Author Archive
Adulthood
Childhood
general
Initiations
Life cycle
Narrative
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

Madame Beetle searches for a husband

My informant was told this story as a child by his Iranian grandmother. He explained to me that she would often tell him stories when he was growing up, but he remembers this one the most vividly. He characterizes it:

  “So this is a story that my grandmother (my mom’s mom) used to tell me when I was younger, and it’s a story that’s pretty rooted in Iranian culture because other Persian friends I have also know it. So it kind of shows that a lot of families tell this story. It’s a story of… love I guess, but I guess I’ll just tell the story:”

  “So, as translated, Madame Beetle which is considered to have human-like qualities, goes out on a search for love, as demanded by her mother upon her mother’s death bed, and she goes… Madame Beetle goes out on a search for love and encounters many different animals that are personified um, so this, for example like a rabbit who’s a carpenter, uh she would encounter, and this question she asks every guy she meets is: how would you beat me if I was your husband?… If you were my husband. And she receives responses from these different personified animals. So the carpenter says for example “I would beat you with this two by four” and the butcher says “I would beat you with my cleaver” and so the search goes on and she eventually comes in contact with this mouse and she asks me how would you beat me if you were my husband and he says “I would pet you gently with my tail” and of course she chooses the mouse to be her husband, and, you know they’re happy together, they’re living together; one day the mouse gets sick and Madame Beetle cooks a bowl of soup for the mouse and while drinking the soup the mouse falls into the soup and drowns… and that’s the end of the story.”

I asked my informant why he thought he remembered this specific story, and if it had any other significance to him personally. He responded:

There are some interesting things about this story. One, you can tell that it has a sad ending which is very… it’s a kind of thematic thing in a lot of children’s stories in Persian partly because, uh, of the dominant religion in Iran is Muslim and Islam has a lot of appeals to sadness for some reason, and a lot of these stories end in sadness-a lot of children’s stories, not a lot of happy endings. Another element of the story which is kind of lost in translation is the element of rhyme. Every time Madame Beetle meets a prospective spouse there’s this interplay of rhyming and repetition which goes on back and forth and that’s what makes it a very goods children’s story: because every time it’s repeated the child can, you know- as I would –  say oit or jump ahead of my grandmother and say what is to come because it’s repetitive. Um, and, yep that’s the story of madame beetle.

The fact that this story is popular among many Persian families indicates that it represents broader themes in Persian culture. The treatment and subservience of women, preached by many Muslim texts, would seem to be supported by this story, which establishes the male as dominant even at a young age. However, the fact that this story was told my informant by his Grandmother, suggests its misogynistic values may have been acceptable within its cultural context. Insofar as it is a piece of children’s literature, it follows the general plot of many children s stories today: that of the seeker (who is often an animal.) However, its unhappy ending is unique among most similar children’s stories, and perhaps reflects a part of the cultural gap between the east and the west.

Childhood
Contagious
Game
general
Humor
Proverbs
Riddle

The Woodchuck Riddle

I asked my informant to tell me a riddle or story he knew of:

 

Me: When did you hear this Riddle or Rhyme?

Informant: Fifth grade

Me: In Fifth grade… where?

Informant: Just, a teacher told me

Me: How does it go?

Informant: How much wood would a wood chuck chuck, if a wood chuck could chuck could?

Me: Could chuck… what?

Informant: Chuck Could, chuck… wood?

[laughter]

 

The fact that my informant learned this popular Rhyme as early as the fifth grade is testament to it’s longevity. It no doubt keeps its popularity since it remains hard to recite even for those who know it, such as my informant, who, still accidentally mispronounced the last word.

Childhood
general
Life cycle
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Space Traveling Boy

I asked my informant if he could provide me with a piece of Folklore, and he suggested this story. According to the informant, his parents would tell it to him as a child, and he believes it is of Swiss origin, although he is not sure.

“It’s about this little boy, who lives in space, and he kinda has a really unique perspective on the world based on his naivete,  and, in space all the planets are governed by adults and on each planet this adult has like a certain characteristic or trait the boy goes about kind of negating or belying. Like, certain events that happen, like there’s this one where he shows the adult a picture of, like a hat but he asks him “what do you see in this picture?” and the adult says “oh it’s a hat it’s simple” and he goes no its not a hat it’s a elephant and a snake underneath a blanket, just because of the shape of the hat.”

Although this story seems to be missing parts, from what is available, we see that it is about a boy who gets in arguments with adults, and wins them since he does not posses the same hardened stereotypes. Seeing the boy use his imagination and think outside the box, this story may also serve as a reminder to adults not to become trapped in social dogma, and to preserve some of the innocence of childhood.

Life cycle
Riddle

Humpty Dumpty

Me: Can you tell me some familiar story or rhyme you remember?

Informant:       “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

                               Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,

                               All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,

                               Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

Me: When did you hear this?

Informant: “This nursery rhyme was something I heard in grade school.”

The informant thought of this rhyme first when prompted for a piece of folklore, and demonstrated that despite an inter-cultural upbringing, this rhyme still featured prominently in her childhood. It would seem the Mother Goose style nursery rhymes, of which this is one, have become globalized and are no longer a purely western phenomenon, since despite an international heritage, the informant still seemed to associate their childhood most strongly with this rhyme, and recited it in its traditional form.

Game
Humor
Riddle

“Knock Knock, Who’s there?………..”

This is another seemingly popular “knock knock joke provided me by my informant:

Informant: say “knock, knock”

Me: knock, knock

Informant: Who’s there?

[a long pause followed by laughter]

Informant: Yep, that’s the joke!

 

In this joke, the teller attempts to invert the knock knock sequence, by attempting the get the other party to tell him a joke without having a joke in mind, thus being rendered dumbstruck. It adds an interesting twist of deception to the otherwise predictable “knock knock” pattern.

Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Foodways
general

Banoonooed

The informant provided the following as a tale his father would tell him before bed,for the purpose of making sure he didn’t eat too much before going to sleep.

Alright, so, when I was a kid my Dad, (first of all my dad’s family is Philippeano. my dad is full Philippeano.) So he would tell me that, uh, if I ate right before bed I’d, what would happen was, it was called “banoonooed.” [ban-noon-noon-ed] and what that means is that if you eat before bed when you go to sleep you’ll have a bad dream and your entire hair will go, just like… white. So yeah, anyway, if you eat before dinner and if you eat too much, er, sorry, if you eat too much before you go to sleep it will give you nightmares, and those nightmares will be so scary that your hair will just go completely white and I think that’s, like my dad didn’t make it up, but I think it’s to stop people eating before going to bed and… yeah. 

As the informer notes, this tale is not specific to his family, but it does seem to be a Philippeano tale in general as opposed to one which has spread across cultures. As the informer noted to me, large meals are a significant part of Philippeano culture, and a tale warning against their consumption before bed is likely more relevant to their culture than others. Furthermore, the scare-tactics and over the top consequences for eating too much before bed, make it a good children’s story, and that gives its moral a context.

Customs
Festival
Holidays

Festivus

The Informant provided the following when asked to describe a tradition in which he took part:

So, every year, instead of celebrating Christmas, some families celebrate the holiday of Festivus, which is, um, basically,you get a giant metal pole, and, like that’s sort of your…. and you decorate that kinda like a tree, and you eat spaghetti and meatballs, and you have an airing of grievances, which is, you can you sit down at the table with everyone and you get to stand up and you get to just say anything you want about anybody in the room, like that’s been bugging you or whatever without any repercussions this one time of the year you can do that, and at the end of the night, the last thing you do is the oldest member of the group wrestles the youngest member of the group, and that goes until the youngest member can pin the oldest member… and that is the festival of Festivus, which is a Christmas… winter? holiday.

The informant said that every year, his fraternity celebrates this festival, and he takes part in it. Although he admitted it is originally from the popular sitcom Seinfeld, making it originally fakelore, it has since taken on a life of its own, being practiced with much more detail and variety than was originally included in the television show from which it developed. Festuvus serves as a secular alternative, or simply an addition, to the Christian Holiday of Christmas, and seems to draw on both traditional and pagan themes to create a winter holiday which will appear to a wide youth demographic.

Childhood
Humor

A Knock Knock Joke Involving Cows.

Here is another knock knock joke, one which follows the standard pattern, but is more fun because it involves cows:

Informant: Knock knock

Me: Who’s there?

Informant: Interrupting cow

Me: Inter[MOOOOOO!]

[a pause]

Informant: You’re supposed to go “interrupting cow who?” and then I… interrupt them.

 

While the informant did not recall exactly where he heard this joke, he did remember to have heard it or its variations multiple times while working with young children. It’s silly formula and absurdity surely appeal well to children, and it seems that it likely arose first from among children themselves

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Kicking USC’s Flag Pole on Game Day for Good Luck

Here my informant recounts her first experience with a USC tradition, which, although it began decades ago, still continues today:

    So, every time there’s a football game here at USC, all the students have to kick one of our flagpoles on the way to the stadium for good luck, and basically, you can hear that clinging noise coming from the pole for, like, miles away I wanna say, even though that’s probably inaccurate… whatever! It’s just you can feel the pride of the Trojan family every time someone kicks that flagpole.

I experienced this tradition my first game day ever here at USC, which actually wasn’t even when I was a student, it was when I was in eight grade visiting the campus, and that’s how I knew I wanted to go to this school.

The fact that the informant recounted this tradition with such pride, remembering details from when she was in the eigth grade, shows its significance to her. Indeed, even if she did not really know when that young that she wanted to attend USC, this experience has come to represent that for her, and she obviously takes great pride in this long-held tradition.

Childhood
Contagious
Foodways
Game
general
Humor
Life cycle

A juvenile Knock Knock joke involving Bananas

My informant told me the following joke, which she claims to have heard from a six-year old boy:

Informant: Knock knock

Me: Who’s there?

Informant: Banana

Me: Banana who?

Informant: Bannana in your face! Haha

 

While not as intrinsically complex or cultural revealing as much other folklore, given that my informant heard this joke from a six year old child at an Elementary School, it serves to illustrate the developing humor of adolescents, a difficult test subject to gather information from. Furthermore, given that the informant remembered this joke and still finds it humorous, it shows how sometimes the simplest amusements carry a charm which transcends all age boundaries.

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