Author Archive
Customs
Folk medicine

Ginger Root Cures the Fever

Gale recalls a memory from her childhood when she was growing up in Houston, Texas. Her neighbors, who were from Vietnam, introduced her to folk medicine used in their culture.

 

G: “When we lived in Houston, our neighbors were from Vietnam, and the dad told us that in Vietnam they didn’t have any aspirins or medicines or anything, so if you got a fever, they would take a ginger root and cut part of it off, and then they would take the freshly cut part and rub it on the bottoms of your feet, and that would make your fever go down. When I heard that I was thinking, “Oh my gosh! What a bunch of Malarky this is, you know!”

 

“And so then later, I was reading an article. It was talking about how porous the palms of our hands are and the bottoms of our feet. It was saying that stuff will get through it, and so this article was saying that if you cut an onion and rubbed, you know, the freshly cut part on the palms of your hand, within just a little bit you’ll taste onion on your tongue. And so I was like,” Oh! that reminds me of rubbing the ginger root on your foot!” And then later, I was reading this article about natural remedies, and it was saying that ginger root would reduce your fever. Yeah, and so then I decided, well that probably wasn’t malarky after all. That was, you know, folklore that was really true.”

 

Although I had an idea that the surfaces of our feet and palms on our hands were naturally more sensitive to touch,  I actually didn’t know they were considered porous. It seems strange to me that we can rub a substance on our palms and perhaps later taste that same substance in our mouths. I thought this story was interesting because it tells of a natural, folk remedy apart of the Vietnamese culture. This idea that ginger root can cure fevers is vastly different from American solutions. In America, we don’t seem to have a many unusual remedies. Maybe this is due to our economic stability that has allowed for advanced medicine in the United States that doesn’t require Americans to find alternative therapies for illnesses. Although some certain remedies may seem bizarre or uncommon, they become popular over time, being passed down from generations on because of their effectiveness on patients. I think it is also important to note one of the reasons that many minority groups turn to “natural” remedies is because of a lack of access to health care services in their environment in the first place. For more information on ginger spice as a cure for common illnesses, see

“Ginger to Cure Many Diseases.” - SPICES VIETNAM. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.

 

Myths

The Myth of Echo and Narcissus

A Freshman at the University of Southern California, the informant is majoring in archeology. The informant is very interested in Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology. He tells the story of a mountain nymph Echo and a beautiful youth, Narcissus, a greek mythological epic.

 

Kevin: “Echo’s this river nymph who basically…her flaw is that she like talks too much. She like talks over people. So, one day Hera- she’s Zeus’ wife- and Zeus is like cheating on Hera with a bunch of like other Nymphs. So Echo distracts Hera by talking to her, while this is going on. So Hera basically curses Echo when she finds out that, like she was  totally distracting her, and she curses her so she can only repeat what other people say for her, so that’s how you get ‘Echo’.”

 

Me: “Oh! Got it, got it.”

 

Kevin: “And then one day she is going to the woods and she sees um Narcissus, and Narcissus is like this hunter and he’s like walking around and she calls out to him, and he basically rejects her because she can’t really communicate with him. And Echo, he sees her, and he’s like frightened by her, and he like rejects her love or whatever, so he find this pool and he like falls in love by looking at himself. He falls in love with himself, and basically he knows he can’t have like himself, so…it’s weird, he just dies in the pool.”

 

Me: “Doesn’t he like drown or something?”

 

Kevin: “Maybe. Cause he tries to like kiss himself and he can’t. So, Echo like sees this and she basically gets even more sad when she realizes she can’t have him and that he dies, so she kind of just like withers away. So, she’s like not a person anymore but she still has a voice, and that’s where you get Echo from. And Narcissus becomes a flower. It only grows on the riverbanks because it’s trying to like look at itself. And that’s a real flower.”

I just thought the myth was interesting in that it tied into why these figures are associated to the meanings of their names. This Greek myth deals with themes of love and hybris. In ancient Greek society, it was very important for people to worship Gods and not be hubristic or arrogant, so the myth could be implying that because Narcissus was super shallow and in love with himself, he suffered the most unfortunate fate. In this version, Echo seems to be cursed for deceiving Hera, who is a Goddess. Because she challenged a God, she too, has to pay the consequences for the rest of her life.

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Myths

Essential Gods from the Demon Days

A Freshman at the University of Southern California, the informant is majoring in archeology. The informant is very interested in Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology. He tells the Egyptian myth of the birth of the Essential Gods from the Demon Days.

 

Kevin: “Pretty much the Egyptian’s, they followed like a monotheism. They believed in one, like all powerful God that was more powerful than all the other set of Gods that existed, but there were other Gods that existed that controlled different domains of thought or influence or like spheres like on the earth and things like that. So, there was the God of the Sky, which was called Nut. And there was the God of the Earth which was Geb, and they were separated from Ra, and Ra was known as the God of light, like the God of Sun. He was known as the monotheistic God that everybody was influenced by. Nut wanted to have five children but since she had been separated from Geb there was no way she could have children so she like, she started bargaining with the moon to give her extra daylight so that she could create five new days in the year, where she would be able to give birth to her children since she wasn’t allowed to during the calendar year. And the game was, it was an ancient Egyptian game and the description entailed that you were gambling with the Moon for your soul so you’re gambling extra daylight from the Moon, but if you lost the game, you would essentially be giving up your soul, like your essence to the Moon, and them Moon would like eat it up, like eat up your essence. So, it was a really risky endeavor but she had been winning the game for so long that she got enough for five extra days, and during each day she gave birth to a different God. So, she gave birth to Set or Seth…he was associated with the God of chaos or the God of Desert. He was a very chaotic being. Isis- he was known as the savior of  humanity, and he rocked with the people and he had been leading the people on for generations. She also gave birth to Osiris. He was a God and he was killed by Set and became the God of resurrection…There was also Nephthys, which was the river goddess, so the last goddess…So these were called the Demon days. The year was 360 days but then because of this gambling, they added on the extra five days to the end of the year. So, that’s how the calendar year came into being, but it also brings out an association of chaos on the last five days because they were known as the Demon days, where, like each of these Gods were born, so they also have like more power on each of those days at the end of the year so they’re very like skewed, and then the end of the year was around the time of the solstice and everything like that, so like, it was known as a turning point with the birth of these Gods.”

I think this version of the myth might be missing pieces of information. It’s a little hard to follow, but what I did gather from the story was that five Gods were born representing the five extra days at the end of 360 days. It was interesting hearing about the different gods and what they were the gods of. We know that the year is 365 days long because that’s how long it takes for the earth to revolve around the sun, but the ancient Egyptians associated this science with their polytheistic gods and goddesses to explain why the world is the way it is. Polytheism gives birth to an extensive number of different folklores and tales.

Myths

Greek/ Roman Civilization Myth

A Freshman at the University of Southern California, the informant is majoring in archeology. The informant is very interested in Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology. He shares some Greek mythology.

Kevin: “Okay, so there’s two Greek Kingdoms. There’s Menelaus who’s king of Sparta, and then Agamemnon was king of Mycenae which were the two great powerful kingdoms. So, in Menelaus’s kingdom in Sparta, uh Paris and Hector of Troy were visiting and having dinner and coming to make peace with the Greek nations after all this war between the, and so Eris comes in and gives them an apple. She makes it a competition between three- Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite. Aphrodite drives them to fall in love, so then Paris leaves with Helen of Troy, and Menelaus gets really angry and goes to his brother Agamemnon. He’s very concerned about power. Agamemnon’s very powerful, arrogant guy and wants to take over Troy already, so he’s down with the plan…so all the Greek ships embark to Troy to go get Helen back, and they leave there, and they’re not doing so well in the beginning…So they retreated from the beach and they created this huge Trojan horse and they thought it was like a sacrifice to Poseidon for safe voyage during the time, but when they brought it into the city. They were all hidden inside and they started to sack and burn the city, but then what happened was Aeneas was able to go through these secret tunnels and get out of Troy with some of the Trojan people…So Aeneas travels and he makes it across to like the part in Italy where Rome is and then he finds the city of Rome and then after that that’s where from him his burst like Romulus and Remus, and then they become, like they become the first Roman heroes and they’re trained by Lupa and Lupa becomes like the trainer of humans and the Romans have like the birth of their own civilization.

 

So I guess what this story’s kind of saying is that a lot of it like talks about renewal and the driving power of love subtly behind everything, so like love drove this corrupt war to happen, but even though it happened, there was a renewal and there was a whole new society that was birthed out of that society being destroyed I guess.”

 

Me: “Okay, so do you think there’s a moral to the story?”


Kevin: “It talks about invincibility. It’s saying that nothing lasts forever, and like nobody’s invincible because first thing, Achillis who’s born from a goddess and Demigod, he’s shot in the heel and killed like during the war, so like this very, like powerful figure dies. Then Troy had walls around it and it was known as a city that couldn’t be penetrated and couldn’t be destroyed but it was destroyed. So, like invincibility but then also from chaos is births order because like from the war was birthed a whole new civilization that became  one of the biggest like, in all there ever was, so even though Troy wasn’t invincible and wasn’t able to last forever, like the thoughts and the beliefs and everything behind Troy were able to last for forever.”

I’m taking an Athenian Drama class, so I’ve read many of the Greek plays inclusive of characters Menelaus, Athena, and Hera. There are a few new characters in this version, and it’s interesting to note how Greek mythological characters are connected and related to multiple stories. Before hearing this story, it had never occurred to me that the thoughts and beliefs of Troy still live to this day. Although people can’t be, culture, beliefs, and things such as these can be everlasting.

Folk Beliefs

An Ugly Husband If You Don’t Eat Your Rice

The informant is a freshman at USC. She’s from the Phillipines, where she was born and raised. She talks about a quirky superstition that runs in the family.

 

Chelsea: “My mom told me, when I was young, that if I didn’t finish all the rice on my plate that the remaining rice on my plate would like somehow tie in with my future husband’s appearance.  So, if I left, like a lot of rice on my plate she would say that my future husband would have a lot of pimples on his face.”

 

Me: “Is that something your grandma told your mom and she passed it down to you?”

 

Chelsea: “Probably. I feel like it’s been running through the family for a while. I don’t know, but my cousins, they all say it. It’s just like , I think it’s like to make you finish your food though.”

 

Me: “So what was the significance of this superstition and how did it affect your behavior?”

 

Chelsea: “I personally don’t think there’s much significance, but it certainly made us eat all of the rice every time (laughs).”

 

This piece of folklore was funny to me. Parents often have trouble getting kids to finish all of the food on their plate. This story tells about a method of getting young girls to eat their food. I would have listened to this story in my earlier years. Women begin to fantasize about husbands at a very young age, so this folklore can prove to be very effective. According to Chelsea, she and her sisters finished their rice from there on out.

Legends

Slender Man Phenomenon

The informant is a Sophomore at the University of Southern California. She reports a legend about Slender Man, an alleged paranormal figure who has existed for centuries in different civilizations throughout the world.

 

Nys: “Okay, so he is this like really skinny stick figure looking guy, and apparently he like lures children, typically vulnerable people into the woods and makes them do like crazy shit, like kill people. I don’t know, it’s weird, but basically the only reason I know about this is because I saw a news report on how his- they call it creepy pasta online- how his creepy pasta made two young girls in, I think Wisconsin, stab their friend nearly to death. She survived, but they like lured her into the woods and basically like stabbed her because they worshipped Slender Man and were attempting to make a sacrifice for him.”

 

Me: “what culture is this from?”

 

Nys: “I’m not sure. I think it’s American culture. I didn’t really look too much into where it came from. It like started on the internet I know for sure though, so like it was shit that they would post on Read It and people who were really into his fan base put their stories of him on there.”

 

Me: “What do you think about this story?”

Nys: “ In terms of the things that happened with the little girls, it’s creepy and insane and it says a lot about how important mental health in childhood is and in general. This is just one story but it’s significant to me because I think internet folk stories are fascinating.”

It’s fascinating to me that such folklore can influence people’s behaviors, but this particular story is unsettling. It suggests how powerful some legends and other folkloric pieces can be for the intended audience, especially children. Slender Man, who originated as an internet meme, is an example of how the internet is a massive contributor to the distribution of folklore stories. People are able to communicate with one another and share their opinions, thoughts, and ideas. For more Slender Man lore visit  “The Slender Man.” Creepypasta Wiki. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

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Material

Tibetan Book Covers

The informant is 59 years old and was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She currently resides in Dallas, Texas. Although she is not Buddhist herself, she works at a museum and learns a lot about the religious beliefs. She describes a very important folk artifact that has been preserved throughout time in effort to tell a story of the Buddha.

 

Nancy: “What I’m talking about now are Tibetan book covers. Tibetan book covers are made of wood and they’re about maybe four inches by twelve inches, something like that, a rectangular shape. They, uh enclosed- so you have several of them- they enclosed scrolls that were, uh the products of uh monks who had written out the Sutras of the Buddha, the teachings of the Buddha. These books covers would be bound by beautiful silks and everything tightly formed and they would be stored in, you know, virtually libraries of these boxes or covers, and they continued to exist until the cultural revolution of the communist Chinese. This would be years like 1960’s-70’s something like that where anything that was old was no longer revered. It was a complete upheaval of the culture that uh respected, uh age and respected elders and so on. So those sutras and pieces were destroyed and what remains are these wood covers, and this is what has been collected by some people, and are now going to be displayed in a exhibition at the Crow Collection.”

 

This was a lot of new, interesting information about a folk object meaningful to a specific religious group. These Tibetan book covers have survived many periods of history that have served to create their story, and I think it is important to preserve these objects so that people (Buddhists especially) are able to learn more about their culture and connect through these special artifacts. The books indicate that the people valued sutras of the Buddha, perhaps striving to live by his teachings. Because the sutras have been destroyed and we are no longer able to access certain information, the sacred wood covers are necessary for preservation and protection.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Life cycle

Buddha’s Noble Truths

The informant is 59 years old and was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She currently resides in Dallas, Texas. Although she does not identify herself as a Buddhist, she works at a museum and learns a lot about the religious beliefs and background of Buddha. She described a statue of Buddha that she has children on field trips come to see at the museum. While they visit, she asks them questions about what and who they think the statue might represent. She shares Buddha’s story and how Siddhartha came to be known as ‘The Enlightened One.‘  

Nancy: “Well, let me start all the way back. Let’s see…long, long ago, in what is now Northern India, there was a prince who had a son, and the son’s name was Siddhartha Gautama. There was a prophecy that was made at the time that this little boy was born, that one day he would either be a great warrior or he would be uh a religious leader. So the prince, the father, uh felt that both of those possibilities were okay with him uh but in order to protect his son, he kept him within the like castle boundaries. So the son never went out uh outside beyond uh the walls. He never got to see what life was like, and uh one of the reasons too was that the father did not want him seeing some of the uh sufferings and bad things about life. Well, Siddhartha got to be kind of anxious about going out and seeing these things for himself, so he did. He was able to go out of the castle. He was on a horse who’s name I can’t remember right now. Uh and he was so amazed to see this suffering in the people, things like sickness and death and um disease. It just really started him so much that he wanted it find it more about why it was that the world had these uh attributes. So, he decided never to return  to the castle but to move out into the world and try to find the answers to why it is that this suffering takes place. So, he continued on this um exploration and he finally became Buddha, the Enlightened One. So Siddhartha became the Enlightened One, and he based his studies, his understanding on some principles such as uh, “all suffering is based in desire,” and uh there are three other noble truths, and I can’t remember what they are right now, but they are called ‘The Noble Truths’…and that explained about people and their suffering, but the idea was you had to uh meditate on this to be able to understand it, and the goal was uh to get this understanding, and once you reached that, you reached nirvana. You could die in peace. You were not continually without nirvana. You were reborn into this world and into this suffering, but finally once you understood and could practice the noble truths then you, you could reach nirvana.”

Me: “So what do you have the kids do at the museum?”

 

Nancy: “Oh. Well, the statue is there as I said, and I have them explain to me what they see. Describe the person, and they might say things like uh, “well his eyes are closed.” No, in fact they’re uh partially closed because he is contemplating. He is meditating. He has uh, well they call it “a hole in his head.” He has uh a third eye that is his eye for wisdom. He has long earlobes that have been pulled down from the weight of having very heavy jewelry, earrings and that speaks to his past. Another things that I add is uh this is just the head of the Buddha. It is from the neck and it’s obvious that it’s uh been broken off, and I talk them about that. Why do you think that happened? And they do talk about it in terms of, well it might have been, it could have been, we don’t know, an earthquake or water erosion, and finally, usually someone comes up with, “Oh, it might’ve occurred uh in warring circumstances where uh groups of people were fighting each other and attacked and broke apart these statues,” and that’s where I leave it, is that they understand not only the physical, natural things that could happen, but also humanity uh mankind can have impatience and uh strike out against other people’s symbols of comfort and so on.”

This piece of folklore was quite informative about the beginnings of Buddhism. I did not know the story of Siddartha Guatama before hearing this, and it was interesting to hear the origin of such a renown religion. It never occurred to me that nirvana had a direct path through what is known as the Noble Truths. The story did not go into detail about what the truths were, so I’d like to know more about them and how they could possibly be similar to the moral codes of other religions. It’s a good thing that the artifacts of this religion are still kept in museums, for it keeps the origin story alive.

Proverbs

Live Your Life While The Sun Shines

The informant is a freshman at the University of Southern California. Over Spring break, she vacationed in Hawaii where she met a local in Maui, Hawaii.  He was working at a tattoo parlor and is originally from Maui. The local was able to communicate a folkloric proverb to Elshadaii that he found significant to Hawaiian culture. Elshadaii was able to pass it down to me.  

 

E: “It goes, ‘Oi Kau ka lau, e hana ola honua,’ and it means that while the sun remains risen, you should do all that you can.”

 

M: “So what does this mean to you?”

 

E: “It’s basically saying to do all that you can while you are still alive and breathing. While the sun is still up and you have the freedom of opportunity, make the most of it! I think this is a lot like ‘Carpe Diem: Seize the Day!’”

Hawaiian: ‘Oi Kau ka lau, e hana ola honua,’

English: Live your life while the sun shines.

Roman: trăiesc viața în timp ce soarele strălucește

I feel as though there is a powerful meaning behind this proverb. I was raised to go through every day with a goal in mind, and this proverb teaches a similar lesson. Often times we forget how short life can be, and I interpreted this proverb as saying to be productive each and every day and to live life happily. The translations of the proverb serve the purpose of showing that the lesson within the proverb is universal and can be applied to everyone.

Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Holidays

Jump for the New Year

The informant is a freshman at USC. She’s from the Philippines, where she was born and raised. She talks about how her grandmother told her about a New year’s superstition she used to take part in visiting with her grandmother in the Philippines.

Chelsea: “My grandma told me and my cousin when we were young that when the clock strikes 12 on New year, we have to jump our age. And we’d grow taller by, like, an inch or two inches. Because it’s a New year and a new us.”

 

Me: “So in a metaphorical sense, you’re jumping your age by physically jumping?”

 

Chelsea: “Yeah, but physically jumping because we want to grow taller.”

 

Me: “Are there any rules to how many jumps or like..?”

 

Chelsea: “No, it’s like, just jump your age.”

 

Me: “So what’s the purpose of wanting to grow an inch or two?”

 

Chelsea: “I think it’s just a superstition that if you , like, jump, you’ll grow taller.”

The informant didn’t seem to know much about the reason behind growing taller, but  the idea of becoming taller and ‘jumping your age’ seems to be indicative of good connotations, whether for her family, her Filipino culture, or both. I’ve never heard of this superstition before but it seems harmless and helpful in the sense that it creates hope for Chelsea and all her family members who participate in the superstition to grow taller. It also seems like a way her grandmother used to connect with the children.

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