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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

The Khan's Robes

Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Uzbekistan
Folk Tale


A long time ago, in the city of Margolon, there lived a khan who was very vain. Each day at noon a trumpet blew, and the khan emerged from his palace to show off his newest robe. The khan's attendants ordered the citizens of Margolon to line up along the street to admire him as he passed by. If the khan noticed someone in the crowd who did not "ooh" and "aah" to his satisfaction, he exploded in anger.

"Do you not notice that the emeralds in this robe draw attention to my eyes?" the khan once bellowed to a farmer who was not marveling at the sight.

"Forgive me, your highness. I am preoccupied. My young son has taken ill."

"You bore me!" the khan declared angrily. Then, turning to his attendant, he ordered, "Take him to the stockades!"

The khan was especially cruel to the palace weavers. Each morning he demanded that they make a new robe for him from the very finest of fabrics, and each day he demanded that it be more beautiful than the day before. He was not easily pleased. If a weaver created a robe that did not suit the khan's taste, the weaver was promptly beaten and executed. For this reason, very few weavers remained in Margolon. Those who had not been killed had run away.

One day, a weaver, unaware of the khan's reputation, arrived in Margolon. As the citizens of Margolon lined the streets for the khan's noon parade, the weaver watched.

"Who are you?" the khan asked, noticing a new face in the crowd.

"A weaver," the man replied.

"What do you think of my robe?" asked the khan.

"Well, the cut is fine, but the fabric is somewhat common," the weaver answered honestly.

"Tomorrow morning you shall bring me a robe made of a fabric that no eye has ever seen. If you fail in your task, I shall order my soldiers to cut off your head," said the khan calmly. He then turned on his heels, and marched back to the palace.

The poor weaver was unprepared for such a reception. As he climbed back on his donkey, his hands trembled. How could he weave a fabric that no eye had even seen?

The weaver rode his donkey along the bank of the river. Suddenly, dark clouds covered the sky. The wind began to blow, and rain fell in great torrents, matching the overwhelming flood of sorrow in the weaver's heart.

But as quickly as the rain began, it stopped. A vivid rainbow appeared in the sky spreading its arch across the river. As the moisture cleared from the weaver's eyes, he caught sight of the rippling reflection of the rainbow in the water. It created the most beautiful pattern he had ever seen.

The rest of the day and all through the night the weaver worked. He wove and sewed, and he sewed and wove, until finally the robe was finished. As dawn broke, the weaver made his way to the palace and presented the new robe to the khan.

"This is the most beautiful robe I have ever seen!" the khan exclaimed. The servants and subjects in the palace agreed.

"Your life shall be saved," the khan announced to the weaver. "But hear this: If you ever make a fabric as beautiful as this for anyone else anywhere in this land, I will have your head cut off."

Then he issued a decree that only the royal family could wear clothing from the weaver's new fabric, which became known as the khan's atlas.

The khan was so enamored of how elegant he looked in the atlas that he extended his noon parade from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. When he was not out in the street, he was admiring himself in a mirror.

One day, just when the people's patience for the khan had all but ended, a strange thing happened.

The khan turned into a peacock.

No one knew how it happened. No one knew who did it. And no one asked. They were all too busy celebrating.

Today, you can still see the khan's descendants strutting through the streets of Uzbekistan.

About the Author

Marilyn Petersen (PCV)

"The Khan's Robes" is told by Marilyn Petersen (Peace Corps Volunteer, Uzbekistan, 1997–2000). Assigned to the city of Bakrane, Marilyn trained Uzbek teachers in English. "The school didn't have very many English language books, and what they did have were very outdated. So I asked my students to collect folk stories from their parents and grandparents, and together, we translated the stories from Uzbek into English. They were excited because learning the language became a real discovery for them. It provided a link between their own family history and English, the language of the 'modern' world."

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