USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘moral story’
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

High Achiever’s Story

The 54-year-old informant is a elementary school Chinese teacher and is originally from Taiyuan, China. She’s been hearing and telling Chinese folklore her entire life, and often shares it with her students. Her stories represent Chinese culture and the qualities that Chinese people value.

“Once upon a time, there was a young man who… uhm, passed a national test, and.. and his future will be very, very bright. So, suddenly, one lady knocked the door, and he opened the door, and that lady asked him, “Say, do you remember me?”

And uh, this young man said, “Oh yes! I remember you! And I remembered you rescued me and cured my illness.”

And the lady said, “Yes, that was me.”

She said, “Did you remember when you passed by our hometown on the way to the capital city that held the test, you were very, very sick. And one of the herb medical doctors said ‘We need one very special prescription that is probably somewhere, so then your illness can be cured.”

At this time, a lady– a young lady who’s sitting nearby and heard about it said ‘Wow it happens to be my family has one secret prescription. It might be cure your illness.’

So she found their family secret prescription and went to mountaintop and found every element on that prescription, and eventually, this young man was cured. After he was cured, he found he doesn’t want to go to capital city to take the test. He thought he recovered and stay here very comfortably. However, this young lady encouraged him and said, ‘Your future is set on the test. If you pass it, your future will be very, very bright. Why did you give up? You don’t need to give up.’

That man said, ‘Oh yes, probably you’re right.’ So he went to the test and he passed it. And I think he got the number one score. So that’s why he said to the young lady, ‘Thank you very much for rescuing me and curing my illness.’

However, on second thought, he looked at the young lady twice and thought, Wow this lady has very ordinary clothes–nothing special. I would find better girls with finer clothes to be my future wife instead of this lady.

So that’s why he turned around and said ‘Well, I don’t think you fit with my future lifestyle, so I would rather stop this kind of relationship.’

Then the girl was very sad and she left.

It was not long that this young man became ill. Same kind of illness caused by the same type of disease. He asked someone to look for this girl, but this girl was never found. So the man was not cured.

From this story, you can tell that anytime people help you– you should be thankful and not turn around and not recognize their kindness. There are a lot, a lot of similar stories like this in China, just to warn people to be thankful to people who provide convenience or help you. You should remember them and be thankful.”

 

This story has strong Chinese themes including, gratefulness and humbleness. These ideas are extremely important to Chinese culture and growing up, I was definitely taught the importance of these concepts.

general
Proverbs

The Old Man Who Lost His Horse

The 54-year-old informant is a elementary school Chinese teacher and is originally from Taiyuan, China. She’s been hearing and telling Chinese folklore her entire life, and often shares it with her students. Her stories represent Chinese culture and the qualities that Chinese people value.

“Once there was an old man that lived on the border of China and Mongolia. He had one horse that was very, very handsome in terms of height, strong-ness, and had a luscious mane. Very handsome. One day, the horse ran away. The man wanted to have a horse so he could breed and raise more similar horses, but it ran away! So he was very, very sad. He complained a lot.

But his neighbor said, ‘Well you lost your horse, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing! It may be a good thing.’ But the man was still sad about his horse because it was a good horse and he shouldn’t have lost it because it was so good, so strong. Also, a lot of people admired him because of that horse.

And after a couple of weeks, the horse came back! And it brought a group of horses back to his home. The man was very, very happy. The neighbor said, ‘See? You lost your horse–it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Right now you got more horses, right?’ So the man was very happy. And his son was very snobby, saying, ‘See? My dad is doing very well. We have so many great-looking horses!’

One day, his song was riding the horses because those horses run fast, but guess what? Unfortunately, his son fell from the horse’s back and broke his legs. The father said, ‘So bad! We have a good, but it’s bad that you broke your legs.’ So the neighbor told him again, ‘It doesn’t mean that this is a bad thing.’

So around the border, you know, China and other countries often go to war. They fight each other, right? Since crippled people can’t be drafted in the army, the son was not drafted. In the whole village, he was the only man of his age to not be drafted. He married and also had grandsons for the old man. The neighbor said, ‘See? That’s not a bad thing. Everyone went off to war, and they might not come back.’ So, at least his son stayed with him, so this is not a bad thing.

The moral of this story is, when something appears to be a bad situation–it’s not necessarily a bad situation. It might be good! Bad situations change to good situations, good situations change to bad situations.”

This story emphasizes the idea of things that are “blessings in disguise.” This story describes positive, concrete events that come out of bad situations, but we as an audience can glean that we can always find the good in bad or undesirable situations, or the “silver lining,” if you will. And this goes for almost any situation.

general

The Magic Gourd

The 24-year-old informant is originally from Rhode Island, but currently resides in New York, NY. Her parents are both from China, making her a first-generation American Born Chinese. This story was one that she heard as a child and has been engrained in her mind ever since.

“A long, long time ago, there was a boy who was fishing at the lake, and um, his classmates walk by and laughing at his fishing poles like, ‘Oh, so ugly, and so cheap!’

And they showed him, like ‘See, look at our fishing pole. We can fish biiiig fish! And so big and strong enough to pull them up.’

And on the other hand, his poor, very weak fish pole–even one fish can broken his pole. So, after the left and he was quietly sitting there, still fishing, fishing, fishing—and suddenly, he fished not a fish—it’s a gourd! He was very, very angry like, ‘I don’t want a gourd—I want a fish!’

However, the gourd, because it’s magic gourd, and talk about, ‘Please, ok save me! You can do whatever you want and I can satisfy you.’
And the boy’s not really wanting to bring the gourd back home, but he’s casually put him into the school bag. After he came back home, and he said, ‘Oh gosh, I have a lot of homework to do.’

The gourd, of course, tried to please him because, after all, he brought him back, and said ‘I can do whatever you want! I can satisfy you!’

The boy said, ‘Ok I have a lot of homework. Please do it for me.’

And pretty soon, ‘His homework was done in front of him.’

And also, he said ‘Oh I want to read certain books from our library but I forgot to bring them back home,’ and wow, suddenly, many, many books were full on his desk and another thing he said was, ‘Tomorrow, I want to eat a lot of good stuff like chicken, duck, and other things.’

Wow, a huge pile of money appeared on his desk. He was so satisfied he went out and bought all the food he wanted.

He went to school the next day and suddenly, there was a math test that he wasn’t prepared for. The gourd sensed that the boy needed help and helped him by copying a classmate’s test—but the test ended up having the classmate’s name on it too—and the girl’s test became blank. Of course, the boy was embarrassed and the teacher was not happy. So, the boy learned his lesson and did everything by himself from that point on to avoid embarrassment, and he learned humility and accountability.”

This story about a magic gourd is a very old story with Chinese origins, according to the informant. It represents Asian values of humility, honesty, and accountability– which Chinese people, especially, hold very highly.

general
Magic
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Water of Kindness

The 24-year-old informant is originally from Rhode Island, but currently resides in New York, NY. Her parents are both from China, making her a first-generation American Born Chinese. This story was one that she heard as a child and has been engrained in her mind ever since.

“This beggar woman is going around town and she’s knocking on peoples’ doors. And this first woman answers the door and is really mean to her and is like, ‘Go away!’ So the beggar woman goes to the next house and they’re like sure, ‘We’ll take you in.’ Oh, and what she asks, like, what the beggar woman asks is for a bowl of water to soak her feet in, to clean her feet. So the first person says no, and the second person’s like, ‘Sure, I’ll do that.’ So she washes her feet and covers the dirty bowl water with like, a cloth, and she tells the lady who gave her it–she says, ‘Keep this over night and then dump it in the morning.’ So the lady’s like, ‘Ok that’s weird,’ but she does it. So the next morning she takes the bucket and goes outside to use the dirty water to water her plants and she realizes it’s really heavy, and she spills it open and it’s all gold. Uhm, so people like, hear about it and come and see, and then that first lady that got asked by that beggar woman was like, ‘What did you do?’ and she told her what happened, and the first lady’s like, ‘Ok, I will do this too.’ So the next time, the beggar woman comes back and knocks on the first lady’s door, and the lady’s like ‘Oh yeah, come in, like totally’ and gets her this like, giant-ass bucket of water. And the beggar woman’s like, ‘Oh yeah, thank you, you’re so nice.’ and the lady’s like, ‘Yeah of course, I don’t know why I didn’t take you in the first time.’ and the beggar woman’s like, ‘Yeah it’s messed up but it’s whatever, it’s cool.’ So she’s like, ‘Ok cover this with cloth and don’t dump it until tomorrow morning’ and the lady’s like ‘Ok cool.’ So the beggar woman leaves and the lady–in the morning takes the bucket and rips open the cloth and it’s all these bugs and mud flying at her. So the moral of the story is, don’t be an asshole.”

 

To me, the moral of this story is not only to not be mean to others, but also to not be greedy. The first woman in the story was generous and kind, and only good things came to her. The second woman was not only unwelcoming the first time a beggar woman came, but she was also greedy for gold the second time, and she got nothing but sludge and dirt, which is a testament to “you get what you deserve.”

Childhood
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Boy that Cried Wolf

Informant: “When [my children] were growing up, sometimes they would be upstairs, and I would be in the living room minding my own business, and suddenly there would be this frantic screaming from upstairs. And I would run up the stairs and I would go ‘what’s wrong?! is everything ok?! are you hurt?!’ and it would turn out that they just wanted to ask me a question or some little thing like that. And I would of course get mad at them because they just scared the crap our of me. And I would tell them this story about the boy that cried wolf and how they shouldn’t be yelling their heads off like there’s some emergency if there’s nothing wrong.”

Collector: And how does the story go?

Informant: “Well, the way I would tell the story is that there was this shepherd boy in this village somewhere, and he was in charge of watching the sheep. So he takes the sheep to the pasture and watches them, but he found it super boring though. So he says to himself, ‘I know, I’ll go run into town and yell “Wolf! Wolf!”‘, and so he runs into town and yells ‘Wolf! Wolf!’ and all the villagers run out to the pasture because there’s a wolf, only the shepherd boy bursts out laughing because he knows there’s no sheep. And he does the same thing the next day where he runs into town and yells “Wolf! Wolf!” and everyone runs out to the pasture and he starts laughing at them. Then the third day, there actually is a wolf, and when he runs into town to get help, everyone thought he was joking, and the wolf ends up eating all the sheep. And the moral was supposed to be that a liar can never be trusted. And I would tell this story to my kids and say that once they start yelling for no reason, I can’t ever trust them again. Actually [laughs] I remember I did exactly the same thing growing up, and my mother would tell me the same story.”

Informant is a middle aged mother of three who lives in the suburbs in the Midwestern United States. She identifies as of “American” heritage, which she bases on her admission that she never particularly looked into her family’s European heritage.

Collector Analysis: This is a relatively common variation of a well known story. In this case, it was used as a metaphor in order to teach a lesson the the informant’s children how to properly behave. These sorts of stories are important as they provide children with rules as to what to do and not do, they provide a memorable context for the lesson so that the children never forget, and they provide a clear depiction of the results of not following the moral of the story.

For an additional version of this story, see citation:
T. Ross, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated, 1991.

Festival
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Lakota Deer Woman

BE: When i was a kid i was told this legend, and i’ve heard it many times, the Lakota believe this and the other plains tribes do it too as far as I know. There is a creature called Deer woman and she shapeshifts into a woman, a human woman, and she goes to pow wows. And she’ll be at the pow wow all night as a beautiful woman, and the last dance is the rabbit dance and it’s the dance where the lady picks the man. And she’ll pick whichever young man she wants, and he’ll dance with her, and she gets him to take him home, and  then when she’s going home with him she turns back into a deer. And it scares him and you know, bad things can happen. And they say that part of the lore is, when you’re dancing with a girl that you don’t know, or even a girl you do know, always check her feet, because deer woman, when she shapeshifts, her feet still remain a deer’s feet, so under the bottom of her dress, because her dress is long, if you look, you won’t see human feet, you’ll see deer feet.

Me: Cloved hooves.

BE: Yeah, the cloven hooves. And there was a guy that said that he’d gone to a pow wow, and there was a girl he met there, and he was supposed to take her home, and he decided at the last minute he wasn’t going to, and he ditched her, and left. And then when he was driving home from the pow wow – this is a true story – when he was driving home from the pow wow, a deer went in front of his car, and caused him to wreck and total his car.

Me: So just for reference, what’s a pow wow?

BE: A pow wow is a gathering where you have dancing and food and things like that. They usually compete with the dancing, it’s a Native tradition. It’s like a party.

Me: Where were you told this?

BE: Oh I wasn’t told this since I was a little kid. My dad told me this, my grandma’s told me it. It was in South Dakota, but I’ve heard it in California too, from people, but South Dakota’s where you hear it. And she follows the pow wow circuit, she didn’t have to be in the plains, but that’s pretty much where everybody – all the sightings I’ve heard of, she’s been.

Me: So do you think there’s a moral for the story?

BE: I think it’s to teach young men and women to be modest, and not to just go home with somebody. And if you do, they say to check her feet, but what they’re really saying is know who you’re going home with. That’s the moral of the story.

Me: So is this just a story told in passing or?

BE: No this is a warning that you get when you’re a teenager and you go to pow wows, especially the boys, but that’s the warning you get, is you better look out, because that beautiful girl might not be who she seems.

Me: So in what situation would you tell that story to someone?

BE: (laughing) I would tell it to SI (BE’s son), if I were taking him to a pow wow when he was young! And I’d tell people that when – honestly I’d use it for what it is, it’s a moral. But it’s also just something that you pass along, it’s something that people need to know, because if there’s really deer woman out there, you need to know that.

Me: Do you remember – since you said you were a little kid, do you remember how old you were? Like before double digits?

BE: I’m sure I was probably… about 8 or 10? I was old enough to know what they were saying, so probably 10.

Me: So did the deer woman have a name or is the name just deer woman? What was the Native name for it?

BE: I don’t remember but the name translates to Deer Woman.

Me: So is it a Lakota Sioux story?

BE: I don’t know where – but all the plains tribes believe in it, as far as I know. They may call it something else, but the Lakota call her Deer Woman, because that’s what she turns to. She’s not a nice person.

Later, BE gave me some additional details about the boy who wrecked his car after the pow wow:

The guy’s name was [H], and he was driving in his truck back from the Pow Wow. The accident happened around 1979 or 1980 when he was 16. He actually had a GF at the time and thats why he initially decided against bringing the girl home with him. [H] is a really honest type of person, so if he had just totaled his truck after the pow wow because he was drunk or something, he’d tell everyone that, but that was the story he told. I think the Deer Woman could sense he was having adulterous thoughts, and that’s why she went after [H].

general
Protection

The Laziest Boy in China

My informant for this is my mother, JL. The following is a recollection from when I was younger and she used to try to scare me into doing things right with stories with a moral. I went back and interviewed her for her experiences for this project afterward.

Once there was a boy who was very lazy. His parents did everything for him, and he never had to lift a finger. One day, his parents had to go on a trip for a weekend. They made him a very big pancake and cut a hole in the center to hang it around his neck so he wouldn’t go hungry.

When they came back 3 days later, the boy had starved to death in the house, with the back half of the pancake still hanging behind his head, because he was too lazy to turn the pancake around when he finished the front half.

I just translated the food item to “pancake” for ease of storytelling, as the actual type of food doesn’t matter in a story about someone starving to death for being too lazy to rotate something around his neck. The actual food is a type of flat wheat-based food, like a tortilla or the crust of a pizza, generally referred to in Chinese as “bing.”

This story, while morbid, is actually meant to be humorous when told to a child. It warns off the child from being lazy themselves because the death that occurs within the story is so unlikely and easily avoidable. A child told this story is encouraged to not want to embarrass themselves by letting themselves sink so low.

Narrative
Proverbs
Tales /märchen

How The Bulbul Became King Of The Birds

Item:

“Once, there was a hornbill. He was the king of the birds, but he was mean and horrible, so they all hated him. But because he was really strong, no one could say anything to him, much less do anything about his tyranny. One day, however, the wise old owl had had enough of the hornbill’s bad attitude and cruelty, so he devised a plan to dethrone him and make the kind, gentle bulbul the queen of the birds instead. He called a meeting of all the birds except the tyrant King Hornbill, and shared his scheme – They would host a contest of strength, in which the bulbul and the hornbill would each have to stand on a branch forcefully, or peck it in some other versions, until it came crashing down. But what the hornbill wouldn’t know was that the, um, the woodpecker would have pecked away at the bulbul’s branch beforehand, weakening it already. Whoever succeeded in breaking their branch was the winner and the ruler of the the birds. And so, they carried it out, and took the proposition to the hornbill, who, being proud of his strength, arrogantly accepted the challenge without a second thought. He was unaware of the scheming that had already happened, obviously. So then the, uh, right, the bulbul and the hornbill stood on their respective branches. Before the hornbill’s horrified eyes, the bulbul’s branch came apart from the tree in less than ten seconds with a loud crack. Because he had accepted the challenge already, there was nothing he could do to go back on his word. So, disgraced and defeated, he left. And that’s how the awesome bulbul became the queen of birds.”

Context:

The informant related the context of his story to me: “It was actually pretty cool – I’d read both the versions of the story, one, as you know, in Amar Chitra Katha comics, and the other in a book of Indian folktales and legends. But I liked the one with the standing more than the one with the pecking, because it seemed more embarrassing for the hornbill, and so that’s the one I decided to tell you.”

Analysis:

This tale has the makings of a classic fable. Not only are there talking animals, but there is also a theme that is explored and built up to at the end of the story, which is demonstrated throughout the events that occur during the story. When examined closely, it reveals a moral of the triumph over adversity – adversity in this case being the tyrannical hornbill – employing cleverness and strength in numbers. The bulbul, the owl, and the woodpecker, all relatively small birds when compared to the large and imposing hornbill, team up together to take down their cruel king and succeed in doing so through devising a smart plan, proving that might isn’t always right, and brain is stronger than brawn.
*Citation: Kadam, Dilip. Amar Chitra Katha Special Edition – Panchatantra Tales. Mumbai: ACK Media, n.d. Comic Book.

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