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Aniz and the Magic Flute

A folktale from the Uyghur people and a quiz


Published: 5 Mar 2023

Time taken : >15mins

Did you know that China is home to 55 ethnic minority groups, of which the Uyghurs are one? They are a Turkic ethnic group and most of them live in northwestern China, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. A smaller group of the Uyghur minority group also live in Central Asia. Every ethnic minority group has their own traditions, cultures and stories. Read on to find out more about an Uyghur folktale. Then, learn more about the musical of Muqam and Uyghur instruments in the quiz that follows.

Aniz the shepherd

A long time ago, there lived a young shepherd who was an orphan. To make a living, the shepherd, Aniz, had to depend on the work given to him by a landlord who owned most of the land in that area. The landlord was a greedy and cruel man who made life difficult for the villagers and for those who were working in his field. While everyone was living in poverty, the man would flaunt his wealth and never extended a helping hand to those in need.

While life was hard for Aniz, nothing was harder than working for the temperamental and unkind landlord. He did not earn much and the work was back breaking. However, Aniz never let a little difficulty get in the way of putting a smile on the faces of those around him. Whenever he had a moment to himself, he would pick up his old flute and play a tune, the music drifting through the hills and valleys. Every time he played, the villagers would gather around him, enthralled by the sweet lilting melody from the flute. Everyone loved listening to Aniz playing his flute—everyone, except for the landlord.

A mercurial man, the landlord was always finding fault with Aniz. Whenever he heard him playing the flute, he would scream at poor Aniz. “Am I paying you to sit around all day to play with this toy of yours, or am I paying you to work?” However, the flute was one of the few things that made Aniz happy. No matter what, it was something he could not give up.

One day, while on a break, Aniz picked up and played his flute. The tune drifted over the trees and fields and reached the ears of the landlord who knew that it came from the shepherd. His face turned red in anger. Didn't he warn the boy to stop skiving?

Angrily, he followed the tune of the flute to look for Aniz. True enough, he saw Aniz blowing into the flute with the villagers surrounding him, enchanted by the sweet music. Consumed by blind rage, the landlord stomped towards Aniz, grabbed the flute from the boy's hands, and threw it onto the ground. Without a moment's pause, he gave the poor shepherd a terrible beating.

“Is this what you do all day? This is not what I pay you for! You no longer work here, you lazy oaf! Let’s see how you are going to play it now!” With that, the landlord brought his foot down on Aniz’s flute, breaking it into pieces.

Bruised, battered and inconsolable, Aniz picked himself off the ground. Aniz was heartbroken. He had no home, no job and his most prized possession was forever gone.  Sobbing, with tears streaming down his face, Aniz left the fields and wandered the streets. 

“Hello, young man. Why are you crying? Where are your parents?” a kind and gentle voice cut through Aniz’ sobs. Aniz looked up and wiped away his tears and saw a wrinkled face smiling back at him. 

“I am an orphan and have no family, sir. The landlord whom I worked for, drove me out leaving me homeless. He broke the only thing that mattered to me in this world—my flute...”

“Do not cry, my boy. I have no family too. Come and live with me and we can be each other’s family.” Grateful for the old man’s kindness, Aniz wiped his tears and accepted his offer. 

Weeks passed and Aniz was happier than ever. The old man loved Aniz and took care of him like his own grandchild. One day, the old man said, “Aniz, I am going to teach you how to make a new flute that you can be proud of. I will even teach you how to play it.” Aniz was elated.

The old man took a long piece of bamboo and showed Aniz how to cut and carve it. It was a labour of love for both Aniz and the old man. Finally, after weeks of hard work, they completed the flute. It was flawless! The old man blew into the flute and a melodious tune flowed from the instrument. He taught Aniz how to play the instrument and in no time, Aniz mastered it.

However, in Aniz's hands, the flute turned into an instrument filled with magic. Whenever he played it, not only were the villagers mesmerised by the music, but even the animals would gather around him quietly never wanting to leave until the last note escaped from the pipe. Aniz loved playing for the animals and as time passed, he became friends with all the creatures and could communicate with them through the flute. The animals loved Aniz and Aniz loved them back.

The landlord's dream

Back in the village, the vile landlord was busy thinking of ways to become even richer. As always, he was always losing his temper at everyone around him.

One morning, he came thundering into the dining room, bellowing at his three sons. “Listen here, you three! Last night, I dreamed of a beautiful white rabbit as pure as snow. On top of its head is a black spot. It is a sign of good luck and fortune and I want you to look for the rabbit and bring it back to me.”

“But we don’t know where to find such a rabbit, father. Where can we find this creature?” asked one of the sons.

“The three of you are the most useless children a parent can ask for! If I knew where it is, I would not ask you to look for it.”

The three young men looked at each other, clueless about what to do next.

“You buffoons! Fine! Whoever catches it and brings it back to me, will inherit everything I have when I die. Now go and look for it! What are you waiting for?”

The eldest son, greedy just like his father, thought to himself, I am the eldest anyway and will stand to inherit all his wealth, but if any of my brothers bring back the rabbit, my wealth will be gone.

Before any of his brothers could say a word, he quickly piped up, “My brothers, don’t trouble yourself. Let me go look for it. I will make our father proud." And off he set off to look for the mysterious rabbit.

Fearful that the inheritance would go to his brothers, the eldest son picked up his pace and headed to the marketplace. There, he looked all around for a rabbit matching the description that his father shared. He found a black rabbit, a white rabbit, a black rabbit with white spots, a white rabbit with many black spots but no snow-white rabbit with a black spot on its head. He was desperate. However, he soon heard whispers of a boy who could communicate with animals. Maybe this boy can help me, he thought. He asked around but nobody could tell him who that boy was.

However, the old man who had taken in Aniz, heard the landlord’s eldest son asking around for the boy who could talk to animals. He went up to him. “I heard that you are looking for my grandson. Go to the forest and look for Aniz. He is tending to my cattle. Tell him what you need.”

Without wasting another second, the landlord’s eldest son hurried to the forest. True to the old man’s words, he found Aniz with the cattle. 

“Hey, you! Shepherd boy! I need to find a snow white rabbit with a black spot. Find me the rabbit. Money is no object.”

Aniz looked up and recognised the landlord’s eldest son. He paused for a moment and then said, “Meet me at the pine forest in the evening and bring with you a thousand coins. I will help you find this rabbit.”

The landlord’s eldest son jumped at the offer. The money was nothing compared to the wealth he would inherit if he could bring his father the rabbit.

In the evening, he returned to the pine forest with the money. Upon reaching the agreed spot, he saw the shepherd with his flute playing a beautiful melody. Gathered around him were plenty of animals, their ears pricked up listening intently to the music. There among the animals was the snow white rabbit with the black spot on its head.

Aniz put his flute down and stretched out his hand beckoning to the rabbit. The prized rabbit hopped towards Aniz who then gently scooped up the little furry creature into his arm. The eldest son trudged towards Aniz, scaring all the other animals away with his heavy footsteps.

“Here you go. But I must warn you. You better hold on to it tight. If the rabbit escapes, I cannot help you anymore.”

Without caring about the animal, the eldest son grabbed the rabbit by its ears and threw the money at Aniz. He could not think about anything else but the wealth he would stand to inherit. The young man set off for home.

However, as he was about to step out of the forest, he heard music from the flute piping through the trees. The rabbit too heard the music. It twisted and wriggled to free itself from the eldest son's clutches. Suddenly, it broke free and leaped away from the eldest son who sprinted after it. However, the rabbit was too fast. Soon, it was out of sight. Despite searching through every corner of the forest, the rabbit was nowhere to be found. The eldest son gave up and went to see Aniz again.

“That rabbit! It ran away,” he panted out in short bursts as he wiped his sweat from his brows.

“Well, I did warn you and told you to hold on to it tightly. I am sorry but I cannot help you anymore.” Aniz turned and left.

Dejected and with no more money to give, the eldest son gave up on his pursuit and went home. Back home, he told his father and brothers about the flautist and the rabbit. 

This time round, the second son wasted no time and spoke up, “Father, don’t worry. Where eldest brother has failed, I will not. I will get you your rabbit tomorrow.”

The next day, the second son went to the forest to try his luck. Again, just like his eldest brother, he saw Aniz with his flute and the animals gathered around him. Again, Aniz demanded a thousand coins and gave him the same warning. However, the same thing happened to the second son and he lost the rabbit when it wriggled itself free. When nightfall came, he had no choice but to go home empty-handed. When he got home, he recounted the incident to his father and brothers. His father was incensed!

This time round, the youngest brother spoke up, “You two are useless! Father, don’t worry. Where these two have failed, I won’t. I will set out for the forest tomorrow and meet this shepherd and get your rabbit.”

Just like his brothers before him, the youngest brother too headed to the forest, met Aniz, paid him a thousand coins and was given the same warning. And just like them, he too lost the rabbit when it sprinted away from him.

Getting his just deserts

When the youngest son came home empty handed, the landlord was seething with anger! None of his sons managed to get the rabbit from his dream.

“You imbeciles! How could you lose so much money and have nothing to show for it? Must I do everything myself? Tomorrow, I shall meet this shepherd boy and get this rabbit myself!”

The next morning, the landlord set off for the forest. Just like his sons, he too saw Aniz playing on the flute with the animals surrounding him. Just as he was about to raise his voice demanding that the shepherd give him the rabbit, Aniz looked up and immediately recognised him. It was the wicked landlord who had mistreated him. Aniz saw red! He picked up his flute and played a tune that pierced through the trees.

As soon as the first note was played, the animals slowly inched their way towards the landlord, circling him. They snarled, growled and snapped at the man! Blood drained from his face. The landlord crouched to the ground and screamed and begged for help.

“Please, my lord, please help. Make the animals stop. Spare my life,” the landlord pleaded, sobbing in between tears just like how Aniz sobbed when the landlord gave him a thrashing and broke his flute. 

“Do you not remember me, landlord? I am Aniz the shepherd. You broke my flute. You are a selfish, petty man; greedy and cruel! Why should I help you when you have never once thought about the people around you? One more note from this flute and my friends will eat you alive!”

“Please kind Aniz, don’t do this. I know that I have made a lot of mistakes. I will do anything to repent but just spare my life. Don’t treat me the way I treated you.” Desperate, the landlord threw himself at Aniz’s feet.

“I will spare your life but you must promise me that you will change. You must never be cruel towards others, rich or poor.”

“I promise on my life, Aniz. Please...”

“And when you get back home, I want you to give away half your possessions and share them with the people around you, especially the villagers.”

“Yes! I will! I will never so much as raise my voice against others, or ill-treat them.”

“Go. But remember, if I ever find out that you have been unkind towards the people around you, I will make sure that you get what you deserve.”

The landlord, humbled by what had happened to him, rose to his feet, thanked Aniz and bolted back to the village.

The next day, the landlord kept his word. He made sure that he distributed his money and shared his wealth with others around him. And that was just the beginning. Because of Aniz, the villagers never suffered again at the hands of the landlord. Aniz continued to play his magic flute. Just like before, the villagers and the creatures would gather around him listening to the sweet tunes from the bamboo flute.

The music and instruments of the Uyghur people

Music is a big part of life for the Uyghurs. Find out about one of the most popular forms of music among them and get to know some of the instruments you can find in the community.


Illustrations by Teresa Leong Qin Xin

Teresa is a freelance illustrator and entrepreneur. Follow Teresa on her website and behance for more.