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Fairytales About Animals From Five  Continents

Image adapted from original by Dawn HudsonThe role of fairytales is much greater than being children’s bedtime stories. Traditional tales and legends are important cultural artifacts that can reveal interesting information about ways of thinking and living in various societies. They do not serve only to entertain people but also as bearers of ethical values and moral compasses. Needless to say that stories, which we’ve listened to from childhood, immensely influence the way we perceive the world around us which reflects, for example, in our relationship to the non-human realm. For that reason, a look into other cultures can help us extend and question our perceptions of reality.

Galah and Oolah (Australasia)

Australasian fairytales have their roots in aboriginal culture. They are often involved in spiritual practices. The continent is home to many emblematic animals such as koalas, dingoes, snakes and kangaroos. These species are often cast as main characters in Australian legends and symbolize relations between the human and non-human world. For example, the story about Bahloo the Moon explains why people can never kill all the snakes in Australia despite their efforts.

Another tale about Galah and Oolah explains why some Australian lizards are coloured red. One day when Oolah the lizard was bored, he started playing with his boomerangs. To show off in front of Galah, he threw the boomerang with all his might but when it came back, it hit the bird in the head. “So to this day, underneath the Galah's crest you can always find the bald patch which the bubberah of Oolah first made. And in the country of the Galahs are lizards coloured reddish brown, and covered with spikes like bindeah prickles.”

Flickr | Robyn JayThe Origin of the Robin (North America)

In North America, fairytales are based on the culture of Native Americans and lead their readers to the time when human and non-human worlds were interconnected.  A beautiful story about the origin of the robin includes a moral for parents that are too strict on their children. The main character of this story is a father who wanted his son to surpass all the others and complete the longest fast. He didn’t listen to his son’s requests and forced him to continue beyond his strength. When the father decided to finish his son’s fast, it was too late. He destroyed his son’s life as a man, however, he helped him to become a robin. The son left his parent in his new body with these words of happiness: “although I could not gratify your wishes as a warrior, it will be my daily aim to make you amends for it as a harbinger of peace and joy. I will cheer you by my songs.”

Tale of the Mandarin Ducks (Asia)

In Asian countries such as Korea, China and Japan, the mandarin duck is a symbol of lifelong relationships, fidelity and peace. The narrative of the long-lasting commitment of mandarin ducks appears in a story about a feudal lord, who captures one such duck for its beautiful colours. He can’t see the suffering he causes the bird and its mate. However, his maid and her lover realize what harm the lord does to the animals and release the mandarin duck from captivity despite having to face his anger.

Flickr | Jannes PockeleHow The Ostrich Got His Long Neck (Africa)

African stories often explain an appearance of animals that occupy the continent or capture a relationship between hunters and lions. Even though animals are the main characters, they often possess human personality traits and serve as analogies to human relationships. For example, the danger that women can pose to men.  In the story “The hunter and the lion”, the lions realize that the only way to beat the best hunter in a nearby village is to seduce him. One of the lions transforms into a woman and steals the hunter’s heart. The poor boy decides to meet his love’s parents but when he steps into the woods, the girl changes back into her lion form and kills him. Another legend warns about the consequences of jealousy as it tells a story of a male ostrich that agreed to guard their eggs so his wife could take a rest from her duty. However, he was as jealous as he was solicitous. The whole night he spent listening to his wife’s laugh and stretching his neck to see who she was talking to. At the break of day, he found his head much further from his legs than ever before.

Little Red Hat (Europe)

Various European countries have their version of Little Red Hat, the girl who was eaten by an evil wolf. The wolf is an important symbol in European culture. While it can be an emblematic animal for wilderness and conservation efforts, it is also frequently presented as a criminal - a terrifying and malicious beast. Roots of this wolf image are linked up to the bloom of agriculture. As farming lands expanded, wolves lost a significant part of their natural habitat and started to prey on livestock. During this era, the narrative of the bloodthirsty beast threatening innocent lambs was created to justify the culling of wolves that resulted in the threat of their extinction in European wilderness.

By Eliška Olšáková - Online Journalism Intern

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