Author Archive
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Unitarian Universalist Church

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate has never had a set religious background, and was always in something of a melting pot of faiths when he went to churches like the one described here.

Dialogue: So, I don’t know exactly how Unitarianism, like, started, but… At some point it was just this sort of culmination of, like, various Christian sects, like Episcopalian or Protestant or whatever was around Massachusetts going on. Just a bunch of them sort of, like, coalesced into one group that’s like… “You know what, Trinity or Unity, doesn’t matter! We all have spirit!”

Analysis: The intereseting thing about this piece of folklore to me is how much is blended together in a church like this. It’s not only a mixing of various religious sects, either: at one point, my roommate sang a song he was taught as a kid, about the “Seven Guiding Principles of Kindness.” He remembers only these lines:

One, each person is important
Two, be kind in all you do

The song, interestingly enough, is set to the tune of “Do-Re-Mi” fromthe mucial The Sound of Music. So we have a mashup of popular culture, religion, and folk belief, all in this single church.

Customs
Folk speech
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

How to Name Scottish Royalty

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate comes from “a long lineage of Scottish kings and clan leaders of a certain group of isles.”

The Tradition: In Scotland, the ritual for naming a child in a family line, particularly if they’re royalty, is to simply add the prefix “Mc” or “Mac” to the name of the father and make that the child’s surname.

Example: My roommate has an ancestor with the full title Angus McRonald McDonald Sworely, King of the Isles. Thus, he is alternatively know as King Angus, Son of Ronald McDonald Sworely, who was himself at one point King Ronald, Son of Donald Sworely.

(Note: The proper spelling of the surname “Sworely” is unknown.)

Analysis: I found this Scottish process of naming is most comparable to the Vikings’ method of creating the “____son” surname (Ex: Lief Erikson, or Lief, Son of Erik). I put a little research into the claims my roommate made, and the only thing I found off about the whole thing was that the names mentioned above are in fact “MacDonald” rather than “McDonald” (I kept the piece above as is for the sake of putting down what I was told by my roommate).

general
Legends
Narrative

How the McIsaac Clan Came to Be

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate comes from “a long lineage of Scottish kings and clan leaders of a certain group of isles.”

Dialogue: Donald McIsaac… was the, progenitor, the originator… the first dude, named McIsaac, um… and, he— So the backstory, basically, I learned this from my dad, he would tell this to my sister and me, his dad would tell it to him, I don’t know how far back it goes, maybe it stopped at Grandpa, but he always told us that this is, like, a story passed down through their family. Um, and, basically, uh, in Scotland, there was a war between two clans, the McDonalds and the Campbells. There was no McIsaac clan. Uh, these two clans were at war, and one day, uh, a group of Campbells’ bandits, um… They weren’t fixing for a nice helping of warm soup, they were, they were, bandits from Scotland, um… not cartoon characters from soup commercials… Um, they caught this guy named Isaac McDonald, and, Isaac McDonald was like, “N0nononono, guys, you don’t wanna kill me, or steal any of my stuff, I’m not a McDonald. I am not Donald-” Wait, uh- “I am not Isaac McDonald, I am Donald McIsaac, huh?” And they were like, “OH, kay! Sorry to bother you, run along!”

And that was how the McIsaac clan came to be, he ran along and started a family, etcetera, and, and… They just escaped persecution by just saying their name was McIsaac and not McDonald.

Analysis: I almost put this in the Humor category because of how much this plays out like a Monty Python sketch. It’s almost crazy to think that a solution so simple would work, but based on the story told, the feud between the two clans was more because of their names than because of anything the actual people with those names had done before. Cool to compare this with the other name origin legend I collected for this project, too, and how the differences in the legends surrounding the names illustrate what was important to the cultures those families belonged to: one focused on the progeny of the family, and the other focused on the conflicts between different families.

Folk Beliefs
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

No Dancing in Texas/China

Context: I collected this from a high school friend when we were on a camping trip together over Spring Break.

Background: My friend was originally born in Texas, where his father is from, before moving to California as a child. His mother is an immigrant from China.

Dialogue: Yeah, um, again, I wrote a paper for dance history class that was in freshman year, about my personal experience with dance, and the professor gave me 100%, pulled me out of the class, and said, “Hey, I really enjoyed that paper, it was really cool, and I really appreciated the way that you opened up in the paper about your experiences,” because I wrote about how I have absolutely NO personal cultural experience with dance, like, in my life… Um… And that was due to the fact that my father was from the Deep South, and there, uh, at least for men, dance was seen as… something that was highly effeminate, and, like, if you danced it would somehow make you gay, um, and being from the Deep South he didn’t want me to be gay… So, I just NEVER danced as a child! And, then, on my mother’s side of the family, I had no cultural experience with dance because… uh, she was from China, but she was born under the Mao regime, and, um, during that time, a LOT of forms of art were actually pushed, um, out of the cultural sphere… And so there wasn’t really any dance except for this one dance that they did was like, “Hail the Might Mao” or whatever. Um… And, most forms of art were pushed out, so I had no culture of dance from that side either.

Analysis: I debated whether or not to check this under the Folk Dance category, but went against it because there isn’t actually a dance to be learned or performed. It’s interesting to compare these two different types of censorship, and see how much they’re based on the same kind of ideals. While the Maoist restriction of dance and art forms in general is more a complete totalitarian regime, the Deep South’s stereotyping and discrimination against gay people is more focused and specific. Yet they’re both based on the idea of controlling what people do through the use of villainization (against art and homosexuality, respectively).

Foodways
general
Material

Conserving Chili Oil

Context: I collected this from a high school friend when we were on a camping trip together over Spring Break.

Background: My friend is Chinese on his mother’s side, and she grew up in a poorer part of Communist China.

Dialogue: Recently, when my mom cooked, she would kind of be leading me through what she was doing, because I was gonna be going to college and needed to know how to cook for myself, live on my own and everything, and in the the past, like, three years I’ve helped her with cooking, helped her with dinner and everything. Um, and specifically, there is a sauce that we had at my house. My entire childhood we had this sauce. It was a, a special chili oil that actually her mo- her father made for her. Um… and I think I’m diverging but that’s fine! But the— this chili oil, like, it’s kind of like… You know how when people make sourdough you need to have, uh, like a seed sourdough batch that you use to build the next one, and then each sourdough is like a build on that previous sourdough? The chili oil was kind of like that, so she would have this— er, her father would have this chili oil that he, he had made a very long time ago, and then it would run low, and then he would just build on what he already had… Um, and so then the chili oil that we have in my house is vastly different from where it began, and honestly I have no idea if he was the first one to make the chili oil. But it’s in little glass jars now, so, it’s… become a little modernized now, at the very least.

Analysis: I really love how symbolic this is of the passing of the family line, and has some connections to the idea of ancestors living on in the form of little bits of chili oil that are still left over from decades earlier. It’s very unique as well, for something out of Chinese culture, and really reflective of how the Communist regime in the country affected the poor, what will the recycling of materials for each fresh batch of chili oil.

Foodways
general
Legends
Material
Narrative

Buddha Jumps Over the Wall

Context: One of my roommates, when he heard me explaining to a friend about how stressful it was to try and find folklore from different sources, offered some of the stories he knew from his childhood.

Background: This is a legend behind a certain dish that my roommate knew about.

Dialogue: The way the legend goes is that the original person who created it was cooking the soup, and on the other side of “the wall” there was, um, a Buddhist, or maybe a Buddha, since that’s what they call them when they achieve nirvana, um, meditating, and once the soup was finished it smelled so good that, uh, the Buddhist monk summoned all of his strength and leaped straight over the wall just to have a taste of the soup.

Analysis: I looked up the recipe this legend is based on (see below), and the complicated cooking process is one of the biggest clues as to what might make it delicious enough for a Buddhist monk to forsake their oath of vegetarianism (anything that takes three days to cook MUST taste amazing). While the other stories I’d heard from this roommate revolved around Vietnam, I found that this legend is of Chinese origin, and collectively these pieces then show us how the spread of Buddhism has affected lives and folklore tellings across East and South Asia (or, at least, in more than just one country).

Annotation: The recipe for Buddha Jumps Over the Wall, as well as a slightly different origin of the dish, can be found here.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Old Man, the Boy, and the Mule

Context: I collected this from a friend on a trip over Spring Break, after he’d heard me talking about folklore with another friend I was collecting from.

Background: This is a story that my friend read when he was learning to speak Mandarin as a child.

Dialogue: This old guy and his young son are on their way to the market, and they’re riding a mule and taking all their stuff with them. They start off, uh, the, the young guy, er, the… The old man is walking alongside the mule and the young, the young boy is sitting on the mule, and as they walk by a group of people, they overhear the people, like, criticizing— er, like, gossiping about them, criticizing: “Why is the, why is the young guy riding the mule and forcing the old guy to walk?” So the, the pair hear this, and don’t really wanna be judged, so they switch places. And so the old guy starts to ride the mule, and the young guy starts to walk, um… And, so then, they, as— They keep going, and they pass another group of people, um, and, they overhear some more gossip. These people are like, “Wha- Why is the, why is the old guy not letting the, the young boy ride the mule? How selfish is he?” And so, at that point, they… switch again, cuz of, after overhearing those people, um… So then they keeping going for a bit… And then they walk past another group of people and they overhear some more gossip, er, some more, um, talk. And these are like, “Wow, look at those two, they’re forcing that mule to carry so much stuff, poor mule!” Uh, so, at that point, the two decide to, they basically start carrying the mule on the way to the market.

Analysis: The friend who told me this story said that the moral he gained from hearing it was to avoid letting judgment from others affect your own actions. According to him, this is an older story that he read as a a way of learning more Mandarin. I would agree with him about the story’s moral, but I’d like to compare his delivery to that of the original.

Annotation: Upon further research, it was found that this is one of Aesop’s Fables. The moral given in the strict Aesop version is “Please all, and you will please none.” This was very enlightening to me, since it showed how differently the story appeared to my friend once it reached him as a child.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Dog Buns

Context: One of my roommates, when he heard me explaining to a friend about how stressful it was to try and find folklore from different sources, offered some of the stories he knew from his childhood.

Background: This is a tale my roommate heard  when he was a kid.

Dialogue: It goes… There’s this Buddhist who’s, you know, vegetarian, everyone loves him, he’s very holy, um, and, the queen of the land who, I guess doesn’t really like him or wants to bring attention away from him and to herself, uh, comes up with this plan to make everyone hate the monk… So, she, um, cooks these dogs, and… puts them into meat buns… um, which could also look like vegetarian buns, and she gives all of them, uh, to the monk, and, she says, “Look! I’ve, I’ve prepared these nice, uh, veggie buns for you! Why don’t you go eat them?” Uh… She’s thinking, then she’s going to reveal they’re made of dog, and he ate them, and everyone’s gonna hate him… Um, but the monk instead digs a hole in the ground, buries the buns into the ground, puts dirt back over them, and waters them, and then the dogs come back out of the ground! And, then people realize that the evil queen put dog in the buns and now the dogs are back to life, and now they get rid of the queen, and everyone loves the monk again.

Analysis: Sort of just a cute story, really something meant for kids, like a fairy tale (and perhaps it is, and my roommate just didn’t refer to it as such). Nice little morality tale about not letting jealousy get to you, with the added iconography of the Buddhist monk instead of the traditional Western protagonist.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

The Rice Witch

Context: One of my roommates, when he heard me explaining to a friend about how stressful it was to try and find folklore from different sources, offered some of the stories he knew from his childhood.

Background: My roommate’s family was extremely superstitious when they lived in Vietnam before he was born.

Dialogue: One day my uncle got enough, like, money on a shopping errand to buy some bags of rice, and, you know, apparently, as far as we know, he did get the rice. He was heading back with two bags of rice, um, and… he came back with nothing! What he told the family was that, in the middle of the way he encountered an old lady who asked him to give him the rice, and… he just could not… control anything except the fact that he handed the rice over to her and watched her walk off with it, and then came back with, uh, nothing, and actually… everyone believed him. So I guess there’s that.

Analysis: This feels extremely of its culture, largely because my roommate specified that his family’s superstition were directly connected to the country they come from, Vietnam. This fact also leads me to believe that this witch is a kind  of witch specific to the Vietnamese and/or Southern Asian area, rather than just a witch that everyone in Western civilization is familiar with.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Dreaming of Buddha

Context: One of my roommates, when he heard me explaining to a friend about how stressful it was to try and find folklore from different sources, offered some of the stories he knew from his childhood.

Background: This is the story of an accident that happened to my roommate’s mother when she was young.

Dialogue: Um… I don’t remember how old she was, probably between, you know, 10 and 13. Um, she was playing hide and seek, and was in a two-story house, um, and she really wanted to be tough to find, so she climbed up out on the balcony, on the railing I think, and held on to the opposite side of the railing. Um… After that she accidentally let go and fell two stories and… landed on the ground, uh…

What happened after that, when she was unconscious. She had this dream where… uh, it was completely dark. She was looking around, and she could see these demons coming up everywhere, um, including the Devil I think, and so, her reaction was like, “What do I do, there’s demons all around me, there’s total darkness?!?” And then this light appears. I think it’s supposed to be the Buddha, is what she said, and it says, “Hey, uh… Don’t go towards those demons! Come towards me, that’s what you should do, that’s gonna be good.” Uh, so she goes on, she, you know, runs past those demons, heads to the light, and when she comes to, um, her whole family is, like, around her cuz she fell two stories, and they say she is completely unharmed. She gets back up, like, good as new, and, um… ever since then she’s been quite a bit more religious.

Analysis: I debated whether or not this deserved a “miracle” tag based on the fact that a two-story fall resulted in absolutely no injuries. I’m impressed by the fact that a single dream brought about a life-long change, but I suppose it is because views on religion in America and views on religion in Vietnam are different. It would be interesting to hear the dream told from the mother herself, though, just to get as much detail as possible on what happened while she was unconscious.

[geolocation]