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.

Dokgyebi’s Club

홍두깨도깨비(Hong Du Kkye Dogyebi) – Dokgyebi’s Club

The Informant:

Born in Korea before the split, she managed to escape to South Korea during the Korean War with her husband and family. She immigrated to the U.S. and resides in New Jersey with her eldest son and her grandchildren.

 The Story:

도깨비가 자기의 홍두깨를 치고 다니면 돈이 가득하게 찬 우물하고 분수들이 땅에서 나타난데. 도개비는 머리위에 유니콘처럼 뿔이있고 마술사 같아. 사람들에게 “넌 뭘 갖고싶니?” 하면서 돌아다녀. 좋은 사람들한테만 주지 근데. 나쁜 사람이 돈 달라고하면 아니면 소원을 빌면 그 도깨비는 얼굴이 화나게 변신을하고 그 나쁜 사람에게 불행을 빌지. 도깨비는 밤에만 나타나. 어떤 귀신이라고 생각할수도있고, 하지만 무섭지는않아. 착한 귀신이지, 좋은 사람한테는.

 When the dokgyebi hits its club around wells of money springs out. It has a small horn on its head, like a unicorn. It is like a magician and can make things appear or make wishes come true. It walks around and asks people what they want. When a bad person asks a dokgyebi for money or a wish, the dokgyebi face become mad and wishes the bad person illness. When a good person asks a dokgyebi for money or a wish, it is granted. A dokgyebi only appears at night. It is a type of ghost, but it is not scary to nice people.  

The Analysis:

A dokgyebi appears randomly and only at night. It is a mystical figure, almost a cross between a ghost and a fairy. Instead of a wand it carries around a club, which signifies that it is not only nice but also can be bad. However, it is mean to only people with bad hearts or ill intentions. The meaning of the story is that one should be careful of how one lives, no matter the time and space. You never know who is watching you and so you should always try to lead a give life, inside and out.