Author Archives: Sirarpi Muradian

Indian Tale – The Greedy Monkeys

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Informant: “There’s a story of two greedy monkeys who find a piece of roti, basically an Indian tortilla, in the forest and they are fighting over who is going to break it in half because they each think the other will give himself the bigger piece. A snake comes by and hears them fighting and devises a plan. He offers to break it for them. He does and offers them the two halves, but each monkey thinks one piece is bigger, because the snake made one purposely bigger, so the snake takes a bite out of the bigger one, now making the other half bigger and offers it back up to them. Same situation keeps happening until the roti is finished and the snake just slithers away and the monkeys are left with nothing. Basically it’s a story about how if you’re greedy you’ll end up with nothing.”

Background

My informant is a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles, California. She is of Indian descent, and her knowledge of Indian folklore comes from her father. 

Context

Informant: “I can’t remember how old I was when I heard this but I was a kid. Usually stories like this are told to kids to teach them a lesson and teach them not to be greedy.”

My Thoughts

I had not heard of this story before, but I did know that greed is a widely recognized sin in Indian cultures. According to Hindupedia (cited below), greed causes fights amongst family members, a loss of wealth, and a loss of close friends. In Indian cultures, greed is also the driving force behind most crimes, whether it is theft or cheating. In an Indian story titled “How a Greedy Miser became a great Saint,” a young man refuses to spend money on finding cures for his father’s sickness, which results in his father’s death. By the end of the story, the young man acknowledges his greed and becomes charitable.

It is interesting to note that the two characters that suffered in the hands of the snake are monkeys. Monkeys are a very important part of Indian culture. Monkeys are said to be the living avatars of the god of power, Hanuman, who was half-man and half-monkey. The snake is vilified as he is deceiving a respected deity. 

Source:

Hindupedia. “Ideals and Values/Lobha (Greed) The Third Inner Enemy.” Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia, www.hindupedia.com/en/Ideals_and_Values/Lobha_(Greed)_The_Third_Inner_Enemy#We_do_wrong_things. Accessed 24 Apr. 2021.

Ethiopian Anecdote – The Lazy Student

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Once there was a boy who did not understand math. His teacher tried teaching him subtraction, but the boy would not understand. So, the teacher explained with an example.

“If I have five sheep,” she asked, “and one of them leaves, how many sheep are left?”

The boy answers, “no sheep will be left.”

The teacher lost her temper and shouted, “How could there be no sheep left?”

The boy answered while crying “I know the sheep’s character! If one goes, all will follow!”

Context 

This joke is told to children to teach them about the followers in society and distinguish them from the leaders. 

Background

My informant was born and raised in Ethiopia. He heard this joke from his father. He recalls that this joke was his first exposure to the concept that people can exhibit characteristics of sheep. My informant likes this joke because he comes across many people in his line of work that remind him of this joke.

My Thoughts

This joke is incredibly relevant today, even in the United States. There is much talk of a group of people being “sheep” because they follow the lead of certain celebrities or politicians. This kind of rhetoric is popular because it can apply to both sides of a political spectrum. Two opponents can both claim that the other is a “sheep” for merely believing something different. I also found it interesting that a message such as this was communicated using a classroom setting with children. This suggests that even young children are astute enough to recognize when someone is a sheep, and that it does not take a genius to do so.

Indian Superstition – Leaving the House

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Informant: “If you’re about to leave the house and someone asks you where you are going, you have to come back in and sit down for a minute and then tell them where you are going. Basically it’s because it’s bad luck to interrupt someone as they are leaving. You shouldn’t ask someone where they’re going if they’re already on their way out and if someone asks you, then you should come back inside. Or else whatever you were going to do will not get done.”

Background

My informant is a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles, California. She is of Indian descent, and her knowledge of Indian folklore comes from her father. 

Context

This superstition is enacted when someone is about to leave the house and they are interrupted.  

My Thoughts

There is not always a rhyme or reason for superstitions. According to my informant, people follow superstitions even if there is no good reason to follow them. However, there are certain elements in this superstition that I connected with others. This superstition falls in line with the Indian black cat superstition (originally from Egypt, popularized in India). This popular superstition says that if a black cat crosses your path, you will have bad luck. Both the black cat superstition and the superstition told by my informant depict the interruption of a journey. In both superstitions, your interrupted journey will bring bad luck and assurance that whatever you were doing will not get done. 

Armenian Song – “Garun a”

(This conversation took place in Armenian)

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Lyrics (Original Script):

Գարուն ա ձուն ա արել, 

Վայ լէ լէ, վայ լէ լէ, վայ լէ լէ, լէ լէ 

Իմ եարն ինձնից ա սառել, 

Ախ չորնա, վախ այ եար, 

չար մարդու լեզուն 

Վայ լէ լէ, վայ լէ լէ, վայ լէ լէ, լէ լէ 

Phonetic Script

Garun a dzyun a arel

vay le le, vay le le, vay le le le le

Eem yar-n indznits a sarrel

Akh chorna, vakh ay yar

char martu lezun

vay le le, vay le le, vay le le le le

Transliteration

It is spring, it has snowed

Oh le le, Oh le le, Oh le le le le.

My sweetheart, from me, is frozen

Oh, dry up, my sweetheart, 

the evil man’s tongue

Oh le le, Oh le le, Oh le le le le.

Lyrics (Translation):

It is springtime and yet it has snowed

Oh le le, Oh le le, Oh le le le le.

My sweetheart has turned cold

Oh, how I wish for the evil man’s tongue to dry

Oh le le, Oh le le, Oh le le le le.

Background

My informant explained that when she lived in Armenia, this song was a significant part of the day of remembrance for the Armenian Genocide, which took place on April 24, 1915. She explained that it is a song to be understood by the heart and felt by the soul. The song remembers not only those who lose their lives in the Genocide of 1915, but also the Armenian Massacre of 1894, which is what the song is originally referencing. When asked where she learned this song, she told me she could not remember, and does not remember a time when she didn’t know the song. 

This song has no known author but was popularized by Father Komitas, who was an Armenian preacher and singer. This song is a very powerful aspect of Armenian culture about the Armenian Massacre of 1894, which occurred during the Spring. The lyrics emphasize the notion that during the Spring, a time that brings flourishment and growth, there was “snow.” This snow is metaphorical and represents the cold and bitter nature of the massacres during a time that is usually celebrated for bringing flowers and warm weather. Komitas’s rendition of this song became the canon.

Context 

This song is sung by various members of the community on April 24 every year. This is a recurring tradition in Armenia, but can be performed by Diasporan Armenians in other countries.

My Thoughts

Being Armenian myself, I completely understood the emotions my informant was trying to communicate. The gravity of this song is not easily communicated to one who is not Armenian. I found it interesting that, in times of mourning, the people unite to sing a song. Music has always been a big part of my life, so I understand the unity that singing this song may bring to a people. As mentioned above, Garuna is a folk song that was popularized by Komitas. With that being said, it is difficult to find an interpretation or arrangement of this song that is not in some way a cover of Komitas’s interpretation. It is difficult to trace the original version of this song, and it is just as difficult to verify how close Komitas’s version is to the actual folk song.

I encourage you to listen to the song, sung by Komitas himself, to understand the feeling the song communicates. I have cited a link to a YouTube video below.

Video:

“Komitas – Garuna (Live Voice).” YouTube, 5 Dec. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8PK51TKepc.

Armenian Proverb – The Prudent Man

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Original Script

Մինչեվ խոհեմ մարդը մտածում է, խենթը գետի ափին է և հեռու:

Phonetic Script

Minchev khoem marduh mdatsumeh, khentuh geti apineh yev herru.

Transliteration

Until the smart man thinks, the fool on shore he is and far.

Translation

“While the prudent man is considering, the fool is across the river and away”

(Some parts of this conversation took place in Armenian and have been translated to English.)

Background

Informant: There is a saying, I don’t know if you know it, it goes “Մինչեվ խոհեմ մարդը մտածում է, խենթը գետի ափին է և հեռու” [“While the prudent man is considering, the fool is across the river and away”]. My grandpa used to say this to my dad. 

Me: And what does this mean to you?

Informant: Well, in Armenia we say this because we see the differences between the smart man and the fool. The fool is not afraid of crossing the river because he doesn’t understand what is in it. He is pretty much living in his own world, and what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. You know how they say in English “ignorance is bliss?”

Me: Yeah I’ve heard that a lot.

Informant: Yeah. So this is kind of saying that. The smart man will spend his life contemplating what is the right thing to do, but the fool won’t because he basically doesn’t even know that there is anything to contemplate. 

Me: Yeah I understand, so the moral of this proverb is to take action.

Informant: Yeah, but also don’t be the fool. Think about what you’re doing, but don’t spend your life thinking about it. Take action. In a way, it’s telling you to be just a little bit like the fool. Because, in the end, who is enjoying their life more? Who is living their life to the fullest?

Together: The fool.

Informant: Exactly yeah. 

Context 

This proverb is told to teach people not to overthink. My informant heard her grandfather tell her dad this proverb in a casual setting. 

My Thoughts

I had not heard of this proverb before, but it has a message very much like “carpe diem.” While it does criticize the fool for not being careful, it also admires the fool’s confidence and initiative, and almost urges the audience to be more like the fool. The wise man will spend his whole life thinking about what he should do to get the best results in his life, and by the time he arrives at a conclusion, his life has passed him by. The fool is already “across the river and away,” and he lived his life without the stress of constant deliberation and overthinking.