Author Archive
Foodways
Material
Myths
Narrative

Kalo: A Staple Plant of Hawaii

Abstract: Kalo is a plant that is named after the stillborn of Sky Father (Wakea) and Mother Earth (Papa), two Hawaiian entities. Kalo is a main staple for Hawaiians culturally, but is mostly used for food. When born, Kalo was a stillborn, and his parents buried him in the ground. His mother was so sad that she began to cry and, from her tears hitting the soil, the plant, Kalo, began to grow where her son was buried. Kalo is used in many traditional Hawaiian dishes and serves as a symbol for respecting the earth.

 

Background: DM is a 20 year-old Hawaiian American going to college in California. She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and is very accustomed to the folklore there. She can not trace back the origin of the folklore or when she learned it because it has surrounded her for her entire life. After one piece of Hawaiian folklore came up on a work retreat, I asked her to share the most important ones to her on a later date.

Kalo:

DM: Kalo is the origin of so many Hawaiian things, but mostly for food. There’s lau lau, which is the pig roast that is wrapped in Kalo, and poi which is this purple paste made out of Kalo. Both are like traditionally Hawaiian. So anyways, there are these two entity things, Sky Father and Mother Earth. Wakea and Papa. They have human children somehow I don’t know (laughs), but Kalo was the name of one of their children who died when he was born. Then Papa buried the stillborn and she was so sad about it that she cried, and her tears went into the soil. Then, out came Kalo.

S: Does anything happen if you disrespect the Kalo?

DM: The earth is everything to us. I don’t know. Bad harvest maybe.

 

Interpretation: The connection between Kalo being a product of nature (the sky and the earth) and also a main food staple showcases the connection that the Hawaiian people have with nature. Not only do they rely on nature for their mythological origin stories, but they directly connect it to their survival. The story of Kalo can be used to demonstrate that Mother Earth went through a lot of pain in order to provide food in kalo. Since she went through so much pain to feed the people, Hawaiians should be respectful to her and thank her by taking care of the land. This thought process is demonstrated when DM states “the earth is everything to us.” The origin stories reflect this close relationship to the planet that Hawaiians share. Since the foundations of being Hawaiian are to respect the planet, the main stories on which people grow up on encapsulate this mindset and ingrain it in the minds of the youth.

 

Narrative

Menehune: Hawaiian Mischief Ghosts

Abstract: The Menehune (men-ay-hoo-nay)  are a group of Hawaiian dwarf people that cause mischief in Hawaii, but especially in the woods at night. They were kicked off of their land and are now seeking revenge on those that inhabit it. They are mischievous ghosts that are responsible for causing things like sleep paralysis and are blamed for things that happen at night in Hawaii. They used to be real and were the first people to populate the Hawaiian islands until they were forced into extinction by settlers from Tahiti.

 

Background: DM is a 20 year-old  Hawaiian American going to college in California. She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and is very accustomed to the folklore there. She can not trace back the origin of the folklore or when she learned it because it has surrounded her for her entire life. The Menehune are pretty ingrained with the Hawaiian culture. At a work retreat, we were talking as a large group about sleep paralysis. DM intervened talking about how ghosts are responsible in Hawaii for this feeling. I immediately identified this piece of folklore and asked to speak to her at a later time about it.

 

 

The Menehune:

 

DM: The Menehune are like little dwarves that haunt Hawaii in the woods and at night. They were killed off by settlers, but archaeologists have discovered bones and stuff and they were actually very small.  But anyways, if anything happens at night, it’s them. Basically, a lot of people have sleep paralysis where like they can’t breathe or move. So they say, like mostly people that were camping, say that it’s because the Menehune are sitting on their chest.

S: Do people claim to see it or is it just spiritual? Like what else do they do besides cause sleep paralysis?

DM: It’s really just spiritual, but they were real people at some point. And really, since Hawaii is so rural, they can be blamed for like anything. Sound in the woods? Menehune. Tree falls over? Menehune.

 

Interpretation: There are a couple lessons that can be taken from the Menehune. The first being to respect the land and people of other countries/regions. The Menehune are only haunting Hawaii because they were kicked off of their own indigenous land and killed off. So, when this story is told to younger children (as it is done to build culture into young lives), there is an untold lesson to not be disrespectful or take something from someone that is rightfully theirs, or there might be some consequences. This kind of story is modeled in other cultures as well, such as the haunting of old Native American lands by chiefs and warriors.

The second lesson that can be taken away is to stay away from the woods at night. In attempts to keep their children from doing anything too risky, parents might tell the stories of the Menehune haunting and harming people in the woods so that their kids stay safe.

Legends
Myths
Narrative

Pele: The Hawaiian Volcano Goddess

Abstract: Pele (pell-ay) is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. The reason this is both a myth and a legend is because the story takes place in both the real world and outside of it. The origin story of how volcanoes in Hawaii came to be and the fact that Pele is a goddess and acts sort of like Greek Gods reason that she is mythological. However, she is a shapeshifter that normally takes the place of an older woman on Earth, so this would make her a legend.

 Background: DM is a 20 year-old  Hawaiian American going to college in California. She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and is very accustomed to the folklore there. She can not trace back the origin of the folklore or when she learned it because it has surrounded her for her entire life. After one piece of Hawaiian folklore came up on a work retreat, I asked her to share the most important ones to her on a later date. DM compares the Hawaiian gods, like Pele, to Greek mythology. They all have their own responsibility on Earth. She dives into the effects of what Pele can do from a story from her father. 

About Pele:

 DM: She is the goddess of volcanoes and takes many forms, but her most common form is an old Hawaiian lady. For context, the only volcano that has a chance of erupting is Kileaua on the big island. Anyway, my dad’s cousin was getting married there, and they were driving home from some party or something a few days before the wedding. And on the main highway, they see this old Hawaiian lady with long gray hair walking on the side. They thought maybe it was Pele, but they were scared so just kept driving. And then on their wedding day, the volcano erupted.

S: So is she someone to be scared of in person like does she cause immediate danger in human form?

DM: Well, I mean, she is a fiery goddess, but she isn’t dangerous. But like you’re supposed to be nice to her, and when they didn’t pick her up she reacted. There are some legends that when a volcano erupts, the lava will go around houses of people who have been nice to her.

S: But like, how do you tell her apart from any other old Hawaiian woman?

DM: You don’t.

 

Interpretation: Pele seems to have undeniable power and garners a lot of respect from the people of Hawaii. The lesson underlying this goddess is to respect your elders. Especially when told to young kids, Pele seems like a mean old lady that can destroy your house and kill you in a fiery pool of lava if you do not show kindness. Since no one really knows what she actually looks like, the people of Hawaii must learn to be nice to all elderly women or possibly suffer the consequences. This portrays Hawaii to be matrilineal and caring of the females, especially the elders, in the community. If Pele was only a myth, there would be no real lesson to treat elders with respect. Since she take the form of an old lady, and, at this point, becomes a legend, citizens will apply the respectful manner to almost all old women to not take any chances of having a really bad day with some lava.

 

For more on Pele, see Legends and Myths of Hawaii by David Kalākaua, 1888, page 46.

 

Kalakaua, David. Legends and Myths of Hawaii. Book On Demand Ltd, 2013.

 

 

Customs
Folk medicine
Foodways
Material

Jewish Penicillin – Chicken Soup

Genre: Folk Food/Medicine

 Abstract: Jewish penicillin is chicken soup. It spans across all religions, but is known as Jewish tradition that is used to heal injuries and illness. The recipe appears to be passed down through the mother’s lineage and is said to make people feel better and heal the soul and mind.

 

Background: The interviewee, referred to as RD, is a Jewish-American mother living in the south. She grew up in a Jewish household and has not strayed from the religion. She practices conservative Judaism and attends Temple on a monthly basis. The item of folklore in topic is chicken soup, also known as, Jewish Penicillin. The topic came up when a member of a household came down with a head cold and RD suggested she make chicken soup, a tradition she learned from her mother. A couple days after, the interview occurred.

 

Interview:

S: Okie dokie, I’m going to start with where did you first like learn about how chicken soup was Jewish penicllin?

RD: From my mom. Yeah passed down. Whenever I was sick, she always made chicken soup.

S: Do you see this as something common across like the Jewish religion?

RD: Oh definitely. Even when my kids go to go to college, Hillel1 sends notes out to the parents: if your kids get sick, and you wanna send them chicken soup with matzo balls. Let us know and we will send it to them. It’s universally known to every Jew and non-jew, actually. It spans religions.

S: So do you see this in Christianity at all?

RD: Well it’s not in Christianity, but even Christians know about chicken soup. I mean when (mentions Christian friend) had back surgery and stuff, I brought him chicken soup and he was like “Oh, Jewish penicillin this will make me better.” So it’s definitely, it’s outside of just the Jewish religion, but, I don’t, I mean if you’re asking if Catholics are making chicken soup, I highly doubt it. (laughs)

S: All right. But if there is a traditional way to prepare this Jewish chicken soup, that’s different than regular just chicken soup. What is it?

RD: Yeah, well yeah. You use a kosher chicken. I’m just trying to think what else is, uh, I never made a I never made a not kosher traditional chicken soup. And then a lot of time people put the matzo balls2 which regular chicken soup doesn’t have.

S:  Do you think that it actually works or is it kind of just like a a thing that you know, it’s kind of placebo effect?

RD: (3 seconds) I don’t know, but every time people are sick, chicken soup always makes them feel better. (laughs) In their soul and their mind. It does work. Yeah. There’s been so many like articles I’ve read ya know, how does chicken soup help so much?

 

1: A place for Jewish collegiate students to worship and attend synagogue and services throughout the year.

2: A traditionally Jewish food that is unleavened  to replace noodles during the holiday of Passover when only unleavened food can be consumed.

 

Interpretation:

While RD can not track the origins of Jewish penicillin beyond her mother, she does acknowledge that it is very well known across all religions but especially prevalent in Jewish families. She mentions how her mother passed it down to her which is an interesting point to bring up because Judaism itself is passed through the mother’s bloodline. The matrilineal culture of being Jewish and feeling the need to take care of her family might influence a Jewish mother to use a recipe to take care of her family.

RD also mentions how the term itself, Jewish penicillin, transcends religion and is universal. While she acknowledges that Christians know about the idea of it, she almost guarantees that they do not cook it the same. So why is chicken soup associated with Judaism? In the 12th century, a “Jewish physician, Maimonides, started the chicken soup-as-medicine trend when, in his book, On the Cause of Symptoms, he recommended the broth of hens and other fowl to ‘neutralize body constitution.’” and claimed that it played a role in curing diseases like asthma and leprosy (Koenig). This could be the main root of why chicken soup as a healing aid is known as Jewish penicillin. Most of the people reading Maimonides’ work were most likely Jewish, thus, they were the ones to use his remedy on a regular basis. The popularity of the soup within Jewish religion and its magical healing powers are so closely tied due to the advice of a physician that the Jewish people trusted because he was relatable and shared the same values.

RD also mentions that it heals the soul and the mind and it works as a remedy pretty much every time. So, is it a placebo or does it actually work? Physically, according to a study by Dr. Stephen Rennard, “the soup inhibited the movement of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell that defends against infection” (Parker-Pope). So, scientifically, it does work. Beyond the heat of the soup breaking up mucus, there is a chemical effect of the soup causing patients to feel better. Mentally, knowing that the food that is being consumed should make one feel better, people are more apt to buy in and use it as a remedy. Whether it be heartbreak, physical ailments, or illnesses, Jewish penicillin seems to have the power to cure across religions and cultures.

 

Citations:

 

Koenig, Leah. “Chicken Soup Around the World.” My Jewish Learning, My Jewish Learning, 15

June 2009, www.myjewishlearning.com/article/chicken-soup-around-the-world/.

 

Parker-Pope, Tara. “The Science of Chicken Soup.” The New York Times, The New York Times,

12 Oct. 2007, well.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/12/the-science-of-chicken-soup/.

Folk speech
Game
Humor

Jinx! You Owe Me a… Handstand?

 

Abstract: The jinx game has multiple different outcomes. In this particular instance, the person who says “jinx” last after saying the exact same thing as someone else must do a handstand no matter the location.

 

Background: JW is a college senior in California. He grew up in California his whole life. He and his roommates decided to add a twist to the “jinx” game by adding humiliation in the form of a handstand. After being flabbergasted when we said the same thing and he told me to do a handstand, I asked him about it further.

 

The game:

 

JW: Yeah, instead of owing me a soda or a pinch, you have to do a handstand if you’re last on jinx.

 

Example:

 

Person 1: What’s your favorite color?

Person 2 and 3: Green

Person 2: Jinx! You owe me a handstand.

 

Person 3 must now do a handstand.

 

Interpretation: Rather than inflicting pain or adding monetary value, the punishment becomes humiliation which is much more enjoyable to most crowds. At this point it does not become an individual reward for the person who said jinx first, but  a group reward in getting to see someone attempt to do a handstand in possible obscure places. Humiliation offers much more than any soda or pinch could offer. This says that our society values laughing at the others more than inflicting damages upon each other or causing financial burden. Laughing and happiness will outweigh a couple bucks and pain for most people in the world today.

 

Game

Notch: Your Word vs Your Eyebrow

 Abstract: Notch is a game played amongst college students. If someone says they are going to do something and another person responds by saying “Notch,” the person must complete that task or shave a section off of his/her eyebrow.

 

Background: JW is a college senior in California. He grew up in California his whole life, and learned this game from one of his friend in high school. Instead of saying “bet” when someone said they would do something, his friend wanted to take it to the next level by adding an actual punishment of shaving part of an eyebrow. It might not have been his friend’s original idea as it is being played and known across campus, but nonetheless, it takes the saying “bet” to a whole new level. We got into our discussion after one of his roommates said he would take out the trash in five minutes to which JW replied, “notch.” The questioning began.

 

The game:

 

JW: So, yeah, one person says they’re gonna do something and I say “notch.” Then if they don’t do it, bye bye eyebrow.

 

Example:

 

Person 1: It’s so hot in this room I’m gonna pour a bunch of ice water on myself.

Person 2: Notch!

 

Person 1 must now dump ice water on himself or shave off a small portion of his eyebrow as a sacrifice.

 

Interpretation: This game is a ploy to get people to stick to their word or face the ultimate consequence: humiliation. If people do not want to start losing eyebrows left and right, they will begin to be more careful about what they say they are going to do. This can bring loyalty and trust to friend groups because after a while, each member will inherently understand that they could always lose an eyebrow if they don’t follow through.

 

Initiations
Material

Fraternity Pinning

 

*In order to anonymize the fraternity and keep its secrets, it will be referred to as Zeta.

 

Abstract: Fraternity brothers in Zeta are given two separate pins at different times. The first they receive while pledging and wear for the whole semester until they ceremoniously throw it off of a cliff. The second they receive as initiated brothers and wear at their leisure.

 

Background: ZB is a collegiate student and brother in the Zeta fraternity. He grew up in Chicago, but goes to school in California. He joined his fraternity his freshman fall semester and is currently finishing up his sophomore year. He does not know when pinning started, but knows the tradition of wearing it and its significance. The topic came up after fraternal folklore was discussed in class, and I was curious about it, so I asked one of my friends in a fraternity if he could give me any insight.

 

ZB: At one point early on in pledging, we were given this pin that we had to wear. Like all the time. We could not be seen without it on. It had like three little stars and signified we were pledges of Zeta. Not only to other brothers, but also the campus. So like we wear it all semester then um, I don’t know if I should go into detail. We get driven to this cliff where we basically learn a lot of the lore of the house and things we were wondering all semester, then we throw all of our pins off the cliff into the ocean. It is a tradition for this ceremony. Houses across the nation bury their pins, but since we are in California, we used the ocean. It was really cool because the pin brings the national fraternity together, but we had our own little way of getting rid of it at the same cliff since our chapter started. But after initiation we got this new pin with a diamond and three stars on it. And our names on it. So it was pretty cool. Like an upgrade.

 

Interpretation: The pin was a method of identification. It was, for the entire semester, identifying the pledges of Zeta. They were not brothers, but pledges. The pin itself makes those who wear it proud to do so because they really have no other choice. If they want to be in the fraternity, they must demonstrate that they will wear this pin proudly. It seems like a test of loyalty early on to ensure that those who want to enter the house are willing to identify with and stick with it through thick and thin.

The ceremony holds a lot of meaning. Due to the location of the university, the fraternity was able to put their own spin on the nationwide tradition. This personalization gives brothers something to differentiate themselves with the national fraternities. While being part of a nationwide brotherhood can bond people across borders together, having individuality gives reason for the brothers in that specific chapter to bond to each other.

The symbolism of burying the pin, or in this case, throwing it into the ocean, signifies that the pledges are now done with pledge process and ready to move on. However, they must always remember that the pin never disappears, nor should the values or lessons they learn throughout pledging.

Folk speech

Hebrew Slang: סַבַּבָּח (Sababa)

Genre: Slang, Folk Speech

 

Nationality: Israeli and American

Location: Israel

Language: Hebrew

 

Hebrew: סַבַּבָּח (read right to left)

English: Sababa (suh-bɒ-bɒ)

 

Abstract: סַבַּבָּח (sababa) is a Hebrew word meaning “cool” or “got it.” It is a way for someone to acknowledge what someone said in one slang word. In Israel, it is considered hip and marketed to the population as such.

Background: KP is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, but spent his entire life growing up in Israel. Both of his parents are American. He grew up in a Jewish household and learned both Hebrew and English at the same time. He served his mandatory three years of service in the Israeli Defense Force from the age of 18 until the age of 21 as a combat soldier. This particular piece of folklore was heard and seen all over the streets of Israel. KP can not trace its origin, but describes it as a word that is very common and that is often one of the first words taught to non Hebrew speaking visitors.

 

KP: It means okay, cool, yeah. Or if you want to hurry someone up so they stop talking you say “okay sababa yeah yeah” like stop it I get it.

S: Do older people use it too?

KP: No, not really, just like my age and below.

 

Examples:

 

Person 1: Want to go eat?

Person 2: Sababa.

 

Person 1: Do you understand? Do you get it? Can you get it done? You sure? Okay, you really sure?

Person 2: Sababa sababa.

 

Interpretation: When first hearing this word and definition, I almost immediately compared to the word “bet” which has become popularized to mean “alright” or “you got it.” Once again, there is an understanding in millennials of America that, even though not the traditional meaning of the word, “bet” is a word used for multiple things, in almost the same exact way, like sababa. One thing that KP showed me was a pair of boxers that had the word “sababa” written on them, as well as, marijuana leaves imprinted around the word. Israeli shops are taking advantage of/utilizing the younger culture and generation with the word sababa to make money. The appeal of the younger Israelis and tourists to be cool and in the know is making vendors money. The reason young people tend more to this word than older people is because of the pressure to appear cool. Sababa has a vibe attached to it that means “I’m cool, I don’t really worry about anything. Everything is okay with me.” It has the type of connotation that brings a certain swagger and cool factor to a person’s vocabulary.

 

Gestures
Kinesthetic

Israeli Hand Symbol to Wait

try 3Genre: Folk Kinesthetic/Gesture

 

Nationality: Israeli and American

Location: Israel

Language: Hand gesture, transcends language

 

Abstract: The hand symbol/gesture in discussion is telling someone to hold on/wait a second in a semi-aggressive manner.

 

Background: KP is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, but spent his entire life growing up in Israel. Both of his parents are American. He grew up in a Jewish household and learned both Hebrew and English at the same time. He served his mandatory three years of service in the Israeli Defense Force from the age of 18 until the age of 21 as a combat soldier. This particular piece of folklore was brought up on a visit to Israel. When trying to get someone’s attention they gave me the symbol with their hand. I was very confused and asked KP about what it meant. He gave me a short version there, but when he came to visit America, I questioned him about it further. He can not trace it to a certain origin, but grew up using it and understanding what it meant.

 

The gesture:

 

The hand gesture is made by a person, when they are busy, towards someone else that is trying to talk them or get their attention.

 

S: Is it made it in a nice way or is it aggressive?

KP: It’s slightly aggressive. If, um, I am annoyed at someone, I will do this as a way to get them to shut up and stop bothering me. But, for the most part, people understand it means wait and they don’t really get too mad.

 

Interpretation: When someone first made this signal to me, I thought it was a way of saying “screw you” or to kind to, ya know, “[expletive] off.” So, naturally, I just did it back in a joking manner, and all of the Israelis on the trip laughed at me because they knew I obviously did not know what it meant. I had been accustomed to someone holding up a single index finger when they wanted me to wait a second. In addition, I had always seen my mother give “the hand” aggressively out of pure anger to someone while she was driving which looked exactly like this gesture. In my mind, I had been told to very aggressively screw off. In Israel, it is not as aggressive as much as it is a way to let someone know that you will be with them in a second. The reason for having this hand gesture is to be able to tell someone to give you a second without stopping the conversation and losing track of what is being discussed.

 

 

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Halloween on Military Bases: Trunk or Treat

Genre: Folk tradition/ritual, holiday

 

Nationality: American but takes place in other countries

Location: Germany

Language: English

 

Abstract: CB describes how Halloween is celebrated in American military families overseas by going trunk to trunk of cars instead of door to door in houses.

 

Background: CB is from a military family, and she spent a portion of her life in Germany while her dad was stationed there. She experienced this tradition every Halloween while she was overseas. The topic of conversation was brought up, at first, during a class section, then further discussed after.

 

The tradition:

 

Every Halloween (October 31st), CB would go to her father’s military base and join all of the other families in a Halloween celebration. Instead of walking around neighborhoods and ringing doorbells like Halloween in America, families on the base would bring their cars, decorate them, and walk around getting candy from the trunks of vehicles. Everything, including costumes, was the same. The only real difference was the smaller scale of who was celebrating and the place where the candy was located (in cars).

 

S: So, have you ever done this in the United States or in bases back in America?

CB: Not really, actually, I would say that it is more popular like outside of the US. Probably because, ya know, no one else really celebrates Halloween even though they might have similar versions.

 

Interpretation: While CB attributes the Halloween tradition of Trunk or Treat to the fact that surrounding areas do not celebrate the holiday, there is also another reason for the international twist. For soldiers overseas serving their contracts, Trunk or Treat provides them with a little taste of home. Living another life in a different country cause for America’s warriors to become nostalgic and miss the small things from back home. Celebrating halloween in their own way brings them back to recognize what they are fighting for and give them motivation to finish their service to get back home. The reason for the cars having to be used is because there is not the neighborhood/house atmosphere on a military base. The cars provide opportunities for decorations where one might see the typical orange and black colors with spiders, witches, blood, and pumpkins. Transporting this holiday across seas also means that young children of soldiers are able to still experience the childhood of typical Americans which will make the eventual transition back to America easier. On American bases, Trunk or Treat is not as popular because the soldiers stationed usually have houses outside the bounds of the military fences which allows for the typical house to house Halloween.

 

 

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