Tag Archives: oicotype

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.”

「蛍の光」– Japanese Oicotype of “Auld Lang Syne”


Above is a recording of the song「蛍の光」(hotaru no hikari) taken at the Shuri High School graduation ceremony in Naha-shi, Okinawa, Japan.

「蛍の光」(light of the firefly) is a Japanese folk song sung to the music of the Scottish “Auld Lang Syne.” However, the lyrics of 「蛍の光」are vastly different from “Auld Lang Syne,” and unlike the latter, which is often sung on New Year’s Eve, the Japanese oicotype is almost always used to conclude graduation ceremonies. It has become so integral to Japanese society and culture, in fact, that most Japanese people do not realize that it originated outside of the country, and those who hear it overseas mistakenly think they are hearing a Japanese song. My informant said she has even heard instrumental versions of 「蛍の光」broadcast at restaurants and supermarkets to indicate that it is almost closing time–a practice so engrained in their society that everyone automatically knows, when the music comes on, that it is time to leave.

My informant, whose best friend had been present at the Shuri High School graduation ceremony, said that she would never have thought of the melody as being derived from a Scottish folk song. She had heard and sung it at every single graduation from elementary school on, as had her parents, and her parents before that. Simply hearing this song, she said, was enough to bring back all the nostalgia of graduation, and her mother had said that, even a few months after my informant’s graduation, listening to the song brought tears to her eyes.

Technically speaking, though they learn that the song has four verses, the last two are almost never sung, if only because the latter half contains decidedly nationalistic characteristics–and nationalism has been discouraged in Japan since the American occupation after World War II.

The lyrics of the first two verses, then, are as follows:

蛍の光 窓の雪
書読む月日 重ねつつ
いつしか年も すぎの戸を
開けてぞ今朝は 別れゆく

とまるも行くも 限りとて
互みに思う 千万の
心のはしを ひとことに
幸くとばかり 歌うなり

And translated, they go something like this:

Light of fireflies, and snow by the window
Many suns and moons spent reading
Years have gone by without notice
Day has dawned; and in this morning, we part.

Stay or leave, it doesn’t matter
Hold my memories, in so many
corners of my heart; in one breath,
while we are happy, sing.

Very different from “Auld Lang Syne,” the lyrics are definitely geared towards the ceremonial rites of graduation, and initiation into a new kind of life. No one truly knows the composer of this song, though it is often said, according to my informant, that it had risen out of some college professor’s attempt to set Japanese words to the Scottish tune, and had spread from college graduations all the way down to elementary school moving-up ceremonies.

Strangely enough, however, this is apparently not the only variation or oicotype of “Auld Lang Syne” that exists across the world. When speaking to a Korean friend and mentioning this folklore find, he told me that Korean students sing a Korean oicotype of “Auld Lang Syne” at their graduation ceremonies–singing it for me a little bit so I could hear that the melody was exactly the same though the lyrics, of course, were different. My Taiwanese friend, furthermore, chimed in with, “us too!” and told us that they did the same at their graduation, singing another version of Auld Lang Syne, this time in Taiwanese. Upon doing some research, I found that there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of variations of this song all across the world, used as national anthems, farewell songs (Peru), funeral songs (China), and so on. A common thread that seems to tie most of these together, it seems, is the theme of ending something–ending a relationship, a life, or a part of life.

ANNOTATION: There is a song in Japan by a popular pop band called いきものがかり (Ikimonogakari) titled 「ホタルノヒカリ」(which reads and sounds exactly the same as 蛍の光, though it has been changed into another form of the Japanese alphabet, called katakana). Though the lyrics and the melody are completely different, the meaning inherent in the song is very much that of the original 蛍の光–it alludes to graduating, to leaving behind friends to venture into the summer and into the path towards your dreams. “Like the light of the firefly,” The lead singer sings, “the memories will forever glow in my heart, even if the fire of experience eventually fades away.” Japanese pop singers like to churn out these sorts of graduation songs, probably because they have such a wide and receptive audience. 蛍の光, which was birthed out of a Scottish folk song, has become an oft-used symbol in the Japanese pop music world to represent a nostalgia-tinged departure.

<いきものがかり. ”ホタルノヒカリ.” ホタルノヒカリ. ERJ, 2009. MP3.>
<Ikimonogakari. “Hotaru no Hikari” Hotaru no Hikari. ERJ, 2009. MP3.>