Juan Bobo's Pig - La Puerca de Juan Bobo (Fairy Tale Fridays)

Happy April Fool's Day!  For those unfamiliar with the "holiday" or at least the American take on it, April 1st is referred to as April Fool's Day and is generally considered a day for people to play lighthearted jokes or pranks on others.  Though some people will use the day for malicious endeavors, I've always enjoyed it as a time for silliness and make it a point to try to fool people - if even for a brief moment.  Sometimes it can be something as silly as declaring, "It's snowing outside!" to see how many recently risen sleepyheads will rush to the window in search of late winter flurries.  Other times I've pretended to lose something important - "I lost my keys!" in a panicked voice before pulling them out of my purse.  My family has always found laughs in funny little "Gotcha!" moments and I will even admit that it's just as fun when the joke is on me!

But the name "April Fool's Day" also got me thinking about the word "fool" as a noun rather than a verb, and I've been reflecting on how often the character of a fool comes up in fairy tales.  The first one that comes to my mind is Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk fame.  The young boy who sells his cow for magic beans is an obvious answer of a gullible character despite the fact that the beans he buys truly are magic.    There are also plenty of examples of fairy tale heroes and heroines playing the trickster and the fool is their rival in the story.  Examples of this are the Anansi stories of folk lore and Uncle Remus' Brer Rabbit tales (many of which were inspired by the spider god).

The story I want to bring up this week though is one that I encountered for the first time in high school.  As a teenager, I probably considered myself too old for fairy tales, but as I was learning Spanish, one of my instructors frequently gave us folk tales from Latin America to read - often featuring a character named Juan Bobo.  (I know folk tales and fairy tales aren't quite the same thing, but I guess this could be considered me fooling all of those who thought this would be a true fairy tale post.)  The name Juan Bobo roughly translates to Dumb John and the stories of his adventures are mostly silly tales with shenanigans involving misinterpreted instructions.  At first I thought this concept was somewhat unjust in making fun of someone with a mental disability, but culturally, these stories are not intended to poke fun at those with actual mental problems, rather just run-of-the-mill lack of common sense.   An apt comparison would be the practice of telling "blond jokes" - few people believe that individuals with blond hair are less intelligent that others, the group just serves as a target for the joke telling platform. 

I had a difficult time finding an online version of any of the Juan Bobo stories (especially translated to English) but one I was able to find - that I remember reading in high school - is La Puerca de Juan Bobo, or Juan Bobo's Pig.  In this story, Juan Bobo is told by his mother to wash their pig before selling it in the market.  The mother instructs him to make the pig "look as beautiful as [he] can."  To most people this would just involve washing the mud off the animal, but to Juan Bobo it goes much further.

"Juan Bobo went to his mother's closet and got out her red taffeta skirt with the elastic waist band, and he slipped that around the pig's waist...He borrowed a blouse and a bright red wig, and he fit those onto the pig.  He outlined the pig's eyes as best he could with black eyeliner and a touch of blue eyeshadow; he put bright red lipstick on the pig's lips; and he got two pairs of his mother's high-heeled pumps and strapped those onto her trotters.

"Now the pig looked really beautiful to Juan Bobo!"
Of course, Juan Bobo runs into trouble on the way to the market when the pig decides it would much rather wear mud than makeup and heels.  There's not much of a moral to the story outside of the fact that animals will follow their instincts and it is futile to try to make them what they are not; but the true purpose of this and most of the Juan Bobo stories are laughter and silliness.  It is the image of a pig dressed up in fancy clothes, a wig, and high heels that gives the tale entertainment value and the phrase "como la puerca de Juan Bobo" (like Juan Bobo's pig) is still used to describe someone who overdoes makeup and accessories to a ridiculous degree.  (As far as I'm aware, though this is an insult, it's not a vulgar one.)

So what do you think about fool's in fairy tales and folk lore?  Do you have a favorite story of a trickster or foolish hero?

This story is part of my 2011 Fairy Tale Challenge (4 of 12) which began as Fairy Tale Fridays originally hosted by Tif of Tif Talks Books.  Feel free to share your thoughts on Juan Bobo's Pig in the comments below or leave a link to your own Fairy Tale Friday post and let me know what tale you're talking about this week!  I'm also eager for suggestions so if you have a favorite story (classic or retold) to share I'm always on the lookout for stories that are new to me!

4 Response to "Juan Bobo's Pig - La Puerca de Juan Bobo (Fairy Tale Fridays)"

  1. Anonymous Says:
    April 1, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    What a funny story. And I love your idea of fools of April Fools Day.

  2. Enbrethiliel says:
    April 3, 2011 at 12:21 AM


    Do you suppose that is where the expression "to put lipstick on a pig" comes from? =D

    We have a similar character in Philippine folk stories: Juan Tamad, or "Lazy John." He's the kind of guy who will lie under a guava tree for hours with his mouth open, waiting for some fruit to fall in. Pretty dumb, yeah, but how many of us have a similar approach to making our own luck?

    Although I'm familiar with Juan Tamad and similar characters from folklore, I tend not to recognise them as Fools when they are the main characters of their own stories. (I like them better when they are part of a big cast--the characters everyone else takes for granted as silly but who are really the wisest ones there.) Now that you've pointed them out, however, I wish their fable-type tales were more well known in pop culture. I think that we recognised ourselves in more big-F Fools, we'd be less small-F foolish!

  3. lisa :) says:
    April 7, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    I had a similar thought about the "lipstick on a pig" phrase when I read this one. I'll have to do some searching to determine if it started with this tale - I don't know if the translation of "lipstick" is used directly in the Spanish phrase but it could be the origin of the idea.

    And I like your observation about recognizing ourselves in "Fools". I think this is why I love reading satire. It always seems easier to own up to faults and enact change when errors are presented in a humorous light.

  4. Tif Sweeney says:
    August 1, 2011 at 9:24 PM

    What a great post! And, for some reason, I missed a ton of these great ones a few months ago, so I'm catching up now!

    I really need to see if I can find these! The first thing that came to my mind was Amelia Bedelia stories, where she takes everything at literal value. It seemed that she would do this very same thing!! :)

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