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Myths & Legends (k) South Korea

I asked my Korean friend if he knew any well known Korean myth or Fairytale. He told me about one of his favorites as a kid. Heungbu and Nolbu. He told me that he read this story many times when he was younger, so I decided to dig into this story. It is a didactic story, of which the meaning is quite clear.

Heungbu and Nolbu is a story written in the late Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1897). The identity of its writer is unknown. The story reportedly took place about 200 years ago and was passed down through generations. It is now used as a popular bedtime story for Korean children.

Here we go. The story of Heungbu and Nolbu! 



Heungbu and Nolbu were brothers. Nolbu was the older brother, he was very greedy, but his younger brother, Heungbu, was kind and empathetic. One day, their father died. They learned quickly that he had split his fortune, each one of the brother would get  half of the fortune. However, Nolbu, as greedy as he was, tricked Heungbu’s family and kicked him out in order to protect the fortune, and kept it all for himself. Heungbu did not complain and accepted his fate of poverty.

One day, Heungbu saw a snake crawling up a tree near his house. The snake was planning on eating a swallow. Seeing the snake, the swallow shook and fell to the ground, breaking it’s little leg. Heungbu chased the snake away and treated the swallow’s broken leg. The following spring, the swallow’s family came back to Heungbu and gave him a seed as a late thank you present. Heungbu planted the seed in his backyard and waited for the plant to mature. The plant yielded gourds, and when they were riped and ready to eat, Heungbu and his family split a gourd in half. To their surprise, there was no pit but gemstones inside. They sold the gemstones and with the money they earned they bought a beautiful new house and became very wealthy.

The rumour of Haengbu’s sudden wealth spread throughout the whole village, and finally reached Nolbu too. Due to his greed Nolbu didn’t hesitate and went to meet up with Heungbu. He immediately asked him how he became so rich so quickly. Nolbu heard the secret and decided to do the same. However, Instead of finding an hurt swallow, he caught one and broke it’s leg himself. Then he treated the broken leg and set the swallow free. The following spring the swallow returned, gifting Nolbu a seed.

Nolbu was excited and planted the seed. He waited until the tree was fully grown and splitted one of the gourds. However, instead of gemstones, each of those gourds only contained various elements of destruction. The first one contained imps, which beat and chided him for his greed. The second one caused debts collectors to appear and demand payments. The third one unleashed a deluge of muddy water that flooded his house. Nolbu and his wife lost all of their wealth. They finally realized their mistake and asked Heungbu to forgive them and lived together happily ever after.


As said before, the moral of the story is quite clear, Good deeds will bring you wealth and luck. This story also has great cultural significance in Korea because it challenges the common Korean value that the eldest son is the most important child of the family.

Whatever happens, the world always has a way of returning what you give, whether it is good or bad.

Source: Wikipedia, Google, Featured image

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