Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (AM).
CB “Okay so where did you hear this story?”
AM “Okay so this is a story that my uncle told me, and I’ve heard it through my family members again and again, and this is an interesting one because it’s where you see a certain perspective of reason and logic sort of come to a halt, in regards to like certain religious principles that may be in existence in islamic culture, and so one of the stories that I heard is that there is one of these um … like a key religious figure in Islam, and he’s know as like the hero of time, they call him like, Imam Zamam, um a good way of thinking about it is like greek mythology where theres like a god that resembles something, like how Zues represents something, and so in this particular part of Persian Islamic culture this messenger represents time. And so there’s this story about how he lives in the bottom of a well, like he went and he fell down this well and he cannot return until Time is ready, kinda like how Jesus Christ is going to return, he cannot get out until it’s ready. And so he’s stuck at the bottom of this well, and so now people have this cultural event where they would go and they would visit the well and they would throw things inside of the well, I guess to kinda help him out in his time of need because he’s kinda stuck in there. And then the government didn’t like the fact that women and men were I guess conglomerating at this well to participate in the same event, and so like it’s a very sexist culture and the government didn’t like that women and men were I guess meeting at the same place together. And so because of that they made a different variation of the story, they incorporated a change, and so because of that they made two wells, so all the women would go to one well and all the men would go to the other well in order to throw various goodies inside and conduct their prayers. So there’s many questions, like how can the hero and messenger of time, of TIME, how can he not escape a well? And how can he be in two places at the same time. And so like that’s something that growing up I’ve been told a lot, and like it teaches me to think for myself and I guess to be the black sheep and not just brainlessly follow a herd”
My informant is a Persian-American, first generation American citizen. He lives with his mother, father, grandmother, and aunt who all spent a majority of their life in Iran, and all communicate mainly in Farsi. While my informant was born in the US, he spent many of the early years of his life with his immediate family in Iran. Ultimately, his family disagreed with the way that the government used religion to enforce restrictive laws, and were persuaded to leave. This story is an example of Persian folklore that spread to undermine the government. He cites the story as teaching people to learn to think for themselves, and not to blindly trust the government. However, his family also used this stories, and others like it, to justify why they left Iran and why they are not Muslim.
I know this informant fairly well, and we have often talked about his culture. When I was given this assignment, he was the first person I thought to ask. I interviewed him over Zoom, and we chatted a lot about the role of culture for immigrant Americans. We had a very comfortable conversation, as we had many times before.
This piece was really interesting to me because it was an example of meta-folklore. It’s almost like an origin story for how these traditions came to be in order to undermine them. By revealing that the government created a new religious monument and tradition, the story invalidates both. It implies that because these traditions were created by a government, they are not ‘real’ religious traditions. This shows the conflict between religious and governmental authority within the culture. The story acts as a resistance piece in response to a government, and was told to my informant to undermine its actions.