Monday, October 5, 2020

Kindness, wits, bravery (Following folktales around the world 171. - Kyrgyzstan)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

A szürke héja
Kirgiz népmesék
Buda Ferenc
Európa, 1988.

The book contains 57 Kyrgyz folktales in thematic chapters: magic tales, animal tales, realistic tales, and origin stories (etiological tales).  The texts are eloquent, sometimes poetic, and peppered with traditional words and phrases in italics, with a glossary at the end of the book. This way, the stories kept their Kyrgyz flavor, and they are still easy to follow (I learned a lot of new words by the end). The afterword talks about Kyrgyz history, customs, culture, and traditional storytelling, even though there are no notes attached to the individual stories. I couldn't really find a Kygryz collection in English, sadly. You can read about their national epic here, though.  


I enjoyed the tale about The orphan boy who first saved a frog from a road accident, then revived various other animals, and in the end even the son of his enemy. While the other boy betrayed him, eventually he did find a happy ending, and forgave the villains. I also liked the story about The old many and a fox, where an old couple adopted a pregnant fox who in exchange hunted various animals for them. When the fox herself was being hunted, the old woman yelled at the hunters, shaming them until they left the household alone.
Image from here
The tale of The obozger's daughter was a fun variant of the silent princess type. Here a man left his bride of low birth to try and win the hand of a princess. He failed, however, and then his bride set out, disguised as a man, and managed to win the princess herself. In the end, the three of them went home together. Another story, Djapalak's wife, featured another clever woman; a khan tried to seduce her but she resisted, and then came up with a devious plan to show the khan's wife was not immune to seduction... 
The story of Tolubaj Sinchi gave me a lot to think about. It was about a khan who wanted to find a magic horse in his herds, but when a wise man pointed out the ugliest colt in the lot, the khan refused to believe him. There was also a tale where a clever khan proved that generosity comes from the heart, not from wealth. 
My favorite origin story was that of the hedgehog, who had smooth skin in the beginning, but when their wisdom was needed to defeat the devil, the animals gave them protective armor in gratitude.
One of the "golden-haired twins" tales had a lovely moment where the abandoned babies were found by a veteran warrior named Akmat, on his way home from Fairyland. He warmed the babies on his bare chest, and then raised them as his own; he even helped them from beyond the grave. I love father figures like him. Another nice moment was in the story of Akchükö and Kuchükö, where one of the heroes visited the king of dragons. The king did not only take good care of him, but also gave him a dragon to fly him where he needed to go. 


There were, once again, many familiar tale types in this book, such as extraordinary helpers (Seven sons of the old woman), sometimes along with Underworld adventures (Töstük), secret dream (Chinibek), Polyphemus (Djajil Mergen), cloth, donkey, stick (The grey hawk), Aladdin (The magic ring), firebird and grey wolf (The golden bird), magic bird heart (Akchükö and Kuchükö), magician's apprentice (The wizard boy), puss in boots (How the fox went courting), clever maid, valiant tailor (The coward warrior), false fortune-teller (Almikul Tüschü). Even one of my favorite tale types, that of the "pirate princess" showed up in the book, under the title Zar and Meer
There was a classic animal chain story (here started by a nightingale), and also a race between animals, here featuring a fox, a turtle, and a tick (the tick won). I also once again encountered the story about the animal calendar and the contest between the mouse and the camel
There were both animal and human tricksters in the stories. There was the clever fox (here outwitted by a partridge), Kösö (a smooth-faced trickster guy) and Apendi, who is very similar to the Hodja Nasreddin. 

Where to next?


  1. Really loved your FEAST webinar today, Csenge. Here is the text of a piece in my series Students' Stories recently published in English Teaching Professional (Pavilion Publishing) in case you or any of your readers are interested:
    Students’ stories 17
    David Heathfield

    Last summer, I visited the Regent School in Oxford, UK, where Nargiza Abdraimova, a lawyer from Kyrgyzstan, was doing a summer English course. After taking part in the ‘Tales from around the world’ workshop which I hosted, Nargiza came and talked to me. As often happens, she ended up telling me a traditional Kyrgyz folk tale. What a fortunate position I am in to be able to learn stories from people from so many different cultures!

    ‘Apendi and the 100 gold coins’

    Storytelling tip: Students retell the story in character
    After you tell your students a story, you can invite them to retell it from the point of view of one of the central characters in the story. It is easy to create an ‘information gap’ by introducing a new character (a member of the community in which the story is set) who knows nothing about the events in the story. This new character wants to find out everything that happened from the character in the story. Because the students playing both roles actually know the plot, they can be playful as they reinterpret the story. This seems to come naturally to students, perhaps because it is not necessary for them to remember the story exactly the way you told it to them and there is no pressure to ‘get it right’.

    Before telling
    If your students know little about Kyrgyzstan, point out where it is on a map and show them some online images of the country. Tell them that the story you are going to tell is about Apendi, a clever trickster who features in many Kyrgyz tales. In different parts of Asia, Europe and North Africa, Apendi is called different names, such as Nasrudin and Joha.

    While telling
    As you tell the story of Apendi and the 100 gold coins, enjoy using different voices and switching between the characters of the smart and light-hearted trickster, the arrogant and increasingly furious rich man and the self-important and impatient chief.

  2. After telling
    Ask the students to stand in pairs facing each other and label them A and B.
    A: You are the rich man’s neighbour. You have just seen him arriving home on foot looking very tired and very unhappy. You are curious and want to find out the whole story. Ask questions and react to his answers.
    B: You are the rich man. Your neighbour is going to ask you a lot of questions about what happened to you. At first, you don’t want to talk about it, because you feel so stupid, but then you are going to tell the whole story from your point of view, expressing your feelings. Get ready … 3–2–1 Action!
    When they have finished, bring the whole class together and find out what the neighbours think about what happened to the rich man.
    Ask the students to stand facing each other in the same pairs again and say:
    B: Now, you are Apendi’s friend. You have just seen Apendi arriving, dressed in a beautiful silk robe, holding a heavy silk purse and with two donkeys. You want to find out the whole story about how your poor friend got all of these things.
    A: You are Apendi. You are happy to tell the story, and will answer all of B’s questions. Get ready … 3–2–1 Action!
    After a few minutes, when the students have finished retelling the story from Apendi’s perspective, say:
    B: Tell Apendi what you think he should do with the gold coins and see how he responds. You have one minute to finish your conversation … 3–2–1 Action!
    When they have finished, ask volunteer pairs to act out different versions of this final minute in front of the whole class. Invite the listeners to comment on what they enjoyed about the different endings.
    You can learn this story by listening to me telling it to Danish teenage students learning English on YouTube at or by reading an edited transcription of the same recording on the next page.

    David Heathfield is a freelance storyteller, teacher and teacher trainer. He is the author of Storytelling With Our Students: Techniques for Telling Tales from Around the World and Spontaneous Speaking: Drama Activities for Confidence and Fluency, both published by DELTA Publishing. He is a member of The Creativity Group.

  3. Apendi and the 100 gold coins

    Once, Apendi was really short of money. As he walked through the city streets in his ragged clothes, he saw the richest man in the city sitting at his open window counting his gold coins, letting the world see how rich and important he was. Apendi watched the rich man for a while and thought ‘I wonder ...’ .
    Suddenly, he threw his hands up towards the heavens and said:
    ‘Oh, God in Heaven! Please give me 100 gold coins right now. If you give me 100 gold coins, I’ll know they are for me, a gift from you. If there’s one less coin, I will leave them. Oh please, merciful God!’
    He saw out of the corner of his eye that the rich man was continuing to count his gold coins, paying no attention.
    So Apendi walked away and around the streets, and finally returned to the same spot outside the window. The rich man was still counting.
    Apendi began again:
    ‘Oh, God in Heaven, please, right now, give me, a poor man, 100 gold coins. I need them. One less coin and I will leave them. They will not be for me. But 100, I’ll know they are from you. Please.’
    Again, Apendi walked away. By now the rich man was curious:
    ‘I will test this this poor fool. Let’s see if he’s telling the truth.’
    He counted not 100 gold coins, but 99. He put the coins into a beautiful silk purse and threw it out of the window, into the street. Then he waited.
    Soon Apendi returned. When he saw the purse on the ground he said:
    ‘I wonder. I wonder. Oh, God, have you helped me?’
    He picked up the purse and opened it.
    ‘This purse is full of gold coins. Are there 100? We will see.’
    He started counting the coins there in the road:
    ‘Ninety-seven, 98 , 99 ... Oh, my God, this is a beautiful silk purse. This is a wonderful purse. This purse must be worth a gold coin. So indeed there are 100. Oh thank you, God, thank you.’
    He started putting the gold coins back into the purse. Just as he finished, the rich man ran angrily out of his house. He seized Apendi:
    ‘Give me back my money! There were only 99 gold coins. I heard you promise that if there were less than 100, you would leave them.’
    ‘Indeed they are mine,’ said Apendi. ‘Ninety-nine gold coins and a purse worth one more makes 100. They are mine. They are a gift from God. Nothing can be said against me.’
    The rich man was getting angrier.
    ‘We will go to see our chief. He will judge whose coins they are.’
    Apendi couldn’t say no. He said:
    ‘But how can I present myself to the chief dressed in these old clothes?’
    ‘I’ll lend you my silk robe,’ said the rich man.
    He gave Apendi his best silk robe and he put on his second-best silk robe.
    ‘But I can’t go all that way,’ said Apendi. ‘I have nothing to carry me and the chief lives far away.’
    ‘I will lend you my best donkey,’ said the rich man, ‘and I will ride on my second-best donkey.’
    Soon both of them were riding along, and it was difficult to tell them apart, both of them dressed in fine silk robes, both of them riding on fine donkeys.
    They arrived finally at the palace of the chief. The rich man called for the chief to come out. The chief wasn’t pleased about this.
    ‘I am an important man. Who calls on me?’
    ‘I do,’ said the rich man. ‘I have a dispute that must be settled. This fool has tricked me. He owes me 99 gold coins.’
    ‘Tell me the story, then,’ said the chief.
    The rich man began to recount what had happened. Well, the chief was suspicious of the story.
    ‘A strange tale indeed!’
    He turned to Apendi.
    ‘Is this what happened?’
    Apendi said:
    ‘Oh, chief. Do you believe this man? What a strange story he is telling. I wouldn’t trust him if I were you. The next thing he will tell you that these silk robes I’m wearing are not mine.’
    ‘Of course they’re not yours,’ said the rich man.

  4. ‘Of course they’re not yours,’ said the rich man. ‘I lent them to you and you can give them back!’
    Now Apendi said:
    ‘See what I mean? Oh, chief, the next thing he will say is this donkey is his donkey and not mine.’
    ‘It is my donkey, said the rich man. It’s my donkey which I lent to him. Now, give me that donkey back and give me those coins!’
    ‘Do you believe him?’ said Apendi.
    The chief listened to Apendi.
    ‘I have never heard such nonsense. You come to me, a busy man, with this foolish dispute? I’ll have none of it, it’s all lies.’
    And he said to the rich man:
    ‘You will be punished for this!’
    ‘Go away,’ he said to Apendi, ‘with your silk robe, your donkey and your coins; they are clearly yours.’
    ‘And for you!’ he said to the rich man, ‘As your punishment, you will give him your donkey!’
    The rich man couldn’t say anything. He knew that if he complained, he would be thrown into prison. The rich man left on foot, walking the long distance back to his home, while Apendi returned riding on a donkey with another one following, wearing a fine new silk robe and, best of all, carrying a beautiful silk purse containing 99 gold coins: everything that the rich man had lost.
    (whoops that was rather long!)