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South Korea: The tiger and the persimmon

In much of the folklore of South Korea, animals are given human attributes. Tigers, for instance, are ruthless and violent but they don’t usually seem to be the brightest crayon of the pack and can be tricked rather easily. Also, in South Korea a dry persimmon, called a “gokkan,” is a favorite sweet. This story about a tiger and its misconception of what a persimmon is came from Sung-Bong S, a native of South Korea who is now working as a research associate at Colorado State University. It was a favorite of his when he was a child and his mother used to tell him stories.


One winter there was a tiger who was starving so, looking to steal an ox, he stalked into a village at the base of the mountain where he lived. Suddenly he heard a baby crying and a mother trying to quiet it. The mother threatened it with stories of monsters coming to get it if it didn’t quiet down. Still the baby cried and cried. The tiger was impressed that the baby was so fearless. It would brave the danger of monsters and continue to cry. Finally the tiger heard the mother say, “Persimmon.” The baby stopped crying.


Now the tiger didn’t see the dried fruit the mother handed to the baby so he didn’t know what the mother had meant by “persimmon.” He thought to himself, “What is this ‘persimmon’ that could be more frightening than monsters? It must be frightening indeed!” The tiger was afraid and meant to leave the village before the persimmon could get him.


Before the tiger could get away though, a thief spied him. It was very dark and human eyes cannot see well enough without some stronger light. The thief had come to steal an ox too so when he saw the tiger the robber assumed he was an ox and pounced on him! The tiger was terrified that the persimmon was attacking him and ran away to his mountain. The thief, realizing his mistake, ran away in the other direction. Neither ventured into the village ever again.

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