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The Unselfish Shellfish | Ep. 198

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Author, poet, and playwright Oscar Wilde once said: “Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot.”

"Ordinary riches" are things you can buy with money - like jewels, cars, and fancy cloths. And riches like that could be taken away. But "real riches" are the ones that can't be taken, because they're what you have on the inside: things like kindness, honesty, and compassion.

And as we'll hear in today's story, those riches are truly pricelesss!

Our story is called “The Unselfish Shellfish.” Versions of this tale come from Indonesia: a country consisting of thousands of islands that lie between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Voices in this episode include Ryan Dalusung, Jessica Rau, Erika Rose, Eric Bauza, and Harry Shum Jr.

Eric Bauza is one of Mel Blanc’s successors as the voice of Looney Tunes characters like Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, and Daffy Duck. Eric does a ton of other voices too, including Fozzie Bear in Muppet Babies and the Beagle Boys in DuckTales.

Watch for Harry Shum Jr. in Grey’s Anatomy season 19, which returns to ABC for its mid-season premiere on February 23rd. Harry can also be heard starring in the grown-up mystery podcast Echo Park, and seen in the Oscar-nominated film Everything Everywhere All At Once. Coming up, Harry will reprise his role of Charlie Wu in the much-anticipated spinoff of Crazy Rich Asians.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Nora Saks. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes, click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

As we heard in today’s story, when we respect nature, everybody wins. What are three ways you can show love and care for the environment?

Maybe you can recycle items like glass and plastic and paper. Maybe you can turn off the lights when you’re not using them, or turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth. Perhaps you can bring reusable bags to the grocery store, or donate your outgrown clothing and toys.

Find a grown-up and make a list of three eco-friendly things you can do. Draw a picture of yourself doing these tasks then hang the picture somewhere you can see it, to remind yourself how easy – and rewarding – it can be to show a little love to our planet!

Musical Spotlight: Gamelan

Predating the arrival of Buddhism and Hinduism to Indonesia, gamelan is an ancient indigenous music tradition. (Courtesy of Mindy McAdams)
Predating the arrival of Buddhism and Hinduism to Indonesia, gamelan is an ancient indigenous music tradition. (Courtesy of Mindy McAdams)

Composed mainly of percussion instruments, gamelan is the traditional ensemble music of the Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese peoples of Indonesia.​​

The word gamelan (also spelled gamelang or gamelin) comes from the Javanese word gamel (ꦒꦩꦼꦭ꧀), which translates as playing percussion instruments or striking something with a mallet. The gamelan in Sundanese is Degung, which refers to gongs and gong ensembles; thus the words degung and gong are considered synonymous with the word gamelan.

The most common gamelan instruments are membranophones – or members of the drum family – and idiophones, or instruments that produce a pitch when struck with a mallet, such as the xylophone and gong. The idiophones in gamelan are further classified into the subfamily of metallophones, since all the melodic keyboard instruments are made of metal.

Gamelan ensembles do not have set instrumentation and may include instruments of other families, including strings, flutes, and singers. Depending on the style, a gamelan ensemble size can range from four to fifty performers!


NARRATOR: In a snug little house in the middle of an island, there lived a farmer and his daughter. The farmer and his daughter worked hard, but times were even harder. And before long they found themselves scratching and scraping to get by.

DAUGHTER: Father, I’ve searched the kitchen high and low and all I can find is one last cup of rice!

FARMER: Just one cup of rice? How are we going to survive?

DAUGHTER: Well, obviously farming hasn’t been supporting us very well. So what if we tried some other line of work?

FARMER: Something other than farming? What do you have in mind?

DAUGHTER: Well, back at school I had a friend whose father was an oysterman; he harvested oysters by the sea. He’d go out to the seaside when the tide was low, then he would dig up oysters from the sand – or collect them from the rocky caves by the water’s edge. From what I recall, he made a pretty good living! So maybe you and I could go to the seaside and harvest oysters, too! Then we’ll either eat them or sell them at the market!

FARMER: That’s a very clever idea, Daughter! But I must go to the seaside alone.

DAUGHTER: How come?

FARMER: Because it’s too dangerous! You know how temperamental The Queen of the South Sea can be! She rules all the waters surrounding this island. And if you get on her bad side, you’d better watch out! She’ll create waves that are stronger and fiercer than anything you can imagine! She’ll swallow you right up!

DAUGHTER: But if you get on her good side, she’ll keep you safe, right?

FATHER: Yes… but to get on her good side you must bring her a gift. An offering of peace in exchange for your safety. And look around you, Daughter! What could we possibly offer the Queen of the South Sea? You and I have nothing!

DAUGHTER: Well, not exactly nothing

NARRATOR: The farmer’s daughter took out their last cup of rice.

DAUGHTER: You may go to the seaside alone, but you must bring this rice. We’ll cook it up, then you can leave it as an offering on the beach.

FARMER: But Daughter! If I take this rice, you will have nothing to eat!

DAUGHTER: I’ll manage, Father. And here.

NARRATOR: She untied a colorful scarf from her hair.

DAUGHTER: Wrap the rice in this scarf, then offer that to the Queen, too. We don’t have a fancy silver platter or anything, so this will have to do.

FARMER: You know I can’t do that, Daughter! That’s your favorite scarf in the world!

DAUGHTER: And you’re my favorite person in the world! I believe in you, Father.

FARMER: And I believe in you, Daughter. Thank you.

NARRATOR: The farmer and his daughter cooked up the rice and wrapped it in the scarf. Then the farmer packed the offering in his knapsack and set off down the long road to the sea.

His stomach grumbled as he walked – but he knew better than to reach inside his knapsack and eat the rice. It was intended for the Queen; he just hoped she would be pleased with such a modest gift.

Soon it began to rain. And when the farmer reached the seaside, he was approached by a well-dressed fellow carrying a shiny leather satchel and a wide umbrella.

TRADER: Well hello there! Have you come to harvest oysters?

FARMER: Uh, yes! I’ve come to harvest oysters! It’s my very first time.

TRADER: Mine too! I heard there’s a lot of money in this business, so I simply couldn't resist. You see, I’m a trader by profession, and I’m always looking for new ways to trade goods and rake it in! But for now? I’m gonna break for a snack.

NARRATOR: The trader opened his satchel. The moment he did, scrumptious smells wafted out from inside.

TRADER: This morning my son sent me off with all these delectable foods! Fresh-baked bread, roasted chicken, ripe bananas…

NARRATOR: The farmer peered into the satchel and took a whiff.

FARMER: Mmmm! Your son is quite the cook!

TRADER: Well, to be honest, he told me I shouldn’t actually eat this food. He said something about offering it to the Queen of the South Sea…? But come on! I’m a working man! And a working man has gotta eat!

NARRATOR: The trader pulled out a hunk of bread and shoved it in his mouth.

TRADER: Mmmm! This is so good! So good!!!!

NARRATOR: The trader proceeded to stuff his face with all of the bread, chicken, and bananas his son had packed. Before long, all that remained was a smattering of crumbs and a mess of chicken bones and banana peels, which the trader carelessly dumped on the wet sand.

The farmer, meanwhile, was hungrier than ever – but he knew what he had to do. He left the trader and walked to the water’s edge. Then he reached into his knapsack, took out the rice in the scarf, and held it out toward the sea.

FARMER: Oh, Queen of the South Sea! This humble offering is for you! I know it isn’t much, but times have been hard and it’s the best I can do. May it be to your liking, and may you grant me safety along these shores.

NARRATOR: The farmer placed the offering on the beach. Then he turned  toward the rocky caves tucked along the water’s edge.

FARMER: My daughter said her friend’s father found oysters inside these caves. I’ll head inside one to see what I can find – and to take shelter from this rain!

NARRATOR: As the farmer climbed into a craggy cavern and looked around, what should he spy but a heaping pile of oysters!

FARMER: My goodness! Look at all these oysters! And such big ones, too! Each one is the size of my shoe! I will gather them, but I won’t sell them. I will bring them home to my daughter. She must be starving by now!

QUEEN: Yes, good farmer! Bring the oysters home! To your daughter!

NARRATOR: The farmer gasped and swiveled his head around. As far as he could see, he was all alone.

But as he would soon learn, he wasn’t alone at all.

Someone had been watching his every move… and was about to change his fortune in an almighty way!

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: Who do you think spoke just now? And how will they change the farmer’s fortune?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Unselfish Shellfish.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, a poor, hungry farmer made a humble offering to the Queen of the South Sea. Then, just as he discovered a heap of oysters inside a cave by the water’s edge, he heard a mysterious voice call out to him.

FARMER: Who was it that spoke to me just now?!? I don’t see anyone else in this cave!

QUEEN: It is I! The Queen of the South Sea, calling out to you from the waters!

FARMER: The Queen of the South Sea!?!!

NARRATOR: The farmer dropped to his knees.

FARMER: Oh, great and mighty Queen! I am honored! But why are you calling out to me?

QUEEN: Because you called out to me! I heard your plea, good farmer… and I saw your humble offering. You gave me your last bit of rice – and your daughter’s favorite scarf! You have shown true sacrifice. So please… take the oysters. Consider them your reward.

NARRATOR: And with that, the cave went silent.

Without wasting a minute, the farmer stuffed his knapsack full of oysters, then began the long walk back to his snug little house… where, unbeknownst to him… his daughter was worried sick.

DAUGHTER: Oh, it’s getting so late! And Father isn’t home yet! I hope he’s safe!

NARRATOR: She went to the window and gazed toward the distant sea on the horizon.

DAUGHTER: Oh, great and mighty Queen of the South Sea! If you can hear me, please – let me see my father again! I don’t care if he comes home with any oysters. Just please bring him back to me safe and sound! Please!

NARRATOR: Now… it just so happens that in yet another spot on the island, someone else was wondering about their father, too. It was the trader’s son – the same fellow who had packed up all the delicious bread, chicken, and bananas as a peace offering for the Queen of the South Sea.

SON: Where on earth is Father? The plan was for him to come home with the oysters, then I would take them to the market to trade – for something even better! So I could help us make a fortune!

NARRATOR: He turned his eyes toward the clock.

SON: Uch! Well so much for our plan! The market is about to close! (beat) But good thing I gave Father all that food for The Queen of the South Sea this morning! (with pomp and self-importance, more so than sincere prayer) May she give us a fortune as great as my father’s offering was!

NARRATOR: Now, we know the truth about the trader’s “offering,” right?

He hadn't actually “offered” it to the Queen at all!

Instead, what did he do?

That’s right! He ate it all up! And left nothing but bread crumbs and chicken bones and banana peels scattered on the beach!

But the trader’s son had no idea! He also had no idea that when the trader was done with his feast, he didn’t even collect any oysters! Instead, he was so groggy from his feast that he had taken shelter in one of the seaside caves and fallen fast asleep!

TRADER: (sleeping sounds)

NARRATOR: As the trader dozed, the drizzle of the rain outside turned into a downpour. Thunder rumbled, and streaks of lightning lit up the sky. The waves on the sea grew stronger and stronger, and higher and higher. But the trader slept right through it – until a colossal whitecap came crashing into his cave and jolted him awake!

TRADER: (Gasp!) What’s happening?

NARRATOR: The trader leaped to his feet and clawed at the cave’s walls, trying to escape the rising water.

TRADER: Oh no, oh no! Somebody help me! Help me!

QUEEN: Help you…?!??? And why should anyone help you?

NARRATOR: The trader flicked his head round in fear.

TRADER: Who are you??? Who said that??

QUEEN: It is I! The Queen of the South Sea, calling out to you from the waters!

And you are nothing but a greedy glutton who devoured the offering that was meant for me! Why did you do it? Why???

NARRATOR: The trader felt a knot tighten in his stomach.

TRADER: Oh, Queen of the South Sea! I can explain everything - I can! You see, I ate all that food because I was hungry! And truth be told, I didn’t even know you were real! Please forgive me! Have some pity!

QUEEN: You deserve neither forgiveness nor pity! However… I have heard the words of your son; he called out to me and made a little prayer.

TRADER: He did?!?

QUEEN: He did! I listened to his words, and have decided I will answer his prayer. Now go back home, and I promise: you will have everything your son asked for.

NARRATOR: And with that, the sea calmed and the trader clambered out of the cave, breathless with excitement about whatever great fortune his son’s prayer would bring.

TRADER: That son of mine is one smart cookie – so surely he prayed for something fine! A boatload of money, perhaps? Or a new house? One even grander and more spacious than the abode we already have?

NARRATOR: But as the trader neared his ‘grand and spacious abode,’ he was surprised to see his son come running toward him, with his eyes full of tears.

TRADER: My son! Why are you crying? Oh! Let me guess! They are tears of joy! Because the Queen of the South Sea has brought us great fortune!

SON: No, Father! Quite the opposite! Our house has been flooded! And the rushing waters have carried all of our belongings away!

TRADER: I don’t understand! The Queen of the South Sea said she would answer your prayer! And give us what you asked for! Did you wish for us to be struck by disaster

SON: Of course I didn’t!

NARRATOR: The young man sniffed and wiped his eyes.

SON: I wished for her to bring us a fortune as great as the offering you gave her!

NARRATOR: The trader froze. His blood ran cold. The offering! Of course!

His son had no way of knowing that he didn’t give the Queen a “great offering” at all! Instead, he devoured all the food and left nothing but crumbs and bones and banana peels. It was a most unfortunate offering… hence his misfortune now.

Well, while the trader felt his heart flood with regret, elsewhere on the island the Farmer was all smiles as he returned to his snug little house. When he stepped through the door, his daughter ran into his arms.

DAUGHTER: Father! You’re back! I was so worried that I called out to the Queen of the South Sea, and asked her to bring you home safely! She must have listened!

FARMER: Oh, she did more than that, my dear. Take a look!

NARRATOR: The farmer threw open his knapsack. His daughter let out a gasp.

DAUGHTER: My goodness! So many oysters! And so huge! Each one is the size of your shoe!

FARMER: That’s what I said! What do you say we open one up and have a taste?

DAUGHTER: Yes, please!

NARRATOR: So they picked up an oyster and pried open its shell. But when they looked inside…


NARRATOR: …they found a wonderful surprise: a bright, glistening pearl!


NARRATOR: The farmer and his daughter opened another oyster…


NARRATOR: …and another…


NARRATOR: …and another!


NARRATOR: And inside each and every shell was a pearl: a bright, glistening gift from the all-powerful Queen of the South Sea.

Well, as you can probably guess, never again did the farmer and his daughter have to scratch and scrape to get by. With their newfound treasure they were able to get back on their feet and share their good fortune with others. Because the two of them weren’t just rich in wealth… they were rich in generosity, too.

Rebecca Sheir Twitter Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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