Heung-bu and Nol-bu (흥부와 놀부)



“Okay so Heung-bu and Nol-bu are brothers and Nol-bu is the older one and Heung-bu is the younger one. Heung-bu is poor but generous and kind while Nol-bu is greedy even when he is rich. One day, Heung-bu saves a swallow from being attacked by a snake. The swallow falls from its nest during the attack and breaks its leg. Heung-bu, being the kind guy, treats its legs to help it heal. Once its leg healed, the swallow flys away.

Later, when it became spring, the swallow came back and returned with the… y’know… the 박 (bak/ gourd) seeds. Heung-bu planted the seeds and later when the gourds grew, his family split them open only to find it filled to the brim with gold. He sold them for cash and became super rich. He bought himself and his family a house to live in with the money.

Nol-bu heard that Heung-bu got rich and asked him how he got rich. When Heung-bu told the story about the bird, Nol-bu went and broke a swallow’s leg himself. Next spring, the swallow came back with a gourd seed. Nol-bu planted and when he opened the gourds after they grew, muddy water came out flooding his house and debt collectors came and he became broke. They then went to Heung-bu to apologize to him for treating him bad for being poor. Heung-bu forgave them and they lived together that’s it.”




I collected this from my high school friend who lives in Shanghai, China. Despite living abroad, I was amazed when I went over to his house because his bookshelf was filled with Korean children’s folktales. He stated in the interview that because he moved abroad to Shanghai at a young age of three, his parents feared that he would lose to ability to speak Korean or not be able to identify renowned traditional stories. So his father made sure to always buy books when he traveled back to Korea for business and carry them back in suitcases. Because he is the youngest child from both the maternal and paternal side of the family, he states that he has no younger cousins to give the books to so he plans to make sure his children read the same books as he did.

Heung-bu and Nol-bu is significant to my friend because it was a book that he saw at Korean weekend schools (hosted on Saturdays) that he did not own at his house so he remembers specifically asking his dad to buy it for him on his next trip back to South Korea.

Additional context of the story that was missed out by my informant was a minute story detail of Heung-bu going to Nol-bu’s house in an attempt to get some food to feed for his children. Nol-bu’s wife declines the begging Heung-bu by slapping him with a 주걱 (Joo-guk/ Rice Spatula) that she was using to cook rice. Some of the cooked rice that was on the spatula got stuck onto Heung-bu’s cheek and Heung-bu proceeded to go home and feed those rice grains to his starving wife and children. Heung-bu was obviously humiliated by Nol-bu’s wife’s violence, but he still is trying to provide for his folks.




Heung-bu and Nol-bu has a moral: if you are a kind and giving person, good things will happen. However, if you act greedy and selfish, bad things will happen. Traditional folk tales such as this subconsciously instill moral values to the children reading it to act kind and caring for others. This is more effective than being told to act kinder as the readers see an example, although fictional, of somebody being recognized and rewarded for acts of good.