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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Mother Wolf

Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Kyrgyz Republic
Folk Tale


Thousands of years ago, high in the white mountains of Siberia, there lived a wolf. All of the other wolves in her clan had been driven off the land. She was all alone.

A band of Turks had settled in the valley below her. Although the wolf would, on occasion, run down to the Turks' village to tease a milkmaid or frighten a young herder coming home late from the fields, the wolf and the Turks lived together in peace. From her lofty crag, the wolf would watch as the Turks gathered each night around a bonfire. There, they would sing songs of thanks for the food they ate, the work they shared, and the life they loved. In the distance, the wolf would join in their song, howling to the frosty moon. The passion of a thousand nights echoed in her throat. Hearing her, the villagers would bow their heads in gratitude, knowing that the lone wolf protected them, the lone wolf was one of them.

One day at sunset, just as the milkmaids and young herders were coming home from the fields and the night air was filling with the delicious aroma of dinner, an army of soldiers invaded the village. The Turks had no time to gather their weapons and fight. Swiftly and calmly, the soldiers shot ailing grandfathers in their beds and young mothers in their kitchens. Although the men of the village tried to fight back, they were unprepared and outnumbered.

The children of the village ran as fast as their legs could carry them, heading frantically for the forest. Nonetheless, the soldiers caught all of them—all except three brothers. The two older brothers were too fast for the soldiers to catch, and the youngest brother—a child of five—hid inside an abandoned wheelbarrow.

As soon as the wolf had seen the soldiers approach, she tried to warn the villagers and protect their young. But the wolf, too, was overpowered. An arrow had wounded her paw. Much to the amusement of the soldiers, she limped through the village, dodging their countless arrows, and trying desperately to help the villagers. But it was no use. The village that had been joyous and vibrant only hours before was now as silent as the cold, silvery moon.

By midnight all the soldiers had fled into the forest. Only one survivor remained in the village—the little boy inside the wheelbarrow. The boy dared not move from his hiding place and he dared not make a sound. Still, he could not help but tremble.

Hearing the child's muffled weeping, the wolf limped over to the wheelbarrow and lay beside it. Up above, the moon glowed bright against the velvet sky. And though the passion of a thousand nights burned like bitter fire in her throat, the wolf did not sing that night.

When the sun rose the next morning, the wolf gently barked to the boy, urging him to come out of the wheelbarrow. The wolf feared that the soldiers would soon return to the village, as they had forgotten to take the villagers' livestock and grain. The wolf's bark was a great relief to the young boy, who, like everyone else in the village, knew and respected the wolf. As the boy climbed out, the wolf grabbed his sleeve with his teeth. She pulled the boy, encouraging him to run with her high up to the mountain. There, the wolf knew, the boy would be safe. From that day forward, she would protect him, feed him, and raise him as if he were her own pup.

Seven years passed. The boy grew to be as smart and loyal as his adoptive mother, the wolf. She taught him how to hunt deer and rabbits, how to savor the taste of raw meat, and how to find his way through the snow and ice.

One night the mother wolf and wolf boy sat silently high atop a mountain crag. Below them lay the ruins of the Turks' village that the soldiers had destroyed many years before. In the moonlight, they could see movement—two young men were inspecting the ruins. Startled, the mother wolf pierced the night air with a threatening howl. But upon hearing her, the two men smiled and called to her.

"Do you remember us?" they shouted up to the wolf. Immediately, the mother wolf ran down to the two men. The wolf boy, unsure of what was happening, followed his mother's lead.

The mother wolf jumped upon the two men and nipped their legs playfully.

The wolf boy slowly moved closer. Turning their attention away from the wolf, the men stared at the strange figure: The wolf boy was covered from head to toe in a filthy deerskin. The two men strained to see his face. It was their brother!

The boy was suspicious of the men, but the mother wolf urged him forward. As the boy came closer, the young men hugged the wolf boy tightly. Memories of the life he had known as a child washed over him, and he threw his arms around his brothers, crying fiercely.

The two men urged their young brother to return with them to the land they had settled in. But the boy did not want to leave the mother wolf.

"You can help us," said the eldest brother. "You have the instinct of a wolf.

Come with us and join our attack against the invaders who destroyed our clan." The wolf boy looked at his mother. They both knew that he had no choice. He had the strength, cunning, and daring to lead the Turks to victory.

Before the wolf boy could change his mind, the mother wolf disappeared into the white mountains. Taking her place against the stark outline of the moon, she howled with the tenderness and hope of a thousand dawns.

With her voice flowing through his veins, the wolf boy followed his brothers through the forest, determined to save his people from extinction. 

About the Author

Jamal Nasafi

"Mother Wolf" is told by Jamal Nasafi (Peace Corps Volunteer, Kyrgyzstan, 1997–1999). "I heard this tale from a gentle old man who lived near my house," says Jamal Nasafi (Peace Corps Volunteer, Kyrgyzstan 1997–1999). "One day, the old man asked me what my ethnic background was. I answered, 'Uzbek.' He said he had figured I had Turkic blood since I had shoulders like a wolf.

"I wondered what he meant, so I asked him, 'Do all Turkic people have shoulders like wolves?' The old man called his grandson over from the playground and told him to stand sideways. Then he told me to look at the boy's shoulders and said, "See for yourself if his shoulders do not resemble the shoulders of a wolf."

"I looked closely and started to believe him a little, since the boy was giving me his grandfather's stare. I pictured a wolf in my mind and I understood where the stare came from. The old man then told me the tale upon which 'Mother Wolf' is based. The Turks believe the wolf saved them from extinction. They also believe the character and form of the wolf—such as the shoulders and a long, piercing stare—are a part of the personality of all Turks."

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