Tag Archives: snake

Aztec Legend-Mexican Flag Origin

TEXT: “El pueblo Azteca recibió un mensaje de uno de sus dioses, Huitzilopochtli, que les dijo que se asentaran en las tierras donde encontraran una águila en un islote, sobre un nopal comiéndose una víbora.”

INFORMANT DESCRIPTION: Male, 58, Mexican

CONTEXT: This Aztec legend is incredibly integral to Mexican culture. The man told me this is something everyone knows. It is so important to the foundation of the Mexican people and state. He says it is the essence of what is Mexican even without the Aztec roots. He knew about this legend his whole life, but believes he learned it from his parents and then again in school growing up as a young boy. It is symbolic of Mexican heritage and it is what was incorporated into the creation of the Mexican flag. The flag depicts the exact setting. He says everything is symbolic, the cactus that everyone eats in Mexico, the eagle as a powerful bird and a symbol of strength, He says it is a very nationalistic emblem and it is as symbolic and important as the Queen of England he says. It is even on the coin.

TRANSLATION: The Aztec people received a message from one of their gods, Huitzilopochtli, telling them that they need to settle in the lands where they come across or find an eagle atop a small island, sitting on top of a cactus eating a snake. 

THOUGHTS: I also grew up and learned this legend as a child. I always recognized it on the flag and the story was ingrained in my mind. It is such a symbol of nationalism and is rooted in culture. 

Indian Tale – The Greedy Monkeys

Main Piece

Informant: “There’s a story of two greedy monkeys who find a piece of roti, basically an Indian tortilla, in the forest and they are fighting over who is going to break it in half because they each think the other will give himself the bigger piece. A snake comes by and hears them fighting and devises a plan. He offers to break it for them. He does and offers them the two halves, but each monkey thinks one piece is bigger, because the snake made one purposely bigger, so the snake takes a bite out of the bigger one, now making the other half bigger and offers it back up to them. Same situation keeps happening until the roti is finished and the snake just slithers away and the monkeys are left with nothing. Basically it’s a story about how if you’re greedy you’ll end up with nothing.”

Background

My informant is a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles, California. She is of Indian descent, and her knowledge of Indian folklore comes from her father. 

Context

Informant: “I can’t remember how old I was when I heard this but I was a kid. Usually stories like this are told to kids to teach them a lesson and teach them not to be greedy.”

My Thoughts

I had not heard of this story before, but I did know that greed is a widely recognized sin in Indian cultures. According to Hindupedia (cited below), greed causes fights amongst family members, a loss of wealth, and a loss of close friends. In Indian cultures, greed is also the driving force behind most crimes, whether it is theft or cheating. In an Indian story titled “How a Greedy Miser became a great Saint,” a young man refuses to spend money on finding cures for his father’s sickness, which results in his father’s death. By the end of the story, the young man acknowledges his greed and becomes charitable.

It is interesting to note that the two characters that suffered in the hands of the snake are monkeys. Monkeys are a very important part of Indian culture. Monkeys are said to be the living avatars of the god of power, Hanuman, who was half-man and half-monkey. The snake is vilified as he is deceiving a respected deity. 

Source:

Hindupedia. “Ideals and Values/Lobha (Greed) The Third Inner Enemy.” Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia, www.hindupedia.com/en/Ideals_and_Values/Lobha_(Greed)_The_Third_Inner_Enemy#We_do_wrong_things. Accessed 24 Apr. 2021.

Whistling and Snakes

Context:

The informant is a student currently attending Pierce Community College. He recounts a Korean story told to him by his parents when he was younger and giving his parents a tough time.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

continuing from another conversation about superstitions

S: Also, there’s another one that goes: If you whistle at night, snakes will appear.

 

C: That’s interesting. Can you give some reasons why people might believe that?

 

S: The whistling is more about not to disturbing others and to keep to yourself during the night.

 

Analysis:

Superstitions have a long-standing place in folklore around the world. Each culture imparts their own belief about what they deem important. This superstition about whistling at night draws on the idea that doing so will summon snakes – a symbol often associated with evil or bad. It is interesting to see how many areas share a commonality in symbols.

The Man and the Snake

Context:
I had asked my friend if he had any stories or tales from his childhood that his family would tell. He comes from an area of Kansas City, Missouri that is traditionally an African-American community, and he told me a tale, a fable, that his mother used to tell him when he was growing up.

Tale:
This is a story that my mother reiterated to me many times during her lifetime and when I was a child. There was a man in Africa, walking up a mountain. Halfway up the mountain, it starts to get cold, even though it is hot at the bottom of the mountain. Halfway up the mountain it is kind of frigid. Halfway up the mountain, this man happens upon…a very sickly snake. And the snake is sitting there in this cold climate and its basically freezing and it looks up to the man and says, “Please, sir, please, will you carry me down the mountain?”
And the man is going down the mountain, and he looks at the snake and he says, “But you’re a snake. Not only are you a snake, but you are a very poisonous snake. If I pick you up you will surely bite me!”
And the snake says, “Silly man, now why would I do that? I – I need your help. If – if I stay here I will surely die. If you carry me past the peak of the mountain, and down to the warm foothills, I will not bite you. I will be forever grateful.”
So the man thinks about it. And being a good man, an honest man, decides to help the snake. So he picks the snake up and he walks toward the peak. And he starts to walk on toward the peak and as it gets colder, the snake gets very, very still. But finally they pass the peak and they slowly get down and the weather starts to get warmer and the snake starts to move around. And as they go down the mountain, all of a sudden the frost clears, there’s green foliage and the snake is slithering happily as the man is carrying it in his arms. And finally, they are almost to the foothills and the man feels a sharp pain. Bam! The snake has bitten him. And he falls to his knees as the poison takes hold and he looks at the snake and he goes, “Snake, I’ve helped you, I’ve saved your life, and you promised me that you wouldn’t bite me.” And he goes, “Why!? Why!?”
The snake slithers off, takes a moment to pause as he decides to answer. And he looks back at the man taking his last breaths, and he says, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.” And he slithers off.

Analysis:
This tale is a fable that has a clear moral, like most fables, which is that you should not offer your help, your aid, to someone or something that you know to be dangerous. This tale is also serving as a warning to not trust the promises of a desperate man, and to be wary of those who might stab you in the back. This is the kind of tale that would be told, and is told, to children. After all, the informant’s mother would often tell this story to him when he was growing up. The fact that the informant grew up in a traditionally African-American part of the city he lived in, would suggest that this tale is African in origin.