Goha Gives His Son a Lesson About People
The anecdote is a lesson to a child who is probably at the adolescent stage of life, and very concerned with how peers and others view him. The experience of the father and son pair shows the futility of trying to act on fickle public opinion. It also plays upon ambiguities in the relationship of care and respect between parent and child at the stage of adolescence, when the parent is aging and the child takes on more responsibility to look out for the parent, in addition to bearing responsibility for behavior that reflects favorably upon the family.
Goha is a popular comic hero in Muslim regions of Africa and Asia, found under various names including Juha and Abu Nuwas in the jokes of North Africa and Southwest Asia. Goha is a good-natured member of the learned class of ulama' and imams (a group often satirized for their foibles), whose stories reflect Islamic values and folk wisdom. He often rides a donkey, is sometimes a rural and sometimes an urban figure who displays both poor and middle class attributes. He is an Everyman, underdog, and hero, both learned and stupid, who provides a mirror of the life and the concerns of ordinary people. The photograph is a still image from a children's television program in Afghanistan that is designed to build literacy among children in areas underserved by schools, and as a supplement to schooling. By tapping into cultural familiarity with the iconic Goha figure, the program seeks to gain acceptance for innovative ways of delivering educational content.
Goha had a son who was always worried about what people would think or say. The boy could never do anything because he was always afraid that people might think him foolish. Goha wanted to show his son that it was a waste of time to worry about the opinions of others. He therefore saddled his donkey and told his son that he was going to the neighboring village.
Goha got on his donkey and asked his son to walk behind him. On the way they passed by some people who pointed at Goha and said, "Look at that heartless man who rides his donkey and makes his son walk."
When he heard this, Goha got off the donkey and asked his son to get on, while he walked. Again they passed by some people who pointed at the boy and said, "Just look at the boy who has no manners or respect for the elderly — he rides the donkey and lets his old father walk."
Goha thought about this, so he decided that both he and his son should now ride the donkey. Again they passed by some people who pointed at the donkey carrying both Goha and his son. "What a cruel man that is!" they said. "He has no pity for his donkey and allows both himself and his son to ride it at the same time."
Again Goha gave some thought to what the people had said, so he and his son got off the back of the donkey and both walked behind it. This time, passing by some people, he heard them saying among themselves, "What a couple of fools those two are! Imagine walking when they have a donkey they could ride."
This time Goha was at a loss. Finally, after a lot of thought, he said to his son,"Come along, let's carry the donkey between us."
So they lifted up the donkey and began carrying it along the road. As they were staggering along, some people saw them and burst out laughing. "Look at those two madmen," they said, "carrying the donkey instead of riding on it!"
So they put the donkey down and Goha said to his son, "You must know, my son, that whatever you do in this life, you will never please everyone."
Annotated by Susan Douglass.