Tag Archives: oicotype

The Chief and the Singer

Main Piece

“It must’ve been before I was in 5th grade — over the course of a few nights, my dad told a story to me, my brother, and my sister. In hindsight, it was very obviously something completely made up on the spot, but I think we were too young to realize.

Back home — ‘home’ referencing Nigeria, where my dad is from — there was an evil village chief. He was a vicious conqueror that took people’s lands, stole from the poor, and amassed a massive amount of wealth. Accordingly, his house was gigantic, and sat on a huge plot of land. One day, the chief captured a princess.”

(Informant MN then noted that he forgot if there was a reason the chief captured the princess, and assumes the story had minimal exposition).

“The chief held the princess in another building on his property. He planned to have her killed the next day. That night, the king was in his bed when he heard the sound of someone singing. He was confused, unsure of where the sound could be coming from, but soon realized the sound was coming from the princess’ cell. While he usually would have put a stop to it, the king instead decided to listen to the song. In fact, he was so taken aback by her voice that when the next day came, he decided to delay the execution until the next morning.

Night falls, and the voice returns. The king, again, is obsessed with her voice–rizz god!–and the next day, delays the execution even further.

This goes on for a while, and to be honest, the details fall away past that point. I think the king ends up marrying the woman, and there’s a sort of ‘happily-ever-after’ ending.”


Informant Interpretation: MN notes that “Nigerian parents do this thing where they tell you nothing about their childhood” and have “no photos of their upbringing,” especially as it pertains to things that happened while they lived in Nigeria. Thus, “you end up forming this fantasy-like [imagination] of what home was like for them,” and stories like this “feed into the fantastical imagery I have of that time and place. As roughly patched-together and made up as that story is, it’s as real as most of the made-up details about my dad’s confusing ass life that I call true.”

Personal Interpretation: I drew connections between this story and “One Thousand and One Nights”–an anthology frame tale that I don’t know well, but I recall contains a similar story about a brutal king and a storyteller woman, who he permits to live night by night as she tells him stories. To me, MN’s story read as an oicotypical variation of this concept, underscored by the fact that he changed between referring to one of the primary figures as “chief” and “king,” and the other as “princess,” “singer,” and sometimes just “woman” (though some of these changes may be attributable to memory). I also think MN’s personal connection to the story, belief that it was entirely made up by his father, and its role in shaping his childhood understanding of Nigeria makes the story feel like more than a tale to me–not a myth as it’s not something he claimed to believe in, but something that shapes his beliefs about a place in the real world. In that sense, it felt somewhere in the gray area between tale and legend.


Informant MN is a current student at USC studying Aerospace Engineering. He grew up in Redmond, Washington and lives at home with his siblings and Mom. He notes that this story was told to him a long time ago, and he has some “amount of amnesia about the particular details of [his] childhood.”

MN is Nigerian and male-presenting.

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves Variant

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my father, that was told to him as a story during his childhood in a Pakistani village.

Background: The informant was recounting a story told to him by his great-aunt when he went to visit her. She regularly told him and his siblings many different stories whenever she saw them. This story is a version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, specifically the portion where Morgana manages to outwit the thieves’ plots.

Main piece: As the forty thieves tried to track down who had taken their gold, they traced the trail to Ali Baba’s door. Initially, they attempted to leave a mark on his door so they could recognize it the next day, but the slave-girl Morgana sees this and marks the other household’s doors similarly, foiling their plot. 

For the second attempt, Morgana cooks a pot of halwa, a sumptuous dessert, but she mixes glue into it. When the thieves once again find their way to Ali Baba’s place, they are distracted by the wonderful smell coming from the halwa that is left outside. Unable to resist, the thieves stick their hands into the pot, only for their hands to become stuck, forcing them to cancel their plans to attack.

Lastly, the head of the thieves comes to Ali Baba’s house with his men in barrels, claiming to be an oil merchant who needs a place to stay for the night. In actuality, he is planning to attack Ali Baba with his men in the night. However, Morgana nears one of the barrels of oil and discovers that the contents are thieves, not oil. Quickly, she pours scalding oil into each of the barrels, killing all the thieves.

Analysis: This version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, specifically the section included above where Morgana proves herself clever enough to foil the assasination attempts, is interesting in that for the most part, it is identical to the standard version included in every children’s story book. However, the second part about the pot of halwa is something that I have never heard before, and seems very specific due to halwa mainly being a dish eaten in South Asia.

For a French text of this story heard from an oral story-teller, see Les Mille et Une Nuits by Antoine Galland. 

Arab Belief: Soles of Shoes

“For a lot of Middle Eastern people, you can’t- you can’t put them so that the soles are facing up because the bottom of your foot is the lowest part of your body, the most dirty, the um..and if you put your shoe facing up, it’s like an insult to God.”

The informant is a Middle East Studies major at the University of Southern California. She says she learned this folk belief within the last year while studying various beliefs of people in the Middle East. This was a response to the belief in Thai culture that the feet are considered dirty and the head contains knowledge. This Middle Eastern belief as the soles being dirty and as an insult to God is an oicotype of the Thai belief, but adapted to its own culture. While the Thai belief believes that it is rude to other human beings in general to point one’s feet at, pointing soles of shoes towards the sky does not offend other humans in the Middle East, but God. It is a regional variant on the folklore that reveals the nature of each culture.

Thai Culture: Head and Feet

Transcribed Text:

“In Thai culture, the head is the most important part of your body, and the feet are considered dirty, cuz that’s on the ground all the time. So it’s very disrespectful if you point your feet at somebody’s head, or if you point your feet at somebody in general. And also, if you step over books, or like, put your feet on books, or put books on the ground, because books are considered knowledge from your head.”

This is a Thai folk belief about knowledge and dirt. The informant says that she learned this belief from her mom when she was a child. She says that she remembers pointing her feet towards the prayer room at Buddha in her house and she remembers her mom reprimanding her for doing so and explaining why it was wrong to do so. It makes sense that the feet are associated with dirt and the head is associated with knowledge, so this is a folk belief that is tied a lot with logic. Furthermore, books are also associated with the brain in Thai culture, because books contain the knowledge that people have in their heads. Therefore, stepping on books, or even stepping over books is considered offensive, as it is considered to be stepping on somebody’s knowledge. This also branches out to temples and houses as well. A person is not allowed to enter a temple or a house with shoes that one would wear in the outside world, because they are entering an area of holiness and family.

This folk belief is also an oicotype of the folk belief in India. In India, people are not allowed to wear their shoes into a temple or a home. Often times, it is even encouraged for people to wash their feet before they enter, to cleanse the dirt that they may have. Both Thai and Indian culture have such a similar folk belief because there was a lot of interaction between the two cultures over the past hundreds, if not thousands of years. It is extremely plausible that many pieces of folklore exchanged between the two countries and developed along in similar fashions.


Evil Eye Oicotype

The Evil Eye and Evil Eye protection as described by informant:

“My mother is not a very religious person or anything she did grow up in an Islamic home. She thinks I’m just being superstitious. I 100% with my soul, even though I believe in God and I believe in Allah, I believe in the evil eye also it’s one of the strongest beliefs I have. It’s it’s not just a Persian thing it can be any Mediterranean you know even the Turks have it everyone has some variation of it basically you wear it and people who wish bad things upon you people who are jealous envious and I feel like I deal with that a lot because I’m in such a competitive major you know so for protection any of their evil energies go to this this absorbs it I will not feel anything and if you don’t I know the Kurds from Iraq I don’t know if the Kurds from Iran do the same thing, my friend who’s Kurdish from Iraq she says that one time she didn’t wear, okay, she didn’t wear this (holding evil eye pendant) she didn’t have any evil eyes on her and she was going to a weeding and she looked really pretty at the wedding and so she felt like a lot of people were being jealous and sending her the evil eye and when she got home on her legs she literally had pimple like things with black they were blackheads all over legs and that’s in the culture. They say that’s it, they put the eye on you they ruined your skin, and like people swear by this 100%. Like I don’t go anywhere without wearing one that’s why I have them in my car I have them on my keys and I wear my necklace. Mine’s literally from Iran, and they had to go everywhere to fucking find it for me. Cuz Like theyy bracelets and stuff like they both them off the internet and stuff and they break but that’s part of the legend is that they break because someone wished something bad on you and the energy broke the bracelet. Instead of the energy effecting you it broke your bracelet or it broke your necklace. That’s how you know it works.”

As my informant says, the Evil Eye exists in different cultures all over the world and the oicotype that she believes in cites the evil eye as deliberate and malicious wishes of bad things to happen to someone, often out of jealousy. Where some might say they have bad luck or bad karma, the evil eye is another popular concept to explain when bad things happen, though there are ways to protect yourself from it or, in a sense, other people. Her evil eye charms and jewelry protect her from the evil eye by absorbing this negative energy, often breaking as they take on the impact of the cynical and envious. Though she explains that her own mother, who is from Iran is not a believer, she is and has gotten her various charms from her aunts and other family members. My informant insisted that she believes in it, and the staunch confidence despite her own mother’s suspicions was funny to observe because as she said herself, “I know, I’m this Persian girl from Oregon with a Valley Girl accent, but I swear it’s true.”