Author Archive
Adulthood
Folk speech
Humor
Initiations
Life cycle
Proverbs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Polish Wedding Joke

Main Piece

QJ: “Can it be a dirty joke?”

Collector: “Yes.”

QJ: “A lot of the jokes I grew up with are kind of dirty…most Polish ones are…I think one that my grandfather would say asks what is long and hard that a Polish bride gets on her wedding night?”

Collector: “What?”

QJ: “A new last name.”

Analysis

This joke seems to be fairly popular among Polish people, and I have heard it beyond my informant. In fact, I have heard it outside of the realm of Polish culture, and have seen different ethnic backgrounds attached to it. It seems that many prideful Slavic people make light of their often long and hard to pronounce last names through jokes like these. Given my informant’s background for the joke and explaining that he heard ones like these growing up, I would also assume that his culture and family have more of an openness to tell dirty jokes in front of younger audience. Generally, it would seem that older people have more of a relaxed ability to tell jokes that otherwise would not seem appropriate. This joke also implies a patriarchal society, where a woman would receive something from her husband in any interpretation of the joke, but no jokes suggest the woman giving the man anything.

 

Life cycle
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Peach Boy in Hawaii

Main Piece

Informant: “A story that I heard a lot growing up was about this boy who was born from a peach. They called him Momotarō. He was considered a blessing to this older couple, who had not been able to have kids, but had always acted humble and hardworking. They got the child as if they were being rewarded, and it’s explained that the Gods sent him to be their son.”

Collector: “That reminds me of a lot of stories, especially religious ones, too.”

Informant: “Yeah, that premise isn’t the most unique, but the peach makes it memorable. He grows up and then decides to leave and go fight some Oni, which are a type of demon. He has some animals that help him on the way, and I think one of them is a duck….Yeah. There are a dog, a monkey, and a duck. They stop the demons and then get to take their treasure.”

Collector: “Who told you this story?”

Informant: “My mom would tell me it, but I think most people in Hawaii know it. It’s Japanese, but there are books and a lot of stuff for kids based on it.”

Analysis

The story of Momotarō seems very easy to compare to a lot of other stories in Western culture, be it Superman or Moses. The popularity of it seems easy to comprehend, given the good values and morals that it is supposed to set forward for young children. The fact that the informant learned this story growing up in Hawaii exhibits how strongly connected those two geographical places are, and how the culture of Japan affects the state to this very day. It fascinated me that the  work generally is told the same in Hawaii, and that not many oicotypes were known to the informant. It can be assumed that the printed version of this book that popularized in the 1970s for the Bank of Hawaii’s 75th anniversary played a large part in the spread of this story in the same variation. The authored Momotaro: Peach Boy declares itself  an “Island Heritage book” that promotes its impact on Hawaiian culture.

Customs
Gestures
Kinesthetic

Shaka Hand Signs

Main Piece

Shortly after the informant’s winter recess ended and her spring semester began, she made several remarks on how Hawaiian habits with regard to traffic and pedestrian behavior were different and even more relaxed than Californian relations on the road.

Informant: “In Hawaii, most people do not wave at the cars like I remember you doing after they let you cross.”

Collector: “Why is that?”

Informant: “It would seem very unusual to them. Most people do the Shaka sign to thank the drive and to send them on a good path.”

Collector: “Does that come from surf culture?”

Informant: “No, it’s from Hawaiian culture. It’s supposed to let others know Aloha Spirit, and lets people know a sense of gratitude.”

Analysis

Hand signals hold a unique identity in any region where they are popular. It is interesting to see how in some cultures that hand signals can have opposite meanings, which can sometimes be offensive. The Shaka seems to defy that commonality, though, and seems to be a peaceful and relaxed expression wherever a person is. The motion seems to have a much more important impact in Hawaii, though, and seems to express a lot in everyday use.

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Lucky Penny

Main Piece

AO: “Growing up, I was always told that finding a penny face up was good luck.”

Collector: “Do you still believe it?”

AO: “I’d like to think I do. I still get a smile on my face when I come across a penny on the ground.”

Collector: “Is there any bad luck associated with finding it with the tales facing you?”

AO: “I never though so…it’s more so that it is just regular, or doesn’t possess the same magic. It does not have any affect on you, negative or positive.”

Collector: “Do you know of any other coins being good luck?”

AO: “No, but I think finding money in general is a good sign of fortune coming your way. In the US at least, the penny is the only one that is really associated with the good luck motif, though.”

Analysis

Finding money without an owner in public is clearly a fortunate encounter. Pennies, being the least valuable of American currency, have probably come to mean good luck because they are the most common, but also the hardest to spot. The face of the penny being Abraham Lincoln probably also plays a large part into why the coin is associated with this belief, with the president considered by many as the most influential and often considered a favorite.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Life cycle

The Haunting of the Lorenzo

Main Piece

JS: “Yeah, dude! The Lorenzo is haunted! You’ve never heard about this?”

Collector: “No! I guess I don’t know enough people who live there.”

JS: “The Lorenzo used to be a hospital, which was abandoned for a bunch of years before the developers bought out the land for the apartments. A bunch of people died in that hospital, so obviously some parts of a place that big have got to be haunted. They try to gloss over it, but the carpets in there still give it away. It looks like The Shining! People get lost in the hallways all the time, and never come back.”

Collector: [laughter] “Has this happened to people you know or is it just something that you’ve heard about?”

JS: [laughter] “No, it’s never happened to anyone I’ve known. It’s probably all just made up. You can never be too careful, though. The place still gives off the creepy vibes and I am not making up that it used to be a hospital…look it up!”

Analysis

Buildings that have taken on lives beyond their original intention or original owners are often claimed as haunted places. The inevitability of death and pain in places like hospitals and prisons adds a very convincing layer to many that there are still souls who cannot escape the earth trapped in these locales. Many people are uncomfortable thinking about the harsh lives of those in the same spot as them, even if they did not know them directly. The legend is known to students of USC because of how many end up living at the Lorenzo after they lose their spots in student housing. To this very day, people consider ghosts as considerations when deciding where to live, which demonstrates how strong the belief in after life and spirits are in the US.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Protection

Spitting in China

Main Piece

WY: “Let me think…so it’s like superstition. Whenever my mom hears something terrible or scary she will always spit on the ground. Kind of like a ways to spit out the horrible things so she won’t be hurt by those things.”

Collector: “Where I am from (San Francisco), I know a lot of Chinese people who spit deliberately like that, too, but none of them have ever mentioned that to me. Guess I know now!”

WY: “Yeah. A lot of places in China they probably have the same tradition. Chinese people also do it for general health. They call mucus and other stuff in the system ‘toxins.’ I think the air quality has a lot to do with it, so they just try to make their lungs feel as empty and breathable as possible.”

Collector: “Do you do it?”

WY: “Generally not, but every once in a while when I hear something really terrible, I end up doing it.”

Analysis

I found the informant’s insight on this tradition enlightening because she grew up in an environment where she understood the meaning of it and had had time to process it. She did not hold a strong belief in it, but in desperate times fell back on the practice that she had learned from her mother. It was also interesting to hear how a scientific idea was also put forward in order to justify it for those who would question it. The two beliefs could work hand-in-hand, and do not contradict each other.

Customs
Legends
Narrative

Tahoe Tessie

Main Piece

LL: “Over the break, I went to Lake Tahoe for the first time. It was really interesting because a lot of the shops there sell all these items about a lake monster that is supposed to have lived in the water for years and years.”

Informant: “How long is that?”

LL: “I think she – oh yeah it’s supposed to be a female…Tessie…is supposed to be a dinosaur from one of the later periods, who survived until modern day.”

Informant: “So does it basically have the same theories as the Loch Ness monster?”

LL: “Basically. [laughter] I think Tahoe wanted its own Loch Ness, and since it is one of the deepest bodies of water in the US, they can get away with making up the crazy things that live in there.”

Analysis

Tahoe Tessie represents community that created an item of “fakelore” that has been accepted by many younger people, who did not know any better. Most of the imagery of the lake monster is lifted directly from the Nessie legend, but as I learned, Tessie is mostly depicted in a more feminine nature. She is often shown as smaller in size and in the presence of children. The creature was crafted as a gentle one, which could easily be marketed to families visiting the area.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

The Ghosts of Alcatraz

Main Piece

Informant: “My class always talks about how Alcatraz is haunted.”

Collector: “Really? Are there any specific ghosts that people mention?”

Informant: “Yeah! Al Capone is one of the most common ones I hear, and then the people who tried escaping the island when they were prisoners. A lot of my classmates say that they are stuck at sea, and that on the boat ride over there that the ghosts try to get help from the passengers.”

Collector: “Do they know that Al Capone didn’t die on Alcatraz?”

Informant: “I think so…they say that the reason his ghost stays there is because that is where he suffered the most during his life.”

Collector: “Has your class been there together or have they just hear about it in the city?”

Informant: “We went on a field trip and people working there even mentioned it. They sell some stuff in the gift shop that has to do with it! I think they might give tours about the ghosts.” 

Analysis

Alcatraz offers a prime example of how folklore can be used in a marketable way with a great deal of the tourism to the spot inspired by famous ghost stories. Although the informant is younger and did not have any detailed examples of haunting stories on the island, she probably has a greater idea of it being a haunted spot than some older people she knows. The amount of time that has passed since the prison was actively in use and not just a National Park designated land has allowed it to become further associated with the past identities that it has held, with particular attention to the era in which it held its prison.

 

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