USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘folktale’
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Crab and the Monkey

Informant: I got one. It’s a folktale from when I was younger.

 

Interviewer: Is it like, a Brazilian or a Japanese tale?

 

Informant: It’s Japanese… I don’t remember who told me the tale, it’s very common knowledge in Japan. It might’ve been in daycare. Does it matter?

 

Interviewer: Not really. What is it about?

 

Informant: Ok, so this is about a monkey and a crab. The crab has an onigiri and the monkey has a persimmon seed… onigiri is like, a rice ball. The monkey wants the crab’s onigiri, so he tells the crab to trade it for his persimmon seed. The crab doesn’t want to at first, but the monkey says that the seed is worth more, since if he plants it, it will grow into a persimmon tree. So they trade and then the crab goes back home and plants the seed… and the crab threatens the **** out of the seed by telling it that if it… if it doesn’t grow fruits it’s gonna cut it up with its pincers.

 

Interviewer: That’s not very nice (laughs).

 

Informant: No, but then the seed grows into a tall tree and gives fruits, so I guess it worked. Anyways, the monkey then goes to the crab’s house and climbs the tree and starts eating the fruit. The crab comes out and asks the monkey to pass him some fruit, but the monkey throws the unripe stinky fruit at ‘em and it ******* kills him, and the shock makes the crab give birth…

 

Interviewer: …Is that it?

 

Informant: No… It’s like halfway done, I’m trying to remember the rest… Ok so the kid crab is pissed that the monkey killed the mom crab, and wants revenge on the monkey. So he goes out and makes friends with like, other bullied guys like the chestnut, the bee… the rock mortar… thing, and cow poop. Then they break and enter the monkey’s house and hide… The chestnut hides in the hearth, the bee hides in a water pail, the mortar hides on the roof, and the cow poop hides on the floor, close to the entrance.

 

Interviewer: Is this like, a real folktale?

 

Informant: I swear, I can’t make this **** up.

 

Interviewer: Ok, ok. What happens next?

 

Informant: Ok so later, the monkey comes home and decides to sit by the fire. The chestnut tackles him and sets the monkey on fire. Monkey is inflicted with burn, so he runs to the water pail to put it out, but the bee comes out and stings the **** out of him, so the monkey tries to run out of the house and slips on the cow poop, and then the mortar jumps off the roof and onto the monkey and it ******* kills him… the end.

 

Interviewer: What? That’s it? … What even is the moral of the story?

 

Bystander: I think it’s about not scamming people or you’ll die. But what happened to the kid crab, what did it do?

 

Informant: Baby crab didn’t do ****. But yeah, that’s it, monkey died because he killed crab.

 

Context

During one of my club’s meetings, I told the members about the collection project and the members started discussing about various folktales and other stories. This was amongst the ones that stood out.

 

Analysis

To be completely honest I was dumbfounded that such a weird story was told to children, but upon further investigation it turns out that, it is in fact, a popular Japanese folktale. From what I gather, it teaches children to not scam or betray people, because it’ll come back to you in some shape or form.

 

Different Versions and Literary Works

The folktale has many different versions, usually changing the baby crab’s allies or the way that the monkey is attacked in its home. In one version, the monkey gets his butt snipped bald by the crab, which explains why some monkeys have bare bums.

Versions of this folktale can be found in Andrew Lang’s The Crimson Fairy Book (http://www.online-literature.com/andrew_lang/crimson_fairy/30/)

 

Or Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/4018/4018-h/4018-h.htm)

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Elephant and the Jackal

Informant: There is one tale that I remember from when I was like… super young. Like an Indian folktale.

 

Interviewer: Yeah sure, let’s hear it.

 

Informant: It’s called The Elephant and the Jackal. There was once an Elephant that was a monster, and like, he would rampage across the forests destroying trees, and that would also destroy like, bird nests and stuff. Not even the Lions or Tigers wanted to mess with it.

One day, the Elephant destroyed the Jackal’s nest during one of his rampages. The animals finally decided to call a meeting to figure out how to kill it but, no one stepped up because they were afraid of the Elephant and his massive size.

The Jackals were really pissed about the nest, so they held another meeting. They had decided to take out the Elephant once and for all, but failed to come up with a plan. But then, an Old Jackal said he knew what to do.

The next day, the Old Jackal went to the Elephant, and like, bowed and revered him, and told him “Oh great Elephant! The other animals and I held a meeting and decided that someone as big and powerful as you should be the King of all animals.” The Elephant didn’t think much of it, and let the Jackal keep praising him. The Jackal then told the Elephant that all the other animals were like, a bunch of animals were waiting for his coronation ceremony, and that he should come with.

 

Interviewer: So the Elephant took the bait completely…

 

Informant: Yeah, like. The Elephant, drunk in his ego, followed the Jackal deep into the forest, where the trees were thick and it was like, hard to see for the Elephant. The Jackal then led the Elephant through a patch of quicksand, but since the Jackal was old and light, he could get through. When the Elephant stepped into the quicksand though, he like, got stuck and started sinking very fast. The Elephant cried out and asked the Jackal to help him, but the Jackal told him that he had been a massive **** and had destroyed the lives and homes of many animals, and like, someone like him didn’t deserve any help. The Jackal left to tell the other animal, while the Elephant sunk to his death in the quicksand.

 

 

Context

During one of my club meetings, I brought up the Collection Project, and amongst the responses I got, the informant told me some interesting Indian folklore.

 

Analysis

This was just a simple märchen with a simple message. Bad things happen to bad people. I guess there is also a secondary message that with age comes knowledge, seen as it was an old jackal that managed to bring down the elephant, out of all the animals. Could even be stretched to a brain over brawn analogy too, seeing as not even the lions or tigers dared to face the elephant.

 

Folk speech
general
Narrative
Proverbs
Tales /märchen

Proverb: “This, too, shall pass”

Context: The informant, a 20-year-old female college student who was enrolled in ANTH 333 during a prior semester, was eager to participate in my folklore collection. She shared some folklore with me that she has collected throughout her childhood and her time at USC. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which the informant relayed a personally significant proverb and the legend associated with it.

Text:

Informant: Okay, so I’ve heard this story told a lot of different ways because like apparently Jewish people tell the story as part of a Jewish religious moment, but I’m not Jewish and my mother used to tell the story and she would take all religion out of it. So, what I know is that basically this king was on a journey to find a ring that would make a happy man sad and a sad man happy. The king eventually finds this ring with the words “This, too, shall pass” engraved on the inside. And so, for the happy man, it’s supposed to remind the happy man that bad things can come at any moment, so you really need to be like in the moment and present and enjoy that and try to extend it. And it makes the sad man happy because it’s also supposed to tell you that bad things come to an end, so like good things will eventually have to come. So, I don’t know… I just really like that proverb: “This, too, shall pass.”

Informant’s relationship to this item: Though the informant is unsure of the proverb’s true cultural and/or religious origins, the proverb’s meaning and the legend surrounding it has remained with her for years. The proverb almost appears to be a family mantra, as it was taught to the informant by her mother. The informant appears to refer to the proverb during times of happiness, as a remainder to savor every moment, and during times of sadness, as a reminder that her misfortunes will also end.

Interpretation: The proverbial phrase is simultaneously metaphorical, rhetorical, and short — all the criteria for a proverb. It is interesting to hear the tales and legends surrounding such phrases, as many of them would lack the same impact or clarity without the context in which they first originated. While proverbs are usually fixed phrases, the double meaning of this proverb demonstrates how they typically do not have fixed meanings, and their significance can readily change in different contexts. Additionally, the fact that the informant was told the proverb by her mother shows how proverbs typically hold a lot of vernacular authority. Her mother likely could have taught her the same lesson using different wording, but the history of the proverb and the fact that it is commonly heard in society gives the impression that her mother is imparting community wisdom on her daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

Folk speech
general

The Goose and The Pearl

The 22-year-old informant was born in South Korea and moved to the U.S. at a very young age. She chose to share this story because it is commonly told in Korean culture.

“So in this one folktale, there’s this traveler, who needs a place to stay so he asks this farmer if he can stay in his house, and the farmer’s like, ‘No, but you can stay in the barn.’ So he’s sleeping there and he sees this little girl running, and she drops a pearl and he sees a duck eat it. And then in the morning, he’s shaken awake by the farmer who’s like, ‘I’m gonna call the police! You stole my daughter’s pearl, it’s missing!’ and he’s like, ‘No I didn’t, just wait until your duck poops.’ So then the duck poops and they find it.”

The moral of the story is to be nice to people. According to the storyteller, this story is a common one amongst Korean people.

I find this piece interesting because it talks about such a simple concept that is a sign of human decency, however, it doesn’t always come naturally to everyone, which is why this story is more relevant and eye-opening that one would think at first. People are always quick to point fingers or let others take the blame for things and it’s important to remember not to assume anything.

For another version of this story, see Kim, Jinrak. The Generous Scholar. Seoul: Baramedia Publishing Inc., 2007. Print.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo

“So this is a Chinese one.  Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo.  So back then, way, way back in time, back in Chinese time, um, sons were idolized and first borns were the most treasured member of the family.  Cause of that they gave them huge long regal names that worshipped them.  It would be like, “One that I worship”  And so it would be a big long name like, uh, and then, uh, so this woman had two sons.  The first one, her firstborn she named Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo.  So and then, which means like “One that I adore” or “Most wonderful child in the world” and then she had a second son and she named him Chang, which means like “Second” or “Another” or something– you know, it was a very short name.  And she idolized her oldest son and thought he was wonderful and, um, but anyway, the boys loved each other and they would play together and everyday the mother would go down to the river and do her washing and the boys would go and they’d play around her.  And there was a well by the river and um, sometimes their mother would let them go up on the hill and let them play, play near the well cause it was a nice view.  So they’d play around up there and, um, one time, Chang, got a little too adventurous, and he was lookin’ in the well and he was so small and he, uh, lost his balance, and he tumbled in… and, it was awful.  And Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo ran all the way down the hill with his little legs and told his mother that Chang had fallen into the well.  And the mother said, “Oh what? What are you saying?  Speak up, the water’s so loud down here I can’t hear.  So the boy hollers, “Chang fell into the well!!”  And his mother goes, “Ohhh, go get the old man with the ladder then.  Underneath the tree.”  So Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo runs over to the man with the ladder and says, “Ohh my brother has fallen into the well, Chang has fallen into the well!  Please come help me with the ladder!!”  And the guy says, “Oh I’m comin’ right straight away!”  So they get him out, they fish him out of the well and, uh, the old man, like turns him up on his knee and pumps all the water out of him and Chang is kinda choking and gasping for a moment, but he comes back to life, you know, he’s good as new within 20 minutes.  He comes back, he’s just fine.  Um, so, the boys were very scared of that incident, so many, many months pass before they go up on the hill again.  But they got braver and braver and they went up finally, after a long time, and they got a little more braver and braver and more curious and more curious about the well cause Chang had told hi brother about the well and what had happened inside it.  And soo, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo says, “Ooo I wanna poke my head in there.”  And Chang says, “Be careful, I wouldn’t do it if I were you.”  And well, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo does it and, um, falls into the well!  And Chang, on his little legs runs down the hill as fast as he can to his mom to his mom and says, “Mom, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo has fallen into the well!!”  And he’s practically out of breath after such a long name and running down the hill.  And the mom has the water rushing in her ear and can’t hear and says, “What?? What are you saying to me?”  And he says it again, he says, “Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo has fallen into the well!!”  And she’s like, “What nonsense are you talking!?”  Because he’s just like saying it so quick, and so she says, “Slow down! What are you saying!?”  So then, the boy is so out of breath he says really slowly, “Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo is in the well!!!”  And his mother says, “You should show your older brother more regard than saying his name like that!!”  But then she realizes that he’s fallen in the well and she says, “Oh my goodness, run, run right away to the man on the hill with the latter.  So the boy, whose exhausted now trying to get his mother to pay attention to him, runs over to the guy whose sleeping under the tree.  And so he’s out of breath and can just barely get it out of his mouth and he says, “Sir, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo has fallen into the well!!”  And the old man is sleeping and Chang’s voice isn’t loud, so he’s like, “What? What?  What’s in my dream?”  And, um, the boy jostles him and says, “Sir, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo is fallen in the well!!  And the guy is like, “What?”  And finally Chang shouts, “My brother fell in the well!!!”  And the guy says, “Oh my gosh, lemme get my latter!!”  And they run up to the well, run up the hill, and the poor kid is like completely out of breath.  But they get there and they drag the boy out and they try and try and try to revive him, and they work really hard, and they do revive him, but it is many, many– he is sick for a very long time after that, and um, ever since then, Chinese people have stuck– they have stuck with short, quick, easy names to say.”  

 

Conclusion:

 

This story was told to me by my Aunt Susan.  She said she heard it when a teacher told it to her son’s kindergarten class on a day when she was helping out at the school.  This was one of my favorite pieces that I collected.  I think it’s cool how it’s a long story that has an ending that provides an explanation for a specific aspect of Chinese culture: using short, quick names.

 

 

Legends
Tales /märchen

How the Tortoise Got Its Cracked Shell

Interviewee:

“There is a lot of animal folklore in Nigeria. I used to hear this one story all the time when I was little. It goes like this:

There was once a great drought in all the land. So the animals gathered to try and make a plan. It was decided that the tortoise, due to his charm and manner of speaking, would fly up to heaven with the birds in order to bring food down. As he flew, he told the birds that at such times it is important to change your name. So he told them his name was “all of you.” They got to heaven (and the feast) and God said the food was for “all of you.” The tortoise gorged himself. The birds got mad and left, but the tortoise begged them to tell his wife to put soft things by his house so that he could jump and fall from heaven safely. The birds told his wife the opposite and the tortoise jumped and broke his shell.

I’ve heard that one a million times. There are many Nigerian folktales about the cunning tortoise.”

p01gnlt8

This story reminds me of many tales that revolve around how an animal or other natural phenomenon came to be. It is a way of explaining the world around us before science or other explanations came about to replace tales. The cunning tortoise is a recurring character in Nigerian folklore, representing craftiness and outsmarting others, often at his own expense.

general
Tales /märchen

Ganesh and his brother Kartikeya

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a very well-known Hindu folktale to me (AK) about the two brothers of very renowned Hindu Gods.

KM: Ganesh rides a rat and Kartikeya rides a peacock. Anyway, Shivji and Parvati are their parents and they tell them to prove which one is stronger or smarter. Kartikeya says he has a ton of strength cause he can ride around this world 3 times and come back to you faster than anyone. And Ganesh said the same thing, but like it sounded dumb because Ganesh was riding a rat. So they had a fight and they challenged each other to ride around the world 3 times. So Kartikeya went off to go ride around the world… but Ganesh was really cunning and all and he just rode around Shivji and Parvathi 3 times. He just said that “you guys are my world” and so he won.

AK: What kind of story is this? Why did you tell me this one?

KM: Haha… I just think this funny is story cause it shows a child being a kissass. And It shows the child being super cunning but also aware of his flaws. He knew he couldn’t beat Kartikeya, but instead of being sad about it, he was just smarter.

AK: Who did you learn it from and what does it mean to you?

KM: I learnt it from my parents, and I think it’s funny that I learned it from them cause that’s how they were telling me that I should respect them — cause they were like “haha” we should be your world!

In my opinion, this folktale just represents a clever play on words and not much more. I don’t think there is any serious meaning that can be derived from this story. Instead, the folktale just seems like it was created solely for the purpose of entertainment. This is refreshing to see, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about this folktale.

general
Tales /märchen

Akbar and Birbal

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a very common Indian folktale to me (AK).

KM: Akbar is known to be this angry king who has this little friend named birbal who is known to be very cunning and sharp. They have thousands of tales about the two of them. Akbar usually gets mad about something and birbal fixes it by being cunning and smart.

One such story:

There was a thousand people that came into the kingdom and they wanted to kill birbal because birbal was screwed up. So they told him that he needs to drink a bottle full of lime juice straight down. That’s supposed to tear apart your entire digestive system. So Birbal is like “okay I’ll do it.” and Akbar says, “Birbal, what the hell, you’re going to die” and Birbal just winked. And later, he went home and took a bottle of ghee, and drank the entire bottle of ghee which covered his entire digestive system. Now he came back and he downed the lemon juice and survived because the ghee was a coating.

AK: Why do you know or like this piece?

KM: I didn’t know as a child that lemon could kill you. I think it’s funny because in this story they depict everyone to look like idiots and Birbul looks funny because he’s this low-key middle-class guy, but it represents the underdog winning.

AK: Where did you hear this story?

KM: I learned of this story at home from this book called the Punchit Tandra. I also heard many stories from my parents including this one. I remember this story in particular because it is short and is a representation of the power of wit and intellect.

This story was very interesting to hear because I am also of Indian heritage, yet I had never heard this story before. I belief this is because I grew up in a very western society and these stories were never passed down by my parents. Another interesting thing to note is the manner in which this story was told by my informant. It is obvious that her recollection is devoid of many details and likely not performed as it was by her parents. I attribute this to a generational difference as well as the fact that my informant retold this story from memory. Therefore, it makes sense that she was only able to remember the most crucial plot details.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Hoerangi and Kkotgam

Original Title: 호랑이와 곶감

Phonetically: Hoerangi and Kkotgam

English Translation: The Tiger & the Persimmon

Informant SL is a junior studying business communication at the University of Southern California. She is of Korean descent and only moved to America at the age of 16. Here, she discusses a traditional Korean folktale that is told to many children by their parents or grandparents.

SL: There’s this little town in a village, and this tiger creeps up to a home because he’s hungry and hears a baby crying. So that attracts his attention and he wants to eat like the people in the house. And the tiger can hear the mom saying, ‘if you keep crying, the tiger is going to get you.’ When the tiger hears that he’s like “holy shit, how does she know I’m here.” The baby keeps crying and the mom sees a kkotgam and the baby stops crying. So the tiger thinks, whatever this kkotgam is, it must be scarier than me cause the baby stopped crying. So the tiger runs away into the storage of the house, and in the dark, he scares a robber in the house. That scares the robber away and the tiger hearing about the kkotgam also runs away because he thinks the kkotgam is bigger than him.

The informant heard this tale from her grandma because she was eating a kkotgam (persimmon). She really likes this story because it’s very funny and gives life to a tiger. In her opinion, the moral is that you shouldn’t be scared of the things you don’t see. The tale doesn’t mean too much to her, but the tiger is the national animal of Korea. She described the relationship as similar to the bald eagle’s representation of American identity.

Personally, I found this story to be more comical than anything else. While I understand the moral it is attempting to teach, I believe this tale is better served as merely one that provides entertainment to the listener. I also do like how easy this story is to remember, and that is perhaps why it has lasted all these years since its creation. Since the situation is so ridiculous, it is quite easy to remember the details that occur in the tale.

 

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Heungbu and Nolbu

Original Title: 흥부와 놀부

Phonetically(names): Heungbu and Nolbu

Informant SL is a junior studying business communication at the University of Southern California. She is of Korean descent and only moved to America at the age of 16. Here, she discusses a traditional Korean folktale that is well known by all kids in Korea. SL compared this story to ‘Humpty Dumpty’ from western culture in terms of how well-known it is.

SL: Heungbu is the dad of a poor family, and one day they find a bird in their backyard, and the bird has a broken leg. Seeing this, the dad takes the bird in his hand and wraps the leg of the bird. Then the bird flies away, and the same bird comes flying back… but drops them off a seed. This seed turns out to be a pumpkin seed and it keeps growing and growing and growing and becomes this giant thing. It becomes this giant ball. It becomes so big the wife and the family have to saw it open. Once they cut it all the way open, they find all this gold, jewelry, riches. Basically a treasure chest in a pumpkin. But then, his neighbor saw this and the neighbor was a rich greedy man. And his name was nolbu “n-o-l-b-u”. Nolbu had heard what happened with Heungbu’s family, so he goes outside and purposely breaks a bird’s leg. And then he wrapped it up the same way, bandaged it, and the bird flew away. And that bird game back one day and dropped off a seed. He picked up the seed all excited and happy and it grew into the same big big size. And inside were trolls called Dokkaebi. Dokkaebi’s are always known to have bats, so then they popped out of the pumpkin and beat them up. Seeing this, the nice guy Heungbu comes and helps him.

The informant is not entirely sure where she knows this story from because Korean children simply grow up with it. It is heard through books, nursery rhymes, family etc. and there are even restaurants with this name. The informant likes this story because she thinks it’s funny and teaches you the whole moral of “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”. As a child, she thought the story was about being greedy, but now she realizes why parents tell the story. “When we’re told don’t be greedy, no one will know what that means. But this story exemplifies it well and teaches the dangers of greed well.”

In my opinion, this piece exemplifies a common thread linking together many different cultures. Greed is universally seen as negative by nearly every culture, and it is very important to teach this concept to children when they are very young. I really liked this story because it presented both the dangers of greed as well as the benefits of leading an honest life. To me, this piece is an excellent teaching tool, and I can see why it has been memorialized in Korean culture.

For another version of this story, see http://www.tparents.org/Library/Unification/Talks2/Kirkbride/Kirkbride-100629.htm

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