Author Archive

Folk Music – USA

Just a boy

And a girl

And a little canoe

With the moon shinin’ all around

And they talked

And they talked

‘Til the moon was dim

He said, “You better kiss me or get out and swim!”

So what ya gonna do

In a little canoe

With the moon shinin’ all a’

Boats floatin’ all a’

Girls swimming all around?

Oh yeah? Yeah!

Get out and swim!

Sydney told me she learned this song in elementary school from her mother when she participated in Girl Scouts. She learned the song in Houston, Texas, but believes that it was probably derived from a standard Girl Scouts handbook of songs to learn and teach. She said that she has no idea where her mother learned the song herself, but suspects that many other Girl Scouts troops sang similar (if not the same) songs as well. Since her mother was the leader of her Girl Scout troop, everyone in her troop learned it as well.

Sydney said that the song is usually sung in a variety of contexts. For example, the song can be used as a Girl Scouts meeting opener activity and is often sung to create a festive and lively atmosphere. The song can also be sung around a campfire, when all the girls are gathered around and settling down for the night. However, Sydney said that her troop usually sang the song when they were marching. Whether marching down the street or through the woods, the troop would sing this song in conjunction with a collection of other Girl Scouts affiliated songs. She said that the best time to sing it would be in a group with a troop of young girls. It is usually sung to consume time and to conjure up a fun and light-hearted atmosphere.

Sydney does not think the song is very difficult to understand. She feels that the lyrics spell out the meaning of the song. In her opinion, the song is about a boy and a girl, who row out into a body of water. They are having a good time, until night falls and they have to go back. The boy demands that the girl kiss him or else he will not row her back to shore. Instead of falling prey to the boy’s advances, the girl jumps aboard and swims to shore. Sydney says that this is a prime example of a female empowerment song for impressionable young girls. It says that boys like girls, but girls do not necessarily like boys. Also, she says that part of the reasons she still remembers the song is because it also gives young girls a glimpse into the future, especially at an age when they still do not understand male/female relations. She says that now, her reaction would probably be to just kiss the guy instead of swimming to shore.

I agree with Sydney in that this song is relatively simple and straightforward in meaning. But besides being a generally uplifting song, I think it is used most often used in communal settings in order to create a sense of bonding amongst young girls. It is targeted at a young age group because the song draws upon their shared naiveté of boy/girl relations and instills a sense of female independence. The fact that it is being promoted by an organization that stresses female leadership is no coincidence. It teaches the girls to be strong and not be pressured into giving in to male authority. The song also reveals the commonly held belief of males’ desires of female attention and at what lengths they will go to get it. It warns the young girls of these sexual encounters and tells them not to blindly follow male dominance and to stand up for themselves.

Folk Beliefs

Superstition – USA

“If your dress rehearsal sucks, then your show will be good. But if your dress rehearsal is amazing, then your show is going to suck.”

Sydney participated in musical theater in high school and was exposed to a plethora of superstitions on having a good show. She learned this specific superstition while preparing for one of her shows. Although she does not remember hearing this superstition from any specific person, she said that multiple people probably spoke to her of it. Sydney said that people do not necessarily emphasize this superstition (ie: they do not say it in class), but they do begin to mention it often as time draws closer to the opening nights of the show.

Only people in theater tend to know about this superstition. Sydney told me that it is commonly used after a particularly terrible dress rehearsal. People are scared of performing poorly. She says that another context she hears this superstition is after the first run of the show (ie: opening night). Someone would be talking to the director and telling them what a great show they put on, to which the director would respond with comments about how nervous he/she felt after seeing the poor performance at the dress rehearsal, but that it all turned out okay in the end. Then the superstition would be dropped into the conversation, making it known that a bad dress rehearsal usually means a good show. If the dress rehearsal had gone well, then it would be cause for more worry.

Sydney made comments on how the superstition probably had some validity, though was not necessarily true. She said that when actors have a bad dress rehearsal, many of the kinks are found and able to be corrected. Thus, when actors make a lot of mistakes during dress rehearsal, they can fix things before the actual show. Sydney also noted that if the dress rehearsal is excellent, then there is less room for improvement. Many things end up going wrong during the show that were not anticipated because they were not caught during the dress rehearsal. With these reasons in mind, she says that there is probably a correlation between the two factors, but the statement as a whole is not necessarily true.

This superstition falls under the sign category, where people look for signs from the universe to predict a good or bad outcome. However, instead of looking at tealeaves or reading palms, participants in musical theater look to the dress rehearsal as a predictor of success. At first the superstition seems illogical. If the dress rehearsal runs smoothly, then the show should also follow suit. However, I think that this superstition works by quelling the fears of the participants. Although Sydney had a more logical way of approaching the superstition, she said that many of her peers looked to the dress rehearsal as a concrete indicator of the show’s success. I think that people have a need to attribute their fears and anxiety. If the dress rehearsal goes poorly, the saying becomes a way of coping with the additional pressure added to making a good show. It downplays the feelings of tension by writing them off with illogical reasoning.

This superstition also seems to work like a jinx, where it is almost bad luck to have the play turn out well before the actual opening night. It runs parallel to many other theater superstitions. For example, people do not wish good luck to participants for fear of jinxing them. Instead, people would rather hear “break a leg.” The opposite result of what is desired is spoken or acted in order to avoid negative results.


Game – University of Southern California

“’Paptong’ is literally translated from Korean into English as rice bucket. It is a… both the name of an object and uhh… game that every new member of USC Korean Student Association [KSA] plays as part of their initiation. It is set up by the upperclassmen as a rite of passage. And these ‘seniors,’ or older members, pour a large content of alcohol into a bowl. Then… uhh… they mix a variety of food into the bowl. And usually, the food is whatever is available at the time. Sometimes it has ramen [Asian instant noodles], kimchi [fermented lettuce], and spam. After the seniors are finished preparing the “paptong” [bowl with alcohol and food], they hand it over to the younger class and tell them to drink and finish everything in the bowl. Uhhh…there are usually a lot of underclassmen to initiate, but they tell the underclassmen to drink as much as they can for the group before passing it on to the next person anyways.”

Alicia participated in “paptong” during the winter retreat. The game only takes place during KSA retreats, usually held once during the fall and winter. During the retreat, the upperclassmen of the club initiate the game. Alicia said that they do not disclose the contents of what goes into the “paptong,” but it is generally understood that the mixture would not be pleasant and would include copious amounts of alcohol. All of the new members are expected to participate and she says that peer pressure plays a large part in the voluntary game. Although it would be acceptable for new members to opt out of the game, Alicia said that no one does because everyone understands that it is just a part of the tradition.

Alicia said that sometimes when other schools plan their retreats to coincide with USC’s retreat, the clubs come together to form a competition amongst the schools. The school that can finish the “paptong” the fastest wins. However, she claims that even in these cases the game is less of a competition than a form of bonding amongst the new members. The retreat is a time for new and old members to get to know one another, and the “paptong” serves as a medium to achieve that purpose.

I think that “paptong” is also a clear reflection of the respect shown to elders within Asian culture. It is widely known that the younger generation is not meant to challenge the older generation and should listen to them obediently. New members of KSA probably play this game primarily because of this reason. Since most members of KSA are of Asian descent, many of them have been taught at a young age to follow their elders, which can be exhibited in their behaviors in regards to this game.

Another possible reason is because the game is generally understood as a rite of passage. It is an initiation ceremony that transforms new members into senior members. “Paptong” is a tradition that has been held at every retreat, so members do not necessarily view the game negatively. This mentality is also very similar to fraternities and their hazing rituals. Despite not necessarily liking a task, pledges go through with them because they know that previous pledge classes have done it before them. It becomes a rite of passage that a new member must go through in order to feel part of the group. Especially during youth, the need to be accepted plays an enormous role in motivating actions and behavior.


Legend – Korean

“There’s this really popular story in Korea and they even made it into a lot of dramas. Uhh… it’s about this girl named Chunhyang and her dad died and her mom teaches her how to be a really proper lady. But they are like the Korean version of geishas. So she’s thought of as really low in society. Umm. So one day, Chunhyang is out swinging on the swings and this random guy sees her. His name is Mongyong, and he falls in love with her. Ummm.. Mongyong is the son of a major and he tries to get with her, but she rejects him. Later, she falls in love with him anyways and they get married in secret. Mmm… then the guy’s dad gets a promotion and they move so they separate for a while. He finishes school and he gets a job as one of those internal affairs type of guys that arrest corrupt officials. He goes back to his hometown where Chunhyang is and finds out that she’s been arrested by the new mayor there. Uhh… The mayor is this really bad guy and he tries to seduce Chunhyang, but she rejects him, so he arrests her and sentences her to death. When she is about to be killed, Mongyong reveals himself and arrests the mayor. Mmmm… Then the two live happily ever after.”

Alicia learned this story from her mother when she was a young girl, probably still attending elementary school in Los Angeles. It was one of those stories that her mom told her to amuse her and pass the time. She said that her mother learned it from her mother, but that the story is actually very common knowledge in Korea. In fact, it is often written in textbooks about Korea. Alicia, herself, has learned this story from multiple sources, including in one of her classes at the University of Southern California.

This story is told usually to young children who have yet to learn much about Korean culture and its past, usually around the elementary ages. It can be performed at any time, but usually comes up when talking about Korean folklore or culture. Although many Korean-Americans know of this story, Alicia said that most details are lost in the American versions. She said that the full version is most often heard in Korea. She also said that some people in America confuse dramatized versions of the story with the original.

Alicia regards this story as very typical and a mixture between Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet. She does not think much of the story and its cultural importance and explained by saying that it acts like a child’s favorite bedtime story. However, she did say that it is one of the few stories still being passed down and the various versions continue to be a part of Korea’s culture.

I think that the story of Chunhyang and Mongyong is very similar to many maarchen and legend stories. The good and evil characters are typified and are not necessarily very developed. The story basically tells the audience that love conquers all, no matter what gets in the way. The story also reveals that a long time ago there was a caste system in Korea. Rank and status was very important in arranging marriages. People in government are considered of higher power and therefore better status, while working families are just commoners. There is a fine line of separation between the two groups, which explains why Chunhyang and Mongyong had to get married secretly.

Folk speech

Folk Speech – Philippines

“So Portagee.”

The phrase “so portagee” is pidgin slang that means that something is idiotic or brainless. For example, if someone dropped their drink in a water fountain in Hawaii. The response would be to tell them that they are “so portagee.” It usually has negative connotations and is often linked to poking fun at the Portuguese.

Pidgin is a very simplified kind of folk speech with very limited vocabulary and grammar involved. It is especially popularly used in Hawaii. According to Bernadette, it can be considered almost a dialect of the English language. It is a kind of slang or shortcut that is often used amongst friends. The language is documented in “Pidgin English in Hawaii,” which tells the history of how the language evolved from contact between the Hawaiians, various English speakers, and other immigrant workers. According to the article, Pidgin was originally used by laborers to “receive work instructions.” The languages were mixed and simplified to create a jargon specific to Hawaii. Another example of pidgin in the article is, “Please ‘scuze too much small wahine he no can come school tomalo,” which means please excuse the little girl, for she cannot come to school tomorrow.” Pidgin can be considered a fusion language and a result of the state’s historical background.

Bernadette said that she learned this phrase spending a lot of time in Hawaii, almost every summer since she was a baby. Her cousins live in Hawaii and spoke to each other in pidgin. She started noticing the differences in language when she was around 4 years old and because of the close contact picked up on a lot of the slang, especially phrases her relatives would use.

“So Portagee.” is just one of those phrases that she vividly remembers because of a specific incident in her childhood. She went to the beach with her cousins, Ray and Bridget. They were building some sandcastles, when Bridget wanted to go get water to help shape the mini structure. She ended up saying something like, “I’m going to go get some wet water.” Her imprecision with the English language caused Ray to yell out, “Wet water? So portagee, Bridget!” Bernadette says that this response was typical of Ray, because he was known to be a speaker of pidgin as well as making fun of Bridget constantly. Whatever the case, this situation solidified the phrase in Bernadette’s memory.
Bernadette likes this phrase because she learned it in her childhood and reminds her of a simpler time. It makes her reminisce about Hawaii and all her good memories there. At the same time, she feels that to use it is very unprofessional and inappropriate. She said, “It’s one of those stereotypes in Hawaii that Portuguese people are stupid,” a view which she strong disapproves of. In essence, the phrase is actually saying, “so Portuguese,” which makes it a negative stereotype of a specific nationality.

I think that the phrase, “so Portagee,” is actually quite demeaning. Bernadette is correct when she says that it brings about a negative connation of a certain group of people. The phrase is not only mean spirited, but also makes the speaker themselves look very provincial. It makes them seem like they do not know proper English. Their apparent ignorance is ironic because the phrase is meant to disparage the stupidity of the Portuguese.

In addition, I think that the roots of these stereotypes probably come from a long time ago, when the Portuguese first immigrated to Hawaii and were the state’s laborers. There was probably a class system in which the Portuguese were the bottom rung or near the bottom in rank. Although, the phrase has probably lost most of its malevolence, it still carries with it the negative associations of the past.

Ethnic stereotypes are found a lot in American culture. One could probably replace the word Portagee with any other race and have it make sense. For example, one could say, “so Asian,” in response to someone watching Anime (Japanese animation cartoons) or doing well in a math class.” Both draw on well-known stereotypes to make fun of a certain ethnicity as well as to insult the person who the phrase is directed to.

Annotation: William, Smith C. “Pidgin English in Hawaii.” American Speech 8 (1933): 15-19. JSTOR.

Folk Beliefs

Superstition – Philippines

“There are these forest gnomes that live in the forest in the Philippines. And um… You can tell where they live if there’s a hill of dirt that’s a bit higher than everything else. And when you go by them you’re supposed to be really, really respectful and say ‘Excuse me. I’m just walking by. I don’t mean any harm,’ even if you’re not doing anything, or no one said anything, or you’re not sure. You’re just supposed to do it. One of the stories I saw on the Philippines news channel, they showed this kid and he had these huge swollen lips. You could hardly see his eyes. He was speaking to reporters and he said that he was walking by the hills and his friend told him that you’re supposed to say sorry and he said, ‘No, I’m not. I don’t care. I don’t believe in that stuff.’ Then the next day he woke up with a tumor on his face. Not so much as a tumor, but as his lips were super swollen. It looked like someone blasted air into his lips. Like super Botox.”
Bernadette learned of the forest gnomes when she was around 10 in San Francisco, California. She remembers specifically that her mother told her after watching the story of the young boy on the Philippines news channel. She was confused as to what was happening in the newscast and so her mother explained to her about the Filipino superstition. Bernadette was also traveling to the Philippines that summer, and believes that her mother was trying to warn her of the dangers beforehand.

Since both she and her mother are very superstitious people, Bernadette says that they would tell other people about the forest gnomes who are going to the Philippines for the first time, especially those traveling to rural areas where forests are very prevalent. It is not meant to invoke fear, but as a word of warning to those new to Filipino culture.

This superstition is widely believed by both Filipino adults and children. All age groups tend to follow it as well as contribute to its spread. According to Bernadette, most people who live in the rural areas know about the forest gnomes, but probably less people hear of them in the major cities because they are more removed from the situation.
Bernadette also said that the superstition has a lot to do with the respect imbued in Filipino culture. She says that Filipinos tend to have a high respect for the higher powers of the universe, which might have spawned the superstition. The mounds of dirt are just physical manifestations of the unknown.

I think that this superstition probably has a lot to do with the location of the Philippines. Since a lot of the terrain in the Philippines is forest, there should be no wonder why some folklore has been generated concerned with this topic. The fact that the superstition has even penetrated mainstream news in the Philippines demonstrates how superstition plays into their everyday lives. Filipinos find evidence to support their superstitions, no matter how irrational they may sound. Although I personally do not believe in the superstition and believe there is probably a scientific explanation to the tumor on the young boy’s lips, I think that I would probably follow the superstition anyways if I were in the Philippines just because I would rather be on the safe side than face the consequences.

Folk Beliefs

Folk Belief – Philippines

“Manananggal means “self-remover in Tagalog. So Manananggal is a monster that our parents would always threaten us with. ummm. Well, they would threaten us with it when it would have to do with like being curious at night or wandering around in the dark and they would talk about how the Manananggal would come and suck our blood. About the only way to keep her away would be to throw garlic or salt at her. Our grandma in the Philippines would actually keep garlic and salt at the door, so that made it more real. They’re supposed to be very beautiful women in the daytime that lure men into their caves, so that at night they can turn into the Manananggal and suck their blood. They don’t survive in their monster form during the daytime, and then at night they look for prey by removing their head. Their head comes out of their body cavity and swallows their internal organs, which are preserved by vinegar, which by the way in the Philippines if a beautiful woman smells very strongly of vinegar, you should probably stay away from her. My parents also told me that the Manananggal also eats dogs and pigs, so if you don’t take care of them, then the Manananggal will eat them. They have wings, so they can fly down and swoop you away. A major superstition surrounding the Manananggal is that you can’t talk about them. Especially in the Philippines, the Manananggal is thought of as a stigma. People are instilled with the fear as a child that just saying the word ‘Manananggal’ will call the monster to the person. Sometimes they also call it the Aswang, but Aswang is like the club of monsters. Within the Aswang there are the Manananggal and forest gnomes and other monsters.”
Bernadette told me that she has heard this story ever since she was very young while growing up in a Filipino household in San Francisco, California. She claims that as she grew older and began to ask her parents more questions, the story became more elaborate. For example, instead of being limited to devouring people, the Manananggal also ate beloved pets.

She now feels like her parents used it as a ploy to scare her into following their orders. They would only need to use the name of the Manananggal to evoke fear. Bernadette reports that her parents often said, “Hala! The Manananggal is going to get you!” In Tagalog, “hala” means to watch out or be careful, which demonstrates how the Manananggal is linked with danger.

While the story was often used to caution young children against reckless behavior, Bernadette said it was most often brought up right before she would travel to the Philippines. In the Philippines, adults would tell her to be careful because the Manananggal might come and sweep her up. Apparently, the Manananggal only exists there. However, the story still carries some weight in America, though not as much. Bernadette says the Manananggal story is taken less seriously, probably because the U.S. is so far removed from the Philippines. She says that the creature probably just never made it overseas. It is something more to laugh about with friends and used as a bonding mechanism in America. Since most Filipino-Americans are familiar with the story and the scare tactics their parents used on them, they are able to bond over similar childhood experiences.
This story is often told to scare children into obedience. Parents legitimize the story of the Manananggal by providing “friend of a friend” stories that back up their claims. Bernadette says the Manananggal is similar to Bigfoot in America, where people hear of other people having firsthand experiences with it, but are not really sure if the monster really exists. It even gets on the news in the Philippines. All of this serves as evidence to support a story that promote fear in Filipino children. To this day, Bernadette believes in the Manananggal; if not out of fear, then for safety. She said that she has heard many more stories that have supported the idea of the Manananggal then not.

Bernadette also catalogues this story for use with her younger relatives, mainly her cousins. Also told usually right before leaving for the Philippines, she says she tells them to warn them as well as to scare them. “I would usually say something like ‘if anything happens, then it is probably because you angered the Manananggal.’” Of course, part of what makes scaring children appealing is that it is also fun to see their reactions.

I agree with Bernadette that this story is probably told with the primary motive of scaring young children. However, I am a little bit more skeptical of the actual existence of the monster than she is, probably because I myself have not encountered any realistic stories that lend credence to the story. Especially since Bernadette told me that Filipino culture is very superstitious, I am less likely to be scared.

I can understand how this story could possibly come about. Bernadette told me that in the Philippines, many children tend to run amok in the streets. She thinks that the Manananggal was probably created so that children don’t wander around at night because there could be other more tangible dangers. Simultaneously, I also think that it has lost its power in America because the rules here are more rigid about children. Not to say that children are safer in America, but there have been more regulations that have been in place since Filipinos have arrived. The origins of Manananggal can probably be traced from long ago, when laws and restrictions were not as prevalent.

The Manananggal or various forms of it are also mentioned in Hannah Brown’s “The Superstitious Life of the Filipino.” She collected folklore from school children in the Philippines in 1928, which resulted in two stories similar to the Manananggal. The first collection says, “A dead person left alone before burial will be eaten by the “Asuang,” a mystical monster.” It mentions the Asuang as a monster that eats dead people, slightly different then the Manananggal, but still fairly similar in dieting patterns. The second collection talks about the Breehas, a closer relative to the Manananggal sharing slightly more characteristics. “‘The Breehas’ are beautiful vampires who live in Visayan Islands. A man married one but he didn’t know it. However, he noticed that his wife always went out of doors at the stroke of midnight. So he went out and watched her. He saw his wife kill a person by sucking that person’s blood. After this, the upper part of her body flew into the sky. When she returned, she couldn’t find the lower half. Her husband had destroyed it by placing vinegar, ashes, and ginger on it. The wife died.” The key difference in this story is that the monster is destroyed at the end. This record demonstrates that this piece of folklore has been around for generations and that folklore does go through various stages of variation and multiplicity.

Annotation: Brown, Hannah P. “The Superstitious Life of the Filipino.” Western Folklore 16 (1957): 29-36. JSTOR.


Community Folklore – San Francisco

“There’s this guy that’s known for standing behind large objects, like poles or like trashcans and even trees. Around Pier 39, which is umm.. a really big tourist attraction. He’s usually holding like really big branches with leaves on them and he’s usually trying to hide himself behind it. The humor is that you can definitely see him behind the branches. When people pass by him, he tries to scare them and 90% of the time it works. Usually, he draws crowds from across the street to watch him, so people are usually watching him, but at the same time ‘not watching him’ scare unsuspecting bystanders. People tip him on occasion, and it’s said that he makes over $40,000 a year throughout the year and the government doesn’t take any of his money. There have been documentaries made out of him. Definitely, because he makes a living off of scaring stupid people. He usually just does this at during the day when the tourists are around. He doesn’t really do it at night. I hear about reports of people hitting him, just from being really scared. I heard he was offered a TV show, but he turned it down. He’s a really big deal in San Francisco.”

The Bushman is a street entertainer in San Francisco, who hides behind a fake self-made bush and scares innocent people passing by his domain. He is considered by San Francisco residents as a sort side attraction, and can almost be considered part of the city. Bernadette said that he was supposedly homeless before, but now makes his career off of scaring the tourists in San Francisco.

She remembers that her first encounter with the Bushman was when she was around 14. Bernadette was going into the city with her family, when her brother-in-law pointed the Bushman out. She was at Pier 39, near a restaurant looking out towards the pier, when he saw the Bushman lunge into action. Because she saw him prey on other people, she was careful to not be a victim herself. Later on, Bernadette said that she would hear more stories about the Bushman from the television and when she went with other people to the area.

Bernadette said that she would tell other people about the Bushman mainly if they were visiting San Francisco. However, she said that she probably would not tell them before letting them experience the scare firsthand. She would find an excuse to take them there and walk by where he waits. After the scare, she said it would be appropriate to provide a background story. The Bushman would also come up in conversations about San Francisco and the unique tourist attractions.

Although hiding behind a bush might have started out as a get-rich-quick scheme, Bernadette says that the Bushman has turned into more of a landmark, a self-made tourist attraction. “If anybody tried to take him down, I think it would be an insult to San Franciscans.” She said. He has become an attraction and a part of the community. Bernadette said that the people who complain about him take the whole joke too seriously. He is just out to get a couple of laughs.

If I was ever “bushed,” I do not think that I would be angry. Yet, I do see the problem some people would have with what can be loosely associated with harassment. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Bushman, legally known as David Johnson, had been charged with a few misdemeanors for scaring people, which were later dropped to allow his scare tactics to  continue to plague Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I do, however, think that his idea is less than original, considering all the other look-alikes, fake statues, and people dressed up in random costumes displaying their “talents” at tourist attractions. Though I do think the fact that he draws crowds to watch him in action says something about the voyeurism prevalent in American culture. With shows like “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Candid Camera,” it is no surprise why a Bushman, who simply sits in wait of his next victim, is able to capture so much media attention that there have even been documentaries made about him. Although the Bushman may just see his “jobs” as a harmless prank, his success is one of the many forms of perversity in American culture. He is a legendary figure that has spawned many stories as well as factual accounts of his eccentric activities.

Annotation: Mattier, Phillip, and Andrew Ross. “Bushman of Fisherman’s Wharf Gets the Last

Ugga-Bugga.” San Francisco Chronicle 7 Apr. 2004. 16 Feb. 2008 <>.


Proverb – India

“Mokkai Vangani Mrani Vanguna”

If it does not bend as a sapling, will it when it is a tree?

Anisha said that she learned this proverb as a child growing up in an Indian household in Cerritos, California. She told me that she learned it from her father. She said that since he went to an English medium school that he would must have learned it when he went to elementary school in India. The source of the proverb probably lies somewhere in Southern India, where Anisha’s family is originally from.

Anisha explained that the proverb basically means that children who are naughty and unable to follow the general rules of conduct will only steadily get worse as they grow older and continue to misbehave. The sapling represents the malleable child, while the tree represents the hardened adult. She said the proverb is pretty straightforward and means pretty much what it states. “If you don’t change bad habits early on, they become worse and harder to kick.” The proverb acts as a sort of encouragement for children to change their maladaptive ways

She said that her parents use this proverb most when she is in trouble, particularly when it has something to do with bad habits. When her parents are especially angry or disappointed in her actions, they point to this proverb to try and correct her. Her brother and sister are also told this proverb constantly in the same context and for the same reasons. Anisha said that this proverb would generally be used most in this context to warn children to correct their behaviors or face severe punishment.

Her parents only say the actual proverb to her on occasion, but she said that they reiterate the concept of the phrase everyday. Despite actually being in question form, the proverb is always said in a statement form, which makes it more of a rhetorical question. She said that a good example of when they actually use the proverb would be when she talks back to her parents. They would cite this proverb and go on to remind her that she should not turn her argumentative ways into permanent habits. Although Anisha doesn’t like it when her parents use this phrase, she thinks that it makes a lot of sense and agrees in the context in which it is used.

This proverb is also mentioned in Vishwanath Narawane’s Proverbs of India. The book published various Indian texts with both English and Hindi translations. Their English translation says, “If as a sapling, it doesn’t bend, would it bend when it becomes a tree?” Although there is no section describing the meaning behind the proverb, I agree with Anisha in that the message is very clear. The proverb can be easily interpreted as a phrase put in the parent’s arsenal to change the poor behavior of children.

This proverb can also be applied to modern life quite easily. For example, chain smokers usually start when they are in their teens. Once they become addicted, they usually are not able to stop on their own, especially when it has been a few years since they began smoking. Regarded as a bad habit, smoking is more difficult to quit as an adult than as a teenager. In America, the equivalent proverb would be, “It is better to nip it in the bud.” It is better to change early on than to let behaviors be set in stone.

Annotation: Narawane, Vishwanath D. Bh-Arat-Iya Kah-Avata SanGraha =: Proverbs of India. Triveni SanGama, BhaSha: Proverbs, Indic, 1983.


Contemporary Legend – USA

“There is like that one urban legend. A lot of people know this one. Umm… supposedly, if you flash someone with your high beams to put on their headlights at night, it supposedly could be a gang initiation, because gang members are supposed to drive with their lights off. And so they are supposed to run those people that flash them off the road.”

Katherine said that she heard this story during her elementary school years, when she was around 11 or 12. She attended St. Brendan School, located in Los Angeles, where she said her friends probably told her the story while on the school playground. Later, when she was older, Katherine saw the story play out in the movie “Urban Legend.” She said the story was especially popular after this movie. She also received a chain letter through email that spread the story. Katherine said that she does not remember the specific time in which she learned of the legend, but pinpointed it to sometime during the 1990’s. At the time, everyone talked about the irrational fear of getting assaulted by a gang member.

This legend has been spread through a variety of ways. In general, the story is told while in a car and someone sees another car with his or her headlights of, thus spawning the appropriate warning. Katherine said it would also be suitable to tell this story when a group of people are talking about gangs or urban legends.

This legend is not exclusive to any one cultural group. It can be told in basically any context. People of all ages were aware of this story, despite not actually knowing anyone who had that happen to them.

Katherine does not believe in the story and believes it is just an urban legend created to scare innocent people. However, the story still sits in the back her head when she sees a car without headlights on. Although she is doubtful of the truthfulness of the story, she said that she is still often hesitant to flash someone and would rather not take her chances.

I had heard of this legend before as well, and had actually taken this piece of advice to heart. However, upon closer inspection, the story does not seem to hold up as well as I thought it would. In the September 24, 1993 issue of the Los Angeles Times, an article reported faxes being sent all across Southern California making claims about a “Blood initiation weekend,” where prospective gang members in Los Angeles would drive around with their headlights turned off and shoot to death those who high beamed them as a courtesy warning. The article goes on to say that the transmissions were deemed a hoax in which the perpetrator had been detained.

After finding concrete evidence that this ritual simply was not true, I realized that the legend probably stemmed from other areas of the United States and had been changed enough that it could be applied locally. Since gang activity in Los Angeles is quite high, it would be easy to draw on the fear evoked by these groups to make the story believable. Logically, it is against a gang’s best interest to publicize a “blood initiation” because the fear would spark a closer investigation on their activities. But despite the irrationality, I think that this urban legend is particularly far reaching and continuously transmitted (at least 15 years now) because it draws on easily applicable situations. Many residents of Los Angeles can quickly relate to flashing other drivers on the road to turn on their lights, which puts them personally in the victim position.

Annotation: Merl, Jean. “Fax Warnings of Gang Initiation Rite Are a Hoax, Authorities Say :[Home Edition]. ” Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext)  [Los Angeles, Calif.] 24  Sep. 1993,3. Los Angeles Times.