Informant: “Well, we have swallows in our house, like a nest on the side of our house, and the swallows come every year, for like four years now. And um, my dad told me this story about swallows, and basically, there were these two brothers, one very rich and the other very poor. The richer brother was annoyed by the poor brother ‘cause he was a um, he was a beggar and he’s always coming around asking for something and finally, like the rich brother, I think he was also the older brother, but the rich brother stopped giving him food and things.
Then um, the uh, poor brother noticed a swallows’ nest on his house, and saw a baby bird like, fall out and break its wing, so he took care of the bird. I think he just like, had nothing else to do.
Then like, all of a sudden, all these pumpkins start growing in his yard from a pumpkin seed, all this other good agriculture starts growing. And the poor brother was curious how he had all this food, but also he was very grateful. Then, uh, the sparrow got better, and it flew away. And then when the rich brother saw the good crops, he got jealous, so he tried to find a sparrow and break its wing or its leg so he could nurse it back to health so he could get good crops too. But of course, it didn’t work.
The sparrow only left a pumpkin seed on the poor brother’s garden because he was good and did not expect anything in return. So the moral of the story I guess, is when you just do good things, good things will happen to you.”
Me: “So is this a traditional Korean folktale?”
Informant: “Yeah, my dad told me about it just recently because we had birds next to our house, and we’re not supposed to kill nature, even though people would want to crush the nest because the birds can poop, you know, and make a mess, but apparently, it’s like special to have sparrows. They’re very symbolic in Korea I guess, so we keep the nest, and they just come back every year.”
Most of us would have heard stories similar to this one, where the younger or poorer sibling does a deed out of the kindness of their heart and is rewarded for it, while the jealous, richer, and usually older sibling will try to do the same but fail because of their avarice in some way. This theme, that the good-natured underprivileged character will prevail, is seen in Indian and European folktales as well and is extremely popular. People like to see the kind characters succeeding in the end and gaining the wealthy, happily-ever-after ending, especially when it doesn’t come true often in real life.
The sparrow was the equivalent of a fairy godmother in this story, and important to my informant because she saw the sparrows in her own house. They are also what spurred her father to tell her this story, a fact that she obviously valued since as a college senior, adults don’t usually relate fairy tales to her anymore. She clearly cherished the memory of her dad taking the time to tell the story, as well as the sweetness of the sparrows flying back to their house year after year.
My informant’s parents are from Korea, so they would have seen sparrows often, and it’s interesting that even though they moved thousands of miles, the same story is relevant because the same type of bird is found in California. My informant would not have heard the story if they lived in another state possibly, and neither would have I. This emphasizes how some folklore is spread throughout the world because of similar surroundings, and why some of is changed in order to adapt with any differences.