There is a Singhalese translation of the greater part of the [Játakas], which is exceedingly popular, not on account of the peculiar doctrines of Buddhism contained in it, for these are but incidentally referred to, but from its being a collection of amusing stories which they believe to be unquestionably true. …
Not a few of the fables that pass under the name of Aesop are here to be found; and the schoolboy is little aware, as he reads of the wit of the fox or the cunning of the monkey, that these animals become, in the course of ages, the teacher of the three worlds, Buddha.
Each Jákata begins with the formula “yata-giya-dawasa,” which is the exact equivalent to our own, “in days of yore.” … One tale, after the usual manner of eastern compositions, presents the opportunity for the introduction of several other stories that are only slightly dependent on the principal narrative. The Singhalese will listen the night through to recitations from this work, without any apparent weariness; and a great number of the Játakas are familiar even to the women.
Robert Spence Hardy, A manual of Buddhism, in its modern development. London: Williams & Norgate, 1860, pp. 99-101
Illustration inspired by a jar from Damascus
In Malay, pengiluar lara, ‘Dispeller of Worries’, is the praise-name for the storyteller who possesses the art of enthralling his listeners. In the course of centuries, the Malay storyteller developed and refined his art until it became the very expression of the swift movement of the prince’s horse; the snake’s winding coils; the heavenly nymph flying through the sky, bright and golden. Inimitable are the images that are strewn across Malay tales.
Jan Knappert, Mythology and Folklore in South-East Asia, Oxford University Press, 1999 p. 195
Drawing inspired by a rock art painting of Kakadu, Australia
From our encampment near the shore of this famous lake [Lake Urmia] to the city or Mârâgâ [Maragheh] is eighteen miles: we made this march at night. Moollâh Adeenah, the story-teller of his majesty, was one of our party. The Elchee [ambassador] asked him to beguile the weariness of our road with a tale.
‘How many farsekhs* long do you wish it?’ was his reply.
‘At least five,’ was the answer.
‘I can exactly suit you,’ said the Moollâh; ‘you shall have Ahmed the cobbler.’
I could not help laughing at this mode of measuring a tale; but I was assured it was a common custom, arising out of the calculation professed story-tellers were compelled to make of the leisure of their hearers. All further remarks upon this usage were put an end to, by Moollâh Adeenah desiring us to be silent and attentive; his wish being complied with, he commenced as follows:
‘In the great city of Isfahan lived Ahmed the cobbler, an honest and industrious man…’ [the retelling of the story takes 19 pages ]”.
* 1 farsekh = c. 3 miles = 5 kilometres
Sketches of Persia, from the journals of a traveller in the East, London: J. Murray, 1845 , p. 252 (first published in 1827).
Illustration inspired by Bushman rock paintings in the Cederberg, South Africa
Two things are necessary in winter, fire and folktale: fire, to warm the body, folktale, to warm the heart.
Kurdish Jews, Yona Sabar, The Folk Literature of the Kurdistani Jews: An Anthology, New Haven y London: Yale University Press, 1982, p. xxxvii n.128.
Illustration based on the zuñi fetishes, New Mexico.
Before Keldibek began a performance of Manas he told the herdsmen that they might come to the camp without fear because their cattle would go home by themselves, and no one –neither man nor wild beast– could steal even the last sheep whilst he was singing Manas. But when he began to sing, the yurt trembled, a mighty hurricane arose amid whose murk and din supernatural horsemen, Companions of Manas, flew down so that the earth shuddered beneath their horses’s hooves.
Kirghiz; quoted in Hatto, “Kirghiz”, en Traditions of Heroic and Epic Poetry. Volume I: The Traditions, edited by A. T. Hatto, London: The Modern Humanities Research Association, p. 305; Manas is the national epic of the Kirghiz people, and tells the exploits of the eponymous hero and his descendants.
Illustration inspired by a drawing of a fish found in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea.
The truth is that the [Ainu] people must make much of memory in a land where there is not written language. They must commit everything important to memory. To such a community old traditions are a history, a literature, a philosophy, a science, a scripture, a code. In other words, folk-tales are a learning, a religion, a law – culture itself. In order to live as an independent Ainu, it is necessary to know an outline of the legends and traditions of his community; and especially it is so for those who command others.
Ainu, Kindaichi, Ainu Life and Legends, Tokio: Board of Tourist Industry, Japanese Government Railways, 1941, p. 60.
Illustration inspired on the art of the Ashanti people of Ghana.