Author Archive
Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Funeral Rituals – Thailand

Thai Funeral Rituals

Traditionally, a Thai funeral lasts anywhere between one to seven days. It can be up to seven consecutive days to provide opportunities for relatives, family, and friends to attend and pay their respects. Thai people also believe that the soul leaves the body after three to seven days after the death, and the deceased finally realizes that they have died already. The body is placed in an open casket at the funeral dressed in nice clothes to make them look good. Usually, the person is dressed in either Thai traditional clothing or in one of their favorite outfits. This choice of clothing is to please the deceased so they will move on happily and look good when they move on and so the person will not have to return for any clothes.

Also, a bowl is placed underneath the hands of the body because there is a traditional water blessing. The water blessing is when each person attending the funeral pours a small amount of water onto the hands of the deceased. This symbolizes forgiveness and cleansing. When a person pours the water on the hands it is like asking the deceased to forgive them for any wrongs done or any disagreements between the two of them in life. It is also just to pay respect and say final good-byes.

Once the attendees have done the water blessing, they sit down. The closest family members to the deceased sits in the front row to physically symbolize the close relationship to the deceased. Then, several monks chant a prayer specific for funerals. The chanting is unanimous among the monks and sounds quite musical and soothing. The attendees sit silently listening with their hands together for prayer. The chanting of the monks is a prayer to send the soul of the deceased to a better place or to wherever the person wants to go. After the chanting, the monk with the most seniority gives a eulogy, but the eulogy does not focus on the deceased person necessarily. It focuses more on life in general. It is up to the monk what he decides to talk about, but it is usually life lessons and thoughts for life.

Then, when the monk is done talking, food is provided for the guests.  It is a way to thank the guests for attending the funeral and also a time for the people to mingle and talk about old times. There is a variety of foods such as soups, fruit, and desserts. Except no noodles. It is believed that if there are noodles people will die following each other in a line like the lines of the noodles. Other people in the family will follow the dead person.

Everyone is supposed to wear black to the funeral because of mourning. The close family members continue to wear black clothes for one hundred days following the death. After the last day of funerals, the body gets cremated. Some people are buried or other things, but usually with Buddhists, they are cremated. Then, also usually with Buddhists, the bones and ashes are thrown into a river or ocean or any body of water. The cremation and allowing the bones and ashes to float in a body of water symbolizes reverting back to nature. We came from nature, the four elements – wind, water, earth, fire – when we die we return to nature.

My mother explained these funeral traditions and beliefs that she has learned growing up in Thailand. She has attended several funerals like this in her own lifetime. Just a few years ago she flew out to Thailand to organize her father’s, my grandpa’s, funeral. There are some differences with traditional funerals in Thailand and the ones in America. For example, in Thailand the open casket with the body is usually at every day of the funeral. Whereas in America, it is usually there only the first day because it has to be given to the crematory so they can prepare for the cremation. Also, the funeral in Thailand seems to be more extravagant with more monks, more people, and more food. However, this may be because there are more relatives, friends, monks, and resources located in Thailand.

Recently my mother also had to organize a funeral for her husband, my dad. All of the traditions described were included in the funeral. The funeral lasted three days, there was a water blessing on the first day, everyone wore black, monks chanted each day, there was food each day, his body was cremated, and we will be taking a trip to Thailand this summer to throw his bones and ashes into a river that all of our deceased relatives are thrown.

Thai funeral rituals and traditions are very different compared to the Irish wakes discussed in Ilana Harlow’s piece “Practical Jokes and the Revival of the Dead in Irish Tradition.” The Irish focus more on celebrating the life of the deceased, and the funerals include dancing, drinking, and pranks. Traditional Thai funerals are more somber and focus on paying respects to the deceased. However, the guests reminisce about times past with the deceased and reunite with many people that they have not seen or contacted in an extended period of time. Although there is the sorrowful aspect of the funeral, there is also the social aspect for those in attendance.

Narvaez, Peter. Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture. Pg. 83-112. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2003.

general
Legends
Narrative

Legend – Chaiyaphum, Thailand

The Legend of Mae Nak

There was a couple in ancient times named P’ Mak and Mae Nak. P’ Mak was a soldier and had to go to war. He lost communication with Mae Nak for a really long time. During that time, Mae Nak was pregnant. Both Mae Nak and her son died in labor. Everybody in the town knew that Mae Nak died. Only P’ Mak didn’t know. P’ Mak came home from war and saw Mae Nak and their baby and was very happy. Everybody told him that Mae Nak and their baby died already, but P’ Mak didn’t believe them until one day Mae Nak was cooking som tum and dropped a lemon through the cracks of the wooden planks of the upper floor to the bottom floor, where P’ Mak was standing at the time. P’ Mak saw Mae Nak reach her arm from the top to the bottom floor to pick up the lemon. Now P’ Mak believed everyone that told him that Mae Nak died already. Mae Nak loved P’ Mak so much that she used all of her power to stay as a human and take care of her husband. P’Mak was scared and called witch doctors to help take away Mae Nak. None succeeded until one witch doctor came that was very skilled. This witch doctor was able to put Mae Nak’s spirit in a clay pot and seal the top with white linen tied tight with white thread and threw it in the river.

One day, a man was fishing and pulled up the net and saw the pot. The man wondered what was inside the pot and opened it. As soon as the man opened the pot, Mae Nak’s spirit came out and came back to haunt the town because Mae Nak was very mad that she was caught and thrown in the river. Mae Nak returned home and P’ Mak would hear her call his name “P’ Mak kaaa! P’ Mak kaaa!!” The people in the town have a statue of Mae Nak and still worship her today.

My mother remembers learning this story in her elementary school in Chaiyaphum, Thailand where she grew up. The school was in a temple by her house and the classes were taught by monks. The class read this story in a book for a history lesson. All the students were scared after learning about this legend, but my mom says she does not know why they were scared. They also turned this story into a joke amongst each other. For example, when someone dropped something far away and would have to get up to go get it, he or she would say a phrase along the lines of, “I wish I had long arms like Mae Nak.”

According to my mother and to Thai people, Mae Nak’s spirit still resides in Pakanong, which is an area in Bangkok, Thailand. People still worship her and pay respects to her at her statue or to pictures of her in their homes. The people living in that area give offerings to her, which often include Thai traditional outfits because she liked these beautiful outfits in her lifetime. Her story has also been adopted by other Thai books and films as well. There have been very many versions of the Mae Nak legend in movies throughout the decades. I have seen a couple of the movies and have also heard this story since I was young, maybe around the age of seven, from my parents. The story of Mae Nak is told as truth and in the form of a scary story.

general
Narrative

Story – Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

My friend Cameron was telling me that the library at his university, Brigham Young University, closes at midnight every night and like incredibly awesome music plays on the loudspeaker. Cool music like “Pirates of the Caribbean” or like “Lord of the Rings.” Cameron told me about these legendary upperclassmen, this one guy and a group of his friends, at BYU who spent the night at the library, against the school’s honor code and like if you get caught you can get like expelled. And so at about two a.m., the loudspeaker came on saying something like “You may think you’re so cool and can get away with hiding out in the library, but we’ll find you!” I’m not sure what the exact words were and they weren’t sure if it was like a recording or a person you know. And Cameron and his friends don’t know if this story is true or not. They don’t even know if the loudspeaker comes on past closing to scare students who have overstayed their welcome, but they’re planning on finding out for themselves sometime.

Both Emilie and her friend Cameron are Mormon and lived in Irvine, CA. The two of them are really close friends. They have grown up together since the fourth grade, they went to the same church, they attended the same high school, and they hang out together often. Her friend currently attends Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. They stay in contact and her friend told this story to her over winter break when they were telling each other stories about their college experiences thus far since they are both freshmen.

Emilie said that Cameron and his friends are a bit rowdy. She explained that the atmosphere and area of BYU is quite different from L.A. She said that at BYU they have police reports, which are similar to the DPS crime alerts at the University of Southern California, but the material reported is so different. She gave the example that in the DPS crime alerts there would be mugs and thefts while in the police reports, there would be statements such as “there was a suspicious guy with a mustache by the library.” Cameron told her that his friends and he have already been in a couple of police reports for playing with fireworks and swimming in the pool before it opened, but they were never caught. Emilie also explained that there was an honor code at BYU that all the students had to sign and follow all year round, including when they went home for holidays such as Thanksgiving. Some parts of the code include no drinking, no smoking, no facial hair except for mustaches for the males, and no long hair for the males. Other stipulations include special hours for members of the opposite gender to be able to visit and no member of the opposite gender allowed in a dorm room past midnight.

The rules and regulations that restrict and almost oppress student behavior may encourage students like Cameron and his friends to act rebellious and find fun, sneaky activities to do. Also, since everyone involved in these activities is male, it ties into Marina Warner’s chapter in her book Six Myths of Our Time that discusses the mischievous, playful behavior of boys. Cameron heard this story from another male upperclassman at BYU. Therefore, this legend can be considered a friend of a friend story or a FOAF.

Warner, Marina. Six Myths of Our Time: Little Angels, Little Monsters, Beautiful Beasts, and More. Pg. 25-42. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general

Medicine – Thailand

Cumin Plant Medicine

Pick the cumin plant from the ground. It grows underneath the dirt like potatoes and ginger. Dig it up, cut off the leaves and everything else, and we use only the roots. Rub the roots on a flat stone like a grinding stone to get the juice of the plant out. The juice is yellow in color. Mix the juice with white power made from white dirt. Then rub the mixture onto skin. You can rub it all over your body.

This medicine made from the cumin plant is supposed to make skin whiter or have a more yellow tint which is, according to my mother, considered beautiful in Thailand. This shows a cultural difference between America’s concept of beauty and Thailand’s concept of beauty. The contemporary perspective in America is that tan skin equates to beauty, while Thailand views whiter skin as beautiful. The medicine is also believed to make the skin smoother and rids itchiness and irritation of the skin for the person to which it is applied. My mother explained that parents like to apply this cumin medicine on their children, both boys and girls. Parents usually begin to use it on their children as early as the age of one or two and continue to use it on them for several years. Even adults sometimes use this medicine. However, my mother said that although the medicine is used for children of both genders, only girls continue to use it as they mature and grow older. She jokingly mentioned that if boys use the cumin when they are older, there would be reason to worry and they would be considered gay. Although my mother said this in a joking manner, her comment reveals the traditional views that she holds and has been raised with in regards to the morality of homosexuality.

The usage of the cumin medicine is more common among women, which ties into the traditional cultural view that women are supposed to look beautiful, do the housework, and take care of the children. Although the medicine is applied to both boys and girls, the people making and using the medicine are almost always women. This practice also tends to be more common in the smaller towns in Thailand rather than the big cities. It is more of a rural-type practice and belief rather than a modern or urban one. My mother was raised in Chaiyaphum, Thailand, which is a small town. My mother’s mother, my grandmother, rubbed cumin medicine on my mother and all of her five siblings when they were young. I found out that my mother and aunt used it on me when I was young as well. They made the mixture in our house from the plant in our own backyard. I have no recollection of this because they stopped when I was still young, and I do not believe that it had any effect on making my skin whiter. I have also seen the cumin medicine referenced in Thai movies and soap operas.

general
Humor
Narrative

Joke – San Marino, California

So one day I was walking on the beach when I saw this girl with no arms and no legs crying on the shore. I went up to her and asked her why she was crying. She said, “I’ve never been hugged before.” So I gave her a hug and said, “There, now you’ve been hugged.” But she was still crying. So I was like, “Why are you still crying?” She said, “I’ve never been kissed before.” So I gave her a kiss and said, “There, now you’ve been kissed.” But she was still crying. So I was like what the heck and asked her why she was still crying. She said, “I’ve never been fucked before.” So I picked her up and threw her in the ocean and said, “There, now you’ve been fucked!”

Pierre remembers hearing this joke from a really funny guy at his middle school in San Marino, CA. Although he thinks it is a little mean, he thinks it is more hilarious. In this joke, several motifs can be seen. There is the presence of the number three, which appears in numerous jokes. The character that the teller becomes during the joke asks the girl three times why she is crying, gets three responses, and acts accordingly three times. The punch line appears at the end of the joke, as it normally does. The punch line in this one is effective because the listener has the mindset that the girl was suggesting a sexual action, but the main character of the joke ironically acts upon the other meaning of the word “fucked,” which is being in a difficult situation, and throws her into the ocean. Since the listener was led to believe that sexual intercourse was suggested but it did not occur, this joke resembles a catch riddle in which the listener is caught thinking a socially inappropriate thought because the wording or the content of the riddle actually led the listener to think in such a way.

This joke also includes profanity, the issue of sexuality, and social standards. Pierre said that he heard this joke in middle school, which is a fairly early time for children to speak profanely and address the issue of sexuality. Yet, many jokes such as this one serve the purpose of allowing children to explore adult issues that may be prohibited or considered inappropriate for children. Jokes are viewed as acceptable ways for this exploration and discussion because the issue is excused after the laughter. Social standards are portrayed within this joke as well. The whole narrative is centered on the girl crying because she has yet to experience certain things that society suggests are things that people should have experienced, including hugging, kissing, and engaging in sexual intercourse. Since it is socially accepted to have experienced these acts, the main character feels obligated to provide these experiences for the girl. However, it is also shown that simply asking for and giving out sex is also considered socially unacceptable, which is why the joke ends with a different interpretation of the action. This joke is an example of how adult issues are subtly included in jokes.

general
Legends
Narrative

Contemporary Legend

Someone told me before that flashing your high beams at the traffic light turns it green because it like thinks you’re a cop. Then, one day, I like flashed my lights and like another friend in the car said that it used to be like they told me not to do it because like “urban legend” is that Bloods or Crypts used to have to like drive around at night with head lights off and whoever was nice enough to flash their high beams to remind them to turn his lights on had to be shot. So they would like get out of the car and shoot them. It was part of their initiation.

Suraj heard the part of the legend about flashing high beams at traffic lights from his sister because one time his sister was driving with her friend when they got stopped at a red light. Then her friend told her to try it. So she tried flashing the lights and it seemed to have worked. Suraj admitted that although he knows that the flashing lights story is not true, he still does it. He does not know why he continues to do it despite knowing that the truth is, as he claimed, the cops have a remote that can change the light if they are in an emergency. Suraj feels that when it works it is a coincidence and thinks that it is funny that he still tries flashing his high beams at red lights. This can also be considered superstition and shows that both cars and time are considered valuable. Since people are in cars often, a superstition appeared which involves cars. Also, people try this action because they are impatient and do not wish to waste time waiting at a red stop light.

The part about the gangs was, as stated in the above account, learned from his friend as he was in the act of flashing his high beams at the red light as he usually does. The reason Suraj decided to begin talking about car lights and to include this part to his story was because a girl living in the same dorm was walking around spreading a warning for everyone that MS13, a gang local to the Los Angeles area, was rear-ending targeted drivers and shooting them. It usually occurred when the gang members rear-ended a car and when the hit driver stopped and stepped out of the car, the gang members would shoot the victim. The girl spreading this warning that night said that she had a relative in the gang and, therefore, knew about this behavior ahead of time and felt that she should spread the word to encourage people to stay indoors and be safe that night.

Suraj expressed his thoughts on how he believed that the gang behavior with both the rear-ending and the flashing lights was stupid because innocent people get killed. Both parts to Suraj’s story can be considered FOAF legends or friend of a friend legends because they provoke discussion about belief to a certain extent, and Suraj heard each of them from a person who had been told about these occurrences. While Suraj learned all of this at his home in Richardson, Texas, these stories are known in other places as well, including southern California. The two gangs that Suraj mentioned, the Bloods and the Crypts, are from southern California. However, there are also many gangs in downtown Dallas, which is not too far from Richardson. These stories have diffused to many places in America because many places share the luxury of cars and the menace of gang activity.

general
Humor
Narrative

Joke – University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California

I’m going to say a word and I want you to spell them out loud and add “ness” at the end.

Ok, ipod.

I-P-O-D-ness.

ihome.

I-H-O-M-E-ness.

itoy.

I-T-O-Y-ness.

imap.

I-M-A-P-ness.

Pierre is a spring admit to the University of Southern California and is a part of the a capella group on campus called the Trojan Men, which is a group that sings with only vocals and no music. He first heard this joke at a Trojan Men party a few days before the item was collected here. One of his fellow members of the group told this joke to a small group of them, and Pierre thought it was really funny. So he has told many of his friends this joke afterwards. He often does not remember the exact words before imap and changes them with each retelling, but according to him those words do not matter. The most important one, the one that must be correct is the last one. This is where the punch line of the joke lies. When spelled aloud, i-m-a-p-ness actually makes the speller say, “I am a penis.”

The Trojan Men consists of all males and, therefore, it is logical that this joke was told to this particular audience. When Pierre retold it for this collection, he was retelling it in a dorm room full of all males as well. Although there were also a couple of girls listening during the party and also to whom Pierre has told this joke, the audience is usually male. It may be more natural for males to tell this joke to other males because it involves the male physiology. Like many jokes, this one brings light-heartedness to issues of sexuality and gender that are not usually discussed in social situations.

Also, the Trojan Men member that told this joke at the party explained to his audience that he had actually heard it from a twelve-year-old boy. He was a camp counselor and grew close to the children attending the camp, one of whom was this twelve-year-old. So one day at camp, the boy simply told him the joke. The Trojan Men member and his audience then had a discussion about how “they just get younger and younger,” referring to how it seems like young children now have knowledge about more adult themes and issues. They also mentioned how it seems like young children know more and more about these issues. There was a general agreement that when they were younger, had not spoken about penises until they were around the age of fourteen or fifteen. This ties into the idea that society views children as innocent and pure and finds it shocking when they are not, as Marina Warner discusses in her book Six Myths of Our Time. Children often tell jokes dealing with the human body, sexuality, and other topics that are deemed adult topics because jokes appear to be the only venue that they can rely on to discuss these issues.

Warner, Marina. Six Myths of Our Time: Little Angels, Little Monsters, Beautiful Beasts, and More. Pg. 43-62. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Story – Chaiyaphum, Thailand

Rabbit and Turtle

Everyone made fun of Turtle and said that he’s slow. Rabbit was very fast and jumped around everywhere. Turtle got mad and asked, “You want to race?” At the start of the race, Rabbit went very far and didn’t see Turtle anymore because he left him so far behind. So Rabbit took a nap to help Turtle a little bit. Turtle continued to walk slowly until he got to the finish line and Rabbit was still sleeping. When Rabbit woke up and got to the finish line he saw Turtle sleeping in his shell past the finish line waiting for him.

My mother said that she learned this story at her elementary school in Chaiyaphum, Thailand. The school was in a temple, and the classes were taught by monks. This particular story was taught to her in the first grade. The lesson or moral that the students were supposed to extract from the story was do not make fun of or look down upon others that are considered inferior. Do not think that we are better than others. When my mother went home from school and told her parents about the lesson, they elaborated on the story and talked about it because they had learned it in school when they were young as well.

This story can be considered marchen because it is not set in the real world and is not to be actually believed since there are talking animals interacting with each other. It is told for entertainment value and there is pedagogy because of the lesson that is taught through the story. This is also a classic story known in America as “The Tortoise and the Hare” as one of Aesop’s fables. The multiplicity and variation of folklore is shown with this story because it is known in both Thailand and in America. However, the difference in culture between Thailand and America is demonstrated through the different interpretations of the story. In America, it is generally accepted that the moral of this particular story is that slow and steady wins the race, which means that it is better to continue to work hard rather than working quickly for a short amount of time. Yet in Thailand, the moral is discouraging the teasing of others, looking down upon others, or considering others inferior. America’s perspective on the moral may come from the importance and emphasis on the capitalist economy in which people constantly work for money and hard work is a desired quality for people including students, employees, and bosses. While in Thailand, the emphasis is placed more on harmony and cohesion of the people throughout the country. So the lesson that people should not tease, taunt, or patronize others fits into this idea of maintaining peace and harmony.

The story of “The Tortoise and the Hare” is referred to in the book The Mythical Zoo by Boria Sax. The book mentions that it is one of “Aesop’s famous fables” and summarizes the story very briefly (Sax 259). Sax discusses “how the tortoise had won a race against the hare” (Sax 259) and how the tortoise is usually portrayed as calm and clever. On the other hand, the hare is said to often be portrayed as a “trickster” and “like most other tricksters, he often becomes a victim of his own cleverness” as in the case of Aesop’s fable of “The Tortoise and the Hare” (Sax 137).

Sax, Boria. The Mythical Zoo: An Encyclopedia of Animals in World Myth, Legend, and Literature. Pg. 137-138, 259. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2001.

Folk speech
general
Narrative
Proverbs

Saying – Indian

This is an Indian saying that Tanvi had learned in the fifth grade. She attended a private school in Bombay, India. They often had lessons about great people throughout history. The lessons included the people’s sayings and moral teachings. This particular saying was created by an Indian man named Kabir, and it actually rhymes when it is in Hindi. Kabir was an orphan that was either Hindu or Muslim. He became famous for his literary works and sayings, such as the one in discussion. Kabir can actually be considered a legendary figure because it is believed that his body mysteriously vanished from the tomb after it was buried.

This saying is actually a style of poetry called doha consisting of four lines in a rhyming scheme. The trend with the doha style is that the poetry consists of higher vocabulary but communicates a simple meaning. In this case, Tanvi believes that the basic moral is do not procrastinate. She said that she definitely agrees with the concept of avoiding procrastination. However, she laughed and commented that we all, herself included, procrastinate no matter what. According to Tanvi, there are many reminders and warnings against procrastination but people cannot help but do it anyway.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

Phrase

“Fit as a fiddle”

Professor Callaghan said this folk simile one morning in our kinesiology class titled “Sociopsychological Aspects of Sport.” He used the phrase while we were having a discussion on current events and names in sports at the beginning of class. The phrase was said in reference to how Tiger Woods, the professional golfer, is so fit and in such great shape. When he said this phrase, many of the students in the small class chuckled and murmured side comments to each other. However, everyone still understood the meaning conveyed by the saying, which emphasized the great physical condition that our professor believed Tiger Woods to be in. Therefore, although several students found the usage of the phrase to be humorous because it seemed a bit out of place, it was still effective. It also caused me personally to consider how fit Tiger Woods and other golfers are because when I think of fit and in-shape athletes I think of other sports such as football and basketball, but not golf. I never really considered how fit golfers have to be.

Professor Callaghan is a doctor as well as a professor at the University of Southern California. He believes that there is virtually no folklore in America and that it is mostly all from England. He first heard this phrase when he was a little boy in England. He often uses the phrase “fit as a fiddle” to describe or to compliment his son when they play tennis together. Professor explained that he also uses it to refer to other people who can continue to play and perform and when people show their fitness. He believes that every student should be in good physical shape.

Professor has also heard a great number of other phrases like this one including “as loud as a drum,” “beautiful as a rose,” “as high as a kite,” “swimming like a fish,” or “as happy as a sandboy.”  Then, Professor wondered aloud what a sandboy was. He concluded that it was probably a kid playing in the sand. Professor also wondered, “How fit is a fiddle?” He explained that some of these phrases do not make literal sense but they are comparisons to emphasize a particular point.

There is a reference to the folk metaphor “fit as a fiddle” in the1952 Hollywood movie Singin’ in the Rain. There is a scene within the movie in which two characters, Don and Cosmo, “perform a very physical routine full of slap-stick and comic violence in a burlesque house” (Chumo 41). Then “the scene dissolves to a song-and-dance routine to ‘Fit as a Fiddle’” (Chumo 41). During this routine the two characters dance around very energetically while playing fiddles. This is a play on the metaphor displaying the literal side of it, which is shown by the inclusion of the fiddles, and the metaphorical side of it, which is demonstrated by the intense physical activity present in the scene.

Chumo II, Peter N. “Dance, Flexibility, and the Renewal of Genre in Singin’ in the RainCinema Journal, Vol. 36, No.1. Fall 1996. 41. Jstor. 1 May 2008.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/view/1225594?seq=3&Search=yes&term=%22fit+as+a+fiddle%22&list=hide&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3D%2522fit%2Bas%2Ba%2Bfiddle%2522%26gw%3Djtx%26prq%3Dfit%2Bas%2Ba%2Bfiddle%26Search%3DSearch%26hp%3D25&item=1&ttl=37&returnArticleService=showArticle

[geolocation]