Author Archive
general
Narrative

The Sari Maker

Folklore:

There is a story of a sari maker who lived in India when it was occupied by the British Empire. This sari maker was acclaimed throughout India for his beautiful saris. What was unique about his saris were that were made out of such a delicate silk and finely woven that they could be folded up to fit into a matchbox. The sari maker’s saris become so well known that the Queen of England invited the sari maker as honored guest to England where he would make her a sari. When he arrives in England he was treated very well and created for the queen a beautiful sari that folded up into a matchbox. After he presented the sari to the queen she decided to cut off the sari maker and his apprentices’ fingers so she would be the only one to have a one of a kind of sari.

Background & Context:

This story was told to me by a Phd student in her mid 20s at USC, who also works as a TA. I collected this narrative during her office hours after class one day. While she has grown up in the United States she is ethnically half Thai and half Bandeglashean. She was told this story by her Bandeglashean father when she was a child. Something she did realize as a child but realized as she grew older was that the story was a representation of India’s natural resources by England during times of colonization.

Final Thoughts:

My thoughts on this narrative is that while it is most likely not true is serves as a good representation of colonization in India. It explains to us how India aka the sari maker was tricked into working for the queen aka England with false promises but was later taken advantage of. I also think it is interesting that while her father is originally from Bangladesh he is passing down a story about India to his daughter.

 

general
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Niu Lang Zhi Nu

Folklore:  

This folktale is titled Niu Lang Zhi Nu and is focused on a man who is a poor, ordinary cow herder and a woman who is a daughter of a goddess. In the story the man and the woman fall in love but their love is forbidden because of their different social statues. To prevent their relationship the woman’s father banishes both to opposites sides of the planet. However the bugs feel pity for the lovers and once every year build a bridge across the planet so they can meet. The day they meet every year is considered the origin of Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Background & Context:

This story was collected in a casual lunch setting. The informant was a 21 year old junior at USC. She is ethnically Chinese but has grown up in New York her entire life. The way she found about this folktale was by watching a popular Chinese drama from several years ago, that is a remake of the tale with the same name.

Final Thoughts:

My thoughts on this tale is that it is tragic and romantic origin story for the Chinese Valentine’s Day. This tale is also similar to other East Asian folktales I have collected. What I also found interesting is how the informant originally heard about the folktale through mass media. I think it is unique and good how the media is teaching the newer generation of old traditional folktales that in the past were passed down through other methods.

Annotation:

For another version of this piece of folklore, see the Chinese television series Niu Lang Zhi Nu.

general
Legends

Chinese Romeo and Juliet

Folklore:

This is a chinese folktale that focuses on a forbidden love, between two people from rival families. One day the man is killed and the woman comes to visit his funeral, when she sees him in his coffin she is so struck by grief she climbs into his coffin. In the coffin the woman commits suicide to join her lover. However after she dies both man and woman turn into butterflies and fly out of the coffin together.

Background & Context:

This story was collected in a casual lunch setting. The informant was a 21 year old junior at USC. She is ethnically Chinese but has grown up in New York her entire life. The way she found about this folktale was by watching a popular Chinese from several years ago, that is a remake of this traditional tale. She also compares the tale as the Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

Final Thoughts:

My thoughts on this tale is that it is a very romantic story. Thoughts I had from my informant’s comment on how the story is similar to Romeo and Juliet is that this story as traditional Chinese folktale is most likely older than the play. There also might be folklore similar to this story from other regions that Shakespeare took inspiration from. What I also found interesting was how the informant originally heard about this folktale through mass media. I think it is unique and good how the media is teaching the newer generation of old traditional folktales that was previously passed down through other methods.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian New Year

Folklore:

Persian New Year is an important holiday in Persian culture. Unlike American New Years which happens always on January 1st Persian New Years takes place in mid March. A tradition during Persian New Years is jumping over a bonfire. Jumping over the bonfire is a symbolic ritual. By jumping over the bonfire you are giving away bad vibes from the previous year to the fire, while the fire is giving you good vibes to start off the New Year.

Background & Context:

My informant is Persian-American and she has grown in Southern California. She is currently a senior at USC. I collected this piece of folklore in a casual setting one evening. She takes part in Persian New Years occasionally, she says that while the ritual of jumping over the bonfire holds symbolic meaning many including herself do the ritual for fun and reminicines from their childhood.

Final Thoughts:

I have slightly more information on this tradition as I have taken part in it before with a different Persian-American friend although I am not Persian. When I took part in this ritual I did not hear about any of the symbolic meaning and only found out collecting this ritual from my informant. This New Years tradition is similar to other traditions as New Years in other cultures based on having a new start and leaving behind negative aspects of the past year. Fire is also something that is prominent in other cultures in getting rid of negative energy. Overall this ritual is similar to other traditions around the world.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian Superstition: Rue

Folklore:

This is a Persian superstition that involves rue also known as espada the spice. When people start staying too many positive things about one person they will burn rue to not jinx the person they are complimenting. Someone will burn the rue and circle it around the person’s head. An example my informant gave me of this folklore is herself at a family reunion. At the reunion her family talks about how well she is doing during college and to not jinx her they’ll circle burning rue around her head.

Background & Context:

My informant is Persian-American and she has grown in Southern California. She is currently a senior at USC. I collected this piece of folklore in a casual setting one evening. For her this tradition is not something she uses in her daily life as she does not keep rue in her apartment at USC and nor is it something she necessary believes in nor disbelieves in. However when she is with more traditional family members, like her grandparents they will use rue as they believe in this superstition.  

Final Thoughts:

My final thoughts on this piece of folklore is that it is interesting and similar to other traditions. The similarities it has to other traditions is burning herbs or spices to ward off evil spirits or bad vibes. I also believe it is interesting how the mixing of two cultures affected the informant’s belief on traditional cultures that others in her family strongly believe in.

 

general
Legends

The Goddess and 1,000 Sandals

Folklore:

This is a Japanese story about a goddess who comes to visit earth. When she visits earth she goes swimming in a lake naked leaving her clothes on a rock. A man sees her swimming and falls in love with her so he steals her clothes and hides them. The goddess cannot leave earth without her clothes, so the man helps her to his house. Eventually they fall in love and have children, but she soon finds the clothes the man hid and leaves earth with their children. The man wants to join his wife and children and learns he can join them if he makes 1,000 straw sandals and buries them. The buried sandals will grow into a beanstalk that will allow him to leave earth, so the man makes 1,000 sandals and buries them. A beanstalk grows from the sandals and the man climbs the beanstalk. At the very top he realizes he can see his wife and kids but cannot reach them because the beanstalk is not tall enough to reach. As the man had miscounted and had only mad 999 straw sandals.  

Background and Context:

This story was told to me in a casual interview like setting in the evening on a weekday. It was told to me by a Japanese American USC freshman, who has grown up in Honolulu, Hawaii but has visited Japan several times. The student grew up listening to these stories either as bedtime stories or just for fun. These stories were told by her parent or grandparents who reside with her family. Something she also explained was that she did not remember the direct Japanese translation for the title of the story. She also told me this story is suppose to be an origin story for the four seasons but she cannot remember the rest of the story.  

Final Thoughts:

This is a popular story in East Asian culture because I have similar stories with similar aspects but with major differences. I believe this story is telling the listener about true love because even though the man lied and stole from the goddess she was still willing to forgive him and let him join her outside of earth. While I do not agree with the message of the story, it is romantic and entertaining for the listeners as they feel pity for the man.

 

Legends

The Rolling Rice Ball

Folklore:

This story is a Japanese folktale titled The Rolling Rice ball. The story begins with man who is chopping bamboo in the mountains, he stops for lunch and pulls out his rice ball to eat. He drops his rice ball and he follows it as it rolls into a hole, inside the hole he hears mice celebrating the rice ball. To thank the man for rice ball the mice gives him a choice of a small box or a big box, the man chooses the small box. Inside the small box he finds treasures and distributes it with his family and neighbors. His next door neighbor hears the man’s story and becomes  jealous so he decides to do the same thing. However when he reaches the mouse hole he acts as a cat to scare the mice and to try and steal all their treasures. However the mice get angry and attack the neighbor and kill him.

Background & Context:

This story was told to me in a casual interview like setting in the evening on a weekday. It was told to me by a Japanese American USC freshman, who has grown up in Honolulu, Hawaii but has visited Japan several times. The student grew up listening to these stories either as bedtime stories or just for fun. These stories were told by her parent or grandparents who reside with her family. Something she also explained was that she did not remember the original Japanese translation for the title of the story.

Final Thoughts:

 My thoughts on this story is that it holds an important message. The message being not to steal, be greedy and to share with others. I believe these are the messages that the story is trying to convey because the man who was kind and shared his rice ball with the mice was rewarded. While the neighbor who was greedy and plotted to steal from the mice was punished and killed at the end of the story.

 

Legends

Momotaro

Folklore:  

This is a Japanese story called Momotaro which translates to “peach” or “first son”. One day a grandma and grandpa find a giant peach in the river, they take the peach home to have for dinner. When they cut open the peach a baby boy comes out of it and they are overjoyed because they have always wanted children. The boy grows up to be very strong and one day goes off to fight the demonic ogres. On his way he meets a talking dog, a monkey and a bird who decide to help him fight the ogres. They all go to the island where the ogres reside and attack the ogres. When they defeat the demonic ogres they return home as heros and with many treasures taken from the ogres.

Background & Context:

This story was told to me in a casual interview style in the evening on a weekday. It was told to me by a Japanese American USC freshman, who has grown up in Honolulu, Hawaii but has visited Japan several times. This student has grown up listening to these stories as bedtime stories or just for entertainment. These stories were told by her parent or grandparents who reside with her family.

Final Thoughts:

My thoughts on this story is that it seems to be a popular piece of folklore as I have heard different variations of this story before. The moral of this story is what goes around come around because the old couple happily raised this little boy who eventually helped them in turn by defeating the demonic ogres and bringing back riches.

Annotation:

Another place you can find this piece of folklore is in the children’s book Peach Boy: A Japanese Legend by Gail Sakurai.

Legends

Swan Girl

Folklore:

This story takes place in Japan and starts off by a old man who goes up to the mountains and finds a swan caught in a trap. The old man frees the swan who flies away after being freed. Later that night after the old man has returned home to his wife when they both hear a knocking at their door, it is a young girl who is lost. The old couple invites her to stay the night and provide her with a meal. As the young girl has nowhere to go the old couple adopts her. They provide the girl with her own room next to living room, one day she brings out a beautiful piece of fabric for the old couple. She keeps creating these beautiful piece of cloth and the old man is able to sell them in town for a lot of money. One strange thing the girl does is makes the old couple promise is to never come into her bedroom when she is making the cloths. The old couple agree because they believe she does not want to be disturbed when she is working. However one day the young girl starts to look haggard and tired so the old couple becomes concerned and decide to peek into her room when she making the cloth. Inside the room they see a swan plucking out its own feathers to make the beautiful fabric. When the swan notices the old couple she flies away leaving behind the beautiful fabric.

Background & Context:

This folklore was collected from a current freshman at USC. It was collected in a casual context over lunch after class one day.  The student is an international student who is ethnically Japanese but grew up in various places in Asia. Before coming to USC she lived in Singapore for seven years and before Singapore the longest she lived in a country was Japan for five years. She learned about the folklore through school as folklore was part of school curriculum and in textbooks. The message of this story she says is, “what goes around, comes around” referring to the old man helping the swan first than the swan returning later to help the old man.

Final Thoughts:

My thoughts on this story is that hold an important message. The message I believe the story holds is treat others how you want to be treated. As the old man helped the swan in the beginning of the story and in return the swan came and helped the old man.

 

general
Legends

Bamboo Baby

Folklore:

This story starts off with a poor old man in Japan who goes up to the mountain into a bamboo forest to collect bamboo. The old man makes a living by selling items made out of a bamboo. In the forest he finds a shiny piece of bamboo, which he decides to cut down. Inside the bamboo he finds a baby girl, he takes this as a sign from the gods to raise the baby. As the little girl grew up she became renowned throughout the country for her beauty, through her beauty  her family was able to gain wealth. Eventually the family gained mass amounts of wealth to move from the countryside to the city, they moved to the city as the father wanted her to marry a rich man. In the city many wealthy individuals including the king wanted to marry her for her beauty. However the girl was unhappy because she hated the superficiality of the men and unconsciously called out for help. When she called out for help she remembered she was originally from the moon, and the people from the moon had heard her cry for help and were coming to bring her back on August 15th. While the girl was unhappy in the city she did not want to return to the moon, she wanted to return to the countryside and live an ordinary life. So her family hired an army to prevent her return to the moon but failed and in the end the girl was forced to return to the moon.

Background & Context:

This folktale was collected from a current freshman at USC. It was collected in a casual context over lunch after class one day. She is an international student who is ethnically Japanese but grew up in various places in Asia. Before coming to USC she lived in Singapore for seven years and before Singapore the longest she lived in a country was Japan for five years. She learned about the folktales through school as folklore was part of her school curriculum and in textbooks.

Final Thoughts:

This story was interesting and gave an important message. The message I got from the story is directed towards parents, saying you don’t alway know what’s best for your children and you should take into consideration your children desires. I believe this is the moral of the story because the old man wants his daughter to marry a rich man so she can be happy but all the daughter wants is to live a comfortable ordinary life. As the father did not listen to the daughter she suffered the consequences and had to return to the moon. This could have been prevented if the father had not pushed the daughter to marry a wealthy man and let her pursue her own desires.  

 

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