Tag Archives: folktales

Salem Witches

‘ As an anthropologist, I spent decades interviewing people in the Mayan highlands, throughout central America and Mexico, and the Andes all about their folklore, ghost stories, and witch stories… but I want to tell you the one that I grew up with in New England, a piece of folklore so important to me it changed the way I live. When we were kids, the histories and the stories of the Salem Witch Trials are something that everybody was taught. We were told these stories from our first grammar school class. I grew up during a period in the 70s where there was a whole revitalization of interest in witches. Because of the feminist movement, there was a retelling of who these women were. It is said that in 1692, the craze started… it went for a full year. Anyone who was considered an outcast or spoke out, were all accused of being witches. Here, in these little towns of New England, people were paranoid beyond belief. They were having heavy winters, people were starving, they were jealous of each other… there was so much religious belief that the devil was constantly surrounding them… he’s in the goats… he’s in your neighbor… he’s everywhere. So, in the late 1600s, this group of girls sitting around the fire, with a Caribbean woman named Tituba and the girls asked her to tell them a story to pass the time. Her story was about the devil, and the devil turning girls into witches. This got in the little girls’ heads, and before long, all of them start to have these visions of witches… that people are having paralytic attacks, epileptic attacks, visions and hallucinations, sleepwalking… They say this was all because of the witches. During this brutal Winter, the town of Salem used a book written by a British King called “How to Tell a Witch”, and they used this book to identify the ‘witches’. Over 200 people had been accused as witches. So, when I was growing up, I grew up with pictures of the Devil with puritanical etchings, pictures of the devil riding goats in the churches… These things were in my brain as real things that really happened. I was taught that the history is in my house, my clothes, the furniture, everywhere. Somehow, I am connected to them. So, I grew up with this belief that witches were our friends… that witches were these falsely accused woman… not falsely accused because witches don’t exist… we believed they did, and that they were killed because they were smart woman who spoke out and killed for that. Many of us identified as witches growing up… I did. So many of us growing up during this time thought we were witches and led a life to resemble the tales we heard of our ancestors.” – JB

JB has a personal connection to the tales of the Salem Witch Trials, specifically to the tales that were revitalized during the 70s. JB grew up very close to Salem Town, in which the trials happened. They were passed down to her throughout her childhood in places like school, or from friends and their parents. She felt so strongly about these tales and memmorates that she began to live a life similar to that of a witch. She believed she was one, she decided that her and her friends were the “new witches” and with that she prayed to the trees, the rivers, and to something much older than any religion she knew. JB recalls that the story she tells now, the tales she passes down to her own family are intertwined with those of the Salem Witches.

To me, this piece of JB’s life was very interesting, as I also grew up learning about the Salem Witch Trials, but not during a time where these stories were regenerated and strengthened. I learned about it more in the historical sense, what my teachers believed to be factual events during this time period. I was not told any tales or legends of these times. JB’s recounting of her experience shows how much historical folklore can be passed down through generations and continue to take effect on those who hear them, as it did to her and her peers. Additionally, the cultural beliefs of these legends have continued to adapt and be passed down to many audiences across the world. The adaptation can even be seen in JB’s interpretation of the legends, as in the 70s, the theme had changed to show the power of the women, rather than the ‘sin’ many past tales condemned them to have. It can also be assumed that these tales in the late 1800s and early 1900s were performed for audiences, as much folklore is. This folklore also took hold in shaping many communities throughout the last centuries, growing over time and bringing people together, fostering a sense of connection to such historical events.

“The Three Little Pigs”

Main Piece: “Once upon a time, there were three pigs that were siblings. They were all grown up now and decided to go out and make their own way. The first pig finds a place and makes a house out of straw, the second pig finds a place and makes it out of wood sticks, and the third pig makes his house out of brick. One day, a wolf shows up to the first pig’s house and asks him to come out. When he doesn’t the wolf tells him that he is going to ‘huff, and puff, and BLOW the house down.’ The wolf blows down the first house but the pig escapes and ends up at the second brother’s house. The wolf follows the pig to the seance house made of sticks and again asks them to come out. The pigs say no, and again the wolf says ‘I’m gonna huff, and puff, and BLOW your house down,’ The house falls, and the pigs escape again this time reaching their last brother’s house. When the wolf arrives here, he once again asks them to come out and when they refuse he once more says ‘I’m gonna huff, and puff, and BLOW your house down.’ This time however, the house didn’t fall and the wolf became very angry. So instead the wolf climbed on top of the roof and made his way into the chimney and started climbing down. The brother who had made the brick house, quickly ran to the bottom of the chimney and placed a pot of boiling water. As the wolf fell down the chimney, he landed in the pot and the fireplace also caught him on fire. He ran out of the house never to be seen again, and the three pigs lived happily ever after.”

 

Background: UV told me that one of the things he noticed in Mexican tales was that they are heavily influenced from around the world, and mostly from America. So he said that this version is similar to ones he’s heard since coming to America, but as a child this was the story he was told by his mother. He said that this tale was pretty meaningful to him, because after his mom would tell it to him and his siblings, she would tell them how important family is and how they need to look after each other and help one another. UV took this to heart and said that he really connects with this piece because of that.

 

Context of the Performance: This story was told to me in my apartment while me and UV were hanging out and discussing some of our old favorite childhood memories and tales. This one in particular was a good one to hear because we both exchanged the same story, and it was cool to see how similar they were even across cultural and national boundaries.

 

Analysis: This iteration of the Three Little Pigs is very similar to the one I was told as a kid, but the added part of the wolf trying to climb through the chimney is interesting. Its adds another layer to the story and showcases the third pig’s cleverness even more, as he has to help the brothers one last time to get out of a bad situation. I believe the extra addition of this, seeks to emphasize an importance on cleverness and how important it is to protect your family against people who would try and do harm to them. In the American version, it is merely about resourcefulness and how building a strong foundation can withstand even the toughest of oppositions. And while the version that UV told me has that as well, I really think it leans more towards the importance of familial bonds and using your wits to help your family when they need you. This would be in direct correlation with what UV mentions in how important family is in Mexican culture, and I believe that this story seeks to point that out in a way that is easily accessible for children and adults.

 

For another version of this tale see:

Randall, Ronne, and Kasia Nowowiejska. The Three Little Pigs. Pat-a-Cake, an Imprint of Hachette Children’s

Group, 2018.

Aesop Tales

Interviewer: What is being performed?

 

Informant: We have our own series of ‘Aesop Tale’ like folk stories and stories with moral lessons. By Jacqueline Jung

 

Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

 

 Informant: I like these pieces because having exposure to Western and Eastern stories- it’s so interesting to see the cross over of  ‘moral lessons’ (air quotes) or the emphasis of compassion or community. I learned of these stories when I moved to Korea.

 

Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?

 

Informant: South Korea. (but born and raised in the US)

 

Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

 

Informant: Not tied to a specific religion but they are Korean folktales.

 

Interviewer: Where did you first hear the story?

 

Informant: When I was living in Korea, moved there in 2006 and when I was learning the language, reading various folktale books.

 

Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?

 

Informant: I think very similar to Aesop. They were developed as stories for kids to be compassionate and hardworking.

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: They are very sweet stories. I find them particularly fascinating because they have really similar aspects with tales like Cinderella, The Ant and the Grasshopper and other Western Folktales.

 

Context of the performance– conversation with classmate before class

 

Thoughts about the piece– Reading a children’s book to learn a language is common and this exposure to cultural beliefs seems to have another purpose, to teach about societal values through story at a young age or to an immigrant. You can read a version of the Korean Ant and the Grasshopper here: http://www.uexpress.com/tell-me-a-story/2015/6/28/the-goblin-treasure-a-korean-folktale

 

“Nazrudin at the Bathhouse”

            The informant admitted immediately that he was not precisely sure of when or why his family began telling the stories of Nazrudin; he understood them to be largely grounded in Jewish culture and no one is his family identifies as Jewish. However, the informant then explained that tales of Nazrudin had spread throughout the Persian empire as well as geographically across the Middle East, which could explain how the story filtered through his Indian and Iraqi sides of the family.

            He always thought the tales of Nazrudin to have a highly comedic value, but even at a young age he noticed the twists at the end of each tale, when Nazrudin would exact a unique kind of justice on those who had wronged him or had taken advantage of him. He also stated that all of his Jewish friends from childhood had heard at least a few tales of Nazrudin each, although details within the tales would vary from child to child.

 

            The stories that I’m telling revolve around this one character, Nazrudin. A lot of times you’ll hear different stories and the hero is someone who is. . .strong, bold and courageous, and goes out and does heroic things. Nazrudin is a character that comes up in Jewish tales but also has to do with tales in the Middle East; he’s kind of a wide-spread character. But, every single those stories are told he’s described in the same way: a forty-year old, slight, pudgy, balding man. Not someone to be feared or intimidated by―basically not a Hercules. So Nazrudin would go around and his role in a lot of these stories is as a trickster. He goes around and he dispenses wisdom to people who otherwise wouldn’t get it kind of by being almost like that, that thorn in the side, you know?

            One story that highlights this is. . . Nazrudin is in Persia and in Persia he gets really hot, and this is a time when there’s no plumbing, there’s no bathtub in your house.  So he’s in Persia and he’s not someone who would make a lot of money, and so he has a small house with no bathtub and no running water. He visits a bathhouse once every week in order to clean himself off. Those were the customs (laughs), hygiene was not a big thing back in the day.

            Nazrudin takes his towel and walks from his house many, many miles to the bathhouse. By this time, he looks almost like a beggar. He looks dirty, his clothes are covered in dust, he’s covered in dust―and he didn’t have very nice things to begin with. So, he walks up to the attendant at the desk and he says, “I’d like to take a bath.” The attendant, standing at the desk (as I’m sure we’ve all had this experience with customer service representatives) looks down his nose at Nazrudin and says in a very snooty voice, “I think we can find a bath for you.” The attendant takes Nazrudin down the hall to the farthest bath away from the entrance. Nazrudin opens it, and it’s a bathroom that has obviously not been cleaned. It’s dirty, it’s unkempt, there are flies, it smells. When he turns on the water to get in the bath, only cold water comes out. He tries to call for the attendant but the attendant doesn’t come. So Nazrudin takes it for what it is, takes the bath, and leaves.

            On his way out, he takes a gold coin (basically the wealthiest piece of currency that they have) and puts it on the attendant’s desk. The attendant’s like, “What this?” And Nazrudin says, “This is for the bath.” And the attendant, still in shock, sits there staring at the gold coin as Nazrudin walks out.

            The next week, Nazrudin comes in. This time, Nazrudin still not looking very good―he’s gone a week without bathing, remember. This time, though, the attendant is all smiles. He remembers that gold coin and thinks that Nazrudin is someone who’s wealthy and has status. He says, “Please sir, come this way! Can I get you anything?” He’s very accommodating this time. He brings Nazrudin to their best bathhouse and Nazrudin takes a long, hot bath. The attendant is on beck and call for anything he needs; he has extra towels, extra silks, things like that. Nazrudin enjoys himself, and on the way out, the attendant comes out, basically there waiting for his tip. Nazrudin reaches into his purse and pulls out a tiny, tiny copper coin and gives it to the attendant. The attendant looks at it, looks at Nazrudin, looks back at the coin, and says, “What’s this?” Nazrudin says, “This. . .was for last week. That. . .was for this week.”

 

            The description of Nazrudin as a nondescript middle-aged man is significant because the tales of Nazrudin shows that Herculean strength or beauty is not required to triumph over others. Cunning and quick wit are just as valuable, and these characteristics are not evident in appearances. Moreover, the attendant’s snootiness and condescendence toward Nazrudin reinforces the old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover;” the attendant could not reconcile his perception of the beggarly Nazrudin with the large gold coin he deposited at the end of the bath. The legend encourages individuals to look beyond superficial divisions like those of appearance and class and to treat everyone fairly.

           Additionally, the fact that tales of Nazrudin have traveled geographically are likely due to migration as well as imperial influence (especially when considering the breadth of the Persian and Ottoman Empires). It is unsurprising that the informant’s childhood friends had learned variants of the same tale because of the high likelihood that varying ociotypes had surfaced from different regions. Clearly, the tales of Nazrudin had a wide appeal if they were adopted by a broad range of cultures.

“Nazrudin and the Duck Soup”

            The informant admitted immediately that he was not precisely sure of when or why his family began telling the stories of Nazrudin; he understood them to be largely grounded in Jewish culture and no one is his family identifies as Jewish. However, the informant then explained that tales of Nazrudin had spread throughout the Persian empire as well as geographically across the Middle East, which could explain how the story filtered through his Indian and Iraqi sides of the family.

            He always thought the tales of Nazrudin to have a highly comedic value, but even at a young age he noticed the twists at the end of each tale, when Nazrudin would exact a unique kind of justice on those who had wronged him or had taken advantage of him. He also stated that all of his Jewish friends from childhood had heard at least a few tales of Nazrudin each, although details within the tales would vary from child to child. He followed up his previous story, “Nazrudin at the Bathhouse,” with “Nazrudin and the Duck Soup,” another tale that ends in a humorous twist.

 

            This time Nazrudin is not in Persia. After hearing this story, I imagined Nazrudin farther north, where there are more forests, and this story evolves from an event when Nazrudin and his friend catch a duck. So him and his friend go in the woods and they go trapping, and they catch a duck. They come back to Nazrudin’s house and they ask themselves, “What can we do with this all meat? What can we make that will make it last a long time?” So they make duck soup. Now, they prepare the meat, they throw in all these different vegetables and herbs, and they make this amazing, delicious duck soup that just melts in your mouth―as much as soup can. They both have a great time and really enjoy the soup. Nazrudin shows his friend to the door when the meal’s all done and says goodbye and the friend leaves. Nazrudin is left with this pot of big soup and, what do you do with leftovers? You just keep on eating them. So, he thought that was the end of it.

            The next day, however, there’s a knock on the door and Nazrudin walks to the door, not expecting anyone, opens it, and there’s a stranger standing there. Nazrudin asks, “Can I help you?” And the stranger says, “I’m a friend of the man who helped you kill the duck. Can I have some soup?” Apparently the soup was so good that Nazrudin’s friend told another friend about it and said Nazrudin would be happy to give him some soup. And, acting as the host that he is, Nazrudin says, “Of course.” He brings the man a bowl of the soup, the man eats and leaves.

            The next day there’s a knock on the door. Nazrudin opens it, there’s another stranger, who says, “I’m a friend of a friend of the man who helped you kill the duck. Can I have some soup?” Nazrudin again says, “Of course.” Nazrudin shows him in, serves him some soup, and the man leaves. This continues for many, many days to the point where Nazrudin hears a knock on the door to another stranger, who says, “I’m a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of the man who helped you kill the duck. Can I have some soup?” Nazrudin takes the man into the kitchen and says, “Wait here.” He takes a bowl into the kitchen and fills it with tepid water. He places the bowl of water in front of the man. He looks at it, he smells it, tastes it, and turns to Nazrudin completely unsatisfied and says, “This is not soup!” And Nazrudin says, “No, no, my friend, this is the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the duck!”

 

            This time, the tale of Nazrudin discourages taking advantage of a friend’s hospitality. Although Nazrudin is thankful for his friend’s help in trapping the duck and thus shares his soup with him, but the continual generosity he is expected to give to those who are distant from his friend is no longer reasonable compared to the aid his friend contributed. The core moral teaching in the legend, then, is that individuals should not expect gifts and generosity by relying on associations with others; only when we directly contribute to an outcome do we deserve a portion of the reward.

            Also notable in the legend is Nazrudin’s patience; he does not boil over in fury or chastise his friend, choosing instead to quietly execute his scheme until a guest finally notices. Again, Nazrudin’s cunning and foresight wins out over his mistreatment by his friend.