Tag Archives: moral

Even Monkeys Can Fall from Trees

Original Phrase: 원숭이도 나무에서 떨어진다
Translation: Even monkeys can fall from trees.

K is a Korean American whose parents are of Korean ancestry. He is currently in college. He says that he had heard this proverb from his parents. This piece is memorable to him because he tries to take this message to heart when it comes to doing anything.

Context: This proverb came up in a discussion about proverbs. There was a back and forth between interesting proverbs and what they meant before this piece came up.

This proverb is very similar to other childhood proverbs in that it uses animals to teach children an important lesson in life. This lesson is that even the best, most specialized people can still fail. So do not be over confident. This is because monkeys are typically seen as adapted to living in trees. They spend all their time swinging from tree to tree, often looking like there isn’t a care in the world. In reality, however, these monkeys will still miss and fall from the tree. This message is pretty important to children as it teaches them to be humble about their skills. If you become arrogant and comfortable with your skills without being sufficiently cautious, you can still fail.

The Lion, the Hare, and the Hyena

Main Text

KK: “One of them was called The Lion, the Hare, and the Hyena and that story essentially goes there was this lion named Simba, um, not from the Lion King, but you know he had gotten injured on a hunt and he was living in his cave and he was, you know, starving to death because he couldn’t really go out and get anymore food. And eventually this hare, um, came up to him and was like ‘Hey, you know, I’m a really well-renowned doctor around these parts. I can heal you up, just you know, I can lure some animals in here and you can hunt them because I can’t really get my own food and we can help each other out.’ And the lion was hesitant at first because he was a solitary creature, his pride wasn’t really with him anymore. But eventually the hare moved into the lions cave and they started helping each other out. The lion would hunt whenever he could and provide food for the both of them, while the hare nursed his wound. And then eventually this hyena, who was kinda a notorious trickster around the area, walked up and was like ‘Oh hey, Mr. Lion. I noticed that you’re, like, a little injured. Have you been getting treatment?” So the lion explained that he was getting treated by the hare who was famous around as like a doctor. And the hyena said ‘Well, you know, if he’s that good then I feel like your leg should have been healed a lot quicker.’ And the lion thought for a second and he was like ‘Yeah, you know if he is that good my leg should have been healed way quicker.’ The hyena was then like ‘You know, maybe me and you could go out hunting together sometime and I could help you out with your leg. And at this point the lion kind of sussed out that something was going on so he sent the hyena away. And the hyena came back the next day, but the hare was also there, and so the hyena said ‘Oh Lion, like, you wanna go hunting? I can help you out, you can help me out, etcetera.’ And he was eyeing up the hare in a really kind of predatory way, you know like he wanted to eat him. And the lion noticed and was like ‘No. Get out, you need to leave.’ Hyena came back the next day while the hare was out doing something and he said ‘Hey Lion, you know, like I promise you this guy’s a really good doctor and he could have healed your leg in a couple of days, but I think he’s keeping you injured so you two, um, so you can keep supporting him.’ And then what happened was the hare came back. and the hyena left, and the lion explained to the hare, he was like, ‘Hey, you know, if you’re such a good doctor, why, haven’t you healed me quicker?’ And the hare, and the hare was like ‘Well, where’d you hear this from, you know, I’m doing the best I can. I’m trying to help you out.’ And the lion said ‘Oh, from the hyena he keeps coming to visit.’ And then the hare kind of got the idea. He said ‘Oh, okay, well that’s actually really convenient, because if I get the skin off the back of a hyena, I can use it to patch your leg up instantly. I just haven’t had the chance to get it.’ So the hyena came back the next day and was like ‘Hey, lion!’ And he saw the hare next to him. He was like ‘We don’t have any need for this stupid hare anymore. We should just eat him, and you know I can heal your leg.’ And the the lion just immediately clocked what was going on and just jumped on the hyena, you know, tore the skin off his back and gave it to the hare. The hyena ran away embarrassed and you could tell that’s kind of like an origin story, for why hyenas have those like coarse hairs along their back, because the lion ripped it out and so the the hare was like ‘Hey I’ll patch your leg up all good’ and with the power of magic, and the hyenas skin the lion was healed, and they lived happily ever after.”


KK is a 21 year old USC student studying psychology on a pre-med track. Of Indian descent, he was originally born in South Africa but has lived in England, the UAE and now in New York, Ny. KK heard this story for the first time as a child still living in South Africa from his grandmother. He says that it was one of Nelson Mandela’s favorite folk tales, and it has since become one of his.


KK says that this tale is most commonly told as a bedtime story for children and that it also serves as a myth for the origin from the raised hairs running along the backs of wild hyenas. This story also serves to impart a moral onto its listeners that lying has bad consequences and telling the truth is always the noble path.

Interviewer Analysis

I could not find the ATU type number for this story exactly but there are plenty of folktales out there that carry similar themes and morals. Hyenas and jackals are often trickster characters in these stories, trying to convince the stronger, sometimes less clever, lion into helping them in some way. These stories usually end in the same way as well, with the lion realizing he has been tricked and then punishing the hyena thus showing the listener of the story, most often a child, that lying is an undesirable trait and that it leads to your own downfall. Stories with morals for children are not groundbreaking novelties, but the added bonus that this story also serves as an origin for a natural phenomenon is interesting.

The Sultan’s Daughter

Main Text

KK: “The next one is called the Sultan’s Daughter. Yeah, it’s called the Sultan’s Daughter, and it’s about, the main character is not the Sultan’s daughter, it’s the son of a king in one, in one country, and he sets out on a journey. His father wants to know if he’s you know responsible, and worthy of becoming king when he grows up. So he gives the Prince a bag of of money, and gives the Prince a sword, and he says ‘Okay, you know, go out and figure out what’s happening.’ So the Prince leaves, with him he has a bag of money, a sword, and a horse. And so he treks through a couple of different countries, and eventually the horse dies of starvation or dehydration, one of the two. But the Prince is in great spirits, you know, he has a general love of life and a love of the world. He loves exploring, so he just keeps walking by himself, and eventually he stumbles across this old ruin of like a temple, and he sees these two men with pickaxes digging up a grave. And they take out a skeleton from the grave, and so he he pulls out his sword, he’s a very righteous person, and he points it at them he says ‘Hey, stop! You know you can’t do that, you’re, that’s sacrilege.’ And the two bandits they say ‘Well, no, this man in his life owed us a great debt, and now that he’s dead, you know, we’re just coming to collect.’ The Prince said ‘I understand that you were owed a debt, but you know the man is dead now, and you can’t just defile his grave. I mean he’s probably not at peace with the fact that he never got to pay that debt himself, so let that be his punishment.’ The two men were like ‘Okay, well, sure, but we still need our money.’ So the prince said ‘Well, how about I pay you? and if I do, you have to promise to put those bones back and cover the grave with the utmost respect.’ And so the Prince paid them, and they put the bones back and covered it up, and once the Prince paid them, he realized ‘Oh, I’m out of money.’ So he had now no horse, no money, but he still just kept walking and he was still having a great time. He was loving life. And then he met this, this man who we’ll just refer to as friend for the rest of it. And this friend approached him and was like ‘Hey, wow! you’re traveling! I could travel with you for a bit.’ And he had a good, you know, he had an honest looking face, so the Prince was like ‘Yeah, of course, you know, come along with me.’ So the prince and his friend kept traveling, and then they stumbled upon the city. And as they walked into the city there was this beautiful, beautiful woman, the most beautiful that the prince had ever seen. And so he turned to his friend and was like ‘Wow! Who’s that?’ And his friend goes ‘Oh, that’s the sultan’s daughter but if you want her hand in marriage you have to, you know, solve her riddle correctly. Thousands have tried, but if you fail, you get put to death.’ The Prince was like ‘Man you know even though that’s a little cruel I’m in love. This is the woman for me. I’m gonna solve the riddle.’ So then the friend was like ‘You know, Why don’t we just go to bed, and well, when you have a fresh mind tomorrow you can go tackle the riddle.’ So they went to bed, and the friend woke up in the middle of the night, and he fashioned some wings out of just loose hay in the barnyard they were staying at and he took some of the hay as well and fashioned like a little bracken whip. And so he he flew out to the Sultan’s palace, and he waited for the daughter, who also had golden wings Just by the power of magic and she flew out of the palace like in the dead of night, and she flew to this witch’s cave. But the whole time she was being followed by the friend and the whole time the friend was, you know, beating her back with the the bracken whip. She didn’t notice she thought it was just the raindrops hitting her back in like a painful way and it didn’t leave any marks. So she gets to the witch’s hut, or the witch’s cave, and she goes and is like ‘Hey, like you know I need a new riddle this man is gonna come ask for something.’ So the witch is like ‘Okay, well, he’ll never get this. Tell him to, tell him to like answer: what am I thinking about right now? what is the princess thinking about? and the answer should be your gloves.’ So the next day they wake up and the friend goes ‘Hey, you know, if the princess asks you what she’s thinking about, say her gloves.’ And he goes in, and he gives the correct answer, and the princess is mad. She’s like ‘It shouldn’t be this easy, you know. No, come back tomorrow.’ Then the Prince is, he’s a good guy so he’s like ‘Oh, I mean I thought it was only a one time deal, but sure I like you so much I’ll come back tomorrow.’ So he he goes to bed, and the same thing happens. The next night the friend follows her to the witches hut, beating her with the lashes, and she, the witch gives a new riddle, and the new riddle is again: what am I thinking about? And the answer is the crown on top of my head. And so the next morning the friend says to the Prince ‘Hey, If again, she asks what you’re thinking about say the crowd on top of her head.’ So he goes in, gives the riddle correctly and the the Princess is furious. She’s like ‘There’s no way. This should not be this easy, come back tomorrow.’ So again, same thing happens. she flies out, and she gets beaten with the lashes. So she flies back for the third time, and the witch says ‘Okay, this time he’ll never get this. Tell him that you’re thinking about my head, the witch’s head. And so the princess flies back, and as she’s flying back, she’s like ‘Wow, you know my back is cut so much from this rain I’m never visiting this witch again.’ So then the friend has been waiting outside the witches cavern the whole time, and he draws a sword, and as the witch pokes her head out he cuts it off and he puts the head in a bag, and he goes back to the prince. And the next morning the prince wakes up, and the friend is like ‘Hey when the Princess asks what she’s thinking about just show her whatever is in this bag, but don’t open it till you get there’ and he gives him the bag with the head in it. The good prince goes in once again, and the Princess asks ‘What am I thinking about?’ And he he doesn’t say anything because he’s like ‘Okay? Well, I wasn’t given anything to say.’ And the guards draw their swords and the executioner has the axe at the ready and he’s like ‘Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait one sec’ and he reaches into the bag and pulls out the witch’s head, and you know, in classic fairytale fashion the princess is wooed and falls into his arms and is like ‘Yes, this is him. This is the man that I’m gonna marry.’ And the Prince is super stoked. He’s like ‘Oh, yes, I just got, you know, the prettiest girl in the whole land.’ So then he goes back to his friend and he’s like ‘Yo like it worked I mean’ and his friend is like ‘Oh, that’s great for you.’ And the Prince is like ‘So, you know, I gotta go back home to tell my dad, but when can I see you again?’ And his friend goes ‘Well, actually you know you’re not gonna ever see me again. Like I’m done here.’ And the prince is like ‘What do you mean?’ The man says ‘Do you remember when you stopped those two men from defiling that grave?’ And the Prince is like ‘Yeah, yeah, I mean I just thought it was the right thing to do.’ The man’s like ‘Actually that was my grave and you know I’m just here to help you out because you helped me out.’ Yeah, that’s the end of the story.”


KK is a 21 year old USC student studying psychology on a pre-med track. Of Indian descent, he was originally born in South Africa but has lived in England, the UAE and now in New York, Ny. KK heard this story for the first time as a child still living in South Africa from his grandmother. It was his favorite and would ask for this story to be told to him over and over again. He thinks it is his favorite because he connects so well with the overall moral of the story.


KK says that the Sultan’s Daughter is another traditional South African folktale that would be told to children as a bed time story. The moral of this story in his words is that if you do good things, good things will come unto you and that you should have no desire for material goods. But you should use your resources to help others, and they will help you in return.

Interviewer Analysis

I found this story very interesting and over the course of the telling became wrapped up in the plot and the success of the main character, not just in analyzing the text. It is most often the most interesting tales that are carried on, as they are more memorable and more likely to be retold. This story certainly supports that hypothesis although it is admittedly quite long. As an emic observer this story makes perfect sense not only in its moral but also in its purpose.

Lazy Donkey Tale

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my mother. It was told casually as both entertainment and to teach a lesson at the same time

Background: The informant heard this from her grandmother in her mountain village. They remember this for the entertainment value that the story provided as well as for the moral advice.

Main piece: 

There was once a merchant who loaded his salt onto his donkey and took it to the market every day. On the way, they had to go through the forest and pass over a small stream. One day, the donkey slipped as it was crossing that stream, and the salt on its back dissolved in the water. As it stood up, the donkey noticed with glee that its heavy load had lightened considerably. 

Remembering this the crafty donkey made a plan. From that day on, every time he crossed the stream, the donkey purposely dove into the stream and pretended it was an accident. However, the merchant understood what the donkey was doing, and one day he loaded the donkey up with cotton instead of salt. When they reached the stream, the donkey once again plunged into the water. This time, however, his burden was increased several times over, and he was forced to continue with the sopping wet cotton on his back.

By the time that the donkey reached the market, it could barely walk. The next day, the merchant put salt on the donkey’s back yet again. However, the donkey didn’t fall into the stream this time but passed over it without issue. It had learned its lesson from the previous day and didn’t try to act up out of laziness again. 

Analysis: This fable is similar to many others with its inclusion of animals as characters and a negative characteristic resulting in a bad outcome, leading to the learning of a lesson. Although it is a specific version of a story, this seems very similar to any such story that might have been told around the world to children in order to teach them not to try to take advantage of things and be lazy, or else there may be consequences.

Persian Sleeping Beauty

Main Piece (direct transcription):

Dad: Iranians believe that if something is predicted, it will happen.  There was a king, and he had a son.  Somebody came, and told him that that boy… It’s the same thing as Disney, the same concept, do you remember…

Me: Sleeping Beauty?

Dad: Yes, with the spinning wheels.  In our story, the king had a son, his only son, and a magician told him that his son would be bitten by a scorpion and would die.  The king told all his people to kill all the scorpions and took his son to an island where there were no scorpions.  He was guarded by many servants, and when the son was older, he was sitting by the beach with one of his servants, and he asked the servant,

“Why did my dad do all of this for me?”

The servant told him what happened.  And the son said,

“But I’ve never even seen a scorpion.  What does it look like?”

The servant drew the picture of a scorpion in the sand, and it came to life.  The scorpion then stung the son and killed him.


Context: The informant, my father, is a pharmacist who was born in Shiraz, Iran.  He moved to the United States after growing up in Iran, and now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  His first language is Farsi, his second is Spanish, and his third is English.  He lived in Spain for several years before moving to the United States, and therefore has collected folklore from his time in these different countries throughout his lifetime.  My dad was telling me about different Iranian folktales, since my dad was originally born and raised in Iran.  We were originally talking about superstitions, and he decided to tell me this story.  The moral of the story, he said, was that “if it has to be, it will be”, and that we could not escape our fate.



My Thoughts:

I thought this story was particularly interesting, because it had the same basic plot as Sleeping Beauty.  Since I grew up with Disney, and know the story of Sleeping Beauty well, my dad did not even need to get very far into the story before I made the immediate connection between the two.  I thought it was funny how my dad, before even really starting the story, asked me if I could already see the connection between his story and Sleeping Beauty.  Being from Iran, he is not as familiar with the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and he knows many of his European fairy tales through Disney movies that he watched with me and my brother as we were growing up.  My dad had never told me this Persian tale before this moment, and so I was unaware that there was an Iranian equivalent to the Sleeping beauty story in their culture.


For another version of this tale, please see Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Little Briar-Rose (1857), which can be found here