USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘persian’
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 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
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.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Auntie Cockroach and Mr. Mouse

Once upon a time under the beautiful blue sky there lived a cockroach named Khale Suske. She had become tired of being alone and thought it would be nice to come out of her nest and see the world. She got up and made a pair of red shoes for herself out of garlic skin. She put on clothes made of onion skin. With a glance and a wink she left her nest. She walked and walked and walked until she arrived at the grocer’s shop. The grocer was sitting behind his scale. As soon he saw Khale Suske he asked,
“Khale Suske, where are you going?”
Khale suske replied, “What is Khale Suske? I am better than a flower.”
“Who is Khale Suske? I have such delicate wings.”
Surprised the grocer said,
“Then what should I say?”
Khale Suske said, “Say something nice. Say, ‘Khale Suske: Red Shoes, Onion Clothes.
Where are you going?’”
So the grocer said, “Khale Suske Red Shoes, Onion Clothes. Where are you going?”
Khale Suske said, “I am going to Hamedan, I want to find a husband for Ramezan
I should eat wheat bread and not be a bother to anyone.”
The grocer said, “Khale Suske, Red Shoes. Will you become my wife? Will you become my beautiful bride?”
Khale Suske said, “If I become your wife, If I become your companion. When we argue, what will you hit me with?”
The grocer said, “With this stone weight from my scale!”
Khale Suske said, “No no no! I will not become the grocer’s wife If I do, I will be killed!”
She said this, tightened her scarf and continued on her journey. She walked and walked and walked until she arrived at the door of the quiltmaker. The quiltmaker was stirring cotton with a long wooden stick to bring out dirt and sand from the cotton, and with the clean, soft cotton he would make beautiful quilts. As soon as he saw Khale Suske he said, “Khale Suske, where are you going?”
Khale suske replied,
“What is Khale Suske? I am better than a flower.”
“Who is Khale Suske? I have such delicate wings.”
The quiltmaker said, “Then what should I say?”
Khale Suske said, “Say something nice. Say, ‘Khale Suske Red Shoes, Onion Clothes
Where are you going?’”
So the quiltmaker said, “Khale Suske Red Shoes, Onion Clothes Where are you going?”
Khale Suske said, “I am going to Hamedan, I want to find a husband for Ramezan I should eat wheat bread and not be a bother to anyone.”
The quiltmaker said, “Khale Suske Red Shoes. Will you become my wife? Will you become my beautiful bride?”
Khale Suske said, “If I become your wife, if I become your companion, when we argue, what will you hit me with?”
The quiltmaker said, “with my cotton stirring stick!”
Khale Suske said, “no no no! I will not become the quiltmaker’s wife! If I do, I will be killed!” She said this, tightened her scarf and quickly hurried on her way. She walked and walked and walked until she arrived at the palace where Mr. Mouse lived. He was a clean and tidy mouse that had a small but beautiful nest in the prince’s kitchen. Mr. Mouse’s little ears were white. His tiny eyes sparkled, and he was wagging his soft, little tail. Mr. Mouse was in the middle of taking wheat to his nest so that he would be comfortable during the cold winter. As soon as he saw
Khale Suske he politely moved closer, greeted her and said,
“My my my!
Red Shoes, Onion Clothes
Where are you going?”
Khale Suske was very pleased by the polite and sweet words of Mr. Mouse. She said coyly,
“I am going to Hamedan,
I want to find a husband for Ramezan
I should eat wheat bread and not be a bother to anyone.”
Mr. Mouse said,
“Khale Qeizi
Miss Red Shoes
Will you become my wife?
Will you become my beautiful bride?”
Khale Suske said,
“Why shouldn’t I?
However, If I become your wife,
If I become your companion
When we argue, what will you hit me with?”
Mr. Mouse said,
“But no! Why should we argue?
If you become my wife,
If you become my companion,
I will caress you with my soft little tail!”
Khale Suske, who was very impressed by the little mouse, smiled and said,
“Yes yes yes!
I will become your wife
I will become your companion
I will become the mother of your children
I will become your loyal spouse!”
Khale Suske and Mr. Mouse threw a grand wedding party. They invited all the Cockroaches and Mice of the prince’s castle. Late at night, they all went to the kitchen. All brought delicious food and the mice found several walnut and pistachio shells to use as drums. It was a splendid celebration! The mice played their instruments and the roaches opened their wings and danced. The party went on until sunrise. Afterwards, Mr. Mouse took Khale Suske to his nest and they started their lives together. In the morning, when the cooks came to the kitchen, none of them knew what had gone on the night before. During the day, Mr. Mouse would go to the kitchen and pick-up the rice, beans, chick-peas, and other things that the cooks would drop, and he would bring them back to their nest with his teeth. Khale Suske would clean house, and prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and they would always eat together. One day, Khale Suske went to a riverbank near the palace so she could wash her clothes. Suddenly she
slipped and fell into the water. She screamed and began to splash about so she wouldn’t drown. At the same time, one of the prince’s horsemen was passing by and stopped to give his horse water. As soon as Khale Suske’s eyes fell upon him she yelled,
“Ahoy horseman! Horseman!
Because you are going to the castle
Tell Mr. Mouse,
Khale Suske is in the water
Red Shoes is in the water
If you arrive late she will die!
Your heart will become sad!”
The horseman looked up, he didn’t see anyone. He looked down, he
didn’t see anyone. He listened again and he heard a tiny and quiet
voice say,
“Ahoy horseman!
Horseman!
Because you are going to the castle
Tell Mr. Mouse,
Khale Suske is in the water
Red Shoes is in the water
If you arrive late she will die!
Your heart will become sad!”
The rider quickly mounted his horse and rode away. He arrived out of breath at the kitchen and told the story to the others. Everyone laughed at him. Mr. Mouse was in a corner of the room and heard everything. He turned pale and dropped everything he had in his hands. His little tail was shaking like a willow tree. He threw his hands to his head and cried,
“Ay Vay! The water is taking away my Khale Suske!”
Upset, he ran and ran. He ran fast like the wind! He ran and ran and ran until he arrived next to the stream. As soon as he saw Khale Suske his body shook even more. Very upset he said,
“Give your hand to me!
Come up out of the muck!”

Khale Suske replied,
“No no no!
My delicate crystal hand will break!”
Mr. Mouse said,
“Give your foot to me!
Come up out of the muck!”
Khale Suske replied,
“No no no!
My delicate crystal foot will break!”
Mr. Mouse said,
“Then what should I do?
What can I do?
It’s not possible for me to save you!”
Khale Suske told Mr. Mouse,
“Go to the green grocer. Get a carrot.
Nibble it to make stairs. Then
bring it here and put it in the water so
that, step by step, I can up out
of danger!”
Mr. Mouse ran to the green grocer and said,
“My Khale Suske is in the water!
My little Red Shoes is in the water!
If I arrive late, she will die!
My heart will become sad!”
He then asked for a large carrot so that he could make a ladder. The green grocer was very distressed by Mr. Mouse’s story and right away he separated a long and straight carrot and gave it to the little mouse. Mr. Mouse ran as fast as he could back towards the stream. He ran and ran and ran until he arrived next to the water. He quickly nibbled the carrot to make stairs. He then placed it in the water. Khale Suske struggled and very slowly she walked up the carrot ladder and then fell on the ground. Poor Khale Suske was soaking wet. She was coughing non-stop and shivering. Mr. Mouse dried the water on Khale Suske’s body with his soft tail. Then he took her to his nest and placed her in a warm and
soft bed. He covered her face and said,
“Now that you are not
feeling well, I will
prepare you a hot soup!”
As soon as Khale Suske fell asleep, Mr. Mouse left the nest. He ran and ran and ran until he arrived at the door of the grocer. Mr. Mouse told him what had happened and explained that he wanted to prepare hot soup for Khale Suske. The grocer gave him a spinach leaf, a leek stalk, and a bunch of parsley, a small spoon of olive oil, a spoonful of rice, four lentils, some peas, and a pinch of salt. Mr. Mouse thanked him and returned home. He poured everything into a small pot. He then placed two rocks together to make an oven. He picked up a small, dry branch that had fallen on the ground and with his small, sharp teeth, chopped it and placed it between the rocks. He lit the wood and placed the pot of soup on the oven. A short time had passed and he said to himself, “Now I must stir the
pot”. He picked up a small branch to stir it, but as soon he put his head over the pot, he slipped and fell into the soup. Khale Suske realized a long time
had passed since she had heard from Mr. Mouse. With a trembling voice she said,
“Mr. Mouse, my dear
Come sit next to me”
Mr. Mouse didn’t reply. Again she said,
“Mr. Mouse, my dear
Come sit next to me”
Again there was nothing. She became worried. She got up and slowly walked to the soup. When Khale Suske saw Mr. Mouse splashing about she threw her hands to her head and cried,
“Vay! Look at my Mr. Mouse!
One head, two little ears! Look!
Don’t let him die!
My heart would become sad!”
Then, she quickly poured a small dish of water that was next to the oven on the soup to cool it. Next, she went to the neighbor mice and cockroaches nests for help. The mice and cockroaches came and lifted the pot from the
stove. Then, they pulled Mr. Mouse out of the soup. The neighbors then ran and brought whatever food and remedies they had, and for several days they took care of Khale Suske and Mr. Mouse until they both were well. Mr. Mouse and Khale Suske knew what kind of great friends they had and they lived happily ever after.

This story, like the kids version that Arya heard during his bedtime, exalts the virtues of generosity and compassion, especially in the end when the neighbors (mice and cockroaches) band together to help Mr. Mouse. The grocer also gives Mr. Mouse a carrot and vegetables to make the broth with. However, this version which can be found online as a PDF at http://www.lohrasb.com/images/Khale_Suske.pdf, also brings up the issue of women’s rights and issues. At the beginning, Khale Suske goes around to each suitor and asks them what they will beat her with during arguments, for her, a beating is to be expected from her husband and the only thing she can do to improve her living situation is to choose the husband who would beat her with the least harmful item.

Khale Suske is mentioned in the Oral Literature of Iranian Languages: Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi, Ossetic; Persian and Tajik: Companion Volume II: History of Persian Literature A, Vol XVIII.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Wise Man Proverb

“Wise man seeks wisdom, mad man thinks he found it.”
The person who’s wise goes after something: they seek wisdom,  the mad man just talks and talks, he’s delusional, and he thinks he knows it all.  This is a very common idea that is shared by most cultures, it seeks to make people stay humble no matter the amount of knowledge they accrue.

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.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Persian Folktale: Bōz Bōze Ghandí

Contextual Data: I asked a friend of mine if he could remember any stories from his childhood, and he offered me this story — a Persian folktale — that his mother and his maternal grandmother used to tell him. They would tell it to him in the original Farsi (his family’s first language), but over a cup of coffee, he recounted this translated version of the tale. The following is an exact transcript of his account.

“So this is the story of Bōz Bōze Ghandí — which Bōz Bōze means ‘goat’ and Ghandí means, like, ‘sweet’ so like ‘the sweet goat.’ [Laughs.] And Bōz Bōze Ghandí had three children, baby goats: Shangúl, Mangul, and Hapeyē Angur — those are their names. Um, Shangúl means ‘joyful’ in Farsi, Mangul means — Mangul is like the bell on the collar of an animal — and Hapeyē Angur means ‘a single grape.’ Um, so… And every day Bōz Bōze Ghandí would go out and tell her children, ‘I’m gonna go out and eat the alfalfa so I can make milk for you to drink.’ Um, and she would admonish them, ‘Be careful not to open the door for the wolf, who’ll come and ask you to open the door for him.’ And every day the wolf would come and say, ‘I am Bōz Bōze Ghandí open the door for me.’ And Shangúl, Mangul, and Hapeyē Angur would say, ‘No you’re not. If you’re our mom, show us your paws.’ (‘Cause she has white paws.) And the wolf would put his paws and obviously they were gray and had like long nails and claws. And they would say, ‘You’re not my mom. Go away.’ And they would not open the door for him. So one day the wolf comes back — and wolf is ‘gorg’ in Farsi — the wolf would come back and the one day the wolf dipped his paws in flour and cut all his nails and went back to the home and said, ‘Open the door. I am your mom, Bōz Bōze Ghandí.’ And they said ‘No you’re not. If you are, show us your paws.’ And so he slipped his paws under the door and they saw that they were white and the nails were short and they said, ‘Okay,’ and they opened the door. And he leaped in and ate Shangúl and Mangul, but Hapeyē Angur hid. And as much as he looked, the wolf couldn’t find him, and then the wolf left. And then Bōz Bōze Ghandí comes home and says, ‘Shangúl, Mangul, and Hapeyē Angur, where are you?’ And no one answers, and after a while [Pause: Coffee dropped off at the table by waitress]. After a while Hapeyē Angur comes out and he’s very sad. He’s crying or something. And Bōz Bōze Ghandí says, ‘What happened?’ And he says, ‘We opened the door for the wolf and he ate Shangúl and Mangul.’ And his mom is like ‘Okay. I’m gonna go find this wolf.’ So Bōz Bōze Ghandí goes and finds the wolf and says, ‘Did you eat Shangúl and Mangul?’ And he says and laughs, ‘Yes. I ate them. They’re in my stomach.’ And she says, ‘Then I will fight you.’ And he says, ‘You can’t fight me. How are you gonna fight me?’ And she…And she says, ‘With my horns. You will see. Tomorrow I will fight you.’ And so she goes to the local knife sharpener… Or blacksmith and trades him some alfalfa to sharpen her horns. At the same time, the wolf goes to the same blacksmith — not at the same time, but later — the wolf goes to the same blacksmith and asks him to sharpen his teeth. But I think by threatening him instead. And the blacksmith doesn’t like the wolf, so instead he pulls out all his teeth and replaces them with cotton balls… And the wolf can’t tell for some reason. [Laughs.] So the next day, Bōz Bōze Ghandí shows up to face the wolf and they fight and she stabs him in the stomach and he bites her, but it has no effect ‘cause his teeth are gone and he… She ruptures his stomach and he dies and Shangúl and Mangul pop out. [Laughs.] And then they go home and the moral of the story is don’t open the door for strangers. [Laughs.]”

- End Transcript – 

My informant explained that when this story is told in Farsi, it has a rhyming pattern, and so, it’s something that children would enjoy hearing. There were no specific times or reasons that his mother and grandmother would tell him this story — they weren’t too concerned with the moralistic aspect of the story. It was more just something “to pass the time,” and he would enjoy hearing it often because of its rhymes. You can get a sense of the story’s fun rhyming quality just through the names of the three children — Shangúl, Mangul, and Hapeyē Angur.

I think the story’s rhyming structure (in it’s original Farsi) certainly would help make it more enjoyable to hear, memorable, and therefore easier to pass on. But there could also be a bit of significance in the fact that my informant heard this story from his mother and his maternal grandmother, as the heart of this story is about a mother fighting to protect her three children. My informant mentioned that in spite of the slightly violent nature of the ending, when he heard the sound of this rhyme coming from the soothing voice of his mother or his grandmother, he found it to be rather innocent and placating. Therefore, while the rhyming aspect is certainly one reason that a child would want to hear this story, there also seems to be something about the reassuring mother figure that also gives it some value.

Childhood
Folk speech
Musical

Persian Ditty/Folk Poem

Contextual Data: I asked my informant if there were any stories or songs that he learned when he was younger and he mentioned this one; he would sing this poem with his grandmother as he got ready for school in the morning. We met over coffee and he recited the poem in Farsi, then wrote it down both in Farsi and in the Romanization of the Farsi script, before reciting the English translation.

Farsi:

In Romanized Script:

Māmānī māmānī māmānī joon.
Chaī rā bezār rú fenjoon
Vakhtī kē chaī rā nooshīdan
Māmānī rā booshīdan
Mīran koodakestán
Shādān o khandán
Shādān o khandán

Translated to English:

Grandmother, grandmother, grandmother dear
Put the tea on the kettle
When I drink my tea,
And kiss my grandmother
I’ll go to school
With joy and laughter
With joy and laughter 

My informant learned this poem from his grandmother, and the two of them would sing it together as he was getting ready for school in the morning. He attached no particular significance to it — it was just a sort of sweet, daily ritual between him and his grandmother. But he has talked about it with his Iranian friends, who have all heard of it and speak of reciting it in similar contexts. He felt that people passed it on partially just because it’s easy to remember because of the rhyme scheme, but also because it is kind of a way to get kids excited about going to school.

But beyond this, it could speak to the possible importance of the grandmother as part of the family household and her role in caring for the children.  In general, though it’s just such a happy ditty — it’s something my informant clearly associates with fond memories and positive relationships, and something that allowed him to always start his day off on a joyful note, which could explain why he plans on passing it on to his own children. 

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