Author Archives: Ruchika Tanna

Those who persevere get food.

My informant is an international student from the Philippines. She says that in the 1920s, the national language of the Philippines was Tagalog. However, in 1935, the Commission of the National Language decided to change some words of Tagalog to make the language more accessible to people who spoke different dialects. They called this new language Filipino, and made it, along with English and Spanish, one of the official languages of the Philippines. Filipino  is now taught though culture classes, in which students memorize and are tested on Filipino folklore.

 

The following is a Filipino proverb that my informant learned and has heard used, as well as used herself.

 

“Ang may tiyaga may nilaga.”

 

Those who persevere get food.

 

 

This proverb is about the importance of dedication and hard work. It is similar to the English proverb of the early bird catching the worm, in that it implies that an amount of commitment is necessary for success. My informant says that this proverb was often used as a reminder to those perceived to be lazy, and to those who conceded defeat easily.

 

 

On the creation of the Philippines

My informant is an international student from the Philippines. She says that in the 1920s, the national language of the Philippines was Tagalog. However, in 1935, the Commission of the National Language decided to change some words of Tagalog to make the language more accessible to people who spoke different dialects. They called this new language Filipino, and made it, along with English and Spanish, one of the official languages of the Philippines. Filipino  is now taught though culture classes, in which students memorize and are tested on Filipino folklore.

 

The following is a cosmogonic myth explaining the creation of the Philippines that she learned and still remembers.

 

“There’s a saying that the Philippines look like a sleeping child. Once upon a time, there was a family of giants that roamed the Earth. One afternoon, they were playing hide and seek. Being mythical creatures, they could breathe underwater. The tiniest child of the family decided to hide underwater. For a long time, the family didn’t realize he was missing, and he stayed underwater. After a while, people moved onto his protruding features. That is how the Philippines came to be!”

 

The Philippines do look like a sleeping child. However, I couldn’t find this version of the story of the Philippines’ creation anywhere else. All of the versions I could find involved the god of the water, Maguayan, and the god of the sky, Captan. This makes me wonder if the Filipino creation story my informant learned in elementary school, with giant children playing hide and seek, was geared specifically towards this younger audience. Also, the Philippines are officially a secular nation, with a predominantly Catholic population. Teaching a religious version of the creation story, and a pagan one at that, as part of the national curriculum would be frowned upon.

 

It’s like carrying wood to a forest

Although she is from Vietnam, my informant attends college in Finland. When I interviewed her, she was at USC for a semester abroad. Even though she has been living in Finland for the past few years, the folklore she is familiar with is very strongly influenced by her Vietnamese upbringing.

 

Below is one of the folk similes that she says her family regularly uses. (picture of text in Vietnamese attached)

 

Translated, it means “It’s like carrying wood to the forest.”

 

This simile’s message is one of redundancy. A forest is already filled with wood. It would be pointless to bring more.

 

My informant also gave me a hypothetical situation in which this simile would be used. “My mom has a seafood store. If I was to go to the beach, and bring food from the ocean, she’d use this expression, because we already have plenty of sea food, and I don’t need to bring more.”

 

I asked her why this particular folk simile centers on wood as being abundant, and if Vietnam is particularly forested. She said it wasn’t.

 

This simile is similar to the English simile of, “It’s like carrying coals to Newcastle.”

 

The Legend of Saint Giong

Although she is from Vietnam, my informant attends college in Finland. When I interviewed her, she was at USC for a semester abroad. Even though she has been living in Finland for the past few years, the folklore she is familiar with is very strongly influenced by her Vietnamese upbringing.

 

The following is a legend she recounted to me over dinner.

 

“A long time ago, there was an old married couple living in a small village. They were married for a long time but still did not have any children. The woman did not have pregnancies. One day the wife got up and went to the rice fields to work and then she saw a huge footprint on the ground. She was curious, and she tried to put her feet on the footprint to see how many times it was bigger than her foot, and then after that she came back home and she got pregnant the day after. Then 9 months were over, and nothing happened. After 12 months she gave birth to a boy. He was strong and grew quickly, but did not speak, laugh or cry. The parents did not know what to do, so the neighbors usually let their children come play with him, but he did not laugh or speak any words. When the boy was 3 years old, there was an invasion happening in the country, and they destroyed all the villages. The king sent someone, a messenger, to the village to call for help to go to the army. When the messenger came to the village and declared the king’s words, the little boy sat up and told his mother that he wanted to serve the country. The mother was surprised to hear her son’s first words. She invited the messenger to come to her house, and the little boy told him, “Come back to the king, and tell him to give me an iron horse, iron stick, and iron armor, and I’ll push the An invaders back to their homeland.” The messenger left for the capitol hurriedly, told the king about the little boy’s orders, and they prepared everything he wanted. So, since the messenger left the village, the boy ate too much, so that his parents didn’t have enough food for him. He grew so quickly that clothes that had just been worn for a short while became too tight. His neighbors, and all the people living nearby, brought rice and clothes to him. He grew with the help of the people around, and after some days he looked like a 20 year old man. So when the messenger came back to the village, the little boy had become a strong man. He wore the armor, took the stick and bowed his head to his parents and all of the people as a goodbye before riding the horse to go out to battle. He rushed into the aggressor, used the iron stick to beat them. His horse breathed fire to kill enemies. Suddenly, the iron stick was broken. He pulled out a clump of bamboo trees, and used it as a weapon to continue fighting. So the enemy was too scared and had to run away. After pushing the enemy back to their homeland as he had promised, the hero and his horse went to the top of a mountain named Soc. He bowed his head to say goodbye to his parents and village and all people again. After that he rode his horse to fly up to heaven, and nobody saw him again. The bamboo used in the battle now has special yellow stripes on its body as a mark of the fire which the horse blew when fighting against the enemy. Many ponds were left as marks of the horse feet. They use the name of the village he was born to call him Saint Giong.”

 

This legend has spurred the creation of a festival, which is held annually in the village of Giong, on the outskirts of Hanoi.  My informant has never been to this festival, but she has read about it in the news. Although a lot of tourists attend the Giong Festival, it still remains primarily for locals, in which they reenact the story of Saint Giong.

 

The primary message of this legend is one of self-sacrifice for the country. For a country that has been attacked by invaders multiple times in its history, this message is particularly poignant. The legend of Saint Giong is now taught in schools, and is an integral part of the Vietnamese identity. I think the Vietnamese government is using this legend to instill a sense of national pride in a shared hero, and thus and create national unity.

 

 

 

 

 

The Suicide House

My informant’s grandparents emigrated to the United States from China. The following story is from her maternal grandfather’s village in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, near the city of Toisan. She heard this story from her mother, who heard it from others in the village while visiting.

 

“This story is from my grandpa’s village, but is from before his time, back when arranged marriages were customary. In the village there was a cranky but wealthy man, who had made money in the United States and then came home to the village. One day, he decided to get married. This old, disgusting freak ended up marrying a young woman. The day of the wedding, she hung herself in his house. A short while later, the old man’s son also decided to get married. I’m not sure if it was his son or another male relative, a nephew maybe, but he was an idiot too. The woman he was marrying was smart and capable, but she had no way out of the marriage, so she hung herself too, in the same house. The house is now haunted by the ghosts of both of these women, and is avoided by those in the village.”

 

This ghost story reflects a traditional Chinese village’s societal views about the custom of arranged marriages. This negative view of arranged marriage, as well as the suicides of the young women, are topics which probably would have been taboo to talk about in day to day life. However, this ghost story provided an outlet for the villagers to do so. This story being remembered close to 100 years after it supposedly occurred shows that it is still very much a part of their culture, and that they still identify with the story.

Don’t put your shoes on the table!

My informant has a diverse familial background. Her maternal side of the family has been living in Pennsylvania for about 300 years, and is deeply entrenched in the Pennsylvania Dutch folkloric traditions. Her paternal family has come to America fairly recently – her grandparents emigrated from Italy shortly before her father was born.

 

One night, my informant came over to my apartment and immediately panicked because my roommate had her feet on the coffee table.

 

“In my house, putting shoes on a table means the worst possible luck, usually some kind of death. My dad’s exceptionally superstitious, but this is one of his most strongly held superstitions, so much so that after I go shopping, he confirms that there are no shoes in the shopping bags I place on our table.”

 

My informant had no idea where superstition originated, or what it meant. Out of curiosity, we looked it up, and found that this was an old mining superstition. When miners died while at work, in mining accidents, their shoes were brought back to their houses and placed on the table.

 

After hearing this, my informant exclaimed that this made perfect sense. Her town was primarily a mining community, and both of her grandfathers were miners. Her father probably grew up hearing this superstition, and without knowing exactly what it meant, he passed it on his own daughter, who continues to believe in it.

Ghosts and Catholicism?

My informant has a diverse familial background. Her maternal side of the family has been living in Pennsylvania for about 300 years, and is deeply entrenched in the Pennsylvania Dutch folkloric traditions. Her paternal family has come to America fairly recently – her grandparents emigrated from Italy shortly before her father was born.

 

While visiting the local cemetery, my informant’s father told her the following story, which she recounted for me.

 

“When my sister was really little, she and my dad were in the cemetery. She pointed up on the hill and said, ‘Who are those people?’, but there weren’t any people there.

 

My dad is firmly convinced she saw ghosts. That probably stems from my grandmother, I guess. I didn’t really know her that well. She believed that when kids are little, they can see ghosts, or things that other people can’t, because they’re so close to heaven…kind of like when people say that dying people can see their loved ones who are dead because they are so close to heaven and they’re going to die soon. My grandmother was Catholic, and she always said it was until the first Holy Communion.”

 

This story is an example of the sometimes hazy boundaries between religion and folklore. Churches are institutions, but they have a lot of folkloric aspects. As Oring suggests, the two are differentiated by the methods through which information is communicated. Because there isn’t an official edict telling Catholics such as my informant’s grandmother that children can see the supernatural until their first Holy Communion, her belief is a folk belief, probably learned by talking to other people.

New Year’s Rituals

My informant has a diverse familial background. Her maternal side of the family has been living in Pennsylvania for about 300 years, and is deeply entrenched in the Pennsylvania Dutch folkloric traditions. Her paternal family has come to America fairly recently – her grandparents emigrated from Italy shortly before her father was born.

 

Her family has a variety of New Year’s Eve traditions that they practice.

 

The first is that on New Year’s, my informant’s father gives each family member a silver coin. He used to give them an actual silver coin, but in recent years has been distributing dimes wrapped in foil. They then keep these silver (or silver wrapped) coins in their wallet for the rest of the year. Doing so ensures prosperity for the coming year. Each year, my informant gets rid of the old coin, and receives a new one. She isn’t sure where this tradition came from, but thinks it came from her Italian grandparents who have passed away. A  Google search showed that this tradition is actually common in a lot of cultures. Even though she doesn’t know the origins of this tradition, she continues to believe in and practice it, which is a testament to the power of folklore and superstitions.

 

The second New Year’s tradition that my informant practices is that precisely at midnight, she opens the back door to let the old year out, and then opens the front door to let the new year in. She has seen this ritual being practiced elsewhere in the community, such as at her friends’ houses when she goes to celebrate New Year’s with them.

 

New Year’s is a liminal period, especially at midnight. Because it is a liminal time, there are many rituals associated with New Year’s. Oftentimes, there is a belief that your behavior on New Year’s will carry into the next year, such as in the case of the silver dime. It is a time of moving on, and of leaving behind the past, as my informant’s family does by ritualistically ushering out the past before welcoming in the present.

 

 

 

Put some salt in it

 

Although she is from Vietnam, my informant attends college in Finland. When I interviewed her, she was at USC for a semester abroad. Even though she has been living in Finland for the past few years, the folklore she is familiar with is very strongly influenced by her Vietnamese upbringing.

 

Below is an example of folk speech that she uses. (picture of text in Vietnamese attached)

 

Translated, it means “Add some salt into it.”

 

My informant uses this phase when amongst her Vietnamese friends, after a particularly bad joke.

What she means with this phrase is that the joke was bland, or “tasteless”. It’s taken good-naturedly by her friends, who respond in kind when she makes jokes that weren’t funny.

 

My informant said that one of her American friends has also adopted this phrase. Instead of using it in Vietnamese, however, he uses the English translation. She finds this amusing, but is also perplexed that there was no English equivalent.

A car parks in front of a hotel…

Here’s a riddle my informant learned at Camp Allen, a camp her Montessori School would attend for three days.

A car parks in front of a hotel, and two people exchange money. Why?

 

Hint: There’s also a dog.

 

In spite of how long ago my informant learned this riddle, it continues to be her favorite because nobody has ever been able to guess the answer.

Answer: It’s Monopoly!

 

In our society, children use riddles as a means of empowerment. This question should be easy to answer, since it is centered on a game that most people are familiar with from their childhood. In all of the years of my informant asking this riddle, however, not a single person has gotten this right. For a child to essentially outwit an adult is for them to contradict societal norms and defy expectations.