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Omens of bad luck for Nigerian Americans

Interview with the source, speaking on signs of bad luck her Nigerian American family in New York taught her:

Nigerians have things that are bad luck. Nigerians don’t go near cats because they have the devil in them. And Nigerians aren’t left handed, it’s considered evil.

What happens if a Nigerian kid is born left handed?

They’ll have to switch. Their parents would never let them stay left handed. That’s why I don’t know any left-handed Nigerians. And it’s considered bad luck to use your left hand to do things, like if you hand someone a cup, you have to use your right hand. 

Who in your family taught you this?

Everyone.

Your brothers and sister too?

Yes, everyone. Everyone.

So, do you still believe it?

No, no I don’t believe that it’s bad luck or the devil. But I still hand people things with my left hand because I don’t think it’s as polite. It’s not as respectful I think to use your left hand. 

Would your parents visit someone’s house if they had a cat? 

Sure, they wouldn’t care. But they would not get a cat as a pet themselves. Well also because I’m allergic and they wouldn’t do that to me.

general

How to avoid curses and witchcraft – Nigerian Americans

The subject speaks on the way members of her Nigerian church in NYC protected against curses and witchcraft.

I went to Nigerian church every week and Nigerian church is its own thing let me tell you [laughs]. For Nigerians, and West Africans in general, you don’t want to tell someone you’re pregnant or that you got a promotion or good news because if you tell them, they could do voo-doo on you or something, you know?

So is it impolite in Nigeria to ask if someone is having a baby or to ask about someone’s health?

It’s not impolite. But Nigerians don’t ask because they know nobody will answer. For example if someone asks me if my dad is on a trip to Nigeria I can’t say, “yes.” I have to say, “well, he’s not here.”

And is the reason for this fear other people or fear something else like a demonic spirit?

No, it’s other people. It’s because you want to make sure people don’t have enough information to do witchcraft on you. But really you only have to be afraid of other Africans [laughs].

I would always here these stories in my church of these things happening. A lot of stories from our pastor’s wife. There was this one story that at a wedding a woman came up to the bride and waved her hand over [the bride’s] stomach. And then for three years the couple couldn’t have children. And they had to track down this woman and ask her “did you make us infertile.”

And the woman said, “yeah it was me.” And because they found the source they could have kids again. I heard stories like that in church every week.

general

Christmas Cookies

The subject describes a simple tradition his mom started. This year was the Christmas year after his mom died.

Oh! We did have one Christmas tradition in our family. Every year my mom would have her friends over and they would make Christmas cookies together. 

And this year my sister and I had our friends over and we made cookies together, so it’s like we’re carrying on that tradition.

What kind of cookies do you make?

Well normally my mom made sugar cookies but my sister and I need to find a better recipe. The one we used this year wasn’t very good.

What’s the significance of this tradition to you?

It’s significant because it was something our mom did every year. It would feel strange to do Christmas without doing it.

Even a simple tradition takes on greater meaning once a family member dies. This tradition transformed from being an annual gathering with friends, to an annual gathering of friends that celebrates the life of a passed-away loved one.

Holidays
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Predictions

The source of this folklore describes a tradition her family does every year: writing down predictions for the next year at Christmas. It’s something the source’s mom did with her own mother as a child and passed down.

We write down predictions on a piece of paper at Christmas. We don’t read them until the next year. And usually you forget what you wrote. One year we all predicted if we’d be living in the same house in a year. I predicted we would and my brother predicted we wouldn’t. He was right.

Are they are predictions about the whole family or are some of them personal?

Some are personal. You write personal ones on one side of the paper and on the other side it’s usually a question we all ask each other and try to guess–like about the house.

Do you share the personal ones with the other people?

Umm… I don’t. You don’t have to. My mom definitely doesn’t either. Actually we all keep the personal ones to ourselves.

What’s the feeling you have when reading them?

I usually think my handwriting looks really weird. Like how much it’s hanged in a year. [laughs] I guess that’s not a feeling.

Well… sometimes things turn out better than you predicted or something really good happens that you would have never predicted, and you’re happy.

But sometimes things don’t go as well… you know… What’s the feeling? That’s hard to answer…

Of course. But it’s not an insignificant thing?

No, no. Right it feels very significant. Yeah for sure. It’s always felt very significant to me.

 

Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Drama Cat

The source is a fifth-grade student who has acting in the Seattle Country Day School’s school plays for the past three years.

Can you tell me about the drama cat?

The drama cat is a statue. We worship it before each show, on the opening night of the show.

How do you worship it? 

Well the 6th and 7th graders lead it. And they teach it to the kids in my grade. We do a chant, we have to say “All hail the drama cat” and we build a new shrine for the drama cat each—every time there’s a new show.

Why is it important to worship the drama cat?

It’s really really bad luck if you don’t do it. Or if just one kid doesn’t do it, you’ll have a bad show. So it’s really important that we get everyone to do it. Even if they don’t want to [laughs]

Does [your drama teacher] know about the drama cat?

Yes, he knows about it. He’s friends with it. But he does think it’s distracting if we make the worship too long. Like last show [the drama teacher] got mad at us for doing the drama cat worship too long and not setting up the props.

Will you continue the drama cat when you’re a 6th grader.

Yes I will. I’m going to keep it going and teach it to the next people.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Non-Traditional Passover Traditions

The source describes how his family’s Passover traditions are non-traditional:

Passover is really fun at my mom’s house. And I didn’t realize how unorthodox it was until one year we went over to my aunt’s place for Passover and she’s a lot more religious. She was really strict and me and my sister got in an argument with her.  

What do you do for Passover that’s unorthodox?

Well we don’t read an actual Haggadah [the Haggadah is a Jewish which sets forth the order of the Passover Seder], we read a children’s picture book.

And the adults usually don’t drink wine or they only have one glass. But my favorite part is that we play a game where you throw mashed potatoes at the front door with a spoon. It’s based on marking the doors of the Israelites with blood. But our version is a lot more fun and more P.G. 

Is the Seder kosher?

Yes, we make sure the Seder is kosher, but my family doesn’t keep kosher most of the time. Only on holidays.

Holidays
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Leaving a Place for Elijah

The source is an Israeli Microsoft employee describing a prank he pulled on his children on Passover.

Well, as you may know for Passover Seder, we set an extra place at the table for the Profit Elijah. The tradition normally is that we pour a cup of wine for the profit and the husband of the household open the door for him. Of course, the seat remains empty and the wine full. And many parents know you can have some fun with young children, who of course are watching the Elijah’s Cup intently, by knocking the table when they’re not looking so that some of the wine spills out and it appear that the cup is drunk. When they’re older maybe they don’t fall for this.

Anyway, last year we had the idea to take that one step further and I asked my friend from work Farhan to help me with a prank. He’s Zoroastrian so he’s not doing anything that night. So this Seder we set a place for Elijah like normal; we pour the wine like normal. My children are nine and thirteen so they don’t take the whole thing too seriously anymore; they know the trick of knocking the table and spilling the wine; you know, they’re too wise to fall for that anymore.

Well this year we start eating and suddenly a bearded olive-skinned man in a tunic walks in the front door, comes to Elijah’s place, drinks the wine, and walks out again without saying anything. My kids drop to the floor and they say, “who was that, Dad.”

And I say very casually, “That’s Eliyahu [Elijah].”

To this day I won’t tell them that it was really my friend Farhan.

Legends
Narrative

C-47s

IMG_1058smal

In the film industry, ordinary wooden clothespins are used to attach colored plastic gels to lights and they’re called C-47s.

A prominent visual effects artist told me an origin story of the phrase:

Back in the early days of Hollywood, studio heads would do audits and they’d see that the lighting departments were spending a ton of money on clothespins. And they said “we’re spending all this money on clothespins. This is ridiculous!” And they shut it down you know,  not understanding that the clothespin is a very important tool for lighting that we use everyday. So the lighting guys started calling them ‘C-47s’ so that when the big-wigs saw so-and-so hundred dollars for C-47s and they said, “Oh sure, ‘C-47’ that sounds important, no problem.”

As a film student, I’ve heard several contradictory stories about the phrase C-47. Some of the other prominent origin tales are that they were names after a WWII fighter plane by returning soldiers turned filmmakers, or that C-47 is the patent number.

All of these stories are equally unverified. In practice, the lingo ‘C-47’ mainly serves as a test of membership on film sets. If you’re a newcomer on a set and a grip asks you to fetch a C-47, you have no idea what they mean and are forced to ask someone. It’s embarrassing to realize that a C-47 is just a simple clothes pin. The lingo functions as an inside joke, and an initiation that everyone on a film set must undergo.

Childhood
Initiations
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Drop Bears of Camp Orkila

Artist's rendition of a drop bear

Artists rendition of a drop bear

The summer camp councilor describes the legend of the Drop Bears at Camp Orkila, a traditional overnight summer camp on Orcus Island, WA.

When I was in middle school I went to Camp Orkila three summers. And the second time I was there, we had this councilor called Jim who had me completely convinced that drop bears are real.

Drop bears are a dangerous cousin of the koala bear. Jim described them as looking like koalas except with razor-sharp teeth. They live in trees and at night they drop onto your head, knocking up unconscious. Then they eat you. And he wore this skate helmet at night for protection. He warned us not to leave the cabins at night without a flashlight and he said even with a flashlight we still might be eaten. 

The source explained that the story was that the bears had been brought to the island by the Seattle Zoo in the 1930s after the zoo couldn’t contain them. The helmet is what convinced the source that the councilor wasn’t lying. After all, why would he bring a helmet and wear it every night if the threat wasn’t real.

All the other boys in our cabin didn’t believe Jim at all. They knew he was B.S.ing them but I totally bought it and I was really convinced and I would argue with them about it.

Well long story short, last summer I was the lead Grey Wolves councilor at Orkila—councilor for boys aged ten to thirteenand I brought my bicycle helmet and I told them all about drop bears.

Did they believe you?

[laughs] Well… they said that they did not but I know I scared some of them.

From internet research, it’s clear that drop bears are usually are typically an Australian story. Typically, Australians tell foreigners about drop bears as a prank. The drop bears at Camp Orkila function exactly the same way. The camp councilors and experienced campers are in on the joke and they try to trick newcomers. Because original camp councilor brought a helmet with him a prop, it’s possible that he heard about drop bears on the internet or elsewhere and planned to bring it to Camp Orikila. The camp is an ideal place to spread folklore of this kind because the campers are away from home in an unfamiliar place without access to cell service or the internet, making them much more likely to believe. As with other pranks, the drop bears story at Orkila can also serve as an initiation, or a mild hazing of newcomers.

https://australianmuseum.net.au/drop-bear

general

The Golden Screw

The source and several other friends told ghost stories on a camping trip to Joshua Tree. This was told as if it was going to be a ghost story.

This is a true story. In the late seventies, in Seattle, a baby was born with a very unusual condition. Where his belly-button should have been, there was a golden screw—just the head sticking out. The doctors couldn’t make heads or tails of it. They ran x-rays and tests; they tried gently pulling the screw out; but they had to conclude that there was no way to remove the screw safely. The child would live with the screw and his mother was just thankful that he seemed to be healthy otherwise.

Well this boy—his name was Dave—grew up and he began to realize he was different from the other children. He was embarrassed to take his shirt off in the school locker-room and at the pool. And when they found out the other kids teased him and called him ‘screw belly.’

Dave decided that as soon as he was 18, he’d venture out to find out why he was so different from everyone else.

I’ll abridge this part of the story. Dave sets off to find an answer, ending up deep in the Amazon Jungle at a mysterious clearing and climbing down a giant stone funnel to reach an underground golden room.

In the middle of the golden room was a golden pedestal and on top of that was a golden screwdriver. Dave knew what he had to do. He took the golden screwdriver and lifted his shirt. It fit perfectly into the screw in his belly. Slowly, he turned the handle and to his amazement the screw began to come out. Turn after turn, the screw unwound. One inch… two inches. It was longer than he ever imagined. Finally, with a final turn, the screw fell out of Dave’s belly.

And then his butt fell off.

This is a classic example of a shaggy dog joke, a story that takes a lot of time to get to a silly punchline.

On the web, I’ve found many different versions of the joke – with the same punchline but different details in the middle:
https://kellybarnhill.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/the-tale-of-the-young-man-with-a-golden-screw-in-his-belly-button-spoiler-alert-his-butt-falls-off/

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