Tag Archives: Farsi

“Yeki bood, yeki nabood”

My friend Panteha is of Iranian descent on her dad’s side. She recalls a phrase in Farsi that her dad would always use to begin stories or fairy tales he told her as a kid.

The phrase is, in the original Farsi:
یکی بود یکی نبود

It is transliterated as “Yeki bood yeki nabood,” which roughly translates to “once there was one and once there wasn’t one.” This phrase is used in essentially the same manner in which many english speakers use “once upon a time” to begin folk narratives, particularly tales. Although these phrases have different literal translations, they serve the same purpose: to establish the fantastical or fictional nature of a folk narrative.

The Proud Eagle

“This is a story about an eagle and the issue of pride that has been, uhh… told generations after generations to caution the young generations about not to be too proud of themselves and be humble. I’ll say this story in Farsi first, and then translate it in English. [Tells story in Farsi]

Now translate in English, the story about a proud, extremely proud eagle. And as he was flying, I… says to himself, ‘I’m so proud of myself, and my power, and how I can see things, and I’m the strongerest, the strongest eagle on Earth, and anything down there, if it moves, I can tell, I can sense it.’

As he was flying, a hunter down below, using bow and arrow, aimed at her… uhh… and sh… sh…, you know, aimed an arrow at her. Uhh… so causes the eagle to start falling. As… he was, uhh… I’m sorry, I changed my pronouns! You know, I went from he and she; can we redo that?”

No, it’s fine, you can keep going!

“[Laughs] Okay. As he was falling down, uhh, he was looking at the arrow that caused him to fall, and noticed that the, uhh, the important thing that was guiding the arrow was a feather of another eagle. That caused his fall. And eventually his demise.

So the story goes to explain that, uhh, most of the things that are happening to us, are as a result of some of the things we’re doing, uhh, due to our neglect, due to our incompetence, that’s happening to us.”

 

Analysis: This story is very similar to tales and proverbs in other parts of the world relating to pride. I am reminded of the English phrase, “Pride comes before the fall,” which is itself derived from the Bible. It seems to be a very common belief that excess pride often results in one’s own misfortune, but it is interesting to note that in this case, the story is told from the perspective of the Eagle. Not only this, but the hunter is not seen as good or evil, he is instead a merely neutral actor. This places all of the responsibility for wrongdoing on the Eagle’s pride, instead of the entity that caused the Eagle direct harm.

Mullah Nasreddin and Growing Older

“Okay, umm… I’m gonna tell you about the Mullah Nasreddin. He was a wi- wiseguy, and he was always say things that sound like stupid, but really it had a lot of meaning. Uhh… Mullah Nasreddin, umm… he… one day he was walking in the street, and the guy, friend, came and he says, ‘How old are you, Mullah?’

And Mullah says that, ‘I’m 40 years old.’

‘Oh, okay. I thought you told me that 10 years ago you’re 40 years old. What happened, you’re not getting old… older?’

He says, ‘No, even if you come hundred years from now ask me, I’m still gonna be 40 years old.’

And he says, ‘Why?

He says, ‘Because a man doesn’t change his mind. He is always what he says and what he’s gonna be.’

So, umm… Gonna tell you the Farsi. [Tells story in Farsi].

So, is just telling about how stubborn mens are [laughs].”

Analysis: Mullah Nasreddin stories are very common in Persian culture because they are a humorous way to impart life lessons, especially on children. Mullah was famous for playing the fool, but always having a bit of hidden meaning or wisdom in what he was saying or doing, as is present here. This story comments on how pointlessly stubborn many people can be, to the point of ignoring facts, and how humorously childish it is to do so rather than embrace reality.

Devil in Angel’s Clothing

Informant Tahereh Behshid is 78 years old and recalled a proverb she was taught as a young child.

I wanted to know if you could possibly talk about some proverbs you might have used when you were a child in Iran, and the context that you would use those proverbs in. So… do you have an example for me?

“Yes, my name is Tahereh Behshid, and the thing we usually heard from parents, it was [speaking in Farsi] ‘shaytan delah baseh fereshte.’ The devil in angel’s clothing. That means you watch out for the people, they come to you, around you. When they act very nice to you, you have to see what their intention is. So… that’s what it was.”

Analysis: Like many proverbs passed from parent to child, this one deals with imparting a valuable life lesson in very few words. Tahereh grew up as a poor woman in a rapidly modernizing urban area of Iran’s capital, and so with the influx of strangers to her hometown, this advice was likely to be especially valuable. She taught the same lessons, albeit in English, to her own children in the United States, who then passed them on to their children.

A Wolf is Still a Wolf, even if Raised among Humans

Do you have a proverb that you were taught as a child that you would like to share?

“The translation is like this… The wolf is still a wolf, even if raised among humans. Probably should say by humans, huh?… [speaking in Farsi] ‘Al-gorbetteh ghorgzadeh ghorg shabat… gar chabeh a debi bezorghche’ .”

And what context would you use this in?

“Uhh, generally used in the areas that you uhh… you work hard to uhh… eh… to change somebody’s nature, and uhh… you never succeed because it’s change people’s nature. Something to that effect.

Note: For a published version of this proverb, see Simin K.Habibian, 1001 Persian-English Proverbs, (Bethesda: IBEX, 1995).

Analysis: Like his wife, Tahereh, Masood spent a great deal of time in a poor but rapidly modernizing region of Iran’s capital. The strains of living in such an environment were likely reflected in the sorts of proverbs they were taught, which emphasized double-checking people’s motives and avoiding treachery. As mentioned with regards to TB’s childhood proverb, MB also taught his children with proverbs similar to this, and those messages were passed down farther.