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Friday, September 3, 2021

Folk Stories from Afghanistan

For a variety of reasons stories from Afghanistan may need telling.  I don't have any Public Domain resources, but that doesn't prevent telling those stories as long as they aren't electronically published.  I do have four books with twice as many stories that I should be able to give here the "bones" of their stories.  The books should be available either as used books or by interlibrary loan as they are in fairly standard anthologies.

This photo by EJ Wolfson on Unsplash gives a good view of Afghanistan beyond the cities.

Before opening the four books, it never hurts to get an overview.  Here's a slightly compressed version of the introductory paragraphs in the Wikipedia article on Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a landlocked country at the crossroads of Central and South Asia. It is bordered by Pakistan to the east and south, Iran to the west, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the north, and Tajikistan and China to the northeast. The country is predominately mountainous with plains in the north and southwest. It is inhabited by mostly of ethnic Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks. Kabul serves as its capital and largest city.

Human habitation in Afghanistan dates back to the Middle Paleolithic Era, and the country's strategic location along the Silk Road connected it to the cultures of the Middle East and other parts of Asia. The land has historically been home to various peoples and has witnessed numerous military campaigns, including those by Alexander the Great, Mauryas, Muslim Arabs, Mongols, British, Soviets, and in 2001 by the United States with NATO-allied countries. It has been called "unconquerable"[13][14] and nicknamed the "graveyard of empires",[15] though it has been occupied during several different periods of its history. 

These are the four books I recommend: 

  1. Bulatkin, I.F. - Eurasian Folk and Fairy Tales
  2. Carpenter, Frances - The Elephant's Bathtub; Wonder Tales from the Far East
  3. Dorson, Richard M. - Folktales Told Around the World
  4. Protter, Eric and Nancy - Folk and Fairy Tales of Far-Off Lands

It's interesting that the stories tend towards Trickster tales.  Bulatkin's "The Hare and the Tiger" has an aging tiger forcing the forest creatures to sacrifice one of themselves daily until hare avoids his day to become the tiger's meal.  The next day he claims to have been captured by another tiger even more powerful.  The enraged old tiger wants to be shown the braggart.  Hare says he lives in a nearby well.  Takes the tiger there.  Tiger is fooled when he sees himself reflected in the well.  Jumps in and drowns.

Protter has a common theme of two brothers, with the older one accepting a job with the promise he will do all the hiring farmer requires without losing his temper or he will be penalized.  The farmer in turn promises he will pay the penalty if the worker makes him lose his temper.  The older one becomes trapped by this, but the younger brother rescues him by an even stricter agreement that ends in the farmer losing his temper and learning to treat his workers fairly.  As I said, the theme isn't new, but it is extremely well done.

Professor Dorson was noted for his work in folklore and his use of standard storytelling motifs makes it possible to summarize each of his tales in that way.  

  • "The Romance of Mongol Girl and Arab Boy" combines many: "love at first sight" sharing the separation of the sexes with "communication of lovers through hole in wall" along with "princess so lovely every one falls in love with her."  There's also "task performed with help of old woman", "bride purchased for her weight in gold" and much more as the tale is long and complex.
  • "The Decapitation of Sufi Islam" is much shorter and simpler with motifs of "severed head moves from place to place" and "saint unharmed by fire.  It's a legend usually told by devotees of the Karukh Sufi order as Sufi Islam was their founder.
  • "The Two Thieves with the Same Wife" combines that Indian tale type with another found in Russia, Lithuania, and India of "one party relates the situation in the form of a tale, to the gentleman who is being robbed."  Added motifs include "identification by matching parts of divided token" and "the stolen and re-stolen ham (or in this case money)."
  • "Khastakhumar and Bibinagar" uses something best known in the tale of Cupid and Psyche, the motif of "the search for the lost husband." Because of Afghan religious commitments, the wife drops her ring in a jug of water instead of a glass of wine.  Other changes have the the enchanted husband and his wife boil the ogre co-wife (instead of a servant) in boiling water to escape, because of their negative view of polygamy.  There are magical objects aplenty as well as the punishment of wandering till iron shoes are worn out.
  • "The Seventy-Year-Old Corpse" combines the "supplanted bride" (a sub-type of the Cupid and Psyche type) with "prediction by bird that girl will have a dead husband", "disenchantment by removal of enchanting thorn", "false bride finishes true bride's task and supplants her", with "recognition by overheard conversation with objects."

The story by Carpenter, "One Mean Trick Deserves Another" is a good ending piece somewhat similar to Protter, but where the foolish son is tricked out of selling the family's nanny goat by a family of six brothers.  The boy's father is so clever that he is called Assad the Wise and manages to trick each of the brothers in turn into paying him a lot of money and ultimately getting a judge to give Assad all they own and kick them forever out of town. 


Fellow storyteller from Canada, Norman Perrin, added to these books with this additional information:

A list of Afghan story collections, , not as easy to access, my apologies,
for those up to the challenge of finding them.
From oldest to most recent.

Tales of Afghanistan  Amina Shah   Octagon 1982
18 traditional tales by a storyteller who grew up in Afghanistan.
No notes.

Folktales of Afghanistan   Asha Dhar  Sterling Publishers  1982
17 tales, the last story has six tales of Afghan trickster Abu Khan
No notes, with a brief introduction on the stories and Afghan culture and

A Key to the Heart Laura Simms Chocolate Sauce Publishing
Dual language English and Arabic script.
With notes and bibliography that include more sources of Afghan tales.
Requests for permissions should go to Permissions Dept., Chocolate sauce
Publishing Inc., The Storytelling Suite 814 Broadway, NY NY, 10003

Afghan Folktales from Herat : Persian texts in transcription and
translation Youli Ioannesyan  Cambria Press 2009
These 11 stories are translated into English From the Herati dialect were
collected from informants in the city of Herat.
There are extensive notes and a bibliography.

Afghan Village Voices: Stories from a Tribal Community Compiled and edited
by Richard Tapper   I. B. Tauris  2020
From back cover: "The book comprises a collection of remarkable stories.
folktales and conversations and provides unprecedented insight into the
depth and colour of these people's lives.... with memories of strife,
ethnic  feuds, falling in love elopements...the world of spirits,,, "

With glossary, extensive notes, indexes of people, places and subjects.
Norman Perrin
Four Winds Storytellers' Library

When Norman mentions Four Winds Storytellers Library, it's a 6,000 volume collection of folktales from around the world, as a free research resource that has aided storytellers, authors and other researchers since 1990.

That leads me to this photo by Firoz Sidiqy on Unsplash showing a "goodbye" from Afghanistan's youth, especially girls, from earlier in this century.


This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but the late Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!
    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!

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