about how they conned the people, they didn’t even realize, ya know the people were being stingy, but the soldiers kinda conned them into making soup.  And the villagers ended up being so happy with the party, they thought these guys were just the best in the world.  In the beginning they weren’t even gonna give them anything.”

 

Conclusion:

 

This tale was told to me by my dad’s friend, Stephen.  I enjoyed listening to how the wit and cunning of the soldiers got them everything they wanted and more.  I think this story encapsulates one of humanity’s basic animalistic tendencies: greed.  We see this when the townspeople will not give any of their food to the weary soldiers.  Everyone seems to be thinking for themselves– their minds are solely focused on their own survival.  It isn’t until the townspeople hear they will get something out of the soldier’s request that they being to cooperate and act more hospitable.

 

general
Narrative

The Blind Woman and Her Dog

The interviewer’s comments are denoted through initials JK, while the interviewee’s responses are denoted through initials SC.

 

 

SC:  There was this blind woman, this is an old horror story that I betch everybody.. your teacher’s probably heard it.  Ok so, there was this woman, this blind woman, she was blind.  And she lived alone and she had a dog, a german shepard, and the dog protected her and kept her safe, but the police came by and said, “There’s a serial killer out and you need to lock your doors and be very careful tonight.  You’re sure you don’t want us to stay with you?”  And she said, “No, no I have my dog.  He’s big, he would scare off anybody.  She says, “Watch this.  Everytime I call the dog, he comes and licks my hand and I know I’m safe.”  So she calls Fido, the dog’s name, and the dog comes and licks her hand right in front of the police officer.  “I really feel safe with him, I think I’m gonna be fine.”  So she says goodnight and you know, throughout the night she calls Fido and he comes and licks her hand and she goes to sleep… and Fido licks her hand.  And all through the night, she wakes up and Fido licks her hand.  She calls for her dog and Fido licks her hand.  And then, so the next day, the police officer comes by to check on her and he knocks and knocks on the door, no answer, no answer.  What is it?  You know, no answer, and nobody’s seen her or anything.  They go into the house, they break in and the woman is….. completely  dead.  You know she’s all dead, like cut up, slashed.  And the dog is slashed too, like the dog is hanging.. um from a lightbulb thing, like from a string or something is the way I remember it was told to me.  And in blood written on the wall, it said, “People can lick too.”

 

JK: Oh my gosh.

 

SC: Isn’t that awful!?!?  I learned that one when I was young and the reason why it was so scary for us is that we had a blind school nearby.  It hit close to home.  My friend Mitzy Freemyer, we would always have slumber parties at her house and she lived like just a block from the blind school, so it just felt more real to us.

 

 

Conclusion:

 

I heard this story from my Aunt Susan.  I liked how it’s dark and gruesome story, but it ends with a comedic twist– I was expecting something more clever, not something I would laugh at.  Similar to the Ant Face Girl story, this tale really freaked out my Aunt because she could relate to it: she grew up close to the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA.  It’s interesting to see how small kids can scare themselves by finding any little connection to a story they’ve heard.  

Folk Beliefs
Narrative

How the Leopard Got Its Spots

Item:

“The Leopard used to live on the sandy-coloured High Veldt. He too was sandy-coloured, and so was hard for prey animals like Giraffe and Zebra to see when he lay in wait for them. The Ethiopian lived there too and was similarly coloured. He, with his bow and arrows, used to hunt with the Leopard.

Then the prey animals left the High Veldt to live in a forest and grew blotches, stripes and other forms of camouflage. The Leopard and the Ethiopian were hungry and consulted Baviaan, the wise baboon, who said the prey animals had “gone into other spots” and advised them to do the same. So they went searching and came to the forest. They could smell Giraffe and Zebra there but could not see them. When night came, they managed to catch Giraffe and Zebra by sound and scent. Asked why they looked so different, the two prey animals demonstrated how easily they could disappear against the forest background.

So the Ethiopian changed his skin to black, and marked the Leopard’s coat with his bunched black fingertips. Then they too could hide. They lived happily ever after, and will never change their colouring again.

The second version is told by the native Africans and goes as follows:

The leopard used to be as white as snow. It was always difficult for the leopard to catch its prey and had to work very hard at it. After the hard work it would go and rest in the shade of the tree.

The wart hogs used to love playing and rolling in the mud in the nearby waterhole. They still do this today.

One day they were playing like this and heard the roar of a lion. They got such a fright and ran right over the leopard leaving little brown spots on the beautifull white coats.

At first the leopards were very upset but then they realized it was much easier to catch their prey and to this day they have kept their spots.”

Context:

The three items of folklore I collected from this informant were the only three out of all the items in my collection that were not a result of face to face interaction. The text above was sent to me, from the informant, via email. I also corresponded with the informant over the phone to receive the context behind her stories. That said, the informant, who lived most of her life in South Africa (she moved to Dallas, Texas with her family in the 90’s), heard both of these variations of this classic African legend when she was a child. She recalls hearing them in elementary school and listening to a version of the story on a cassette player. She likes the second version of the story better because of its depiction of how animals actually congregate around watering holes in real life.

Analysis:

From my research of this tale, I discovered that the first version of the story the informant related is a variation of a Rudyard Kipling story entitled “How the Leopard Got His Spots.” That said, I theorize that Kipling’s version of the story became the canonized version from which all future stories referred to and grew out of.

Both variations of the tale focus on the relationship between predator and prey, reflecting the age of the story. The first variation of the story, in particular, features a human as a hunter. That said, the story might be as old as the hunter gatherer society it depicts.

Here is a link to Rudyard Kipling’s “How the Leopard Got His Spots”:  http://www.sff.net/people/karawynn/justso/leopard.htp

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Good Son (Annotated)

“My mom would tell me this story, she said it was an old Chinese story, but I’m not sure, about a little boy who would get in his mother’s bed every night before she did, and he would make it warm for her and that made him the best son in the world”

Informant Analysis: “I think my mom just told me this so I would do the same for her, she was always cold and I was always warm, so after she told me this story I would get in her bed to warm it up for her. But I think she just made it up.”

Analysis: I was actually interested if this story existed, because the informant seemed to adamant that her mother had completely made it up, so I did some research and her mom’s version is actually based on a real Chinese story, almost proverbs in themselves, one of the “24 Paragons of Filial Piety” written by Yuan Dynasty scholar Guo Jujing. The story itself is called “He Fanned the Pillows and Warmed the Sheets: Huang Xiang” in which a young boy, after the death of his mother, serves his father by fanning the pillows in the hot summer and warming the bed in the winter. After being such a good son, he is recognized and a verse is written in his honor:

In winter months he warmed the sheets just right;
And fanned the pillows on hot summer nights.
In knowing how to be a filial son,
In all these years, Huang Xiang’s still number one.

So I think in this case the informant’s mother’s only crime was changing the father’s role to the mother, possibly to make it more applicable. I told the informant all this, she was completely surprised! This story, along with the many others featured in the collection, make it clear that in order to be a good Chinese son or daughter, one has to take care of one’s parents and serve them well.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Folktale: Chinese Folktale

This is a Chinese folk tale that the informant mother told her. It’s a story explaining why Chinese names are so short.

A long time ago there people would give their children long grandiose names. (The informant couldn’t remember what the names were). There was one family, the original family, with a mother, a father, a son, and a daughter. They were very proud of their son who had a long beautiful name. One day the son was playing and fell down a well. He was hanging on to the inside and starts yelling his family’s names so they could save him. But he starts to get tired because their names are really long. The daughter walks by the well but she only hears part of her name so she walks away. The father walks by the well but he only hears part of his name so he walks away. The mother walks by the well only hears part of her name but she recognizes her son’s voice. She tries to save her son but when she reaches for his hand he begins to fall further into the well. So she grabs his hair and holds tight to try to pull him up. But she couldn’t do it by herself so she calls for her husband by his really long name. She gets tired calling for him but finally her hears and goes to help. But they can’t pull him up by themselves so they call for the daughter by her really long name. They get tired yelling her name but she finally hears them. They pull the son out of well. The family decides to shorten their names to avoid this problem in the future. So that is why Chinese people have short names and why they have lines on their hands, from pulling the boy’s hair.

My informant said that she first heard this tale in elementary school. She still remembers. She also says that she thinks a lot of Chinese folklore tries to explain why things are the way they are.

I noticed that despite being a Chinese folktale there are a few similarities to European folktales. This tale has examples of the rule of three, it uses repetition, and no more than two actors in one scene. Also, the folktale has some slight mythic qualities; the story refers to the original family so the story takes place at the beginning of the world. It’s not sacred though, at least the informant didn’t consider it sacred. I think the reason for that is that this tale is very similar to Tikki Tikki Tempo by Rudyard Kipling. I looked this tale up because I forgot to ask the informant for the title and this book came up. It is also a story about a kid with a long name that falls into a well. However, the story the informant gave me has different characters in it and the tale also explains why people have marks on their hands. Maybe this is case of authored works becoming folklore because the person telling it didn’t know it was copyrighted. The story the informant told me is slightly different from the book. Does authored work turn into folklore when the teller makes changes to the tale?

Legends
Myths
Narrative

The Tale of Two Brothers (Vietnam)

There once were two brothers who lived in Vietnam.  The older brother’s name was Tan and the younger brother’s name was Lang.  They were very close.  Then one day Tan decided to get married and moved away to live his life happily with his new bride.  His younger brother Lang, began to distance himself from his brother and one day disappeared.  He had left his home and wandered about, finally resting by a river, when he died from exhaustion and turned into a limestone rock.  His brother Tan began to worry about him and went out in search of his brother.  After a while, when he couldn’t find him he found a nice rock to sit on by the riverbed.  He soon fell asleep and died in his sleep from weariness and turned into a tree.  Not soon after, Tan’s wife began to wonder where her husband was and went to look for him.  When she couldn’t find him, she leaned against the tree by the riverbed and rested her foot on the rock.  Eventually she died and turned into a vine that wound around the tree.  Years later, a king came and ground up a leaf from the vine, a nut from the tree, and mixed it with lime.  The product was a sweet red juice that the king loved so from then on he brought that combination to all the weddings and it became a tradition to drink it between family members at every wedding ceremony.

This proverb was first heard by the informant from his mother just after the family had attended his aunt’s wedding.  The informant had asked, “Why do the family bring around that tree to everyone and they have to eat it?”  The informant’s mother answered that the tree represents a good marriage not only between the husband and bride but also a peaceful relationship between the two married people’s families, in order to prevent the same thing that happened to Lang, Tan and his wife.

This is a Vietnamese custom that has long been used at wedding ceremonies and receptions when the family of the groom brings the plant around the room and offering it to family members as they are being introduced.  This custom has also been brought over to the United States and is still practiced at modern traditional Vietnamese weddings as well.  It is passed on from generation to generation, to provide peace and healthy relationships between families.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Tales /märchen

Chinese Folk Belief and Folk Tale – Weasel the Trickster

This folk tale was collected from my Father. My father was born as a farmer’s son into a veteran’s family in Taipei, Taiwan. His father and mother ran away from China to Taipei during the Chinese Civil War. Much of his cultural practices and beliefs are taken from the mainland Chinese culture. Because of his background, he is considered a “mainlander” in Taiwan (Chinese in Taiwan are divided into Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese or indigenous). My father graduated from Iowa University with an MBA. His B.A was obtained in Taiwan.

During one of our telephone sessions, he mentioned the following story his mother had once told him in Chinese. I’m paraphrasing and translating it here to the best of my memory:

“Your grandmother once told me this story about tending cattle. There’s a big rat-like creature…um, a weasel. Yes, a weasel. It attacks big and small animals. So, back in the day, “cow” boys, who tend the cattle, would take the cattle into the mountains to graze and then bring them back after they’ve had their share of grass. And the weasel though it wants to eat the cattle… can’t–they are much too big. So the weasels, being as sneaky and clever as they are, would come around to the back of the cow and plunge its claws into the cow’s behind. Reaching in, the weasels would pull out the cow’s intestines and tie it to a tree. Feeling pain, the cow would run forward which would cause more of its intestines to be pulled out which would result in more pain which would result in the cow running faster. The cow would run and run until it collapsed…which is when the weasel comes and eats the cow. While I don’t really believe that weasels are able to do this, parents often tell their children this folk tale as to scare them into standing more alert and being more prudent when they are tending the cattle. This way, the children will be ready when real dangers, such as mountain wolves, appear.”

As we can see from what my father said, the implicit moral of this folk tale is to be extra prudent when tending the cattle. We can confirm it as a folk tale because it is not a story to be taken seriously. Although the tale is set in the real world, my father reiterates that no one actually believe weasels have the ability to hunt cattle like the tale depicts. Interestingly, the main character of this folk tale is a weasel. In his description of the weasel, my father describes the weasel as a sneaky and clever creature, but more sneaky than clever. This suggests that the weasel is the trickster character, similar to the fox in Western folklore, in Chinese folk tales.

I, the collector myself, have heard another folk tale featuring the weasel as this sort of trickster character. In this one, a chicken invites a weasel to dinner during Chinese New Year only to find himself the dinner of the weasel. I believe this attribution of the trickster character to the weasel is due to its small size, agile capabilities and carnivorous nature.

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