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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.  Tian, the Lord of the Cranes, lives among the clouds in the mountains.  Mounted on the back of a crane, he flies down to the valley to take the pulse of humanity.  Disguising himself as a man without means, he is ignored by everyone.  Eventually, he meets a kindly inn keeper, who gives him food and shelter day after day, and asks for nothing in return.  Tian rewards him by painting three magical cranes on the inn’s wall.  Whenever customers sing, the cranes jump off the wall and dance, and this brings much business and wealth to the inn keeper.  When the latter asks who Tian really is, Tian plays a melody of heaven on his flute, advises the inn keeper to teach others to be kind, and returns to the mountain top mounted on a crane.

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 cat decides to look for protection from a stronger animal.  She starts with a lion, but the lion is frightened away by an elephant.  So the cat befriends the elephant and stays in its company for protection.  But the elephant breaks into a family’s grain storehouse and is soon frightened away by a man’s rifle shots.  So the cat decides that the man must be the most powerful of creatures, and follows him to his home.  But when he enters the house, his wife welcomes him and puts away his rifle.  Everyone seeks her company, for her power comes not from the threat of violence but from love.  So the cat decides she 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