Author Archive
Musical

Nigerian Udara Song

This is a recording of my informant’s mom singing a Nigerian folk song about the Udara, a fruit common in Nigeria. Her mom would sing it to her often when she was younger. The story behind it contains the classic evil stepmother and a magical element. The translation is as follows:

My udara, produce fruits

produce fruits, produce fruits, produce fruits

produce fruits for the motherless

produce fruits for the fatherless

My father’s wife bought Udara from the market

Ate all with her children

Gave none to the motherless

gave none to the fatherless

This life is vain

one is born

one is gone

It is from a story about a boy whose mother dies and is left with a stepmother that buys fruits for her children but not for him. He finds an udara tree and begins singing to it, and it produces fruit for him. The stepmother sees this, so when he is gone one day they come and try to sing to the tree and get its fruit. He catches them, and sings to the tree that it carries the one of the children up far away. The stepmother and other children apologize and agree to treat him well in the future, so he sings again and the  tree brings the other kid back down. They never treated him bad again.

 

For the published version of this story and a longer version of the song, see:

Ebegbulem, Celestine. African Stories by Moonlight. S.l.: Authorhouse, 2014. Print.

Legends

The Legend of Oniontown

MR heard about the legend of Oniontown at a summer camp a few hours away, in New Milford, Connecticut. Him and his friends didn’t believe it was real, so they went on a legend quest to see if it was true. It’s a bit of a memorate in that their own personal experience might have been due to other causes, but fit into the legends surrounding the place and and therefore they (at least at first) attributed their experience to what they had heard about inbreeding and meth cookers, despite acknowledgements that the town might just be trying to keep all these dumb kids out.

“Oniontown is a tiny town surrounded by urban legends. People say that it’s a place where people are giant inbred mutants. It’s a lawless society where mutant people will drag strangers out of their car and beat them to death. Police overlook it, though it is only a few miles from civilization.  It supposedly has a giant statue of an onion in the town square.

I was friends with camp owner’s son, and the counselors & them went to go and prove it wrong since we were so close and obsessed with urban legends. We got a van together and went to check it out.

They made a rule that if anyone gets too scared, they would turn back, no questions asked.

As they are driving, it starts getting more woodsy.

Two of the people get freaked out and don’t like way it looks. They decide they’re too scared, and ask to turn back.

Ok, fine, so we turn back, but then we get lost. We have no clue where we are. We got so lost that we ended up right near the main road to Oniontown. We decided we might as well go check it out, so we drop our scared friends off at McDonalds and tell them we’ll go explore and come back for them.

The stories say that first the road will turn to gravel, then get narrower and narrower, then mutants will come.

The first thing we see is a junkyard on right named “Murphy’s autobody,” which we take to be a good sign because Murphy is last name of guy driving car. Which, by the way, is a piece of shit car. It’s a van driven down from Canada, old and decrepit, which was given to the guy to run into the ground since it’s near the end of its life).

Then the asphalt turns to gravel.

The two car road changes to a one car then narrows even more to barely a one car road. We wonder how on gods green earth do people get to this city.

We come around a bend and stop. Headlights turn on in front of us.

Three enormous guys get out in road in front of us, huge ass guys, seven feet tall, and one is holding a cinderblock.

The mood in car turns from laughing to complete horror. One guy throws a rock, and the entire windshield shatters.

On of the other guys throws something else at passenger window, and that shatters too. I was in the backseat so it took a while for this to register.

One friend, who I credit our survival to his fast thinking, decided to drive forward. At the last minute he sees a branching road, spins the wheel and goes down that way and into a field. ACDC was on the radio, and my friend thought it was a good idea to turn it up. It was only funny later.

We go back to the road, spin around, and go back to MacDonald’s.Our friends are still there, eating a happy meal and taking their sweet time. We scream and motion for them to get in the car. They get up, take their time, throw away their stuff, not aware of what’s happening. Just then the truck with the guys pulls in and comes around other side of parking lot and rolls down the window.

A guy says: ‘You think this is a joke? Think this is funny? don’t ever come to our town again.'”

MR thinks that because so many people heard about onion town and started to visit, people got tired of strangers coming to town and now mess with people. He also still thinks there’s something fishy going on, maybe cooking meth or something of the sort. There are weird buff hillbillies, nonetheless.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic

Horsemint

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Horsemint is purple plant that grows in Texas. PL identifies it on nature walks, and often tells about how it was used as an insect repellant, which is how it got called horsemint.

PL: “One time a man was there whose dad used it often. His dad had horses, and would bundle up the horsemint, tie to rafters in barn, and shoe horses where the plant would rub on their backs. It worked as an insect repellent to keep flies off horses, that way they wouldn’t more or become too agitated for the farrier.”

Horsemint actually contains citronellol, a natural insect repellent, so it turns out the folk practice in this case is actually very functional. Bug sprays and other commercial products use the same type of ingredients.

 

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Cure for Bad Dreams

A friend, CB, was visiting me from Texas, and heard me talking with my roommate about the bad dreams she had been having. Camila jokingly proposed that my roommate try this remedy that her mom always made her and her sister do whenever they had nightmares. It is used to remove bad spirits. CB’s mom is very spiritual and uses folk remedies and prayers often.

“So you need an egg and a glass of water and you say a prayer and then rub the egg all over your body in cross motions. After that you crack the egg in the water, put the egg under your bed or near your bed, and sleep. When you wake up the egg has collected all the bad energy and dreams around you and you have to flush it down the toilet to remove the energy.”

It’s interesting that an egg is chosen to soak up the negativity. From reading other sources it seems that the egg would start to smell after some time and the bad smell represented the bad energy that you would throw away. Another blogger mentioned that when it dries it leaves circles that look like the evil eye. I’d be curious to see if any more reasons behind it exist or if there’s anything that has to do with fertility.

Foodways

Agarita Jelly

Agarita is a Texas bush with sweet red berries protected by spiny leaves. The informant describes the family procedure for collecting and using the berries:

“To get enough berries to make jelly, you lay a blanket around the base, then hit the bush with a stick so that all the berries fall off. Old ladies used to then put all the collected berries in an apron, then toss them up to let the wind blow away all the debris, while the berries fall back down into the apron. My mom at some point decided to set up a fan on our porch, so we could just pour the berries from one bucket to another and not have to worry about tossing them. The fan worked much better.”

The recipe:

5 1/2 pounds agarita berries (late May)

1 1/2 cups of water

1 box of Sure-Jel

7 cups of sugar

Crush fruit with a potato masher, add water, cover, simmer for 10 minutes, and crush again. Strain, measure out 5 cups of juice, add 1 box of Sure-Jel, and bring to full rolling boil. Add 7 cups of sugar, bring to full rolling boil for 1 minute, then pour into jars.   Use water bath to sterilize jars and seal lids.  Yields around 4 pints.

Agarita berry collecting May 2010-2395 Agarita collecting 5-31-10-2381

This folk recipe is made from a plant which grows in a very specific geographic area, mostly in Texas, and it’s interesting that throughout time the practice has evolved with new technology available (the fan), allowing for more jelly to be produced. Even living in Texas I’ve never seen agarita jelly sold at the store, so it’s interesting that it’s mostly a small family process passed down, and was never commercialized.

Myths
Narrative

Pan Gu opens up sky and earth

“A long long time ago when sky and earth were still one and everything was in chaos sleeps a giant named Pan Gu, and he has slept there for 10 million years.

One day, Pan Gu suddenly woke up. He sees that it is all dark around him, so he picks up a huge axe and swung towards the darkness, and with a loud bang, he divided land and the sky. But Pan Gu was fearful that they are going to stick together again, so everyday he keeps his head up towards the sky and face against the land to make sure that they stay apart. After countless amount of time when the sky and land finally stuck to its shape, PanGu is so exhausted that he fell and died of exhaustion.

Since then, his breath turned into the wind and cloud of the four seasons; his voice turned into the sound of rolling thunder and his eyes turned into the sun and the moon and his limbs turned into the four directions, where his skins turned into land, and his blood turned into running river.”

CM learned this as a child, growing up in China. It’s similar to the Greek myth of the titans. It’s a creation myth, with his body turning into different parts and explaining why they came to be. This includes the seasons and weather and the directions of the earth.

general

Film Company Hazing

SS interned at a production company, and experienced occupational folklore in the form of hazing. When someone at her company messed up as bad as she did, they would be forced to coil cables indefinitely.

SS: Once upon a time when I was a wee lassie, young, naive, full of enthusiasm for the art of filmmakimg, I in my ignorance accepted an internship at a local prod. company in Tucson, Arizona. The production company was supposed to train me in grip and electric work on film sets in addition to giving me a better understanding of how film industry worked. one evening, the most useful work they could put their intern to do was to go through the email of the previous owner of the company. This owner never ever understood how technology worked. This man is a modern dinosaur. It was astounding he could even turn on the computer. So when I was given the task to clean out this guys email (had had it for 10+ years), tidy it up, and find contacts I knew it would be daunting, but never knew it would be impossible. As I ventured to the abyss of this inbox, I realized there were over 15,000 unopened emails in which I have to find any important filmmaking connections. So I’m going through and trying to set up a system. I learn this guy’s entire life, lots of personal details just by going through his email. My boss comes in and says ‘Hey if you find any pics, download those as well.” So sure enough I find a few emails with pictures and try to download. It doesn’t work. I keep clicking download, download download. The I realize the computer is frozen. Completely overloaded and overworked. Ok, just gonna take a step back and give it some time to breathe. An hour goes by. The little rainbow wheel of death is still spinning. The boss comes in and asks “Are you done yet?”

“Fuck no, also the computer’s frozen.”

“Turn it off and back on.”

I leave work at 5 o’ clock usually. Clock hits 5, gotta go, man. I think it might just need to figure itself out overnight. Later, I realized what I had done was download 6,000 copies of this picture to the desktop. The next Thursday, I get back to my internship. No one is speaking to me. This guy goes “Hey do you know what you did to the computer? Well, you completely destroyed that computer.” Whoa danger zone, unprotected. Long story short, they had to take computer into apple store, because it wouldn’t respond for 3 days. Took some cray diagnostic.

“We aren’t going to let you do anything on the computer today, instead we have a different assignment for you.” They’re obviously pissed.

Keep in mind, it’s a casual 100 degree day in Tucson, Arizona. My new job: go outside and recoil a bunch of massive cables that were coiled counterclockwise. I had to recoil them all over, in clockwise direction.

They told me that “we know you’re not really good at coiling cables, so we thought this would be good practice.”

It was ACTUALLY ABUSIVE I went home and listened to music people picked cotton to I felt like I could relate for the first time in my life to slaves. I couldn’t move for 2 days. It’s the heaviest cable that exists. Also, I still can’t coil cord.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The White Snake

“Once upon a time, during the raining season of Qing Ming festival (chinese version of festival of the dead), in the scenic Xi Hu (west lake) emerged two beautiful maiden. They are snakes in the form of humans; they don’t have any bad intentions, but just that they are curious about the human life so they took thousands of years of training and transformation to finally become human. The White snake took the name of Bai Su Zhen and the green snake took the name of Xiao Qing. It is here where Bai Su Zhen encountered Xu Xian, a scholarly young man who lived by the lake. He held out an umbrella for her and that started a loving relationship between Bai Su Zhen and Xu Xian. Xu Xian and Bai Su Zhen are eventually happily married, and they opened a pharmacy together called Bao He Tang. This pharmacy eventually got famous because it cured many weird diseases while it also never charged poor people. Everyone was delighted by this pharmacy except for this monk named Fa Hai. As more people are cured of their rare diseases, less of them goes to the temple to pray and give money, and Fa Hai was not pleased. He comes down the mountain to see the pharmacy and realizes that Bai Su Zhen is actually a snake. Thus, he goes and tells this to Xu Xian, but Xu Xian said that even if Bai Su Zhen were a snake, she is still a very kind person and that she is also pregnant with their child so he will never leave her.

Furious that he failed to get Xu Xian on his side, Fa Hai captures Xu Xian and takes him back to the temple. Bai Su Zhen, after hearing about this, rushes to rescue Xu Xian, but was defeated and captured also by Fa Hai and trapped under a mountain.

Xiao Qing–the green snake, after escaping, goes into the mountain and trains for 10 years. She came back, finally defeats Fa Hai and traps him into a crab’s stomach. She saved Bai Su Zhen and Xu Xian and they lived happily ever after.”

CM learned this as a child as a Chinese folktale. Usually snakes are presented as evil in western tales, so it’s interesting that in this Chinese one the snake is a positive creature and helps heal people. Less surprising is that the snake is in opposition to religion, based on Christian traditions and other religious stories.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hungarian Corpus Christi Feast Tradition

GP’s family is from Hungary. His father is a first generation American, and his aunt collected Hungarian family traditions that she then passed on to GP. They are no longer practiced by anyone in the family, in fact, they stopped practicing most of them after World War II. However, the stories of the traditions and customs are still passed down to family members, and collected by GP’s aunt.

“On the Feast of Corpus Christi, which falls in June and is celebrated on a Sunday, the people of a parish decorate about 3 shelters made of branches of fresh bloomed trees, inside they place a table to make an alter, these are usually right on the parish grounds. During the Mass the priest places the host in the monstrance (which is consecrated) for the adoration of the faithful.  First a group of small girls, in their white dresses and veils with baskets of fresh flowers, leads the procession out of church–altar boys follow with one swinging incense, the priest carrying the monstrance under a canopy supported by four poles and carried by men–the faithful all leave the church singing on their way to the first shelter. A special service is held and they proceed to the next shelter–after the last shelter they go back into church and services are concluded. After Mass they have booths set up outdoors and they sell “Maces Kolocs,” a large cookie that has a colorful paper figure put on with frosting that is shaped like Christ, Mary, Heart etc., which is only sold at this time. In the afternoon and evening they have outdoor dancing and food and it usually lasts all night. This is the first Sunday celebration, after which each Sunday all summer in all the towns and cities they hold their own feasts.”

Catholicism was a very important part of their heritage, and the detailed preparations and processions surrounding the feast attest to this. There is food made only for this event, and then celebrations, making it a very unique celebration of a Catholic event that is also associated with their Hungarian roots.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Meng Jiang Nv

“During the Qin dynasty China, there was a kind and beautiful woman named Meng Jiang Nv. One day, she discovered a young man hidden between the grapevines in her backyard–turned out that his name is Fan Xi Liang, and he is hiding from Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di’s guards, for they are going everywhere, capturing people to go build the Great Wall where many starved and died of exhaustion. Meng Jiang Nv saved him and sheltered him and eventually the two fell in love.

On their wedding night, when everything was going so well, guards suddenly barged inside their house and took Fan Xi Liang away to go be labor for the Great Wall. Meng Jiang Nv was so sad and angry that she decided she is going to go to the Great Wall herself and to find her husband. She spent many days, going through steep mountains and rivers, suffering through terrible conditions with no complaint till she reached the Great Wall.

She asked everywhere for her husband, but no one seemed to have seen him till finally, someone told Meng Jiang Nv that her husband’s been long dead and that his bone are buried at the bottom of the Great Wall. Under great pain, Meng Jiang Nv started to cry for 3 days and nights and she cried so much that eventually part of the Great Wall collapsed, exposing the bloody bones of her husband. She finally got to see her beloved husband again, but he will never get to see her again, due to the tyrannical request of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di.”

CM learned this folktale growing up in China. It expresses the problems in everyday life under the horrible conditions when ruled by the tyrant. The tale shows corruption and the people’s frustration with the Qin dynasty. It also relies on a national landmark, the great wall, and is a very country-specific folktale.

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