Imagine a little girl nestled up tight in her grandmother’s lap late at night. The grandmother tells her stories that her grandmother once told her. One of the more famous Korean folktales is the story of DanGunwanggeom. Every culture grows up listening to and being influenced by folktales. They are not only a pleasure to hear, they pass along long traditions and culture. By learning about other nation’s folktales, Koreans can learn, understand, and appreciate other cultures. Therefore, The Sookmyung Times interviewed three international students to learn about famous folktales from their nations.
The Crocodile that Became the Island of East Timor
Virgilia Imaculada Dedeus (East Timor)
Department of Culture & Tourism / Visa Student
The boy with a Crocodile is a famous tale or legend in East Timor. Most people, from an early age, learnt that the island of East Timor is shaped like a crocodile because the island came to be following the death of a crocodile. The story of the crocodile goes like this: Many years ago a small crocodile lived in a faraway swamp. It dreamed of becoming a big crocodile but since food was scarce, it became weak and grew sadder and sadder. One day it left for the open sea, seeking food to realize its dream of becoming a huge crocodile. Sadly, the day was becoming increasingly hot. It hadn’t gotten far from the shore when it started drying out. In desperation, it laid down to die of heat exhaustion. At that moment, a small boy took pity on the stranded crocodile and carried it out to sea. The crocodile, instantly revived, was grateful. “Little boy,” it said, “You saved my life. How can I ever repay you? Any time you are in need of help, just call to me and I will come to you.” Years passed when one day the boy called out for the crocodile, which had grown big and strong. “Brother Crocodile,” he said, “I too have a dream. I want to see the world.” “Climb on my back,” said the crocodile, “and just tell me where you’d like to go.” “Follow the sun,” said the boy. The crocodile set off towards the east. Together they travelled the oceans for years until one day the crocodile said to the boy, “Brother, we have been traveling for such a long time, but the time has come for me to say good bye to you and the world. In memory of your kindness, I will transform myself into a beautiful island where you and your children can live until the sun sinks into the sea.” As the crocodile passed away, it grew and grew. Its ridged back became mountains and his scales the hills of Timor. The message of this story is that kindness can create great peace and strong bonds with others. The East Timor government always contributes whatever it can to help other nations suffering natural disasters and other problems as well.
Queen Shiva, the foundering Mother of Ethiopia
Rediate Bizuneh (Ethiopia)
Department of Entrepreneurship / Visa Student
Ethiopia also has another story concerning the nation’s beginning. Rediate said, “Ethiopia was made by Menelik, son of Queen Shiva and King Solomon.” According to Rediate, Queen Shiva visited Jerusalem to meet King Solomon who was rumoured to have great wisdom. Upon arriving in Jerusalem with a lot of gold and jewels, she was greeted by King Solomon. Solomon was immediately attracted to her beauty. Thus, he said to her, “In order to have a cup of water, you must sleep with me.” King Solomon ordered his servants to prepare every dish she loved extra salty so that when she ate, she would surely request a cup of water. However, Queen Shiva didn’t ask for a drink water even after the huge meal prepared for her by King Solomon. One day, after many days without a drink of water, she silently sneaked out of her bedroom at midnight to get some water, but King Solomon caught her. Thus, she had no choice but to sleep with him. After leaving Jerusalem and on her way back to her hometown, she realized she was pregnant. Thus, she settled in the region, which is now called Ethiopia. She raised her son in the region, and her son became first king of Ethiopia, King Menelik. Nobody knows for sure who Queen Shiva is or where she came from. “The people of Ethiopia believe in Queen Shiva and respect her,” said, Rediate.
According to another story, Queen Shiva was once the ruler of the Tigris Empire in northern Ethiopia. Queen Shiva endured a traumatic experience before becoming queen. She was given to the Devil Dragon as a sacrifice. For this, she was bound to a tree, crying and screaming all the while. Bound to the tree, she suddenly was approached by seven wise men who saved her life by killing the Devil Dragon. However, as she fled for her life, some of the blood from the Devil Dragon splattered onto her toe and her toe transformed itself into that of a donkey’s toe. She returned to her hometown and became queen. To restore her toe to its natural form, she went to see King Solomon because she heard he had the power to correct it. Hence, she started her journey to Jerusalem with the goal of curing her toe. Although many Ethiopians are Christian, they respect Queen Shiva who is considered a foreign country goddess. Radiate said, “People in Ethiopian, regardless of religion respect Queen Shiva and never fight about her origin.” An interesting story, even though there remains doubt on its authenticity. People in Ethiopia live together in harmony as offspring from King Menelik who is the son of a Christian king and a foreign Queen.
Story of the World, China is the Center of the World
Chang Suki (China)
Division of Korean Language & Literature / Exchange Student
When SMT asked for a folktale from China, Suki introduced three Chinese stories to SMT. In China, there is a story about start of their nation. According to Suki, a long time ago people in China believed the world was one. Thus, the story about origin of China is actually the story of the origin of the world. Suki said, “There once lived a giant named Pango. He is known for dividing the world into two parts: sky and earth, using a broadax.” Because he was worried that the sky might one day try to reattach itself to the earth, he held the sky over his head to prevent the world from returning to chaos. Eventually, the sky and earth learned to keep space between them.
China also has another interesting story. It is about a lady named Nuwa who is considered goddess and creator of humans. Suki explained the story of Nuwa in this manner: “One day, Nuwa create humans. The human she created made Nuwa feel the pleasure of joy with another because she had been living a very lonely isolated existence prior to the human’s creation. Nuwa decided to create more humans. It took so long to create one human using her initial method that she invented another method. The spacious earth soon populated with humans. It made Nuwa happy. However, people were mortals and the eventually died. Thus, Nuwa started the union of marriage between males and females so that their existence would continue from offspring.” Because of this story, Nuwa is considered Goddess of Marriage. When SMT asked what people nowadays think of Pango and Nuwa, Suki said, “Although people now know how world was created, many people still believe in gods like Pango and Nuwa. I don’t believe in the story, but I respect Pango and Nuwa.”
The first empire in China was the Ha Empire. The Ha Empire was made by King Wu after winning a war among tribes. SMT heard an interesting story about King Wu from Suki. “Once upon a time, it rained very heavily, so the rain water flooded the entire Ha Empire. Many people feared for their lives. King Wu made the waterway expand in order to save the lives of his people. He set out to work on the plan and didn’t return home until the rain has stopped. It was because of this that many people respect him.” According to Suki, there is a Chinese idiom related to this story: ”Don’t return home even if there are three opportunities to do so.” The idiom summarizes King Wu’s sacrifice to save his people.