Heungbu and Nolbu

Original Title: 흥부와 놀부

Phonetically(names): Heungbu and Nolbu

Informant SL is a junior studying business communication at the University of Southern California. She is of Korean descent and only moved to America at the age of 16. Here, she discusses a traditional Korean folktale that is well known by all kids in Korea. SL compared this story to ‘Humpty Dumpty’ from western culture in terms of how well-known it is.

SL: Heungbu is the dad of a poor family, and one day they find a bird in their backyard, and the bird has a broken leg. Seeing this, the dad takes the bird in his hand and wraps the leg of the bird. Then the bird flies away, and the same bird comes flying back… but drops them off a seed. This seed turns out to be a pumpkin seed and it keeps growing and growing and growing and becomes this giant thing. It becomes this giant ball. It becomes so big the wife and the family have to saw it open. Once they cut it all the way open, they find all this gold, jewelry, riches. Basically a treasure chest in a pumpkin. But then, his neighbor saw this and the neighbor was a rich greedy man. And his name was nolbu “n-o-l-b-u”. Nolbu had heard what happened with Heungbu’s family, so he goes outside and purposely breaks a bird’s leg. And then he wrapped it up the same way, bandaged it, and the bird flew away. And that bird game back one day and dropped off a seed. He picked up the seed all excited and happy and it grew into the same big big size. And inside were trolls called Dokkaebi. Dokkaebi’s are always known to have bats, so then they popped out of the pumpkin and beat them up. Seeing this, the nice guy Heungbu comes and helps him.

The informant is not entirely sure where she knows this story from because Korean children simply grow up with it. It is heard through books, nursery rhymes, family etc. and there are even restaurants with this name. The informant likes this story because she thinks it’s funny and teaches you the whole moral of “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”. As a child, she thought the story was about being greedy, but now she realizes why parents tell the story. “When we’re told don’t be greedy, no one will know what that means. But this story exemplifies it well and teaches the dangers of greed well.”

In my opinion, this piece exemplifies a common thread linking together many different cultures. Greed is universally seen as negative by nearly every culture, and it is very important to teach this concept to children when they are very young. I really liked this story because it presented both the dangers of greed as well as the benefits of leading an honest life. To me, this piece is an excellent teaching tool, and I can see why it has been memorialized in Korean culture.

For another version of this story, see http://www.tparents.org/Library/Unification/Talks2/Kirkbride/Kirkbride-100629.htm