There is something about popular folktales that have had people hooked on them for centuries. Nothing new comes from folktales, whether orally passed down or written by an author, that we have not heard from before. This is because folktales are traditional stories written to guide people in gaining a good moral compass. Learning about the different folktales and the lessons they offer has shaped virtues into children even after they have turned into adults. Thanks to the rise of the Internet, print media, and technological advancements, many of the popular folktales from around the world have traveled far from their origins.
Lessons learned from each folktale shape the society’s upbringing of their children, which makes it even more fascinating to learn. All the old folktales people grew up with can heavily influence society. However, take note that folklores are entirely different from folktales. While fairy tales and fables are other versions of folktales, cultural heritage produced folklore stories, which often include scary legends. Folklores include warnings of supernatural beings to keep children safe or well-behaved. Some folklore is also used to celebrate cultural heritage, and always seems to have lessons gained from them.
While you may be familiar with the folktale stories and common fairy tales of your own country, there are still many popular folktales to learn about. We have compiled an extensive list of fairy tales and folktales for you to read and enjoy. Included in this article are their origins, notable authors who either wrote them originally or printed the oral story, and the deeper meaning behind them.
Origin of Folktales
The definition of folktales is that they are stories that are mostly but not completely directed towards children. Folktales are divided into three separate groups: fables, fairy tales, and folktales. Old fairy tales are a combination of folktales and mythical creatures or supernatural events. They often describe a magical otherworld that’s hidden from our own. Fables are stories about animals with human problems and moral lessons that can apply to everyday life. And finally, folktales are stories passed down from a specific group or family. Famous folktales that are passed down are kid-friendly or scary, with gruesome endings.
Folktales originated long before the invention of paper. The tales were constantly passed down orally. It is unclear how old the tradition of passing down stories truly is. Once people gained the ability to mass-produce books and deliver them to various areas, it was then that authors began writing about imaginary places and creatures. These stories are called fairy tales. Fables are just as old as folktales. They became a subgenre of folktales that gear toward animal characters faced with situations and contradictions that people often face. Different artists retell popular folktales and make them their own, therefore changing versions continuously exist.
Most Popular Folktales by Location
Now that we have established the different types of folktales, let’s read about the popular folktales and their origin countries. We took the time to place them by continent for a more easy flow. Their origin country, the notable authors and actual writers of their stories, and the meaning behind all these folktales are also included in this article.
Popular European Folktales
Author: Aesop the Slave
Locations: Greece and Sumer
Aesop’s Fables is probably the most popular collection of fables. They are one of the oldest examples of a folktale passed down orally, making it one of the most popular folktales to exist. Aesop’s Fables used animism to tell stories filled with lessons about virtues and morals. Animism is a form of storytelling where the main characters are animals that come across situations and problems dealt with by humans themselves. There are over 700 fables that have been passed down orally since the 6th century BCE.
These fables are more famously known to be part of Ancient Greece. However, the fables themselves have similarities to Sumerian proverbs. Though the tales have been twisted over time thanks to the lack of written texts, the stories remain true to the values on which each fable focused. A fun fact about these fables is that no one truly knows if Aesop, the slave who was credited for writing all these fables, ever existed.
Little Red Riding Hood
Old fairy tales like “The Little Red Riding Hood”, also known as “The Little Red Cap”, have had separate meanings and different versions. Originally, popular folktales such as this one were passed down orally. Famous authors like Wolfgang von Goethe, the Brothers Grimm, and Robert Browning, however, published them. Some versions of this tale have Little Red Riding Hood die in the arms of the wolf, just like Charles Perrault’s version. There are even stories that have the wolf become a werewolf or an ogre. The Grimm Brothers introduced the concept of the huntsman, who frees the wolf’s victims and has the little girl stuff him with heavy rocks instead.
The moral of “The Little Red Riding Hood” has been a popular topic for centuries. Some say it’s the story about a girl turning into a woman by having her first menstruation. Others claim it is a story about sexual predators. However, the most popular moral lesson in this story is to keep away from strangers and be smart when going out alone. A fun fact about this story is that one author, Charles Marelle, named the little girl Blanchette. Andrew Lang, a more recent author, discarded the red hood altogether and made it gold. In his version, the enchanted golden hood burned the wolf from the inside out.
Pied Piper of Hamelin
Notable Authors: Wolfgang van Goethe, Brothers Grimm, Robert Browning
“The Pied Piper of Hamelin” is one of the most accurately located folktales that belongs to this list for the theories about its backstory. People started telling this story around the Middle Ages. It takes place in Hamelin, Germany during a troubling rat infestation that caused gigantic problems for the citizens of Hamelin. The mayor of Hamelin meets a mysterious man in pied clothing, who believes he can solve the town’s problem. The pied piper tells the mayor that all he needs in return is 1,000 guilders. The pied piper used his pipe to lure the rats into a large body of water where they all drowned. However, the mayor became greedy and refused to pay the pied piper what the town owed him. In vengeance, the Pied Piper took the children of Hamelin away.
Famous versions of Pied Piper were written by Wolfgang von Goethe, Brothers Grimm, and Robert Browning. Most of the tales have different endings about where the children ended up. Some works have the children drowning, led into a dark cave, or never to be heard from again. While the moral of the story is to keep your promises, the underlying questions about the result of the children sprouted many theories. Some believe the children died during a plague brought in by the rats that Pied Piper killed as well, making him a personification of death. Other theorists assume that Pied Piper led not just children, but the people of Hamelin to migrate from the town. And the last famous theory is that the children were taken to become child soldiers.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Notable Author: Robert Southey, Joseph Cundall
Location: Great Britain
Just like the other popular English fairy tales in this article, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” had an original title compared to the one we know now. It was first entitled “The Three Bears”, with Goldilocks being introduced in the newer versions. The actual tale tells the story of an elderly lady who rudely trespasses in the home of three male bears. Just like with Goldilock’s version, she runs away after being woken up by the bears. These bears have also been changed into a family unit in some versions: Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear.
The moral lesson of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is to respect the privacy and belongings of others. It’s a great story to tell children to learn not to be invasive for another’s private property. However, Robert Southey’s famous adaptation of this folktale is to have caution when taking on various adventures. Being careful about where you go and being smart about the situations you may face beforehand is the best way to ensure your safety and survival.
Notable Authors: Brothers Grimm, Just Mathias Thiele
Locations: Denmark, Germany
Popular folktales like “Chicken Little” have gone through dramatic changes over the years since it was first told. It was first titled Henny Penny. Now it has two more popular titles, “Chicken Little” and “Chicken Licken.” It was originally an old folktale told throughout Europe before authors began printing its story.
Just Mathias Thiele was a Scandinavian author who first wrote Henny Penny in 1823, publishing it in the Danish language. The Brothers Grimm also wrote their version of “Chicken Little”. Benjamin Thorpe then wrote about the English adaptation of the folktale. Following him were different versions because of the mistranslations and several artistic styles. Regardless of this, the lesson remained the same.
The story entails a chicken becoming convinced that the sky is falling after an acorn hits his head. Some versions have the chicken with its peers attempting to meet the king and coming across a villainous fox trying to eat them. Despite the variations, the lesson of “Chicken Little” remains the same: do not cause mass hysteria or jump to conclusions. It could be more dangerous for you instead.
The Little Mermaid
Author: Hans Christian Andersen
While there was no name given to the little mermaid in the original version, it didn’t stop her story from becoming one of the most beloved children’s folktales about unconditional love. The original author of “The Little Mermaid” is Hans Christian Andersen of Denmark. Hans is a celebrated children’s author who is recognized for his fairy tale stories. His original story, however, did not depict Ariel having a happy ending.
Undines, water elemental spirits featured in Paracelsus’ writings, have heavily influenced Hans Christian Andersen while making the story of “The Little Mermaid”. In his version, the Little Mermaid and the prince do not fall in love. Instead, the prince falls in love with a neighboring princess who reciprocates his feelings. It’s also quite different from Disney’s version, seeing as the titular mermaid turns into sea foam because she refused to kill the prince to have her fins back. While they initially thought it to be her doom, The Little Mermaid ends up becoming a daughter of the air. The daughters of air explain to her she must do 300 years of good deeds to receive her immortal soul. She could do this by blessing young children and doing favors for humankind.
The Ugly Duckling
Author: Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen also wrote “The Ugly Duckling.” Just like Aesop’s Fables, the story uses animism and holds a very important lesson that most of us still have not learned. “The Ugly Duckling” is a fable in contrast to the actions and repercussions of The Little Mermaid. Unlike the earlier Andersen story, we just discussed, “The Ugly Duckling” teaches us that to become who you are meant to be is to accept all your flaws.
The story is known for its powerful ending, with The Ugly Duckling turning into a majestic swan after finally deciding to live in the outside world instead of feeling ashamed by the words of others. Surprisingly, it’s one of the very few folktales that have very few changes in other adaptations. The changes come from the challenges the titular duckling faces, such as being pushed away constantly by other creatures.
There are many theories about the inspiration behind Andersen’s work. Some say it was because he was often teased as a child, while others say it was about his discovery of his true parentage. Supposedly, he was an illegitimate son of the royal family. They rumored his father to be King Christian III of Denmark.
Notable Author: Charles Perrault
Bluebeard was first published by the popular author, Charles Perrault. However, it was orally passed down with traces of influences from two historical figures: Gilles de Rais and Conomor the Accursed. The story of Bluebeard is one of the most brutal popular folktales to exist. It begins with Bluebeard gaining notoriety for constantly remarrying and having his wives vanish without a trace. Bluebeard gave his most recent wife the key to all of his possessions and warned her not to open one particular door. However, during a celebration she was hosting, the wife could no longer hold her curiosity and entered the forbidden room, revealing the massacred bodies of the former wives. The key is magical, stained with blood that could not be removed. Bluebeard almost killed his most recent wife, who was rescued by her brothers-in-law. They killed her and she became the inheritor of his riches.
There are various questions about the moral lesson of Bluebeard. They usually discuss three key lessons. The first one is about obedience to their husbands. The last two focus on the key Bluebeard passes on to his wife. The key-stained blood could no longer be clean because of its enchantment. Researchers argue this could represent the knowledge of the wickedness Bluebeard held in his heart. A secret that, once the young wife knew, could damage their relationship forever.
Others argue it is a symbolism for the phallic organ of the male and what happens when it breaks a woman’s hymen. Meaning there is irreversible damage done to both the wife and their marriage. Some suggest that damage is adultery, seeing as Bluebeard himself was not present when the key turns blood-stained.
Jack and the Beanstalk
Notable Authors: J. Roberts, Benjamin Tabart, Andrew Lang
“Jack and the Beanstalk” is one of the popular folktales that were published as a fairy tale. Researchers theorize that the “Jack and the Beanstalk” fairy tale has origins back to Proto-Indo-European language and Proto-Indo-Iranian variants. It was first published in Round About Our Coal Fire as “The Story of Jack Higgins and the Enchanted Bean” around the year 1734. Different versions of the tale have the giant with the name Blunderbore, which is based on “Jack the Giant Killer.” However, the original name of the giant in “The Story of Jack Higgins and the Enchanted Bean” is Gogmagog.
The story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” begins with Jack selling his family’s cow for enchanted beans. Jack plants the beans on their field, which grow into a large stalk. He climbs the stalk and comes in contact with a terrifying giant. The giant says out loud his most famous lines: “fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman, Be he alive, or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”
However, Jack outwits the giant, steals his goose that lays golden eggs, his magic harp that plays by itself, and a bag of gold. The giant attempts to retrieve his stolen items, but Jack cuts off the stalk, killing the giant. Allowing Jack’s family to prosper. Tabart’s version moralizes Jack’s actions by having a fairy tell Jack that the giant had murdered and robbed his own father.
Popular Asian Folktales
The Zodiac Story
Author: Unknown, Han Dynasty
The story of the Zodiac animals is a perfect addition to this list of popular folktales. The actual author of the Chinese Zodiac is unknown. However, historians have traced it back to the Han Dynasty. Since its creation, there have been various versions that extended across Asia. There are Cambodian, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and South Korean versions of this story. The animals are representatives of a 12-year cycle as a simple folktale. The signs are the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig.
The story begins with the Jade Emperor, also known as the First God, who declares a race to decide which animals would represent what year. The story can be relatable even in the world of adults. The rat came in first by taking advantage of its disadvantages. However, it was also willing to step on others to get ahead. The ox was hardworking but still ended up in second place. The pig was too lazy and finished last after eating and sleeping. It’s a story about the types of personalities you can find in a person, and which qualities are best to admire and ones you should not.
Author: Unknown, Muromachi Period (Otogizoshi)
“Issun-boshi” is an ancient folktale belonging to the Otogizoshi, a collection of popular folktales published as an illustrated book during the Muromachi. However, the tale itself outlives the Otogizoshi. The direct translation of the words Issun-boshi is one-sun boy. It follows the story of Issun-boshi, a child who never grew taller than three centimeters. His parents were an old couple who prayed to the gods for a child. One day, Issun-boshi decides to travel to become a warrior. He uses a needle as a sword, a bowl for a boat, and a chopstick to row the boat with. The different versions of this story have him marrying a girl and retrieving a magic hammer that made him six feet tall.
Some versions of the “Issun-boshi” story have him tricking the girl into marriage by placing rice on her lips and claiming it to be his stock. Other versions have him rescuing the girl from an oni, who then gives up after Issun-boshi pricked him from the inside of his stomach. Either way, he retrieves a magic hammer in which the oni abandons and becomes a rich man while marrying the girl of his dreams.
The story follows another similar folklore, wherein a large character is overpowered by a smaller one. This is to value intelligence, wit, and adaptability over brute strength. The Japanese are big fans of David and Goliath type of stories and prefer wisdom and humility.
The Monkey and the Turtle
Author: Jose P. Rizal
The Monkey and the Turtle is a popular folktale of Jose P. Rizal, a national hero in the Philippines. It is also one of the most popular folktales in the country. In this fable, the monkey and the turtle were great friends who came across a large banana leaf that was floating along the ocean. The two split the leaf in half with the top part belonging to the monkey and the bottom belonging to the turtle. After a while, the turtle’s half sprouted into a banana tree while the monkey’s share was all gone. The turtle trusted the monkey to help him get the bananas that sprouted at the top of its tree. The monkey, however, betrayed him. Out of vengeance, the turtle killed the monkey then escaped a devious plot created by the monkey’s friends.
The moral of this fable is to never trick your friends and not to cheat others of their rights. Being greedy will only lead to a person’s downfall. Meanwhile, those who plotted vengeance against the turtle were also quick to anger, messing up. The mistreatment the Filipinos suffered under Spanish rule heavily influenced the story. The monkey represented the powerful Spaniards, and the Filipinos were the turtle who did their best to make the most of what they could.
The Four Dragons
The Four Dragons is a tale of an unknown author from China. It is a popular folktale about the creation of the four great rivers of the country. According to the fable, four dragons noticed people were becoming thirsty for water. Worried about their state, the dragons went up to the Jade Emperor, who did nothing. Despite facing their eventual imprisonment, the four dragons dropped rainwater for the people. They then turned themselves into rivers, separating the earth to give more water to mankind.
While the story ended in the unfortunate death of the dragons, it still promised hope and virtue. The dragons did the right thing, despite risking punishment from a highly-respected person. The dragons are in the story are named Heilongjiang, Zhujiang, Huanghe, and Chang Jiang.
Location: Bengkulu, Indonesia
Princess Kemang, also known as Putri Kemang, is a very brave young princess with a passion for hunting. She successfully takes down a deer and meets a Kemang tree that resembles a handsome young man. She wishes to be his friend. Unfortunately, she must come across various obstacles to ensure that the Kemang tree can be uprooted safely and become human. After a year, she reunites with the Kemang tree, who has now become a prince of the forest.
The moral of the story is for women to actively pursue their own choices in life rather than waiting for the decisions of others. Indonesian folktales rarely have such an active princess choosing her own fate. Most folktales of the past have women behaving shyly, gently, and even obediently. This is why the story of Princess Kemang became a folktale worth noting in recent years.
One Thousand and One Nights
Author: Various authors
Location: Middle East
One Thousand and One Nights is one of the most famous compilations of folktales to have ever existed. It was created during the Islamic Golden Age. The tales in the compilation can be traced back to Arabic, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indian, and Persian. There are many popular folktales included in this book, such as “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp”, “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor”, and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” These three, although quite popular, were actually added later on and weren’t included in the earlier prints of the novel.
The tales of One Thousand and One Nights are set in a story within a story. King Shahryar is stricken with grief over the infidelity of his wife. He has her killed as punishment and begins to kill all his succeeding wives when the morning after comes. When there were no more virgins left to sacrifice to the angry king, Scheherazade volunteers. Every night she begins to tell him a story without finishing the ending and immediately proceeds to the next story. According to the compilation, this routine happens in a period of 1001 nights, hence the title. With all these stories, each has different moral lessons to teach those listening. However, be warned not to read all of them to an underaged child. Some of them include horror and sexual innuendos.
Location: Gotoku-Ji Temple, Japan
“Maneki Neko” is one of the most popular folktales in Japan. It is a tale about Japan’s famous beckoning cat. The sculpture of Maneki Neko is said to bring fortune and good luck. It features a white or golden cat with one of its arms moving forward and backward as if beckoning you to come closer. The original author of this tale is unknown. However, the origins of the tale have been traced to be in either Kyoto or Tokyo.
Naotaka of the Hikone Domain District was a wealthy Lord Samurai. He was on his way to hunt when the rain poured. Naotaka seeks shelter in a nearby temple. This temple was being taken care of by a poor monk who owned a calico cat. During the storm, the cat beckoned Naotaka to come closer. As he followed his curiosity and walked towards the cat, a bolt of lightning struck down the tree he was seeking shelter in.
Becoming incredibly thankful for the cat, Naotaka became a patron of the temple. This allowed the temple to flourish. Another version of the folktale involves a shopkeeper on the brink of poverty who decided to still take care of a stray cat. The cat then began beckoning customers to enter the store, thus giving the shopkeeper a chance to raise his financial status.
Saat Bhai Champa
Notable Author: Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumder
“The Saat Bhai Champa” belongs to the popular folktales of Bengal. It was first published under Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumder in 1907 in his book, Thakumar Jhuli. The story has been popular enough to have several film adaptations. One was created in Bangladesh, the other in West Bengal, India. There is even a celebrated painting of Saat Bhai Champa Gaganendranath Tagore found in the Academy of Fine Arts of Calcutta.
The folktale starts with a king and his seven wives. Unfortunately for the king, he could not produce a child with any of his wives. The king was depressed and often spent his time alone in the forest. Taking pity on the king, a priest from the forest offers the king mangoes of bearing.
He then gave three of his wives to eat the fruit. Only one queen, the youngest, gave birth to octuplets. There were seven boys and one young daughter. However, the elder queens that ate the fruit with doubt grew jealous. They buried the seven boys in the garden, who bloomed into seven champak flowers and one trumpet flower. There was one last girl who managed to survive after being taken in secret by a loyal maid. Once she learned of her true parentage, she became a significant piece on the mission to revive her brothers. Other versions have the brothers turn into dogs instead of flowers, but the story remains faithful to one another.
Popular North American Folktales
Author: Wampanoag Tribe
Location: Scargo Lake, Massachusetts
“The Legend of Princess Scargo” is based on Scargo Tower, the first tower built by the Tobey family on Scargo Lake. Princess Scargo was the daughter of a Sachem of the Wampanoag tribe. During Princess Scargo’s time, there was no lake found in the area. She fell in love with a warrior from a neighboring tribe. They sent the warrior to war to defend their land. Before leaving, he gives Princess Scargo a hollowed-out pumpkin with three small fish inside. He tells Princess Scargo that he will return before all the fish have grown. However, two fish already died before any news of his return is sent to Princess Scargo. Sachem worries for his daughter, seeing her sad and filled with anxiety. He orders his tribe to dig, hoping to make a large lake for the one living fish to swim freely in.
Unfortunately, Princess Scargo receives news that her beloved had perished in battle. She cries on the dry lake, filling it with her tears, then releases the one fish into the ocean. It is said that the descendants of the fish still exist today. Scargo Lake is in the shape of a fish. A fact probably attributed to the legendary folktale that was created surrounding Princess Scargo’s tale. Princess Scargo often stayed in the original Scargo tower, overlooking the view while she waited for her lover. The original tower was made out of wood, and the one the Tobey family made was made out of cobblestone.
Location: All Across North America
Johnny Appleseed is an interesting fusion of a tall tale and a folktale. Tall tales are stories that have become so exaggerated they no longer resemble the truth of the events that took place. Johnny Appleseed is an actual historical figure in American history. His real name is John Chapman. The true story about Chapman’s adventures in North America comes from his profession as a nurseryman. John Chapman was a missionary, a political leader in the natural movement, and a generous man. He was the first man to plant apple trees in Ontario, West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
The story of Johnny Appleseed features Johnny wearing tattered clothes. Barefoot, a pot on his head, and carrying nothing but apple seeds. Johnny Appleseed casually threw his seeds everywhere he went, producing apple trees for the various residents of the area that he came across. Because of his kind personality, Johnny Appleseed was even said to be so generous that he would give the clothes on his back to others who he deemed needed it more. His personality, humility, and wonderful life had him known all over North America, making him a proper role model for many children.
Maid of the Mist
Location: Niagara Falls
The Legend of the Maid of the Mist is a popular folktale surrounding Niagara Falls. It also belongs to the popular folktales of the Native Americans. It tells the story of Lelawala, a Seneca girl. According to the legend, Lelawala was stricken with grief over the death of her husband. She was too young to lose him and decided to commit suicide by riding her canoe towards the falls. Upon hearing the roar of the waterfall, she began to have doubts, realizing that her death would become painful and slow. Lelawala prays to Heno, the God of Thunder, who lives at the bottom of the falls, for a swift death.
Heno saves Lelawala and marries his young son. She gives birth to Heno’s grandson. One day, Heno tells Lelawala of the impending doom of her people caused by an enormous serpent that plans to poison and eat all of her tribesmen. She pleads to Heno for a chance to warn them, which she does so. However, the snake attempts to swim upstream, causing Heno to strike it down with thunder. To Heno’s dismay, the snake’s body falls just above the falls, making the huge crescent shape Niagara Falls has today. As a result, Heno’s family moves their home up in the sky.
Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox
Notable Author: William B. Laughead
Location: North America and Canada
Paul Bunyan is one of the most beloved characters of American folktales and the main character of many popular folktales. They often depict him in tall tales, just like Johnny Appleseed. Paul Bunyan is a giant lumberjack with powerful strength. His stories were passed down orally by North American loggers.
William B. Laughead was a freelance writer in the 1800s who created stories surrounding Paul Bunyan for the Red River Lumber Company. Paul Bunyan folktales originated in the Great Lakes from the loggers there, who then spread the story throughout different fellow loggers themselves. It was even a gag joke against novice lumberjacks during its time.
Babe the Blue Ox often accompanied Paul Bunyan. Most of his stories comprise his perilous adventures while logging and the massive marks he and Babe would make such as footprints. Initially, Paul’s stories were orally told between two loggers as a gag joke rather than for children. After Paul’s debut in print, they introduced him to the younger audiences. Paul Bunyan himself was inspired by two separate people: Fabian Fournier and Bon Jean. Fournier was a six-foot-tall logger with aggressive drinking and brawling habits. Bon Jean was a French-Canadian lumberman who revolted against the British Monarch itself. In fact, Bunyan is a merged name translating to Bon Jean’s full name.
“Pele’s Revenge” is a Hawaiian folktale about the Goddess Pele and her unrequited love with a mortal named Ohi’a. In this folktale, Ohi’a was completely loyal and loving towards a woman named Lehua. The two were madly in love. However, Pele spotted Ohi’a in the forest one day. Pele’s advances were rejected by Ohi’a politely. Once Pele sees Ohi’a and Lehua together, it spurned her with jealousy and turns Ohi’a into a twisted ugly tree. Lehua cries, pleading for the Goddess to return her beloved back to a human or have herself become a tree as well. Pele angered the gods above with her actions. They instead turn Lehua into a flower that sprouts above on the branches of the Ohia tree until today.
The story has folklore in it, as it tries to explain the lehua flowers sprouting from the Ohia tree. In this story, it is advised not to pluck a lehua flower from the Ohia tree as rain will pour down. This is because Lehua herself still does not wish to be parted from her husband. It is a sad tale about innocent victims who did not deserve such a fate. The moral of the story implies actions caused by evil thoughts will never prevail. Pele’s attempt to tear the couple apart did not last long and instead, they were eternally bound as long as the Ohia trees bloom.
The Coyote of Columbia River
Author: Sahaptin Tribes
Location: Columbia River
“The Coyote of Columbia River” is a fable about never asking too much and turning greedy, or about the wisdom of a good leader. It originated from the Sahaptin tribe, who tried to explain the origins of the Columbia River itself. According to the fable, the coyote was a proud animal who walked around the valley when it was only covered by a large lake. Instead, there was a large row of mountains in its place. The coyote knew it was what separated the ocean from the lake. He wanted his people to be able to eat salmon and began digging a hole with his powers to have the ocean water flow towards the lake the Sachma had his people drain. This created the Columbia River.
Other versions of this tale have the coyote feeling thirsty and tired from the harsh sun. The coyote asked for a cloud to cover him as shade and so a cloud was brought forth to him. However, the coyote was not satisfied with merely just a cloud. He asks for more clouds and rains. When the rain began to pour, he demanded more rain. Because of the rain, a small creek sprouted at his side. He asked for more rain and it turned into a large river, sweeping him up and almost drowning him. He survives this but walks away in shame.
The First Tears
Author: Inuit tribes
“The First Tears” is an Inuit myth with an unknown exact location from where it truly sprang. All that is known about it is that the Native Americans were the ones who first began talking about this tale and passing it along all to their descendants. It’s one of those popular folktales about the first time humankind ever learned to properly cry. The importance of this tale teaches people to cry properly when they feel overwhelmed and tired of their pain.
The story goes that man was once out hunting for food. He discovers a group of seals resting by the edge of the water. The man was focused and slowly crept against one seal. Unfortunately, the seal he was eyeing was spooked and retreated into the water. This process continued constantly. He was hoping to catch a feast for his wife and child. It came to a point that only one seal was left resting by the edge of the water. He slowly tried to catch it but to no avail. The last seal escaped his vision. The man is overcome with an unfamiliar emotion. Water falls from his eyes and he walks with an unfamiliar sound coming from his throat. As he retreats home, his child and his wife are concerned over his tears. However, once they learn of his predicament, even his family cries. This became known as the first time humankind ever cried.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Author: L. Frank Baum
Location: Kansas City
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is affectionately called America’s first fairy tale and rightfully belongs to the most popular folktales of America. The author of this novel produced the iconic characters named Dorothy, the Tin Man, Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and Toto. The unlikely group of friends travels toward Emerald City to have their wishes granted by the Wizard of Oz. The fairy tale has become one of the most beloved stories ever written for children. Dorothy E. Gale is transported on a tornado and lands herself in Munchkinland, where she must travel with three other people to journey towards Emerald City and find a way back home.
All the characters that join Dorothy aim to wish for something they don’t have from the Wizard of Oz, the man said to grant many wishes. The Tin Man wishes to possess a heart. The Scarecrow wishes to become smarter, therefore wanting a brain. The Cowardly Lion wants to be braver. On their perilous journey to the Emerald City and uncovering the Wizard of Oz as a phony, the group discovers they had what they desired all along. Dorothy and Toto, her pet dog, then seek aid from Glinda, the Witch of the South. She gets home unharmed while her newfound friends finally find their own homes where they truly belong.
Ermine and the Hunter
Notable Author: Cyrus Macmillan
“Ermine and the Hunter” was published in Canadian Fairy Tales, a compilation of popular folktales, by Cyrus Macmillan in Canada. The story is about mercy on defenseless animals and tradition within hunters and their game. It is also the story that affects hunting in the North Country, where hunting bear cubs are frowned upon and prohibited. The story starts with an excellent hunter who lived far in the North Country with his family. Their family had a habit of surviving off the game and fishing the hunter captures during the winter for their summer meals. One day, a group of bear cubs trespassed and ate their stock. Furious, the hunter shoots them and skins them alive.
This resulted in the wrath of the Brown Bear of the Stony Heart, who could not be killed easily. Hunter does his best to plead for the aid of the clouds, the winds, and the seas. Unfortunately, no one could help him. An old lady appears, and he shows her kindness. This old lady turned out to be the weird woman of the Fairy Blue Mountains. She teaches him a spell to conjure the only animal that can kill the Brown Bear of the Stony Heart. Hunter conjures the ermine, who makes a deal with him that he may no longer hunt bear cubs and asks him to change his brown coat into the white snow. The Brown Bear of the Stony Heart is defeated. Meanwhile, the ermine of the North Country remained pure and white up to this day.
Popular South American Folktales
How the Toad Got His Bruises
Notable Author: Elsie Spicer Eells
“How the Toad Got His Bruises” is one of the many popular folktales originating in Brazil. Elsie Spicer Eells, an American folklore expert notably retold it. It is a fable with lessons about using other people for your own benefit. It also tells you to not invite yourself over to parties or events that you are not invited to.
In this story, the toad was once beautiful with spotless skin. The toad often roamed the areas, going to parties and socializing with many people. One day, the toad discovered that there was to be a party up in the sky. The toad was eager to attend this party. However, how could he? He could not fly. His friend tells him it would be foolish to even attempt, but the toad did not listen. Instead, the toad goes to pay a visit to the buzzard.
Unlike the toad, the buzzard was incredibly anti-social. The buzzard preferred to play the violin. The toad tricks the buzzard into bringing him up into the sky by climbing into the buzzard’s violin. Unfortunately for the toad, the buzzard leaves his violin up in the sky and retreats home. The falcon notices the violin and attempts to bring it back to the buzzard, but the toad was too heavy and annoyed the falcon, who drops it mid-flight. There, the toad learned its lesson, covered in bruises, and preferred to stay in one place.
Notable Author: Elsie Spicer Eells
“Domingo’s Cat” is a South American folktale teaching children the value of loyalty and kindness. Since it was passed around orally, they can never truly pinpoint the original author of the folktale. However, Elsie Spicer Eells, an American folklore researcher, printed “Domingo’s Cat” in Tales of Giants in Brazil. Elsie Spicer Eells compiled a good handful of popular folktales and folklores from Brazil, which included “Domingo’s Cat.”
The story begins with Domingo, a man so poor he began selling his belongings just to get through the day without starving. It comes to a point where the only thing left by his side is his beloved cat. He refuses to sell his cat, who becomes grateful to Domingo. The cat scavenges for precious materials, giving Domingo half of it and the rest to a king. The king becomes convinced that Domingo is wealthy because of the cat’s efforts. He then gives his daughter, the princess, away to Domingo. The cat tricks the king into thinking Domingo is wealthy through cunning and wit. He even swallows a giant hole for his master to live in the giant’s mansion with his newlywed wife. However, Domingo’s cat disappears afterward. The legend goes that Domingo’s cat began looking for other people to aid financially.
The Rabbit and the Coyote
Notable Author: Tony Johnston
Location: Juchitan, Oaxaca, Mexico
The Rabbit and the Coyote is a fable that originated in the town of Juchitan in Oaxaca, Mexico. Tony Johnston retold it and turned it into one of the popular folktales. The moral of this fable is to never trust those who constantly trick others. In this story, the rabbit and the coyote are brothers. The rabbit often plays pranks on the poor coyote. One time, the rabbit was leaning against an enormous boulder that sat on the edge of a ravine. The coyote asks the rabbit what his brother was doing.
Unfortunately, the rabbit successfully convinces the coyote to hold the boulder as the sky might fall. The rabbit even tells the coyote to hold it until he returns with a stick to place the boulder in. When the coyote grew tired, he fell into the ravine. The rabbit notices the moon’s reflection on the water. This conjures up a terrible trick in its mind. The rabbit tells the coyote to continue drinking the water, hoping the block of cheese (actually the moon) can be reached. The coyote eventually gets its stomach sick, for it could not completely drink all the water.
The Rabbit Throws Out His Sandal
Author: Maya Tribe
“The Rabbit Throws Out His Sandal” is a folktale introduced by the Mayans. It has been republished in various retellings by different authors. Most notably, Elsie Spicer Eells and Denise McGill. It’s a fable about the cleverness and quick thinking of the rabbit and how karma repays evil deads. In some versions, the vulture that initially catches the rabbit is replaced by a turkey and they sometimes call the rabbit the mayor.
Long ago, all the animals lived in harmony with one another. They all lived in a cave with their own private quarters separated by their own holes. Unfortunately for all the residents, the rabbit has a habit of tricking others. Tired of it, the animals devised a plan where the rabbit would be crushed by a large boulder. They enticed the rabbit out of its hole, but it was clever. It knew that something was wrong.
Instead of coming out, it tells the other animals that it cannot go out unless it finds its other sandal. The rabbit asks for their help, throwing out a sandal for them to search. The vulture catches the sandal, throwing it to the deer, who throws it outside. Only later did they find out that the sandal they threw out was actually the rabbit. In frustration, the group began attacking each other while the rabbit looked on from a safe distance.
The Jaguar and the Little Skunk
Notable Author: Tatyana Bacchus, Maya Tribe
The Jaguar and the Little Skunk is an ancient fable originating from the Maya Tribe and retold by Tatyana Bacchus. It is one of the popular folktales disguising itself as a children’s tale but actually has a dark meaning. The Spanish people and the Ladino people were ruling over the Maya tribe. As a result, the Mayans were very careful not to break any rules set by the Spaniards and the Ladino people, because the price for their disobedience is often their own blood.
Jaguar and Mother Skunk had raised Little Skunk. One day, Jaguar tells Mother Skunk he will be out hunting and plans to take Little Skunk with him. Mother Skunk is initially worried, explaining that Little Skunk was too young to go out and venture all alone. Jaguar tells Mother Skunk he will be with Little Skunk to teach him a few tricks. Little Skunk is excited and is taught by Jaguar how to hunt. They caught a large animal with antlers and even have leftovers for their mother to eat. When the meat from their last hunt was gone, Little Skunk bravely told Mother Skunk he can provide them meat since Jaguar, his father figure, had taught him how. However, Little Skunk overestimated how strong he was and he was killed, with Mother Skunk finding his remains.
The Disobedient Son
Notable Author: Victor Montejo
Location: Jacaltenango, Guatemala
Victor Montejo, a Jakaltek Maya, is an internationally recognized author. The Disobedient Son is a part of the popular folktales in Jacaltenango, Guatemala that he retold. It is a story about what happens when you disobey your parents or elders. A son ran away from his parents to enjoy a carefree life. When the hunger set in, he stumbled on an elderly man who lived in a simple hut. The man is aware of the son’s hunger and tells him to cook 13 beans and only 13.
The son understood these instructions but felt that thirteen beans were too few for him and the elderly man. He disobeys and causes a mess. However, the elderly man forgives him and tells him to redo his instructions and to never enter a room inside his hut. The son follows the bean recipe flawlessly, but the door calls out to him.
The son opens the door and discovers three large water jars and three different colored capes. After opening one jar, clouds come out of it. Fearing getting drenched, the son wears the red cape which turns him into a cloud. Thankfully, the elderly man rescues him and reintroduces himself as Qich Mam, the first father of all Xaqla who controls the rain and waters from the community fields. Qich Mam forgives the disobedient son, who returns to his parents and never disobeys again.
The Dancing Turtle
Notable Author: Pleasant DeSpain
The Dancing Turtle is one of the more popular folktales retold by Pleasant DeSpain. It originated in Brazil and takes place in a rainforest. The story warns children to never disobey their parents and teaches them the wisdom of the turtle in difficult situations.
The story starts with a turtle and her flute. She was playing a beautiful melody while strolling through the rainforest. After she finished her song, a hunter surprised her. She is brought home to his family, where he proclaims he will make turtle soup out of her. The turtle is then caged by the two children of the hunter, who tells his children not to let the turtle out of the cage and proceeds to go and gather more ingredients. Once the hunter was out of sight, the turtle convinced the children to let it out of the cage to have the children see her dance while she played the flute.
After her performance, she tells the children she is tired and will perform again after she’s had a rest by the shade. The turtle escapes and the children prolong their lie by painting a rock to look like a turtle’s back. The hunter is then forced to go out hunting once more, hoping to find the turtle that cleverly tricked his children.
The Llama’s Secret
Notable Author: Argentina Palacios
The Llama’s Secret is a folktale retold by Argentina Palacios peculiarly. It is a mixture of two popular folktales rewritten into one. The story is about a family who cherishes their beloved llama. However, the llama suddenly refuses to eat even when the father takes it to beautiful grazing areas. The father eventually asks the llama what is troubling it. The llama confesses that there will be a great flood and the family must climb up the hill to be spared of the waves.
Along the way, the llama warns all the other animals it comes across. The fox does not believe the llama originally, and has its tail dipped into the water as it tries to catch up to the group, making its tail dark. As they climb up the hill, the eclipse begins and the animals worry for Inti, the sun god, who may have perished. However, the llama assures them that Inti is merely resting in the great lake, Mamacocha.
The two folktales are a combination of the tales by Palacios that are about a great flood and a solar eclipse. These folktales are found in the Huarochiri Manuscript. They were first retold in print by Francisco de Avila, who was a Spaniard that aimed to prove American paganism’s existence.
Popular Australian and Oceania Folktales
Notable Author: Eric Maddern
Location: Northern Australia
The Rainbow Bird is an aboriginal tale that originated from Northern Australia. It was republished by Eric Maddern in 1993 and has become one of the most popular folktales in Australia. The story revolves around the invention of fire and its relationship to the Rainbow Bird. It is also a fable about sharing.
According to the myth, once when Australia was hardly lit and freezing, a bird had to eat her food raw and sleep freezing. A crocodile had enough fire sticks to keep himself warm and more. When the bird asked if he would share, the crocodile harshly refused. The crocodile hoarded all the firesticks instead.
In retaliation, the bird flew to the skies and stole the crocodile’s firesticks. Instead of hoarding them all to herself, she dropped all the firesticks she could across the land, sharing them with all those that needed them. As she was doing so, the fire made wonderful colors on her tail, making her a Rainbow Bird. The crocodile had been afraid of fire and, as a result, has been living in watery swamps ever since.
Wayambeh the Turtle
Notable Authors: Ualarai tribes, K. Langloh Parker
Location: South Wales
“Wayambeh the Turtle” is one of the popular folktales in Australia. It was retold in print by K. Langloh Parker, a writer whose real name is Catherin Elliza Somerville Stow. She was famously known for her knowledge of the stories she received from the Ualarai tribes that became her neighbors during her time. Included in these stories is “Wayambeh the Turtle.” The tale depicts the result of rash thinking and greed.
Wayambeh spots Colah the Lizard. She is with her three children as she gets yams on a Mirrieh flat. Wayambeh immediately grabs Colah, telling her he will take care of her and her three children and that she must not resist. Colah reluctantly agrees and is taken to Wayambeh’s camp. His tribesmen discover Colah was not a gift from the Oolah tribe and denounce helping Wayambeh in the oncoming slaughter he placed himself in. The Oolah tribe arrives, ready to attack Wayambeh, who carries two large boreens. The Oolah tribe has him cornered eventually, with Wayambeh diving into the water, never to be seen again. In his place was a creature with a boreen-looking shield attached to its back. The Oolah tribe justified it as being Wayambeh himself. It was a turtle in the creeks.
Why Koala Has a Stumpy Tail
Notable Author: Mitch Weiss
Why Koala Has a Stumpy Tail is one of the most popular folktales of Australia. It is a fable, talking about valuable characteristics of a person that children and adults should aspire to have. The koala’s attitude against his friends, his laziness, and his opportunistic ways cost him more than he thought. This tale is also a reminder not to become like the koala.
In the story, the koala is great friends with the tree kangaroo. There was a long drought in Australia and the two friends had grown thirsty and tired from the heat. The tree kangaroo suggested they dig a hole to find water. The tree kangaroo dug as much as he can, never resting even for a while. The koala, on the other hand, was often out doing something else and making excuses. When the kangaroo finally dug water out, the koala drank it all. Mad, the tree kangaroo grabbed the koala by the tail and flung him away. As a result, the koala’s tail broke off, and he lost his dear friend forever.
Author: Wemba-Wemba tribe
“The Bunyip” is an interesting character in children’s folktales. Initially, the Aboriginal tribe, Wemba-Wemba, described the bunyip as a man-eating shapeshifter. It was a terrible creature that lived nearby rivers, lakes, and swamps. In the evening, the bunyip would hunt for women and children to eat. It was nocturnal and constantly howled throughout the night. But by the time the European settlers came, the bunyip was used to mean “imposter” instead. It became an insult that later turned into a beloved children’s book character.
The result of the Bunyip’s mutation in folktales and folklore gave birth to various stories for children. Andrew Lang retold A famous tale about the bunyip. It tells the story of a group of young men who went to gather food for their tribe on a sunny day. One man instigated the rest, saying they should try to catch eel. Instead of catching an eel, they accidentally caught the cub of a bunyip.
The captor refused to return the bunyip cub to its mother, hoping to impress his lover’s younger siblings and her parents. The wrath of the bunyip countered them once the men felt calm, feeling that they had escaped the bunyip mother. Unfortunately, their punishment cost them their rights to be human. The bunyip turned them into black swans and retrieved her cub before seeking refuge in her lair. The tale has a simple moral story: not to harm children.
Galah and Oolah
Notable Author: Denise McGill
“The Galah and Oolah” belong to the popular folktales explaining the reason for an animal’s behavior or appearance. Here, it is about the Galah’s red and spiky skin and the Oolah’s bald head. They have reprinted it various times with Denise McGill having a more recent publication with it representing the letter “G” in her Fairytale Alphabet book.
In the story, the Galah lizard was playing with his boomerangs, swinging them back and forth. The boomerang he was using was shorter and more curved than the other boomerangs. This allowed the boomerang to be returned to the place where it threw. Oolah passed by and stopped to watch the Galah lizard.
Feeling proud of Oolah watching him, the Galah lizard added an extra move. To the Galah’s surprise, the boomerang flew unusually and hit the Oolah straight on its head. Oolah began panicking, running around with blood on its forehead. The Galah feared Oolah’s panic and ran straight into the bushes. Oolah noticed Galah and headed straight towards the lizard. It grabbed Galah and smeared its blood all over Galah, turning it red. Oolah cursed Galah, telling the lizard that it will forever be spiky and red as a mark to what Galah had done to it. Galah cursed Oolah back, saying it will forever be bald on the top of its head.
The Sun and Kookaburra
Notable Author: Jan M Mike
The Sun and Kookaburra is an aboriginal folktale originating from Australia. They printed it into books by Jan M Mike during the ’90s. The story is one of the popular folktales that explains why an animal behaves a certain way. They sometimes call it the Kookaburra’s Laughter. It is a fairy tale that teaches people to respect all creatures, even the ones with unusual laughter.
The story begins during a time when the sun did not exist. It was a perpetual evening, with only the moon and the stars to accompany the sky. The gods up in the skies noticed the sadness of the creatures below them. They built a fire and stacked wood so high they could no longer see the top.
Before lighting it, the gods made a morning star, a sign that the sun was about to come up. However, the animals did not notice the morning star. They were delighted by the god’s gift of the sun, but one more task needed to be done. The gods needed to decide which animal needed to alarm the rest of the sun’s arrival. When the gods heard the kookaburra’s laughter, they decided it should be it. The kookaburra graciously accepted. Ever since then, before the morning would rise, the kookaburra would laugh to alert everyone else. Elders have told their younger children not to poke fun at the kookaburra, or else the sun might not come up.
The Sea-King’s Victory
Notable Author: Edith Howes
Location: New Zealand
“The Sea-King’s Victory” is one of the popular folktales from the Maori that Edith Howes compiled into a book called Maoriland Fairy Tales. It is a tale describing the many fishes that can be found in the sea and how they got their colorful tones and unusual shapes. Its moral lesson is never belittling others and their abilities. One day, the Sea-King hears the tears of a woman. The woman he visits tells him the pain she suffers for her husband had left town after their feud. The Sea-King assures the woman that her husband will return.
He sends out a seagull to relay the message to the husband. However, the husband’s friends ridicule the Sea-King instead. After hearing this from the seagull, the Sea-King is outraged and commands all of his brave fishes to join him in battle. At first, the men on the shore thought it was ridiculous, but little by little they grew tired and were injured during their fight. When the battle was over and the Sea-King was victorious, he commanded the woman’s husband to return to her side and have the men never forget the power of his strength. The Sea-King then gives all his brave fish soldiers a wish. All these fish wished to be different colors and have strong features placed on them. Things they had seen during the war. The Sea-King grants them this wish, making them unique and beautiful underwater.
What Made Tiddalik Laugh
Notable Author: Joanna Troughton
The story of the Tiddalik is one of the popular folktales in Australia. It is an origin story of frogs that can store water inside them in case of a drought. It is an aboriginal fable about a greedy giant frog named Tiddalik and a platypus, who successfully rescues all the water that Tiddalik greedily swallowed. They have been printed into books under Joanna Troughton. In this story, Tiddalik is a gigantic frog who woke up thirsty. He drank in the river, which he emptied. Despite so, Tiddalik was still thirsty, so he drank the lakes dry as well. Finally, Tiddalik drank the billabongs (lakes), which he also emptied up.
Once his thirst was quenched, Tiddalik went to sleep. When morning came, the bodies of water remained dry and all the animals and plants were thirsty for water. The old wombat was wise enough to figure out a solution. The wombat told the other animals that they must make Tiddalik laugh so that the water would come out. All the animals attempted to make him laugh, but only through the emergence of the sleeping platypus did Tiddalik properly laugh. This had all the water he consumed come out of him. The animals thanked the strange platypus and welcomed it, for it had no clan because of its strange behavior and looks. Tiddalik was the last giant frog. However, there are smaller versions of Tiddalik that can also store water for a dry day.
Popular African Folktales
The Ape, The Snake, and The Lion
In Africa, there are a ton of popular folktales, but one with no author comes in the form of “The Ape, The Snake, and The Lion.” The story is a folktale about the wickedness of man and the kindness and wisdom of animals. It is an old tale about repaying one debt but also being wary of no good men.
The main character of this story is Mvoo Laana. His mother is the only one supporting him after the death of her husband. Mvoo Laana grew big and followed his father’s footsteps as a hunter. Mvoo then set traps where he captured a lot of game. This allowed him and his mother to live comfortably.
However, there came a time that the traps no longer worked as well as they used to. In a stroke of luck, Mvoo Laana caught the ape, Neeanee. The ape begged him to set him free and promised to pay Mvoo Laana in return. Mvoo Laana agreed and let Neeanee go. The same thing happened to Neeoka, the snake, who also promised to repay Mvoo Laana.
Simba Kongway, the old lion, also stuck a deal with Mvoo Laana. Mvoo Laana’s trap caught a man. The animals warned Mvoo Laana not to trust man. However, he did so anyway. This did not solve Mvoo Laana and his mother’s hunger, so Mvoo Laana went deeper into the jungle to hunt. Mvoo Laana got lost and is rescued by the three animals. However, he was tricked by the man whom he had saved and almost put to death in front of the sultan. It was Neooka, the snake, who helped Mvoo Laana by sitting next to the trickster. This forced the man to admit his lie to the sultan.
The Hare and The Lion
Location: East Africa
“The Hare and the Lion“ is a fable belonging to East Africa with unknown exact origins. It is a tale passed down orally through various people. The moral of this story contains the power of wisdom over physical strength. It appeals to intelligence and wit rather than brute force. In this story, the powerful lion grew lazy of hunting. He commanded that all the animals should take turns and become his prey for a day. The animals feared the lion and followed his commands mournfully.
One day, as he was slowly walking towards the lion’s den, a hare noticed a deep well. He approached the lion’s den, who is already angry at the hare’s late arrival. The lion demanded to know where the hare had been, to which the hare replies that another lion had attempted to eat him. Pleased with the hare but furious about another lion in its territory, the lion commanded the hare to take him to the other lion. The hare showed the lion the well and mistaking his reflection for a threat, the lion pounced and dropped into the well, killing himself.
The King’s Magic Drum
“The Magic King’s Drum” is a fairy tale that came from Nigeria. The author of the folktale is unknown, seeing as it was orally passed down. The story is about being grateful for what one has and not being greedy for more. Efraim Duke is a rich king who used his magic drum to prevent any invaders or bloodshed. The magic drum could summon a large banquet, flowing free food into the stomachs of angry predators and warmongers. However, there is a curse on the drum. Once the owner steps over a stick, Egbo men would then appear and beat all the guests and the owner itself.
The tortoise then seizes the opportunity to take advantage of one of Efraim’s wives. The tortoise insists that Efraim’s wife had stolen food that was meant for his children. So Efraim takes the drum in exchange. The tortoise initially boasts the drum but gets beaten after breaking the enchantment. The tortoise then asks for mercy on Efraim, who then gives the tortoise a magic foo-foo tree that will allow one meal a day for the tortoise and his family. However, the son of the tortoise gets greedy and breaks the enchantment. As a result, the tortoises now live near the tie-tie palm as it is the only meal they can eat.
The Woman with Two Skins
“The Woman with Two Skins“ is a fairy tale about love originating from Nigeria. It was orally passed down, encouraging generations that true love is beyond physical appearances. Once upon a time, there was a wealthy and powerful king. He had the money, the power, and the strength. However, he had no children. Even with his 200 wives, not a single child was born. His advisers then suggested he marry the spider’s daughter, who laid many eggs.
The king agreed. Before getting married, the mother spider made her daughter promise not to show her other appearance to the king if he did not love her. The truth was that the spider’s daughter had two skins: one black and hairy, the other flawless and smooth. The spider’s daughter promised this to her mother. Eventually, the king fell in love with the spider’s daughter and she revealed to him her other skin. They eventually had many children.
The Man Who Never Lied
“The Man Who Never Lied“ is one of the popular folktales of Africa whose origins and author have not been pinpointed exactly. The tale was passed down orally and remained included in the popular folktales of Africa.
The tale mentions Mamad, a wise and truthful man who has never lied. He had become so famous that even people far from his location have heard of him. One day, the king summoned Mamad and tested whether Mamad was a truthful person. Mamad insisted he has never lied before. The king instructed Mamad to tell his wife, the queen, to prepare a feast at lunch the next day because the king will arrive at noon. The king and his warriors planned not to arrive on time, thus making Mamad a liar. However, the king realized that the words Mamad spoke to the queen are only of what he has seen and not what he believed will happen. Mamad told the queen that the king explains he plans to arrive at noon and for her to prepare a banquet at lunch.
Lion and Jackal
“The Lion and the Jackal” is one of those tragic but popular folktales about a trusting lion and a trickster jackal. There once was a lion and a jackal who decided to pair up and hunt for their families. The jackal and his family were to do most of the work once the lion hunted the prey, since the jackal couldn’t hunt as much. Once, the lion returned home one day to find his wife and children dying of hunger.
The lion is furious and attempts to attack the jackal, who cleverly pretends to beat his wife and children, that follow with the plans of wailing as if beaten. The lion worries for the safety of the jackal’s wife and his children and begs the jackal to stop and instead lift the lion up to the area. However, the jackal and his family cut the rope, lifting the lion, injuring him. Hungry, tired, and injured, the lion decides to settle for a large slab of meat instead. Waiting for the meal, the jackal instead kills the lion with a hot rock covered in meat. The lion devours it but is instead killed by the hot stone. It is a story about never trusting deals with tricksters and always checking on one’s family.
The Story of Lightning and Thunder
“The Story of Lightning and Thunder” is an African folktale that has no exact point of origin. As its name, it tells the story of lightning and thunder. Thunder lived among the humans as a mother sheep. Lightning, her son, took the form of a ram. Whenever the troublesome lightning was angry, he would run around the area and burn everything that he could touch. His mother, Thunder, would reprimand him with a large shout. This bothered the humans often, and they even complained to the king.
As a result, the king banished them far from the village, which angered Lightning even more. This caused the ram to mess with the villagers even more and the mother sheep to scream even louder. The king then asked his counsels what to do, who was then advised to banish the mother and son up to the sky. This is why lightning comes first and thunder comes after. Even more so, why lightning and thunder come from the clouds.
Samba the Coward
Notable Author: Andrew Lang
Andrew Lang collected various fairy tales around the world. One of his popular folktales collections included “Samba the Coward”. He published the collection in 1907 and titled it The Olive Fairy Book. In this folktale, Samba the Coward is the prince of a mighty kingdom but is often teased for being a cowardly child. The king initially hoped that Samba would change once he grew, but Samba remained afraid of almost everything.
Samba eventually marries a princess from another kingdom. His physique had grown large, and he was strong. However, once the moors came to invade the princess’s country, Samba hid instead of leading the army. This forced the princess to battle twice using Samba’s own armor, hiding the truth of her husband’s cowardice. Eventually, Samba is forced to battle on the third time when the invasion had him fighting without warning. This encouraged Samba to fight fearlessly, and the kingdom won without fail. It is then that Samba admits to the kingdom and the king that it was the princess who earned their victory, not him. Samba then became a truly brave man.
We hope you enjoyed reading about the popular folktales, both the fables and the original fairy tales. Not only do they carry virtues that most of us would want to be instilled in our children, but they also link us to our ancestors. Stories never die. Instead, they constantly morph into something else.
When you learn about popular folktales, you become part of the tradition. Even if you simply wanted to learn more stories and branch out far from your own limits, with no intention of actually passing it down, you still learn a thing or two. We’re sure that these stories will not fade out soon. However, we can also guarantee that there will be more to learn and read about. Hopefully, our future will be filled with more wonderful folktales from different cultures and different places.