Saturday, July 4, 2020

Fake news folktales: Talk to your kids about checking sources

Information and media literacy is becoming essential in today's world. The volume of information flooding our days in unprecedented, and children are not immune to it either. We need to start teaching them early not to take things at face value; to ask questions, check sources, and evaluate the information they are provided. And yes, a lot of adults are still learning to do the same.
Stories are a great way to teach, and luckily, there are many of them that touch upon the question of truth and lies. Here is a selection of some of the most interesting ones.

The king of the monkeys (Liberia)

An ugly bird moves into a hole in the ground, and makes the monkeys believe he is some all-powerful, terrifying monster. He holds this power over them, making them bring him food and gifts - that is, until the baby monkeys, who don't know better, actually start poking into the hole, and discover that the "terrifying monster" is just a very ugly, but not very scary bird.

The cat and the fox (Hungarian)

This tale type goes under ATU 103A, and has variants all over Europe. In it, a lazy cat is chased out of the house, and he goes to live in a forest. Since forest animals have never seen a cat before, he manages convince first a fox, and then with her help everyone else that he is a terrifying beast. The animals pay him respect and bring him food, and the lazy cat finds a comfortable kingdom for himself.
This is very similar to the previous story, but also highlights the role of those who support the deceit and benefit from it (the fox).

The Deceiver (Somalia)

Pretty dark story. A deceitful, lying person is exiled from the village of humans, and goes into the wilderness. There, he incites the animals and the elements to rebel against humans. Once they raid the village, however, he begins to accuse his helpers, one after another ("Did you see how the fire burned the village? What if it turns against you next? Let's put it out before that happens!"), and he turns his followers on each other, until no one is left. Then he happily walks away with all the loot. However, in the end he discovers that wealth doesn't make him happy, and he is miserable in exile.

Lies hurt more than a wound (Suriname)

A king keeps insisting that words can't hurt anyone - "sticks and stones", and all of that. Anansi, the spider-trickster, decides to teach him a lesson. He defecates in the hallways of the palace, and starts spreading a rumor that it's the king who can't control his bowels. The rumors spread like wildfire, and the king soon learns that words can, indeed, have very serious consequences.

Cat and rat bathe together (Grenada)

This story is about learned prejudice. A kitten and a young rat go bathing together every day, and they become good friends. However, when their parents find out, they start teaching their young that they should not be friends because they are different from each other. The kitten is told rats are lowly food, and the rat is told cats are dangerous killers. The friendship ends.
(I do want to re-tell this story with a more positive ending, and you might too.)

Qamar Al-Zamaan and Shams Al-Dunya (Lebanon)

A prince is engaged to a beautiful girl, but on his way to the wedding a bunch of jealous women convince him that his bride (whom he has not seen yet, according to custom) is actually ugly and awful. The prince runs away from the marriage. The bride finds out and goes looking for him; she befriends him without telling him who she is, and eventually they get to know each other and fall in love.
(This tale also has a nice version from Palestine.)

The Pincers of Pagan (Burma / Myanmar)

This story is about how "blind justice" is not always the fairest option (or, as you'd say, the difference between equality and equity). A king has a set of magic pincers he uses to dole out justice: the accused has to put his hands between the pincers, and if they are lying, the pincers cut the hands off. However, a thief manages to outsmart the pincers in the story, proving that they can't be solely relied upon for justice.
(There are similar stories about the Bocca della Veritá in Rome.)

Brave Mouse-Deer (Borneo)

A human comes into the forest, and the animals are all scared of the new visitor. Mouse Deer sets out to spy on the human, and observes it doing things animals have never seen before (taking off his shirt, smoking, etc.). Every time Mouse Deer returns with news, the story gets wilder and wilder ("he eats clouds!", "he takes off his skin!"), and panic rises in the jungle. Once the human departs without trouble, however, the animals accuse Mouse Deer of making it all up.

Tunnay and Runnay (Syria)

This is a classic "devil and the fake doctor" type tale, where someone chases the devil away in the end by scaring him into thinking his wife is coming. It features two terrifying women, and it became a phrase in Syria, "Tunnay and Runnay" being synonymous with "fake news."

Plop! Splash! (Tibet)

Hare hears a strange sound that scares him, and starts running, making everyone else think the sky is falling (yes, very Henny Penny). Eventually someone things to check where the sound was coming from, and discovers it was fruit falling into water.

Go to sleep, gecko! (Bali)

I mentioned this one before in relation to quarantine stories, but I'm repeating it here, because it is also about looking into why others do things that annoy us. Gecko is angry at the fireflies flashing, but when Lion investigates, it turns out they have been trying to warn travelers on the road at night. And so on. Gecko learns in the end that all the animals he thought were annoying and wrong had good reasons to do what they were doing.

Anansi seeks a fool (Ghana)

Anansi seeks someone who is foolish enough to do all the work for him while he rests and reaps the results. Crow, however, beats the trickster at his own game, by making him believe that they can spit up work and effort. Anansi ends up doing all the work while Crow pretends to be taking on all the "tiredness" from it. I am including this story here to talk a little bit about checking "fine print" on what a job/social position really is about.

If you have other stories that would fit the list, let me know in the comments!

1 comment: