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Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Japanese New Years Traditions

Informant: The only other thing I can think about is some Japanese traditions. It’s very different over there than it has been in Oregon.

 

Interviewer: Yeah sure, which traditions are you talking about.

 

Informant: I mean, there’s New Years, Birthdays, School.

 

Interviewer: I think New Years would be good, I see it represented a lot in Japanese media so it’d be nice to have a personal account.

 

Informant: Ok. It’s similar to America in that there are a lot of fireworks to celebrate at New Years, but before New Years there are a couple of things we do different. Pretty much the entire city cleans up right before New Years, you know, to make sure it is a blank slate, a clean start very literally. Kids usually get money from their parents and sometimes grandparents, my parents would only give me money after I was done cleaning my room and part of the living room.

 

Interviewer: Interesting. Back home we also get money sometimes, but it’s usually during Christmas.

 

Informant: The other noteworthy thing off the top of my head is that basically everyone goes to the shrine on New Years Day.. Like, on January 1st. Usually we all go together, the shrine is always really ******* packed. But we stop by and ask for a good start to the New Year. Other than that… We also do New Years Resolutions, but you write them down and display them somewhere in the house. In my house we did little slips of paper that we stuck in a tree branch in the garden.

 

Analysis

I’d seen several of these traditions in anime, but I always wondered what happened in real life Japan. I’m pleased that most of the portrayals were accurate, and it’s also interesting to draw some comparisons with my experiences during New Years. Catholic families in Mexico also go pray on Jan 1st to receive a good beginning of the Year, however, the tradition is to go to a mass that happens at 12 am!

 

Folk Beliefs
Protection
Signs

Indian Superstition – Sneezing

Informant: So in Indian folklore, there’s this like… superstition that if someone is leaving, like for like an event or just leaving your house or something, and, like, one of you sneezes… then you need to like, stop and immediately do prayer… and then like, get milk from the fridge and pour it on the ground before they can leave again, because if they leave, it’s almost as if like… something bad is going to happen to them, like a bad luck curse or something.

 

Interviewer: That is… interesting to say the least. Why the milk?

 

Informant: I’m not really sure why the milk… but like, other people believe that if you say someone’s name when they’re about to leave it is bad luck. My family was more about the sneezing though.

 

Context

During one of my club meetings, I brought up the Collection Project, and amongst the responses I got, the informant told me some interesting indian folklore.

 

Analysis

I find superstitions to be very interesting, especially when the subject is treated differently in separate cultures. For example, in Mexico (and in Japan too, I think) if you sneeze out of the blue it’s thought to be because someone is talking about you elsewhere. It’s interesting to see the same action have a negative connotation to it. However, I don’t particularly understand the milk, apart from perhaps it being a product of cows (revered in India) and having the power to ward off bad omens.

 

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Foodways
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic
Material
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

La Guelaguetza

Context

The informant is an acquaintance of my father, and in a previous vacation invited us to watch “La Guelaguetza,” a performance of the many different tribes in Oaxaca and their folk dances. I made some time during my Spring Break to ask him about the festival once more.

 

Interviewer: Back in 2014, you invited my family and I to the festival of “La Guelaguetza” in Oaxaca. Would you be able to tell me about it, and why it’s such a significant festival.

 

Informant: Yes, gladly! For starters, I myself am originally from Oaxaca, and came to Mexico City to pursue my career as a lawyer. However, much of my family is actually native mexican, like many in Oaxaca. I make an effort to go back every July to watch the festival. “La Guelaguetza” is a festival where many different cultures come together to perform their folk dances, because Oaxaca has many different native cultures, not just Zapoteca. The festival spans almost a week full of plays and performances, but the most important part of it all is at the end of the event… In an open theatre, the different groups all perform folk dances, to music unique to each culture, donning their traditional clothes. Most if not all dances are for couples, a man and a woman. Probably the most famous dance is the “hat dance,” but there are many others.

 

(Note: The hat dance involves the man placing his sombrero between him and the woman, with both of them dancing around it in until they meet.)

 

Interviewer: Yeah, I remember the dances being very unique, but what I remember the most is almost getting knocked out by a mezcal pot during the festival. Could you also talk about the food at “La Guelaguetza?”

 

Informant: (laughs) Of course, of course. “Guelaguetza” is actually a Zapoteca word, which roughly translates to “sharing of gifts.” Other than sharing their music and dances, “La Guelaguetza” is also the place where everyone shares their native foods… but not in a buffet or a restaurant. They actually give samples of the foods in the middle of the dance performances.

 

Interviewer: They pass out the food in a very… uhm… unique manner, do they not?

 

Informant: Indeed, it would be extremely complicated and would most definitely interrupt the dance if they tried giving samples to such a huge crowd, so the performers often opt to throw their items into the crowd! Most of the time they’ll bring a type of sweet bread, but you can also expect mole negro, tamales, and yes, even pots of natively brewed mezcal to be thrown your way. “La Guelaguetza” is so significant for Oaxaca because it celebrates all the cultural diversity in the state by bringing us all together through music, dance, and food.

 

A video of “Jarabe Mixteco” (lit. Mixteco Syrup) one of the more well known dances performed at “La Guelaguetza”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttlol6TZebE

 

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Mexican Salt Superstition

Interviewer: I know you ain’t very fond of passing the salt shaker when eating without putting it on the table first. Why is that?

Informant: Well, there’s a little bit more that goes into it than just not wanting to pass the salt. I do believe luck is real, and it’s something that can be affected by other people. I feel that when someone hands the shaker directly to you, it could pass their bad luck or bad energy to you… or you could end up fighting(arguing) with that person in the future. That doesn’t worry me too much, because I don’t really get into fights with people often. However, since I play golf, I understand that sometimes luck can be the difference between a birdie or landing in a sand trap. There are also events in life that you’ll only experience if you luck out or, in some cases, have terrible luck… So I don’t hand someone the salt shaker directly because I don’t want to take any chances.

Interviewer: And are there other people that share this belief?

Informant: My mother used to believe the same, and my sister also believes that passing the salt can be bad luck. My husband doesn’t really like the idea of superstition, he’s a very religious man.

Interviewer: And is there anything you can do if you accidentally hand someone the salt shaker?

Informant: Yes, you quickly shake some salt in your hand and toss it over your shoulders. It’s a way of putting the bad luck “behind you,” so you don’t have to worry about it anymore. But I think it’s better not to come across the bad luck at all if possible.

 

Analysis

Although I don’t know how widespread this particular belief is, I do have my theories as to how it came to be originated. The belief in luck is quite popular, but I think this specific case stems from a certain expression in Spanish (Mexico): “Echar la sal” (lit. to throw salt on something), which usually means to predispose something to failure, to “jinx it,” or to outright ruin it. I think it’s very possible the expression influenced and birthed this superstition.

 

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Crab and the Monkey

Informant: I got one. It’s a folktale from when I was younger.

 

Interviewer: Is it like, a Brazilian or a Japanese tale?

 

Informant: It’s Japanese… I don’t remember who told me the tale, it’s very common knowledge in Japan. It might’ve been in daycare. Does it matter?

 

Interviewer: Not really. What is it about?

 

Informant: Ok, so this is about a monkey and a crab. The crab has an onigiri and the monkey has a persimmon seed… onigiri is like, a rice ball. The monkey wants the crab’s onigiri, so he tells the crab to trade it for his persimmon seed. The crab doesn’t want to at first, but the monkey says that the seed is worth more, since if he plants it, it will grow into a persimmon tree. So they trade and then the crab goes back home and plants the seed… and the crab threatens the **** out of the seed by telling it that if it… if it doesn’t grow fruits it’s gonna cut it up with its pincers.

 

Interviewer: That’s not very nice (laughs).

 

Informant: No, but then the seed grows into a tall tree and gives fruits, so I guess it worked. Anyways, the monkey then goes to the crab’s house and climbs the tree and starts eating the fruit. The crab comes out and asks the monkey to pass him some fruit, but the monkey throws the unripe stinky fruit at ‘em and it ******* kills him, and the shock makes the crab give birth…

 

Interviewer: …Is that it?

 

Informant: No… It’s like halfway done, I’m trying to remember the rest… Ok so the kid crab is pissed that the monkey killed the mom crab, and wants revenge on the monkey. So he goes out and makes friends with like, other bullied guys like the chestnut, the bee… the rock mortar… thing, and cow poop. Then they break and enter the monkey’s house and hide… The chestnut hides in the hearth, the bee hides in a water pail, the mortar hides on the roof, and the cow poop hides on the floor, close to the entrance.

 

Interviewer: Is this like, a real folktale?

 

Informant: I swear, I can’t make this **** up.

 

Interviewer: Ok, ok. What happens next?

 

Informant: Ok so later, the monkey comes home and decides to sit by the fire. The chestnut tackles him and sets the monkey on fire. Monkey is inflicted with burn, so he runs to the water pail to put it out, but the bee comes out and stings the **** out of him, so the monkey tries to run out of the house and slips on the cow poop, and then the mortar jumps off the roof and onto the monkey and it ******* kills him… the end.

 

Interviewer: What? That’s it? … What even is the moral of the story?

 

Bystander: I think it’s about not scamming people or you’ll die. But what happened to the kid crab, what did it do?

 

Informant: Baby crab didn’t do ****. But yeah, that’s it, monkey died because he killed crab.

 

Context

During one of my club’s meetings, I told the members about the collection project and the members started discussing about various folktales and other stories. This was amongst the ones that stood out.

 

Analysis

To be completely honest I was dumbfounded that such a weird story was told to children, but upon further investigation it turns out that, it is in fact, a popular Japanese folktale. From what I gather, it teaches children to not scam or betray people, because it’ll come back to you in some shape or form.

 

Different Versions and Literary Works

The folktale has many different versions, usually changing the baby crab’s allies or the way that the monkey is attacked in its home. In one version, the monkey gets his butt snipped bald by the crab, which explains why some monkeys have bare bums.

Versions of this folktale can be found in Andrew Lang’s The Crimson Fairy Book (http://www.online-literature.com/andrew_lang/crimson_fairy/30/)

 

Or Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki

(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/4018/4018-h/4018-h.htm)

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Elephant and the Jackal

Informant: There is one tale that I remember from when I was like… super young. Like an Indian folktale.

 

Interviewer: Yeah sure, let’s hear it.

 

Informant: It’s called The Elephant and the Jackal. There was once an Elephant that was a monster, and like, he would rampage across the forests destroying trees, and that would also destroy like, bird nests and stuff. Not even the Lions or Tigers wanted to mess with it.

One day, the Elephant destroyed the Jackal’s nest during one of his rampages. The animals finally decided to call a meeting to figure out how to kill it but, no one stepped up because they were afraid of the Elephant and his massive size.

The Jackals were really pissed about the nest, so they held another meeting. They had decided to take out the Elephant once and for all, but failed to come up with a plan. But then, an Old Jackal said he knew what to do.

The next day, the Old Jackal went to the Elephant, and like, bowed and revered him, and told him “Oh great Elephant! The other animals and I held a meeting and decided that someone as big and powerful as you should be the King of all animals.” The Elephant didn’t think much of it, and let the Jackal keep praising him. The Jackal then told the Elephant that all the other animals were like, a bunch of animals were waiting for his coronation ceremony, and that he should come with.

 

Interviewer: So the Elephant took the bait completely…

 

Informant: Yeah, like. The Elephant, drunk in his ego, followed the Jackal deep into the forest, where the trees were thick and it was like, hard to see for the Elephant. The Jackal then led the Elephant through a patch of quicksand, but since the Jackal was old and light, he could get through. When the Elephant stepped into the quicksand though, he like, got stuck and started sinking very fast. The Elephant cried out and asked the Jackal to help him, but the Jackal told him that he had been a massive **** and had destroyed the lives and homes of many animals, and like, someone like him didn’t deserve any help. The Jackal left to tell the other animal, while the Elephant sunk to his death in the quicksand.

 

 

Context

During one of my club meetings, I brought up the Collection Project, and amongst the responses I got, the informant told me some interesting Indian folklore.

 

Analysis

This was just a simple märchen with a simple message. Bad things happen to bad people. I guess there is also a secondary message that with age comes knowledge, seen as it was an old jackal that managed to bring down the elephant, out of all the animals. Could even be stretched to a brain over brawn analogy too, seeing as not even the lions or tigers dared to face the elephant.

 

Legends
Narrative

La Llorona in Venezuela

Informant: Are you allowed to use ghost stories for your project?

 

Interviewer: Yeah actually, I thought more people would tell me ghost stories but it’s only been like one.

 

Informant: Because back in Venezuela a really well known one is the legend of La Llorona.

 

Interviewer: What? That’s a thing in Venezuela too? I thought it was a Mexican thing.

 

Informant: Well, everyone I knew there knew La Llorona, so I’m guessing it’s a South America thing.

 

Interviewer: Yeah yeah, that’s cool. I think it’ll be interesting to see how it differs to the legend I’ve heard back home. Can you tell me how you remember it?

 

Informant: Basically, La Llorona, she was this young woman that fell in love with a soldier, and they have a child. Then the dude leaves, to war or something, and never comes back. The woman has no idea of how to take care of a baby by herself, and she gets so frustrated from the baby crying that she eventually kills him with her own hands. She becomes insane, and even starts kidnapping other people’s kids to kill them as well.

 

Interviewer: Yeah, that’s kinda different from the version I know. I remember her having 3 kids, and them.. Getting lost or drowning in a river, I think? She kills herself out of sadness, but doesn’t really pass on because of the regret. And when her spirit shows up, she screams “Ay, mis hijos!” (lit. “Oh, my children!”), which is why the spirit was named “La Llorona” (lit. “The Crying Woman.”)

 

Informant: Ah yes she also cries for her children in the version I know, I guess thats why the name is the same everywhere. But I think to us it was mostly a way to scare kids into behaving. My mom always said that if I wasn’t good the Llorona would kidnap me.

 

Different Versions

Most notably, the legend of La Llorona is being adapted into a modern horror film The Curse of La Llorona (2019). The legend has been adapted into film several times before, though. This particular film seems to be loosely based on the Mexican version of the folktale, according to the synopsis.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4913966/


A written version of the legend of La Llorona is featured in José Alvares’s Leyendas Mexicanas (1998).

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Blue Boy

Context

The informant and I both attended the same high school. I had the opportunity to visit him in San Francisco, and we talked a bit about our time in school. We remembered a couple of stories that were passed around about the dormitories and the school chapel.

 

Interviewer: I remember that there were rumors of a ghost that haunted Merritt House’s basement and bathrooms, but I think the most popular rumor was that of the chapel ghost.

 

Informant: Ah yeah yeah… you mean the blue boy right?

 

Interviewer: I think that’s what he was called. Do you remember how it went?

 

Informant: Somewhat, it’s been a couple of years since I graduated… But if I remember correctly it had something to do with the chapel’s underground passage. It’s haunted by a ghost of a blue boy, and it’ll appear if you go there during Winter by yourself. I think.

 

Interviewer: People said that sometimes the blue boy would show up in the lower levels of the school buildings as well. Never ran into him though.

 

Informant: Neither did I. None of my friends did either, I’m pretty sure it was just a stupid rumor.

 

Interviewer: Do you remember how it came to haunt the chapel? That’ll probably be good for the report.

 

Informant: Uhh… I think he’s called the blue boy because he was stuck outside during a snowstorm and froze to death. And, supposedly, they found his body in the chapel. And after that they started seeing his ghost in the chapel crypts.

 

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