Author Archive
Legends
Narrative

Soukouyas

It’s a witch. A witch that sucks blood, almost like a vampiric witch that flies. They kill cattle, they suck the blood from the cattle. People will wake up and find their sheep, or cattle, or goats or whatever dead. And the soucouyas are typically associated with women, typically not men. And they supposedly remove their skin…and when they turn into the soucouya, then they have the power to fly. But they have certain weird traits, almost like their kryptonite. (laughs). Their krypotonite is stuff like salt. You can stop them in their tracks by putting a pile of salt and they have to stop and count the salt. You know, you hear stories, as my mom said she’s seen people flying, some people who got it by practicing some kind of witchcraft. Or obeah. We call in obeah. But people do believe there are people like this. Also, and there was a person, apparently, and I heard this from my cousin, because her sister was actually a nurse, a major nurse at the general hospital in Dominica. And there was a woman who came in, and they said she was a soucouya. She had removed her skin, right? But what happened was somebody hid her skin – you can hide it or you could put something on it so they can’t get back in it. So after they finish flying around and they try to go back in their skin, either it’s hidden or it’s made unsuitable for them to put on. It’s what they put on it. I’m not sure if it’s salt or pepper or what. And she couldn’t get back in her skin. And they die if they can’t get back in their skin. So she ended up in the hospital, just dying and I think she died in the hospital. So that was a documented case. Now again, I’m taking this from my cousin, and she wouldn’t have a reason to lie, and neither would her sister, but who knows, maybe the women was a burn victim or something, but they said all of her skin was gone, which is a very unusual burn type case, you know? Not like a burn case which is typically where part of your body has some skin off, but your entire body had the skin removed? How is that possible? So it seems like that is a credible documentation on someone who had their skin completely removed which does support the soucouya concept. So sometimes I’m like, well I don’t know, I’ve never seen one, but I can’t say they don’t exist, partly because of people who say that they do exist.

 

My mother has told me about this legend several times. The soucouya, as my mother calls it, is also known as a soucouyant, soucriant, soukonian, a true Loogaroo, and Ole-Higue in different parts of the Caribbean and in some cases, the south of the United States. I’ve heard variations on the tale where the soucouya is always an old woman who lives on the edge of a village and exchanges blood she collects from people and animals for magic powers with a demon, sometimes the devil. In some tales she specifically sucks blood from babies, an example of the monstrous mother archetype that Warner discussed in Six Myths of Our Time. Clearly, not only is the soucouya an explanation for livestock dying from unknown sickness or perhaps starvation, but it also reflects misogyny in Dominican and other West Indian cultures. An autonomous woman who lives on her own is viewed as stepping outside the gender norms; thus she is a labeled a witch, unnatural, a threat, and in this case, a soucouya.

 

Myths
Narrative

Why the Plants are Gods

From what I can remember, there was a race of living beings, some species before us, way before our time, that knew that we were coming out of the muck and they were much farther evolved than we are or were at the time. I suppose you could say at the time we were either very weird fishy organisms in what we called the muck or something even more devolved than that. And they recognized that something intelligent was going to come out, something that had the capacity to change its environment, grow in strength and power and number. And so that species decided to leave behind some of its intelligence in the form of other living things on the planet, in particular, plants. And those plants ended up helping us in our evolution as we progressed and they spoke to us, so to speak. And they continue to speak to us through different mediums and to the people that choose to listen.

 

My informant learned this myth from a South American shaman who uses plants for medicinal, psychotherapeutic, psycho-spiritual, and healing purposes and ceremonies. It’s a myth about human intelligence and plant intelligence and how we didn’t get to this point on our own, but were given help. What I take from this myth is a particular respect for nature as well as an explanation for the profound powers plants have on their own and the powers they have in our bodies, concerning food, medicine, and even drugs when we find the appropriate ways to extract those powers. Working with plants, humans have developed agriculture and advanced kinds of medicine through practice and study, or as the shaman would say, by listening to what the plants had to tell us and still have to tell us.

 

Folk Beliefs
general

Body of Christ

My mother was told – and believed- that if she bit the uh Eucharist wafer or whatever, it would bleed forever and that you would drown in the blood. Like it would just fill your stomach. I guess you wouldn’t drown, I don’t know what would happen if your stomach was just forever filled with blood, you’d probably get sick.

 

My informant was told this by his mother who heard it at church as a girl. What’s interesting is that this could have multiple purposes. Maybe another kid told it to her just to scare her within a religious setting as a form of children folklore backlash against an establishment and ritual associated with parents. Perhaps she was told this by an adult who believed that biting the communion wafer was disrespectful, because it represents the body of Christ and biting it might represent mutilating it, thus s/he scared my informants mother into not biting it.

 

Humor
Musical

Chris Travaglini Rhyme

Chris Travaglini has a forty-foot weenie
And he stuck it out the bedroom door
His mom thought it was snake and hit it with a rake
And now it’s only four-foot four
 

This is a rhyme my informant and a group of his friends made up about a classmate when they were in middle school. They made it up at an age when most people are going through puberty and finding ways to deal with it, which would explain why the rhyme is penis-joke based. Also middle school is a time when group-forming, teasing, and bullying are heightened.

Legends
Narrative

The Legend of the One-Eyed Gangster

So this kid lived in my neighborhood – I don’t even think this is worth telling because it’s so ludicrous – he was like, “Yeah, I’m like wanted by this gang member who lives across the train tracks from us.” And he only has one eye and he wears an eye-patch. (laughs) And when he kills people he takes their eyes and makes a stew and eats this eyeball stew. (laughs) So he’s like, “yeah, I started dating his girlfriend and then 15 of his thugs jumped me in an alley and I killed all of them, but then he like, killed my girlfriend and so I had to bring her body back and I left it on the doorstep of her parents house. But they saw me put it there so they thought I did it…so I had to watch her funeral from afar.”

 

This story is indeed ludicrous, and was probably told to my informant just to be an entertaining story that would impress listeners with the tale teller’s character: he tangled with dangerous people, was skilled in battle, and ended up dating the girlfriend of the gang leader – a bold move. They both also lived in the same town that had cultures divided by train tracks, which I’ve only heard of in films and books until this point. So, the gangster coming from the other side of the tracks evokes a sense of otherness.

 

 

Folk speech
general

Coop Foot

Coop foot is what happens when you live in a house with twenty-two people, three cats, three chickens, and occasionally a dog that we bring home. And you never fucking wear shoes and you walk in the dirt and walk around outside and you jump on the trampoline and then your feet are just black – blacker than the lungs of the people who sit on the porch all the time smoking cigarettes. And you track that shit everywhere and the floor never gets cleaned, so it just builds and builds and builds and it’s beautiful.

 

Coop Foot, also know as Co-op Foot, is a term my informant told me is used by the people who live in her house; she learned it from multiple people, not just one. She told me about this term on her front porch while she at the time had ‘a mild case of coop foot.’ It falls under a collective running joke among the house members concerning how filthy their house is. If someone takes a shower and then walks around downstairs for even just ten minutes, she says their feet get impossibly dirty. However, she used the term affectionately and had a poetic description for it. It sounded as though she had a sense of pride about it, probably because it’s something she and her housemates have bonded over.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

“When you are an anvil, bear, a hammer, strike.”

My mother, who says this proverb has a lot of significance for her as an adult, learned it from her father, who was a strict man with a tough work ethic and a Latin scholar. My mom’s family immigrated to the United States from Dominica when she was a kid and they were able to do so, because her father had saved up enough money to be deemed self-sufficient by US immigration. The meaning of this proverb is about timing, preparation, patience, thinking strategically and taking the right opportunities. When you are the anvil, you have to take the blow, because that is the position you are in. Basically, sometimes you have to pay your dues early on in order to be in a position to reap the reward later. Moving through life smartly means not striving for instant gratification. You have to wait, plan, and work hard for opportunities that may come in the future. Essentially, you must put yourself in a position to strike, so you are able to take opportunities when they manifest for you.

 

1. This was official quoted by Edwin Markham.

Translations from other languages:

2. If thou art an anvil then suffer: if a hammer, then strike.  Romanian

3. If you are an anvil be patient; if you are a hammer strike hard.  German

4. It is better to be the hammer than the anvil.  French

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech

Sana Sana Culito de Rana

Sana sana, culito de rana
Si no sanas hoy,
Sanarás mañana

Translation:

Heal heal, little ass of frog
If it doesn’t heal today
It will heal tomorrow
 

This is a rhyme that parents, usually moms, will say to their kids when they get a little injury. My informant said that it’s like a mom kissing a boo-boo and that you can hear a lot of Latin mothers say this to their kids; he learned it from his. Sometimes there will be variations on it such as:

“sana, sana, culito de rana,
si no se te alivia ahora,
se te aliviará mañana”

Translation:
it heals, heals, little ass of frog,
if it is not alleviated to you now,
is alleviated to you tomorrow

Sometimes parents will change “ass” to “tail” or “bottom” for little boo-boos and keep it as “ass” for boo-boos that hurt a lot.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Jehovah’s Witness Dungeons & Dragons Legend

It’s supposed to be a warning tale. Basically the story is that back in the seventies, there were some kids that were Jehovah’s Witnesses that got really interested in Dungeons and Dragons and played it a lot. They got the idea that it would very cool if they could trap a demon themselves. So they decided they would glue a bunch of Watchtower magazines to this box and the walls or something – they were in a garage. And then they would do a summoning incantation to summon the demon…and they happened to summon a demon, but it wasn’t as easy as catching the demon in a box. And the boys were stuck in the garage for a long time, like quite a few hours, umm…but when their family finally got them out, one of the boys was dead and two of the other ones were like insane basically, and they were never okay after that.

I’m not sure how far outside of California this story goes, but there are different people I’ve talked to that have kind of said that story or some version of it that those people were alive in the seventies and stuff. And I got to hearing it because, you know, there are different card games and stuff that you grow up with that are usually kind fantasy based like, every generation seems to have them now. So when I got interested in certain card games, that was a kind of story my dad would tell me to get me to not play or throw it away or why he would throw it away. Funny thing, like, he liked Lord of the Rings a lot, but he kept it really hidden, really quiet cause he didn’t want other people in the church knowing, because it was satanic. It had magic in it and it had monsters and stuff like that.

 

It’s pretty clear by what my informant said, that this legend is meant to scare kids, and probably adults too, away from anything associated with the occult, magic, monsters, or anything deemed unnatural and dangerous by the congregation. My informant heard this legend from multiple people, particularly his father and stepmother as well as people who claimed to know the congregation where the legend occurred. The purpose of legends like this, with their essences of possibility and truth, is to keep people in line and keep them obedient. I’m skeptical of all organized religion, but particularly those that foster a culture and lore of fear to keep the followers “faithful.”

general
Narrative

Redefining Conception

Yeah, I don’t remember like all the things she talked about but, just the one point I remember was how she redefined the behavior and the egg – conception. Because we’re always taught in school that like – the common knowledge or whatever is that the egg is passively waiting, doing nothing and the sperm like actively compete to enter the egg. I mean, it follows gender stereotypes of women being passive and men being active and men competing to get the girl or whatever, you know. It’s stupid. So she redefined it that by saying that actually the egg opens, which is an action. The egg opens for the sperm it wants to contribute it genes. (laughs) Well, I think that’s pretty cool. And the she used that as like an analogy for our relationships and choice in relationships. It makes it really clear, that story among many, how well-ingrained those beliefs about what women are like and what men are like. It’s so unconscious. Everyone’s just like, ‘oh yeah, well the sperm compete to enter the egg. I mean, everyone knows that.’ People don’t even think about how that’s conforming to gender stereotypes. And also, people think that the idea that sperm are competing to enter the egg – people think of that as biological fact. It’s like accepted as science. Which makes it unequivocal. Whereas actually, it’s an interpretation and it’s a gendered interpretation. She was drawing our attention to that. I learned this at a full moon ritual put on by Mujeres de Maize in Los Angeles.

My informant is pretty explanatory on the significance of this conception story. I found it particularly meaningful because it does challenge what we are typically taught about the most quintessence examples of how biological femaleness and maleness interact. This retelling dismisses the concept of women naturally being submissive or being supposed to act submissive. It’s surprising how concepts like that become so ingrained within us without us even being consciously aware of them, which was why I, and other women as well, found the story so eye-opening and empowering at the same time.

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