Heungbu and Nolbu

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Heungbu and Nolbu is a Korean story written in the late Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897). The identity of its writer is unknown. The story of "Heungbu and Nolbu" reportedly took place about 200 years ago,[1] and was passed down through generations. It is now told as a popular bedtime story for Korean children.

The story of Heungbu and Nolbu[edit]

Heungbu and Nolbu were brothers. Nolbu, the older brother, was very greedy, but his younger brother, Heungbu, was kind and empathetic. The day that their father died, they learned that he was ordered to split his fortune in half for each of them. However, Nolbu tricked Heungbu's family and threw them out in order to keep the entire fortune to himself. Heungbu did not complain and accepted his fate of poverty.[2]

One day, Heungbu saw that a snake was crawling up a tree near his house to eat a swallow. Seeing the snake, the swallow fell to the ground, breaking its leg. Heungbu chased the snake away and treated the swallow's broken leg. The following spring, the swallow's family came back and gave Heungbu a seed as a 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 ready to eat, Heungbu and his family split a gourd in half. To their great surprise, they found gemstones inside. With the money from the sale of these gemstones, they bought a new house and became very wealthy.

The rumour that Heungbu was wealthy spread throughout the entire town and reached Nolbu. Without hesitation, Nolbu met Heungbu and asked him how he became so rich so quickly. Nolbu heard the secret and did the same, except he broke a swallow's leg himself. The swallow brought Nolbu a gourd seed the following spring, and Nolbu planted it. When he split his gourds open, various elements of destruction came out of each gourd; the first contained imps which beat and chided him for his greed, the second caused debt collectors to appear and demand payment, and the third unleashed a deluge of muddy water that flooded his house.[3] Nolbu and his wife suddenly lost all of their wealth. They finally realized their mistake and asked Heungbu to forgive them and lived together happily ever after.

Names like "Heungbu" and "Nolbu" might be unfamiliar to people in other countries, but the moral that good deeds bring you wealth and luck is similar to many other folk tales from cultures around the world. 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. Recently, "Heungbu and Nolbu" was published in an American textbook named "Literary Place 2, 3".

Older version[edit]

The older version of this story is longer and contains an extra element.

This tale centers around a perverse man called Nolbu. An organ filled with vice (simsulbo) protruded from under his left rib cage. He is the most greedy, perverse and heartless character in Korean literature.[4]

Among his listed favorite activities are:

  • dancing at a funeral;
  • killing a dog during a birthing;
  • forcing excrement into the mouth of a crying baby;
  • fanning the flames of a burning house;
  • taking a debtor's wife as payment;
  • grabbing the nape of an elderly man;
  • relieving himself in a well;
  • poking holes in rice paddies;
  • driving stakes through green pumpkins;
  • stomping on the back of a hunchback;
  • pushing down on a man squatting to relieve himself to cause him to sit in his own excrement;
  • kicking the chin of a disabled man;
  • wielding a stick at a dealer in pottery;
  • stealing bones from graves;
  • breaking an engagement by spreading malicious rumors;
  • scuttling a ship in high seas;
  • punching a boil on a man's face;
  • slapping the cheek of a man with a toothache; and
  • opening the lid of a neighbor's bean sauce jar in the rain.

Although he was rich, he was very unhappy. Instead of making real offerings to his ancestors, he wrote words on pieces of paper.

Nolbu's brother, Heungbu, was the complete opposite. Although he was poor, he was very good-natured. One day, Heungbu found a swallow with a broken leg. He cared for the swallow and, in the late summer, the swallow flew south with its family. The following spring, the swallow returned and dropped a gourd seed to him. He planted the seed in his thatch and it was soon groaning with the weight of the gourds. In the autumn, he and his wife used a saw to open the gourds, which were packed with jewelry and gold.

When Nolbu heard about it, his simsulbo ("a bag of perverseness") began to ache. He had caught a swallow, broke its leg and tied it with splints. The bird flew south and returned with a seed the following year. However, out of Nolbu's gourds emerged monsters that kicked his buttocks, yanked his beard and sapped his wealth. One gourd spewed excrement on him when it was opened.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Grayson, James Huntley (April 2002). "The Hungbu and Nolbu tale type: a Korean double contrastive narrative structure". FindArticles. Retrieved 1 September 2011.
  2. ^ Bundaegi: Heungbu and Nolbu Dec 4, 2006
  3. ^ [1] June 29, 2010
  4. ^ a b Choe, Sang-Hun; Christopher Torchia (2002). How Koreans Talk. Korea: UnhengNamu. pp. 272–273. ISBN 89-87976-95-5.