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.
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].
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.