Author Archives: Cameron Pettigrew

Cameroonian Views on Femininity

My informant is the mother of a USC student. She is an immigrant from Cameroon and came to America with her husband and son before giving birth to their daughter.

“In my culture it is believed that a woman who has no children is considered wicked, a man, and worthless. If she is married and childless, she will be divorced and asked to return her dowry to her husband. From what we know today, infertility could be from the man. Yet, yet all the blame goes to the woman, but back then, it was only the woman. The belief is that the wickedness comes in because gods would not bless a bad person and children, children are the most cherished gift to a women. So she would be shown without a child and no man is supposed to love a woman who could produce no heir. Next to a woman without children is one who has only one child—especially if it is a girl child—or has all girls. Women are blamed for not being able to produce an heir since most believe that only the boys should inherit the family s fortune. The irony here, is that, these same people who prefer boys stand to benefit when a girl gets married through the bride price and dowry.”

 

Analysis: My informant learned these cultural beliefs from relatives and extended family while living in Cameroon. This piece of cultural knowledge gives a very clear picture of the gender lines and distinctions within Cameroonian culture. From even this small amount of verbal exchange the listener gets an immediate and clear understanding that Cameroon is a patriarchal country that places incredible pressure on the women to live up to the standards of men. It is also interesting to note that in many cases after having moved from Cameroon to America these beliefs do not hold as much weight. My informant’s daughter, who is a close friend of mine, acknowledges her cultural beliefs, but does not hold the belief that the importance of women should be placed underneath that of a man. This gives the impression that cultural folklore has a much stronger meaning when the folklore is being spread in an area where the majority of people hold those same beliefs.

Jesus Be A Fence!

“Whenever I’m tired or have a hard practice I be like, “Jesus be a fence” like be my strength…or before a hard test…or just when I have a lot to do and I need Jesus to be a fence, that’s like when I say it so…pretty much every day! Or like, “Oh Lord stop me from doing somthin wrong…” like if I’m feelin temptation…it goes from simple to extreme.”

 

Analysis: As a Christian, my informant looks to Jesus as a source of inspiration and fortitude in all aspects of her life. The proverb is laid out in a metaphor in which the speaker literally asks Jesus to hold them up or provide support like a fence. The proverb can be used in many different situations as a means of conveying momentary weakness and a desire for divine intervention on behalf of the speaker.

 

Although it is mostly used in serious scenarios or during times of legitimate distress, the phrase can also be used in a more humorous setting depending on the scenario. For example if someone was on a diet and saw a donut in a shop window they might use the proverb as a means of conveying their desire to restrain from eating the donut and their need for divine intervention to help them do so.

Ile oba t’o jo, ewa lo busi

My informant is a senior at USC and of Nigerian ethnicity. Her parents were immigrants to America from Nigeria and with them brought customs, traditions, and phrases with them to their new home, including proverbs that they would use to raise their daughter.

“Ile oba t’o jo, ewa lo busi. In English it means a King’s palace that burned down, actually became more beautiful…meaning that every cloud has a silver lining or that good things can come from something bad. My parents would tell me this if I was going through a rough time or if I lost something important.”

 

 

Analysis: This proverb was originally given in Yoruba and essentially states that there is a silver lining to every cloud. Even in instances where things are bad, you can always find something good about the situation that you find yourself in. In a way, the proverb is also saying that the process of “rebuilding the palace” is the silver lining, because the final product or new thing is more beautiful than before because of new appreciation for it and the work that was put into achieving it.

Iwa Lewa

My informant is a senior at USC and of Nigerian ethnicity. Her parents were immigrants to America from Nigeria and with them brought customs, traditions, and phrases with them to their new home, including proverbs that they would use to raise their daughter.

“Iwa lewa translates I think, literally to “character beauty”. Iwa Lewa…so your behavior or the way you act is what makes you beautiful.”

 

Analysis: Originally written in Yoruba, this proverb expresses Nigerian values in the content of a person’s character. A person’s character is what composes their beauty, not just their outward appearance. The proverb is used mostly in reference to women, however the message could be applicable to both sexes. This proverb sheds light on the cultural values of Nigerian people. It allows the listener to understand that within Nigerian culture, external beauty is not valued or appreciated as much as being a good or morally upstanding person.

This proverb particularly reminds me of the English proverb “Don’t judge a book by its cover” which my parents used to tell me all the time as a means of getting me to understand that people are not just what they look like on the surface, you also have to look within that person to see who they really are and what they’re really about.

 

La Chupacabra

My informant is a freshman at USC. He is half white and half Puerto Rican but was raised solely by his Puerto Rican mother and grandmother along with his younger brother in San Antonio Texas.

 

“So it’s supposed to be a mixture between like a vampire and a wolf. So its supposed to be like, a demon-dog kind of? La chupacabra. People’s sheep and cows and stuff started to die mysteriously and…they would like, have weird bite marks that they couldn’t identify on them. It never tears up the animal, there’s just these like…just like these two bite marks in them. That’s why they think it’s a mixture between a mixture between a wolf and a vampire…that’s what it lives off of. And it’s not supposed to be too big it’s supposed to be around like, two feet long and a foot high. But its really vicious with like red eyes and hairless…it, it looks like a rabid coyote pretty much…like a rabid fox. And its…its, people have claimed to have found the Chupacabra multiple times and they’ve found like…dog looking things but most of the time people find “Chupacabras” its like a diseased coyote or a rabid dog. And so, there’s been like sightings of it in Mexico and South Texas—where I’m from—which is where I heard about it. And my grandma you know, used to like scare me you know, saying like, ‘If you go outside at night or if you walk around’ like if I got out of bed at night, ‘the chupacabra will come and get you.’ So I guess that’s where I heard the story from.”

 

Analysis: The legend is said to have originated from from the mysterious disappearance of peoples livestock. Unexplained bite marks and animals that had been completely drained of blood were unsettling sights in the areas where La Chupacabra was rumored to have been sighted. The legend has taken on the purpose of scaring young children as a means of preventing them from wandering off or getting up in the middle of the night. Mothers and grandmothers would tell their children the story of La Chupacabra to instill good behavior. Given the graphic nature of the way in which La Chupacabra sucks the blood from its victims, the story seems scary enough to keep little children in bed at night and prevent them from engaging in bad late night behavior. Another version of this story can be found on Animal Planets “Lost Tapes” section of their webpage:

http://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/lost-tapes/creatures/chupacabra-history/

 

The Old Goats Have the Hardest Horns

My informant is a friend and sophomore student at USC from Norway. She lived for the majority of her life in Norway before moving and living in Thailand, Dubai, and Namibia until she attended college. Having lived for over a decade in Norway, Norwegian is her primary language.

 

“De gamle bukkene har de stiveste hornene, which, this basically means eh…it directly translates into ‘the old goats have the hardest horns’. Meaning that eh…the older you get the wiser you get.”

 

Analysis: This proverb speaks to a relatively universal idea that age brings wisdom. It is widely accepted in many cultures that the older members of the community are the ones that are most respected and have the most knowledge. My informant told me that her parents used to tell her this when she was younger in instances where she was impatient, made poor decisions, or was acting “smart”.

 

Behind the Clouds the Sky Will Always be Blue

My informant is a friend and sophomore student at USC from Norway. She lived for the majority of her life in Norway before moving and living in Thailand, Dubai, and Namibia until she attended college. Having lived for over a decade in Norway, Norwegian is her primary language.

 

“Bak skyene er himmelen alltid blå…this one translates to um… ‘behind the clouds, the sky will always be blue’ meaning that there’s always something positive in everything depending on how you look at it.”

 

This proverb immediately reminded me of the American saying “every cloud has a silver lining”. I find it very interesting that many cultures share a saying that embodies the belief that you always have to be able to see the good in a bad situation. My informant had a relatively difficult upbringing as a child in Norway. As an infant her parents had to keep her in a dresser drawer instead of a crib because they could not afford one. The extended period of hardship that she endured while a child and the position that she is in now (a successful student at USC) demonstrates a cultural belief in staying positive and continuing to look on the bright side even when things are looking bad.

Han får gå lenge barfot som venter på å arve en annen mann’s sko

My informant is a friend and sophomore student at USC from Norway. She lived for the majority of her life in Norway before moving and living in Thailand, Dubai, and Namibia until she attended college. Having lived for over a decade in Norway, Norwegian is her primary language.

 

“And uh, there’s one more that I like—Han får gå lenge barfot som venter på å arve en annen mann’s sko that translates to ‘you’re going to have to walk barefoot for a long time if you’re waiting for someone to pass you down their old shoes.’ This basically means that eh…you won’t get any—anything for free in life and that you have to work for what you want.”

 

This particular proverb seems like one that would ring true with many American ideals. It essentially states that you have to work for anything that you really want in life, otherwise you’re just going to end up waiting for something that may never come. This particular saying was one that my informant hears frequently throughout her life and instilled the belief that you cant just be passive and wait on life to drop opportunity on your doorstep, you actually have to put in conscious effort and work for the things that you truly want most.

Sausage Song!

My informants are group of hungry members of the USC Track and Field Team. As a very tight knit group they often spend time in the morning eating breakfast together before class. In this particular instance while waiting for their food to be ready, this group broke out into the ‘Sausage Song”.

 

Members of the group had heard of the song through different outlets, some by listening to other groups perform it and others encountered recorded videos of groups performing the song on the internet, however the members of the group knew to begin participating after hearing the distinct beat and opening line of the song which begins like this…

 

One person begins beating on a nearby surface to create a beat. That same individual begins the rap/song by saying “Eggs, bacon, grits…”

 

The rest of the members in the group reply after grits by saying “…Sausage!”

 

Following the group declaration of sausage, the members each go around making their own rhymes to the beat, all ending in the word sausage, until most or all members have said a rhyme. For example, in the case of the track and field members, one of the girls in the group’s line was “I be at the parties twerkin’ on that sausage!”

 

Typically the rhymes that are made are crude or sexual in nature, as the word sausage is utilized as a euphemism for male genitals. The use of the word sausage as a euphemism is part of what contributes to the humor of the song. In this particular instance it served as a means to pass time, and was performed at a moment that had relation to the context of the scenario, the members performed the “Sausage Song” while waiting for breakfast. The performing of the song also serves a purpose in letting participants identify who has the best rhyming skills out of the group, because generally each person tries to outdo and increase the humor of the rhyme of the person who had gone before them. The game easily demonstrates the variability and widespread nature of folklore. Though the introduction to the “Sausage Song” remains the same, people adapt the performance to their particular liking and in relation to their environment and personal experiences. Though it is a relatively crude game and song that should probably not be performed in public, it serves a purpose of bringing together groups of people and providing entertainment value to those who perform it and to the listeners.Sausage Song

Golden Rule

My informant is a USC student from Wyoming. She is a Christian and her grandmother was a strict Catholic, so many of the things she learned from her mother and grandmother had tied to Christianity and the doctrines of the bible.

“Do unto others as you would do unto yourself”

“My mom taught me that. And basically it means just treat other people how you would want to be treated. So you don’t want someone to be mean to you then you shouldn’t put out like, bad vibes cause then your Karma’s gonna come back and someone’s gonna be really mean to you. But if you’re nice–if you’re nice to everybody then hopefully somewhere somebody’s gonna be nice to you, even though i dunno, people aren’t very nice but if you just like, put good vibes out in the world it’ll be good! And you’ll be good! So just treat people how you want to be treated.”

 

Analysis: This was a proverb that my informant learned from her parent. Often times some of the most important lessons that we learn come from things that our parents tell us as children growing up. In this case the proverb reflects my informants religious and personal values, as she mentioned that in the bible one of the principles that is expressed is to treat others with kindness. The spread of this proverb within the family from parent to child demonstrates the nature of folklore and the natural affinity for people to share beliefs important to them with other members of their family as a means of maintaining collective views within that family.