Tag Archives: sheep

Irish Marriage Proposal Tradition — The Sheep Rug


MB recently went on a trip to the Irish island of Inisheer, where she met a local man named Kevin at a bar.

“We went outside for a cigarette and he proposed to me. Like legitimately got on one knee and had his grandmother’s ring. I was so confused and I didn’t know what to do, so I took the ring and just didn’t reply.

“The next day I was like, ‘I need to return this ring.’ I went back to the bar because no one has like any form of communication. And I was like, ‘When does Kevin come?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, he’ll be here after work.’ So I hung out until Kevin showed up. And then I was like, ‘Look, I can’t marry you. Here’s your ring back.’

“Kevin was like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, wait. I owe you a sheep. Do you want a sheep?’ I was like, ‘What do you mean? I’m leaving tomorrow. What am I supposed to do with a sheep?’ And he was like, ‘No, no. In Inisheer tradition, when you propose, you’re supposed to give a sheep as your proposal gift.’ I was like, ‘What do I do with a sheep? What do you expect me to do with that?’

“Kevin said sometimes people turn the sheep into a rug, so I was like, ‘Oh, okay. I’ll take a sheep rug, I guess.’ And I wrote down my address on a little piece of paper.

“I thought it was hilarious because I was not expecting to get an actual sheep rug in the mail from Kevin. But low and behold, two weeks after getting back to L.A., a box showed up with this sheep rug. It’s gorgeous. So yes, I did, in fact, get an engagement sheep rug from Kevin, the rubbish collector.


MB is a 20 year-old college student from New Jersey currently living in Los Angeles. She has traveled extensively and was in Ireland to film a documentary when this proposal occurred.

While she was not familiar with this specific Inisheer tradition, MB said she had heard of similar customs in other cultures. “It’s a tradition to present the woman with something that would appeal. So I feel like I had seen it, but I didn’t know that was an Irish thing.

“But this island also is super traditional, so it wasn’t super surprising. For context, the island is very small. Not a lot of technology. It’s a tourist destination now, but year-round, I think less than a hundred people live there. It’s all farmland. The only things that people do are own a shop or work on a farm or work on the ferry that runs to the mainland. So it’s very traditional. They all know each other, so there’s no need to text. They just go to the same place at the pub and knock on each other’s doors.

MB said she plans to keep the sheep rug for a long time and keep telling this story for the rest of her life. “I cherish this sheep rug so much. I think it’s the best souvenir I could ever receive.

She also admitted that sometimes she feels like she insulted Irish marriage tradition, even though Kevin was very insistent. “Obviously, because I was doing the documentary, I wanted to talk to people and actually get to know the culture. But I did not expect to be proposed to. And coming in and then leaving … I don’t know. But he really didn’t give me an option. And who am I to turn down a sheep rug? That sounds awesome.”


Marriage is one of the most celebrated life milestones across cultures. Historically, marriage is what brings two families together, establishing kinship networks and serving to reproduce not only life but culture. Thus, as one of the most important societal rituals that transforms identity, marriage is surrounded by many traditions, including those related to the engagement as MB experienced.

MB was told that she would be given an older sheep. It is unclear to her whether the sheep rug she received was already made at the time of the proposal, so there is no way of knowing much about the sheep it came from. Nonetheless, it is interesting that she was not given a young sheep to symbolize fertility, which is an important theme across diverse wedding traditions. Giza Roheim’s research, “Wedding Ceremonies in European Folklore,” explores other iterations of such themes.

Ultimately, Kevin’s insistence in giving her the sheep speaks to the immense power of ritual. Even though MB declined the marriage proposal, he insisted on following through with the whole proposal ritual. This demonstrates the belief that rituals must be performed correctly and in their entirety, or else the occasion loses its transformative power. In Kevin’s case, it is possible that he believed a failure to follow through on the engagement ritual would give him bad luck with future proposals, or alternatively, not release him from his commitment to MB. Whatever the reason, it is clear that he was acting under the weight of ritual obligation, rather than reason.

Ethiopian Anecdote – The Lazy Student

Main Piece 

Once there was a boy who did not understand math. His teacher tried teaching him subtraction, but the boy would not understand. So, the teacher explained with an example.

“If I have five sheep,” she asked, “and one of them leaves, how many sheep are left?”

The boy answers, “no sheep will be left.”

The teacher lost her temper and shouted, “How could there be no sheep left?”

The boy answered while crying “I know the sheep’s character! If one goes, all will follow!”


This joke is told to children to teach them about the followers in society and distinguish them from the leaders. 


My informant was born and raised in Ethiopia. He heard this joke from his father. He recalls that this joke was his first exposure to the concept that people can exhibit characteristics of sheep. My informant likes this joke because he comes across many people in his line of work that remind him of this joke.

My Thoughts

This joke is incredibly relevant today, even in the United States. There is much talk of a group of people being “sheep” because they follow the lead of certain celebrities or politicians. This kind of rhetoric is popular because it can apply to both sides of a political spectrum. Two opponents can both claim that the other is a “sheep” for merely believing something different. I also found it interesting that a message such as this was communicated using a classroom setting with children. This suggests that even young children are astute enough to recognize when someone is a sheep, and that it does not take a genius to do so.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf- Children Story

Main piece: 

“There was a boy who was a shepherd. The boy would get very bored watching the sheep all day, so he decided to yell out that there was a wolf amongst the sheep one day. All the villagers came in a hurry to find out that there was no wolf. The next day the shepherd boy did it again. And the villagers came running, only to find that once again there was no wolf. On the third day, the shepherd boy was watching the sheep, and a wolf came. The boy yelled out to the villagers, ‘there is a wolf! Help! there is a wolf!’ but this time no one believed him, and the wolf ate all of his sheep.”

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 21-year-old female. I asked her to narrate to me a commonly known story she is familiar with. The informant narrated to me the story of the “Boy Who Cried, Wolf.” She claims this was a bedtime story told to her when she was a child. My informant believes the message of this story is that “if you lie people will catch on to it and then they will not believe anything you say ever, even if it is true.”

I agree with my informant’s interpretation of the story. The story of The Boy Who Cried wolf is often used to teach children about the dangers of lying. The story follows the plot of a boy playing around with the kindness of the village and the sense of community that made them reach out to help when the boy was in danger. Because of this when the boy was actually in danger, the villagers no longer believed him and did not come out to help. I think this story also emphasizes the fragility of community awareness and support. Most communities are known for caring for one another and wanting to help other members of that community, however, this bond takes work on both sides. Each member of the community must participate in making it strong. By tricking the village, the boy broke this bond and therefore he was excluded from the community. I think many times people take these communities for granted and do not put in what they are getting from it. This story does not just warn about the dangers of lying, but also about preserving the trust within a community.

I think the use of three is also important to note as it is a prominent number in storytelling. The boy cries out to the villagers three times. Having a trio creates a pattern making the story more memorable and emphasizes an idea. 

Russian Children’s Song about a Sheep

Main Piece: Russian Song/Rhyme

Протекала речка, / через речку мост, / на мосту овечка, / у овечки хвост.
Эх, раз, два, три, четыре, пять, шесть, семь, aх семь, шесть, пять, четыре, три, два, один.
Пересохла речка, / развалился мост, / умерла овечка, / отвалился хвост.
Эх, раз, два, три, четыре, пять, шесть, семь, aх семь, шесть, пять, четыре, три, два, один.
Мне не жалко речки, / мне не жаль моста, / мне не жаль овечки, / а мне жаль хвоста.
Эх, раз, два, три, четыре, пять, шесть, семь, aх семь, шесть, пять, четыре, три, два, один.

Не было-б речки, / не было-б моста. / Не было-б овечки, / не было-б хвоста.

Эх, раз, два, три, четыре, пять, шесть, семь, aх семь, шесть, пять, четыре, три, два, один.


Protekala rechka, / cherez rechku most, / na mostu ovechka, / u ovechki khvost.
Ekh, raz, dva, tri, chetyre, pyat’, shest’, sem’, akh sem’, shest’, pyat’, chetyre, tri, dva, odin.
Peresokhla rechka, / razvalilsya most, / umerla ovechka, / otvalilsya khvost.
Ekh, raz, dva, tri, chetyre, pyat’, shest’, sem’, akh sem’, shest’, pyat’, chetyre, tri, dva, odin.
Mne ne zhalko rechki, / mne ne zhal’ mosta, / mne ne zhal’ ovechki, / a mne zhal’ khvosta.
Ekh, raz, dva, tri, chetyre, pyat’, shest’, sem’, akh sem’, shest’, pyat’, chetyre, tri, dva, odin.
Ne bylo-b rechki, / ne bylo-b mosta. / Ne bylo-b ovechki, / ne bylo-b khvosta.
Ekh, raz, dva, tri, chetyre, pyat’, shest’, sem’, akh sem’, shest’, pyat’, chetyre, tri, dva, odin.


A river ran / a bridge across the river. / On the bridge a sheep, / the sheep had a tail.

Eh, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, ah seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

The river ran dry, / the bridge fell apart. / The sheep died, / the tail fell off.

Eh, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, ah seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

I do not feel sorry for the river, / I do not feel sorry for the bridge, / I do not feel sorry for the sheep, / but I’m sorry for the tail.

Eh, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, ah seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

If here was no river, / there would be no bridge. / If there was no sheep, / there would be no tail.

Eh, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, ah seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.


Background Information:

  • Why does informant know this piece?

This is a song/rhyme that he learned in kindergarden.

  • Where did they learn this piece?

The Soviet Union.

  • What does it mean to them?

Its just a funny song/rhyme that can be accompanied by a guitar. While it is associated with children, it is also often associated with being drunk and wanting to sing.



  • Where?

At enjoyable gatherings.

  • When?

For children, whenever. For adults, usually when under the influence of alcohol.

  • Why?

For enjoyment.


Personal Thoughts:

My father and uncles and grandfathers taught me this song. If was always very fun to sing until the couplet when the sheep dies, which used to make me sad. It is a very strange and ironic song.

Abu khan Ki Bakri

Informant Bio: Informant is my father.  He was born in Mumbai, India and moved to the U.S . when he was 22.  He still remembers many of the poems and songs from his childhood.  He is fluent in over five languages and recounts a translated tale below.


Context: I was interviewing the informant about childhood traditions, rituals, songs sung and tales performed.


Item: “Abukhan was an old, lonely man living in the village of “Almoda” in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains

He would keep one or two goats at a time and spend his time walking with them around the village and farmland.

At night, he would tie the goats with a rope in his yard.

One after the other, in matter of days he would lose the goats as they would run away into the mountain and be killed by a coyote.

Finally, he got tired and decided, no more goats! I will spend the rest of my life without any goat, he thought.

A few days passed and he was very sad and lonely without the goats.

Yes, he went and bought a very pretty little goat and named her “Chandni” (meaning “moonlight”).

He thought if he gave her nice feed and grains and showered her with lots of attention, this one won’t run away.

But sometimes he felt that the goat was getting bored. Time to make her life more interesting.

He thought and thought and then decided to move her from his small yard to his much larger fenced-in farm. There he would tie her with a long rope. She had much larger area to run around in and it was safe.

Chandni seemed happy with this greater freedom seemed to have bonded with the old man

They bonded so well that they could as if talk and understand each other like human beings. Abukhan was really happy that this goat was a keeper and would never run away.

More time passed and Abukhan slowly realized that Chandani was showing fresh signs of boredom.

Secretly she was longing to go up the mountain. He knew this because he had seen her gazing in that direction for hours. She was definitely more restless.

And then she started eating less and less. She wasn’t happy to be confined in that farm – as big as it was, it was no longer big enough for her…

She was all grown up and wanted to explore the world – that mountain -seemed as if it was beckoning her

All of a sudden the rope around her neck felt like a noose. She’d gaze at the top of the mountain and think the air there must be so fresh, the scenery from there… the greenery around there…  the smell of freedom and here I am confined in this small, pitiful little farm… Yes, Abukhan is nice to me but mountain is calling and I have heard the call now…

She kept looking at the mountain all the time. She was smitten. Nothing else would make her happy.

This went on for a while. Abu was very unhappy. Chandni was very unhappy.

Abu talked to Chandni everyday telling her that it is not a good idea to go to the mountain. There are dangers and a certain death. What more can I do to make you happy? Longer rope? Better feed?

Nothing seemed to work. Finally, Abu told her, if you go to the mountain, coyote will surely kill you. How are you going to fight him?

Chandni showed her horns and said these… these will fight the coyote…they have grown in the past few years and I am strong…

Abu said your horns are no match for the coyote. I just can’t let you do this.

Abu said to himself, this is it. Chandni must not be kept here in this field. It is time she is put in the cabin on the farm with the door locked.

That afternoon Chandni was taken to the cabin and the door was shut and locked.

Little did he realize that the back window of the cabin was wide open. Well, that was the opportunity Chandni was waiting for.

Night fell and Chandni escaped running straight to the mountain.

She reached there and the smell of freedom… Her beloved mountain… she was finally there… all that greenery.. So much to eat… so much to see… so much to enjoy..

She enjoyed herself beyond her wildest dreams. Ever so slowly heading towards the top of the mountain. She had enjoyed a few days of freedom.

She was re-invigorated, she felt young again and there she met a herd of other mountain goats. They welcomed her in their herd. They roamed together for a while. A male goat even showed some interest in beautiful Chandani, even she felt the attraction. But she didn’t want to jeopardize her freedom being tied to a life in a herd with other goats.

She was a true free spirit. There was no time for emotional attachment. She had to go her own way wherever her heart was leading her – to the top of the mountain.

But Chandani was a smart goat. In her new found life, she was still ever so vigilant of the coyote. Goats in the herd didn’t have to remind her. The encounter was destined to happen at any moment.

And came the dusk. Cool breeze felt ever so pleasant on the skin. In the valley she could see the village and Abu Khan’s hut, his yard, the farm and the cottage. It looked wonderful from far away…

In the distance, she even could hear Abu’s pleas for her to return home. For a moment, she felt maybe she should return, but then she remembered the rope, slavery, dependency and her life there – may be more comfortable, but certainly not as sweet as this freedom. Whatever the price – she couldn’t – she wouldn’t give up her newly found freedom

She is deep in thoughts as she heard some noise in the leaves behind her… yes, coyote was closing in on her… Should I run down the mountain and back to loving Abu Khan or face this deadly encounter!!

The decision was made in a split second. She chose to fight and die rather than live in comfort of Abu’s home and rope tied around her neck

She saw the coyotes shiny eyes in the darkness. There was no other option left. Coyote gave her a look as if saying, Oh, here we go again. This one looks like Abu’s well-cared for goat. They have all been special and delicious and such easy kill…

Chandani kept her head down, straightened her horns and in a split second charged straight to the coyote at lightening speed and bam!! Smack into him…

Coyote didn’t expect this, he had never been attacked like this before by a goat! Yes, this was an attack…

He was truly taken aback. In a moment, he regained his balance and composure and the fight was on..

As the fight went on, Chandani was gradually losing ground, but earned a healthy respect of her opponent. Coyote has never had to work so hard to overwhelm a goat prey.

Chandni was bloodied but kept on fighting. The dance of death went on into late night. Stars were disappearing one by one in the sky. Dawn was about to break thru.

She was taking her last breaths. She fell to the ground. A moment more and it was going to be over. Million thoughts raced thru Chandni’s mind. It was over… Ground was bloodied… Chandni had taken her last breath but in freedom. Fully aware of this outcome as the final price. She did have a smile on her face as she lay dead.

Up on the tree, a whole group of birds were watching this fight almost since it started. Coyote won the general consensus declared. Said “No” an old bird, “Chandni is the winner here.”


Analysis: This tale came to popularity during the time of British occupation of India.  It is a tale describing that for the self-aware, freedom must be the ultimate goal.  No matter how nice the accommodations are under the oppressor, one will always wonder and always be drawn to freedom.  The desire of the sheep to fight against the coyote despite knowing the eventual outcome shows that freedom is worth any cost, even one’s life.  The initial surprise of the coyote at the attack from the seemingly week sheep parallels what colonizing countries exhibit in the face of a rebelling colony.  The coyote, or colonizing country exhibits judgment and prejudice against the subject, much like colonizing countries do of their subjects.  This idea of resorting to fighting was not held by all in India.  The famous Mohandas Gandhi advocated nonviolence and an approach of demonstration and sacrifice to show commitment and enact change.  Obviously in the animal world, in which you are either a predator or you are prey, these issues have to be simplified, as they are in this tale.


Note: This tale is also recounted in the publication Abu khan ki bakri dusri kahaniyan by Zakir Hussain.