Tag Archives: tales

Anansi Tales

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Jamaican and British
Age: 46
Occupation: Lawyer
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/12/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

The following is a tale from Jamaica.  The informant is represented by the letter T and I am represented by the letter K.


K: Tell me about some of the folklore you learned growing up.

T: Growing up in Jamaica, my mom used to tell us stories about Anansi, who was a spider.  He was a pretty popular character in a lot of stories.  One of them was about Anansi and a snake.  In that story, there was Tiger, who was king of the forest and had a bunch of stuff named after him, and… Anansi, on the other hand, was a nothing and nobody.  All- all the other animals would make fun of Anansi while they called Tiger the bravest and the strongest… So, one day, Anansi got sick and tired of it all and he… met Tiger in the forest, and he said to Tiger, “Hey Tiger, you have it all. Can you just let me have one thing named after me?” The Tiger wanted to ignore Anansi, but he said to him- because he was curious- so, he asked him, “what is it that you want to have your name, Anansi?” And so, Anansi answered him that he wanted the stories to be called, “The Anansi stories,” instead of the Tiger stories.  So… Tiger didn’t want to give up the name of the stories because he loved the stories, but he wanted to have a good laugh, so he told Anansi that if he could do one small thing for him, then he would let Anansi call the stories the Anansi stories or anything else that he wanted to call them.  So… Anansi didn’t like the sound of it, but he asked Tiger what he would have to do.  Tiger said he wouldn’t have to do anything hard, all he had to do capture Snake by the end of the week. So, of course, Anansi was scared because Snake was very very big, while Anansi, being a spider, was very very small.  So, but- Anansi really wanted to have the stories named after him, so he said that he would do it. So, all the other animals were listening into the conversation and they started laughing. So, Anansi went home worried, but he was thinking about what he could do to capture Snake. So Tiger and Anansi had reached the agreement on Monday and the next day Anansi went down the trail, where he knew Snake always went down, and he cut down a large noose from a strong line and put some of Snake’s favorite berries in it. And, he hid in the bushes, holding the other part of the vine, so that when Snake came along, he would be able to tighten the noose and capture Snake. But when Snake came along, he saw the noose around the berries, so he put his weight on the vine and reached in and grabbed the berries quickly, and Anansi tried and tried, but he couldn’t pull the vines to close the noose because the snake’s body was too heavy.  So the next day, Anansi went further down the trail and… he dug a pit in the ground.  And inside the pit, he put some bananas, but then he also put some grease around the pit, so that when Snake went to get the bananas, he would fall into the pit.  So, when Snake came along the path, he saw the bananas and he wanted to eat them, but he also saw the grease in the pit, so he wrapped his tail around a tree trunk and then reached into the hole with his head and ate the bananas, and then when he was done, he unwrapped his tail and went away.  So, the NEXT day, Anansi made a trap out of some sticks and he put some mangoes inside and when a piglet came along, he went in for the mangoes and Anansi closed the trap behind him.  So… he had figured that… Snake would see the piglet and that he would be able to get into the trap through the spaces he had left in the trap, but he wouldn’t be able to get back out once he had eaten the piglet.  However, when Snake came along… and the piglet saw him, the piglet got so scared that he went crazy and he started squealing and he went berzerk and then he started smashing the trap into pieces and then he ran away as quickly as he could so that Snake didn’t even get a chance to eat him. Sooo, the next day, it was the end of the week, and Anansi was out of time, so he went directly to Snake’s house and sat outside looking all dejected, and Snake came out and he said to Anansi, “boy, you’re bright.  You’ve been trying to catch me all week and now you show up in my yard?” So Anansi looked at Snake and was like, “yeah, it’s true, but I’ve been trying to catch you for a worthy cause. All of the other animals are talking behind your back.” So, of course, Snake was curious and he said, “well what are they talking about? what are they saying?” and Anansi said, “well, I shouldn’t really be telling you, but they say that you believe that you’re the longest thing around and that you’re the mightiest and… and.. God’s gift to longness, when even the shortest bamboo is longer than you.” So Snake was MAD. So he said, “measure me Anansi! Get the longest bamboo you can find and show those animals that I am the longest thing around here.” So… Anansi said to Snake, “well Snake, there’s a problem.  You look longer than the bamboo, but how do I know that when I go up by your head, you’re not stretching to look longer and then when I go down by your tail, you’re not shifting down on that end.” So… Snake said to Anansi to tie him up if he didn’t believe him. So now all the animals were gathering around in curiosity to watch what was gonna happen. So, Anansi ties Snake’s tail to the bamboo with some lines and then told Snake to stretch and so… Snake stretched and then Anansi quickly tied his head to the pile and tied his middle up.  Now all the animals that were watching went silent because Anansi said that he would capture Snake and he did, so now all the animals were no longer laughing at him.  And then from that day on, all of the stories were called Anansi stories.  The end.


This took place in a hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton in Downtown Los Angeles.  The informant was sitting on the bed, watching TV while playing games on her iPad.  Her husband was walking around the room getting ready to go to sleep.  I was sitting next to the informant and asked her if she had any folklore she learned growing up.

My Thoughts:

This tale clearly has a few “lessons” or “teachings” and is intended for children.  The informant learned this when she was quite young from her mother.  From this tale, we can see that one of the large meanings, depending on perspective, is either to never judge someone’s capabilities based on appearance or to never give up just because something seems too hard to handle.  With all of the animals assuming that Anansi can’t capture Snake, just because he’s little, it’s clear that there’s this idea of great power within something so small. Hearing this as a child, you’re prompted to believe that you have great capabilities within you, despite being so young.  The story also has some undertones of not being too cocky because if Snake hadn’t felt the need to show off his longness, then he never would have been captured, and if Tiger had never assumed he was putting Anansi up to a task he could never complete, then he wouldn’t have lost the title of the stories.  I think this tale is really adorable and there’s a lot more like it that come from Jamaican culture.

“The Three Little Pigs”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican
Age: 20
Residence: Colorado
Date of Performance/Collection: 4-17-19
Primary Language: Spanish
Other Language(s): English

Main Piece: “Once upon a time, there were three pigs that were siblings. They were all grown up now and decided to go out and make their own way. The first pig finds a place and makes a house out of straw, the second pig finds a place and makes it out of wood sticks, and the third pig makes his house out of brick. One day, a wolf shows up to the first pig’s house and asks him to come out. When he doesn’t the wolf tells him that he is going to ‘huff, and puff, and BLOW the house down.’ The wolf blows down the first house but the pig escapes and ends up at the second brother’s house. The wolf follows the pig to the seance house made of sticks and again asks them to come out. The pigs say no, and again the wolf says ‘I’m gonna huff, and puff, and BLOW your house down,’ The house falls, and the pigs escape again this time reaching their last brother’s house. When the wolf arrives here, he once again asks them to come out and when they refuse he once more says ‘I’m gonna huff, and puff, and BLOW your house down.’ This time however, the house didn’t fall and the wolf became very angry. So instead the wolf climbed on top of the roof and made his way into the chimney and started climbing down. The brother who had made the brick house, quickly ran to the bottom of the chimney and placed a pot of boiling water. As the wolf fell down the chimney, he landed in the pot and the fireplace also caught him on fire. He ran out of the house never to be seen again, and the three pigs lived happily ever after.”


Background: UV told me that one of the things he noticed in Mexican tales was that they are heavily influenced from around the world, and mostly from America. So he said that this version is similar to ones he’s heard since coming to America, but as a child this was the story he was told by his mother. He said that this tale was pretty meaningful to him, because after his mom would tell it to him and his siblings, she would tell them how important family is and how they need to look after each other and help one another. UV took this to heart and said that he really connects with this piece because of that.


Context of the Performance: This story was told to me in my apartment while me and UV were hanging out and discussing some of our old favorite childhood memories and tales. This one in particular was a good one to hear because we both exchanged the same story, and it was cool to see how similar they were even across cultural and national boundaries.


Analysis: This iteration of the Three Little Pigs is very similar to the one I was told as a kid, but the added part of the wolf trying to climb through the chimney is interesting. Its adds another layer to the story and showcases the third pig’s cleverness even more, as he has to help the brothers one last time to get out of a bad situation. I believe the extra addition of this, seeks to emphasize an importance on cleverness and how important it is to protect your family against people who would try and do harm to them. In the American version, it is merely about resourcefulness and how building a strong foundation can withstand even the toughest of oppositions. And while the version that UV told me has that as well, I really think it leans more towards the importance of familial bonds and using your wits to help your family when they need you. This would be in direct correlation with what UV mentions in how important family is in Mexican culture, and I believe that this story seeks to point that out in a way that is easily accessible for children and adults.


For another version of this tale see:

Randall, Ronne, and Kasia Nowowiejska. The Three Little Pigs. Pat-a-Cake, an Imprint of Hachette Children’s

Group, 2018.

Nasreddin Hoca: Turkish Legend

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Turkish-American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: San Diego, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Turkish

Who is Nasreddin Hoca?

P.N. – “He’s a man we get all of our idioms and fables from essentially.  I don’t know if this guy is real; I’ve been told that he was real, but I don’t know to what extent that’s the case; it’s super old.”

You’ve been told by whom?

P.N. – “Family members, teachers, Turkish people, we would watch movies and make animations of this guy.  He’s been portrayed by everyone, but I can’t say if he’s actually real.”

“‘Hoca’ means teacher; and he is a short, chubby man, with a really really big turban.  A comically large turban.  He has a white beard, and he rides around on his donkey.  He always has a little pack on him. He is the source of most fables, all folklore comes back to him essentially.”

“I remember one story – he comes into the village, and there’s a blind man begging on the street.  He comes over and offers him money, but the blind man refuses.  He leaves the next day.  Comes back, tries to offer him money again, but again the blind man refuses.  And then, the third day he comes back and he offers him a job, and the blind man agrees.  And it kinda teaches you – give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish, he’ll eat forever.”

“To me, Nasreddin Hoca symbolizes the fact that there are so many ways to help people.  A lot of it is: live your life with simplicity, be independent, grow your own food, very much just help people and accept help as well.”

Would you say that you’ve taken this mystery man’s advice into account throughout your own life?

“Without noticing, definitely.  It’s been ingrained in my head.  Not necessarily because ‘oh, Nasreddin Hoca said this,’ but more just like ‘oh, my mother said this, and she got it from this guy, who got it from Nasreddin Hoca!'”

The tale that this person told me, with the blind beggar, reminds me of how many tales are told.  Immediately, I thought of the rules of a folk tale, and how – seemingly – every rule was checked off, making it a perfect story.  This Nasreddin Hoca character was someone I’d never heard of, but he also made me think about my own interpretations of folk tales.  Do I consider all tales told to me from the perspective of one man, going through life, learning lessons?  I just might; and that thought is jarring for me.   In the same way that I may or may not think everything with one voice, I may or may not relate all folklore to one character.

Sleep Paralysis and Devils

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese-Korean
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Diamond Bar, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/21/2014
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Chinese

Sleep Paralysis

The Informant:

My friend, was born in Diamond Bar, CA. He is the son of a pastor whose church is in Diamond Bar. He lives with his parents and three younger siblings, a sister and two brothers. His father is Chinese and his mother is Korean.

The Story:

The first time that this happened to me was when I was either a sophomore or a junior in high school. I was lying on my bed, obviously in the middle of my sleep, when all of a sudden I realized I couldn’t move. I couldn’t move my body, I couldn’t scream, there was no air in my lungs. I tried to scream but couldn’t and I started to freak out. All of a sudden… I felt super cold, from top, my head, down, to my feet. I don’t remember if I was outside the blankets or inside but regardless I felt the wind. Suddenly I felt a heavy weight on my chest, as if something was sitting on it, and a shadow on top of me. I don’t really remember what happened after that. All of these instances blur together after a while. This was the first time it happened. After that it happened on a weekly basis for at least a year. There are times when I know it’s coming. You just feel like you’re getting really tired, or sometimes you can just sense something is off, as if there’s something in your room with you. I’ve never seen anything in my room though, and it always happens at night. There’s nothing I could do except wait for it to pass… and I’m always alone when this happens.

The Analysis:

This is a different occurrence of the scissor lock that my other friend experienced. We talked about this in his room, and a couple other friends were present. As he continued to tell his story, our other friends slowly became quiet, and then silent. The way Trevor spoke was genuine and even though such an occurrence would be questionable, there was no doubt in his voice that this was true. In Trevor’s instance, this happens on a semi-regular basis, with the last one occurring a couple months ago. Before that, it happened once a week or once every other week. There is no basis for why he goes through the scissor lock so often, but his actions showed that he doesn’t get used to it, even though it’s happened numerous times. It is creepy that this has happened so many times that they all seem to blur into one for him. One aspect that was interesting is that he is a pastor’s kid. This was one difference I noticed between him and my other informant on this same topic – it is probable that his stronger faith or adherence to Christianity has an affect on these continual occurrences. Whether it is due to faith or not, I wondered if it was the devil’s doing, and led me to question the existence of the devil and it’s many forms.


Researchers have attempted to examine the causes of the scissor lock, dubbing it generally as sleep paralysis: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FB%3ADREM.0000005896.68083.ae

A different version of sleep paralysis from someone not religious can be found at: http://kerryonian.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/the-experience/

Good Sir, Bad Sir

--Informant Info--
Nationality: South Korean
Age: 51
Occupation: Engineer
Residence: Cupertino, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/18/2014
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English (minimal)

흥부놀부 (Heung-bu Nol-bu) – Good Sir, Bad Sir

The Informant:

Sung is in his early 50s and works as an engineer. Born in Incheon, South Korea, he immigrated to the United States after he married in 1990. He heard the story of Heung-bu and Nol-bu when he was in the first or second grade in elementary school.

The Story:

흥은 붕해 뜻이야 – 잘 된다는것이야. 놀은 잘 못 된다는거야 (노는 사람들을 놀부라고 부를듯이).

흥부 하고 놀부는 형재야. 근데 놀부가 형이야. 잘 살아, 부자집. 흥부는 가난한 집이야. 형이 동생을 잘 못 챙긴거지.한국에서는 첫재만 재산을주는거지. 흥부는 둘째니까 많이 못 받은거지. 어느날 흥부는 놀부한테 밥을 달라고 했는데, 놀부의 부인이 식은 밥을

준거지. 제비 (새) 가 날라와서 집을 만들었지, 놀부 집 밑에.옛날에 집 바로밑에 처마가있었어. 근데 제비가 떨어져서 다리가 부러졌어. 그래서 흥부가 다리를 고쳤어. 고마운 마음을 제비가 어떤  씨를 가져왔어. 흥부가 그걸 심었었지. 그 후에 박을 쓸려고했는데 도깨비가 튀어 나온가요. 그 도깨비가 물어본거야 “너는 뭘 갓고 싶으니?” 흥부가 밥 달라고해서 밥을 줬어. 돈도 달라고해서 돈도주고, 옷도주고, 집도주고. 흥부가 잘된거야, 그래서 그 형이 배가 아픈거지. 놀부가 일부로 처마를 떨어뜨려서 다리를 또 부라뜨리고 제비가 이번엔 놀부한테 씨를 가져온거야. 그래서 똑같이 씨를 심어서 이번에도 도깨비가 나타났어. 똑같은 질문을하는대 놀부가 “난 돈이 많이 있지만 흥부보다 더 많이 갓고싶으다! 돈 더 줘!” 라고 했다. 결국 나쁜 마음을 가진 놀부에게 돈을 다 잃었고 가난해졌다. 잘 살던 놀부는 평범한 인생을 살고 없었던 흥부는 좋은 인생을 살게됬다.


Heung is a word that means good luck. Nol means bad luck. In light of this tale, people who simply play and don’t work are called “Nol-bu”.

Heung and Nol are brothers. Nol is the firstborn and Heung is the second child. Nol is rich and wealthy while Heung leads a life of poverty. In these olden times, the father passes on most of the inheritance only to the firstborn son and the second son is lucky to have received anything. One day, Heung goes to his brother’s house and asks for rice to eat. Nol’s wife gives him cold and old rice. These old houses there are eaves built under the roofs. A swallow comes and builds his nest there. The swallow fell and broke its leg. Heung came across it and fixed its broken leg. Out of thanks, the swallow returned to Heung and gave him a seed. Heung planted the seed and one day using a gourd to water it, a dokgyebi (Korean bogey) springs out. It asks Heung “what do you want?” and he answers that he is hungry and wants rice. The dokgyebi gives him rice. Heung says he wants money and he is given money. Heung says he wants clothes, a house, and it is all granted to him. The brother sees this and his stomach hurts out of envy. Nol purposely drops the eave so the swallow breaks its leg again. This time Nol fixes the leg and the swallow once again returns and gives Nol a seed. Nol plants it and waits for the dokgyebi to appear. It does. It asks Nol “what is it that you want?” and Nol answers “I have a lot of money but I want more than Heung. Give me money!” In the end, the dokgyebi sees his evil heart and Nol is stripped of his money and wealth. The brother who once was rich is now poor and the brother who once was poor is now rich.

The Analysis:

이 의미는 남들이 잘되는걸 따라가려면 잘 안 된다는거야. 있는걸 있을대 만족해라. 욕심 내면서 살면 망한다. 착하게 살아라.

그리고 사람들이 없는대로 복만받으면 “흥부심뽀다”라고 얘기해.

돈이있고 남을 안 도와주면서 살면 “놀부심뽀다”라고 하지.

The meaning behind this story is that you should not live trying to chase after those who are better off than yourself. In doing so, you will simply lose what you already have. Treasure what you are given and be content. By becoming greedy, you will only end up losing what you already have and can end up in a worse state than where you initially stood.


My dad told me this story after I talked to him about my aspirations for the future. In light of my future, he meant to tell me not to put too much on my plate. In becoming greedy not only for money but also in my activities, I can end up burning out or losing more than what I think I can gain. He also meant this story to be a reassurance that all will be well. Instead of becoming lost in the competition against others for a job or for a better future, it’s always best to focus on my life and myself.

Auntie Cockroach (kids)

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 30, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Farsi

When he was four or five, his grandmother and mother told him a story about “Auntie Cockroach”. This folktale is a very popular Persian fairy tale for kids and it was a popular bedtime story for Arya. Her mother and grandmother would always end their retelling by asking him to answer what the moral of the story was (being generous, helping people and welcoming guests into your home).
He told me the following rendition from what he remembers:
On a very rainy night, auntie Cockroach received many visitors from animals who needed shelter. There was the zebra, the horse, the cat ad the mouse. The zebra asked to come in because his roof was leaking; the horse came next and asked for some food since he had been traveling all night and hadn’t been able to stop anywhere. Then came the cat seeking the warmth of a fireplace and finally, the mouse whose mousehole had flooded with the rains. Auntie cockroach let all the animals in and tended to their needs; the next morning, all the animals left and were eternally thankful for Auntie Cockroach’s generosity.

What’s interesting about this story, is that Arya revealed that there is another version that goes by the same name: “Auntie Cockroach and Mr. Mouse” and is the adult (more elaborate) version of the kids’ one he’d heard growing up. This version can be found online as a PDF and is titled “Auntie Cockroach (Khale Suske) and Mr. Mouse”

Greed is Punishment

--Informant Info--
Nationality: El Salvadorian
Age: 18
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: March 29, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

This folklore was collected from my friend who had learned it from his Jewish friend. It came up when we were discussing how some people had everything while other people had nothing. It seemed like there was no equality because there was nothing to balance out the two. However, this small folk tale came up explaining that there was something to balance the two. It was a somewhat heated discussion, so hearing this light story was very much refreshing and helped put the matter into perspective. My friend said that to him, it was a clear sign that justice would prevail over any other circumstances that might be involved. In addition, by being so greedy, it would inevitably end in loss because trying to grab hold of too much requires you to let go and lose more than what you were holding on to.

A poor beggar was wandering around a rather busy marketplace. It was unusually busy that day, so it was a shock when he came upon a small money pouch that had apparently been lost. Opening the money pouch, he found that it held 100 coins of gold. Just then, he heard a shout exclaiming that someone had lost their pouch and would pay a reward for anybody who would return the purse.

The beggar thought he was in luck! He was an honest fellow and wanted the reward that was due to him for returning the pouch instead of taking it for himself. He walked up to the merchant who had claimed that the pouch was his and handed him the purse. He asked for the reward that he was due after giving it back.

However, it became very clear that the merchant was very greedy and only wanted to keep the money that he had without giving any form of reward at all. After all, the merchant was already counting the gold pieces. “What reward?” he asked. “When I dropped this money bag, it contained 200 gold coins. And now, I see only 100. You’ve already stolen so much from me! Be thankful that I’m not searching you for the gold pieces and go away or else I will call the authorities on you.”

The beggar refused to be cowed down by a greedy merchant. After all, he had returned a purse that he had no reason to return because he would have been better off either way. He decided to claim, “I may be poor, but I am honest. I will not accept this injustice. Let us go to a court of law and see who is the more correct between us.” They then went to court and presented both of their arguments to the judge. The judge was very wise and knew what was good and right according to the law. He was not partial to either side, but he knew what the law had said, and so came his verdict. He claimed that justice could be provided for both parties who had presented a claim before him, thereby allowing any wronged party to be recompensed for the troubles that they had faced.

Addressing the merchant, he said, “You said that your money bag contained 200 gold coins when you lost it. That by itself is a very large amount of money. This bag that the beggar picked up had 100 coins. There is no reason why he would keep 100 to return 100 when it is clear that there is money already in it and that you would know how much money was missing? It then becomes quite reasonable that you were very mistaken. This bag cannot be yours because that does not make any logical sense.

With no further comment, the judge awarded the purse with 100 gold coins to the beggar. The righteous beggar walked off knowing that he had acted according to what was good and just. The merchant stomped off in frustration because he had lost money due to his uncontrolled greed.

I very much agreed with my friend on this matter as to what it meant. Greed is a very powerful force, but it is very negative and leads to negative consequences. More is lost than gained through being greedy, and so is often not worth it. In addition, the idea that justice is blind is very important as well. Living in America where everybody is entitled to a fair trial, this concept is very ingrained into the general population’s believes. Regardless of whether they are rich or a beggar should not have a bearing on whether they are being honest or not. Everybody is equalized under the law.

Russian Proverb about a Broken Wash Basin

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Russian-Jewish
Age: 53
Occupation: Mathematician
Residence: Santa Barbara, California
Date of Performance/Collection: March 11, 2012
Primary Language: Russian
Other Language(s): English, Hebrew

“Do you want to go back to your broken wash basin?”

This Russian proverb comes from a fairytale, which my informant recounted to me:

“This is a story about a golden fish. An old man, very poor, lives in a cottage next to the sea. He goes to fish, and he catches in his net a golden fish. And she talks to him in a human voice, and she says, ‘Old man, let me go, I’ll give you whatever wish you want.’ The old man is a kind person, and he says ‘Oh, go little fish, swim in the sea, I’ll find other fish to eat.’ He doesn’t ask for any wish. So he comes home, and he sees his wife, an old woman, sitting near their cottage, which is falling apart, and she’s trying to do a wash, but she washes the clothes in a wooden basin and it’s falling apart, there is a big hole in it, it’s broken. And he tells her the story about how he caught the golden fish, and how she said that she can do any wish he wants. And the old lady is furious; she says, ‘I can’t even wash the clothes, the basin is broken, and you let her go!’ So, he wants to make his wife happy, he goes to the ocean and calls for the fish, and he says, ‘Can you make my wife happy, can you give my old woman a new basin, which is not broken?’  He comes, and he thinks his wife will be very happy because she got a new wash basin. But she’s furious—she says, ‘You could ask anything you want, why do you ask for a basin? Ask for a new house, don’t you see the house is falling apart, there are holes in the roof?’ So he goes back, and he says, ‘I’m sorry, fish, can you please give us a new, nice house?’ The fish says, ‘Okay, you go to your wife.’ So he goes home, and instead of his old, falling-apart cottage, there is a beautiful new house. He thinks his wife would be happy, but she is furious. She says, ‘Why do you ask just for a regular house? Ask for a palace with servants! Nice clothes, nice dishes, everything. I want to be a noblewoman!’ So, as you can expect, he goes back, he gets her a palace with servants and all that, but even that is not enough. After some time, she wants to be a queen.  Okay, she became a queen, to cut the story short. The old man doesn’t recognize her. She doesn’t want to associate with him, she doesn’t want any of the servants and all of these people to know that he is her husband. So, he is some lowly worker in the yard, sweeping the yard, while she is the queen in the palace, with servants and all that. So, some time passes, and she calls him again, and she says, ‘I’m tired of being a queen. I want to be a Tsaritsa of all of the seas and I want the golden fish to be my servant.’ The old man goes, and he says, ‘There’s nothing I can do. That’s what she wants.’ Suddenly, there is a horrible storm, and the fish just went away. So he comes back, and here is his old house, falling apart, and his old woman is sitting with a broken wash basin.”

Q. When would somebody use this proverb?

A. Let’s say a person did something for you, or did you a favor, and you demand more and more and more—he could say it. It’s like saying, “Look. Stop it.” Instead of pointing out that a person demands too much, this is a nicer way to say it. Usually, people like their childhood memories and fairytales, so they won’t feel antagonistic.

Q. Do you feel that in Russian society, people use proverbs more than they do here?

A. Yes—Russia doesn’t have much mobility, and in a society that’s very stable, it’s easier to have proverbs that move from generation to generation. The culture is homogeneous, so people know what you mean.

Annotation: Russian writer Alexander Pushkin wrote a poem about the story of the golden fish, entitled “The Fisherman and the Golden Fish.”

Pushkin, Alexander. “The Fisherman and the Golden Fish.” Trans. Irina Zheleznova. Russian Crafts, 1998-2007. Web. 26 April 2012. <http://russian-crafts.com/tales/golden-fish.html>.

This tale has also been featured in multiple works of Russian art, including lacquer boxes:


Northern Californian Campfire Story: The Ring Man

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 53
Occupation: Partner at Ernst & Young
Residence: Manhattan Beach, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 15th, 2012
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “The story of the Ring Man goes to back when I was growing up, and my dad and his best friend Jim Kaddy who used to go camping in the woods, around where our cabin is in Lassen. And up there, there would be when we were little; there are these trees with these rings on them. There were painted white rings, around various parts of the forest. And so what they told us was that the Ring Man paints a white ring on these trees. And the reason he does that, is that at night various campers are camping out in the woods and he comes to their tents when they are sleeping. And for the girls, he leaves them candy. But for the boys he finds, he kills them. And when he kills them, he puts a ring around the tree for each boy he kills. So you should never go out at night when you are camping, or the Ring Man will get you.”

Interviewer: “So the Ring Man only kills boys? Why?”

Informant: “Because boys are noisy. But you only tell that story at night, when you are camping.”


“The Ring Man” is a campfire story that is unique to the informant’s family.  The story is intended to be told as a campfire story, specifically to younger children.  The reason why the story is intended for children is because only children would believe that the rings on the trees indicate the murder of little boys.  Adults know that the rings on the trees actually indicate the lumber has been marked to be cut down by local logging industry, which has a strong presence in Humboldt County culture of where this story originated.  The high number of trees marked with rings makes the story more believable to the children, because the proof of the Ring Man’s existence is something you can really see.

The violence present in the tale indicates that the authors of the story had a dark sense of humor, and created the tale to playfully tease their children.  This tale also serves as an educational warning to the young audience, in that it warns them of the evils and violence that are present in the world that they should be aware of.  In this sense, “The Ring Man” tale is very similar to other folk tales that warn children of the evils present in the world such as “Hansel and Gretel”.  Another interesting aspect of this story is the idea that the Ring Man only kills boys, because they are noisy.  This comes from the stereotypical belief that girls are sweet and quiet, which is why the girls get sweet candy, and boys are loud and obnoxious.  Therefore the performer of this tale also uses “The Ring Man” as a warning to little boys that they should be well behaved and quiet or the Ring Man will kill them.  The fact that the story puts an emphasis on the importance of being well behaved also indicates that the authors of the story put a high value on manners.

I have heard this tale many times when my family and I would go camping. When I first heard “The Ring Man”, I thought the tale was real, and I became extremely upset when I saw three trees marked with the white rings by an elementary school.  After expressing this to the informant, he explained that the tale was not real and my anxieties were soon forgotten.  There is a sense of pride that comes from the story because it is unique to the informant’s family and a part of their traditions.

My informant was born in 1957 Arcata, California to a high school basketball coach and his wife.  After earning his undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of California, Davis, he moved to southern California to obtain his MBA in business from the University of Southern California.  He now a partner at Ernst & Young. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with his wife and has two children.

Camp Stories

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Edgewater, Maryland
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2007
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

My informant told me about some of the camp stories that she used to hear at her summer camp, Camp Letts, in Edgewater, Maryland, which as my informant describes, is an offshoot of the Chesapeake Bay.

She said that the counselors were the ones who typically told these stories to the campers, and that there aws no particular time that they always told the stories. It was sometimes around a campfire, or sometimes just in the cabins or during mealtime.

There were two stories in particular that were mainly used as a means to scare campers away from wandering in the woods or near the pool late at night, thought this intention never occurred to my informant until she was older.

The first story was the girl with the red scarf. My informant doesn’t remember why she had a red scarf, but it was significant to the story. The story is that there were two counselors who were in love and they decide that in the middle of the night that they were going to go into the middle of the woods and meet up at this spot. The boy goes into the woods and he waits and waits for this girl but she never shows up. It’s really dark and the guy doesn’t have anything with him to light the way. He starts walking when suddenly he runs into a body, which turns out to the body of the girl, hanging from a tree by strangled by her red scarf. Her death was blamed on a strangling ghost, meant to scare the children at the camp.

The second story scared children away from the pool. There was a camp manager having a secret relationship with a counselor, and they would often meet at a certain spot that would later become a spot for the camp pool. One night, there was an accident and the girl counselor slipped and fell and died. The camp manager, afraid of getting caught in the relationship and blamed for her death, buried her under the spot where the pool was built and the campers were told that if you went to the pool at night, her ghost would try and grab you. They also warned campers of swimming to the bottom of the pool because of her ghost, to keep beginner swimmers from pushing themselves too far.