Author Archive
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Bell Witch Haunting

“The legend of Bell Witch is a famous haunted house story in Tennessee.  There was once a farmer named John Bell who moved to a farm land in what is now known as Adams, Tennessee.  One day, John saw a strange animal in the field, so he tried to shoot it and it disappeared.  After that incident, the members of the family began hearing strange noises around the house.  The noises got worse and the family started hearing voices as well.  Soon, they were physically affected when the spirit would actually pull their hair, slap their faces, throw things, and much more.  After the presence became extremely unbearable, John decided ask around to receive help.  No one was able to get rid of the spirit because it was so powerful.  In the end, John got very sick and the spirit finally killed him after it poisoned him.  Today, it is believed that some areas in Adams are haunted because of Bell Witch.  Visitors have supposedly heard voices and sounds of laughter.  Also, people have taken pictures on the property, but the developed pictures would show a man standing behind the visitor in the picture.”

This legend is popular in Tennessee, so my informant heard about it after she moved to Tennessee from Texas several years ago.  Her friends and neighbors also mention the Bell Witch legend occasionally because of its popularity.  Theresa learned more about the legend after the movies Bell Witch Haunting and An American Haunting were made.  The movies provided her with a more thorough understanding of the story and the haunting that went on in the Bell house.
Because she has been exposed to this well-known legend as a Tennessee resident, my informant thinks about the story when the topic of haunted houses comes up.  Haunted houses remind her of the legend of Bell Witch, so she shares what she knows with people who don’t know the story.
Even though she shares this legend with those unfamiliar with it, she does not believe that it is true.  She does not believe in ghosts, so she does not think that the incidents that happened at the Bell house had to do with spirits and witches.  Although the tale of Bell Witch contains many supernatural occurrences, she does not have any explanation as to why the Bell family was taunted by a spirit.
Since I do believe in ghosts, I think that this story is highly credible.  Some of the incidents in the story do not really make sense, but I think that the Bell family could very likely have been haunted by Bell Witch.  There would not be a legend like this or recent incidents if none of this were true.  The fact that there are museums, researchers, and attractions dedicated to Adams, Tennessee reveals the legitimacy of the legend.  Visitors have experienced supernatural confrontations that relate back to the Bell family.  I do think that the property is haunted, even though I’m not quite sure I believe the entire background story.

Annotation:
Fitzhugh, Pat.  “The Bell Witch Haunting.”  The Bell Witch “Keeping the Story Real.”  16 Jan     2007.  21 April 2007 <http://www.bellwitch.org/story.htm>.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Proverbs

“Boys will be boys.”

My informant learned this saying from an old television show that he used to watch.  This saying has become part of his daily speech.  Almost every conversation he has includes his saying “boys will be boys” to the point that the person he is talking to is extremely puzzled.  He says it in situations in which they saying makes no logical sense, hence the confusion of the person he’s talking to.
My informant likes this saying for the irony and confusion.  He knows that it doesn’t make sense when he says it because he says it at the most random times.  When he says it, it somehow relates back to the conversation, but not necessarily.  It leaves people speechless because they don’t know how to respond.
For my informant, “boys will be boys” provides him with a sense of nostalgia because it reminds him of watching television as a child.  Because he learned the saying from watching a television show, the saying reminds him of childhood and the fun times he had as a child.
My interpretation of “boys will be boys” is quite different from his.  In his case, he says it for the sake of saying it.  I believe this saying represents how boys act, and many people interpret it this way as well.  This saying is a way of asserting that boys are stupid and immature.  Boys can act like complete idiots.  This saying is just a more polite way of explaining how boys can be.  I think that this saying is very useful in life when talking about boys.  It isn’t as harsh as saying how boys act.  By saying “boys will be boys,” people know what someone means without saying something in a blunt manner.

Digital
Folk Beliefs
Protection

“Don’t use your cell phone at the gas station because you can cause an electrical spark and everything will blow up!”

Since the boom of cell phones, my informant’s dad has been telling her to take precaution and not to use her cell phone when filling up at the gas station.  As a very informed physicist, Dr. Loo is always up to date with new information that he reads in the paper and on the Internet.  He passes on any information that he believes his daughter must know.  This urban legend is one of the few pieces of information that she actually attempts to remember because it actually affects her when she thinks about using a cell phone.
My informant, a very cautious teenager, never takes too many precautions.  She believes in any information that could have any element of truth, even if it’s not likely.  Whenever she goes to the gas station with a group of friends, she never lets a friend use a cell phone while at the station even if the person who wants to use his or her cell phone isn’t the one filling up the car.
She spreads this legend around because she thinks it’s possible, but not entirely true.  She believes that it’s a safety issue, so people can never be too safe.  The reason she tells people to avoid using cell phones at gas stations is to let them know the possibilities of danger.  She doesn’t want her friends to die at the gas station over a silly cell phone call.
I believe that this urban legend is in fact realistic.  It makes sense that cell phones can be a danger at gas stations.  According to a CNN article published in 1999, “a cell phone’s battery could spark and ignite gasoline fumes if the cell phone were dropped in proximity to a gas pump.”  Just the possibility that dropping a cell phone near a pump could cause a spark is enough information to say that using cell phones at gas stations is dangerous.  Because people are so busy with so many places to go, they tend to be more impatient, which sometimes make them more clumsy and careless.  They try to do several things at once, like filling up and talking on the phone at the same time.  There’s a risk of accidentally dropping cell phones, which relates to the legend.  Even cell phone manuals are taking caution and warning people to switch cell phones off when refueling.  The Nokia 6133 User Guide states to switch cell phones off at refueling points.  If cell phone manufacturers are warning the public that using cell phones at gas stations is a potential hazard, then I believe that this urban legend is definitely legitimate.

Annotation:
“Exxon warns dealers of cell phone risks.”  CNN.com  24 June 1999.  19 Feb 2007     <http://www.cnn.com/US/9906/24/exxon.cellphones/index.html>.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“A person needs a face; a tree needs bark.” (人 要 脸 树 要 皮)

 人  要  脸,树 要 皮
 

rén    yào    lǐan,       shù   yào    pí


person needs face,       tree needs bark
A person needs a face; a tree needs bark.

My informant immigrated to the United States about 30 years ago.  Before he moved to the US, he was well educated in Taiwan.  While in college in Taiwan, he learned many proverbs that he still remembers to this day.  Whenever he comes over to my house, I hear his profuse use of proverbs during conversations with my parents.
Michael uses “a person needs a face; a tree needs bark” to describe actions made by other people.  When he witnesses or hears about someone doing something wrong or shameful, he uses this perfect opportunity to say the proverb.  Instead of saying what everyone else would say, like expressing their thoughts on the wrongdoings of a person, Michael would use the proverb to describe his opinion.  Also, he would tell this proverb to his children whenever they broke rules.  He believes that words can be a very powerful form of punishment.  Leaving his children with this proverb, his children would contemplate the meaning of it and learn that they need to save face and act with dignity.
Michael believes that using proverbs as part of his vocabulary is valuable.  Not only do proverbs connect people to the past, but they also reveal knowledge that a person has.  Because Michael is from Taiwan, he has the traditional belief that people need to save face.  People need to have a good reputation and be respected by people.  Just like a tree and bark, a person cannot endure life without a face, both literally and metaphorically.  When people aren’t respected and admired, they live a less cherished life.
Proverbs can be very powerful, and I think that using this type of proverb to teach children is very effective.  Words can hurt more than actions, and with this proverb, words are more important than punishing through grounding.  This proverb reveals values that Chinese people hold.  As Michael said, the Chinese treasure respect and honor.  “A person needs a face; a tree needs bark” perfectly describes Chinese beliefs without coming out to say it directly.

Folk speech

“Don’t worry about it.”

My informant started hearing this saying two years ago during his junior year of high school.  People were saying it everywhere, and he couldn’t help but say it too.  “Don’t worry about it” became part of his more used expressions.  Eventually, all of his friends started saying it too.  It became one of the phrases that they would know when to use.  They used it so frequently that they would answer any question or comment with “don’t worry about it.”
He uses the saying when, obviously, he doesn’t want someone to worry about something.  He replaced “it’s alright,” along with other phrases, with “don’t worry about it.”  He started saying it even when it didn’t really apply.  If a person asked him a question and he didn’t feel like answering, he would just reply with “don’t worry about it.”
He does not know what he would do without this saying.  He has begun to rely on it so much because it allows him to answer even when he doesn’t know what to say.  It’s also become special to him because it’s pretty much an inside joke between him and his friends.  “Don’t worry about it” is accepted as an appropriate way of responding his friends, but not so much with others.
I think that this phrase is just a way of avoiding things.  Some usages of it is fine, but when someone answers back with “don’t worry about it” when there should be an actual answer, I think that the person is just trying to avoid questions.  I think that my informant and his friends shouldn’t rely on this saying when they’re having conversations with other people.  Replying with “don’t worry about it” after every few questions can become quite frustrating, especially when you need answers.

Earth cycle
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Winter Solstice Festival (冬至)

冬至
dōng zhì
Winter Solstice Festival

“The Winter Solstice Festival is very important to the Chinese culture.  It is celebrated around December 21, the shortest day of the year.  This festival celebrates longer daylight, which means that there’s more positive energy.  For this festival, families get together and eat tangyuan.  Tangyuan are glutinous rice balls that represent reunion.  It allows families to reunite.”

My informant learned the item when she grew up in Taiwan.  It’s an important Chinese tradition that most people participate in.  My mom has been celebrating the Winter Solstice Festival ever since she was a little kid, and now my family celebrates it every year.
My family celebrates the festival on December 21.  We have a huge family reunion with my aunts and uncles.  We go to a Chinese restaurant to eat a delicious dinner, while catching up on everybody’s life.  After dinner, each family separates and goes home.  At home, my mom cooks tangyuan for my whole family.  Usually, she makes several stuffed tangyuan and many small plain ones.
My mom enjoys this celebration because she loves family get-togethers.  With the busy lives that everyone leads now, my parents do not get to see their brothers and sisters often.  This festival is a chance for everyone to reunite.  This celebration is particularly important to my mom because of the fact that we always have a family reunion on this day.  This day also allows my mom to sit down with my family while eating tangyuan.
I think that this festival is significant to Chinese culture and Chinese families.  I agree with my mom, and I think that families really don’t have very much time to sit down and talk to each other.  Even family dinners are becoming so rare in American families.  Parents are always working and children have extracurricular activities and large amounts of homework that keep them from eating at a set time.  Also, this festival shows Chinese values.  Chinese people value positive things, so the fact that after the winter solstice is over and there will be days with longer daylight is relative to their beliefs.

Game
Humor

Flatulence Game

“When person A farts, it is person A’s duty to call “safety” before person B calls “doorknob.”  If person B calls “doorknob,” person B can punch person A for his sinful act of farting in public.”

Duke learned this game from his friends sometime in high school.  It became a very popular game among the boys at his high school.  Boys tend to fart a lot, so this game provides them with a punishment for farting in public.
Since Duke and his friends have a habit of farting numerous times when they’re with each other, they play this game a lot.  Whenever someone farts, it’s an immediate reaction to hear the word “safety” or “doorknob” following the fart.  Duke claims that he plays this game to get a cheap-shot off of a friend’s fart.  It also provides them with entertainment as they laugh about farts and punching each other.
Even though Duke thinks that this game is stupid, he still does it.  It has become something that all of his friends know.  This game is their way of reacting to farts.  They think that there has to be a consequence for farting in public, so a punch suffices as a punishment.
I think that, in a way, this game is good for boys.  It forces them to take the blame for farting in public.  Farting in public is very disgusting and immature.  Boys need to learn to keep their gas in until the appropriate time.  With this game, maybe boys will avoid farting whenever they choose to.  However, I don’t think that boys should have a game to prevent them from farting in public.  They should know not to do it.  The fact that they need a game proves that some boys are just immature and rude.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Material
Protection
Signs

“You have an eyelash on your face, make a wish!”

My informant learned this superstition when she was very young, so she doesn’t recall when she learned it.  She has been taking part of this superstition ever since she was in elementary school, where she probably learned it from a friend.  Whenever she sees a stray eyelash other people’s faces, she takes the eyelash, puts it on their finger and tells them to make a wish and blow the eyelash off.  She puts the eyelash on her finger if she finds an eyelash on her face and follows the same procedure.
She said that she does not believe in this superstition, yet she does it anyway.  According to her, there is no validity to this superstition, so she doesn’t believe her wishes will come true.  She believes that this eyelash superstition exists because losing an eyelash is more unusual than losing strands of hair.  Wishing with a strand of a hair would definitely not be as special because people lose many strands of hair everyday.
She tells this superstition because it has become a routine if she sees a loose eyelash.  It has become embedded in her that she has an automatic reaction to tell it.
Like the superstition of making a wish at 11:11, I do not necessarily believe that blowing an eyelash off my finger while making a wish will make my wish come true.  The willingness of a person to make his or her wish happen is what makes a wish come true.  Usually people do not rely on an eyelash wish, so they take action and make it happen.  I believe that eyelash wishing does contribute to making a wish become reality, but a person’s actions are what makes it become reality.

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Luaus

“Luaus are gatherings that you can find and go to, especially in the touristy areas of Hawaii.  Basically, people eat Hawaiian food like lomi salmon (tomatoes and smoke salmon), lau lau (meat-like chicken of fish or pork-wrapped and cooked in taro leaves), long rice (clear-looking spaghetti noodles in a soup), poi (ground up taro made into a mush), and kalua pig (traditionally cooked in a hole in the ground).  Luaus are a time to celebrate the Hawaiian culture.  Not only is there Hawaiian food, but there’s also Hawaiian music, which is usually performed by a local band or singer from the islands.  These bands and singers perform Hawaiian songs with ukuleles and other instruments.  Also, hula dancing to slow Hawaiian songs is a popular form of entertainment.  Another type of dance, the Tahitian dance, involves women who dress up in a really big skirt and wear coconut bras and move their hips around really fast.  There are also fire dancers, usually men who spin around sticks that are lit at the ends and toss around a baton thrower.”

By living in Hawaii her entire life, my informant has been exposed to luaus all the time.  Luaus are always going on and there aren’t any specific dates as to when a luau is held.  Luaus occur in hot tourist spots like the Waikiki strip or in the countryside on the North Shore, where people hang out at the beaches.  There’s also a Polynesian cultural center at the North Shore that holds luaus for tourists.  Luaus have become so popular that they’re popular among both Hawaiian natives and tourists.  She doesn’t attend luaus whenever she wants.  People hold luaus as parties, so she goes whenever she’s invited.
    Antonette thinks that luaus are great.  She considers them as parties that she attends to see her friends and family, only everything in a luau is about the Hawaiian culture.  If anything, it’s also a cultural experience, so the main idea is to celebrate the Hawaiian culture and spread it around to others.  She likes going to luaus when she has the chance because of the food, music, performances, and dancing.  Luaus allow my informant to eat Hawaiian food because she doesn’t normally eat Hawaiian food on a daily basis.  Also, she likes some of the bands that play Hawaiian or reggae music because she doesn’t listen to that type of music often, so it’s cool and exciting to see live bands and to dance on stage with friends.
When I traveled to Hawaii on vacation five years ago, I was able to experience an authentic Hawaiian luau.  Of course, the luau was staged for tourists, but I witnessed actual Hawaiian activities, food, and music.  I can definitely see why both natives and tourists enjoy going to luaus.  I was never bored during the luau because there were so many activities going on.  The Hawaiians even allowed tourists to participate by learning the different types of dances.  In addition to observing, tourists are able to learn part of Hawaiian culture.
Everything that my informant described to me was there at the luau that I attended.  I was able to observe a very entertaining Hawaiian tradition that I think is important to maintain.  Hawaii has such an incredible and unique past, and it is extremely different from the rest of the United States.  It’s important to continue the tradition so that future generations can take pleasure in attending such a distinctive custom.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Malinche

Es la montaña Malintzin de un aspecto bello y hermoso que se levanta implorando lluvias de los altos cielos.  Y no es raro presenciar nubes que arrebata el viento, pero las de la Malintzin son seguros aguaceros.  Una vez consumada la conquista, los aztecas, al saber que Marina había muerto, trataron de recuperar su cuerpo.  Cuando lo tuvieron en su poder lo escondieron en muchos lugares tratando de evitar que cayera en manos de los españoles.  En una montaña descubrieron una cueva gigantesca, y en el caballo que le había regalado Cortés la montaron y la subieron al cerro y la internaron en el fondo de la cueva que sellaron con grandes rocas.  Apostaron guardias en puntos estratégicos para cuidarla.  Desde entonces los nativos de la montaña la llaman Malintzin y desde su cresta nos manda aguaceros.  Se mira una silueta que describe su cuerpo que dormido pide las lluvias del cielo.

Beautiful is the “Malintzin” mountain that rises above the clouds imploring the heavens for rain. It is not rare that the presence clouds are stirred by the wind, but the clouds of “Malintzin” are a sure sign of rain. Once the conquest had been accomplished, the Aztecs, having known that Marina had passed away, tried to recover her body. Once they had it in their possession, they hid it in many places in an attempt to avoid it from falling into the hands of the Spaniards.   In a mountain they discovered a giant cave, and on the horse that Cortes had given her, they mounted her body and they carried her up the mountain and placed her at the end of the cave and sealed it with giant rocks. They placed guards in strategic places to watch over her. Since then the natives of the mountain call her “Malintzin” and from the peak sends us rain. It is said that the silhouette that describes her body can be seen asleep beckoning the heavens for rain.

My informant learned the legend of La Malinche from his grandmother.  When he learned to speak at the age of three or four, he started asking many questions and becoming inquisitive.  He asked his grandmother where the rain came from, and she replied with the story of La Malinche.  This legend is not only known in his family though.  It is a common legend in Mexico and Central America.
My informant does not actually tell this story to others.  He usually hears it rather than share it with others.  He has no reason to tell others because in most cases, people already know about the legend.  Caleb considers this a legend that older people tell younger generations.  They use this legend to explain the reason we have rain.
My informant does not think that this legend is true.  The story of La Malinche and what happened may be true, but as far as the reason for rainfall, he does not believe it.  Even though he does not think that La Malinche is the reason for rain, he thinks it’s important.  In the future, he wants to pass it on to his children because it’s part of his culture.  To a certain extent, it’s even a part of him.  The legend identifies his people because of the struggle between early Americans and Spaniards that conquered the Aztecs.  It sets them apart from the Spanish because their beliefs are different.
I agree with what my informant said about the legend.  The legend, although it may not be the reason for rain, gives children an explanation for why we have rain.  Through this story, children from Mexico and Central America are able to learn about the hardships that the Aztecs had to endure when the Spaniards invaded their land.  Maintaining culture in a society is extremely important, especially since cultures are starting to mix and die out.  People need to know their heritage, the history of their people, and how they got to where they are today.  Culture is one of the few ways that we can still connect to the past.  These legends allow people to learn about historical figures that are important in a culture.

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