Tag Archives: Childrens

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.

Humpty Dumpty

Me: Can you tell me some familiar story or rhyme you remember?

Informant:       “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

                               Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,

                               All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,

                               Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

Me: When did you hear this?

Informant: “This nursery rhyme was something I heard in grade school.”

The informant thought of this rhyme first when prompted for a piece of folklore, and demonstrated that despite an inter-cultural upbringing, this rhyme still featured prominently in her childhood. It would seem the Mother Goose style nursery rhymes, of which this is one, have become globalized and are no longer a purely western phenomenon, since despite an international heritage, the informant still seemed to associate their childhood most strongly with this rhyme, and recited it in its traditional form.

Space Traveling Boy

I asked my informant if he could provide me with a piece of Folklore, and he suggested this story. According to the informant, his parents would tell it to him as a child, and he believes it is of Swiss origin, although he is not sure.

“It’s about this little boy, who lives in space, and he kinda has a really unique perspective on the world based on his naivete,  and, in space all the planets are governed by adults and on each planet this adult has like a certain characteristic or trait the boy goes about kind of negating or belying. Like, certain events that happen, like there’s this one where he shows the adult a picture of, like a hat but he asks him “what do you see in this picture?” and the adult says “oh it’s a hat it’s simple” and he goes no its not a hat it’s a elephant and a snake underneath a blanket, just because of the shape of the hat.”

Although this story seems to be missing parts, from what is available, we see that it is about a boy who gets in arguments with adults, and wins them since he does not posses the same hardened stereotypes. Seeing the boy use his imagination and think outside the box, this story may also serve as a reminder to adults not to become trapped in social dogma, and to preserve some of the innocence of childhood.

Banoonooed

The informant provided the following as a tale his father would tell him before bed,for the purpose of making sure he didn’t eat too much before going to sleep.

Alright, so, when I was a kid my Dad, (first of all my dad’s family is Philippeano. my dad is full Philippeano.) So he would tell me that, uh, if I ate right before bed I’d, what would happen was, it was called “banoonooed.” [ban-noon-noon-ed] and what that means is that if you eat before bed when you go to sleep you’ll have a bad dream and your entire hair will go, just like… white. So yeah, anyway, if you eat before dinner and if you eat too much, er, sorry, if you eat too much before you go to sleep it will give you nightmares, and those nightmares will be so scary that your hair will just go completely white and I think that’s, like my dad didn’t make it up, but I think it’s to stop people eating before going to bed and… yeah. 

As the informer notes, this tale is not specific to his family, but it does seem to be a Philippeano tale in general as opposed to one which has spread across cultures. As the informer noted to me, large meals are a significant part of Philippeano culture, and a tale warning against their consumption before bed is likely more relevant to their culture than others. Furthermore, the scare-tactics and over the top consequences for eating too much before bed, make it a good children’s story, and that gives its moral a context.

Miss Lucy

This is a children’s hand-clapping game that my informant played when she was in elementary school with other girls. The hand motion is similar to paddy cake; the participants’ right hands meet, then each participant claps their own hands together, then the left hands meet, and then it repeats. Some specific lines go with specific movements: at “operator”, the participants put their hand up by their ear with their thumb up and pinky sticking out, mimicking a telephone; at “dark dark dark”, there is just continual clapping with the word for emphasis; at “bra bra bra”, it is the same thing as “dark dark dark”.

“Miss Lucy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell

Miss Lucy went to heaven, and the steamboat went to

Hello operator, please give me number nine

And if you disconnect me, I will chop off your

Behind the ‘fridgerator, there laid a piece of glass

Miss Lucy sat upon it, and it went right up her

Ask me no more questions, please tell me no more lies

The boys are in the bathroom, zipping up their

Flies are in the meadow, the bees are in the park

Miss Lucy and her boyfriend are kissing in the

D-A-R-K

D-A-R-K

D-A-R-K

Dark dark dark!

The dark is like the movies, the movie’s like a show

The show is like a tv show, and that is all I know

I know I know my ma, I know I know my pa

I know I know my sister with the 80 meter, 80 meter bra bra bra!”

This particular clapping game song has very simple hand movements, but the text is very interesting. It engages in a lot of scandalous tabooistic discourse, and is cleverly constructed so as not to actually say any inappropriate words. For example, at “Miss Lucy went to heaven, the steamboat went to/Hello operator”, the word “hello” serves both as the greeting and as the word “hell”, where the steamboat presumably went. However, because it’s inappropriate for primary aged children (generally female) to be talking about such things as boys zipping up their flies, it’s recited in a way where they’re not technically saying anything inappropriate, though they do mean it. This tabooistic discourse is indicative of the kind of things that children at this age would be wondering about, or hearing about, and it is often passed among children and taught by friends in older grades or older siblings, continuing its tradition.