Author Archive
Humor
Legends
Narrative

A Ugandan Tall Tale

Item:

“I was rafting, on the Nile River in Uganda, we spent the whole day rafting, and we set up camp for the night in this little encampment area on the bank. So we’re sitting there, we’re like cracking beers and stuff, just sitting around this campfire, like the classic storytelling setting, and someone’s like ‘aw man, maybe we should tell ghost stories,” and I’m like ‘oh I don’t know if I know any.’ And we just go around and some people tell some scary stuff that’s happened to them or like various ghost stories that they know, and then this Ugandan guy that’s with us, one of the guides is like ‘I know a ghost story.’ And we’re like ‘okay!’ what could this guy be possibly about to tell us, so we strap in. And he tells us he was just chilling in this village in Uganda, just hanging out, when this man approached him and his friends and was like, ‘I’ll bet you I can drink a whole bottle of Konyagi without throwing up.’ And just to fill you in Konyagi is like the world’s shittiest gin. It is, it comes in plastic bags in like individual serving sizes and it comes in bottles, it’s like turpentine. It’s absolute worst. So, this man, he’s a stranger, comes up to my guide and is like ‘I can drink a whole bottle without throwing up.’ And the guide’s like, ‘ok you’re on, I’ll take you up on this bet, if you throw up, you have to pay me, if you don’t throw up, I owe you the bottle.’ And he’s like ‘ok.’ So they go to the store and the buy the bottle and the man drinks the entire bottle of Konyagi and everyone is just stunned that he was able to do it, then he dies. Of alcohol poisoning, he died because he didn’t throw up. So this man bought the alcohol that killed the stranger so he’s like ‘oh my god, I feel so responsible, I have to at least buy this man a coffin.’ So him and his friends get in this truck and they drive to wherever you go to buy coffins in Uganda and they pick one up for this little village outside theirs. So they’re on the way back and they’re on the road driving along when they see this hitchhiker. They pick him up and he’s like ‘hey are you headed to so-and-so’ and they’re like ‘yeah as a matter of fact, we are, you can hop in the bed of the truck, there’s a coffin back there, don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal,” and he’s like “oh ok no problem.” So the hitchhiker gets in the bed of the truck and they’re cruising along on the road and it starts to rain, and the people inside the truck don’t really notice because they’re sitting inside but the guy in the back is like ‘oh man, I don’t want to get rained on,” so he hits inside the coffee, he’s like “I’ll just hang out inside this coffin until it stops raining.” So he gets in and he closes the door and he’s just waiting there. So they’re driving along the rain eventually stops. The people in the truck no nothing about what’s going on in the back. The guy in the coffin still thinks that it’s raining so he’s just sitting there. And they’re driving along and they see another hitchhiker and he’s like ‘hey are you headed to so-and-so’ and they’re like ‘yeah as a matter of fact, we are, you can hop in the bed of the truck, there’s a coffin back there, don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal,” and he’s like “oh ok no problem;” same thing as before and he sits in the bed of the truck too. So they’re cruising along, and the guy inside the coffin realizes it’s stopped raining. And he didn’t know that this other person is in the bed of the truck as well. So he’s like ‘oh it’s stopped raining, I think I’ll just pop out and take a look.” He opens up the coffin and he’s just like rising out of it. Meanwhile, the guy who was sitting in the back of the truck didn’t know that there was a man in this coffin trying to get out of the rain. So what he sees is a man rising out of a coffin that he thinks is like a zombie, and he’s so horrified at the thought of this man rising out of this coffin to see him, that he jumps out of bed of the truck and dies.”

Context:

The informant heard this story while he was in Africa working to spread HIV prevention and awareness. This rafting excursion was taken as a leisure trip amidst all of the work he was doing.

Analysis:

The way the informant told of this whole ordeal was so engrossing that I wonder just how great it would have been to hear the original story from the Ugandan man. That said, this story is not a ghost story, as he said it was. Even though he related it as if it happened to him, the story and its slapstick comedy is too perfectly paced for it to have actually happened. Or could it? That’s the beauty of legend.

 

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Valentine’s Day and White Day in South Korea

Item:

“Um, in Korea, they observe like different ways of celebrating like Valentine’s Day, in comparison to like Western cultures. Uh in Korea uh on Valentine’s Day, on February 14, instead of the guys getting something for the girls, it’s girls getting something for the guys. It’s usually like homemade chocolates, um like homemade baked goods, just like all this stuff. And then, a month later, on March 14, it’s called White Day where the guys kind of give back to the girls. There’s a saying I think where they give back three times as much, but what they do is the usually give also chocolate, marshmallows, and if it’s like couples they give each other like lingerie, all this other stuff.”

Context:

White Day is celebrated not only in South Korea, but also in Japan, Taiwan, and China.

Analysis:

That the men have to three times as much to the girls on White Day than they receive from them on Valentine’s Day points to the holiday’s purpose as a celebration of human relationships, and what inevitably ensues from them. The spring date of the festival reflects the associations of this particular season, mainly, fertility. In giving three times more than they receive, the males are attempting to find a partner, ultimately to fulfill the unconscious goal of reproduction.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Easter in Texas

Item:

“We have a ranch. It’s 30 acres, fairly big. I’d say if you walked all the way around it, on the fence, about three miles. Um and on this ranch we’ve got forest area, and then we’ve got these big fields, and every year, at Easter, my grandpa would take 1500 dollars, and he’d put them in eggs, and he’d invite everybody, depending on who was coming, he’d like, up the ante, you know, if a lot of friends of the family we’re coming he’d put down 2000, 2500 in these eggs. And the night before, you’re not allowed to watch him, you couldn’t even be there, he plants these eggs, in this field. Sometimes he’ll dig [pauses for emphasis] a foot deep. The trick is, they have to be like visible. Sometimes he’d plant them and then at night it would rain, and the eggs would sink to the bottom, get covered up by mud. The thing was, he’d always keep track of how many eggs there were, he made a map, of where all the eggs were so if anybody didn’t find them he wouldn’t waste any money. Now, it was getting to the point where he’d put money into the eggs at the beginning, and people weren’t finding all of the eggs. But, he started to just place all the eggs out there, empty, and mark them with either like a 0, an x, a triangle, you know, like a square, and each one of those corresponded to a certain amount of money. And you’d collect all your eggs, these empty shells and you’d give it to him you’d hand them in and he’d pay you that amount of cash. And of course there was a brunch. It started at eleven o’clock [pause] but there was a brunch, and a dinner. Anyway the brunch, the kids ten and under got to go in first, get a five minute head start.”

Context:

The informant, who went to high school with me, regarding his family’s Easter tradition, stated: “it was just a family gathering and we did that every single year until my grandpa died this year, so uh we don’t do it anymore, but we did it every year since I could remember. I think, I think even like decades before that, you know. And it’d be a time, where the whole family got together and told stories from over the years because people would come from all over, come from Alabama, we had people from Kentucky come, things like that. We would have all of our family come in, and one year, people from Phoenix came in, and Barstow, which is just down the road. So we’d tell stories, get to catch up.”

Analysis:

The enthusiasm with which the informant told this story indicates how important this Easter tradition is to him. That the tradition died along with the death of his grandfather demonstrates the great extent to which the grandfather was revered in the informant’s family. The importance placed on this game of egg hiding and the lengths he would go to make this game a success reveal a lot about the character of the informant’s grandfather, mainly that he was a sporting man that was invested in devising the best possible egg hunt, but also a wise man, one who would thoroughly plan his endeavors.

 

Myths
Narrative

The Monkey God

Item:

“Ok so the story is called, I think like the English translation is called, like the Monkey God, or like the Monkey King or something. Basically it’s about this, uh, this like monkey character in like Chinese mythology, who uh, like he’s born basically with godlike characteristics. Um and he proves himself like a very strong warrior, uh like very smart, things like that. Um, but he greatly angers the gods, like in heaven, in this, it’s set in like a Buddhist context, kind of. He greatly angers the gods, so, he’s kind of like uh, he’s not exactly a full-fledged god in their eyes. Um so he greatly angers them so he’s basically punished for I think like 500 years, he’s punished um to like basically like have this like giant mountain, be on top of him for 500 years and that’s his punishment. Um and he is basically set free when this Buddhist monk um comes by and decides to accept him as his disciple, um and basically the rest of the story is about this monk as he, he gathers two more disciples, each of them have sin in their own way, and basically it’s about his journey to India to, I dunno, achieve some sort of salvation of some sort. Um, and basically like his disciples greatly help him along the way, and the whole myth is about their misadventures, facing adversities and stuff, and overcoming it. Um and basically about how this monkey god sort of redeems himself for all of the sin that he’s committed.”

Context:

The informant said that “it’s like a really popular Chinese folklore. Like I used to watch cartoons of it when I was little. Yeah so like um, it’s a really long myth so like basically it’s like broken up into a ton of episodes. Um yeah so I used to just watch it as a kid. They had a lot of different versions of it, animated and live action.” She also would hear parts of the story while attending Chinese school as a child.

Analysis:

My research revealed that the story, as most people know it, stems from Wu Cheng’en’s 1592 novel, Journey to the West. The novel itself is a fictionalized account of the pilgrimage to India of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang, already a legendary figure by the 16th century. That this story about a Buddhist monk is so popular says a lot about Chinese culture, mainly that the ascetic life of a monk is something that all people can learn valuable lessons from.

Here is a link to the USC library page on the book, where it’s call number can be found, as I could not find the full text online: https://library.usc.edu/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/0/0/5?searchdata1=4023263{CKEY}

Legends
Narrative

An Encounter with the Yeti

Item:

“So when I was younger, my grandfather would always tell me stories about his experiences with the yeti. And he was very keen, on like, calling the yeti the yeti and not big foot or ice man or anything. And he described the yeti as this monstrous, white-furred creature that lived in the coldest parts of the world. And so he said that one time, him and his buddies were up in Alaska (actually buddy, I remember it was one person), him and his friend were up in Alaska and I had just learned about glaciers in elementary school so I ask him like ‘what’s a glacier?’ and  he told me this story about how he was in Alaska and he was like touring the glaciers, um and him and his friend were in a tour group and went off the track, off the trail. And they were walking around just waltzing about minding their own business when all of the sudden they came up to a giant impasse where one glacier, there was like a giant ditch before the other glacier, um and so they had to get across somehow. So he said they had no idea what to do, they had gone off the trail, completely by themselves, and he said that all of the sudden, the yeti, who I was aware of because of these other stories, the yeti had come from out of nowhere it seemed um and picked my grandfather and his friend up and over the giant ditch and placed them on the other side.”

Context:

The informant stated that even though he “couldn’t actually logically reason it out like oh there has to be a yeti because of this evidence and that evidence,” because his grandfather said it, “it had to be true.”

Analysis:

The story the informant’s grandfather tells is a legend because it takes place in the real world and its truth value is unknown. His grandfather still maintains that the stories are true, most likely reflecting his unspoken desire for his grandson to continue to spread the legacy of the yeti through his own stories told to his kids and grandkids.

Legends
Narrative

Elsie the Cow

Item:

“During the Anglo Boer war my great grandmother (Dirkie Joubert) was a young married woman living on a typical farm of the time;  in the old Transvaal province of South Africa. It was the year 1900. The Anglo Boer war that started in 1899 had been continuing for a couple of years. This was the war between the British and the Afrikaners rebellion against British rule.

The men have all gone to fight on the battle field, leaving the woman and children behind, alone on the farms. As the woman continued with keeping the farms going they could supply the Afrikaner fighters with fresh supplies whenever they were in the area.

The British soon discovered this source of supply and started burning the farms, removing the supplies for self-use including the live stock.

My  great grandmother had a cow called Elsie. She was a very clever cow and very quickly caught on to what was happening. She became so smart that whenever she saw the dust from the approaching British troops she would run and hide and wait until they were gone to re-appear and help keep my family alive.”

Context:

The three items of folklore I collected from this informant were the only three out of all the items in my collection that were not a result of face to face interaction. The text above was sent to me, from the informant, via email. I also corresponded with the informant over the phone to receive the context behind her stories. That said, the informant’s  great grandmother lived until she was 94. The informant, who lived most of her life in South Africa (she moved to Dallas, Texas with her family in the 90’s), used to go her house after school. The informant had a very special bond with hear great great grandmother, and used to hear this story from her all of the time. Her  great grandmother had five children, and during the course of this war, she and four of her children were taken from their farm and put into a concentration camp. The oldest son went off to fight in the war. In the concentration camp, her four children died. It was not until she was older that the informant learned of this terrible reality; her great grandmother would never talk of the concentration camp.

Analysis:

That the informant’s  great grandmother would tell the story of Elsie the cow and not any of the darker stories of what happened during the war, show that it was a happy story for her. The story is a light anecdote that occurred during a very dark time, and whether or not it actually happened, it most likely helped her get through some very tough years after her traumatic experience in the concentration camp. The informant told the same story to her own kids when they were young, ensuring that this positive story from their family’s history would be passed down.

Customs
Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Houston Rodeo

Item:

“In Houston, we have the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, casually known as The Rodeo. And um, I think it lasts from the beginning of March to, it’s almost the whole month of March. And basically what it is, it’s a lot of different things, um, you have the traditional like rodeo aspect where um you have, you know the livestock show where you have bull riding, you have you know exhibitions of like various like livestock, um you’ve got like, you know you’ve got that like sort of traditional rodeo aspect. And then it’s also mixed with an entertainment aspect. So like, for every night of the rodeo, there’ll be a different performer, and they’re usually like pretty big names, mainstream country performers and also like you know pop and rock, but they’re all like very big, popular names. So that’s uh a big thing every night, the concert. There’s also the carnival. They have this whole, you know, carnival set up with like rollercoaster rides, ferris wheels, all these different sorts of rides, and carnival type, midway like, you know, like little games and stuff .”

Context:

The informant, who happens to be my brother, related this account of the Houston rodeo while I was home over spring break (the rodeo was going on while I was there). He had this more to say about the role of the rodeo in the lives of kids who grow up in Houston: “When you were young as a kid, you know, we used to go, you know, our dad would take us, you know.  We’d go see all of the livestock stuff, but then you get older and you start getting into high school, it becomes this big social gathering place, like you know that’d be your night. Like spring break would always be during the rodeo. If you were in town, that’s what you’d  be doing every night. Like all the high schoolers, we go to the carnival, everyone gets pretty drunk, rides all the rides and goes to the concert. And it’s this really big social gathering, the rodeo. It’s, you know, this big cultural event. You see all of your friends that went to different high schools that you hadn’t seen in awhile and it’s just this big gathering place, really big time of year, like uh like if you don’t wear it any other time of the year, it’s when you bust out your Wranglers and your cowboy boots. So it’s just a great time of year, and you know just a great Houston, and overall, Texas experience.”

Analysis:

I believe what my brother said about the rodeo (in the context section) to be representative of what most teenage boys living in Houston would say about it. That said, the festival itself presents an interesting phenomenon. Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States. It is by no means a rural place, and it is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country. Therefore, the rodeo presents an opportunity for a bunch of city kids to wear boots and pretend like they are way more cowboy than they really are. So, an outsider looking in on this tradition without any context would picture in his or her mind the stereotypical image of a rural Texas. Don’t get me wrong, that Texas still exists, but not in inner city Houston. Furthermore, by virtue of even having a rodeo, Houston cements a stereotypical image of Texas in outsiders’ minds. I do not see this as a negative or a positive thing, per se. I myself enjoy wearing boots in Los Angeles to show that I’m from Texas, despite the fact that I come from an area more urban than  where most students at this school come from. What really matters, though, is that this festival is important to a lot of people.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pepero Day

Item:

“Another, couple kind of holiday is November 11. So it’s 11 11, so it’s like four sticks. And this is kind of uh related to uh a popular snack called Pepero, which is like this long bread, like cracker covered with chocolate. And, usually like lovers and couples would either make it or buy a ton of it and give them to each other. And for little children in elementary school who don’t really have like girlfriends and boyfriends, they would give each other like lollipops or like little candies to like celebrate young Valentine’s Day.”

Context: According to the informant, the holiday is massive in Korea, but not as popular among Korean Americans in the States. He says, however, that people still observe the holiday here, and that when he was a kid they “kind of did Pepero day.”

Analysis: Although the holiday, like Valentine’s Day, was created by a corporation in order to increase sales, it has been taken over by the people, who make the day their own and celebrate it in a variety of ways. The holiday can also be analyzed in light of many other traditions discussed in class: using a Freudian lens. The four sticks of 11/11, represented by the Pepero sticks, are themselves phallic symbols. In exchanging these phallic symbols, what the holiday is doing (whether or not this is conscious) is celebrating sexual maturity, the ability to reproduce. The informant later clarified that the holiday is mostly observed by young people and couples. This makes sense in light of what has been discussed. The holiday is only celebrated by those who are capable of reproduction, so it seems. Old people seem to be excluded from this holiday as well as young children, who the informant says share “little candies,” marking their inability to fully participate in the practice of exchanging the Pepero sticks.

 

Folk Beliefs
Narrative

How the Leopard Got Its Spots

Item:

“The Leopard used to live on the sandy-coloured High Veldt. He too was sandy-coloured, and so was hard for prey animals like Giraffe and Zebra to see when he lay in wait for them. The Ethiopian lived there too and was similarly coloured. He, with his bow and arrows, used to hunt with the Leopard.

Then the prey animals left the High Veldt to live in a forest and grew blotches, stripes and other forms of camouflage. The Leopard and the Ethiopian were hungry and consulted Baviaan, the wise baboon, who said the prey animals had “gone into other spots” and advised them to do the same. So they went searching and came to the forest. They could smell Giraffe and Zebra there but could not see them. When night came, they managed to catch Giraffe and Zebra by sound and scent. Asked why they looked so different, the two prey animals demonstrated how easily they could disappear against the forest background.

So the Ethiopian changed his skin to black, and marked the Leopard’s coat with his bunched black fingertips. Then they too could hide. They lived happily ever after, and will never change their colouring again.

The second version is told by the native Africans and goes as follows:

The leopard used to be as white as snow. It was always difficult for the leopard to catch its prey and had to work very hard at it. After the hard work it would go and rest in the shade of the tree.

The wart hogs used to love playing and rolling in the mud in the nearby waterhole. They still do this today.

One day they were playing like this and heard the roar of a lion. They got such a fright and ran right over the leopard leaving little brown spots on the beautifull white coats.

At first the leopards were very upset but then they realized it was much easier to catch their prey and to this day they have kept their spots.”

Context:

The three items of folklore I collected from this informant were the only three out of all the items in my collection that were not a result of face to face interaction. The text above was sent to me, from the informant, via email. I also corresponded with the informant over the phone to receive the context behind her stories. That said, the informant, who lived most of her life in South Africa (she moved to Dallas, Texas with her family in the 90’s), heard both of these variations of this classic African legend when she was a child. She recalls hearing them in elementary school and listening to a version of the story on a cassette player. She likes the second version of the story better because of its depiction of how animals actually congregate around watering holes in real life.

Analysis:

From my research of this tale, I discovered that the first version of the story the informant related is a variation of a Rudyard Kipling story entitled “How the Leopard Got His Spots.” That said, I theorize that Kipling’s version of the story became the canonized version from which all future stories referred to and grew out of.

Both variations of the tale focus on the relationship between predator and prey, reflecting the age of the story. The first variation of the story, in particular, features a human as a hunter. That said, the story might be as old as the hunter gatherer society it depicts.

Here is a link to Rudyard Kipling’s “How the Leopard Got His Spots”:  http://www.sff.net/people/karawynn/justso/leopard.htp

Legends
Narrative

Native American Spirit House

Item:

“So, I grew up in Arizona, uh, in a pretty common neighborhood, except that we were backed up right against the Indian reservation. Um and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an Indian reservation, but it’s usually a very like barren, not very developed area, and especially when you have a suburban neighborhood backed up against that, it really uh, it really lends a stark contrast. So even when you’re a child you could tell the difference, like that’s the Indian reservation, this is the suburbia that I live in. And, so, my family was one of the first to move into an area that had before been undeveloped. I had a couple of friends whose families had also moved into that area. And uh, you know, typical childhood playing around and stuff. And so one day we noticed that a new house was being constructed, a fairly common thing in the neighborhood, uh because once again, it was fairly undeveloped before this. Um they graded the land and they started putting it up. Again, I need to stress; this house was right next to where the Indian reservation is. Like, you could see the fence from like the house. And, so, uh, you know. When they were building this house we could hear really strange noises coming from uh, basically just like the, it was like a wood-only structure basically while it was under construction, as most buildings are. And this house was really big, so it took a long time to build. So this place was here just wood, for like a solid year. And, so again, it was backed up, basically right against, nature. The Indian reservation was virgin desert. So, a lot of strange and mysterious animals would go into the construction site. And uh, you know, so me and my friends would also, you know, play in this abandoned house. And um we found a lot of things in there that we um, that wasn’t typical to find in a suburban house that would be typical to find in the desert. For example, we saw a couple of diamond back rattlesnakes, uh that could have easily, totally messed us up. Uh and these were the years before cell phones, so two of my fifth grade friends would have had to have carried me back if I was bit by one. Anyway, so a lot of animals would creep into this place and we started developing sort of this theory, which seemed completely rational at the time, that this place must be haunted; it must be drawing the Indian spirits, because it had to have been built on an Indian burial ground, of course. So all of this was naturally confirmed one night when, I believe it was mid May, the end of school, when um, we heard very strange noises that sounded like music coming from this place, and we were all hanging out in my backyard, which is less than a block away from this place, and we hear this really loud music and we looked over and there were these lights going on in this place, and it was a wooden structure at this point, so it was very strange to see, and it was dark. So we wondered what it was and we all snuck out. We assumed it the time that it was the strange Indian spirits that had called all their snake friends. And uh so we crept up on this place and peeked in and saw all these people dancing, and naturally we assumed that this was a huge, undead Indian party. Of course it had to of been, you know cause it was dark, there were strobe lights going so you didn’t have a good idea of who was there, and we were seeing this from kind of far away, so we totally ran away from there because we didn’t want to get like  some pissed off Native American spirits coming after us, sicking rattlesnakes on us and what not. I mean, it was definitely a real youthful moment, and my parents actually confirmed that it was Native American spirits because, as it were to turn out, uh the “Native American spirits” had the police called on them due to a noise complaint, yeah but we found out uh, that a girl named Amber who lived down the street actually uh had thrown this party, it was a graduation party.”

Context:

The informant, who is from Scottsdale, Arizona, said that a couple of years after the events in this story happened, when he was in late middle school, he ran into Amber and she told him that her and her friends thew a party that night. The informant stated that this realization marked the end of his youth.

Analysis:

This lengthy narrative has several different dimensions. First, it functions as a sort of ghost story, a tale of the supernatural. It also functions as a legend quest in that the informant and his friends attempt to investigate this neighborhood mystery. Lastly, it functions, in a way, as a rite of passage, a transition from childhood to adolescence. When the informant stated that his realization that what was going on in the house that night was not a Native American spirit gathering, but rather, a party, marked the end of his youth, I think he expressed how invested he was in the notion of these spirits and how much the idea meant to him. Essentially, in a manner similar to a child finding out that Santa does not exist, the informant lost the innocence of his childhood.

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