Tag Archives: prince

The Origin of the Echo

Context: S is a Peruvian man in his early 60s. S spent around the first 13 years living inside of Peru before moving to Germany where he lived until his late 20s when he moved to California. Although having lived in California for most of his life now, he still has a close connection to Peru and Germany through his family. 

S: “While I can’t think of much Peruvian folklore, there is one story that comes to mind about the story of the echo.” 

Intv: “Okay, I don’t think I know this story.” 

S: “Okay, well it goes something like this, There was this Prince, who was always lying. He was always getting in trouble, and lying to everyone until one day the King died. So this Prince becomes the new King. As he became King his behavior just got worse, he would send people away on jobs and when they would come back he would act confused and say he never sent them to do such a thing. But what could the people do? He was the King. Until one day, the King calls upon the high priest. This high priest knew he was going to be set up by the King, so before speaking with him, the priest went to pray to the gods, and the god of the jungle came and asked him about his problem. The jungle god then directs the high priest to a very specific tree deep in the heart of the jungle, and the high priest will cut the tree down and use the wood to make a very special box. After the priest made the box the jungle god told him ‘when you speak to the King, make sure you hold the box open the whole time. And make sure when the order is given to you and when you return it is a huge event in which everyone will be there. So the priest goes to the King, and holds open the box while he receives his mission. Then he was off. When he returned, the high priest gathered the whole town before alerting the King of his return. When the King came to see the commotion he asked ‘what’s going on?’ The high priest responded by telling him about the job that the King sent him on. The King replied saying ‘I never said any such thing, I never told you to go and do such a thing.’ Then the high priest opens the box and the King’s order comes back in the exact same words and in his exact voice. In a fit of rage the King grabbed the box and ran out to the mountains where he threw the box out. When the box landed it splintered in hundreds of directions all across the world and wherever you hear an echo, supposedly that’s where a piece of the box resides.”

Intv: “Oh wow! That’s a great story! Was this told somewhere specifically? Or all across Peru?”

S: “This is a tale from the Amazonians, so it’s probably from Colombia.”

Analysis: A wonderful legend that perhaps originated as an explanation for something that at the time we couldn’t originally understand or fathom. In these moments it’s fascinating to see how for hundreds potentially thousands of years people used folklore as a pseudoscience of sorts. Legends being used to explain earthly phenomena can be seen across different cultures around the world. Another example of one of these that I particularly enjoy is the Origin of the Earthquake from Norse mythology. See All the Mountains Shake: Seismic and Volcanic Imagery in the Old Norse Literature of Þórr. Scripta Islandica, Pg 102-110. For more information on the origin of the earthquake in Norse mythology. Taggart, Declan. “All the mountains shake: Seismic and volcanic imagery in the Old Norse literature of Þórr.” Scripta Islandica: Isländska Sällskapets Årsbok 68 (2017): 102-110.



“Instead of growing up on Cinderella, my sisters and I grew up hearing the tale of Sitareh. The story is very similar, but for some reason, I just didn’t enjoy Cinderella as much as I did Sitareh. So here goes. Once upon a time, Sitareh, the young daughter of a courtier in the Shah’s palace, lost her own mother at a very young age. Her father, the courtier, deciding that she needed a new mother, went ahead and married another woman, who had two daughters of her own. Excited to not be alone, Sitareh was eager to meet and live with these three women. Unfortunately, while they were very sweet to her in her father’s presence, the moment her father left on a trip to a neighboring kingdom, they began to show their true colors. In a quick succession of events, Sitareh becomes essentially their maid. They take advantage of her kind nature because her father isn’t around to do anything about it, and she submits to it quietly, waiting for her father to return. So, obviously, as is normal in these kinds of stories – the Shah has a young son, the Shahzad (prince), who is around the same age, maybe a bit older, than the three girls. One day, the Shah decides that his son is old enough to get married, because people got married really young in those days. Like at sixteen. So the Shah arranges an event, not a ball, exactly, but more like a talent show of all the eligible bachelorettes in town. Of course, this includes Sitareh and her stepsisters, who decide that the poor girl isn’t to attend this event. The stepmother, evil as she is, supports this decision. Because she sucks, and she knows that Sitareh is more beautiful and talented than her daughters, and would snap up the Shahzad in an instant if she were to attend. Sitareh, however, really wants to go – if not to marry the Shahzad, then maybe to just get out of the house and stop doing so many chores. So she begs and begs until her stepmother gives her a chance to go, with one caveat. She has to complete this impossibly long list of chores, just like in Cinderella, and find suitable clothes to wear. The stepmother obviously doesn’t think that the girl can do it all in time and find herself an outfit among the rags she has to wear, because her horrible stepsisters have stolen all her pretty clothes and jewelry. Against all odds, though, Sitareh does finish these tasks – I don’t remember exactly what they are – and manages to, in the time she has left, put together an attractive bedlah outfit, with a pretty veil of many colors, which she constructed out of her variety of rags. However, in a jealous rage at how beautiful she looks, the stepsisters lock her into the house and go to the event themselves. Sitareh, upset, turns to her sitar (a string instrument) and begins to sing on the terrace of her house to express her feelings. The Shahzad, who is bored with the party and quite frankly appalled at the girls who have come, happens to have escaped the party and is passing by her house when he hears her voice. Completely entranced, he is pretty disappointed that he can’t see the singer’s face. He calls out to her, and in her embarrassment, Sitareh runs from the terrace and retreats back into the house. As she does, the wind snatches up her multicolored veil and sends it fluttering straight into the Shahzad’s hands. By the next day, he hasn’t decided on any of the girls who attended the event, and instead has his heart set upon the mystery girl with the beautiful voice. He tells his father, who agrees reluctantly, and goes to return the veil to the girl. The stepmother and stepsisters, getting wind of his plan, shut Sitareh away in her room and decide to claim the prince as one of their own. The prince arrives at the house, eager to find the girl, but is disappointed that she isn’t there. However, Sitareh, clever as she is, starts to sing her song from the previous night, upstairs in her room. Hearing the strains of her voice, the Shahzad quits the living room and runs up the stairs, bursting into the room to find the beautiful Sitareh clad in her rags. He gives her back her veil and asks for her hand in marriage. She, obviously, agrees, and they get married. Out of the kindness of her heart, she forgives her stepsisters, who in turn get married to the sons of two ministers. And everyone lives happily ever after!”


The informant revealed the reasons for her affection with this particular story – “I like this story more than Cinderella for two big reasons. The first is that it reminds me of my Arab heritage and my roots because of the setting and the various elements. Also, more importantly, the version my grandmother told me was very empowering, in that Sitareh accomplishes everything independently in the story, without taking the help of a fairy godmother, or any magical elements. I think she told it to us in this way because she wanted us girls to feel like we could have everything we want in life simply with our own efforts. That’s what I really like about this story. An interesting note is that this story is one of the many tales told in versions A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, which in the legend are told by the queen Scheherazade, who, like Sitareh, created her own opportunities and came out on top.”


This story is, very obviously, a version of the “Persecuted Heroine” taletype, of which the Cinderella story is the most popular and famous example. One can see a lot of Vladimir Propp’s 31 story functions appear in this story, including the smooth opening, the absentee parents, the problem for the heroine, her confinement, her subsequent escape, and the eventual resolution of the problem. However, this version retains a lot of elements of the culture from which it sprung, including such components as Sitareh’s veil (standing in for the ubiquitous glass slipper of Cinderella) and the sitar which she plays. What is interesting, as the informant mentioned, is that Sitareh doesn’t seem to receive help from any external magical entities (one of the more prominent Propp’s functions), instead accomplishing everything due to her own efforts and her singing voice, which engineers this story not only into a märchen, but also a moral story with a powerful message to young women, regardless of whether or not this was just a characteristic the version the informant’s grandmother told her and her sisters to encourage them to achieve whatever they want to by themselves and for themselves. An intriguing parallel is drawn by the informant between the heroine of the tale, Sitareh, and the heroine of the larger legendary narrative, Scheherazade. Both of them are clever and strong young women who take a unique talent, for Scheherazade, her story-telling abilities, and in the case of Sitareh, her beautiful singing voice, and use it to get exactly what they want, all through their own efforts. The themes explored by this story, therefore, are pretty empowering and progressive, especially in the time at which they were supposedly told. Of course, if Scheherazade was the one who told the tale, one would expect the tale to have a strong female heroine much like herself.