Author Archive
Folk medicine
general
Homeopathic

Running Faucets for Cramp Relief

Context: I came home one day at the beginning of this year to all of the faucets running and I asked my roommate what was going on and she told me this story. So I asked her to re-tell me why she does it.

Piece: So basically, I don’t know where my mom… well let me tell the long version of the story. So you know when you are you they tell you not to keep the water running when you brush your teeth? They’re like “turn off the faucet to save water!” Well I would always say that, and my mom always left the faucet running when she brushed her teeth and I would be like, “Mommy, you’re wasting water!” And she has always said, “I have to leave the faucet running or I’ll gag or like throw up.” And I never understood that until I started like, when I’m on my period or nauseous for any reason and so I turn the faucet on and leave the water running. It’s supposed to help you like feel like less nauseous. Something about the sound of running water can like ease nausea. I feel like it might have been something my mom got from my grandma. It sounds like something my grandma would do.

Background: The informant is a 19 year old USC student of Pakistani and Indian descent. She is very close to her family and shares many traditions and beliefs with them. She learned this from her mother and does it whenever she gets her period cramps.

Analysis: This tradition is something I have never heard of before. It is a sort of remedy/ homeopathic healing technique. It is often said that water sounds are soothing, but this is the first time I have heard them help with pain. I have heard of soaking in hot water to ease pain, but it is interesting that this piece refers to sounds, which tackles the mental state rather than the physical.

general
Legends

Winchester Mystery House

Context:  The informant began to speak of odd places near her hometown and had this place as an example.

Piece: “So I am from San Jose California and there is a really famous house in San Jose called the Winchester Mystery house. And it’s supposedly by Sarah Winchester, who was married to William Winchester, I believe, and um she moved there after he died, I think. But he passed away and he was the manufacturer of this really famous rifle called like the Winchester rifle. So Sarah, after she died like thought she was haunted by the ghosts of the people who were killed with his guns, yeah which is a lot of people. So she built this house, and she just kept expanding it because she was trying to protect herself from the ghosts. So you go to this house and the architecture makes absolutely no sense because she just kept building and building and building so its super vast and she could protect herself from the outside. There are like stairs that lead to nowhere and doors that lead to nowhere and cause like it doesn’t make sense and there is this motif of spiderwebs throughout it like there are windows that look like webs and so like it really looks like a haunted house. I have been there and they actually take a lot of kids on field trips there now, which is weird. And it’s well known and a lot of people go there.”

Background: The informant is a 19 year old USC student who grew up in San Jose, California. She is very well versed in the Winchester Mystery House and has personally been there.

Analysis: This home is a ghost tripping home, attracting people to quest to find or see ghosts. This site in particular has house tours and advertising, indicating that it is in the commercial industry and makes profit from the stories about the home. The motifs in the house further add to the spectacle that attracts visitors, as well as adding to the feel of the environment. It is also interesting how there is an eerie quality to the odd architecture– such as the stairs that lead nowhere. The transitional, liminal quality creates the uneasy energy that plays into the ghost stories associated with the site.

 

general
Humor

A Pirate’s Favorite Letter

Context: The informant told this joke in passing, and I asked to hear it again because of the play on words.

Piece:

Informant: “What’s a pirate’s favorite letter?”

Collector: “I don’t know… what is it? Is it R?”

Informant: “Arr you’d think so but me first love be the C”

Background: The informant, a 20 year old college student at Harvard, says is one of his favorite jokes and he tells it often to entertain his friends. He says that he found this joke on Reddit.

Analysis: In order to understand this joke, you have to have the preconceived notion that pirates a stereotypically shown to say “arr.” Therefore, this joke shows how as a society there is a unified understanding of the pirate stereotype and that there can be these jokes on it. This joke catches on because of its spin on the more obvious stereotypical saying by pirates. It demonstrates also how phonetic similarity can function as a joke when recited with another meaning/spelling.

 

 

 

Adulthood
Folk Beliefs
Initiations
Legends

Hick’s Road Blood Albinos

Context: The informant was speaking of odd legends around her hometown, San Jose.

 

Piece:

Informant: Alright so, I’m from San Jose California, but specifically a small town called Almaden within San Jose, and there is this really famous road in San Jose called Hick’s Road and it’s famous because there is an urban legend… this is real, I’m not making it up… that the road is haunted and that there are blood albinos that live there. Basically there are these albino people that supposedly live there and who like suck people’s blood— like blood sucking albinos. And they’re supposed to live there. And when you live there you just like always hear about the blood albinos at Hick’s road and its supposedly really scary and people like die there and it’s like in one of the more rural areas and you drive there and there is just not a lot of stuff there and it’s kinda dark. Once you become a teenager it becomes kind of a rite of passage to like go with your friends and like brave Hick’s Road.

Collector: Do people actually die?

Informant: Like no! Not that I know of, everyone goes there and because you’re so scared you like imagine stuff.

 

Background: The informant, a 19 year old USC student, is from San Jose and has gone to Hick’s Road. The legend is part of her hometown’s dialogue and culture. It is a sort of rite of passage as a teenager to go to Hick’s Road.

Analysis: This legend is very reminiscent of vampires, but instead with blood sucking albino people. I have never heard albino folklore, so it is really interesting to see that the legend is basically a vampire story. The fearful nature of blood sucking and death that is part of the legend makes it perfect for a rite of passage. By going to the road as a teenager, as the San Jose folks do, you prove you are capable and that you are an adult. This also creates a bond amongst those who go together and those who have braved Hick’s Road, as if saying they are the ones who survived these legendary dangerous people. It is also important to note that she says the legend says that people die but then firmly states that no one has died from these creatures, indicating the liminal and truth questioning nature of legends. This site also attracts these locals in a way that resembles to ghost tripping but for the albinos that suck blood.

Contagious
Customs
general
Material
Protection

Venezuelan Salt Passing Superstition

Context: The informant was speaking about niche Venezuelan traditions.

 

Piece:

Informant: The other thing in terms of beliefs is when passing the salt, if someone asks you to pass the salt, you don’t give it to them directly in the hand because it is believed that if you do that you will fight with that person, so you essentially put the salt on the table instead of passing it directly.

Collector: And this is what you do?

Informant: Oh totally!

Collector: And who did you learn that from

Informant: Oh my mom, always. I believe it is only a Venezuelan thing— I know people from other places in Latin America and they don’t do it

 

Background: The informant, a middle aged Venezuelan woman, grew up in Venezuela and still practices many Venezuelan traditions. This belief is a superstition she strongly believes in, unique to Venezuela.

Analysis: This piece is a superstition that connects to other folkloric beliefs regarding salt. This belief/superstition probably stems from the taste of salt and how it is tart and not exactly enjoyable– implying that by passing salt, it passes bad energy. This piece is different from salt ideologies spread in America. For example, if you spill salt you must throw it over your shoulder or else there is bad luck. There seems to be a similar connotation to salt, and it conveniently correlates with the salty flavor that implies discomfort.

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Material

Venezuelan Hallacas

Context: The informant was speaking of Venezuelan foods eaten during Christmas, and she began to expand on this recipe and the history of the food.

 

Piece:

Informant: Ah ok um so one tradition that we Venezuelans try to do every year is hallacas. And hallacas is a dish that originally comes from when we were conquered by the spaniards and it was it is made with, it is like a tamale but it combines um chicken, pork, olive, raisin, and it is said that it is the leftover from the slaves, what they ate. And the tradition is that family gets together and one person prepares the inside and one person cuts the leaves um and it is actually wrapped in plantain leaves and it’s a tradition that goes from family from family, and there is a saying that the best hallaca is always from your mom. And every family has their own way of doing it.

Collector: Is there any specific part that this matters to you

Informant: I actually haven’t done it myself, but in my family I remember my mom would put boiled eggs on it and that is specific to region I am from, Puerto Ordaz. Other people will put other extra ingredients depending on the region or family.

 

Background: The informant, a middle aged Venezuelan woman, currently lives in Boston but lived the majority of her life in Venezuela. She still practices a lot of Venezuelan traditions, especially in her cuisine. The hallacas are an example of a Christmas dish in Venezuela.

Analysis: This recipe is very historically connected to the Venezuelan people. The dish is said to be made of the scraps that the slaves were left to eat during the Spanish reign. This implies that this tradition has been practiced since then and continues to be a major part of the Venezuelan cuisine. It also reflects how history is important to the Venezuelan people, as it is displayed in the recipes of their dishes. The community aspect in the cooking of the dish is also very unique, as it brings together the family to work together during Christmas time– a time that is typically focused on family. It also has multiplicity and variation within the recipe, as it becomes personalized to the family and/or the region they are from.

Adulthood
general
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Berkeley Senior Steps

Context: The informant was reminiscing on traditions at her high school, Berkeley High in Berkeley, California. The senior steps were a major part of the folklore at her high school.

Piece: So in high school, there were these like these stairs, these steps with like a bench on them and we called them the senior steps. So like only the seniors were allowed to stand on them and if there was like a freshman or sophomore standing on the senior steps, people would like stare them down slash be like what are you doing on the senior steps? It’s inside of the school, and we actually had a meme page that has like 5,000 followers, ha weird flex, and like basically some sophomore actually a few weeks ago peed on the senior steps to like disrespect the seniors or something. And it was the biggest ordeal because like they’re just fucking steps and its like where the cool seniors eat lunch or meet up. Everybody knows the senior steps. And we had like rally day which is like once a year we dress up and everyone was drunk and high at school it was crazy and everyone was like yelling on the steps “Seniors, Seniors!”

I guess it’s just like a pride thing, and like I definitely like after three years of not being allowed you finally get to elevate yourself onto these brick steps. I didn’t really care but like a lot of people cared and like mind you these are gross steps like ugly and dingy. And like there was like tagged names or gossip written on the steps too. Ha it was so wack

Background: The informant, a 20 year old USC student, went to Berkeley High School, and experienced the tradition/rite of passage of the senior steps.

Analysis: This piece is a form of a rite of passage and ritual that was created surrounding these steps in her high school. The steps have become an honor that is bestowed upon seniors, as a form of status and privilege that they are entering the adult world. The steps create a hierarchy, showing that the school and consequently American society, pushes for the future and growth and moving up. In order to get to the privileges of the steps, you must work your way and finally get your status– which hows how the seniors will be leaving and moving into the future. The steps have been ritualized further by hosting the rally and the gossip markings, indicating its connection to school culture and spirit. The mention of more popular students being the regular utilizers of the steps indicates further this level of hierarchy ingrained in the culture of high school, and ultimately our society as Americans. By gaining the status, it serves as a stepping stone or rite of passage into the adult world.

general
Humor
Old age

Old Man and Well Joke

Context: The informant told me this joke at a party where they were trying to tell some of their best jokes.

Piece: 

“Why did the old man fall into a well? Because he couldn’t see that well.”

Background: The informant is a 20 year old college student at Harvard. He really enjoys telling jokes and found this piece on Reddit. They enjoy finding jokes on Reddit to use in everyday life or tell to friends. They like this joke because it is short and witty, and consider it one of their best jokes.

Analysis: 

This piece is is a joke that touches on themes of old age and double entendre. The humor is created by unexpected switch in the punch line of the meaning of “well” from the water hole definition to the usage as a synonymous to good. The other humorous quality is poking fun at the nature of old age and how older people have weaker eyesight. This joke reflects how American culture has a pattern of joking about the elderly and this is part of American ideology that champions youth. There is also a trend in jokes where people find falling funny and this plays into that

Customs
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kwanzaa Traditions

Context: The informant, a 19 year old college student, was engaged in a conversation about Kwanzaa and how her family celebrates this holiday.

Piece:

Informant: Um, ok. So, Kwanzaa. Um, I have celebrated it before. Um, it’s a family thing, my family celebrates Kwanzaa. Uh, I’m black, um ‘cause you can’t see me on the audio so just to make that… clear to all the listeners. Um, so basically it takes place the day after Christmas and it ends on January 1st. And it’s my favorite way to close out the year and basically it’s kinda a reflection on the whole year and each day it’s a different principle where you remind yourself of like um basically like whether or not you really perform those principles or not. One of them is Kujichagulia which is self-determination, they are all in Swahili um so yeah that’s a word we explore for a day— like how well do you fulfill your own personal goals. There’s also Umoja which is unity, um there’s seven of them yeah. So the traditions that happen are that every single night the whole family gets together and you eat a meal and you set the meal on an mkeka which is like a straw mat. And you eat specific foods— some foods we eat are corn, red beans and rice, soul food— things like that. And then we talk about the principle and then we light a candle on the thing— there is also a Swahili name for it.

Collector: So why is this tradition important to you?

Informant: Kwanzaa is important to me because um well for one it’s a way for me to connect to my African ancestry, which is something I don’t do in my daily life because slavery took that away from me. And on another hand, because um it’s one of the very few traditions my family has, we don’t do a lot of things every year, but like Kwanzaa and celebrating with the people at my church is something we have done consistently and so I value that we have kept that up

And uh yeah Kwanzaa was created in the 60s by a guy who is now shamed in the black community because he was put on trial for very brutally abusing women and he was a professor at some school in California, some university, I kinda wanna say it was CalState Longbeach or something like that. Um, but he no longer is a professor there and now is under harsh scrutiny from the black community and he is bad but Kwanzaa is good. A lot of people celebrate Kwanzaa but a lot of people shit on that man. And it was really big in the 60s because of the civil rights movement, and afterwards people stopped celebrating as much but I still do because of my family and my church.

Background: This informant is a black female college student at USC who celebrates Kwanzaa with her family regularly. She loves celebrating Kwanzaa because it connects her back to her African roots. She has often said that she feels the pressure from society and people around her to be “less black” and this holiday helps her celebrate just that.

Analysis:Kwanzaa is celebrated throughout the United States but because I am not part of the celebrating community, I was never taught about the traditions. This holiday in particular lends itself to folklore as the entire holiday revolves around the preservation of African culture and tradition. The fact that Kwanzaa champions principles is interesting as it passes along ideals through the traditions, emphasizing what people should focus on and influencing Kwanzaa celebrators’ everyday lives.

For other traditions practiced during Kwanzaa, see: Pleck, Elizabeth. “Kwanzaa: The Making of a Black Nationalist Tradition, 1966-1990.” Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 20, no. 4, 2001, pp. 3–28. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27502744.

general
Humor
Life cycle

Morgue Joke

Context: The first time he told me this joke, the informant and I we with this his siblings on a family vacation in Florida, and we were in one of many car rides. They were telling jokes and he remembered this one— saying it was his best joke.

Piece: “Okay you ready? Okay so… uh a widow brings her husband, late husband to the mortician and uh he’s wearing a blue suit and she says to the mortician, ‘I’ve always thought my husband looked best in a black suit.’ She hands him a blank check and says, ‘Don’t spare any cost, I want my husband buried in a black suit. He says, ‘Alright, we can make that happen. Um I’ll see what I can do.’ Then comes the day of the funeral, and uh her husband is there in a beautiful, perfectly fitting blue suit. And the widow says, ‘Oh my god, looks so good, please tell me the cost I would just like to know.’ The mortician says, ‘Actually ma’am there was no cost at all, it was on the house.’ And she says, ‘No, really, I must repay you for this beautiful suit.’And he says, ‘Well, let me explain what happened. Uh, that same day another gentleman was brought in of a similar height and uh shape to your husband and he was wearing a black suit. So I asked his wife if it would be fine, if she cared if she was wearing a blue suit. And she said she didn’t care, as long as he looked nice. Then it was a matter of switching the heads.’”

Background: The informant, a 20 year old college student at Harvard, really enjoys joke telling and found this joke on Reddit, memorized it and found the opportunity to tell it to us. He will usually tell people this joke if asked to tell his favorite joke.

Analysis: This joke is an example of a death joke, a way to deal with repression. This joke forces people to think about death, something people dislike discussing, by using a grotesque and absurd scenario. The joke is demonstrative of how society tries to find the humor in death in order to make the event less tragic and unbearable. It also uses an element of unexpected that is shocking and comical.

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