Korea - The Pumpkin Seeds
By Dr. Michael Lockett/The Normal Storyteller

The Pumpkin Seeds
As Retold by Dr. Mike Lockett, The Normal Storyteller

Once upon a time there were two brothers.  The younger brother was very poor and had to work very hard to make a living.  He lived in a small house and hardly had any possessions.  Yet, he never complained.  He was gentle and kind to people and animals alike.

The older brother was quite wealthy.  Things came easy to him.  He had servants to do his work.  He lived in a large mansion and had more possessions than any person needed.  Yet, he was greedy and miserly and complained about everything.  He was never happy.  He was not very nice for people or animals to be around.

One year, swallows came to the land from some faraway place to the south.  They made a nest under the eaves of the younger brother's small house.  He was delighted to have the company of the swallows.  He had no close neighbors as he lived on the side of a mountain where the land could be purchased more cheaply.  The land was hard to farm and thus had few people living on it.  The poor brother valued the company of the birds and other animals and enjoyed having them near as he terraced his fields and carried water long distances from the stream in the valley below.

The wealthy brother lived in the lowlands and was surrounded by neighbors who he criticized often.  While the younger brother had to toil and plant his crops by himself, the older brother had servants to do his work.  He had women servants to plant the rice seedlings and thin the plants.  He had male servants to build and repair the rice beds and to open and close the sluice gates that easily brought water to his fields.  His harvests were gathered by men and women alike.  His harvests were large, but never big enough to make the greedy man happy.

The younger brother's crop was small since it was hard to carry enough water up the mountain for the thirsty plants.  Still, the kind hearted younger brother made certain to drop kernels of rice for the birds along the dirt path on which he walked.  He watched the swallows every day and laughed in happiness when he saw eggs appear in their nest.  This meant he would continue to have company until the eggs hatched and the baby swallows grew large enough to fledge and leave the nest.

By the time the seedlings were ready to take out of the special hot bed he had created and to replant, the eggs had hatched.  Small hungry swallows poked their open mouths just over the edge of the nest, constantly peeping.  The kind-hearted brother put a wide board under the nest to catch the baby birds in case they fell out of the nest.  He watched in joy as the parent swallows flew back and forth to and from the nest carrying food to the hungry babies.  They grew bigger with each day that passed.

One day the younger brother climbed up the path carrying two pails of water up the steep path towards his thirsty rice plants.  As he walked, he saw both parents fly away from the nest to get food for their young.  Suddenly, he heard cries of fear coming from the baby swallows.  He hurriedly dropped his buckets of water and ran to the house.    There, he saw a large green snake drop down from a tree branch onto the roof.  The snake raised its head and opened its mouth wide. 

The baby birds screamed in fear!  They flapped their wings and tried to fly out of the nest.  But their wings were too weak to fly, except for one bird.  It seemed to leap out of the nest as just as the man arrived to chase the snake away.  The bird fell to the ground and broke its leg. 

"You poor little thing," said the younger brother.  He picked up the bird in his caring hands and took it inside to mend its leg.  He wound the leg carefully with narrow strips of white cloth.  Time passed, and the bird began to mend.  With the wrapped leg, it could stand and take food from its parents along beside its brothers and sisters.  Before long, it was flying among the adult swallows. 

Summer passed, and autumn came.  The swallows left the area and flew south for the winter.  The little swallow with the broken leg had healed.  It had grown to be an adult and flew away beside the rest of the flock.  With the birds gone, the younger brother was lonelier than ever.

Early the next spring, the swallows returned to their nests from the year before.  They traveled a long way over seas and over mountains to find their old nest.  The younger brother was pleased to see that the parent swallows had again moved into the nest under the eaves of the little thatched house.  The little bird that had been wounded had also come back.

It was like the bird chose to reward the man for helping save its life.  It flew in small circles around his head then dropped a single pumpkin seed into his hand.  Following this action, the bird flew off to build a nest of its own.  The man planted the seed in a corner of his yard.  It immediately sprouted and shot out a tendril that climbed to the rooftop of the poor man's home. 

The tendril grew out sticky little hairs that it used to attach itself tightly to the edges of the roof.  In a very short time, large yellow blossoms could be seen by the younger brother as he walked back and forth between the fields and his home.  The center of three of the flowers swelled to make little balls that soon turned into pumpkins.  By autumn, there were three large pumpkins hanging from the side of the house.  The once small pumpkin seed had grown pumpkins so large that the entire house began to lean sideways until the pumpkins almost touched the ground.

The younger brother cut the first pumpkin off the vine when it ripened.  "This pumpkin is so large that it would feed the entire village in the valley below."  He made up his mind to share the pumpkin and began to cut it in two.  Just as the knife opened the pumpkin, a small army of little carpenters came out of the pumpkin.  Some carried hammers and nails.  Some carried saws, planes, paintbrushes and other kinds of tools.  Along with the carpenters came building materials including boards, doors, windows, and more.  In only moments, the carpenters built a huge mansion for the younger brother to live in.

The younger brother was amazed, as one might expect.  Then he wondered what the other two pumpkins might contain.  He quickly cut into the second pumpkin.

A long line of servants came from inside the second pumpkin.  Farmhands came out carrying tools to build irrigation systems for the terraced rice fields.  They also brought plows, rakes and other farming tools and used them to make his fields produce huge crops of rice.  House servants followed behind the farmhands.  Cooks carried crates of food that they began to use to cook marvelous dishes.  Seamstresses brought their needles, scissors and fabric to sew rich looking outfits for the brother.  Maids and butlers and everyone lined up in front of the younger brother and said, "Master we are here to serve you."

The opening of the third pumpkin brought wealth in the form of coins, silver and gold.  There was so much money that the younger brother would never be able to spend it all.  Overnight, the once poor man became the owner of vast amounts of lands that he purchased with the money that had come from the third pumpkin.

Just as he had always done, the younger brother gave much of what he owned to help other people and to help the creatures who lived on the land.  None of his riches escaped the attention of his wealthy older brother.  The greedy older brother was jealous that the younger brother now owned more than he did.  The younger brother was as honest as he was kind and told his brother exactly how he had acquired his wealth.

The older brother gleamed when he heard the story.  He immediately went to find nests that belonged to the swallows on the nearby cliffs.  He took a baby swallow from the nest and broke its leg.  Then, he bandaged the leg with strips of white cloth.  By autumn, the bird had healed, and it flew away with the other birds.

Just as he expected, the bird whose leg had been broken flew back in the spring.  Like the first bird, it carried a pumpkin seed in its mouth.  It flew over and dropped the seed into the man's hand.  The greedy old miser could hardly wait for his pumpkins to grow. 

He ordered a servant to plant the seed in his yard and another servant to water and fertilize it.  Like the first seed, the new one sprouted and a green vine soon stretched to the roof of his mansion.  As time passed, three pumpkins hung from the side of his house.  Each pumpkin was larger than the pumpkins grown by his younger brother.  "I will finally be richer than my brother again," thought the older brother.

Fall came, and it was time to harvest the pumpkins.  The rich older brother sent his servants away so no one would know how much new wealth he acquired.  He almost danced with joy as he prepared to cut into the first pumpkin.  The knife went into the pumpkin, and he cut it in half.  But, no carpenters came out with tools to build his mansion larger.  Instead, a large number of demons came out of the pumpkin.  Each carried a thick stick.  The demons began to beat the older brother.  "This will teach you to be greedy and to never share with others," they said as they took turns beating him.

The brother was black and blue with painful bruises all over his body by the time the demons disappeared.  But, he had not learned his lesson.  He thought, "This time I will find riches and treasure," and he cut open the second pumpkin.  Instead of riches, out came money collectors shouting, "Pay your debts! Pay your debts!"  Then, they began to take away as many of his riches as they could.  They took his money, his fine clothing, his furniture and almost everything in his home.

Still, the older brother dreamed of getting riches from the third pumpkin.  But, when he opened the pumpkin, a stream of yellow muddy water came shooting out.  It covered his fields and his crops with a yellow clay and mud that ruined his rice and other crops.

In only moments, the once rich older brother became one of the poorest men in the village.  He cried about his losses.  He was truly humbled when he walked to his younger brother's house to beg for help.

The younger brother was as kind as always and welcomed the older brother in.  He split everything he had and gave half to the older brother - half of his property, half of his money, half of his servants and half of everything else.  This was how the older brother finally became a humble and happy man just like the younger, for the younger brother also gave the older brother half of his love for people and animals that lived around him. 

This story wS ADAPTED from a Collection of Korean Folktales first brought to the attention of the western world by Korean writer Kim So-Un.  Readers who wish to re-tell this story are asked to please honor this individual by reminding their audience who preserved this marvelous story.  Dr. Mike Lockett

Dr. Mike Lockett is an educator, storyteller and children's author from Normal, IL. Dr. Lockett has given more than 3000 programs across the USA and as far away as eastern Asia. Contact Mike by writing to Mike@mikelockett.com in order to book him for a storytelling program or young authors program or to inquire about purchasing his books and CDs. More stories and information about storytelling can be found at www.mikelockett.com