Author Archives: Frank Musoke

Proverb – USA

“If you cannot stand the heat, stay out the kitchen”

Anthony told me that he learned this proverb while camping with a friend who lived in Van Nuys. He said he was around 8years old when he first heard it. My first time hearing it, Anthony said, I literally thought they were telling someone to get out the kitchen because we were around the cooking area. However, he went on, I heard Mike use the phrase in situations where it had nothing to do with the kitchen or heat. He said that he asked Mike to explain what he meant and Mike had this to say: – “Basically the phase means that if you cannot act in an expected way in a certain situation, then do not attempt trying it. Just give up.” A good time to use this proverb, Anthony said, would be during a basketball game. He said that the proverb could be used on those basketball players that often go down easily trying to con referees into giving technical fouls to the opponents. Those players, Jordan said, could be told to give up playing if they cannot stand the physical game.

In his explanation of the proverb, Anthony said, it is essentially a way to tell individuals to learn the rules before they play the game. He said that if the rules are too hard for someone, then he or she should not attempt the game. Anthony also said that since he learned the proverb, he frequently heard it being used especially by male groups like his former fraternity.

Analysis

I am definitely no stranger to this Proverb. I grew up hearing this proverb being used in similar context as Anthony described. My mother always used it as a way of advising. For example, every time I complained about being heavily tackled in a game. She (my mother) would say; “if you cannot stand the heat, stay out the kitchen.” Basically she meant that if I could not stand being tackled then I should just give up playing the game.

This proverb also appears on one of Tupac Shakur’s records called Life of an outlaw. It was one of the last songs released at the moment when the “West coast vs. East coast” battle hit the top.

In the context of the song, Tupac used the proverb to remind rappers – Notorious BIG in particular – that hip-hop was not an easy game. In essence, he was advising rappers to give up rapping if they could not stand the difficulties in the rap industry. The manner he used the proverb is exactly similar to the way I have always heard it being used.

Annotation: Shakur, Tupac. Life of an outlaw. Shakur, Tupac. Compact Disc. Death Row Records, 1996.

Lucky Advice – USA

“When you see a penny on the ground, if its head is up, then its lucky and you better keep it. If its tail is showing, either walk on by, or throw it away, but don’t you keep it with you for too long.”

Jordan said he first heard this from his substitute grandmother who is a 91 year old retired African American who grew up in tupelo Mississippi and now living in Fullerton California. He said that Letha helped take care of him ever since he was a little kid. He said that she carried him home from the hospital and has given her a lot of advice in his life.

However, he continues, the one thing he always remembers from her, is to hold on to the heads up penny. Jordan did not know why this was true, but he says to this day he even flips pennies that are lying around his room or even on the street to heads up so that other people can have good luck as well.

Analysis.

Whether a heads up coin actually brings luck or not, I think that Jordan belief is more of a psychological effect more than anything else. I think people seem to believe in the idea that older is wiser. Like any other child, Jordan only easily accepted this because he was young and believed in his replacement grandmother’s ideas. What happened next is psychological. I think that every time he came across a heads up coin and then something good happen to him, Jordan associated it with the coin and vice versa.

This is only because he was brought up in a culture that believes in that a heads up coin brings luck. Another person could easily and rightly perceive a heads up coin as simply a heads up coin and nothing else to it. Such is the strength of traditions. Tradition builds identity. By this I mean people with similar traditions identify and easily associate with each other. It is simply because they perceive similar things similarly. That is why Jordan has to remember his replacement grandmother every time he comes across a coin. There is that connection between two people that can be created simply sharing the same cultural beliefs.

Legend – Hawaii

Maui Legend “Why we have summer and winter”

Like the other Maui legend “how Hawaii Mountains were formed”, Ryan told me that he learned this legend at age five while living in Hawaii. He told me that he still heard it told around Hawaii although with several variations from his own account.

The legend goes like this; Long ago, there was a god called Sun who lived in the skies above Hawaii.  Sun used to come out of the skies everyday of the year projecting unbearable heat towards the people on the Island. People asked Sun to decrease on the heat but he never did and instead continued burning them throughout the year. The people gathered around to discuss and find solution to the problem. They chose Maui, the strongest man around, to face Sun and plead with him. Maui, with a net his hands, went to talk to Sun at a place where he came out of the skies. He told him that the people on the Island were fed up of his heat. Sun just laughed and went on to release heat as he always had been doing. In anger, Maui tossed his net to the sky and trapped Sun. He started pulling him down towards the Island. Sun retaliated by holding onto the sky but was soon defeated by Maui. Scared of the Island people he had heated for a long time, Sun pleaded with Maui asking him to not drag him down. Maui accepted his requested but on condition that he (Sun) would only come out of the skies for half of the year. In considerable grief, Sun accepted the conditions and from that day on, he only came out of the skies for half the year. That is why we have summer and winter.

Analysis

When Ryan told me this legend, it really made little or no sense to me. Of course the sun does not speak and on one can pull it down with a hook. But again, I remembered it was only a legend! The question I asked myself was, “why is this legend existing?”  The answer I came up with is, because it has a social significance. In a historical context, the legend teaches Hawaiians (or any other passive and active bearer or the legend) about the origin of the Island since Maui discovered the Island. On the other hand, because the legend is known by a certain group of people, it means the legend creates a social identity. It does that by creating the “other.” In this context, the “other” would be those people who are neither passive nor active bearers of the legend. In essence, just being able to learn, understand, and tell the legend can separate a Hawaiian from a non-Hawaiian.

In a way, I also think the legend is meant to credit a “man” with creation. By doing so, the legend some how glorifies a man’s strength and creates a patriarchy. I know one might disagree with me, but they should ask themselves why one would credit the creation of seasons (with all their importance) to a man and not a man and a woman.  Masculine dominance must be behind all this.

Ritual – Uganda

Baganda Introduction Virginity Test ritual

Betty told me that the Baganda have a special ritual that they perform on every introduction ceremony. She said that before the wedding, the bride has to traditionally introduce her groom to her family.  The introduction ceremony is a big occasion, which involves numerous ritual performances. Exchanging gifts like cows, various foods most notably bananas, traditional dancing, and riddle competitions are among the numerous performances that take place. However, what fascinates her most is the “goat virgin test ritual” that determines whether the bride is still a virgin or not.

She said that sometime during the night of the day before the introduction ceremony, the soon to be bride sits down somewhere. Her maternal auntie walks a female goat with a rope around its neck in front of her. That if she happens not to be a virgin, then the goat hesitates walking no matter how hard it is pulled and pushed. For a virgin, the goat smoothly walks without any hesitation.  Betty said that this was done because men had and still have to pay more dowries for virgins, which the woman’s family impatiently expected.

Analysis

Whether the “Goat Virgin test” works or not, it is there to be explored. However, the whole test process and its significance introduce us to the customs and traditions of the Baganda ethnic group. Of course, knowing, believing and participating in the “goat virgin test” ritual separates Baganda from non-Baganda. This means that the ritual defines the Baganda identity. Of course other important factors like language and bloodlines have to be taken into consideration. Nonetheless, performing the ritual strengthens ones identity as a member of the Baganda ethnic group.

Like any other group custom, I think the “goat virgin test” ritual only works because the Baganda believe in it. I think there is some psychological aspect underlying the success of the whole process. I say so because I do not see any logical connection between walking a goat and someone being a virgin. For that reason, I would not expect an outsider (an outsider being a non-Muganda) to actually believe in the results of the test. But again, that is the nature of culture. The cultural group members can best understand it. Outsiders can try but might never deeply understand a cultural group’s nature of customs.

Folk Remedy – USA

“The hair of the dog that bit ya.”

Jordan said he had first heard this saying from his now 29-year-old brother who lives and works in Los Angeles. Jordan said that; “the hair of the dog that bit ya is a saying that tells of a remedy for a hang over.” By that, Jordan said, he meant that; to cure a hangover on the next day, one could drink a little bit of the same alcohol that caused the hangover the night before. That having that extra drink in the morning would eventually save one from a pounding head caused by a hangover. In his explanation, Jordan said that; the dog that bit ya refers to the long night of drinking and its hair is a small amount of alcohol the next morning that will help cure the awful hangover.

Analysis.

I do not know to what extent this remedy works, but I have heard it a couple of times from friends. It seems to be a popular remedy especially among drunkards, which does not surprise me. Personally, I do not think that extra consumption of alcohol would heal the hangover. I think it would only worsen the matter. First of all, I do not think that remedy is actually scientifically tested. On the other hand, just because it is not scientifically tested does not necessarily mean it does not work. After all, most scientifically proven drugs we use are often derived from folk medicine. Therefore, given the popularity of this folk remedy, I would not be surprised if it worked for someone or for most alcohol consumers.

In addition to that, because “the dog that bit ya” is used by a certain group of people, then it creates identity.  This remedy can distinctively separate two different people, it can also bring together two same people. If one drinks and actually believes in this remedy, then he or she belongs in a group. On the other hand, a non-drinker might never know about the remedy unless he associates with a folk group that uses that lore.

Folk Belief – Fort Portal, Uganda

Avoiding curses

“Never ever pick up any money from the ground while walking down any road. If you see money on the ground, either walk around it, or turn around and use another route.”

I first heard this from his deceased great grandmother who was about 84 years at the time.   She told me that such money (that thrown on the road) possessed evil curses and spirits. She said that people possessed with evil spirits would go to witches. Those witches would trap all the evil spirits in a coin or a paper currency and order the patients to throw the money on a fairly busy path. That if a person came across and picked that money, he in turn would become possessed by the evil spirits. Personally, while living in Fort Portal, I never saw anyone attacked by evil spirits carried in money. Nevertheless, I never picked up any money since I heard that advice from my grandmother. Today, however, I can pickup money from anywhere in USA because their spirits won’t attack me.

Analysis

Personally, I would never walk away from money because I do not believe in superstitions. I think it is only a psychological effect that anyone would believe that money on the ground has some kind of evil spirits in it. I think Gilbert believes in this advice because he thinks, “older is wiser.” I think it is almost customary for human beings to romanticize older ideas. Had that advice been to Gilbert by some one his own age, I do not think he would have taken it that serious. He only took it serious because it was advice from an eighty-four year old woman.

On the other hand, I think Gilbert believes in evil spirits because he was brought up to do so. That is the power or culture. Culture has such a big influence on how a human being’s mind works. Culture is so strong that it can cause two people to perceive the same thing differently. For example, if I found money on the ground, I would call it my lucky day while Gilbert would call it a nightmare. This is because we are raised in two different cultures. My culture calls it lucky and his culture calls it wicked.

Even though he did not recognize it was only psychological for him to believe in that advice, Gilbert seemed to perceive it. As he said, he can pick up money in the USA but not on his native land. Again, this shows the strength of culture and its boundaries. I say he can pick up money in the USA only because he has not been told that it possesses evil spirits. In a way, when he is in USA, his psyche switches to USA’s customs and vice versa when he goes back to this native country.

Legend – Hawaii

“How Hawaii Islands were formed”

Ryan told me this legend, which accounts for the existence of the Hawaiian Islands. He said that his cousins taught this legend to him when he was still a little boy (about 5). He also said that this legend, plus other Maui legends, still exists and in circulation around many parts of Hawaii.

The legend goes like this; Long time ago, there was a young boy called Maui living in Hawaii. Maui had brothers that never let him go fishing with them. They always told him that he was too young to go fishing. On many occasions, Maui pleaded with them to let him go fishing but they declined. One day, as Maui took a walk at the beach, he came across a big dead shark bone. He picked it up and took it home with him. For the next couple of days, Maui secretly fabricated a huge hook out of the bone. After completing it, he, again, asked his brothers to take him fishing. Once again they refused. Maui decided to show them his hook and promised to help them catch fish, which they had been unlucky to catch on their last 4 fishing trips.  With that promise, Maui’s brothers accepted to take him on their next fishing trip. While at the ocean Maui threw his hook in the water and instantly caught something big. Maui’s brothers tried to pull out the catch but Maui suggested that they should drag it to the shores. They drifted their canoe towards the shore while dragging their big catch. Very soon they were tired and decided to pull it out before they got on shore. To their surprise, when they pulled out the hook, it did not have fish on it but a bunch of Islands. That is how the Hawaii Islands were formed.

Analysis

Like any other Legend, this legend invites negotiations about believe. As Ryan told my conversation with him, it is true that there was once a navigator called Maui who is credited for the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. However, it is completely unrealistic for him to have pulled the islands with his hook. In a way, the legend puts that historical information into a more interesting and fascinating narrative that is – in most cases – orally passed on from generation to generation. There are always passive and active bearers of the legend. Once passive bearers later become active bearers, which keeps the tradition going, and saving the legend’s existence. Like any other legend, the Maui legend builds group identity. By that, I mean that passive or active bearers of the legend often share some kind of identity. It might be tradition, ethnicity, or vicinity; but somehow they share some common aspect. In this particular case, it is most likely to be that they are Hawaiians.

Like any other surviving legend, the Maui legend must have some cultural significance – otherwise it would probably not survive. My best guess is that the legend defines gender roles. As we can see in the legend, Maui (a boy) and his brothers have to leave their home to go fish in the ocean. Though there is no mentioning of any female character in the legend, my best guess is that they are left home at home when the boys or men go to work.  In essence, I think the legend defines the role of a man as the one supposed to go hunting for the family.

Saying – USA

“Make it rain”

I first heard this statement a few years ago from a friend of mine. One of my friends and I were having a conversation about taking our girlfriends out. Of a sudden, this kid asked us if we were going to “make it rain” on them girls. I did not understand what he meant by that. I asked him to explain it to me. He said that to “make it rain” is basically spending money on a girl.

Since then, I too started using the statement to mean that I am taking my girlfriend out. I think Hip-Hop music listeners use this slang more often than anyone else. There is even a song by Fat Joe and Lil Wayne called “make it rain.” In the video, Lil Wayne and Fat Joe basically have stacks of cash, which they keep throwing at the girls in the video. In essence, I think to “make it rain” means to spend money on women. I also think it is more of a misogynist talk.

Analysis.

Personally, I have heard this statement being used a couple of times. Particularly, I heard it being used in a song make it rain – a song by Fat Joe.   I like the way Anthony describes the slang but his description does not seem to coincide with the one given in Mo’ Urban Dictionary: Ridonkulous Street Slang. In the dictionary, Peckham describes to “make it rain” as basically having a stack of money in a strip club and throwing it all over women (page 162). Anthony’s explanation might not be exactly similar to the one given in the dictionary, but it does not mean it is wrong. That is the nature of folklore. It is always available for grabs. That is why one can find a folk racist joke being performed in a movie and at the same time being used in an advertisement.

I have even heard people use this slang in a sexual context. A friend of mine used it when talking about a pornographic movie he had just watched. He said; Simon made it rain on her.” By that, he actually meant that Simon ejaculated all over her. What we are seeing here is that different people to mean different things can use the same phrase. That means; to understand what is being meant, one has to understand the lore used by certain folks. In essence, one has to be in that folk group.

Annotation: “Make it rain.” Mo’ Urban Dictionary: Ridonkulous Street Slang. First ed. 2007.

Game – USA

Children Nose Game – America

I first learned the nose game from my cousin when we were little kids. We played the game whenever an older person like my mother had assigned a chore. Basically, we used the nose game to decide the person to perform the chore.  Other than my family members, I do not remember seeing anyone else play the nose game. Although, my friend Grant once told me that he played it with his brothers at their house. I actually never tried to find out the origin of the game and why it was played that way. However, since my family mostly plays it, I like to think it is my family’s game.

The nose game goes like this: – “As soon as a chore is assigned, everyone around touch their noses as quick as possible. The last person to touch the tip of their noses is obligated to accomplish the chore. However, in some occasions, the fastest person to touch the tip of their noses would actually do the work.” I do not know why the rules of the game changed from the first person not to do the work to actually him doing it.

However, I believe it was because some individuals were too quick to touch their noses and might never have done any work. Therefore, it was a way of catching them.

Analysis

When Jordan was telling me about the nose game, it made not much sense to me. However I do know that there must be a reason behind its existence. Apart from being used as a method to find a person a particular task, I think the game is part of Jordan’s family culture. It is part of their folklore. It is part of what defines who they are. That is perhaps the one best reason behind the games existence in Jordan’s family. The game might sound and seem ridiculous but its subsistence that conveys some sort of relationship in Jordan’s family.

Just knowing the game might be enough to be considered a member of this family. That is how strong folklore can be. People always talk about bloodlines as a way of relating people, but folklore is equally important. Folklore like Jordan’s family folk children game can create a strong relationship between different people.  It is because folklore seems to pass on from generation to generation-through passive and active bearers. Therefore, no matter how much sense I can make of it, this folk game has a social importance in Jordan’s family. The game can make Jordan’s family to identify with each other.

Counting-Out Rhyme – Kampala, Uganda

Baganda Children Counting

Ding Ding Donge

Ding Ding Dong

Waliwo   Afuuye  Naduuka  Emisinde

Someone farted     and run    a run

Omwana wa   Obote

Child        of   Obote

Atambula Awuunya        Nekiibi                         Mu   Mpale

Walks       smelly      with human waste               in     pants

Charles had this to say about the game. “I and several other kids played this game when we were still little kids living in Kampala, Uganda in the late 80’s. We always played it after smelling a foul smell or after hearing a sound of someone breaking wind. Basically, someone (always an older member of a group) would attempt to find the guilty person using this rhyme. He or she would count from child to child with each word of the rhyme. The last counted individual at the end of the song would be deemed guilty.  After supposedly locating the guilty party, everyone else would laugh at them as well as calling them “Child of Obote.” That often caused the supposedly guilty child to cry. In general, the game had to be played once. However, sometimes it would be repeated if the supposedly guilty party protested the verdict. Only Luganda speaking children played this game. Older people who often joined in making fun of the guilty individual supported it.” When I asked who Obote was, Charles said he was a former president of Uganda who was unpopular among most Baganda people because he exiled their king.

Analysis

When Charles was telling me this rhyme, it meant no sense to me at all. However, when I critically analyzed it, it started making sense. I figured out some morals in the Baganda culture. First and foremost, I figured that it is considered immoral to fart in public. I say so because of the fact that; after playing the game and finding out who had done it, all kids would laugh so loud and make fun of the guilty party. If farting were not immoral in this culture, then I would not think that this rhyme would end in someone crying. Therefore, I think the rhyme was formulated to help teach children to control their bodily emissions.

Apart from that, I also figured that this rhyme had a political message it passed on the kids. In a way, this rhyme is divisive since Obote was an unpopular president among the Baganda. Hence, I would say that parents use support this rhyme to instill hatred for Obote in their children. The question would then be; why is it still being used after Obote’s death? Well, I think it is used more as a campaign against Obote’s political party. I would not be surprised to hear that Baganda children do not support the party to which Obote belonged. This is because they grow up associating Obote to something immoral (farting). Last but not least, I think that this rhyme teaches children to respect elders. I say so because it is always the older kid in the group who performs the rhyme.