Author Archive
Legends
Narrative

La Llorona

Background of informant:

My informant (AG)’s parents moved from Mexico to Los Angeles before her birth. She speaks Spanish to her parents in home and is surrounded by Mexican culture.

 

Main piece:

AG: “The story that I know about her is that, she was with a man and they had children together. And for some reason, she became crazy. Either because of the guy, or just because of herself [in a questioning tone]. Let’s say, I don’t really know why. Because of that, uhh, she went crazy and she drowned her kids in the river. And then when she realized what she did, she wanted the kids back. But she couldn’t so she killed herself, thinking that she could reunited with them. But when she went to heaven, because she committed suicide, she couldn’t get into heaven and had to find her kids back. So she came back to earth and she’s like [pause] damned. Just wandering on the street looking for her children. And then like, what she said, was like ‘Where’s my kids?’, ‘¿Dónde estás Mi hijo?’”

 

SH: Is this sentence always a part when people tell this story?

 

AG: “Yes, cause you learned as a kid…like… [pause] I think I learned from some older cousin and they were trying to scare the younger kids. And cause you are little, so its like “no you can’t follow us, cause La Llorona will come and she’ll be like ‘¿Dónde estás Mi hijo?’ [in a different tone] and she’ll take you!” Cause you’re kid so she’ll think that you were hers kid. ”

 

AG: “Surprisingly, a lot of adults, [pause], kind of believe in it. Cause like, my uncle claimed that he heard her and seen her. But a weird thing about Latin American, especially Mexican, is that they can be very superstitious. […] People claim that every time when you’re sleeping and hear a crying outside, “Oh, that’s Llorona!” And when you wake up, you’ll just have discussion with your family, like, “I heard, I heard La Llorona last night.” So it’s like in certain situation, we talk about supernatural stuffs.”

 

Context of the performance:

AG and I were discussing on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo in a writing class. When we were close reading the scene when the female character jumps into SF Bay to kill her self, she told me this really reminds her of a story she heard when she was young. And she started to talk to me about this story and it turns out that this female character in Vertigo shares many similarities with La Llorona.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

This piece was performed after I first knew about La Llorona’s story on ANTH 333 lecture. Not only is the content of the piece slightly different from the version that I heard of, the context when my informant learned about this piece is also different. Instead of being told by parents to kids, or among young women (as what we’ve discussing on class), AG was told by her older cousins to scare her in order to prevent her from following them.

 

For another version of this legend, see Vertigo (1958).

Customs
Foodways
Material

Tourte Binchoise

Background of informant:

My informant YF is an international student from Brussels, Belgium. He spent the first two years of high school in Los Angeles, and the last year back in Brussels. He lived in Wallonia in Belgium, which is the French-speaking region that accounts more than a half of the country.

 

Main piece:

YF: “‘tourte binchoise’ is the food that only being made during the Carnival week, of the entire year. ‘Tourte’ normally means a sweet pie, and ‘Binchoise’ means ‘from Binche’. It’s basically a pie, with … just piecrust, made with sponge cake, as the vessel containing the cream. The filling is orange custard, with a layer of marzipan. That’s something made of confectioner sugar, you know, the really fine sugar, and almond meal. You can only find it during the Carnival. Because it is so limited in time and location, the recipe is so secretive, and it’s so hard to find one.”

Two weeks later, I asked about this pie again, and YF was trying to find a recipe of it online.

YF: “You will notice that the name of this pie is ‘Plus Oultre’. Plus Oultre comes from Latin ‘Plus Ultra’, meaning literally ‘More Far’, or ‘further in good’ in English. It is the motto in Spain, or the city where this pie is from, Binche, that is the name that backery gave its pie. [showed me a picture] This is a similar thing to ‘tourte binchoise’. This is the scandalous orange Tarte. It lloks a nit different than the one that I had in the carnival, but it has the same elements! So I believe it would taste the same!”

 

Context of the performance:

The first part was within a general conversation about the Carnival of Binche, within a interview I had with my informant YF. The second part was done two weeks later when I tried to acquire a recipe of the pie.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

After YF first talked me about this pie in our first conversation, I didn’t really pay attention to this pie. However, when I was transcribing the interview, I started to be really curious about the recipe of the pie. I then reached out to YF but he told me this pie is so rare and secretive, and it turned out that he couldn’t even find a recipe of it on the Internet, in 2017…

 

The orange Tarte recipe that YF showed me is online, here is the URL:

http://www.lacuisinedebernard.com/2010/10/la-tarte-scandaleuse-lorange.html

The recipe is in French.

Legends
Narrative

Manneken-Pis

Background of informant:

My informant YF is an international student from Brussels, Belgium. He spent the first two years of high school in Los Angeles, and the last year back in Brussels. He lived in Wallonia in Belgium, which is the French-speaking region that accounts more than a half of the country.

 

Main piece:

YF: “There’s a really famous thing in Brussels, I don’t know why, but Chinese tourists are always like: ‘I wanna see Manneken-Pis!’ So Manneken-Pis is a statue in Brussels, it’s like the most recognizable thing in Belgium. ‘Manneken-Pis’ is directly translated as ‘Little Men Pissing’. It’s a small statue beside a fountain.

“So there are so many stories about this little guy pissing, so for example, one of the would be that this evil witch set a bomb to destroy Brussels, and Menneken-Pis saved Brussels by pissing on the witch that was going to set up the bomb.

“Another thing about the name ‘Menneken-Pis’ is that, ‘Menneken’ is a dialect from Brussels, … Brusselly [laugh]. It’s just the dialect that combine both French and Dutch and it is spoke by people in Brussels. So we have different dialects in different regions of Belgium, in the southern part, the dialect is Wollo, because the regions Wallonia. But wollon can be entirely different in different cities or town in the southern part too. Dialect is never taught at school, but it’s spoke in home. However, dialects are dying now. My grandma speaks it and my mom speaks it. But my mom doesn’t really talk Wollon to any one other from my grandma. Honestly, it’s only old people who speak it, because there’s a period when kids were required to speak only French in everywhere, since Wollon was considered as vulgar. It’s dying now, because of urbanization, is killing the culture.

“Back to the little man pissing, it is located very near to the Grand-Place, which means ‘Big Plaza’ or in Dutch as ‘Grote Markt’.

“For the version about the witch that I heard of, about Manneken-Pis, I might learned it from a camp that I went to when I was younger.

“What funny about Manneken-Pis is that, during certain times of the year, there’s this place that makes costume for Manneken-Pis. So like if it is Christmas, he wears a Santa Claus outfit. Or sometimes, there are fashion designers make clothes for Manneken-Pis.”

 

Context of the performance:

This is a part of the interview I had with my informant YF.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

The conversation started with YF said, “I don’t know why, but Chinese tourists are always like: ‘I wanna see Manneken-Pis!’” And when we looked at the street view of it using Google Map, there are always a bunch of tourists surrounding by the Manneken-Pis, whether is on a sunny day or a rainy day.

Also, YF told me that there’s another similar statue called Janneke-Pis. Since Manneke means little man where the suffix “-ke” is a diminutive, Janneke means the similar ting, except it’s a little girl that’s pissing, and Jan doesn’t mean girl, Janneke means little Jane. It is located in a dead end street next to a really famous bar called “Delirium Tremens” in Brussels, which is the bar that has the most beers available in the world at any given moment (their menu offers more than 300 beers).

Customs
general

Styles of Sari

My informant AM is an international student from Singapore, and her family is originally from Bengal, India. She goes back to Bengal every year, and spend most of the time in the capital city Kolkata.

 

Main piece:

AM: “For me, I only wear Sari in certain time, like in the festival ‘Durga Puja’. We have this Indian festival in Singapore and we celebrate it every year. I got my own Sari at the age of 17 or 18, and then, I learned how to wear it, since there’re certain ways and so many ways to wear it…

“There are women who wear it everyday, like my grandma and people at her age. They have home Sari, Sari for sleeping, and Sari for going out. And my mom’s generation is more modern. They have Sari, and also a more modern style of clothing.

Sari is consisted of one drape, you wrap it around the waist and shoulder. And normally, you wear a blouse and a petticoat underneath the Sari drape. While the more popular modern style is you wear a Kurta, the long top, and below is pants like Patiala, or just like straight – Kameez, or skinny pants like Churidar. Most of the time, when we’re at home, my mom would just wear normal clothes, top and panyts, but if we go out to visit someone, she will wear those. And if it’s a really special occasion, she’ll wear Sari.

As for me, I never wear Sari since I come to the State. [laugh]”

 

Context of the performance:

This is a section from a conversation with my informant AM about how Indian culture and traditions are practiced in Singapore.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

I find Indian as the culture that remains its traditional clothing the longest among many old civilizations. Two weeks ago when I went to Regal LA Live to watch movie, I saw many Indian-looking people wearing Sari (for women) or Achkan (for men) having some kind of open ceremony for a film. Wearing traditional clothing in this modern time is really new to me, especially because China has so many traditional clothing styles but people don’t wear them and don’t know how to wear them.

At the same time, modernization is again reflected in this piece, that according to AM, the younger the generation is, the less people wear Sari in less occasion. This also reflects on globalization, that people in different culture all over the world wear similar cloth, T-shirt and pants. It seems that all these traditions are dying out.

Festival
Myths

Durga Puja

My informant AM is an international student from Singapore, and her family is originally from Bengal, India. She goes back to Bengal every year, and spends most of the time in the capital city Kolkata.

 

Main piece:

“Durga Puja” is a traditional festival of India. People celebrate the festival for 10 days. “Durga” is the goddess Durga, and “Puja” means “prayer”. The festival is in different time every year, but is around October and November.

 

AM: “We’re celebrating several things in this festival. Firs of all is Durga. We call her “the mother”, she is very respected, because she’s really powerful. She has ten hands, each of the hands hold a weapon. She is known as defeating an evil Buffalo demon. Thinking about Indian Gods, there’re so many of them. So Durga have so many forms, that she shared the same identity with some other gods and Durga is one form. In Bengal, we celebrate this incarnation of the goddess, which is Durga. She is married to one of the three main gods, Shiva.

“During a traditional Indian marriage, there’s a whole ceremony in the wife goes to the husband’s home. So during Durga Puja, these 10 days are believed as the time when Durga come back to her mother’s home. And at the last day of the festival, she goes back to Shiva’s home.

“The festival in total is 10 days, but the celebration starts at the 6th day. I don’t really know the reason behind this, but I do think we celebrate Durga Puja differently in Singapore than how people do it in India. So on the 6th day in Singapore, we have food fair for the festival. But there’s one common thing. Just to clarify, during the festival, it is Durga and her four children come to visit us, and we have statue of the five of them – Durga in the middle and her children aside. At the tenth day, in India, people will rewrap the statue of Durga and float it into the Bengali Rive. But we don’t do it in Singapore, cause it’s illegal, so we just rewrap the statue and send it back, which symbolizing she goes back to her husband’s home.”

 

Context of the performance:

This is a section from a conversation with my informant AM about how Indian culture and traditions are practiced in Singapore.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

I later discussed with AM about the how Indian culture regard women, and gender difference in general. I remember a ethnographic film Mardistan (2014) directed by anthropologist Harjant Gill, which talks about how patriarchal order is controlling over both women and men, specifically in the city of Chandigarh. I mentioned this to AM and she told me this is a really tricky thing to say, because there’re really modern cities like Mumbai but there are also many rural areas. But it seems to both of us that, due to the fact that there are so many festivals celebrating goddess, mother gods, Indian is not as what people would stereotypically regard as the typical patriarchal country. The part of Indian identity is really matriarchal, that people respect to the mother figure, but there’s also sexism in society too.

 

See the ethnographic film Mardistan here: https://vimeo.com/120182667

Myths

Ramayana

 

My informant AM is an international student from Singapore, and her family is originally from Bengal, India. She goes back to Bengal every year, and spends most of the time in the capital city Kolkata.

 

Main piece:

AM: “Ramayana is an Hindu epic. The basic outline of the epic is that, there is a married couple, Ram and Sita. One day, the wife, Sita is kidnaped by a demon, Raavana … he’s a guy. After realizing that his wife is kidnaped, Ram goes on a journal to rescuing her. On the sixth day, Ram prays to the goddess Durga, and gains the power to defeat Raavana, which takes him 10 days in total. So the tenth day in Durga Puja is also seen as the day when Raavana is defeated.”

SH: You said that the festival’s name, “Puja” in “Durga Puja” means “prayer”, right? So do you think this is the festival that actually come from this epic story?

AM: “Most of the festivals in India are in someway all related to prayer or pray to the God. So many festivals have the name of ‘something something Puja’. But, yes, I think praying to God is definitely a large part of many Hindu stories.

SH: How do you know about all these stories about God and Goddess?

AM: “I just know them! [laugh] I think they are something that you know as a kid, whether is from TV or from books. I might learn all these from my grandma. She have countless stories to tell to kids, and lot of them base on those epic.”

 

Context of the performance:

This is a section from a conversation with my informant AM about how Indian culture and traditions are practiced in Singapore.

This epic story is told when AM wanted to explain one of the reason people celebrate Durga Puja festival.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

I mentioned about my discussion with AM about gender in Indian culture in my post of “Durga Puja”. However, though we both noticed that the goddess, the mother is the figure who are respected and prayed to, the two explanations of the festival – Durga goes to visit her mothers’ home and Ram prays to Durga and defeats the demon to save his girl – all indicates both how powerful women can be and how women still need to be bounded with men. Durga has to go back to her husband’s home at the end of the tenth day, and Sita is kidnaped by demon and has to be rescued by her husband. There is a tension between matriarchal and patriarchal in Indian epics and stories, which need to be further discussed.

Myths
Narrative

Hong Shui Man Tian

My informant CH is a 47 years old Chinese animation film director. He was born and lived in southern part of China, especially Changshu and Nanjing for many years before she moved to the north, Beijing at age 34.

The conversation is in Chinese.

 

Main piece:

“Hong Shui Man Tian” is the creation myth of Dai people. Dai is a group of minority people live in Xinpin village, Yunna province in China. “Hong Shui Man Tian” can be directly translated as “flood over the sky”, and refers to the flood punishment given by the sky god to the evil human.

 

CH: “The Dai people, they believe that “there are 99 floors up on the sky, and 99 floors down in the ground”. So on the sky, there is this sky god whose name is Pi Fa, while on the ground, there is the earth god Mei Wo. So Pi Fa controls the sky and Mei Wo rules the ground of earth.

Long long time ago, each of the people on earth only has one leg, and they are really bad, morally. They kill their own parents and eat them. And they do a ton of extremely evil things. The sky God Pi Fa hears about the people on earth and decides to punish them. He plans to drown the evil earth people by flood. However, the god of the ground, Mei Wo, he still has faith that there are good people on earth. So he goes to the human world and tries to find the good people. He arrives this village of Dai people, and finds there are this twin brother and sister in the village. The brother is very hardworking and diligent, and the sister is pretty and smart. Mei Wo follows the brother and sister around, and notices that when they are walking on the street, there is a poor, dirty homelessman asking for food. While all of the other human avoid having any contact with this homeless old man, the brother and sister come close and give food and water to the old man. Mei Wo sees this and thinks, “these two will be new generation of human after the flood.”

Mei Wo disguises himself into a old woman and talks to the brother and sister. He tells the two to find a huge tree and make the tree into a wood boat. He also tells them to use bamboo to make a flute, and to play the flute to attract all animals in the forest.

The sky god creates the flood and punishes the earth people. But the brother and sister, with animals in the forest survive on their boat.

After the earth is dried, they start to seed the ground and recreate life on earth. At the same time, human also need to have reproduction. A pair of ravens come and send the gods will to the brother and sister, that they need to get married and reproduce new human. So they follow, and have three children. The oldest brother is the Dai people now, and the second brother is the other minority groups, and the youngest is the Han people now.”

 

Context of the performance:

My informant CH went to the Xinpin village, in Yunnan province in China to visit a family member. He learned this story through a conversation with the village head. He also took note in the conversation. This is the story that he told me after he came back from the village.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

This creation myth of Dai people in China is really interesting. The motifs of evil human, of gods’ punishment, of flood, and of wood boat all remind me of Noah and the punishment in the Bible in Occidental culture. Also, this creation myth deals with many taboo elements, like the evil human eating their parents, as cannibalism, or the brother and sister need to get married, as incest. This resonates with many epic stories, like the Odyssey, or Oedipus Complex where there’re prevalent examples of cannibalism and incest. Nevertheless, this creation myth is really specified to this minority group, Dai. And at the end of the story, the three brothers turn to be the ancestors of three groups of people in China, Dai people, other minority people and the Han (90% of Chinese are Han people).

general
Myths

Loong

My informant CH is a 47 years old Chinese animation film director. He was born and lived in southern part of China, especially Changshu and Nanjing for many years before she moved to the north, Beijing at age 34.

The conversation is in Chinese.

 

Main Piece:
CH: “The word in English, ‘Dragon’, is translated into Chinese as ‘Loong’. But the ‘Loong’ in China is a totally different thing than dragon. Dragon is a more evil creature that is always portrayed as the destroyer, it can breath fire. But Loong is a divine creation in China. It means royalty, luck, and happiness. For what I know about Loong, it is a combination of several different animals. It has four claws like an eagle, and it’s skin like fish scale, and it has antler on its head, with a long and thin body like a snake, and so on. I think it can be transparent sometimes is it wants, when it is flying on the sky. And it can make itself longer or shorter, or in general, make any shifting in shape and form as it wants.

Loong was the totem in ancient China. And it carries many good characteristics, and is being respected by Chinese people throughout the history.

I also heard about that Loong is actually the constellation on the night sky that people saw. And according to the tradition, since Loong is divine, as a god-like figure, which is definitely superior than normal human-being, it is invisible to any normal living creatures. So people can only see the reflection of Loong, and that can explain why people say Loong can change it shape. Or, to further think about this, Loong might be something that has different space dimension than what human can perceive. [laugh]”

 

Context of the performance:

This is a part of the conversation about Chinese myth with my informant CH.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

I notice that there are many creatures in different culture that shares similarities with the Chinese Dragon, Loong. An iconic western dragon can be found in “The Dragon Trainer” where most of the dragons are brutal and are creatures that cause destruction, but at the same time, dragons can be trained, which means they are inferior than human. However, not only is the Loong a good thing in Chinese culture, it represents divinity, royalty, and supreme. I think the two creatures have two different origins, but interestingly, they share some similarities. For example, both of the can fly, though in different ways (dragon has wings, Loong doesn’t have wings… but can fly anyway). Also, there is a similar creature in Indian cuture, named as “naga”, and is a evil incarnation, but also shares feature similarities with Chinese Loong.

Legends

The Ghost Without Face

My informant CH is a 47 years old Chinese animation film director. He was born and lived in southern part of China, especially Changshu and Nanjing for many years before she moved to the north, Beijing at age 34.

The conversation is in Chinese.

 

Main Piece:

The Ghost Without Face:

CH: “When I was very young, like 10 years old, I always had a same nightmare over and over again, repeating the same thing every night. In the dream, I was lying on my bed in the same room that I was supposed to be, and I saw a person walking toward me from the door. But the person is always in darkness, so I was very scared and tried to turn o the light. I turned on the light, but the light was vey dim, and was flashing all the time. So I never saw that person’s face.”

The Strange Sound:

CH: “Almost at the same time period, there’s always a strange sound in our home. It sounds like cricket, but it’s not. I can’t really describe the sound for you. I was never sure what it really was. My whole family started to look for the thing that made this sound but we found nothing. Until one day, my uncle from Wuxi came to visit us. I remember, at that time, he was in his prime of life, like forty years old. He snored really loudly at night when sleeping. Interestingly, after he stayed in my home for two days, the sound never appears again. It’s gone.”

“This was the time when my grandpa just past away. I always saw him looking at me, smiling to me. But I was afraid because I knew he was dead. Now I think he was coming back home to see me during night time as a ghost, coming into my dream.”

SH: Do you think the person you mentioned in the first story was your grandpa?

CH: “hmm… It’s not him. It’s a man, a big man.”

 

Context of the performance:

This is a part of the conversation with my informant CH. He recalled that he didn’t tell anyone about his strange dream until he grew up a little bit. And later on, he would tell these stories in parties when people gathered together talking about ghosts stories or supernatural things, he would always share his own stories.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

Since the three events were happening close in time, the dream, the sound and Grandpa pass away, CH believed they are in connection. Also, as mentioned in the second story, the uncle somehow “dispelled” the sound, due to the fact that he is a middle age man with strong Yang Qi (Yang spirit), while ghosts are believed to be attracted by Yin Qi (opposite to Yang spirit). Yin Qi is most often accumulated in women and young children. If we put CH’s stories under this Chinese theory to explain human’s relation to supernatural, the stories can therefore be explained.

Customs
Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Carnival of Binche

Background of informant:

My informant YF is an international student from Brussels, Belgium. He spent the first two years of high school in Los Angeles, and the last year back in Brussels. He lived in Wallonia in Belgium, which is the French-speaking region that accounts more than a half of the country.

 

Main piece:

YF: “We have the Carnival of the year around spring break. Every region in Belgium will have different character for the carnival. Each one has its story, its name. ”

YF: “The most memorable one that I went to is the Carnival of Binche. The most famous character in the carnival is called “Gilles de Binche”, directed translated as “Gilles from Binche”. This is the name of the character of the Carnival. So depend on the different city the Carnival is taking place, there will be different character, also different names. Gilles de Binche are only done by guys. They have white outfit, and orange jacket that has patterns of roasters on it, because roaster is the Coat of arms for Wallonia. And on the jacket there are also lines in black, yellow and red since those are the colors on Belgium flag. And also straw on the edge of their jacket. On their head, they have a huge hat with feathers, and traditionally, they also wear mask on their face made of wax. They walk on the street at the days of Carnival, and each of them carries a basket with blood oranges inside. They throw the oranges to the crowd and people will try to catch them. ”

SH: Why do they throw oranges?

YF: “Oh, so blood oranges are seen as gift given by the Gilles and they carry good luck.”

YF: “The Gilles also wear wooden shoes. The special thing about Gilles de Binche is that they are the only group of Gilles that stay in the city, so they can only stay in Binche, while others can go around and participate the parade in other cities.

“At night, we have ‘feu de bengale’, which means ‘fire from Bengol’ for people to dance around. It’s about the size of a human. Two meters high. Basically, when you’re a kid, base on which city in Belgium you’re from, you’re assigned to one character. It’s really old-fashioned, that based on the town you were born, you have the character that you can become when you’re older, and then you choose to take part into the culture and go into the circle of the character.

“So every early, like 6 am in the Carnival day, participants will go to people’s family to party with them. So you’ll have numerous cups of champion in each house you went to at the end of the day. And I did practice this!!”

 

Context of the performance:

This is a part of the interview I had with my informant YF.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

Though Belgium is a small country, the differentiation within the country is huge and obvious. Not only do people from different regions speak different languages (three main languages: French, Dutch and Germany), the Carnival are different and the characters for each Carnival are different.

[geolocation]