The informant’s parents are both from Russia, having grown up in a small town outside of Stalingrad. Though Rachel was born here, the recentness to which her parents moved has caused them to enrich her life with lots of Russian culture. In going to her house one weekend, I noticed several of the scarves like the one above laying around and inquired as to what they were. She explained that they were head scarfs her mother made that women often wore in the countryside of Russia. When I asked her why, she explained that the Orthodox Church is a very big part of Russian culture and women were required to wear them to Church. She also said that they symbolize that a woman is married.
She then showed me other scarves that her mother made. I thought this was really cool, as in America there are very few things that people make besides the occasional knitted item a mother or grandma might create. The informant told me that her mom would go out and buy special fabrics then knit the fray on the edges of it to give it a more decorated look. She further explained that her mother learned this from her grandma, and that girls in Russia would always learn from their grandmas and mothers how to make scarves and clothing items such as these. The scarf is still a big part of Russian culture in the countryside, and its very common to see woman wearing them when at work on a farm. I asked if the informant knew how to make these, but she explained that her mother has yet to teach her, though she’d like to learn at some point in her life. I really liked my friend showing me this part of her culture and thought the designs of many of the scarves were beautiful.
“So in the beginning there were giants. On one winter evening, a mother giant and a father giant had a baby girl and named her Sedna. Throughout the first winter and then as she grew up, she got bigger and bigger, eventually growing larger than her mother and father. She grew so big that she couldn’t find any more food to eat. Her parents managed to wrap her in a large blanket and pushed her to their canoe. In the dark of the night, they paddled out to see and when they were out of sight of land, they dumped her out of the canoe and left her to drown in the cold water. As they paddled away, Sedna’s huge hands wrapped up and grabbed the canoe, shaking it vigorously. Her parents sliced at her fingers with their knives, but when each chopped off part of her body fell into the ocean, it changed into an animal, with one becoming a whale, seal, walrus, and salmon. Sedna then swam to the bottom of the ocean and stayed there, living in a hut that fish built there. Whenever people are hungry, they can ask Sedna to send more food.”
The informant told me this myth when I told him about my folklore collection project upon getting back to my apartment for class one evening. My friend told me that he had learned this myth about Sedna creating all the animals in the world from his grandfather. His grandfather was a fisherman and the son of an Inuit mother and British father. When my friend visited him when he was younger, his grandfather would always love to tell him and his brother about his Inuit heritage. The informant’s grandfather had originally lived in Gillam, Manitoba before moving to Calgary in search of better opportunity, so many of the stories he told often reflected how his grandfather probably missed his old way of life. My friend recalls his grandfather sitting on his rocking chair with a glass of beer in his hand as he recited his stories for hours, always laughing at some of the ridiculous questions the informant and his brother would ask at the end of each story. My friend says he liked hearing these Inuit stories because they made him feel more connected to his ancestors while also highlighting the diversity Canada’s peoples.
Though I had heard a few Native American legends told in class over the course of the semester, I had never such a complete story. As someone who lacks exposure to most things outside of the European tradition, hearing a creation story such as this seems almost confusing and improbable, as I’ve been taught to think of creation in terms of science and evolution or via the Bible’s rendition. I was unaware that stories like this existed, and its cool to hear other people’s explanations for how the world has come to be. For another version of this myth, see Sedna: Goddess of the Sea, a book by Joel Rudinger.
Rudinger, Joel. Sedna Goddess of the Sea. New York: Cambric Press, 2006. Print.
Riddle: At night they come without being fetched, and by day they are lost without being stolen.
My friend said that he heard this riddle in elementary school from a friend of his who heard it from his mother. He recalls that his friend fittingly told him this when they went on a fieldtrip to the Griffith Park Observatory. Both the informant and his friend don’t know the origins of this particular riddle. The riddle is rather simple, and doesn’t require quite as much thought as other riddles out there.
When I was younger, I heard a variation of this riddle, though the question part of the riddle was very similarly phrased. Instead of the answer being “stars,” the answer was a “shooting star.” I heard this particular riddle from my uncle. When I was younger, I would sometimes let myself sit for hours while trying to figure out riddles, with this being no exception. I would detest when my uncle would give away the answer. This particular riddle is almost pretty to me though, as I find the night sky both beautiful and fascinating.
“I remember growing up in Puerto Rico and always looking forward La Noche de San Juan Bautista, or the annual night the patron saint of Puerto Rico was celebrated. The festival began on the night before June 23 and people came to the beaches to party with food and music. The ritual would begin at midnight by people building bonfires and jumping into the ocean to cleanse their spirits for the next year. The waters were supposedly sacred and blessed with magical healing powers that night, though I didn’t really believe in much of what other people told me. We were supposed to swim into the water at least 7 times to be cleansed, while others did 12. Others took the ritual more seriously, sometimes taking three turns then jumping into the water backwards upon each swim. I always loved the ocean and took this as an opportunity to enjoy the warm waters under the night sky without my parents having to worry about where I might be.”
When I come home for the weekend, I often get the chance to talk with our housekeeper who tells me about her history and many of her stories. She grew up in Puerto Rico and is full of both funny and suspenseful stories from her youth in a small townoutside of San Juan. When I told her that I was in the process of collecting stories for my folklore project, she was more than happy to share with me some of her memories. Due to her love of the ocean, this ritual she did with her parents was one of the first that came to mind. I could tell that though she seemed to dismiss the notion of the “blessed waters,” she really missed her family and friends back home and the traditions they partook in. She spoke longingly about the kinds of foods they ate and how the ritual was passed down from generations. She learned all about the celebration from her parents and its meaning, telling me that the ritual had been performed yearly since the end of Spanish Colonization. Though many in the city didn’t celebrate it, it was still a big deal to people in outlying areas and was a huge communal celebration.
I enjoyed hearing about this ritual because here in America, I feel that ritual is not necessarily a large part of our identity, with maybe an exception to Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. Everyone does have their own personal rituals for one event or another, but they are not apart of a greater communal tradition that have been passed down over generations. It’s very interesting to hear about how something such as the notion of healing waters has been passed down reverently from generation to generation and largely believed and participated in by most of a community.
“So in 1540, the Spanish arrived in what’s modern day Phoenix. The area was inhabited by Apache Indians who considered the Superstition Mountains the sacred ground of the Thunder God. Coronado, one of the main conquistadors in the area, was in search of a golden city and heard from Apache stories that the mountains did, in fact, have gold. The Apache refused to help the Spanish and told them they would be cursed if they trespassed. The Spanish, didn’t take heed and instead led a troop into the range and began disappearing one by one. Despite trying to keep everyone together, more men would disappear and their bodies would be found days later headless and completely mutilated. Conquistadors fled the mountain, vowing never to return. However, 200 years later the Peralta family received a land grant that encompassed the supposed gold treasure hidden in the mountains. Mining operations occurred, though in small doses to keep the Apache happy. The Peralta brothers eventually found the gold they were searching for but were unable to collect it before the American-Mexican war began. The Peralta’s then heard rumors that the Apache were coming to attack them for their intrusion on sacred grounds and concealed the entrance to the mine. They didn’t make it out of the range however, as the Apache trapped them and killed all the brothers except one who escaped. He didn’t dare come back for another 16 years before leading another expedition with 400 men, all of whom were ambushed while ascending the range and savagely ripped apart. It’s rumored that the ghosts of the Peralta’s still roam the range, waiting to attack any people trying to find their lost gold mine.”
When my roommate began telling me this story when I asked him one afternoon about stories he might know about Arizona, many memories of my childhood rushed back as I too knew the story of the Peralta’s and their supposed hauntings of the Superstition Mountains. The informant, who grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, about 45 minutes from the Supersitions said he heard the story through his elementary school where teachers sometimes brought up the story when recalling Arizona’s history. I have experience with the story due to many family members living in the area, and when I’ve gone to visit them I’ve taken hikes through the Supersitions where my uncle would recite the story to me, though I had forgotten most of the legend until my roommate retold it.
The informant said that when he and his friends were older, they would sometimes drive then hike to one of the rumored areas of the mine to see if anything would happen. Nothing occurred the first two times they went out there besides a friend or two trying to scare others in the bushes. On the third time, however, he and his friends recall hearing footsteps behind them that accompanied a fait metal clank. He recalls it scaring the daylights out of everyone and has since never returned. I loved hearing this legend due to my fascination with the Wild West. Furthermore, due to my familiarity with the location of the legend, it gives me a feeling of both suspense and excitement to know I’ve ventured through where the legend occurred.
My grandfather, like my grandmother, grew up in a small farming town in the middle of rural Louisiana. The town, Ponchatoula, was still very French/Creole in nature and both of my grandpa’s parents spoke French as their first language. When he was younger, my grandfather and his schoolmates would always take clandestine swims in the Mississippi River on hot and muggy afternoons, much to his mothers chagrin. She was always worried that he would get caught in a rip-current and end up drowning in the river.
When telling me about his youthful mischievous adventures on our home patio, my grandpa would always recall his mom telling him that proverb when he got himself into trouble. One of the days he went swimming in the river, he recalls being pinched by a crawfish then running home crying to his mother, who had nothing to say besides “Comme on fait son lit, on se couche,” which in simpler terms refers to having to put up with the unpleasant results of a foolish action. I enjoy this proverb because I find it interesting that the “make your bed, lie in it” proverb exists in other languages and cultures. The expression, though varying from place to place, is quite universally popular, with friends of mine from different backgrounds all using it in one way or another.
My grandma grew up in a small town outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her parents were strawberry farmers and she helped take care of their farm before meeting my grandfather and moving to Long Beach, California. Whenever speaking about someone who seemed to be attracted to another person, she always uses the phrase “took a cotton to” to describe the situation, as cotton has a tendency to stick to clothing upon touching it. Since she grew up in the South, it’s not a surprise to see this expression become part of her vernacular, as cotton was one of the South’s main industries since its colonization. In speaking to my grandma, she learned the phrase by hearing her parents use it along with her friends parents when she was in elementary school, all of whom were involved in some sort of agricultural production.
I enjoy hearing my grandma say the phrase because it makes me feel more connected with my family roots in the South, despite many of the negative connotations that associate cotton growing with slavery. I’ve used the phrase a couple times here and though people understand the analogy, they tend to think of it as a random and bizarre expression since cotton farming is completely unfamiliar here in Los Angeles.
“After man was created near the Verde and Salt Rivers by the Great Butterfly, the Earth Maker became mad at man’s behavior and decided he might drown them. He decided to warn them through voices in the wind and called out to Suha, a Pima Shaman. The North Wind came to him first, telling the people to change their ways or else they would be destroyed by floods. He warned his people but they didn’t change their ways. The East Wind came next with its warning but Suha was unable to change his people. The North and South Winds later came, but with no avail. The South Wind then warned Suha and his wife to gather spruce gum and stock it with nuts, water, and deer meat to nourish them when the food would come, for he and his wife were obedient to the warnings. A flood later came, destroying the valley due to the people’s selfishness. He and his wife crawled into their gum ball and closed the door tightly, waiting for the floods to subside. Finally, the rains subsided and they landed upon Superstition mountain and descended onto the valley where they created a new people that prospered there for thousands of years.”
When I visited my family in Arizona over spring break, my aunt told me this story after taking a hike through the Superstition Mountains. She has always been fascinated by Native American legends and myths, especially those of the Navajo, Anazazi, Pima, and Hopi for whom Arizona was called home. My aunt was born in California but moved to Arizona with my uncle in the 90’s due to his job. She had been a stay at home mom, but after my cousin grew up she decided to take a job as a librarian and read several books about Native American folklore, learning hundreds of stories about the origins of man and the creation of the earth.
I found this myth particularly interesting because its not the first time I’ve heard a version of it. It sounds almost identical to that of Noah and the Ark, though with different motifs. Water is a universal symbol for purification, so it’s no surprise that it is the medium of choice across cultures when retelling the cleansing of the earth. The Epic of Gilgamesh from Mesopotamia is also another similar story I can think of that too utilizes a great flood. It’s fascinating to see that both the New and Old World came up with almost identical stories to describe the history of earth and its people despite lacking contact until the 1500’s.
“You have just as good of a chance of meeting one as finding a kernel in a field of grain.”
The informant grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City before moving to Los Angeles with his wife and having kids. I am friends with his daughter who goes to USC, and we were coming back from dinner and discussing how his daughter couldn’t find a boyfriend here and how at parties there never seemed to be classy enough guys. I chipped in that I knew a few were out there but her dad came back with the folk expression above which made me laugh. I had never heard this expression before and was more used to hearing the “needle in the haystack” analogy.
I figured that he used this expression since he grew up in the Midwest but asked him how he learned it regardless. He told me he picked it up from his father and that lots of the expressions he uses today come from him spending lots of time with his dad. He also explained that in the Midwest, the expression isn’t as rare since farming is a huge part of daily life and industry there. Overall, I found it humorous that her dad used the expression in this manner, referring to how difficult it was to find a good enough guy for his daughter at a typical USC fraternity party.
Photo of gumbo recipe that my dad, Brad Perrin, emailed to himself.
When asking my dad if he had any family recipes or ritualistic traditions in his family, he brought my sister and I together and revealed this gumbo recipe to us and wanted to make sure we had copies of it so we could teach our kids about it someday. My dad first learned this recipe from his mother when he was in his late teens. He didn’t have any female siblings, so it was his responsibility to ensure this family gumbo recipe survived. His mother was an amazing cook and loved cooking Southern dishes for their family, with this gumbo dish being made on special occasions such as birthdays and holidays. My dad was excited to learn this recipe from his mom when he was in his late teens because it meant him being fully connected with his roots and being able to pass on the recipe which has been in my family for supposedly at least five generations. He said it was supposedly created by my great great grandma in Algiers, Louisiana.
I loved knowing that I am now responsible for carrying on the tradition, as my family doesn’t have many cultural traditions. It makes me feel closer to my ancestors and also allows me to learn more about Southern culture which formed the basis of my family’s identity for many generations.