Tag Archives: greed

The Fisherman and the Golden Fish

It’s about a fisherman, and his wife that are living very humbly by the ocean. And uh … one day the fisherman goes down to the ocean and uh .. he uh .. casts his hook into the ocean and he catches a golden fish. And this fish, when it’s caught by the fisherman says, “Listen, if you let me go I’ll give you anything you want”. This is a Russian folktale. And the fisherman says, “Well, let me consult with my wife”. And so what he does is he goes back, and uh … he asks his wife what she would want, and she says she really wants a trough. You know what a trough is, it’s like a vessel almost. It’s a vessel made out of wood. A very humble request. And the fisherman says to the fish, “All we want is a trough. My wife just wants a trough to put stuff in, maybe flour or vegetables or something”. And the fish says, “No problem, no problem”. And so the fisherman goes back home and there’s this beautiful brand new trough uhh … in front of his wife. Now this repeats, because the fisherman, this is all folktale, he catches that fish again at another date down the line. And the fish says, “You know, listen, please let me go. Whatever you want I will provide”. And so he consults with his wife again and the wife says, “Hey, you know this is a big opportunity, I like, I like a new house. You know this hovel we’re living in doesn’t do it”. This progresses, the fisherman keeps going back and it goes from the trough, to a new house, and then it translates or devolves into something even bigger than a new house like a new cow or something like that. And he keeps going back to the fish, and he catches it, and finally the wife says, “Hey listen, I would like to be, … I think our wish should be that I should be the Queen of Russia”. They call it Tsaritsa. And the fish says …, the uhh fisherman goes back after he catches the fish, and sure enough the fish is tired of all these requests. There are many of them, they keep escalating. And uh he says uh .. “Just go back home, and your wife will get what she deserves”. And so he goes back and she’s in the same miserable state … as the uh inception of the story, because she had overextended her requests.

Background: This informant’s family is from Russia and he grew up in the US. He eventually taught Russian at a university. This piece is an example he has come across after studying Russian folk belief.

Interpretation: This story shows both the value in compassion, and that you should not be greedy. The fisherman is initially rewarded for showing kindness, it is only when he abuses this ability to get rewarded does he have all his rewards taken away. It also might say something about the right to the crown as that is the wish that breaks the camel’s back as it were. Basically the story warns against taking advantage of others and doing good out of greed instead out of kindness.

Indian Tale – The Greedy Monkeys

Main Piece

Informant: “There’s a story of two greedy monkeys who find a piece of roti, basically an Indian tortilla, in the forest and they are fighting over who is going to break it in half because they each think the other will give himself the bigger piece. A snake comes by and hears them fighting and devises a plan. He offers to break it for them. He does and offers them the two halves, but each monkey thinks one piece is bigger, because the snake made one purposely bigger, so the snake takes a bite out of the bigger one, now making the other half bigger and offers it back up to them. Same situation keeps happening until the roti is finished and the snake just slithers away and the monkeys are left with nothing. Basically it’s a story about how if you’re greedy you’ll end up with nothing.”

Background

My informant is a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles, California. She is of Indian descent, and her knowledge of Indian folklore comes from her father. 

Context

Informant: “I can’t remember how old I was when I heard this but I was a kid. Usually stories like this are told to kids to teach them a lesson and teach them not to be greedy.”

My Thoughts

I had not heard of this story before, but I did know that greed is a widely recognized sin in Indian cultures. According to Hindupedia (cited below), greed causes fights amongst family members, a loss of wealth, and a loss of close friends. In Indian cultures, greed is also the driving force behind most crimes, whether it is theft or cheating. In an Indian story titled “How a Greedy Miser became a great Saint,” a young man refuses to spend money on finding cures for his father’s sickness, which results in his father’s death. By the end of the story, the young man acknowledges his greed and becomes charitable.

It is interesting to note that the two characters that suffered in the hands of the snake are monkeys. Monkeys are a very important part of Indian culture. Monkeys are said to be the living avatars of the god of power, Hanuman, who was half-man and half-monkey. The snake is vilified as he is deceiving a respected deity. 

Source:

Hindupedia. “Ideals and Values/Lobha (Greed) The Third Inner Enemy.” Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia, www.hindupedia.com/en/Ideals_and_Values/Lobha_(Greed)_The_Third_Inner_Enemy#We_do_wrong_things. Accessed 24 Apr. 2021.

Ethiopian Story – The Two Neighbors

Main Piece

Once, there were two poor neighbors. Neither could afford a donkey, which they both desperately needed, to take their produce to the market. They compromised and decided to each pay half of the cost of a donkey. One neighbor took the donkey one week, and the other the next. Suddenly, one of the neighbor’s father passed away and left him money, animals, and land. This neighbor became rich. The rich neighbor needed to feed his animals. 

He said to the poor man, “let us kill the donkey and divide him equally between us.

The poor man refused, saying, “Either give me money for my half and take the whole donkey, or let us keep sharing it as we did before. I still need the donkey to carry my produce to the market.”

The rich man and the poor man argued some more, and went to an ignorant judge to settle their dispute. 

The ignorant judge says, “Slaughter the donkey and give the rich man his half.”

So the donkey was slaughtered, and the poor man no longer could take his produce into the marketplace. 

One day, the rich man decided to burn his hut. 

The poor man pleaded, “Don’t burn it. My hut is next door. You will burn mine too!” 

But the rich man didn’t listen. He insisted that it was his house, and he could do whatever he wanted with it. So he burned his hut, and a gust of wind took the flames to the poor man’s hut and burned it as well. 

The two went back to the ignorant judge and the poor man asked, “If he burned down my hut, why can’t he pay me?” 

The ignorant judge answered, “The rich man did not mean to burn down your house. The gust of wind burned down your house, so it is not his fault.”

Now the poor man was left without a donkey and without a hut. Every day, after farming his chickpeas in his field, he slept underneath a tree. Years passed, and the rich man had children. One day, the rich man’s children sneaked into the poor man’s field and ate his chickpeas. The poor man was now left without a harvest. They both went to the ignorant judge once more.

“His children ate my chickpeas,” said the poor man, “and I want them back.”

The rich man said, “Alright, I will pay you for the chickpeas.”

The poor man replied, “No. I want my chickpeas. I shall tear their stomachs and get my chickpeas.”

The rich man was terrified. “Please! Let me pay you for them!”

The ignorant judge said, “If they are his chickpeas, then he shall tear their stomachs and claim them.”

The rich man pleaded some more, but the poor man and the judge would not change their minds. The rich man convinced the poor man to go see the elders to settle their dispute. 

The elders said, “If you want him to not kill your children, you must give him half of your land, money, and animals.” The rich man agreed.

So, the poor man got half of the rich man’s property, and the two never quarreled again. 

Background

My informant was born and raised in Ethiopia. He emphasized how important it is to stay humble and charitable in Ethiopia no matter your socioeconomic status.

Context

This tale is told in a casual setting. This tale can also be told in a relevant scenario to remind the listener that money doesn’t always make one a good person.

My Thoughts

This tale reminds me of many Ethiopian proverbs, which mostly pertain to wealth and poverty. In Ethiopian proverbs, the rich are associated with evil and ignorance, while poor people are considered dignified and “good” people. This tale reinforces the idea that it is better to be poor and dignified than rich and contemptible. In the end, the poor man and the wealthy man become equals and live happily. This story communicates the idea that it is better for everyone to have moderate wealth than for select members of society to hold most of the wealth. An article by Tok Thompson titled “Getting Ahead in Ethiopia: Amharic Proverbs About Wealth” explains the general disdain towards wealthy people in Ethiopian proverbs (cited below). 

Moreover, the judge is a recurring character in Ethiopian stories. He is often described as simple-minded, ignorant, and unfair. Since this tale is a criticism of social classes, one can infer that the judge represents society’s powerful and wealthy individuals. This is another way this tale falls in line with traditional Ehtiopian proverbs. The wealthy, or in this case, the judge, are depicted as bad people with no dignity. The character of the judge in these tales perfectly represents the wealthy social class.

Source:

Thompson, Tok. “Proverbium. Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship.” Arbitrium, vol. 26, no. 3, 2009, pp. 367-386, Accessed 1 Apr. 2021.

Lawyer joke

My friend and classmate Pauline told me the following joke, which she learned from her dad, who is a lawyer:

“It was so cold outside today that earlier, I saw a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets.”

This joke relies upon the stereotype that lawyers are greedy and corrupt, and the metonymic use of the phrase “having one’s hands in someone’s pockets” to refer to squeezing money out of someone, like a legal client. The humor of the joke may be based in a genuine belief in this stereotype for people resentful of lawyers, but in this case its humor comes from a self-aware and ironic acknowledgement of the stereotype by a lawyer who presumably does not believe in it.

Pauline says that her dad has a number of lawyer jokes in his repertoire, which he tells “any time we’re with, like, any other lawyers, or if someone’s giving him a hard time about being a lawyer.” Such jokes are pieces of occupational folklore, which may serve to bond lawyers over their common identity, or may function as self-deprecating humor performed for the entertainment of non-lawyers. Lawyer jokes are a common staple of mainstream American humor, indicating a distrust of or misanthropic feeling toward lawyers from the general public outside of the profession. Their embrace by lawyers themselves is somewhat surprising, but is representative of the ways folklore may shift meaning depending on context.

Sir Sun and Sir Moon

햇님 하고 달님

The Informant:

He is in his late 40’s and works as a car mechanic. Born in Incheon, South Korea, he immigrated to the United States after he married in the late 1990s. He heard this story as a young child for a bedtime story from his mother.

The Story:

엄마가 가난하고 돈을 벌려고 떡을 파는거야 길 거리에서. 하지만 그 날에는 하나도 못 팔았어. 집으로 돌아가는중에 호랑이가 나타나. 그 호랑아가 노래를 불러 “떡 하나만 던저주면 안 잡아먹지.” 그래서 엄마가 떡을 하나 던져줬지. 그걸 먹고 또 노래를 불렀어, 똑같이, 떡이 없어질때까지. 떡이 없으니까 호랑이가 이렇게 노래를 불렀지 “팔 하나 주면 안 잡아 먹지.” 그래서 엄마 호랑이에게 팔을 하나 줬지. 그리고 하랑이가 이렇게 팔 두개 하고 다리 두개 다 먹었어. 결국엔 엄마를 조금식 다 잡아먹었어. 엄마가 사는 집에 도착해서 엄마 모습이로 변신한거야. 아이들한테 불렀지 “엄마다 문 열어라.” 엄마 목소리가 이상해서 아이들이 조심했다. 엄마 모습을 가진 하랑이한테 팔을 보여달라고했어. 아이들이 “우리 엄마는 팔에 털이 잆어요!” 라고 얘기했다. 그래서 그 하랑이는 팔에있는 털을 깎았어. 그렇게 천천히 아이들이 호랑이의 힘을 빼넣고 살았다.

There is a mother who needs to sell dduk (rice cakes) but she was not able to sell any. On her way home a tiger approaches her and sings out to her “If you give me one dduk then I won’t eat  you.” This is repeated until all of the dduk is gone. The tiger then says “If you give me an arm I won’t eat you.” After she gives him both arms he sings “If you give me a leg I won’t eat you.” And so the tiger devoured the mother piece by piece. The tiger approaches the house of the children and transforms into the mother. He calls out to the children to open the door. The children are wary because the voice doesn’t sound like their mother’s. They ask the tiger to insert its hand. It is furry. They tell the tiger that their mother doesn’t have any fur on her arm so the tiger shaved off all of its fur. In this way the children outwit the tiger and tires it out so that the children eventually capture it.

The Analysis:

The story is meant to tell a moral. How the mother is tricked into giving herself up the tiger, the tiger is then tricked into giving up its life for greed. The tiger could have been content with the dduk offered to him, but it was not and devoured the mother. In turn, karma of a sort comes back at him as he is captured when he attempts to eat the mother’s children. From his side, he is greedy and desires another meal after essentially eating two. The tiger happened to be cleverer than the mother and the children happened to be cleverer than the tiger. The morale of the story is that what goes around truly does come around.

 

A different version of this story can be found at: http://mirror.enha.kr/wiki/햇님달님. The story is in Korean and differs in many detailed aspects. The incident occurs at night in this different version instead of day time, the mother sells bread instead of dduk (rice cakes), and the ending is different. As this story occurs at night, it ends with the coming of morning (sunrise). The death of the tale synchronizes with the sunrise, and the redness in the sky is said to be the staining of the tiger’s blood.