Sunday, June 7, 2020

Folktales of rebellion, revolution, and community

As you have seen from the previous quarantine folktale posts, I deal with current events (and pretty much any other event) through stories and storytelling. So, watching the news about the #BlackLivesMatter protests in the USA, as well as following protests in Hungary against racism and against the de-legitimization of trans people, I have been thinking of stories where communities come together to fight injustice and oppression, and create a better future.
Here are some of my favorites:

The shy quilt bird (Myanmar)

When a serpent, the evil king of the sea, wants to take over the land from the just king lion, birds and animals of the jungle all band together to chase him away. They create enough noise to make the serpent believe they are the legendary Galon bird, with the help of an unlikely (and very shy) ally.
(When I tell this tale, I usually expand it so that different groups of animals have different roles - being the voice of the bird, shaking the trees to mimic wind, stomping on the ground, etc.)

The Tale of the Sun (Saami)

People kept in darkness and poverty by evil brothers find out that the Sun exists somewhere far away. Initially they don't believe the news, but a brave young man manages to pull everyone together, so they rebel against their overlords, and bring the Sun up to the sky together.

The cock's kraal (Eswatini)

A greedy king's soldiers come across a rich city inhabited only by roosters and hens. They find out that the fowl used to be people, but they were cursed by an evil king, and the curse only be broken if they defeat an enemy stronger than themselves. The greedy king orders his soldiers to attack the city, thinking it will be easy pickings - but the roosters and hens, under the encouragement of their king the Golden Rooster, close ranks, stand up for themselves, and defeat the invading army, breaking the curse.

The dragon and the golden bird (Nakhi)

When an evil serpent threatens the entire world, four women - Thinker, Doer, Seer, and Wisdom - band together and come up with a plan to trick the serpent into a fight with the powerful Golden Wings.

The Theft of Fire (Native American & Ilocano)

When giants, spirits, or other greedy creatures keep all the fire to themselves, a trickster figure organizes all the animals into an epic heist / relay race to bring light and warmth to the rest of the world.

Three valiant lads (English)

When a dragon threatens the countryside, three young men commission a blacksmith to make them a giant sword, and come up with a plan that involves everyone else in town. The repeating phrase of the story is "maybe one can't, but three of us can!" People together chase the dragon away, and it burrows underground, turning into the rare fluorite stone of the Blue John mines.

The king who trusted his kingdom to his daughters (Jewish)

Alright, I know I mention this tale a lot, but I love it, and in the end kindness and empathy makes people rise up and defend their kingdom.

The dragon in the swamp (Hungary)

When a dragon starts eating people from the villages around its swamp, a young Roma man figures out a way to gather information about the monster. Once he knows enough, he organizes the people of the villages, teaches them how to fight, comes up with a strategy, and all of them together defeat the dragon.

The battle of the trees (Wales)

When monsters attack the land, the famous magician Gwydion calls upon the forest to protect it. All the trees come to life, with their different personalities, and go into epic battle.
(By the way a few years ago Mark Williams wrote an epic "fakelore" version of this, and it is totally tellable.)

Just to be clear, this post is NOT advocating violence. It is advocating telling stories that show, in a symbolic way, that communities can stand up to toxic ideas and oppressive systems together, and change things for the better.


  1. The Sami story sounds familiar, can’t recall where I have read something similar, but I have, possibly somewhere in one of my many folktale books! 🙂

  2. Amazing! Thanks for sharing. I have one about change, but it is not of rebelious nature.

  3. Thanks for these folktales. There are many indian folktales that speak of rebellion and revolution in a passive aggressive way!
    AK Ramanujan’s folktales of India.

  4. Thoughtful choices, Csenge! I appreciate that you turn to the oral tradition to find answers or encouragement to our problems today.