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

The Proud Eagle

“This is a story about an eagle and the issue of pride that has been, uhh… told generations after generations to caution the young generations about not to be too proud of themselves and be humble. I’ll say this story in Farsi first, and then translate it in English. [Tells story in Farsi]

Now translate in English, the story about a proud, extremely proud eagle. And as he was flying, I… says to himself, ‘I’m so proud of myself, and my power, and how I can see things, and I’m the strongerest, the strongest eagle on Earth, and anything down there, if it moves, I can tell, I can sense it.’

As he was flying, a hunter down below, using bow and arrow, aimed at her… uhh… and sh… sh…, you know, aimed an arrow at her. Uhh… so causes the eagle to start falling. As… he was, uhh… I’m sorry, I changed my pronouns! You know, I went from he and she; can we redo that?”

No, it’s fine, you can keep going!

“[Laughs] Okay. As he was falling down, uhh, he was looking at the arrow that caused him to fall, and noticed that the, uhh, the important thing that was guiding the arrow was a feather of another eagle. That caused his fall. And eventually his demise.

So the story goes to explain that, uhh, most of the things that are happening to us, are as a result of some of the things we’re doing, uhh, due to our neglect, due to our incompetence, that’s happening to us.”

 

Analysis: This story is very similar to tales and proverbs in other parts of the world relating to pride. I am reminded of the English phrase, “Pride comes before the fall,” which is itself derived from the Bible. It seems to be a very common belief that excess pride often results in one’s own misfortune, but it is interesting to note that in this case, the story is told from the perspective of the Eagle. Not only this, but the hunter is not seen as good or evil, he is instead a merely neutral actor. This places all of the responsibility for wrongdoing on the Eagle’s pride, instead of the entity that caused the Eagle direct harm.

Narrative

Mullah Nasreddin and Growing Older

“Okay, umm… I’m gonna tell you about the Mullah Nasreddin. He was a wi- wiseguy, and he was always say things that sound like stupid, but really it had a lot of meaning. Uhh… Mullah Nasreddin, umm… he… one day he was walking in the street, and the guy, friend, came and he says, ‘How old are you, Mullah?’

And Mullah says that, ‘I’m 40 years old.’

‘Oh, okay. I thought you told me that 10 years ago you’re 40 years old. What happened, you’re not getting old… older?’

He says, ‘No, even if you come hundred years from now ask me, I’m still gonna be 40 years old.’

And he says, ‘Why?

He says, ‘Because a man doesn’t change his mind. He is always what he says and what he’s gonna be.’

So, umm… Gonna tell you the Farsi. [Tells story in Farsi].

So, is just telling about how stubborn mens are [laughs].”

Analysis: Mullah Nasreddin stories are very common in Persian culture because they are a humorous way to impart life lessons, especially on children. Mullah was famous for playing the fool, but always having a bit of hidden meaning or wisdom in what he was saying or doing, as is present here. This story comments on how pointlessly stubborn many people can be, to the point of ignoring facts, and how humorously childish it is to do so rather than embrace reality.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative

Djinn and Public Baths

Could you share a story that your father might have told you when you were younger?

“I’m going to tell you about the story, about the ghosts, that my father used to tell us when we were young, and uhh…

We used to have a public bath, which they were underground, a lot of steps to go down there. So, umm…

We always pass from that public bath, and he always afraid of that place. So one time he told me a story about that place that at night…

The, umm… ghosts, they would come over there and have a party! And you can hear the music and everything, you know, and then, he says, one morning, somebody went early in the morning that bath, public bath, and said nobody was there.

So he wanted to be the first one to take shower and go. And he goes in there and sees that there’s a guy sitting there. And he… And then he ask him, ‘What are you doing here?’ You know? And then he says, ‘Well, I just came to wash whoever comes.’

Usually the, the people wash them. And says ‘I just wash him.’

And he says, ‘Okay you can wash my body.’ So he sat there, and he start washing him.

And then he asked him, ‘Oh, I heard there is a ghost in this public bath. And uhh, have you ever seen one?’

And he says, ‘How can you tell that this is a ghost?’

And he says ‘Because my father told me that there is a.. horseshoe on their left foot.’

And he says, ‘Oh! Is that like this?’

And he shows his foot that it has a horseshoe on it, so he just got scared, and run out of public bath, you know nude, in the street-”

Your father did?

“No, no, the guy who was telling the story. Yeah, to my father, yeah. So he just run through the street and he believed there is a ghost in that public bath.”

Do you remember who told your father that story?

“Ehh, probably it was somebody like friend, or someone, because it was everybody they would talk about it. It was something everybody talked about it. It was the neighborhood, the old neighborhood in Tehran… Djinn is something like, like the ghost, it doesn’t really exist, I think it’s mostly in stories, but this one they were saying it’s true.”

Analysis: This ghost story follows a very typical format, down to the acknowledgement that most ghost stories aren’t true, but that this one had certain credibility.
It was shared with Tahereh as a young girl by her father, but she does not know who he heard it from. Nonetheless, she asserts, knowledge of this story was common knowledge in the part of Tehran that she grew up in. Knowing that public baths were not always the safest places, it may well have been that parents told their children stories like this one in order to keep them from wandering into dark places because of something attractive, like music.

Humor

Ironic Doctor Joke

Would you mind sharing a joke from your childhood with me?

“This is a joke that my dad, uhh, told me. Uhh… [tells the joke in Farsi, but the phonetics are muddled in the recording.]

The English translation is that my dad told me that ‘Whenever you get sick, be sure to go to the doctor. Uhh… Because, you know, the doctor has to make a living, he has to live. So when you go to the doctor, make sure you get a prescription, and take it to the pharmacist, and get your, you know, get your medication, because the pharmacist has to make a living too, he has to live also. And when you get your prescription, make sure you don’t take it yourself, because you want to live, too!'”

And what was the context that that would be delivered in, like, why was that a joke, why was that funny?

“Uhh, generally, everybody’s out there to make a living, you know, but you want to make sure it’s not at your expense. So you’re not a, uhh, sacrificial lamb for everyone else to make a living.”

Analysis: Keeping with the trend of cautionary proverbs and stories, this ironic joke from MB explains through humor that not everyone, even often-trusted authorities, ought to be trusted outright. With Masood’s background growing up poor in Iran, this may make some sense, but it is interesting to note how often distrust or wariness comes up in the lessons that he and Tahereh were taught when they were growing up.

Legends
Narrative

The Persian King and the Plate

“Uhh, I am going to tell you about the, one of the, Iran’s king. That… umm… He loved France and he used to travel over there. And so finally they send a salesperson to his castle to sell, sell him some china from France. And they bring their best china and say, ‘Oh, you need this, you know, for when you have a party and this.’

And he just picked it up, and look at it, and he says ‘Okay, let’s go outside.’

And the guy just look at him and say, ‘Why do we have to go outside?’ [laughs]

He says, ‘Well, we just, let’s just go outside.’

So he goes outside and he tells one of the, uhh, uhh, person that it was was selling him, go get some of the, umm… the plate we use. So he goes and bring the, the plate they were using that time, it was, uhh, made from, umm, copper. And they would put the, umm, zinc over it, they would make it really hot, and put the zinc over it, umm… with a cloth they would just go all over, and it turns white, just like a silver. And they had to do that every year.

So he, they go and bring a set of that, and then, he’s sitting on the horse, and going around, and then, he just picked up the china, and keeps throwing them, and then they would break. And then he gets the, the, umm… copper one, and he keeps throwing it, and it doesn’t break.

And he says, ‘Why do you think I’m gonna pay all that money for the things you throw it, it breaks, and I have this, I’ve been using it for years, and it still looks the same?’

And then, the, the salesperson just look at him, and he just leave the uhh… umm… castle, and he just goes and never comes back. So that’s the story of the Persian king that he didn’t want to spend his money for something is not good. It just, like, to him, it was like wasting money. If it can use those plate instead of that. [Tells story in Farsi].”

Analysis: This legend is told in order to teach people the value of thrift and tradition. Its central moral is similar to the English phrase, “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” The King of Iran, as the protagonist of the story, attempts to illustrate that traditions exist for good reason, and that just because somebody else thinks something is nice, it doesn’t mean that you should, too. While a nationalistic tale of sorts, the story is used to impart important lessons to the audience.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Folk speech
Gestures
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Burning Esfand (Persian Rituals)

Do you have any traditions or rituals that your family does?

 

Okay yeah, superstitions and stuff, it’s similar to the salt thing, my mom will burn sage on a stove, I think it’s sage, I’m pretty sure it’s sage. And like it’ll still be in the little pot, and they’ll put it over your head just like to keep bad eyes away from you. Like if you were at a party, and all these people are like, ‘Oh my god your daughter’s so beautiful, or like, they’ll say all these things and…It’s not always a compliment, but they’ll think like, if all these people are complimenting you, they’ll take it weirdly, like people are gonna have an evil eye on you. They’re just superstitious, so they think if a million people are complimenting you, one of them is gonna have like, one of them is gonna be fake, they’re not all gonna be true and real.

 

So your mom has done this to you?

 

Yeah so after like a big party, if all these people went up to her and were like ‘oh my god, your daughter is so beautiful,’ they’ll just give me compliments. And she’ll come home and it’ll be like two in the morning, she’s done that before! Once we get home from the party she’ll just burn sage, oh it’s called Esfand! In Farsi. She’ll burn it and kinda like, circle it over your head for like 5 seconds. And from what I know it’s not a prayer, but she’ll just say like, “keeping bad eyes away from you” or something like that, in Farsi.

 

So she burns the leaves in a pot?

 

Yeah, like a special little pot.

 

Oh so there’s a special pot for doing this?

 

Yeah there’s like a specific kind of pot for it. It’s just tiny, it’s not like a huge pot, it’s small, it’s not metal, maybe it’s ceramic.

 

ANALYSIS:

This is a superstitious belief and accompanying ritual intended to keep bad intentions or bad spirits away. There is also a clear emphasis that parents or older family members do this to younger family members to keep them out of harm’s way. There is a sense that this ritual, also involving a gesture, incantation or prayer of some sort, and a physical, material tool, can undo or ward off evil, even if it’s already intended for the young person, but there is a sense of urgency, that it must be done as soon as possible for the most protective power.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Folk speech
Gestures
Initiations
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian Rituals adopted by a Non-Persian, Jewish Family

Basically, when someone talks bad about you, or someone does something to like, harm you, or let’s say like for example I’m wearing a nice dress and I come home and I’m like ‘oh mom, this lady said “nice dress, it looks really good on you,”’ my mom would be like, ‘oh, she has a bad eye on you.’ And my mom will run, and she’ll get salt, and she’ll put salt all around my head. Like she’ll start spraying it, like literally having salt fly in the air, and like, pouring salt everywhere and then she says like, ‘to keep the bad eye away from my daughter,’ she says like a little prayer in her head. It’s like a blessing of salt over your head to keep away the evil eye.

 

So your mom does this to you?

 

She did it once. She learned it from her Persian friends. I’m not Persian, but my friends that are Persian, their moms have done it to me too.

Another thing is like, I don’t know if it’s traditional but like when you get a new car or you get something new, you take eggs and you run the eggs over with the car. You put like two on the back tires, two on the front tires, and you run them all over. So it’s like good luck cause you’re like coating the tires with an egg? Not an egg but like, you break the way for the car kind of. You break the way for the car to like enter the world, the streets.

 

Why eggs specifically?

 

I, I don’t know. These are just things that I’ve seen people do. And then, what is the jumping over fire one, Nic?

(Her friend: That’s for Persian New Year.)

Why?

(Friend: You’re asking the wrong person. Ask Sogol.)

 

ANALYSIS:

This is an interesting folk superstition and ritual that has been adopted by a family that isn’t Persian, but is Jewish, and are surrounded by a community of Jewish Persian. The informant’s mom, through interaction with her friends, has inherited or adopted this belief and practice of protection and keeping bad spirits away. One can easily see, though, how the original meaning or belief has become lost / confused/ muddled, because the informant did not grow up being as exposed to this tradition in her family. However, as her friends and her friends’ parents have done these rituals, she has been exposed to them and so participates in them, just not as fully perhaps as her friends with Persian heritage. She does know why these rituals are practiced and some of the symbolism behind the eggs, for example. It is also a sort of initiation ritual for the car to enter into the world.

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian New Year

Okay, so Persian New Year, it lasts seven days…So, basically the Tuesday before or during, everyone goes to a special place or they do it at each other’s houses and they make fires, like small fire pits.

 

Inside or outside?

 

Outside, it’s always outdoors. Like in an alleyway, or if you have a big backyard, or they do it at the beach. And then people jump over it and they say a saying that’s kind of like, I don’t know how it’s translated but it symbolizes throwing your bad energy or anything bad from the past year into the fire, or like from other people, into the fire. That’s basically it.

 

Do you know the phrase in Farsi?

 

Yeah, but you’re not gonna get it. It’s like, “sorheitaz…?” I don’t even know how to say it, you’re kind of just saying whatever is bad is going into the fire. And you kind of say it with a friend, like whatever’s bad from each other, your relationship goes in too.

 

When is Persian New Year?

 

Our calendar is different, the Persian calendar is a little different. It’s first day of Spring, so it starts on March 21st, and then it lasts seven days. And we always set a table, it’s called the Hafseen, and Haf means seven, so like everything starts with an “S” you can look this up, I don’t know what each thing symbolizes.

 

So there’s a lot of symbolism involved?

 

Yeah, there’s seven things, there’s like a fish, and then there’s a specific thing you grow, it’s like a grass, and then there’s flowers… It’s really specific but it’s all with Spring and has to do with new beginnings and stuff like that. So it lasts a week, and then after that you get rid of the table and everything, and they throw out the grass thing, they’ll go to the river and get rid of it, there’s like special ways. And they celebrate after too.

 

ANALYSIS:

The informant is clearly engaged in her family’s and culture’s traditions and customs surrounding New Year, although it is clear there is a generational gap – she speaks Farsi, but doesn’t know exactly what she’s saying or what it means when they jump over the fire. She also participates in the traditions and knows the general gist of how things are set up, but doesn’t know specifics about the symbolic elements of the festival. However, she is aware of how the ritual is done, participates in it, and has a general idea of why these things are done and what they mean. The new year festival is about being away with or burning away all the old, stale, bad things from the past year, and bringing in the new year. There are very specific things that must be present and actions that must be done to ensure good luck, success, happiness, good relationships, etc. in the new year. This also corresponds with the earth cycle, and not with the biblical calendar.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Protection

Feet / “Bad Eyes”

*Note: the informant is Indian-American and identifies with the Hindu religion. She is in touch with her Indian heritage but she was born in the U.S.

INFORMANT: “And then Hindus or Indians or whatever also have lots of like body language things, I don’t know how to say it, like, gestures. Like if we touch anything with our feet that’s not the ground, say if I touched a backpack with my foot, then you have to touch the thing and then touch your eyes and do that three times. It’s funny, I have a Persian friend who has a similar thing, but for her it’s like if my feet touch another person’s feet, then I have to interlock my pinkies. I have no idea why it’s a thing.

And then we also have this saying, where like, say I’m going to a job interview and I tell a bunch of people about it and then I don’t get the job, they’ll say it’s because someone “put bad eyes on you,” which basically means they didn’t want you to get the job or were talking badly of you and basically put bad luck on you.”

I can’t figure out the context or reason behind the gestures, and neither could the informant, but it’s notable that her Persian friend had a relatively similar tradition. Both have to do with the feet, and not having the feet touch something, so it leads me to believe that these cultures must value one’s feet or see the feet as sacred or something not to be soiled by touching random items or the feet of another. The interlocking pinkies thing brings to mind crossing fingers in America, where someone will cross their fingers if they are lying or if they want something to happen. The saying also seems like it has variants in other cultures – I remember my mom talking about someone giving someone else the “evil eye,” which was first and foremost just a look but also held a sort of bad luck, because that person wished you ill.

 

Adulthood
Childhood
general
Initiations
Life cycle
Narrative
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

Madame Beetle searches for a husband

My informant was told this story as a child by his Iranian grandmother. He explained to me that she would often tell him stories when he was growing up, but he remembers this one the most vividly. He characterizes it:

  “So this is a story that my grandmother (my mom’s mom) used to tell me when I was younger, and it’s a story that’s pretty rooted in Iranian culture because other Persian friends I have also know it. So it kind of shows that a lot of families tell this story. It’s a story of… love I guess, but I guess I’ll just tell the story:”

  “So, as translated, Madame Beetle which is considered to have human-like qualities, goes out on a search for love, as demanded by her mother upon her mother’s death bed, and she goes… Madame Beetle goes out on a search for love and encounters many different animals that are personified um, so this, for example like a rabbit who’s a carpenter, uh she would encounter, and this question she asks every guy she meets is: how would you beat me if I was your husband?… If you were my husband. And she receives responses from these different personified animals. So the carpenter says for example “I would beat you with this two by four” and the butcher says “I would beat you with my cleaver” and so the search goes on and she eventually comes in contact with this mouse and she asks me how would you beat me if you were my husband and he says “I would pet you gently with my tail” and of course she chooses the mouse to be her husband, and, you know they’re happy together, they’re living together; one day the mouse gets sick and Madame Beetle cooks a bowl of soup for the mouse and while drinking the soup the mouse falls into the soup and drowns… and that’s the end of the story.”

I asked my informant why he thought he remembered this specific story, and if it had any other significance to him personally. He responded:

There are some interesting things about this story. One, you can tell that it has a sad ending which is very… it’s a kind of thematic thing in a lot of children’s stories in Persian partly because, uh, of the dominant religion in Iran is Muslim and Islam has a lot of appeals to sadness for some reason, and a lot of these stories end in sadness-a lot of children’s stories, not a lot of happy endings. Another element of the story which is kind of lost in translation is the element of rhyme. Every time Madame Beetle meets a prospective spouse there’s this interplay of rhyming and repetition which goes on back and forth and that’s what makes it a very goods children’s story: because every time it’s repeated the child can, you know- as I would –  say oit or jump ahead of my grandmother and say what is to come because it’s repetitive. Um, and, yep that’s the story of madame beetle.

The fact that this story is popular among many Persian families indicates that it represents broader themes in Persian culture. The treatment and subservience of women, preached by many Muslim texts, would seem to be supported by this story, which establishes the male as dominant even at a young age. However, the fact that this story was told my informant by his Grandmother, suggests its misogynistic values may have been acceptable within its cultural context. Insofar as it is a piece of children’s literature, it follows the general plot of many children s stories today: that of the seeker (who is often an animal.) However, its unhappy ending is unique among most similar children’s stories, and perhaps reflects a part of the cultural gap between the east and the west.

[geolocation]