Below is information about some well-known tricksters and a sample of their stories that you will find in my work. Trickster stories are very old and grow out of the tradition of oral storytelling. These stories shift with the teller and travel through time and cultures. You will find many versions of stories and similar themes in different cultures. As the first tale so eloquently demonstrates, there is not right or wrong, it depends on your point of view.
Eshu, also known as Legba, is a trickster god of the Yoruba people of Nigeria in West Africa. He is unpredictable, sly, and fond of pranks that can be cruel and disruptive. Eshu, who knows all the languages spoken on earth, serves as a messenger between the gods and people. Eshu enjoys confusion. Many stories tell of tricks he plays that cause arguments between friends or between husbands and wives. In one myth he lured the sun and moon into changing places, which upset the cosmic order. The following classic tale is told in many forms, sometimes with a hat of two colors, sometimes involving two groups coming to war as he walks between two towns.
A Coat of Two Colors
Once there were two boys who were great friends, and they were determined to remain that way forever. When they grew up and got married, they built their houses facing one another. There was a small path that formed a border between their farms.
One day, a trickster from the village decides to play a trick on them. He dresses himself in a two-color coat that was divided down the middle. So, one side of the coat is red, and the other side is blue.
The trickster wears this coat and walks along the narrow path between the houses of the two friends. They were each working opposite each other in their fields. The trickster makes enough noise as he passes them to make sure that each of them looks up to see him passing.
At the end of the day, one friend says to the other, “Wasn’t that a beautiful red coat that man was wearing today?”
“No,” the other replies. “It was a blue coat.”
“I saw the man clearly as he walked between us!” says the first, “His coat was red.”
“You are wrong!” says the other man, “I saw it too, and it was blue.”
“I know what I saw!” insists the first man. “The coat was red!”
“You don’t know anything,” the second man replies angrily. “It was blue!”
They keep arguing about this over and over, insulting each other, and eventually, they begin to beat each other and roll around on the ground.
Just then, the trickster returns and faces the two men, who are punching and kicking each other and shouting, “Our friendship is OVER!”
The trickster walks directly in front of them, and shows them his coat. The two friends see that his coat is red on one side and blue on the other.
The two friends stop fighting and scream at the trickster saying, “We have lived side by side like brothers all our lives, and it is all your fault that we are fighting. You have started a war between us.”
“Don’t blame me for the battle,” replies the trickster. “I did not make you fight. Both of you are wrong, and both of you are right. Yes, what each one saw was true. You are fighting, however, because each of you only looked at my coat from your own point of view.”
[This is a very popular theme for wedding gift commissions.]
Nasreddin Hodja is Turkey’s (and perhaps all of Islam’s) best-known trickster. His legendary wit and droll trickery were possibly based on the exploits and words of a historical imam. Nasreddin reputedly was born in 1208 in the village of Horto near Sivrihisar. In 1237 he moved to Aksehir, where he died in the Islamic year 683 (1284 or 1285). As many as 350 anecdotes have been attributed to the Hodja, as he most often is called. Hodja is a title meaning teacher or scholar.
The Smell of the Soup and the Sound of the Money
A beggar was given a piece of bread, but nothing to put on it. Hoping to get something to go with his bread, he went to a nearby inn and asked for a handout. The innkeeper turned him away with nothing, but the beggar sneaked into the kitchen where he saw a large pot of soup cooking over the fire. He held his piece of bread over the steaming pot, hoping to thus capture a bit of flavor from the good-smelling vapor. Suddenly the innkeeper seized him by the arm and accused him of stealing soup. “I took no soup,” said the beggar. “I was only smelling the vapor.” “Then you must pay for the smell,” answered the innkeeper. The poor beggar had no money, so the angry innkeeper dragged him before the qadi. Now Nasreddin Hodja was at that time serving as qadi, and he heard the innkeeper’s complaint and the beggar’s explanation. “So you demand payment for the smell of your soup?” summarized the Hodja after the hearing. “Yes!” insisted the innkeeper. “Then I myself will pay you,” said the Hodja, “and I will pay for the smell of your soup with the sound of money.” Thus saying, the Hodja drew two coins from his pocket, rang them together loudly, put them back into his pocket, and sent the beggar and the innkeeper each on his own way.
It Can Always Be Worse
A poor man lived with his wife and six children in a very small one-room house. They were always getting in each other’s way and there was so little space they could hardly breathe!
Finally the man could stand it no more. He talked to his wife and asked her what to do. “Go see the rabbi,” she told him, and after arguing a while, he went.
The rabbi greeted him and said, “I see something is troubling you. Whatever it is, you can tell me.”
The rabbi thought very deeply about the poor man’s problem. Then he said, “Do exactly as I tell you and things will get better. Do you promise?”
“I promise,” the poor man said.
The rabbi then asked the poor man a strange question. “Do you own any animals?””Yes,” he said. “I have one cow, one goat, and some chickens.”
“Good,” the rabbi said. “When you get home, take all the animals into your house to live with you.”
The poor man was astonished to hear this advice from the rabbi, but he had promised to do exactly what the rabbi said. So he went home and took all the farm animals into the tiny one-room house.
The next day the poor man ran back to see the rabbi. “What have you done to me, Rabbi?” he cried. “It’s awful. I did what you told me and the animals are all over the house! Rabbi, help me!”
The rabbi listened and said calmly, “Now go home and take the chickens back outside.”
The poor man did as the rabbi said, but hurried back again the next day. “The chickens are gone, but Rabbi, the goat!” he moaned. “The goat is smashing up all the furniture and eating everything in sight!”
The good rabbi said, “Go home and remove the goat.
The next day the man returned to the rabbi to tell him how peaceful his home was. “No goat. No chickens. No sheep. No cow. It’s so quiet and clean we love it now. Thank you!”