Tag Archives: moral

Lazy Donkey Tale

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Pakistani
Age: 48
Occupation: Homemaker
Residence: 11048 Washington Blvd Apt 306
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/25/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Urdu

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

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Iranian
Age: 54
Occupation: Compounding Pharmacist
Residence: Albuquerque
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/17/19
Primary Language: Persian
Other Language(s): English, Spanish

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

Win if you can – a family proverb

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 49
Occupation: Professor
Residence: Pasadena, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/20/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

JC: “The proverb is, ‘Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat.’ And I believe this was something that was said by a television character, but it had become–my father had adopted it as a life philosophy, ironically, because, while he and his father had their… tensions, at the very least, they are both stern moralizers, and so the idea that either of them would sanction any kind of cheating was inherently ludicrous. My grandfather was a by-the-books Marine; my father, while not that, was certainly not, like, a person without rules that you had to abide by. I think it might have been some sort of wrestling thing though?”

Background: JC and his family are all from Ohio. He learned this proverb from his father. On its own, the content of the proverb is not particularly significant, but the context of it and the inversion of its meaning are; they reflect the strong moral compass of his father, along with a dry, deadpan sense of humor.


The proverb itself, upon further inquiry, has been attributed to various pro wrestlers, notably Jesse Ventura. He performed as a heel, deliberately playing as a villainous character meant to attract viewers’ ire. And just as Ventura the man was certainly not the villain that Ventura the wrestling performer was, JC’s father’s actual beliefs are nothing like this proverb would suggest if taken at face value.

The concept of an inverted proverb as a sort of parody of a family motto also has been passed down. My own family has said that our motto is “If you fall behind, you get left behind,” lifted from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The actual quote from the movie, as part of the fictional Pirates’ Code, is “any man who falls behind, is left behind.” Again, this is an entirely ironic adoptation of a proverb–just as JC’s father was the type of man to never cheat, my own family would never leave one of our own behind. In both cases, the proverb is acknowledged to be words not to live by.

“Nazrudin at the Bathhouse”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian, American, Iraqi
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Portland, OR
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Persian

            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”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian, American, Iraqi
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Portland, OR
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Persian

            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.

Horror Stories from El Salvador

--Informant Info--
Nationality: El Salvadorian
Age: 18
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 17, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

This story was told at midnight. The lights were off, and it was during a horror-story telling game. The windows were open, and a small lamp was on in the middle of the room. There was no moon. There was a window in the room as it was being told, and the lamp was reflected clearly. The stories are meant to be told for fun, according to the speaker. They were stories heard from the speaker’s mother, who had heard them herself when she was young. The stories have not changed over time, and are fun stories meant to amuse and frighten young children.


This story takes place back in the time before Western civilization arrived in the southern peninsula and took over with their new customs and traditions. In that location,  there lived a tribe that was apparently somewhat similar to Aztecs. At this point in time, their names were forgotten, but the tribe was definitely said to have existed. Apparently, the chief of the tribe would go out and start wars on a whim, because that was his nature. He would go out and fight wars with the neighboring tribes according to his whim and leave his wife at home. Supposedly, his wife was very beautiful, and they had a son together. However, what would end up happening was that while he was away, his wife would cheat on him. He was often away, constantly fighting wars, so he was not home enough to fulfill her desires. This happened on for quite a long time, until one day he found out. As soon as he found out, upon his return, he had her taken out of the village and had her killed near a river. It was a violent death, because she constantly returns as a ghost to haunt men and lead them around.  When men approached rivers, apparently she would appear to men as a beautiful woman. She would proceed to seduce them, and most of the men would be unable to escape her charms. Additionally, once she had them seduced, she would stupefy them. Once they were found by the other villagers, the villagers would see that the men were all brain dead. Ziguanaba continues to appear to men who approach the rivers, and if they are not careful, then they will also end up brain dead just as the men who fell to Ziguanaba’s allures were.

Ziguanaba’s Child

Ziguanaba had a child with the chieftain of the tribe before she cheated on him and died. Apparently his name is Zipitio. He was not good looking, and therefore could not find love, because nobody would look at him. He was incredibly short with a large pot belly and always wore big hats. Unfortunately for him, he easily fell in love with the beautiful girls of the village, but they never spared a glance at him because he was so ugly. However, when he falls in love with a girl, be becomes incredibly frightening. He throws flowers at them and leaves flowers for them no matter where they go. He is a jealous type though, because if they have a boyfriend, he is known to get really angry. If he sees the girl that is the subject of his affection with her boyfriend, he will get angry with her and begin throwing his own fecal matter at them. Throughout his short life, he was unable to be loved by a girl, and that strong desire keeps him alive as a ghost even now. He will still appear and fall in love with beautiful girls that pass by. He will try to grab their attention by throwing flowers at them and presenting them with flowers at every turn. However, if they have a boyfriend, then problems will occur due to his incredibly petty jealousy. In the event that the girl that caught his eye and her boyfriend are together in front of him, he will throw foul matter at them to express his displeasure even now.

La Llorona

In a small village, there was a married couple. In the beginning, they were very happy with each other as the image of a perfect husband and wife. Indeed, they even had children together who she cared about very deeply and loved to take care of. However, as time passed, she found that she did not truly love her husband anymore and she became bored with him. As a result, she cheated on her husband all the time. Nobody said anything out loud, but rumors spread about her promiscuity, thinly veiled behind vague analogies and metaphors. One day the husband found out about the rumors and confronted her about them. She had no choice but to admit to it privately before it became a village wide scandal. That was precisely what happened. Although people were not inclined to say anything originally, as soon as she was discovered by her own husband, the townspeople were very willing to call her out for her supposed crime. For being a harlot, she was given a very painful death sentence. The village decided that the appropriate punishment for a harlot was to be stoned to death. When the day came, all the villagers banded together and killed her. The last thought on her mind was her regret that she could no longer take care of her children. She did not regret cheating on her husband, because he was a bore to her. But her beloved children who had done nothing wrong were to be without a mother. Now, it is said to not walk around alone in the dark. If you are not careful, she will appear before you and cry out “Where are my children?”

Cadejo Blanco/ Cadejo Negro

Be careful when it’s dark out! The forces of life have a special interest in rewarding or punishing you depending on what kind of life you have lived. If you are a good person a white dog will show up. Its name is Cadejo blanco. It is a sacred protector, but it will only manifest its presence during the night. It will wander around you, and it will ensure that you are safe along your way.  It will ward off evil spirits and it will keep harm away from you. However, it is mandatory that you are by yourself. If you are walking about with other people, then it will not appear. However, it has its own form of danger, because it cannot protect you from itself. You are forbidden from looking directly at it. If you do look directly at it, then you will fall asleep and never wake up with irreversible brain damage. Otherwise, it will do you no harm. As said before, this will only appear if you are a good person. If you are a wicked person, then a black dog will appear. Its name is Cadejo negro, and it will also appear only at nighttime. However, it does the opposite of Cadejo blanco. It does not protect you. It does not necessarily bring harm to you, but it is possible that it will. If it feels like it, then it will attack you or curse you so that evil spirits will haunt you continually. It will follow you until you reach sacred ground or the sun rises.

As the collector, I see these stories as meant to amuse or to frighten. They are rather fun vignettes with small morals embedded, such as living a chaste life or living an honorable life. Other than that, these stories are ghost stories that seem to have multiple versions, as I have heard some of them before. This also seems to reflect how historical occurrences may shift and become the subject of rumors and folklore, often becoming more fantastical in nature. Interestingly enough, the basic features of a horror story seem common to many cultures, rather than being limited strictly to a few. I suppose in a way, these stories are not horror stories at all. Although they do involve ghosts, they are more cautionary than actually frightening stories.

Abdul-Beha looses his pants in Paris

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Iranian
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/26/13
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Farsi

In the following, my informant recalls a childhood story which he still remembers and finds significant:

This next account is one that comes from Baha’i tradition, more so in the Baha’i faith, which was founded in the mid eighteen hundreds by our prophet founder Bahá’u’lláh, you can Google that, it means “glory of god,” um, he founded the Baha’i faith, and uh, Baha’i all around the world look to this figure, the son of Bahá’u’lláh, his name is Abdul-Beha, it means servant of god, and Abdul-Beha for Baha’i all around the world, his title is “the perfect example,” so there are many stories of his life recorded, and it’s very common to tell children stories of his life as an example of a perfect example, and how one should emulate their life by him. A story that stuck out to me that was told when I was a child was: One day Abdul-Beha was walking in the streets of Paris. He was walking in the streets of Paris and – I’m gonna fast forward, he answers the home of one of the Baha’i who was hosting him, and he has a cloak wrapped around himself, he’s laughing very heartily, he comes in in a kind of strange way – why is he laughing? all this stuff, they ask him why he’s laughing, and he pulls the robe up a little bit and they see that he’s not wearing any pants, his pants are gone, and they ask him “Abdul-beha” and he’as a very, hes a very revered, respected, intelligent, divine figure, “why are your pants gone, what’s happened?” and Abdul-beha tell the story of how, as he was walking, he comes across a homeless person, who, in the weather of Paris, which is very cold, he was cold, and his pants were very tattered, and they have holes in them, and the man was cold, and Abdul-beha, his title is the servant of god, so to be servant of god he is the servant of god‘s children, so he removes his pants, this extremely holy and divine figure, and gives it to the beggar, and he just clothes himself in his cloak, which was customary to wear in the day, and comes back to the believers, and that’s a sign of humility, and a sign of selflessness, and all of the stories of Abdul-beha have a certain similar message,  that, like, all Baha’i can learn from – all people can learn from – but are specifically told to children.

In this story, my informant claimed to be affected morally and religiously, and remembers it even today as guidance for his life. He said that many similar stories are told to children, and the idea behind them is that they will remember the stories and the messages within them when they grow up, and guide their lives accordingly.