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Summaries of Four Folk Tales

for First Stage of Choral Tales Project


Four delightful tales, rich in human content, have been selected and converted into poems for the project’s first stage.  The poems, in turn, will be set to choral music and dance.  In recognition of the principle of equality between men and women, two of the four tales have female protagonists.  That includes the tale from Tanzania, which was a favorite of Nelson Mandela.  Brief summaries of the four tales are given below. 

The actual stories, and the poems derived from them, can be accessed by hovering over "The Tales" and "The Poems" above, and selecting from the drop-down menu.


1. from Asia (China): "Lord of the Cranes"


This story from southern China bears a striking resemblance to the Nahua story from Mexico.  The Lord of the Cranes is an immortal, named Xian.  He lives in the heavens on misty mountain tops.  One day, Xian decides to take the pulse of humanity.  Mounted on a crane, he flies with his flock down to the valley.  In the city, the first thing he does is give his warm silken robes to a man shivering in the cold, in exchange for the man’s clothes.  Now dressed as a person without means, Xian is treated by everyone with contempt.  Eventually, he meets a kind inn keeper, who takes him in and gives him food and shelter, day after day, and asks for nothing in return.  Xian rewards him by painting three magical cranes on the inn’s wall.  Whenever customers sing and clap, the cranes come to life, jump off the wall, and dance.  And this brings the inn keeper a lot of business and wealth.  One day the inn keeper finally asks Xian who he really is, and asks him for advice. Xian responds by pulling a flute out of his robes and playing a melody of heaven.  He advises the inn keeper to teach others to be kind.  Then, mounting a crane, he flies with his flock back into the heavens.

See full story here.


2. from the Americas (Mexico): "Apanchaneh, the Water Dweller"

This story comes from the Nahua peoples (Aztecs) of Mexico, located near Mexico City.  During a drought, Apanchaneh, the spirit of water dwelling on the mountain top, takes the form of a humble woman.  She walks down the mountain, stopping in villages to ask for water for the thirsty animals and birds that follow her.  Her animals are denied water repeatedly, and in each village where this happens, the local spring or brook dries up.  Finally, she finds a woman who cheerfully offers all of the small water supply she has, to save the animals.  And Apanchaneh rewards her generosity with a river that supplies her village with water year round, and never runs dry.  While Apanchaneh represents the spirit of water, in a more general sense she could be understood as a symbol of Nature as a whole.  Aside from highlighting the importance of kindness and generosity among human beings, the tale seems also to say, “take care of Nature and she will take care of you.”

See full story here.


3. from Africa (Tanzania): "The Cat’s Protector"

One version of this story is published in the book, Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folk TalesA wild cat in the savannah feels small and vulnerable, and decides to look for protection from a powerful animal. She starts by befriending a lion, but before long the lion is frightened away by an even more powerful elephant. So then she befriends the elephant, but eventually the elephant is frightened away by a man’s rifle shots. So the cat befriends the man and follows him to his home. But there, a woman (his wife) welcomes him, takes his rifle and puts it away. To the cat’s surprise, everyone wants to be around the woman, for her power comes not from the threat of violence but from loving service. So the cat decides the woman is the strongest of creatures, and keeps her company from then on.

See full story here.


4. from Europe (Scotland - U.K.): "The Happy Man's Shirt"

This story is found in various countries of Europe and also in Africa.  The version selected here is told in Scotland, United Kingdom.  A king has every comfort and luxury but is still dissatisfied.  Though he has a wonderful queen and daughters, immense wealth and power, nothing brings him satisfaction.  The wise men advise him that to regain his happiness he must find a truly happy man and wear his shirt for a day.  So the king sets out, dressed as a common man, and wanders the kingdom looking for such a person.  But he finds all the dwellers of his kingdom to be unhappy in one way or another.  Finally one day he meets a man in simple clothes, fishing by a brook.  The man invites the king to eat with him, and is full of joy and gratitude for the beauty in his life.  The king realizes he has found a happy man and reveals to him his true identity.  The happy man looks over the king’s rags, then looks at his own rags, and they burst into laughter.  The king asks for the man’s shirt, but finds he doesn’t even have a shirt under his coat, and they laugh even harder.  His happiness restored, the king invites the man to return with him and stay in his castle.

See full story here.







© Ludwig Tuman 2017