USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘thief’
Musical

Tuntun-Tuntun-Taara

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Billi ne chuhe ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Chawkidaar ne chor ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

 

Translation:

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock (Chorus)

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat killed the mouse

Hai!

(Chorus) x 2

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

The guard killed the thief

Hai!

(Chorus)

Analysis: For some reason, similar to many Western nursery rhymes and lullabies, this song is a particularly violent one. It talks about the elimination of a small threat (a mouse) and then of a much larger, much more serious threat (a thief). But this elimination takes place in a very definitive, violent manner–murder, essentially. Unlike Western lullabies, however (some that come to mind are Rockabye Baby, Rain Rain Go Away, Old Daddy Long Legs, and Sing a Song of Sixpence), the violence is not perpetrated on children or seemingly innocent bystanders, but on entities who do pose a real threat to the health and safety of the child and indeed the whole family and therefore could be said to “deserve what they got”. Mice spread disease and could ruin a family’s crop and thereby cause them to starve. Thieves also could cause financial ruin and would not hesitate to do away with any family member who discovered them robbing the house in the dead of night. In rural areas, or places that didn’t have a very trustworthy law enforcement and protection system, the idea that there were people (or animals) that would be able to protect a child from harm must have been very comforting.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

pakistani slang

Context: The informant is a 30 year old married Pakistani schoolteacher and mother. She jokingly asked her cousin, who was visiting America, to buy her a store’s entire stock of a certain makeup product (that had the number 420 in its name) when she came back, and the cousin replied, you are a 420. When questioned about the meaning of this phrase, the informant laughed and replied that it was slang for a thief or fraud. Questioned further, she revealed that the term comes from the Pakistani penal code, in which “302 is for murder criminals and 420 is for thieves–like they say in the movies, a 201 is going down or something.”

Analysis: This particular slang phrase is interesting in that the origin is a written piece of work–and not even something that is easily accessible to most laypeople, like a storybook or a children’s movie, but the very laws of the country, which are, no doubt, as convoluted and verbose as those of any in the US. However, these codes have made their way, either through the jargon of lawmakers and law enforcement officials, or through popular movies that use “authentic” police jargon in their police scenes, to the laypeople who now use it, not to actually accuse or apprehend anyone, but to jokingly call out each others’ social vices. The act of exaggerating a little social or moral error into something criminalizable by the national penal code may be a way of enforcing social norms while still maintaining social relationships.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Noble Thief

Form of Folklore:  Narrative (Marchen)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when she and her family moved to the United States (Glendale, California), at the age of thirty six.  Most of the folklore she has been exposed to is founded in Armenian culture.  Her social surroundings in Armenia and her father are her primary sources of folklore.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the dining room of the informant’s house.

Item:    There once was a thief who wanted to repent for his sins and stop being a thief so he went to the nearest church to ask for God’s forgiveness.  The priest at the church told him that he should simply try to be a good person.  The thief asks, “How will I know if God has forgiven me?”  The priest points to a tree in the yard of the church and says, “When the fruit from that apricot tree grows, God has forgiven you.”  So the thief leaves and doesn’t steal from anyone even though he is really poor and is in need.  He keeps coming to check if any fruit has grown on the tree, but every time he checks, there’s no fruit.  Finally, he’s so desperate that he knocks on the door of a middle aged woman to ask for some help and shelter (so that he doesn’t steal again).  The woman say, “Well, I live here alone with my three children and we don’t have much but you are welcome to stay.”  Later, that night the children are begging there mother to give them food and she tells them that food is cooking on the stove and will be ready soon.  The thief sees that the woman seems to be boiling some sort of soup.  The children asked if the food is ready and the woman simply says, “Soon, soon”.  The children are running around and playing with each other as they wait for the food to be ready.  They play so hard that they get exhausted and fall asleep.  The thief approaches the woman and tells her that she is a horrible woman for not feeding her children before they fell asleep.  The woman, with tears on her face, says, “Sir, come see, I have no food.  All I have is a stone boiling in this pot.  I lie to my children that there will be food soon so that they may fall asleep with the prospect of being fed.”  The thief is startled and deeply saddened by this news, so much so that he leaves in the middle of the night and steals food for the woman and her children.  He leaves the food at their house and leaves.  On his journey from the house, he passes by the apricot tree in the church yard and to his surprise sees that there is fruit on the apricot tree.

Informant Comments:  The informant loves this story and told it to her children as her father had told it to her.  She likes the fact that doing the right thing is not a matter of black and white.  The story implies that the thief is forgiven for his sins when he actually steals.  The informant does not believe that this actually happened but has seen acts similar to the thief’s in her personal experience.  She believes if more people heard this story and understood it, then people would look out for one another and try to do the right thing more often.

Analysis:  The idea of receiving God’s forgiveness and Christianity are apparent in this marchen but seem to lead the listener to the true moral of the story; this being that the intentions behind actions are of far greater importance than the actions themselves.  When the thief would steal for himself, he was not forgiven; when he would do nothing at all, he was not forgiven; only when he stole in order to help others less fortunate was he finally forgiven.  Regardless of how religious or non-religious one is, this story offers the listeners a comfort in knowing that when they do something that is not typically considered “right” bur for the “right” reasons, they are being moral, even if their direct actions are not so moral.

Humor
Legends
Narrative

The Coconut Tree

Contextual data: My informant (my roommate) told me this story late at night when I asked him if he could think of any stories his parents had told him when he was younger. Another of our friends was present, and she was laughing for much of the performance. According to my roommate, his father told him this story about a coconut thief and two lovers–all of whom have horrible fates–as a joke when they were driving in the car a couple years ago. His father was goofing around and trying to make him laugh, so we can assume this story is usually told as an attempt to be funny. My informant’s father is from Vietnam, and he presumably heard this story there. The following is an exact record of our conversation:

Jackson (me): All right, why don’t you tell me that story that you just told me?

I (my informant): Ok, so once upon a time, there was a Vietnamese farmer. Within his backyard, or farm, or whatever you want to call it, he had a coconut tree. Umm, one day a thief decided that he wanted to steal some of the farmer’s coconuts, so he snuck into the backyard, climbed the really high tree, and . . . umm . . . used his knife to cut off a few coconuts, and put them . . . uhh . . . he tied them around his waist and held a few. And then, underneath the tree was a couple kissing, and when the thief had too many coconuts he accidentally dropped one and it fell onto the man’s head, and he bit off the girl’s tongue. So the girl eventually died of blood loss in her mouth, and the man died of concussion, from the coconut falling on his head from meters above the ground.

J: [Laughing]

I: And, ultimately, the thief was tried for burglary [laughing] and eventually put into jail. The end.

J: [Laughing] All right, do you remember who told you that story?

I: My dad.

J: Uhh, did he mean it as a joke, or like a—

I: I think . . . I think he was just like joking around, but it’s definitely a story that he heard in Vietnam at one point in his life.

J: Ok, so your dad’s from Vietnam?

I: Yeah, he moved over in the 70s—to the U.S. in the 70s.

J: Do you think that the story has a meaning behind it, or something like a moral?

I: Uhh . . . don’t kiss under a really high coconut tree?

[Both laughing]

I: Umm . . . pay attention to your surroundings. Like, if the farmer was actually paying attention, then the thief would have been caught before all this stuff happened and umm the couple would have avoided a tragic fate. And the thief shouldn’t have been so greedy as to grab so many coconuts and dropping them to the ground.

J: Does the story have any personal meaning for you?

I: [Laughing] Umm . . . don’t stand under a coconut tree . . . or any dangerous objects.

Even just judging by our reactions (and that of my other friend who was present), the story is meant to elicit laughter, but it does so through very dark humor. It’s all about people doing things with bad connotations–a thief stealing coconuts and a couple having a romantic rendezvous late at night–and then getting into trouble because of it. As is the nature of all contemporary legends, this story may or may not have actually occurred, but the details have undoubtedly changed as it has been passed on. I think my informant is right about the meaning behind the story; it’s about being aware of your surroundings, but, beyond that, I think it’s about not doing what you shouldn’t be doing. It’s definitely black comedy, and it’s entertaining to listen to, but, in the end, everyone has something bad happen to them almost as punishment for what they’re doing right before. And who knows? As a contemporary legend, it could have actually happened.

Legends
Narrative

The Legend of Tom Cook and the Devil

My informant shared with me the local legend of Tom Cook from Westborough, Massachusetts

“Back in about the 1700s there was a clever thief named Tom Cook. He was not the type of thief that you would think, a Robin Hood of the town I guess you could say. He would steal from the rich and give to the poor. So he was a good thief. Anyway, he was not a villain. When Tom was a baby, he was very near death, so his mother made a deal with the devil in order to spare his life. She promised the Devil that Tom would serve him, and cause mischief in a life of thievery. However, since Tom was a good thief who gave away all his loot to those less-fortunate than him, the Devil felt cheater. One morning, when Tom was getting dressed, he heard a knock at the door. He went and opened it to find the Devil himself standing there. The Devil said that he was here to claim Tom’s soul. Tom then asked the Devil if before he took him, if he could finish getting dressed. The Devil, seeing no harm in the request, agreed. However, this was a trick, and for the rest of his life Tom never finished getting dressed. He always had one shoe missing, or a belt buckle un-done, or sometimes one suspender un-clipper. Because the Devil had agreed to wait until he was finished dressing, the Devil could never claim his soul, and Tom died in his old age, with his shirt un-buttoned, and his soul rose up to heaven instead of down to the Devil.”

My informant told me that she had heard this story on a tour of her town that her class took when she was in third grade. She always remembers the story because she thought that Tom was an extremely clever person for being able to out-smart the devil. She informed me that the story was extra-special because the house that Tom lived in still stands today, and they saw it on their tour. That made the legend even more believable to her, seeing the door that the Devil himself walked up to. She doesn’t really ever tell the story of Tom Cook to many people, only unless they make a comment about how the old house should be torn down.

I am from this town of Westborough, MA, and I remember going on the town tour that my informant described. I agree that what made the legend believable was actually seeing Tom Cook’s house. I remember it being light blue, with broken windows and an overgrown lawn. The roof had been caving in and it looked like the scariest house I had ever seen. This image made the legend so real because such a house is hard to imagine could still exist. Sadly, the house was town down this year, and with it, what I believe to be a great deal of the believability of the Tom Cook legend.

The story of Tom Cook appears in authored literature in:

Allen, Kristina Nilson. On the Beaten Path: Westborough, Massachusetts. Westborough Civic Club and Westborough Historical Society, 1984.

 

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