Author Archives: Juliette Kaplan


Children’s Play

Greased Pole Game:

This is a game in which a large pole of bamboo is erected, greased, and children take turns to attempt to climb this greased pole.

The informant described her experience playing this game on many different celebratory occasions.  This game requires a bit more preparation, and is not necessarily one that children could just go outside and play themselves.  The necessity of an adult presence to take all the necessary preparations made this a relatively special and much anticipated event.  The informant highlighted one particular festival where this game would be played, “every year in Abukay we would have this… sort of, 4th of July celebration, it was just an official fiesta to commemorate Abukay, there would be food and singing and dancing, a very catholic parade with all the nuns and accolades and everyone marching behind them with their veils over their heads and in there church dresses… but anyway, there was a  bunch of different activities for the kids to run around and do.”  The Greased pole was among these activities. The informant said that on the day of the festival the pole would be already set up usually by the people of the small town.  Once the pole is greased, it remains so for the entire day, allowing many groups and many children to have their turn throughout the day.  The informant said that yes, occasionally kids would go up themselves or with just a couple other friends, but usually it was done in a more organized fashion.  An adult would be there to chaperone, a group of kids would line up and take turns trying to get up the pole.  Those waiting, and others who would crowd around only to watch would yelp and cheer each other on throughout the process.

This game is a very simple, and resourceful.  It requires only a large bamboo pole and some kind of grease, typically animal lard, or now, the informant said that she thinks it is more common to use vegetable oil.  Like many games, this one uses materials that are always readily available, it requires no theatrics, no expensive gear, it is simply an innocent, village game that is very challenging and appeals to all children and people regardless of social class.  In the Philippines it is as universal as the children themselves,  for this I think it is particularly important to treasure such activities especially in a region like the Philippines and even in the Village of Abukay themselves, where there is such disconnect between  socio-economic class.  This is simple enough to where if is ripe for variation, rules may be added or taken away at any given point and in any given area, it includes anyone and everyone and serves as a mode to bring otherwise separated groups together.

Game – Philippines

Folk game- tradition

Greased Pig:

A live pig is covered in grease.  Children chase it around trying to catch it.

This is a variation on the Greased Pole.  It is played interchangeably with the greased pole on all occasions.  It too is a game that transcends the nation of the Philippines and can include children of all ages and regions.  I imagine it is a variation played in rural regions more frequently than the pole, simply because a pole is typically more accessible than a pig.  The informant described this as a very fun game, a chance to get dirty and, quite literally, act like a pig.  She described that this would be done right inside the pig’s pen, all the children would file in and flail about trying to grab and hold on to the pig.  She told me about this just after tell me about the greased pole, often both these greasy games were offered simultaneously, as was the case on the Abukay Commemorative celebration.

A slightly more aggressive variation, this game must have been very much a special treat.  It requires very few materials, simply pig, grease, and chaser.  It makes use of items readily available in a Filipino and shows a resourcefulness that we see in many games.  For example, throwing a ball through something is quite a simply concept that has led to fanatic industry and incomprehensible amounts of wealth.  Perhaps in the future, greased pig catching will evolve into something of a more sophisticated game.

Folk Belief – India

“ Cow, if you eat, hot will become of you”

In Hinduism, the cow is considered a very sacred and revered creature, so much so that those who follow this belief also tend to follow a strictly vegetarian diet.  Though in communities where those who follow this practice are mixed with those who do not, it is often useful to have a more simplified or at least practical justification for this practice.  Particularly in the case of providing a more explanation to and between naïve and curious children, a biological reason that reinforces the religious reason are two forces which combine to be very persuading.  The biological explanation is as follows:  because it is very humid in India, meat in general, which conveniently for this belief system includes that of cows, very often goes rancid.  Should one proceed to eat this bacteria infested meat, one will become sick with a fever.  Thus, this little superstition is a perfect compliment to the Hindu belief, simply a different means to the same end.

The informant did mention he began to hear this more frequently when he moved from India to the United States, where the eating of cow was much more prevalent.  In an environment where a child’s practices at home are very different from those he or she experiences elsewhere in his daily life, the fear of sickness evoked by this superstition would quickly eliminate much of the initial curiosity by the child to indulge in what the activities that surround him.

Tale – Korea

Gae ggol jang ee

“When we would go to sleep or something, my kmom would tell me a story and say, ‘do you want me to tell a story about a frog who is similar to you?’ and we would say,

‘yes!’ and then she would tell us this story.  Well this frog would never do what his mother told him to do.  He would never take out his trash when his mom would tell him do, when she told him to do his homework, he would just go outside and play… um, ya know, he had a couple siblings—which of course was my brother and they would always listen to their mom and grew up to be really successful but Gae ggol jang ee , the naughty one,  would never do what he was told.  Then one time, the mom was really sick.  So she like knew she was going to die and so she gave each sibling a task, like what to do, when she died.  To gae ggol jang ee, she knew he would not do what she wanted him to do so she told him to bury her by the river because she knew he would do the opposite .. instead of burying her on the hill or whatever…

so she died

and he finally decided to obey her.  and so the mud and the rain washed her a way and…

that’s why you should do what your mom says.  ISN’T THAT SAD!?”

This is the informant’s mother’s version of quite a common Korean tale.  For this informant, it was told only as a bedtime story, or upon request, for another informant it was read in school, for another she memorized and rehearsed this tale to recite for her extracurricular Korean classes.  After reading and hearing other versions of the tale, this variant is quite clearly pedagogically tailored by the informant’s mother to suit her particular purposes.  For example the specificity of the taking out the trash chore, and the running outside to play rather than doing his homework, and the model older sibling—these seem to be very particular to this family’s variation.  In hindsight, the informant is able to clearly recognize herself as the frog and her brother as the model older sibling, but in her youth admitted that she wrote them off as mere coincidences.

This tale quite mercilessly poignant.  The suggests the ultimatum, “obey your mother, or she will wash away in the river”—which seems a tad dramatic and deeply guilt-inducing, especially when compared to the fluffiness of American and western tales.  In addition to highlighting the value of obedience, a complientary element is the respect for elders.  The informant discussed the reality of these cultural values reflected in the tale by confirming that everything in her childhood for the honor and pride of her parents, to obey them, respect them and please them.  “Why do you think the Korean kids work so hard?  Because they’re worried that if they’re parents DIE or something they won’t be proud of them or they’ll die thinking about what a shame you were!”


I have attached a more formal version of the tale that can be found on this website:

Or in this book:

Suzanne Crowder Han, 1991, Korean Folk & Fairy Tales

And here is another, which I took from the PDF of what seems to be a standardized reading packet for elementary schools in a Washington State school district (I provided the text following the citation) :

Federal Way Public Schools, 2005, retrieved on April 24th, 2007,

Chung Kayguri, the Green Frog

A long long time ago in a small Korean village, there lived a little green frog

called Chung Kayguri with his old widowed Mother. Chung Kayguri loved his mother,

but was a troublemaker. He always did the opposite of what his old mother told him to

do. When his mother told him to go east, he went west. When she told him to do this, he

did that.

Momma Kayguri said, “Kaygul. Kaygul. (Ribbit. Ribbit.) It is very warm and

sunny today. Why don’t you go outside and play in the stream with your friends?

Kaygul. Kaygul.” So Chung Kayguri, instead of going with his friends to the stream,

went by himself to the hill.

The next day, Momma Kayguri said to her son, “Stay close to home today. I

heard there might be some snakes out there.” Instead of doing as his Momma asked,

Chung Kayguri went to his friends. “Kaygul. Kaygul. Let’s go for an adventure and

find some snakes.”

This kind of behavior went on and on. It was very frustrating for Momma

Kayguri. Eventually, she became ill. Even then, Chung Kayguri didn’t heed his mother.

She would ask him to speak softly, and do you know what he would do? That’s right, he

would yell loudly. Momma Kayguri’s health continued to decline. She became so ill

that she knew she would not recover.

Before she died, Momma Kayguri called her son to her bedside. “ When I die,”

she pleaded, “bury me by the stream. Please don’t bury me in the hill.” In fact, she


wanted to be buried in the hill. Knowing her son well, though, she requested the opposite

of her real wish.

“Kaygul. Kaygul. Momma, please don’t die. Kaygul. Kaygul. ” But it was too

late. Momma Kayguri passed away. Chung Kayguri was very sad and said to himself,

“Kaygul. Kaygul. My mother got ill and died because I never listened to her. I will grant

her last wish.” Chung Kayguri buried his mother by the stream, thinking he was finally

doing the right thing. Every day he came to her grave to pay his respects.

One summer day, a heavy rain called a monsoon arrived and continued for many

days. With all the rain, the stream began to flood and rose up to Momma Kayguri’s

grave. Chung Kayguri was worried that the rushing water would soon wash his mother

away. He cried aloud in a mournful call, “Kaygul. Kaygul. Mother is going to wash

away! Mother is going to wash away! Kaygul. Kaygul.”

Ever since then, that is why green frogs cry whenever it rains. That is why people

in Korea who do the opposite of what they are told are called Chung Kayguri.



Question: “what do lesbians bring on a second date?”

Answer: “a U-haul.”

The informant said she has both heard and told this joke on multiple occasions, by and among members of the Los Angeles gay and lesbian community.  She also noted that, “this is the kind of joke that’s reeeaaaallly funny when everyone’s drunk.”

The joke here is not a play on words.  The incongruity is appropriate not by logic, but by being such an exaggerated stereotype.  It is poking fun at the stereotype of women being over trusting, emotional and overly eager to commit, and therefore have a tendency to prematurely gauge the depth and seriousness of a relationship.  According to this joke, lesbians are ready to move in after just having met their partner just one date prior.

This joke could easily be varied by replacing “lesbians” with “women”, and would still have a similar effect, but because the lesbian relationship is stereotypically seen all the more wrought with drama, jealousy and bitchiness simply because there are only women involved, the female stereotype is more exaggerated with the use of the lesbian demographic, and thus the humor is more exaggerated as well.


Superstitious Ritual

Nojor, loosely translated, “the Devils eye”

This is an act performed by elder women of the family to the children.  The woman will simply take the hand of the child, and firmly bite the smallest finger to prevent Nojor.

The informant explained to me that the idea here is that someone will look at the perfect, angelic child and will therefore become resentful and jealous.  Consequently, to protect the child from this curse, the mother or grandmother or other women of the family will bite the child’s finger, cause the child to cry or somehow distort their face.  The noise and facial distortion elicited from the child now make it imperfect, thus protecting it from the devil’s eye.

It is interesting how this is a demonstration of such a deep, ingrained superstition has actually become very ritualistic.  While most superstitions are nothing more than a verbal warning, the mother, in this case, skips the warning all together and simply takes it upon herself to prevent the curse that is surely approaching.

This act may be performed on any occasion, but in particular, according to the informant, on occasions that would warrant jealousy of the child.  For example, before the child is to perform or appear in front of a crowd in a any public display of talent or beauty.  The informant recalled one instance, quite late in his life, when his mother bit his finger before he went to his highs school prom.  “ You know, I can remember when my mom stopped doing it to me… yeah, there is a direct correlation between the time I stopped parting my hair on the side and the time she stopped biting me.”  Apparently for the informant’s mother, un-parted hair was enough imperfection so as to ward off evil on its own.

The cultural reflections of this act are dichotomous.  On one hand  there is a great deal of pride, I would indeed say arrogance that is shown by the older woman acknowledging that the child is worthy of jealousy; on the other hand it as if she is preventing the consequences of hubris in her own child.  With her older wisdom, she indeed can recognize the angelic qualities of her child, but sill forbid them naively over-displaying them.  Additionally, because this is such a common practice, from serfs to royal upper class, there is a cultural assumption that generally all children need protection from evil.  Thus we see the sacredness of children in this culture.

Proverb – Bengali, India

“I slept, and I dreamt that life was all joy. I woke, and saw that life was but service. I served, and discovered that service was joy.”

Rabindranath Tagore

When I sat down with my informant and began to describe folklore, and to encourage him in the right direction I asked if there was any game, riddle, or saying that was repeated to him as a child.  Without hesitation he began to translate this short poem.  The informant described the prevalence of this item among the folk group of the Bengali people, by emphasizing that “every child learns this poem.  Every Adult tells it at some point to every child they know.  You have it in school, in your home… everywhere.”  He went on to tell me that it can be found, as in his own home, written and framed in his bathroom,  on refrigerators, scratched into public benches.

Upon further discussion surrounding this poem, the informant was praising it as a perfect demonstration of Bengali socio-cultural values. “In Bengali, we don’t have a word for funny.  My mother has no concept of a punch line.  I couldn’t think of a Bengali joke if I tried.  But it doesn’t mean we are unhappy.  We are taught that we must find and work for our own joy ourselves, we don’t have the quick, escapist kind of humor that Americans sometimes rely on too much to bring them joy.”  And thus, in a culture that produces a twenty one year old who can readily admit to an inability to tell a joke, this fantastic alternative finding joy and is repeated and put into action by the Bengali people.

So ingrained in the cultural and so integral are the values in describes, I believe this is the absolute statue of artistic communication among Bengali people, it so precisely articulates values which the entire culture shares, it is the answer to the search for happiness.  The mere fact that it is values and pieces of wisdom like this which ultimately replace typical humor and ephemeral joy we see in American and other cultures.

Folk Song/Game

“Quack diddly o-so quack quack quack,

sing it, sam-a  rico, rico rico rico

fa-lor-a fa-lor-a, fa-lor fa-lor fa-lor


One! Two! Three! Four!”

Everyone sits in a circle with their hands held out two their sides, with their right had atop the left palm of the person sitting to their right. One person in the circle starts, and with their right had, claps the open palm of the person to their left.  The claps continue to go around the circle until the song is over.  On “Four!” the object is to avoid being clapped.  The person who is about to be clapped must aniticipate this and move their palm away, while the person who is doing the clapping will try and be as fast as possible to hit their hand before they move it away.  Whoever fails, moves into the center of the circle—this is called “going into the pot”—where they simply start up another mini circle and play simultaneously with the larger circle.

With two people, each person faces each other, each curling their right had into that of the other to make a joint fist.  Each person holds there free left hand about eight inches away from their joint fist, and together alternate clapping the fist against each of their free hands.  The escaping on the last count still applies.

This is a hand game played with anywhere between two or more people.  The informant learned and played this game most frequently when she was a girl scout, but being so catchy it quickly transcended her elementary school

Folk Dance

Bamboo Dance—Tinikling

This is done both as a dance and as a game.  Two people hold each end of two bamboo poles and beat the pole on the ground in repetitions of three.  The first two beats are done with the poles apart, and on the third the poles are brought together.  The dancer does series of foot movements to compliment the rhythmic beating of the poles.  The most basic foot movement are as follows:

First beat: One hop on one foot in between the poles

Second beat: One hop, bring the second foot in to meet the first

Third beat: Jump back on to one foot, jumping back to the outside of the poles as they have now been brought together

The informant described this as quite a prevalent practice.  It can be done as elaborately as possible, with women in costume balancing glasses with candles in them in their hands and on their head.  Or one can find young girls and boys playing this at any given time of the day, more to resemble an American tradition of “double dutch” jump-roping.  It can be played with one dancer, partners, or as many dancers as will fit across the poles.

The informant did not know the history of the dance, or was aware of any details as to its origin.  With a bit of internet research, I found many versions of stories and places of origins, ranging from imitations by peasants of birds, to something involving field workers during Spanish colonization.  I think that this discrepancy in itself emphasizes the significance of the practice itself, in isolation from whatever history it may have.  Additionally, because this is such a widely practiced activity among all ages, regions and social groups, its accessibility lessens the necessity of an explanation.  This is not a tradition that comes out only on special days or to commemorate some historically significant occurance, it does not require special training or practice (although there are obvious different degrees of complexity), it is something anyone on any day.  It is a national game of the Philippines not because of historical significance, but is truly national  because of  ongoing popularity and accessibility by all.

Annotation:  There is an encyclopedia Brittanica entry on Tinikling that can be found with the following link:

tinikling.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 26 Apr. 2007  <>.

Game – Bengali


This is a traditional , Bengali singing game which challenges teams of players to alter a popular song by either scale, rhythm or tone (depending on which music quality assigned to the team).  The teams will take turns singing the variation they have quickly come up with, while the other teams try desperately to guess the original song.

In the experience of the informant, this game is played after celebrations.  After the meal is finished, everyone will retire to a space more conducive to action,  break up into three teams and the game will proceed.  This takes place at any celebration, the most recent case the informant described was a one year old birthday party.  There is no winner in this game, the point is not the competition, but simply to enjoy the musical challenge.  Any popular Bengali song is fair game, the informant mentioned in particular a wealth of songs that have put the poems of Rabindranath Tagore to standard, popularly known melodies.  The players of the game will then manipulate the melody, while still singing the same lyrics, the challenge for the “guessers” is then to identify original song by the lyrics disguised by an altered tune.

The informant described the significance of this game as a demonstration of the Bengali cultural obsession with music.  The game assumes an incredible amount of musical skill, one must be able to identify and manipulate these separate qualities of music, and as a listener one must also have an incredible knowledge of Bengali music so as to be able to identify lyrics in isolation from their melodies.  And because this game is so prevalent, it does indeed show an impeccable dedication by a very large group of people.

I believe such detailed interaction with music on such a large scale is very unique for a group of people.  The expectation is more than just being able to play an instrument, to play from a sheet of notes, it is more that the music is internalized, personalized and improvised.  Only a culture with the utmost respect and value would have such sacred personal involvement that would produce the playing of a game among so many people.

For another version that is more commonly played in other parts of India and Asia, Please visit this website: