Author Archive
Folk speech
Proverbs

A ghost who died while eating, still looks good

Context:

The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out. They use this proverb very frequently while in Korea.

 

Piece:

Subject: “Ghost who died while eating, looks good. That’s a rough translation.

Interviewer: A ghost?

Subject: “A ghost who died eating, looks good, like has good skin color, looks healthy” actually say looks healthy. So when someone’s debating, ‘should I eat this or not? Like I’ve had so much food today, but I really want this last donut.” Other person, like trying to persuade them into eating, “dude, like even a ghost who died eating looks healthy, you know? Like even a ghost, who’s a dead entity, but even that ghost, looks better, arguably, than other ghosts, and he died while eating, so you should eat!”

Interviewer: Okay, are they — what is the point, why do they look better when they’re eating?

Subject: Because food, food is good for you.

Interviewer: Okay that makes sense. Do you use that often?

Subject: Mostly just old people do.

Interviewer: Old people love proverbs.

Subject: It’s their meme.

 

Analysis:

Another Korean proverb here, this one again having to do with food. As I said earlier, Asian countries pride themselves on creating a communal dining experience. Korean barbeque restaurants for example make it a point to have the eaters cook their meats together, solidifying it as a group-effort.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Back When Tigers Used to Smoke: The Origin of Korea

Context:

The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out.

 

Piece:

Subject: You know how most fairy tales start with, like, “once upon a time”?

Interviewer: Mhm.

Subject: The, uh, Korean version is, “back when tigers used to smoke.” Like cigarettes. Back when tigers would smoke tobacco basically. I don’t know the exact origin, but there are old Korean paintings depicting a tiger with like a little ancient Asian-Korean pipe. Koreans love inserting that sh*t, like so, I guess no one knows where it actually came from, but a lot of stories begin, “Back when tigers used to smoke tobacco.” Assuming they don’t anymore.

Interviewer: That’s so interesting, that’s the literal translation?

Subject: Yup.

Interviewer: Is it something to do with like, the legend of how Korea started with a tiger and a, uh lion?

Subject: A bear.

Interviewer: A bear, yeah, is it something to do with that?

Subject: Tiger is like, America has an eagle, Korea has a tiger.

Interviewer: Makes sense.

Subject: Like Korean wild tigers have gone extinct after Japanese occupation, cuz they would hunt tigers as like sport. So I don’t think there’s any tigers left in wildlife Korea. But Koreans pride themselves, um North Korea claims they have tigers, I don’t know they totally could. But like, yeah tigers, the quintessential Korean animal. Do you know the fable of how Korea started?

Interviewer: Not really.

Subject: It’s super simple, God basically came down and found a tiger and a bear who both wanted to be humans. So God told them to like, “okay if you go live in a cave, only live off garlic and warm wood for 60 days or 100 days or something, then you will be a human.” The tiger left because it was impatient, but the bear survived, the bear became a woman and had the child of the God. So the human woman, who used to be a bear, got pregnant from God, and gave birth to an egg. Out of that egg was Korea’s first king, supposedly, like King Arthur type thing. That was like 50,000 years ago I guess.

 

Analysis:

As you can see, our conversation led to much of what this analysis section would talk about. The tiger is a very prevalent and defining symbol for Korea, and as they were once given human characteristics in old fables to explain the origins of their country, it makes sense why fairy tales would begin with a description of a time when tigers would be human-like. Maybe setting the story before the God came down, or during the first settling of humans in the country.

Specifically, the tigers in Korea are Siberian tigers. It brings luck, and embodies courage and absolute power.

 

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs

Why do you have to taste soy paste and shit to tell them apart?

Context:

The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out.

 

Piece:

Subject: It’s said in a way, like, “You don’t have to taste the soy paste and shit to tell them apart.” I think I’ve told you this already.

Interviewer: Yup I remember this.

Subject: Like soy paste kinda looks like shit, but most people are aware enough, like, we know from afar. But people who are so stupid, or like, people who go the extra mile to be safe. We say, “why do you have to taste shit and soy paste to tell them apart, why can’t you just — why aren’t you smarter?”

Interviewer: So that’s basically what you say to someone when they’re being dumb?

Subject: Yeah, if you’re being stupid, you’re tasting soy paste and shit to tell them apart.

 

Analysis:

I tried looking up the phrase, however I was unable to find any substantive background to the saying. The subject went on to tell me additional proverbs from Korea that also have to do with food, leading me to believe that the culture may have a great appreciation for it.

While the United States pride themselves on fast meals, a staple of Asian culture is the dining experience. It’s communal and meant to be shared.

 

general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

First-foot

Context:

I conducted this interview over the phone, the subject was born and raised in Scotland before moving to England, Canada, the United States, then to Northern Ireland, and, finally, back to the United States. I knew she continued to practice certain traditions which were heavily present in her childhood and wanted to ask her more about them.

 

Piece:

“I’ve learned this from my childhood, from Grandma and Grandpa. It’s this big tradition in Scotland, when you grow there it’s what you know. It is a New Year’s tradition, at midnight, we call it “when the bells ring” on Hogmanay, um you, either go first footing if you’re a young person, or you get a first foot, which means it’s the first person to step inside your house for the new year and they have to have dark hair. Usually they have a gift, nothing big, maybe a drink or something, to bring luck to the house, and they cannot, under any circumstance, have light or blonde hair.”

Interviewer: “Why do you carry this tradition?”

Subject: “Because I’ve been taught to believe that if you don’t do this, or have someone who’s blonde come in, then your year will have bad luck. This is purely Scottish.”

 

Analysis:

First-footing is a common practice in Scotland and Northern England. Some areas have more elaborate forms of this practice, such as in Worcestershire where you must stop a caroler and bring them inside. Sometimes the ritual must also be accompanied by some entertainment, such as with the caroler, or with a dance. It is considered unlucky to have a female, or a male with female-hair be the first-foot.

A resident of the home is allowed to be the first-foot, so long as they were not inside the home at the stroke of midnight. The gifts the first-food brings also vary, such as coin, bread, salt, alcoholic beverages, etc.

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

The Menahune Men

Context:

The subject is a 19 year old student at USC, her ancestors are Hawaiian and has grown up hearing different stories about Hawaiian culture and old folktales. I asked her to coffee to discuss such things.

Piece:

Interviewer: “So what’s the first piece of Hawaiian folklore that jumps to your mind?”

Subject: “The Menehune men. Some people think that it was an actual race of native Hawaiians from way back when, but most popularly they’re known as the Menehune, and they’re supposedly like 2 feet to 4 feet tall. They’re little, like have you ever seen Scooby Doo?

Interviewer: “Yeah, of course.”

Subject: “The one where they go to Hawaii, and the evil, like, tiki face, that’s a little bit of the vibe they were going for. And they’re apparently really good builders. They’re craftsy people, they work at night. And there’s this wall in Hawaii, I forget the name, but for the longest time it was said that the Menehune built that wall.”

 

Analysis:

After doing some research I found that the wall the subject was referring to was the Kikiaola. It’s a ditch that channeled water from Waimea River to the taro patches in lower Waimea Valley. It was engineered in a way that’s not found anywhere else in Hawaii and it continues to puzzle archaeologists. Perhaps their answer lives in the Menahune.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative
Signs

The Nightmarchers

Context:

The subject is a 19 year old student at USC, her ancestors are Hawaiian and has grown up hearing and experiencing different stories about Hawaiian culture and old folktales. I asked her to coffee to discuss such things.

Piece:

Subject: “The Nightmarchers, are like ancient Hawaiian warriors who basically walk during certain parts of — in certain parts of like Hawaii, and, like, um, if you see them, they appear as just a bunch torches – glowing torches. And as they come towards you, you’re slowly going to see a strange procession, it’s like a parade, but sad. Procession, get it, like Pet Semetary?”

Interviewer: “Yeah, I do.”

Subject: “And they’re ancient Hawaiian warriors, and if you look at them it’s said that you’re going to die, or someone you love is going to die soon. So you’re not supposed to look at them.”

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that these Nightmarchers are deadly ghosts of previous Hawaiian warriors. On the nights honoring the Hawaiian gods Kane, Ku, Lono, or on the nights of Kanaloa they are said to come forth from their burial sites, or to rise up from the ocean, and to march in a large group to ancient Hawaiian battles sites or to other sacred places.

If a mortal looks at these warriors without fear or defiance, they will be killed violently, unless a relative is within the Nightmarchers. Legend also states that planting living ti shrubs around one’s home will keep away evil spirits, and will cause the huaka’i pō to avoid the area.

Folk speech
general
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic

Em-chang

Context:

The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out.

Piece:

Subject: Okay, so kids, you know how kids like swear on their mother, right?

Interviewer: Right.

Subject: So like, in Korea we do this one our forehead [It's basically the Shaka sign but with the end of the thumb on the forehead] and stick our tongue out and say em-chang.

Interviewer: Em-chang?

Subject: Yeah it basically means, if I’m lying my mother’s a prostitute. And it varies between places in Korea, sometimes you put the hand vertical on your face, or you don’t stick out the tongue, sometimes the thumb goes on the tongue.

Interviewer: Wow, and this is common?

Subject: Yeah it’s the equivalent for swearing on your mom’s life. Arguably harsher.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, it seems that a lot of different cultures have their own forms of swearing on their mother. The common link is always the mother figure. It begs the question as to why, however I think it’s a simple answer. The mother figures in our lives are extremely important to us, especially when we’re very dependent children. The importance of the mother role is very clear across the globe.

Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs

“Stone On Your Heart”

Context:

The subject is from Israel, and is a freshman at USC. Throughout my time of knowing him he has shared many jokes and proverbs that are specific to his home country. For this reason, I decided to interview him for the database.

 

Piece:

Interviewer: So you’ve told us about this saying you have in Israel that basically corresponds with the American saying, “to have a weight on your shoulders.”

Subject: Yeah in Israel we say “you have a stone on your heart,” basically meaning the same thing, as you said, of having a weight on your shoulders or back or whatever. But in this case, it’s having a stone on your heart that is weighing it down, to say keeping your spirits down throughout the time you’re worrying about whatever it is holding you down.

Interviewer: Have you used the proverb in English and had people misunderstand?

Subject: Yeah it happens often with you guys. [Laughs]

 

Analysis:

It’s basically the same proverb as we use so often in America. When I went to look it up I had to scour through so many rock songs that had to do with having a Stone IN Your Heart. I couldn’t find anything about having a stone ON your heart, but I found many Bible verses talking about turning your heart into stone.

I know in the past certain countries used Stone as their metric of weight, while Israel might not be an example of one of those countries, it may point to a possible origin of the proverb.

The subject also told me of the Jewish tradition of placing rocks and gravestones, pointing to a possible importance of rocks in this culture.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Material
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Rocks on Gravestones

Context:

The subject is from Israel, and is a freshman at USC. Throughout my time of knowing him he has shared many jokes and proverbs that are specific to his home country. For this reason, I decided to interview him for the database.

 

Piece:

Subject: Something else, which I’m not sure is tied just to Jews or not, is we put rocks on gravestones. So instead of flowers, or chocolates, I don’t know, we put rocks there, like a pebble or a bigger one.

Interviewer: That’s really interesting, do you know why?

Subject: I think it’s just a symbol of strength and firmness, and that’s what we want our relationship with the person to be remembered as.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that this is quite a common practice, although different cultures have different explanations as to why they carry it out. For thousands of years, people would place rocks on tombs in order to stop scavengers, or keep evil spirits out of the world. In addition, it would also be to stop the deceased from rising up.

In Jewish cultures, placing a stone or a pebble is customary, as a form of respect for the deceased, and to let them know that you have visited.

Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Maslenitsa

Context:

The subject is a USC student, born and raised in Southern California. The subject takes pride in his Russian-Jewish heritage, so I wanted to ask him about any rituals he has attended.

 

Piece:

Subject: There’s a great Russian holiday, um, that’s to celebrate the end of the winter. And I saw it when I was going to school in Russia for a bit in eighth grade, I’m not sure the name in English but in Russian it’s called Maslenitsa. Which is sort of — it’s the process where you burn this, like, hay statue of the, winter witch, or something.

Interviewer: The winter witch?

Subject: Yeah, so it’s like the farmers defeated her, cuz she was gonna ruin their crops, but they survived. So it’s a very joyous time, and, um, you eat all this great Russian food, it was a lot of fun.

Interviewer: So when exactly in the year does it take place?

Subject: The end of winter, whenever it is that year, I, uh, think when I went it was the end of February or something.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that Maslenitsa is an Eastern Slavic religious and folk holiday, celebrated during the last week before Great Lent, and it may be the oldest surviving Slavic holiday. Since Lent excludes parties, secular music, dancing, etc. which provide as distractions during times of prayer, Maslenitsa is the last time for individuals to take place in social activities.

An important aspect of the holiday which the subject did not include, is the presence of pancakes, and the lack of meat (however, in modern settings the ban of meat is less enforced).

Compared the the rituals and festivals which we studied in class, we can see that this society greatly values its prosperous agriculture. During such dire times of cold, harsh winter, it’s comforting to know that a party is waiting on the other end.

 

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