Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tikki Tikki Tembo

The name Tikki Tikki Tembo immediately brings to mind a rather funny and interesting story. As per the book, this picture book is based on a Chinese folk tale.

As the story goes - long, long ago - the Chinese used to keep long names for their first sons and a small or insignificant name to their second ones. In this story, the mother names her first son, take a deep breath - 'Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo'. The second son is named Chang. The rather long and windy name means - 'most wonderful thing in the whole world' and the small name Chang means 'nothing'.

One day, while the kids are playing, Chang falls into a well and his mother ask the 'Tikki Tikki Tembo...' son to go call the man with the ladder. The man comes as fast as he can, and slowly takes out Chang from the well. Chang gets well very soon, since help came fast and quick. After many months, now the first son - 'Tikki Tikki Tembo', falls into the well. The second son runs as fast as he can and tries to tell his mother that his elder brother has fallen into the well. Since, he is panting - he takes a long time to tell his brother long name and say that he has fallen into the well. The same problem arises when the second son runs to tell the man with the ladder. Both of them make the second son say his brother's full name before listening to him say what the problem is. Finally help arrives and Tikki Tikki Tembo is rescued; but, he takes many months to recover. After this near disaster incident, according to the legend, Chinese decided to name even their first sons with rather small and easy names.

It is a funny story and Sooraj and I had a great time saying 'Tikki Tikki Tembo's full name in rhyme. So, on first look this looks like a great book for kids to introduce them to other cultures and their wonderful stories.

Alas, that does not turn out to be true. Although, the book claims that it is based on Chinese folklore, based on various comments in Child Lit archives, this turns out to be false. Most of them have mentioned that there is no such Chinese fable. In fact, there seems to be Japanese fable based on a similar theme. To confuse Chinese to Japanese shows the ignorance or lack of research being done on the part of the author. Also, as many comments in the discussion (follow the link) mention the name 'Tikki Tikki Tembo' does not sound like a Chinese name at all. It sounds more like a name concocted to make sure that the story is interesting and keeps the children happy. The book says the meaning of the word Chang means 'nothing' - which seems to wrong as a quick google search would show you. This is definitely insulting to millions of Changs/Zhengs out there in the world.

Fact is that I am not sure if I should take what the book says is true or what the discussion archives says is true. I tend to go with the discussion archives and consider the origin of this fable to be Chinese as falsehood. If you plan to buy this book, make sure that you do not pass on wrong information about the Chinese origin of this tale.


Praba Ram said...

Wow! What a great review. Yes, we've read Tikki Tikki Tembo, and I am shocked at multiple levels to know there are so many loopholes in the story
1) to hear there's no solid evidence backing the origin of the story 2) the meaning of the word chang and the fact there's no real tradition to give long and short names.. 3) and the chinese/japanese mix-up -tikki tikki tembo sounds Japanese indeed come to think of it..

The defenders say of th story suggest - it's a folktale, and might be one of those stories that has an oral history but not documented anywhere - made up by grandmas sorts..

We did for sure enjoy the book just for the same reason you have mentioned - "the vocal exercise in remembering the name and repeating it.." - that in fact is the best and funniest part of the story!

thanks for the additional info! Highly valuable!

Tharini said...

Wow. Interesting to note a different kind of review. The humour is the story was a bid morbid for my taste but I can see where how reading the name would be funny. Curious to give this a try.

Meredith said...

Wow, when did a story stop being just a story. So, they fabled it up and said it was based on folklore. The meaning still holds true to the fable that short names are better for multiple reasons. There are many fables in American folklore that are supposedly based on some back-in-the-day story or tradition (blah, blah, blah) and it turns out that half of em really aren't derived from them at all.

It doesn't take away from the story. I'm 29 years old and I still carry that story along with me and think about the Tikki Tikki Tembo rhyme. Just because it turns out that there is no solid evidence backing up the origin of the story doesn't change the meaning for me or the millions of kids that have read it. I promise you that when reading it, the kids are not thinking about the historical significance of the story, most are just thinking how bad it is that the kid had such a long name because he was first born and honored that it almost cost him his life whereas the second son had a short and unhonored name.

Sheela said...

Thanks to this review, Satish, our house now rings with "Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo"... it is a catchy name... and needless to say it has elicited made-up names with the same meter and rhyme :)

I was wondering about falling in the well bit, but, Ana didn't seem to mind it at all saying, "He needs to be careful next time and not fall in... maybe he can have a nickname that is short..."

Interesting for me as a parent to get all this feedback and suggestions and questions about the books.

"Is this a true story? Did it really happen" are usually tackled with a response borrowed from Eth-Noh-Tec, "Well... it happened so long ago, no one really knows..." and that seems to satisfy the resident 5-yr old.

Unknown said...

My father used to tell this story but, he added to the name. After "peri pembo" he included "nichi nomi amo dom borika.( I'm doing this phonetically)
We loved the story just to say the name with him!
My recollection dates farther back than the current publication.
My father started telling us the story when I was about 4 years old.
I am now 80!
Still love the story - especially when I use the name my father used!

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