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10 Folklores from around the world

Allison Lee

BY Allison Lee

24th Mar 2023 Art & Theatre

10 Folklores from around the world

From Malaysian fairy princesses to infamous Latin American creatures, here are ten folklores from different regions around the world

Folklores are a pivotal pillar in any civilisation. They are how stories are passed on from one generation to another, and how moral values are instilled within a community. Spanning across the globe, here are ten folklores you may not have heard of.

1. Puteri Gunung Ledang

Puteri Gunung Ledang is a beautiful, celestial fairy princess that lives on Mount Ledang, Malaysia. When the greedy Sultan Mansur Shah of Malacca heard of her beauty, he sent his men to ask for her hand in marriage, believing that this union would ascend Malacca to greater heights.

To subtly reject the Sultan, Puteri Gunung Ledang set difficult conditions for the Sultan to accomplish. Her demands consisted of gold and silver walkways from Malacca to Mount Ledang, barrels of tears from virgin maidens, trays of hearts of mites, a bowl of the blood of the Sultan’s son, and more.

"To subtly reject the Sultan, Puteri Gunung Ledang set difficult conditions for the Sultan to accomplish"

The ridiculous demands were relayed to the Sultan so he would give up the idea of pursuing her, but the cruel Sultan abused his people to complete the conditions on his behalf. It is said that the Sultan could not provide a bowl of his son’s blood, thus failing the demands.

2. The Cowherd and The Weaving Maid

10 Folklores from around the world - The reunion of the couple of The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd on the bridge of magpies. Artwork in the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace in Beijing.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Chinese legend has it that the cowherd fell in love with the weaving maid, who is actually a fairy from heaven, thus making their love forbidden. In spite of this, they got married and started a family together.

When the Jade Emperor discovered their marriage, he banished them to opposite sides of the heavenly river in a storm of anger. However, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, magpies would form a bridge that connects them both, allowing the couple to reunite for one night.

3. La Llorona

Translated to “the weeping woman”, La Llorona is a Mexican household name when it comes to folklore, with her real name being Maria. Maria was once married to a Spanish explorer-soldier with two beautiful children. When she caught her husband in an act of infidelity, she drowned her children in a cloud of rage.

Realising what she had done, Maria drowned herself out of grief but was sentenced to roam the earth, until she had found her children. It is said that La Llorona’s nocturnal wailing can be heard and she will take any child who wanders too close to the water.

4. Baba Yaga

10 Folklores from around the world - an illustration of Baba Yaga, from Vasilisa the Beautiful 5
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This widespread folktale in Russia tells about a witch who flies around in a mortar while wielding a pestle, and whose hut is supported by chicken legs. Right off the bat, you can tell that her character is a peculiar one, as is her story. Baba Yaga is a trickster who appears before others to put their wits to the test.

"Baba Yaga is a witch who flies around in a mortar while wielding a pestle, and whose hut is supported by chicken legs"

When the story is shared with children, Baba Yaga is said to be an evil, scary old woman who devours any children she sets her eyes on. Yet, in variations of this tale, she sometimes takes on the role of a villain and other times becomes the helpful witch who guides protagonists to overcome hurdles, leading to their happily ever after’s.

5. The selkie

Nothing adds a more magical element to a story than beings who can transfigure. Hailing from Celtic and Norse mythology, selkies are seals who can shed their skin and change into human form. There are many renditions of the legend of the selkie, but the most famous one follows a man who steals the skin of a female selkie, coercing her into marriage.

Bound to land, the female selkie spends her days longing to return to the sea, but is unable to do so unless she regains her skin. She bears children for her husband, but the moment she is reunited with her skin, she will abandon her human family and leave for the sea.

In certain versions, the selkie visits her family on shore once a year, but others claim that she never leaves the sea again, for fear that her fate would replay itself.

6. Chupacabra

Back in 1990s, reports of a strange blood-sucking creature began surfacing in Latin America, many claiming that the creature had massacred and drank the blood of their livestock. Thus, the creature earned its name, which directly translates to “goat sucker”.

Claims of the Chupacabra’s profile may vary, but there is a consensus that it is alien-like: hairless, with large eyes and fangs. It is also speculated that the Chupacabra might be a genetic experiment gone awry. No matter its origins and truth, this fearsome being quickly escalated to become a pivotal point of discussion in conspiracy theories and paranormal investigations.

7. One Thousand and One Nights

10 Folklores from around the world - Marie-Éléonore Godefroid's painting titled Scheherazade and Shahryar (One Thousand and One Nights)Credit: Marie-Éléonore Godefroid

More commonly referred to as Arabian Nights, the overarching story of this folktale is about a king who uncovers his wife’s affair and orders her execution. While wallowing in grief, the king concludes that all women are the same and will eventually cheat.

The king then asks the Wazir to find him a string of virgin maidens that he could marry and execute the very next day, before they have the chance to be unfaithful to him. Soon, the land had run out of virgins for the king to marry.

"More commonly referred to as Arabian Nights, this folktale is about a king who uncovers his wife’s affair"

The Wazir’s daughter offers herself, confident that she can stop the king’s madness. On the night of their marriage, she tells the king a story but does not reach the end. This piqued the king’s interest and he postpones her execution to hear more. Whenever she finishes a story, she would continue a new one immediately. This carries on for a thousand and one nights until the king had a change of heart.

8. Anansi the spider

Depending on which story you hear, Anansi the spider can be a hero or a villain. In most tales, he is depicted as intelligent, often outwitting his opponents without needing to exert strength.

In one version, Anansi’s father, who is also the god of the sky, bestowed upon him a pot encasing all the world’s knowledge. The greedy Anansi decided to hide the pot so he could claim it for himself, setting his sights on a tall tree.

Anansi had difficulty climbing up the tree while carrying the pot, and it wasn’t until a boy advised him to fasten the pot to his back that Anansi succeeded. Anansi then became infuriated that a mere boy’s advice worked, and he threw the pot onto the ground in a fit of rage. The pot then shattered, releasing all the knowledge to the world.

9. Goorialla the rainbow serpent

With their ability to shed skin, serpents are often synonymous with rebirth and transformation across cultures. Goorialla the rainbow serpent is a revered character in Aboriginal Australian mythology, believed by many to be the creator of the Earth.

Goorialla’s story begins with him searching for his kind. As he made his way across the land, he left imprints and formations in the ground. Soon, Goorialla found his people dancing and singing peacefully, but the festivities were interrupted by a storm. As everyone hid in huts to wait out the storm, two brothers had no shelter. Goorialla, disguising his trickery as kindness, offered his hut to them only to swallow them before slithering off.

When the storm passed, the people followed the path, found Goorialla, and sliced open his stomach to free the brothers. When Goorialla woke up, he burst into an anger that broke mountains into smaller pieces spread across the land, thus forming hills and smaller mountains. In fear of his wrath, many people turned into various animals and fled.

10. The Goose Girl

10 Folklores from around the world - an illustration of the goose girl
Credit: Heinrich Vogeler

The Goose Girl was the original archetype of the Cinderella story, narrating the story of a princess who was betrayed by her servant, the former eventually forced into exchanging identities with the latter.

The servant, posing as the princess, married the prince. The real princess was abandoned to look after geese. During her days as a servant, the princess did not breathe a word of the exchange that had taken place, and simply went about her duties. However, her strange behaviour of communicating with her late mother and talking horse aroused the suspicion of a local boy, who reports this to the king.

The king eventually tricked the real princess into revealing her identity and punished the real servant, with both characters getting the endings that they deserve.

Banner credit: Warwick Goble

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