Author Archive
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Legends

Wanda

Informant IT is a sophomore studying Computer Science and Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She is of Polish descent and has lived in many parts of the world. She is fluent in several languages including Polish, English, and Mandarin, and she considers herself very good at learning languages. In this piece, she tells the interviewer (AK), about a Polish legend about a very beautiful Polish queen. This piece is not as well-known, but it is indicative of the Polish spirit.

IT: This story is interesting, because it gives an insight so I don’t know how much about the history or Poland, but it’s located to the east of germany, so it’s kind of the most western of easter Europe and it’s kind of the center of Eastern Europe with Germany and all of those countries. And it’s been fought over for many many centuries, the land itself. So there’s always been and the reason why it’s still stuck together for such a long time and still exists today through all these troubles is because people have always had a huge sense of nationalism and so the story is called Wanda. And it’s this story of this Polish Queen … who I don’t think, I doubt she ever existed. She might have. Who ruled Poland and she was a single young beautiful girl and she was living in a Polish castle. And the King of Germany… you know noticed this and he noticed how beautiful the lands of Poland were. And he was like well, it’s only this one girl ruling it and I could really take advantage of it. And I would love to take her as my wife, so he sent several soldiers over as messengers from Germany to the castle in Poland with the message to her saying that “either you marry me and give me the lands of Poland as the dowry, or I wage war against Poland.” And the Polish had been fighting many wars, so their army you know … was very down. They just couldn’t stand a match against Germany. In the end she had decided that she would drown herself and kill herself instead of giving over Poland to Germany and marrying this guy. So she killed herself and drowned herself in the Vistula River, which is like a big … also has a lot of historical significance. So she would have rather killed herself than give the German control of Poland.

AK: So is she like a memorialized figure and seen as a hero?

IT: Not really, because it’s kind of like a legend you know. I don’t know if it ever actually happened. This one I would say isn’t as well known as the other story I told you. Still most people would know it, but it’s more kind of just … I just don’t know if she was ever actually a queen.

AK: So I guess it’s just part of the Polish cultural identity.

IT: Yeah, and it invokes a huge sense of nationalism. Even in the Polish national anthem … umm (laughs) I have to remember it. As long as we are here and we love Poland and we love each other, Poland will still be here.

I found this piece of folklore to be very unique from most that I had heard. For one, this was one of the few folklore that featured a woman as the main protagonist and ruler of the land. I found this to be a very progressive stance for Poland, and I’m glad this story represents a part of their national fabric. I also found this story to be unique because it didn’t really portray Poland in the best light. It demonstrated that Poland couldn’t really stand up to Germany. Their only option was to pick between two terrible options. I guess the act of sacrificing herself is indicative of the bold spirit and courage Polish people probably seek to embody.

For another version of this legend, see  http://www.anglik.net/polish_legends_wanda.htm

general
Myths

The Polish Eagle

Informant IT is a sophomore studying Computer Science and Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She is of Polish descent and has lived in many parts of the world. She is fluent in several languages including Polish, English, and Mandarin, and she considers herself very good at learning languages. In this piece, she tells the interviewer (AK), about a Polish myth concerning the founding of Poland.

IT: So, this is the story of the Polish Eagle, and how Poland is set to be founded. So the three brothers Lef, Czech, and Bruce were living in small villages. But it came to the point where the villages were just too small to live comfortably. So they set out with some troops and they started going through mountains and rivers and they couldn’t find anyone. And it had gotten to the point where they got to the top of a mountain top and they decided to go 3 separate ways. Lef went straight ahead, Czech went left, and Bruce went right. And Lef went down the mountain and went over another valley, and at the top of another mountain, he saw an eagle flying in the sunset and the light apparently fell very beautifully. Uhh on the head of the crown of the eagle head. That’s why it has a crown on its head on the Polish flag. And he decided that this is where they would settle and they brought all the people there, and they called themselves the Polonians. Which means “The people of the fields”. Yeah, that’s the story of the Polish Eagle and how Poland was founded.

AK: So would you say this is more of a legend, or is it almost accepted as fact of how Poland was created?

IT:  I don’t know if I would say it’s accepted as fact, but every single Polish person knows this story, like there’s movies and games and comics about this.

AK: But it’s just been passed down through generations?

IT: Yeah, yeah and they had flown the flag with the eagle on it and the eagle with the crown on its head when they had founded it way back then. And it’s definitely accepted by everyone now.

I really enjoyed listening to this Polish myth about its creation. It definitely invoked a sense of nationalism and pride in my informant and she even mentioned that every Polish person has definitely heard this story. This is one of the aspects of it that makes it into a myth. It has a sacred truth value since everyone knows the story and has accepted it. I knew just about nothing about Polish culture, so it was really interesting to learn a bit through this piece.

general
Myths

Creation Myth of the Shiva Linga

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a Hindu creation myth to me (AK). This myth is somewhat taboo, and for obvious reasons is not really brought up much in Indian society due to its graphic depictions of sex.

KM: Shivji used to walk around naked, but he had this problem where he couldn’t finish. He was having a lot of sex, but he could never finish. Priests were getting annoyed cause their wives kept leaving them to have sex with Shivji. But this was a recurring thing and this became so bad that the ground was breaking apart. But the world was going haywire because Shiv would just not finish. So finally, he found Parvathi, and the two of them had sex and he finally finished. So the world became a better place and this was memorialized in the form of the Shiva Linga. So the Shiva Linga became a thing that goes through the Yoni, which means vagina. And that’s how the Shiva Linga was created and became such a big moorthi which is worshiped.

AK: Good story haha, so why do you like this story?

KM: I think it’s interesting because it makes Hinduism look realer and more sexual in a sense. And uhh.. it’s taboo not everyone talks about it.

AK: So people don’t talk about this freely?

KM: No one talks about this freely. People don’t teach their children this story. People know the linga is a penis but don’t know why. Everyone worships penises but since it’s taboo no one wants to say anything about it.

AK: So then why was this story even written?

KM: I mean it’s real. I can’t say why it was written. The real question is why was this monument of a penis created. So I searched it up and I found this story on my own. In fact, people even pour milk on it as if to show him finishing.

AK: Why is this important then?

KM: I think it’s a big part of Indian history. With the Kama Sutra and all, it’s a remnant of how liberated India used to be in contrast to how it is now.

Initially, I was shocked to have heard this story. I have seen the shiva linga monument before, but I never really knew the story behind it. In retrospect, it is easy to see its relation to a phallus, but I am shocked that this came out of Hinduism. Through this piece, I learned that at one time, India was a very sexually liberated society; however, over time, it became more and more conservative. As KM mentioned, this creation myth is very taboo and not really passed on by parents.

general
Tales /märchen

Ganesh and his brother Kartikeya

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a very well-known Hindu folktale to me (AK) about the two brothers of very renowned Hindu Gods.

KM: Ganesh rides a rat and Kartikeya rides a peacock. Anyway, Shivji and Parvati are their parents and they tell them to prove which one is stronger or smarter. Kartikeya says he has a ton of strength cause he can ride around this world 3 times and come back to you faster than anyone. And Ganesh said the same thing, but like it sounded dumb because Ganesh was riding a rat. So they had a fight and they challenged each other to ride around the world 3 times. So Kartikeya went off to go ride around the world… but Ganesh was really cunning and all and he just rode around Shivji and Parvathi 3 times. He just said that “you guys are my world” and so he won.

AK: What kind of story is this? Why did you tell me this one?

KM: Haha… I just think this funny is story cause it shows a child being a kissass. And It shows the child being super cunning but also aware of his flaws. He knew he couldn’t beat Kartikeya, but instead of being sad about it, he was just smarter.

AK: Who did you learn it from and what does it mean to you?

KM: I learnt it from my parents, and I think it’s funny that I learned it from them cause that’s how they were telling me that I should respect them — cause they were like “haha” we should be your world!

In my opinion, this folktale just represents a clever play on words and not much more. I don’t think there is any serious meaning that can be derived from this story. Instead, the folktale just seems like it was created solely for the purpose of entertainment. This is refreshing to see, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about this folktale.

general
Myths

Birth of Ganesh

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a very common Indian folktale to me (AK).

KM: Shivji and Parvati are married. Shivji is the God of destruction and one of the top 3 gods of Hinduism. Parvati is a big goddess and she’s an embodiment of the Indian God Devi. Parvati is showering and she wanted to be protected while she was in the shower, so she used the dirt of her skin to make Ganesh. And Gan, these men, are like little minion kind of looking things that stand outside the door, so Ganesh was standing outside the door. Then Shivji came, and it’s not really sure why and Shivji got really pissed and out of anger he cut Ganesh’s head off. Parvati got pissed, and she threatened to — like tear the world apart if Shiv doesn’t fix the situation. So Shivji went and decided to cut the head off the first thing he saw which was an elephant, and he placed it on the Gan’s head.

For reference (Ganesh):

Ganesh

AK: Woah… that’s a crazy story, anything else you wanted to add?

KM: Yeah, actually what’s controversial about this story is that the idea of her taking the dirt off her skin was the product of adulteration, or it wasn’t Shiv’s child which was why he was so pissed.

AK: Cool, similar questions again, where did you hear this story from?

KM: I heard this from multiple people, my grandma, mom, dad, and I’ve read about it.

AK: What does it mean to you?

KM: I like this story because it shows people as flawed, even Gods.

I personally enjoyed this story because I was very well acquainted with the God Ganesh, but I never knew his creation myth. For this reason, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece because I learned something very relevant to my own life. Obviously, I could have just researched his creation on my own, but it was very nice to hear the story verbally.

general
Tales /märchen

Akbar and Birbal

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a very common Indian folktale to me (AK).

KM: Akbar is known to be this angry king who has this little friend named birbal who is known to be very cunning and sharp. They have thousands of tales about the two of them. Akbar usually gets mad about something and birbal fixes it by being cunning and smart.

One such story:

There was a thousand people that came into the kingdom and they wanted to kill birbal because birbal was screwed up. So they told him that he needs to drink a bottle full of lime juice straight down. That’s supposed to tear apart your entire digestive system. So Birbal is like “okay I’ll do it.” and Akbar says, “Birbal, what the hell, you’re going to die” and Birbal just winked. And later, he went home and took a bottle of ghee, and drank the entire bottle of ghee which covered his entire digestive system. Now he came back and he downed the lemon juice and survived because the ghee was a coating.

AK: Why do you know or like this piece?

KM: I didn’t know as a child that lemon could kill you. I think it’s funny because in this story they depict everyone to look like idiots and Birbul looks funny because he’s this low-key middle-class guy, but it represents the underdog winning.

AK: Where did you hear this story?

KM: I learned of this story at home from this book called the Punchit Tandra. I also heard many stories from my parents including this one. I remember this story in particular because it is short and is a representation of the power of wit and intellect.

This story was very interesting to hear because I am also of Indian heritage, yet I had never heard this story before. I belief this is because I grew up in a very western society and these stories were never passed down by my parents. Another interesting thing to note is the manner in which this story was told by my informant. It is obvious that her recollection is devoid of many details and likely not performed as it was by her parents. I attribute this to a generational difference as well as the fact that my informant retold this story from memory. Therefore, it makes sense that she was only able to remember the most crucial plot details.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Funny Korean Proverb

Informant SL is a junior studying business communication at the University of Southern California. She is of Korean descent and only moved to America at the age of 16. Here, she performs a proverb that is very notorious to her because she heard it for the first time after doing something she learned she shouldn’t have done.

Original Proverb: 누워서 침 뱄기

English Translation: “Lying down and spitting.”

The informant was an only child growing up. For this reason, in elementary school, she didn’t have anyone to vent about her parents with. So one time she bad-mouthed her parents to a friend. This friend told her mom, and the friend’s mom told the informant’s mom. The story ends with the informant’s mom repeating the proverb to the informant. The proverb is very apt in this case because the informant explained that she essentially “lied down and spit on herself” because by telling a friend, she invariably ended up telling her mother. The informant believes that this proverb is very significant to know because it can apply to almost anything. It is akin to the concept of karma because what goes around will always come around (or land on yourself as spit in this case).

To me, this proverb is very simple to decipher. I take it to mean don’t do anything that could come back to bite you. This is especially relevant in today’s day and age due to the prevalence of the internet and social media. Everything we do online is documented and saved forever in the archives of the internet. This means something we have published over 5 years ago could be resurfaced at a later date. Everyone knows of very obvious examples of where this has happened, but everyone at one point or another has posted or commented something they would not like the world to see. For this reason, it is imperative that one doesn’t “lie down and spit”. This etiquette is essential to prevent something incriminating coming back to cause harm further down the line.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Common Korean Proverb

Informant SL is a junior studying business communication at the University of Southern California. She is of Korean descent and only moved to America at the age of 16. Here, she performs the proverb she is most familiar with because it is very commonly stated in Korean society.

Original Proverb: 오늘 걷지 않으면, 내일 뛰어야 한다

English Translation: “If you don’t walk today, you must run tomorrow.”

The informant explained that this proverb means that if you don’t do something easier today, it’ll be even harder tomorrow. She likes the proverb because it’s not something she lives by, but it motivates her to hear it. Since Korean is her first language, it feels deeper to her. She heard this proverb from her father who told her because she was not doing her work back in elementary school, and it has stuck with her ever since.

This proverb resonated with me because procrastination is something I often find myself struggling with. I have heard many different versions of this proverb, like the “journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”, yet none really stuck with me like this one did. This proverb articulated my thoughts on procrastination by putting it into very simple terms. Essentially, everything is made easier by splitting it up into more manageable parts. However, if things are put off, the effort to complete it is a lot more uncomfortable and unmanageable. The analogy between procrastination and running is very accurate. Both are very uncomfortable, yet very often unavoidable due to human nature.

 

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Hoerangi and Kkotgam

Original Title: 호랑이와 곶감

Phonetically: Hoerangi and Kkotgam

English Translation: The Tiger & the Persimmon

Informant SL is a junior studying business communication at the University of Southern California. She is of Korean descent and only moved to America at the age of 16. Here, she discusses a traditional Korean folktale that is told to many children by their parents or grandparents.

SL: There’s this little town in a village, and this tiger creeps up to a home because he’s hungry and hears a baby crying. So that attracts his attention and he wants to eat like the people in the house. And the tiger can hear the mom saying, ‘if you keep crying, the tiger is going to get you.’ When the tiger hears that he’s like “holy shit, how does she know I’m here.” The baby keeps crying and the mom sees a kkotgam and the baby stops crying. So the tiger thinks, whatever this kkotgam is, it must be scarier than me cause the baby stopped crying. So the tiger runs away into the storage of the house, and in the dark, he scares a robber in the house. That scares the robber away and the tiger hearing about the kkotgam also runs away because he thinks the kkotgam is bigger than him.

The informant heard this tale from her grandma because she was eating a kkotgam (persimmon). She really likes this story because it’s very funny and gives life to a tiger. In her opinion, the moral is that you shouldn’t be scared of the things you don’t see. The tale doesn’t mean too much to her, but the tiger is the national animal of Korea. She described the relationship as similar to the bald eagle’s representation of American identity.

Personally, I found this story to be more comical than anything else. While I understand the moral it is attempting to teach, I believe this tale is better served as merely one that provides entertainment to the listener. I also do like how easy this story is to remember, and that is perhaps why it has lasted all these years since its creation. Since the situation is so ridiculous, it is quite easy to remember the details that occur in the tale.

 

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Heungbu and Nolbu

Original Title: 흥부와 놀부

Phonetically(names): Heungbu and Nolbu

Informant SL is a junior studying business communication at the University of Southern California. She is of Korean descent and only moved to America at the age of 16. Here, she discusses a traditional Korean folktale that is well known by all kids in Korea. SL compared this story to ‘Humpty Dumpty’ from western culture in terms of how well-known it is.

SL: Heungbu is the dad of a poor family, and one day they find a bird in their backyard, and the bird has a broken leg. Seeing this, the dad takes the bird in his hand and wraps the leg of the bird. Then the bird flies away, and the same bird comes flying back… but drops them off a seed. This seed turns out to be a pumpkin seed and it keeps growing and growing and growing and becomes this giant thing. It becomes this giant ball. It becomes so big the wife and the family have to saw it open. Once they cut it all the way open, they find all this gold, jewelry, riches. Basically a treasure chest in a pumpkin. But then, his neighbor saw this and the neighbor was a rich greedy man. And his name was nolbu “n-o-l-b-u”. Nolbu had heard what happened with Heungbu’s family, so he goes outside and purposely breaks a bird’s leg. And then he wrapped it up the same way, bandaged it, and the bird flew away. And that bird game back one day and dropped off a seed. He picked up the seed all excited and happy and it grew into the same big big size. And inside were trolls called Dokkaebi. Dokkaebi’s are always known to have bats, so then they popped out of the pumpkin and beat them up. Seeing this, the nice guy Heungbu comes and helps him.

The informant is not entirely sure where she knows this story from because Korean children simply grow up with it. It is heard through books, nursery rhymes, family etc. and there are even restaurants with this name. The informant likes this story because she thinks it’s funny and teaches you the whole moral of “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”. As a child, she thought the story was about being greedy, but now she realizes why parents tell the story. “When we’re told don’t be greedy, no one will know what that means. But this story exemplifies it well and teaches the dangers of greed well.”

In my opinion, this piece exemplifies a common thread linking together many different cultures. Greed is universally seen as negative by nearly every culture, and it is very important to teach this concept to children when they are very young. I really liked this story because it presented both the dangers of greed as well as the benefits of leading an honest life. To me, this piece is an excellent teaching tool, and I can see why it has been memorialized in Korean culture.

For another version of this story, see http://www.tparents.org/Library/Unification/Talks2/Kirkbride/Kirkbride-100629.htm

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