Autumn 1996 (4.3)
As in every society, there are many examples of verbal folklore for children-obviously many created by adults for children and many that children themselves invent spontaneously in response to a situation. We have included some of the most favorite examples which have been carried down for many generations that continue to intrigue and inspire children (and adults) today just as they did in the past.
"Jirtdan" is one of the most popular and beloved fairy tales in Azerbaijan. Jirtdan, meaning "tiny" in Azerbaijani, is about a child, much smaller than other children his age, who finds strength in being intelligent.
Clearly, the "div" in the story-that hairy, scary monster who loves to eat children-embodies the gigantic forces of evil. By creating a hero out of Jirtdan, the story challenges children, though physically small and weak, not to be afraid to outwit forces much larger than they are.
"Jirtdan" closely resembles the German fairy tale of "Hansel and Gretel," in which a brother and sister, who lose their way in the forest, finally outsmart and escape an evil witch who intends to eat them.
As these stories are passed down generation after generation by word of mouth, there may be many other variations to this fairy tale than the one we print here.
Jirtdan - The Little Boy Who Fought the Monsters
Once upon a time, there was a little boy who lived in a village with his Grandmother. Now this little boy was so small that people used to call him "Jirtdan," which means "tiny." But it didn't matter much because he was very, very smart.
Jirtdan loved his Grandmother very much, and she loved him, too. She used to bake him delicious cakes and tell him stories. And Jirtdan used to help her by bringing water from the spring or by going to the forest to find firewood.
One day Grandmother invited all of Jirtdan's friends together and gave each of them some bread and butter and told them to go to the forest and bring back some firewood. "But take care of Jirtdan! He's younger and smaller than all of you. Make sure you watch out for him!" she cautioned.
So the boys left, carrying their bread and butter. After a while, they reached the forest and started cutting wood. Everybody was working-well, everybody that is, except Jirtdan. "Jirtdan, why aren't you cutting wood?" the other boys asked.
"My Grandmother gave you bread and butter so that you would cut wood for me, too," Jirtdan replied.
So the boys cut wood for Jirtdan, too. When they finally finished, it was starting to get dark. The boys started gathering up their bundles of wood to head home. But Jirtdan didn't budge.
"Jirtdan, why aren't you carrying your bundle of wood?" the boys asked.
"My Grandmother gave you bread and butter so that you would carry my bundle of wood," Jirtdan replied.
So the boys picked up Jirtdan's bundle, too. When they started to leave, they saw that Jirtdan just sat on the side of the path, with tears running down his face. "Why are you crying, Jirtdan? Why aren't you coming with us?" the boys asked.
"My Grandmother gave you bread and butter so that you would carry me when I got tired," Jirtdan told them.
So one of the boys lifted Jirtdan onto his back, and they all started on their journey homewards. But soon it grew dark. The boys walked and walked, but they couldn't find their way out of the black forest. They were lost. As they looked around, they heard a dog barking off in the distance. In the opposite direction, they saw a light. They wondered what they should do. Finally, they asked tiny Jirtdan, "Jirtdan, maybe you know. Which way should we go? Over there where the dog is barking or in the opposite direction where there is light?"
Jirtdan thought a moment. "If we go where the dog is barking, maybe it will attack us. Let's go towards the light."
And so they started walking towards the light. As they came closer, they realized the light was shining out from a house. (Now the boys didn't know that the house really belonged to a "div," a big, ugly, scary monster who loved to eat children). They knocked at the door, but nobody answered. Then they went in and decided it would be a good safe place to stay until morning.
Suddenly, the children heard a huge noise, like a lion roaring. The boys were so frightened. They ran and tried to hide. The door opened, and a big, ugly div entered his house. He started sniffing around. "What's this smell in here? It smells like some human beings are here-some tasty little boys. I wonder where they can be?"
The div looked behind the doors, under the tables and under the bed until he found all the boys. "Who are you and what are you doing in my house?" the div asked.
And with a quiet, scared voice, one of the boys said, "We went to the forest to get some wood. But it got dark, and we got lost. That's when we saw the light in your house."
The div looked at the boys. He could smell how tasty they would be. But he realized that he wouldn't be able to eat all of them at the same time, so he decided to get them to go to bed so that he could eat them one by one while they were sleeping.
"Why don't you stay here?" the div suggested. "In the morning when there is light, you'll be able to find your way back home easily. It's impossible now. You would never find your way home in the dark. Stay here with me safely inside the house. I'll make a place for you to sleep in the other room."
And so the boys agreed and went off to bed. But not Jirtdan. He realized what the div intended to do. He decided to stay awake in case the div tried to eat them. Finally, everybody was asleep, everybody, that is, except Jirtdan. The div waited quietly in the next room hoping that the children would soon fall asleep. A little later he crept quietly into the room. "Who is asleep? Who is awake?" he whispered.
"Everybody is asleep, but Jirtdan is awake," Jirtdan replied.
"Why is Jirtdan awake? What does Jirtdan want?"
"Well, every night my Grandmother makes me scrambled eggs before I go to bed."
So the div went into the kitchen and busied himself with making Jirtdan a plate of scrambled eggs. Then he brought it to Jirtdan and went back into the next room, waiting for the moment when Jirtdan would fall asleep.
It was nearly morning when the div once again crept quietly into the room where the boys were sleeping. "Who is asleep? Who is awake?" he whispered for the second time.
"Everybody is asleep, but Jirtdan is awake!" again came the reply.
"Why is Jirtdan awake? What does Jirtdan want?" the div asked.
"Well, every night before going to bed, my Grandmother brings me water from the river in a sieve," Jirtdan replied.
The div was sure that this time Jirtdan would go to sleep if he just brought him some water from the river in a sieve. So he ran out the door down to the river.
Immediately, Jirtdan wakened the boys. "Quick! Quick! Let's get out of here. The div wants to eat us. Let's get out of this house!"
So the boys ran out as fast as they could. In the distance, they could see the div trying to fill the sieve with water - an impossible task because it was always leaking out. And so the boys quickly crossed the river without making a sound. Eventually, the div looked up and saw them on the opposite side of the river. He started running after them. "Hey boys, let me go with you. Tell me how you got across the river!"
Jirtdan pointed to the big, heavy millstone which was lying close to the div. The mill stone was used for grinding wheat and had a big hole in the middle of it.
Jirtdan called back to the div. "Do you see that big mill stone? Pick it up, and put it over your head. Then you can cross the river."
The stupid div followed Jirtdan's advice and, of course, the heavy stone around the div's neck pulled him down to the bottom of the river.
And that's the story of how tiny little Jirtdan outwitted the div and was able to return safely with his friends to his Grandmother.
From Azerbaijan International (4.3) Autumn 1996.
© Azerbaijan International 1996. All rights reserved.