USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Hero’
Legends
Narrative

Wong Fei Hung- A Chinese Legend

Informant is a Chinese American student at USC from Houston, Texas. Her parents were born in China, but she was raised in the United States. This is a story that she was told when she was younger.

“So, uh, this is one of the stories that my dad used to tell me about when I was younger. It’s about a person called Wong Fei Hung, who was a legendary Chinese martial artist who was born sometime in the late 1800’s. So it was actually a real person haha. But there are many stories about how he was the greatest kung fu martial artist of his time, and had mastered many of the kung fu styles, including one that he had made famous, called the Hung Gar style or something. One of the stories goes that he helped to save parts of China from the Imperial Japanese Army by teaching the local farmers kung fu so that they could fight back, and then leading them against the Japanese troops to save their lands. He’s a pretty big deal in China, so I guess its pretty cool because he was a real person and not just a myth. I’m not sure if all the stories I heard were completely true however.”

Did you ever do kung fu?

“Oh no not me hahaha. But this is a famous story for a lot of Chinese people, so you don’t have to be a kung fu student to have heard of it.”

 

Collector’s Comments:

This is an example of a legend about a person who actually lived in real life and did important things, but the stories told about them may have been exaggerated or made up to make them seem like an even bigger deal. I have also heard about this story from my Vietnamese dad, so it is a very popular tale in Asia.

 

For another modern version of this story, see the movie Rise of the Legend (2014), a Chinese film on Netflix that tells about the Wong Fei Hung legend and how he rose to fame and saved his town.

 

Humor
Legends
Narrative

The Surfer Who Lived in a Cave

I bet being a surfer you know some local surfing legends or stories that get passed around?

 

Yeah. So there’s this old surfer, he was one of the best surfers in Southern California back in the 60’s, and he lived in the Newport Harbor jetty, like in a cave, in the rocks. And he had one suit, and he would paddle over from his cave in the jetty to go dancing in the clubs in Newport. And since he always wore this one suit, everyone always knew it was this one guy that lived in the cave in the jetty. And I don’t even think he worked, but uh, the story goes that he was just this great surfer that lived in the Newport jetty and would go dancing and be really classy with that one suit, and he would paddle it over, so like the funny thing is, when he was done with his night you’d see him like paddling across the harbor channel back to his cave, and I just think that’s hilarious.

 

Do you know what the guy’s name was?

 

I don’t remember his name, I could look it up.

 

Where’d you hear that story?

 

I read in a history of surfing book. Well actually the first time I heard it was through, hmm…my neighbor is like this old surfer guy, and it came up one time when we were talking about a surfboard company, and he told me the story. Apparently his dad knew the guy, they were in the same friend group and they’d all surf together. But this guy was the only one who could surf all those tough spots cause he lived right there in the cave. Yeah I hadn’t thought of it for a while until I read the story in this history of surfing book, and I was like oh my gosh that’s totally the same guy. From my understanding he only lived in the cave for like 4 or 5 years, and then went back to living in a normal house.

 

Why did he decide to live in a cave?

 

I mean it was the 60’s, and back then surf culture was really about not conforming to society, and kind of saying ‘fuck you’ to society. So the cool thing was that he was this total homeless hippie, but then he would pretend to be all classy and go dancing with all the other people, just because he could.

 

Do a lot of people know that story?

 

People who know a lot about the history of surfing, and I guess like, the roots of surfing in California would know it, and I guess people from older generations would probably know it.

 

ANALYSIS:

This legend seems to be passed around largely among surfers – the surfer in the story seems to be a sort of historical hero in the surfing community. He embodies what surfers idealize: a great surfer, at one with nature and the waves, isolated from society, but still a little notorious and able to mingle with the rest of society while still being recognized as an outsider, a ‘hippie’, a person who does their own thing and isn’t tied down by material possessions.

Legends
Narrative
Riddle

Vikram And Vetal: The Bride’s Dilemma

Item: 

“Vikram and Vetal stories are popular all over India. Originally, there are only twenty five, but they became so popular that people began to come up with their own. The first story starts off like this – the brave and clever king Vikramaditya, identified later on simply as Vikram, is summoned by a tantrik (sorcerer) in order to bring back a corpse which has been possessed by a vetala (malevolent spirit, sometimes translated as ‘vampire’), in order for the sorcerer to exorcise the spirit and perform the last rites of the corpse. So Vikram, courageous as he is, ventures into the haunted, creepy forest and finally finds the tree from which the animated corpse is hanging. Vetal, as the spirit calls himself, is an incredibly sharp-witted individual, and offers King Vikram a trade – he will tell Vikram a long story and end it with a question. If Vikram answers the question correctly, then Vetal will return to the tree. If he stays silent, his head will explode into a thousand pieces. So, Vetal starts to tell a story – ‘Two young men named Suryamal and Chandrasen travel to a town one day to visit a temple nearby. When they arrive there, Suryamal sees a beautiful young woman praying to the Devi (goddess). He falls in love with her straightaway, predictably. And so, excited by this, he goes to tell his friend Chandrasen. The latter young man advises Suryamal to speak to her parents if he’s serious. So he does, and they say that the only condition of the marriage would be that the young woman has to return to her town every so often to pray to the Devi, of whom she is an ardent devotee. Suryamal agrees readily, and gets married to the young woman. Her parents ask him to stay longer,but he and his friend are required to return to their hometown because of some urgent matter. On their way back through the forest, however, they are attacked by a gang of bandits, who behead them and leave them there. The bride, on her way to perform her prayers to the Devi, stumbles across her dead husband and his friend. Devastated, she prays to the Devi, who answers her prayers and tells her to fix the heads back onto the bodies of the two men and sprinkle some amrita (nectar) over the corpses to reanimate them. She obeys, but in the process accidentally puts the heads on the wrong bodies – Suryamal’s head ends up on Chandrasen’s body and vice versa. Which one should she marry? Remember, if you do not answer my question, your head will burst into a thousand pieces!’ Vikram takes a moment to think about it before speaking but finally responds – ‘Since the brain is the most important organ of the body and makes all the decisions, stores all the memories, then she should marry the man who has Suryamal’s head, of course!’ Vetal is satisfied with this answer, but alas! Vikram spoke, so Vetal flew away.”

Context:

The interviewee explained her memories of these stories – “Every month, we would get a children’s magazine known as Chandamama (Uncle Moon). In these magazines, the most popular read was the Vikram and Vetal story. I used to devour these stories and fight over them with my older sister. This one stuck in my head because it was the first one that I had ever read, and because the problem posed in the riddle was pretty intriguing to me. If I was in the bride’s shoes, I wouldn’t know which one to marry!”

Analysis:

The Vikram and Vetal series of stories is extremely interesting because not only does it contain an embedded narrative, but the inner narrative takes the form of a sort of neck riddle. Now, in the original series, King Vikram has to try twenty five times before Vetal comes up with a complicated enough question to stump him. Upon the king’s confusion, Vetal at last decides to accompany him back to the tantrik. Within these twenty five tries, the story opens in much the same way every time – ‘Once again, the undaunted King Vikram arrived at the tree and carried Vetal away with him, and once again Vetal began a story.’ and also ends the same way every time – ‘Vetal was satisfied with his answer, but alas! Vikram spoke, and so Vetal flew away.’ This almost unchanging structure is demonstrative of the Parry-Lord Oral Formulaic Theory. What is interesting, however, is that much like the format of the many versions of the Arabian Nights, the neck riddle stories embedded in the narrative are not restricted only to the original twenty five. In fact, as with the magazine, youngsters all over India and within the Indian diaspora who are familiar with the stories come with their own neck riddles all the time, creating an infinite wealth of Vikram and Vetal folklore. The riddle in itself takes the form of an anecdote ended with a question, which is never straightforward. This story in particular stresses the importance of the mind over the body, which corresponds with the traditional Hindu view that the body is nothing but a vessel for the soul and the mind. Therefore, as Vikram concludes, the bride would be better served to marry the man with Suryamal’s head/brain rather than the one with his body.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

“Nazrudin and the Duck Soup”

            The informant admitted immediately that he was not precisely sure of when or why his family began telling the stories of Nazrudin; he understood them to be largely grounded in Jewish culture and no one is his family identifies as Jewish. However, the informant then explained that tales of Nazrudin had spread throughout the Persian empire as well as geographically across the Middle East, which could explain how the story filtered through his Indian and Iraqi sides of the family.

            He always thought the tales of Nazrudin to have a highly comedic value, but even at a young age he noticed the twists at the end of each tale, when Nazrudin would exact a unique kind of justice on those who had wronged him or had taken advantage of him. He also stated that all of his Jewish friends from childhood had heard at least a few tales of Nazrudin each, although details within the tales would vary from child to child. He followed up his previous story, “Nazrudin at the Bathhouse,” with “Nazrudin and the Duck Soup,” another tale that ends in a humorous twist.

 

            This time Nazrudin is not in Persia. After hearing this story, I imagined Nazrudin farther north, where there are more forests, and this story evolves from an event when Nazrudin and his friend catch a duck. So him and his friend go in the woods and they go trapping, and they catch a duck. They come back to Nazrudin’s house and they ask themselves, “What can we do with this all meat? What can we make that will make it last a long time?” So they make duck soup. Now, they prepare the meat, they throw in all these different vegetables and herbs, and they make this amazing, delicious duck soup that just melts in your mouth―as much as soup can. They both have a great time and really enjoy the soup. Nazrudin shows his friend to the door when the meal’s all done and says goodbye and the friend leaves. Nazrudin is left with this pot of big soup and, what do you do with leftovers? You just keep on eating them. So, he thought that was the end of it.

            The next day, however, there’s a knock on the door and Nazrudin walks to the door, not expecting anyone, opens it, and there’s a stranger standing there. Nazrudin asks, “Can I help you?” And the stranger says, “I’m a friend of the man who helped you kill the duck. Can I have some soup?” Apparently the soup was so good that Nazrudin’s friend told another friend about it and said Nazrudin would be happy to give him some soup. And, acting as the host that he is, Nazrudin says, “Of course.” He brings the man a bowl of the soup, the man eats and leaves.

            The next day there’s a knock on the door. Nazrudin opens it, there’s another stranger, who says, “I’m a friend of a friend of the man who helped you kill the duck. Can I have some soup?” Nazrudin again says, “Of course.” Nazrudin shows him in, serves him some soup, and the man leaves. This continues for many, many days to the point where Nazrudin hears a knock on the door to another stranger, who says, “I’m a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of the man who helped you kill the duck. Can I have some soup?” Nazrudin takes the man into the kitchen and says, “Wait here.” He takes a bowl into the kitchen and fills it with tepid water. He places the bowl of water in front of the man. He looks at it, he smells it, tastes it, and turns to Nazrudin completely unsatisfied and says, “This is not soup!” And Nazrudin says, “No, no, my friend, this is the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the duck!”

 

            This time, the tale of Nazrudin discourages taking advantage of a friend’s hospitality. Although Nazrudin is thankful for his friend’s help in trapping the duck and thus shares his soup with him, but the continual generosity he is expected to give to those who are distant from his friend is no longer reasonable compared to the aid his friend contributed. The core moral teaching in the legend, then, is that individuals should not expect gifts and generosity by relying on associations with others; only when we directly contribute to an outcome do we deserve a portion of the reward.

            Also notable in the legend is Nazrudin’s patience; he does not boil over in fury or chastise his friend, choosing instead to quietly execute his scheme until a guest finally notices. Again, Nazrudin’s cunning and foresight wins out over his mistreatment by his friend.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

“Nazrudin at the Bathhouse”

            The informant admitted immediately that he was not precisely sure of when or why his family began telling the stories of Nazrudin; he understood them to be largely grounded in Jewish culture and no one is his family identifies as Jewish. However, the informant then explained that tales of Nazrudin had spread throughout the Persian empire as well as geographically across the Middle East, which could explain how the story filtered through his Indian and Iraqi sides of the family.

            He always thought the tales of Nazrudin to have a highly comedic value, but even at a young age he noticed the twists at the end of each tale, when Nazrudin would exact a unique kind of justice on those who had wronged him or had taken advantage of him. He also stated that all of his Jewish friends from childhood had heard at least a few tales of Nazrudin each, although details within the tales would vary from child to child.

 

            The stories that I’m telling revolve around this one character, Nazrudin. A lot of times you’ll hear different stories and the hero is someone who is. . .strong, bold and courageous, and goes out and does heroic things. Nazrudin is a character that comes up in Jewish tales but also has to do with tales in the Middle East; he’s kind of a wide-spread character. But, every single those stories are told he’s described in the same way: a forty-year old, slight, pudgy, balding man. Not someone to be feared or intimidated by―basically not a Hercules. So Nazrudin would go around and his role in a lot of these stories is as a trickster. He goes around and he dispenses wisdom to people who otherwise wouldn’t get it kind of by being almost like that, that thorn in the side, you know?

            One story that highlights this is. . . Nazrudin is in Persia and in Persia he gets really hot, and this is a time when there’s no plumbing, there’s no bathtub in your house.  So he’s in Persia and he’s not someone who would make a lot of money, and so he has a small house with no bathtub and no running water. He visits a bathhouse once every week in order to clean himself off. Those were the customs (laughs), hygiene was not a big thing back in the day.

            Nazrudin takes his towel and walks from his house many, many miles to the bathhouse. By this time, he looks almost like a beggar. He looks dirty, his clothes are covered in dust, he’s covered in dust―and he didn’t have very nice things to begin with. So, he walks up to the attendant at the desk and he says, “I’d like to take a bath.” The attendant, standing at the desk (as I’m sure we’ve all had this experience with customer service representatives) looks down his nose at Nazrudin and says in a very snooty voice, “I think we can find a bath for you.” The attendant takes Nazrudin down the hall to the farthest bath away from the entrance. Nazrudin opens it, and it’s a bathroom that has obviously not been cleaned. It’s dirty, it’s unkempt, there are flies, it smells. When he turns on the water to get in the bath, only cold water comes out. He tries to call for the attendant but the attendant doesn’t come. So Nazrudin takes it for what it is, takes the bath, and leaves.

            On his way out, he takes a gold coin (basically the wealthiest piece of currency that they have) and puts it on the attendant’s desk. The attendant’s like, “What this?” And Nazrudin says, “This is for the bath.” And the attendant, still in shock, sits there staring at the gold coin as Nazrudin walks out.

            The next week, Nazrudin comes in. This time, Nazrudin still not looking very good―he’s gone a week without bathing, remember. This time, though, the attendant is all smiles. He remembers that gold coin and thinks that Nazrudin is someone who’s wealthy and has status. He says, “Please sir, come this way! Can I get you anything?” He’s very accommodating this time. He brings Nazrudin to their best bathhouse and Nazrudin takes a long, hot bath. The attendant is on beck and call for anything he needs; he has extra towels, extra silks, things like that. Nazrudin enjoys himself, and on the way out, the attendant comes out, basically there waiting for his tip. Nazrudin reaches into his purse and pulls out a tiny, tiny copper coin and gives it to the attendant. The attendant looks at it, looks at Nazrudin, looks back at the coin, and says, “What’s this?” Nazrudin says, “This. . .was for last week. That. . .was for this week.”

 

            The description of Nazrudin as a nondescript middle-aged man is significant because the tales of Nazrudin shows that Herculean strength or beauty is not required to triumph over others. Cunning and quick wit are just as valuable, and these characteristics are not evident in appearances. Moreover, the attendant’s snootiness and condescendence toward Nazrudin reinforces the old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover;” the attendant could not reconcile his perception of the beggarly Nazrudin with the large gold coin he deposited at the end of the bath. The legend encourages individuals to look beyond superficial divisions like those of appearance and class and to treat everyone fairly.

           Additionally, the fact that tales of Nazrudin have traveled geographically are likely due to migration as well as imperial influence (especially when considering the breadth of the Persian and Ottoman Empires). It is unsurprising that the informant’s childhood friends had learned variants of the same tale because of the high likelihood that varying ociotypes had surfaced from different regions. Clearly, the tales of Nazrudin had a wide appeal if they were adopted by a broad range of cultures.

Legends
Narrative

The Legend of Momotarou

This folklore was acquired on my friend’s Japanese Cultural day at her Japanese school. The school was filled with many different aspects of Japanese culture, whether it was ancient Japanese culture or modern Japanese culture. It was during the day, and there were many people who had heard the tale and would interject quotes, filling in the story. With so many people, the meaning this story had grew exponentially as the emotionally charged atmosphere gave the story strength. This in particular was one of the older stories that were told from generation to generation. She had learned this story from her parents, but had constantly heard it in Japanese school as one of the traditional stories that would never be forgotten as an integral part of Japanese culture. It reflected the nature of the people, according to her, in being brave when necessary, filial, pious, and ultimately harmonious. All of these attributes were part of the culture of the Japanese, and this was definitive proof of this.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there lived an old man and an old woman; they were peasants, and worked really hard to earn their daily rice. The old man used to cut grass for the farmers around, and while he went and did that the old woman, his wife, did the household chores and managed to take care of their own little rice field. One day the old man went as usual to cut grass and the old woman took some clothes to the river to wash. It was almost summertime so the country was very beautiful as the two went on their way. The grass on the riverbanks looked like dark green fields, and the trees that lived on the edge of the water were shaking out their branches rather lightly. The breezes blew and moved the edges of the water into wavelets, and caressed the cheeks of the old couple who, strangely, felt very happy that morning. The old woman found a nice spot by the river bank and put her basket down and started to wash the clothes; she took them one by one out of the basket and washed them in the river by rubbing them on the stones. The water was as clear as crystal, and she could see the tiny fish swimming to and fro and the muddy river bottom.

As she was washing her clothes, a large peach drifted down the stream. The old woman looked up from her work and saw it. She was sixty years of age, but she had never seen a peach like that before.

“How delicious that peach looks!” she said to herself. “I must get it and take it home.”

She stretched out her arm to try and get it, but it was too far out. She looked for a stick, but there was no stick in sight, and if she went to look for one she would lose the peach.

Immediately, the answer came to her because she remembered an old spell for similar situations. Now she began to clap her hands to keep time to the rolling of the peach downstream, and while she clapped she sang this song, “Distant water is bitter, the near water is sweet so pass by the distant water and come into the sweet.”
As soon as she said her charm, the peach began to come nearer and nearer the bank where the old woman was standing, till at last it stopped just in front of her so that she could pick it up in her hands. The old woman was delighted. She could not go on with her work because she was so happy and excited that she put all the clothes back in her bamboo basket, and with the basket on her back and the peach in her hand she hurried back home.

She had to wait a very, very, long time for her husband to return home from working. The old man at last came back as the sun was setting, with a mound of grass on his back so big that he was almost hidden and she could barely spot him. He seemed very tired and used the scythe for a walking stick, leaning on it as he walked along.

As soon as the old woman saw him she excitedly called out to him, “Husband! I have been waiting for you to come home all day!”

“What is the matter? Why are you so impatient?” asked the old man, wondering at her unusual eagerness. “Has anything happened while I have been away?”

“No,” she said, “nothing much happened except… I have found a nice present for you!”

“That is good,” said the old man. He then washed his feet in water and stepped up to the veranda.

The old woman now ran and brought out from the cupboard the big peach. It felt even heavier than before. She held it up to him, exclaiming, “Just look at this! Did you ever see such a large peach in all your life?”

When the old man looked at the peach he was greatly astonished. He readily agreed and asked where she had bought it.

“I did not buy it,” answered the old woman. “I found it in the river where I was washing.” She told him the whole story, explaining all the details regarding the peach.

“I am very glad that you have found it. Let us eat it now, for I am hungry,” said the old man.

He brought out the kitchen knife, and, placing the peach on a board, was about to cut it when, the peach suddenly split in two and a voice called, “Wait a bit, old man!” and out stepped a beautiful little child.

The old man and his wife were both scared out of their minds, but the child spoke again:

“Don’t be afraid. I am not a harmful spirit. Actually, Heaven is blessing you because you cried every day and every night that you had no children to care for you in your old age. Your cry has been heard and I am sent to be the son of your old age!”

On hearing this, the old man and his wife were very happy. They had cried unendingly out of sorrow that they had no child to help them in their lonely old age, and now that their prayer was answered they were so lost with joy that they did not know what to do. First the old man took the child up in his arms, and then the old woman did the same; and they named him Momotarou, or “Son of a Peach,” because he had come out of a peach.

The years passed quickly by and the child became fifteen years old. He was taller and far stronger than any other boy, he had a handsome face and a heart full of courage, and he was very wise. The old couple was exceedingly happy when they looked at him, for he was just what they thought a hero ought to be like.

One day Momotarou came to his foster-father and said:

“Father, by a strange chance we have become father and son. Your goodness to me has been higher than the mountain grasses which you cut, and deeper than the river where my mother washes the clothes. I do not know how to thank you enough.”

“Why,” he replied, “it is only natural that a father should take care of his son. When you are older it will be your turn to take care of us, so after all there will be no profit or loss between us… All will be equal. Indeed, I am rather surprised that you should thank me in this way!” and the old man looked bothered.

“I hope you will be patient with me,” said Momotarou; “but before I pay back your goodness to me I have a request to make which I hope you will grant.”

“I will let you do whatever you want, for you’re so different from all the rest of the boys!”

“Then let me go away at once!”

“What do you say? Do you wish to leave your old father and mother and go away from your old home?”

“I will surely come back again, if you let me go now!”

“Where are you going?”

“It is strange that I want to go away,” said Momotaro, “because I have not told you my reason.”

Explaining carefully, Momotarou recounted the rumors that far away to the northeast of Japan there was an island in the sea. This island was known as the stronghold of a band of devils. Having heard many stories of how they invade this land, kill and rob the people, and carry off all they can find, he had concluded that they were terribly wicked and utterly disloyal to our Emperor in disobeying his laws. In addition, he explained that they were also cannibals because they kill and eat some of the poor people who are captured. In hearing this, Momotarou told his father that he had to go in order to defeat them and restore the land where they lived to its former and proper status, safe from the invasions and other harmful things that might threaten it and its inhabitants.

The old man was much surprised to hear all this from a mere boy of fifteen. He decided to let the boy go because Momotarou was strong and fearless. Besides, the old man knew he was no common child, for he had been sent to them as a gift from Heaven, and he felt quite sure that the devils would be powerless to harm him.

The father agreed to let Momotarou go, telling him to go as soon as he could and become a hero by defeating the demons and bringing peace to Japan.

“Thank you for all your kindness,” said Momotarou, who began to pack for his journey. He was full of courage and did not know what fear was.

The old man and woman decided to pound rice in the kitchen mortar to make cakes for Momotarou to take with him on his journey.

At last the cakes were done and Momotarou was ready to start on his long journey.

Parting is always sad, and the eyes of the two old people were filled with tears and their voices trembled as they wished him will, saying, “Go well. We expect you back victorious!”

Momotarou was very sorry to leave his old parents even though he thought that he would be back immediately after accomplishing his task, for he thought of how lonely they would be while he was away. But he said “Goodbye!” quite bravely.

“I am going, so take good care of yourselves while I am away. Goodbye!” And he stepped quickly out of the house.

Momotarou now hurried on his way till it was midday. He was feeling slightly hungry, so he opened his bag and took out one of the rice cakes and sat beside a tree in the shade along the side of the road to eat. While he was happily consuming his meal, a dog as large as a colt came running out from the high grass. He ran directly at Momotarou, and while baring all of his sharp teeth, fiercely told Momotarou, “You are a rude man to pass my field without asking permission first. If you leave me all the cakes you have in your bag you may go; otherwise I will bite you to death!”

Momotarou only laughed scornfully:

“What is that you are saying? Do you know who I am? I am Momotarou, and I am on my way to subdue the devils in their island stronghold in the northeast of Japan. If you try to stop me on my way there I will cut you in half!”

The dog’s manner immediately changed. His tail dropped between his legs, and coming near he bowed so low that his forehead touched the ground, the utter picture of reverence and obeisance.

“Do you speak the truth? You bear the name of Momotarou? Are you indeed Momotarou? I have often heard of you in many, many, places. Not knowing who you were, I have behaved in a very stupid way. Have mercy on me, and please forgive my extreme rudeness! You said you were on your way to the Island of Devils did you not? If you will take such a rude fellow with you as one of your followers, I shall be very grateful to you.”

Momotarou agreed to take him along, if the dog wanted to follow.

The dog expressed his thanks but asked for food, as he was exceedingly hungry having been unable to fill his belly with much food.

“This is the best kind of cake there is in Japan,” said Momotarou. “I cannot spare you a whole one; I will give you half of one.”

The dog thankfully ate the half, taking the piece thrown to him.

Then Momotarou got up and the dog followed. For a long time they walked over the hills and through the valleys. As they were going along an animal came down from a tree a little ahead of them. The creature soon came up to Momotarou and chattered, “Good morning, Momotarou! You are welcome in this part of the country. Will you allow me to go with you?”

The dog felt a spark of jealousy at this and snapped back, “Momotarou already has a dog to accompany him. Of what use is a monkey like you in battle? We are on our way to fight the devils! Get away!”

The dog and the monkey began to fight between themselves, for these two animals always hate each other.

Momotarou forced his way in between the two and forced them apart, talking to them the whole while.

“It is not at all dignified for you to have such a creature as that following you!” said the dog.

“What do you know about it?” asked Momotarou; and pushing aside the dog, he spoke to the monkey:

“Who are you?”

“I am a monkey living in these hills,” replied the monkey. “I heard of your expedition to the Island of Devils, and I have come to go with you. Nothing will please me more than to follow you!”

“Do you really wish to go to the Island of Devils and fight with me?”

The monkey replied in the affirmative.

“I admire your courage,” said Momotarou. “Here is a piece of one of my fine rice-cakes. Come along!”

So the monkey joined Momotarou. The dog and the monkey did not get on well together. They were always snapping at each other as they went along, and always wanting to have a fight. This made Momotarou very cross, and at last he sent the dog on ahead with a flag and put the monkey behind with a sword, and he placed himself between them with a war-fan made of iron.

As they were walking on their way, a bird flew down and just in front of the little party. It was the most beautiful bird Momotarou had ever seen because on its body were five different robes of feathers and its head was covered with a scarlet cap.

The dog at once ran at the bird and tried to seize and kill it. But the bird struck out its spurs and flew at the dog’s tail, and the fight went hard with both.

Momotarou, as he looked on, could not help admiring the bird; it showed so much spirit in the fight. It would certainly make a good fighter.

Momotarou went up to the two combatants, and holding the dog back, yelled, “You rascal! You are hindering my journey. Surrender and I will take you with me or I will set this dog to bite your head off!”

Then the bird surrendered at once, and begged to be taken into Momotarou’s company.

“Please forgive me, because I only saw your servant and decided to fight with him, but even more forgive me because I did not see you. I am a miserable bird called a pheasant. It is very generous of you to pardon my rudeness and to take me with you. Please allow me to follow you behind the dog and the monkey!”

“That is the correct choice,” said Momotarou, smiling. “Come and join us in our raid on the devils.”

“Are you going to take this bird with you also?” asked the dog, interrupting.

“Why do you ask such an unnecessary question? Didn’t you hear what I said? I take the bird with me because I wish to!”

“Humph!” said the dog.

Then Momotarou stood and scolded all of his companions, “Now all of you must listen to me. The first thing necessary in an army is harmony. A wise saying says that ‘Advantage on earth is better than advantage in Heaven!’ Union is better than any earthly gain. When we are not at peace amongst ourselves it is no easy thing to subdue an enemy. From now, you three, the dog, the monkey and the pheasant, must be friends with one mind. The one who first begins a quarrel will be discharged on the spot!”

All the three promised not to quarrel. The pheasant was now made a member of Momotarou’s team, and received half a cake. Because Momotarou’s influence was so great, his three companions became very good friends, and hurried onwards with him as their leader. After hurrying on day after day they at last came out upon the shore of the North-Eastern Sea. Unfortunately, they could not see anything that remotely resembled an island; all they could see was the never ending sea. Now, the dog and the monkey and the pheasant had come bravely all the way through the long valleys and over the hills, but they had never seen the sea before, and were exceedingly scared. They wanted to ask Momotarou how were they to cross the water and get to the Island of Devils?

Momotarou soon saw that they were daunted by the sight of the sea, and to try them he spoke loudly and cajoled them with, “Why do you hesitate? Could it be that all of you are afraid of the sea? Oh! How cowardly! It is impossible to take such weak creatures as you with me to fight the demons. It will be far better for me to go alone. I discharge you all at once!”

The three animals were taken aback at this sharp reproof, and clung to Momotarou’s sleeve, begging him not to send them away.

All three animals disputed this accusation that they were afraid, and each of them individually told Momotarou that they were not afraid at all; it was only his misperception that resulted in them thinking that they were afraid.

Having gained courage, facing the prospect of being left behind, they had now become much less fearful of the ocean, so Momotarou agreed to take them with him.

Momotarou somehow acquired a small boat, and they all got on board. The wind and weather were wonderful, and the ship went swiftly over the sea. It was the first time they had ever been on the water, and so at first the dog, the monkey and the pheasant were frightened at the waves, but by and by they grew accustomed to the water and they quickly became quite happy again. Every day they paced the deck of their little ship, eagerly looking out for the demons’ island.

When they grew tired of this, they told each other stories of all their accomplishments of which they were proud, and then played games together; and Momotarou found much to amuse him in listening to the three animals and watching their antics, because this way he forgot that the length of the journey and that he was so tired of being on a voyage doing nothing. He longed to be at work killing the monsters that had done so much harm in his country.

As the wind continually blew in their favor and did not send any storms in their way, one day when the sun was shining brightly, land was visible to the four watchers at the bow.

Momotarou knew at once that what they saw was the devils’ stronghold. On the top was a large castle. Now that he was so close, he was deep in thought wondering how he should begin the attack. His three followers watched him, waiting for orders. At last he called to the pheasant and told it to taunt the demons so that they would come out and be enraged. Essentially, he wanted to have them engage in combat.

The pheasant at once obeyed. He flew off from the ship beating the air. The bird soon reached the island and took up his position on the roof in the middle of the castle, and proclaimed loudly, “All you devils listen! The great Japanese general Momotarou has come to fight and defeat all of you. If you wish to remain alive, surrender at once, and break off the horns that grow on your forehead. If you do not surrender at once, make up your mind to fight, we, the pheasant, the dog and the monkey, will kill you all by biting and tearing you to death!”

The horned demons looking up and only seeing a pheasant, laughed amongst themselves saying, “A wild pheasant? It is ridiculous to hear such words from you. Just wait until you receive a blow from one of our iron bars!”

Thanks to the pheasant’s words, the devils soon became very angry. They shook their horns and their wild manes of blood red hair fiercely, and ran to their wardrobes so that they could put on tiger skin trousers to make themselves look more terrible. They then brought out great iron bars and ran to where the pheasant perched and tried to knock him down. The pheasant flew to one side to escape the blow, and then attacked the head of first one and then another demon. He flew round and round them, beating the air with his wings so strongly, that the devils began to wonder whether they had to fight one or many more birds.

In the meantime, Momotarou had brought his ship to land. As they had approached, he saw that the large castle was surrounded by high walls and large iron gates and was strongly fortified meaning that he would have a very difficult time reaching it.

Momotarou landed, and with the hope of finding some way of entrance, walked up the path towards the top, followed by the monkey and the dog. They soon came upon two beautiful damsels washing clothes in a stream. Momotarou saw that the clothes were blood-stained, and that as the two maidens washed, the tears were falling fast down their cheeks. He stopped and spoke to them asking them who they were, and why they were crying so much.

They explained that they were captives of the Demon King who were carried away from their homes in the dead of night to this island. Apparently, they were the daughters of Daimyous, and were obliged to be his servants until one day when they will die and be eaten, which was indicated by the blood stained clothes they were washing. They screamed out, asking who would save them from their misery, and their tears burst out afresh at this horrible thought.

Momotarou bravely exclaimed that he would rescue them from their misery, and that as long as they showed him a way into the castle, he would be sure to set them free. Then the two ladies led the way and showed Momotarou a little back door in the lowest part of the castle wall that was very small, but just big enough for Momotarou to fit in. The pheasant saw Momotarou and his little band rush in at the back.

Momotarou’s slaughtered the devils with the three companions that had followed him. At first their foe had been a single bird, the pheasant, but Momotarou and the dog and the monkey had joined the fray. The devils were extremely scared and confused for the four enemies fought like a hundred. Some of the devils were cast out of the castle and fell to their deaths by being dashed to pieces on the rocks beneath; others fell into the sea and were drowned; many were beaten to death by the three animals.

The chief of the devils at last was the only one left. He made up his mind to surrender, for he knew that his enemy was stronger than mortal man.

He came up humbly to Momotarou and threw down his iron bar, and knelt in front of Momotarou. He broke off the horns on his head in token of submission, for they were the sign of his strength and power and asked Momotarou to spare his life because he did not want to die.

Momotarou laughed.

“How unusual it is for a devil to ask that I spare his life! I cannot spare your life, because you have killed and tortured many people and robbed our country for many years.”

Then Momotarou tied the devil chief up and gave him to the monkey. Having done this, he set the prisoners free and gathered together all the treasure he found. The dog and the pheasant carried home the plunder, and Momotarou returned triumphantly to his home, taking with him the devil chief as a captive. The two poor damsels, daughters of Daimyous, and others whom were kidnapped as slaves, were taken safely to their own homes and delivered to their parents. The whole country made a hero of Momotarou on his triumphant return, and rejoiced that the country was now freed from the devils that had been a terror of the land for a long time. The old couple’s joy was greater than ever, and the treasure Momotarou had brought home with him enabled them to live in peace and plenty to the end of their days.

As the collector, the story was very intriguing. Surrounded by so many people believing the same story, it gave it a much greater weight that made it so much more meaningful. It was a reminder of how much people are bound together by their ethnicity and race, regardless of where they are in their walks of life. This story also connects to other folklore that is prominent in Japanese culture—where peach trees are sacred, and the wood of a peach tree will ward away evil demons as a powerful holy symbol. This story seems to express the pride and fierce believe in morality and honor that the people are expected to express. It has the people’s fierceness, and it is in no way lacking as a representation of the Japanese people.

Legends
Narrative

The Naming of Cú Chulainn

Informant: “I heard an Irish legend, it was the story of a guy named Cú Chulainn. He wasn’t originally called Cú Chulainn because Cú means dog. But, he was the most fearsome warrior in all the land. But I am getting ahead of myself; sorry I am a horrible story teller. Ok so, he grew up as a farm boy and there was an elite group of warriors and he ran all the way across Ireland to try out for them and he blew everybody out of the water and he was this super feared warrior and whatnot and people would just surrender if they knew he was coming. But he was invited to a party for one of the lords and his military general or whatever was there and asked him to grab somebody so he left on a quest, and when he came back the lord had the most feared dogs in the land and the dogs attacked him and he killed the dogs, but they were these prized dogs. So, in order to make amends for him killing his hosts dogs, he told him I’ll be your dog, and so he was the lords dog in the sense that he would stand out and guard the place and that’s how he became called Cú Chulainn.”

The informant comes from a very small town in California. The informant states that “there is nothing to do there, it is just a small town and the biggest thing we have is a Walmart.” The informant first heard this tale when she went to Ireland on a school trip last spring break and it was told to her by one of the people she met in her group. This other member told the informant many different stories, but she remembers this one “because I had the song on my Ipod and they were telling the story of it” and she was very excited that she had heard a reference to the tale before.

The song “Blood of Cú Chulainn” was used as the theme of a movie known as “The Boondock Saints” (1999) by Troy Duffy. A picture of the movie is attached. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1IVZpk_rVo is a link to the song.

 

After looking up Cú Chulainn, I found that his name was originally Sentanta, and there are many stories and legends associated with this epic Irish hero that extend far beyond how he received his name. Cú Chulainn is part of a series of legends and stories that span his life, somewhat similar to Greek heroes like Achilles. He noted in Irish mythical sagas for his superhuman strength and amazing deeds on the battlefield. From what I could find, his story was originally passed down by word of mouth, until it was written down more than 800 years ago in the Táin Bó Cúailnge.

In fact, the story is so popular that it was drafted into a five, short animated, bilingual series on BBC (and thus a folk-loreisthmus): http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/schools/4_11/cuchulainn/.  This series follows the hero and tells the tales of some of his deeds as he grows up. Apparently, this tale is used in Irish schools to teach language and literacy.

This BBC series tells a variant of the naming of Cú Chulainn which states:

“Setanta is invited with his friends to a great feast but he starts to daydream and is left behind. By the time he arrives the feast has begun, the gates are locked and worse, the guard dog attacks him. Setanta kills the dog by driving a hurley ball (sliotar) down its throat. The host, Culann, the blacksmith is furious at the loss of the fiercest dog in Ireland. Setanta offers his services as replacement and is duly renamed, Cú Chulainn, Culann’s Hound.”

 

Another longer variant of this story states that:

“While at home with his parents at Murtheimne Plain, the five-year-old Setanta heard exciting rumours about a school in Armagh called the Macra. It was run by the King Conchobhar of Armagh to train the best young boys of the day to be great warriors for Ulster, called the Red Branch Knights. Setanta made a big impression at the Macra. One day in particular, he was down at the playing field, playing a game called Shoot-the-Goal against 150 of his classmates. All 150 of them together couldn’t stop any of his shots into the goal with his sliotar, nor could they score a goal against him.

The king was going to a special feast that night, organised for only the most important warriors in Ulster by the blacksmith Culann. On his way, he passed the field and watched the boys playing. He was so impressed with Setanta’s domination of the other boys that he decided to invite him to the feast too. But Setanta was completely caught up in the game and replied, ‘I haven’t had my fill of play yet, friend Conchobhar. I’ll follow you on.’ The king agreed and went on his way. When the king arrived at the feast, the host welcomed him and asked whether there was anyone to come after him. King Conchobhar forgot that he had invited Setanta and replied that there was no one else. So Culann released his savage hound to guard the premises from attackers while the guests feasted. This was no ordinary dog. Three chains were needed to hold it, with three men on each chain.

Soon Setanta arrived, playing with his hurley and sliotar as he travelled. On seeing him, the hound ran out with his ferocious teeth shining in the dark. At this stage, the men feasting could hear what was happening, but they could only watch from the door because the dog was too fast to stop. They were sure this was the end for Setanta. However, in a flash, Setanta raised his hurley and thwacked his sliotar with great force at the dog. His aim was perfect, as the ball ripped into its mouth and through its body, killing it instantly. Culann was relieved that Setanta had survived the encounter, but sad to have lost such a great guard dog. To make up for killing him, young Setanta promised to guard Culann’s land until a new puppy had been reared. Impressed with this promise, those at the feast agreed that Setanta should be given a new name. They called him Cúchulainn, which means ‘the Hound of Culan’. Still only a young boy, Setanta was known by this name from then onwards. Cúchulainn had numerous adventures after that. He became the best Red Branch Knight and did King Conchobhar proud.”

( For more information visit this website: http://www.askaboutireland.ie/learning-zone/primary-students/looking-at-places/louth/cuchulainn/setanta/)

Although the informant says that she is not experienced story teller and thus would be considered a passive folklore bearer. It is interesting to see what parts of the tale she remembers and why she remembers it, especially the version that she gives in relation to the versions that can be found online because this tale is widely drafted and has many different variations. This story and the one that the informant told share many similarities; although, the informant’s story is not set when Cú Chulainn is a young man, but after he has already received much recognition and no mention is made regarding the duration Cú Chulainn is to serve the lord. In addition, the informant includes more than one dog, although the other versions have only one.

Picture of a young Cu Chulainn

"The Boondock Saints" Movie Cover

 The Boondock Saints. Dir. Troy Duffy. Perf. Willem Dafoe, Sean Patrick Flanery, and Norman Reedus. Franchise Pictures, Brood Syndicate, Fried Films, 1999. Film.

Image of the website containng the BBC TV series

Cú Chulainn. BBC. November 2012. Television.

Folk speech
Foodways
Legends
Proverbs

From the Last Bite, Heroes Are Made.

Proverb: От последната харка, юнаци стават

Transliteration: Ot poclednata hapka, yunaci ctavat.

Translation: From the last bite, heroes are made.

Meaning: You have to finish all the food on your plate, especially the last bite, if you want to be strong.

Analysis:

I have heard this expression used multiple times throughout my childhood at nearly every meal. Whenever I had felt full and did not wish to finish everything on my plate, my grandparents and parents would insist I ate the last few bites, because otherwise I would not be strong as a hero or heroine. I had not heard the expression in a while, as it is reserved for children, but during spring break when I was home with my family, I heard it again when my younger brother, who is twelve, did not want to eat the remainder of his dinner. My mother prodded him to finish off his plate, reminding him that unless he ate everything, (in this case he was lagging on eating his salad), he would become a hero.

The motive behind the phrase is clear: caretakers want the children to eat all healthy components of their meals and be strong, and they encourage them to do so by comparing the kids to heroes. The word for hero, as it’s used inBulgaria, typically refers to the legendary Krali Marko, who was incredibly strong and brave, sort of like a Slavic Superman. Every youngster would hear tales about him and naturally wish to emulate such an incredible man. My grandparents would continue the expression by adding that even the strongest man was once a child, though he was a dutiful one who ate everything on his plate, and thus he became a great hero. It would be very difficult for any young person to refuse this offer, and my brother and I grudgingly ate the remainder of our meals each time we were reprimanded.

I should also note that although the term for hero is masculine in the expression, it would be used universally for both boys and girls. Female children such as myself were encouraged and urged to eat our dinners in their entirety as much as male children.

Legends
Narrative

Cuchulain

Form of Folklore: Folk Narrative (Legend)

Informant Bio: The informant was born and raised primarily in Glendale, California; he only left the United States for a two year period (from age fourteen to fifteen) to live in London, England. Most of his knowledge of folklore is from his mother (of Irish decent), his father (of Persian-Armenian decent), and media such as the internet and television. Context: The interview was conducted in the living room of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item: Well um… this is one of the Irish legends my mom used to tell me about. About a young warrior named Setanta, who’s kind of an Irish hero. And he was raised by his father to be the greatest hunter, the greatest fisher, that there ever was, you he was kinda one with the wilderness… great in all these areas. And he had this ambition of joining the Red Branch Knights… a kind of mythical Irish heroes, that weren’t kinda named individuals, just like an order of great knights of the land heroes. And when he becomes old enough, his father gives him… um… I think a sling and a magic ball that he’s got to go into the wilderness and kind of prove himself before he becomes a member of the Red Branch Knights. And while he’s going, he happens across a dog. And the dog is really aggressive and territorial and he fights the dog and kills it with the sling and the ball. And it turns out that this is a famous dog, this famous guard dog of the area of Cullan, this is the official… the hound of Cullan. He’s just killed this famous dog in combat. And the owner of the dog, the lord of the castle, comes out, he’s like “what’s going on, you just killed my dog”. And because he’s such an honorable soldier, been trained so well by his father, he offers to take the guard dogs place. Setanta, he assumes the name of Cuchulain, he becomes the hound of Cullan, guarding the place. And this kinda cements his legend and lets him join the Red Branch Knights later on. It’s a nice Irish hero story.

Informant Comments: The informant’s mother told him about this legend. He believes that there is some partial truth to the tale. Most likely, he thinks, the Red Branch Knights probably existed but were glorified in the legend out of proportion; their doings and achievements seeming more than in reality. He believes it is possible for Setanta to have existed and to have become the hound of Cullan, but does not have any reason to say that his legend is completely true or completely untrue.

Analysis: This legend is famously told in Ireland and amongst Irish communities. Honor, respect, and strength are key elements in the legend of Cuchulain. According to the legend Setanta was raised to be strong and to become a member of the Red Branch Knights (an honorable position). This is physical strength, which is also apparent when he is able to kill the large hound. Beyond physical strength, inner strength, respect and honor are demonstrated by Setanta when he offers to take the hound’s place. Whether the legend of Cuchulain is true or not, it is clear that the legend is intended to uphold virtues of having inner and physical strength, honor, and respect.

Annotation:  The legends of Cuchulain can be found in “Mythastrology:  Exploring Planets and Pantheons” by Raven Kaldera (page 203).

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