Author Archives: monje

Legend of Pele

Context: TC is a 22 year old senior at USC, she is also a coworker. T was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii  and is really familiar with a lot of legends. During our break at work I decided to ask her about any known legends she’d like to share with me. There were other people in the break room which created the atmosphere of storytelling and interest was sparked among the other individuals. We all gathered around her while people ate their snacks.

YM: So tell me about this legend of Pele 

TC: Well I’ve heard different things for the story of Pele, but I tell you the one my grandma use to tell me about  

YM: oh yeah ! tell me what you know 

TC: okay so there’s this  legend about this lady in white who haunts or inhabits this one highway called the Pali Highway…. Uh there many variations of this story, depending on which Hawaiian island.  Apparently she is the ancient Hawaiian volcano goddess named Pele. If you are driving down this highway…which is a one lane highway through a dense forest, and very often deserted and you see a lady in white, you are supposed to pick her up and take her wherever she asks to go, otherwise…you’ll have bad luck for the rest of your life? I don’t know … I guess because she owns the land.  Also for some reason if you drive down this highway with any pork in your car, your car will break down, unless you throw out the pork. And, do not take lava rocks home. It apparently angers Pele, and there are “stories” of people who have had a lot of bad things happen to them like the loss of a family member or bad accidents.

YM: did your grandma ever tell you why you’re not supposed to take the lava rocks home or about the pork ? 

TC: Well she would say that the lava rocks are a creation of Pele the volcano goddess, so I think if you take them you take something that is hers and doesn’t belong to you. But I always thought it was because you take the land of the islands. The entire islands are made from lava. We’ve had our land taken from us so I think it’s symbolic to that and uh Yeah I don’t know about the pork….It was just kinda like a given that you’re just not supposed to do that

YM: wow, interesting. Do you believe in this legend ? 

TC: I mean I do and I don’t. I’ve gone through this highway many times and nothing has happened to me, but there are real people from my town who swear things have happened to them. I guess I also see Pele as like a mother or protector of the island so in that sense I kinda do believe in her legend

YM: Yeah I see how she would have a symbolic meaning to you 

TC: Yeah I remember being scared as a child but not anymore… I like knowing there’s this woman who is not to be messed with or disrespected and that we should also respect her land 

YM: thats awesome 

Background info: T shared that her grandmother would always tell stories at the dinner table. The legend of Pele was the most popular throughout the years. She grew up listening to stories about Pele and remember being scared as a child. But as she grew older she realized that it was more about honoring and respecting  their goddess rather than fearing her.  

Analysis: This legend seems to encourage the people of the islands of Hawaii to honor their Gods. I would believe the fear inflicted in their everyday lives by the lady in white seems to encourage them to respect the mother  and protector of their island. This seems to be a religious or otherwise spiritual legend that inclines towards myth. The story is essentially a mythic truth that relates to larger works. In this case it’s the story of the mother and protector of Hawaii. As well as a cosmogenic story of how Hawaii was created. It definitely imbukes meaning and is a sacred narrative that the people of Hawaii should believe in otherwise it will bring you bad juju. 

Honi Ihu/ Honi Honi (Hawaii Custom)

Context: KS was born and raised in Hawaii. She’s a really close friend of mine and is a senior at USC, studying psychology . I went over to her place one day and I asked her about some customs in her culture. She told me about honi ihu/ honi honi while she cooked dinner. 

YM: So what is a big custom you and your family have ? 

KS: Theres honi ihu/ honi honi which is just a hug and kiss on the cheek..both people at same time…that comes from the old belief of sharing the ha or breath of life

YM: Can you tell me about the breath of life in your culture?

KS: When I was young my auntys side of the family would always say honi honi and then proceed to do the mutual kiss on the cheek..honi means kiss

KS:I learned in school that this comes from the older tradition of touching noses and taking a deep breath when you meet people..this is called sharing the ha/ha which means breath

YM: What does it mean to you?

KS: To me when you greet someone with a honi honi it just expresses a genuine sense of both love and respect.

KS: I use it for family and close friends from there. It is a gesture that was taught to me by my mom, aunty and grandma..Hawaiian side.. that also makes me feel closer to them and other people from Hawaii 

KS:Since this is not how you greet people in American culture…it is a sort of bonding activity?…like I usually want to greet people with a hug because that is just how I was raised…. the whole handshake concept was very strange to me at first

YM: Awww that is so beautiful, thank you for sharing 

Analysis: I thought this was a beautiful custom. From what KS told me this custom was updated throughout the years, going from a touching nose to greet to mutually kissing both cheeks with a hug. The custom is practiced this way because the purpose of the customs is to share the breath of life. This belief and custom is similar to the eskimo kiss called kunik and the Maori greeting called the hongi where people actually touch noses to greet each other. It’s interesting how this culture decided to adapt or change up their greeting throughout the years. Either way kissing both cheeks and hugging is definitely a more intimate way to greet one another compared to American culture where a handshake is sufficient to greet someone. It seems this custom serves to create a bonding experience and well as promote more unification within the culture.  *****

For another version of this custom, please see pg 407 of Marriage Customs of the World: An Encyclopedia of Dating Customs and Wedding Traditions, 2nd Edition [2 volumes]: Volume 1, Edition 2, by George P. Monger

Red River Valley Folk song (lullaby)

Context: Context: SF is a USC sophomore studying journalism and he’s also my classmate in Anthropology class. I decided to have a zoom meeting with him and talk about some folklore from vermont. 

YM: Tell me some folklore 

SF: My mom use to sing a lullaby that her pops sang to her 

YM: Let’s hear it, how does it ? 

SF: Down in the valley, valley so low

Hang your head over, hear the wind blow  

Hear the wind blow blow 

Hear the wind blow

Hang your head over, hear the wind blow  

YM: Aww thats nice, do you know where it comes from ?

SF:I think it’s from the south west.. It’s definitely a folk song

YM: Does it have a name ?

SF: Yeah it’s called Red River Valley

YM: Awesome

Background info: SF was born and raised in Vermont. He’s from Irish, Scotish and German descent  and for the first years of his life his mom sang him a folk song to go to sleep. 

Analysis: This sounds like a typical soothing lullaby one would sing to a baby. It also runs in the family, SF’s mother who sang it to him used to hear it from her father and I imagine he also heard it from a parent. After having done some research this is a folk song  that goes by two names: Down in the valley, and Birmingham Jail. The song is an american folk song and a ballad. It’s interesting that this was passed down as a lullaby in SF’s family. The origin of the song is said to come from a Guitarist named Jimmie Tarlton who was incarcerated in an Alabama jail in 1925. Like all folk songs, the lyrics are sometimes changed depending on the artist that decides to record. For examples instead of using, “Hang your head over, hear the wind blow, “ artists have used, “Late in the evening hear the train blow.”  ****

For another version of this song, please visit, https://www.balladofamerica.org/down-in-the-valley/

Ohia and Lehua

Context: TC is a 22 year old senior at USC, she is also my coworker. T was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii,  and is really familiar with a lot of legends of Hawaii. During our break at work I decided to ask her about any known legends she’d like to share with me. There were other people in the break room which created the atmosphere of storytelling and interest was sparked among the other individuals. We all gathered around her while people ate their snacks.

YM: So who are Ohia and Lehua? 

TC: They were young lovers. But one day Pele; she’s a volcano goddess. She met Ohia and decided that she wanted him for herself. But he rejected her so this upset Pele, she then turned him into an ugly twisted tree. Lehua pleaded to pele to turn him back but pele ignored her pleas. The other gods felt sorry for the young girl so they turns her into a beautiful red flower on the tree so the two lovers never had to be apart again

TC:Legend says that as long as the flowers remain in the tree, that the weather is sunny and fair. But when a flower is plucked from the tree, rain falls like tears as lehua cannot handle being separated from her love, ohia

YM: Does Ohia and Lehua represent a specific tree? Or is it any tree? 

TC: Oh yeah its a tree called ‘Ohi’a lehua haha just like their names 

YM: Do you believe this story, what are your thoughts about it ? 

TC: Yes, It’s a love story about lovers who can’t be together but in the afterworld they are together? Pretty much saying that in the end, love conquers all despite all forces trying to break It apart. Whether it’s people or just life.

YM: I believe that

Background info: TC shared that her grandmother would always tell stories at the dinner table. The legend of Ohia and Lehua was popular throughout the years. Most of the stories her grandmother told her had Pele, the volcano goddess that was considered the protector and creator of the island. She grew up listening to stories to appreciate the trees and plants more. Caring for the earth and believing that they have a spirit or are alive is important to T and her family, knowing that nature is alive reminds them that they should care for it. 

Analysis: Although this is a legend of Ohia and Lehua, this story points more towards nature mythology, an allegory of natural processes. The two loves are obviously a representation of nature and their separation is the natural process when the seasons change. Lehua is the official  flower of the island of Hawaii, it seems fit to have a story  for it. It is also recognized as Pele’s flower; it seems appropriate to include the protector and creator of the island.  This myth also holds a significance that TC mentioned, “love conquers all despite all forces trying to break It apart. Whether it’s people or just life.” Which I think is true and this story is perfect to send that message across. 

Sindhi Folk Song Wah Wah Sindhi Wah Wah

Context: RP is a really close friend of mine. She currently lives in san francisco and works at Google. I decided to facetime her and ask her about any folklore. She is fascinated with songs and dancing and told me about this sidhi folk dance. 

YM: So tell me about this folk song

RP: When I was in India, I used to really enjoy dancing and listening to the Sindhi songs. Basically, they all are about being grateful to the Sindhu god – Jhulelal…And each caste in India has its own state. But Sindhi, our caste does not. Sindh, this state lies in Pakistan, since the India-Pakistan partition…I, at times, listen to these songs when I am here in the US, because I miss it so much. One of the songs is “Wah wah sindhi wah wah” which actually means Sindhis are the best, also it paragraphs detail about the specific traits of sindhi culture. I personally love hearing this one, since it reminds me of our Sindhi culture. 

RP: Also sindhu language is written like Urdu, starts from the bottom corner of the last page, in the reverse direction.

RP:  Basically the sindhi/Sufi songs have deeper meanings which make you realize how vast the universe is and to be grateful.

YM: In your culture what does this song signify? 

RP: I feel this song symbolises the pulse-beat of the nation you could say.. Like the consciousness of the Sindhi people that it manifests in this song or any other Sindhi song. The song has a spirit and you know it has life and vitality and it represents the people 

YM: That’s beautiful

Background info: RP was born and raised in Pakistan, she identifies herself as Indian and Sindhi folk songs have always been her favorite growing up. Sooner or later she plans  to go back to India, because she wants her kids to learn and imbibe the sindhi culture, which will be very difficult If she plans her future here. 

Analysis: This song seems to represent the culture of the Sindhi people. It is folk song and music that is ethno, meaning it is outside of westorn music (foreign musicology.) Sindhi songs and music are usually danced predominantly with your hands, not much leg movement is done. It appears to also represent the consciousness of the nation as a whole, I imagine that when sindhi songs are danced or heard one experiences a sense of identity and individuality. And of course it is a form of self expression for Sindhi people. 

Flat Chopsticks

Context: MC is a Vietnamese undergraduate student at USC. She’s currently studying cinematic arts and is my friend. One day when we were hanging out I asked her if she had any beliefs she and her family followed. 

YM: So what are some beliefs or superstitious things you and your family follow? 

MC: Well a big one is that when we use chopsticks we always lay them flat when we aren’t using them. if they’re vertical that kind of means you’re offering to feed the spirits

YM: can you give more insight about the chopsticks belief ? Do you happen to know why this belief came about ?

MC: When we worship our ancestors, it’s tradition to bring them food like the dia de los muertos altar 

MC: So we stick chopsticks vertically to signal that it’s for the spirits…and they say not to do that in everyday life to not signal them if we aren’t actually offering it. 

YM: Would something bad happen if you were to leave your chopsticks vertical when you aren’t using them ? 

MC: Hmm I’m not sure, I dont think it’s bad as a spirit will try to haunt you but maybe you’ll invite spirits into your home because you’re offering to feed them, and no one wants spirits in their home !…. it’s just one of those things you aren’t supposed to do

YM: Yeah right ! so you believe this? 

MC: I don’t really believe it but since its tradition I still follow it 

Background info: MC identifies herself as Mein and she grew up following this belief, which was told by her mom and grandma. 

Analysis: It seems this folk belief sets up the way the Lu Mein people think about the world. Having done some research during a funeral one leaves the chopsticks upright because it’s a way to portray the ritual of incense burning which symbolizes feeding the dead or death in general. As well as belief, laying your chopstick flat is also a form of etiquette (custom) when eating. This belief and custom also seems to be liminal since it’s in between this world and the spiritual world. Since it has to do with the dead or death itself, not following this etiquette may bring bad luck. 

Chinese New year

Context: XZ is a 25 year old from Wuhan China. She is a graduate, international student at USC studying marketing and communications. She is also my friend and coworker. I decided to call her and ask her how she and her family celebrate New years. 

YM: Tell me about your new years

XZ: Our new year is lunar New Years

YM: What do you guys do for new years? How do you guys celebrate ? 

XZ: The “year” in Chinese is actually a monster, so on New year eve, the family will gather around, the elder will give children a red envelope with money because that money is called “ya sui qian” meaning: suppress evil; and when the new year come, every family will shoot off firecrackers to scare the “year” monster away

YM: that’s interesting.. Where did this monster come from ? 

XZ: So some say it came from deep sea and the others say it lives inside the mountain

YM: when do you guys celebrate again?

XZ: our official celebration starts from Lunar new year eve and will last until Lunar year’s January 15th

YM: Do you believe in this monster, what are your personal thoughts? 

XZ: Personally I don’t believe it, and most of Chinese don’t believe it. Maybe little kids will…like western kids believe in Santa. But all the traditions are around the story, and I love the family getting together and applying those customs makes me feel a sense of the sacred to mark closure and restart. Although the government  has banned firecracker because it causes to much air pollution and sound pollution, which I actually agree with it… and I believe receiving red envelope is all kids favourite part, friends sometimes compete with each other to see who received the most of money

YM: aww that’s really nice, thank you for sharing 

Background info: XZ has celebrated Chinese New Years since she was a child, and even now that she’s been far away from home she still celebrates. She’s from Yiyang in Hunan Province, China. 

Analysis: XZ’s new year seems to be based on a Chinese legend about a monster named Nian who would terrify the villagers and eat children at the end of the lunar year. The new year’s celebration seems to be about defeating this monster and starting a new year free of a ferocious monster. This legend seems to bring a symbolic meaning for chinese new year, like XZ mentioned for her its a “sense of the sacred to mark closure and restart.” From my research in the story when an old man got rid of the monster, red papers, firecrackers, and candles were found. This is why new years are celebrated with red envelopes and the firecrackers. I find it really interesting how in Chinese culture new year one celebrates the defeat of something that was bringing calamity to the land, whereas American new year one celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. One is based on a legend and the other is based on a religious myth. 

Not Everything Is About You

Context: AH is a 26 year old from Karnataka, India. He is a graduate, international student studying environmental engineering. He is also a really good friend of mine. I asked him to tell me some folklore while we had lunch one day. 

AH: Back home we say “kumbalakai kalla andre, hegalu mutti nodikonda”

Translation: “When we said the pumpkin is stolen, he checked his shoulder”

YM: what do you mean ? 

AH: Well there’s the saying “When somebody shouted Pumpkin Thief, the person who heard it, touched his shoulders to check if that person was referring to him!’

AH: This idiom is used for “People who are usually in the habit of assuming that everything said or done is referring to HIM/HER only!!”.. These people just assume everything is pointing towards them even though the person did not mean or refer anything to them. These kinds of people make a ‘Hue and Cry’ over nothing, build a mountain out of ant-hill and thus make fools of themselves 

AH: it’s a common proverb used

YM: that is interesting, and why a pumpkin ? 

AH: It’s just a story.. They wanted something heavy a person would carry.. So a pumpkin was used. The story is from simpler times, ruled by kings. When these petty thefts were common.. If it was something lighter, he wouldn’t have to carry it on the shoulder

AH: So, the proverb to make sense they just added pumpkin as a logical assumption

YM: that makes sense, what are your thoughts on it ? 

AH: I think it’s a good proverb to point out those people that need to get their act together… I also think it’s used to point out the guilty conscience in a person. As in, he touched his shoulder because he stole it…

AH: In our generation generally will use it to mock someone, it’s like saying “GOTCHA”, when you find your friend is guilty of something, and is not disclosing it

Background info: AH heard this from his parents growing up and would use it with family and friends. 

Analysis:  I agree with the interpretations AH gave about the proverb. I don’t think the proverb is necessarily about giving advice but rather about pointing something out or calling someone out. It is more of an indirect way to expose someone for something they have done. In this case it seems to be a metaphorical phrase.  Personally, I haven’t heard of any proverbs that are similar to this one in the common everyday language. However, there is a quote by Plato that similarly touches the concept, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” 

Champ

Context: SF is a USC sophomore studying journalism and he’s also my classmate in Anthropology class. I decided to have a zoom meeting with him and talk about some folklore from vermont. 

SF: Vermont has this big lake named Lake Champlain which is the next biggest lake after the great lakes.. Between vermont and new york

SF: People believe there is this dinosaur or sea monster named champ living at the bottom of the lake because there have been a bunch of sightings… uh and like some very fake pictures.. But you know people like to believe 

SF: And uh yeah the local baseball team is named after him and they’ve scanned the lake for it but um I don’t think they’ve found anything yet

YM: They’ve actually scanned it ? 

SF: Yeah they scan like part of it, it’s really murky and for a really long time it was really badly polluted by paper mills.. So there’s a lot of algae blooms and it’s really hard to see in it which is kinda disgusting but also adds to the mystery of it 

SF: It’s supposed to be like yeah kinda the same humps in the water and then the head, loch ness sorta vibe.. Big dinosaur

YM: Do you know of anyone who claims to have seen it ?

SF: My cousin and I thought we saw it but we were like seven hahaha 

YM: ahahah awww

SF: It was definitely a stick.. The people are into it.. It’s a cool story to have.. But uhh yeah no proof yet

YM: who did you hear this from 

SF: My grandparents actually lived by the lake and they told me about it when I was a kid… but it’s very prevalent in the community and you’ll see little cartoon drawings of it in Burlington which is the main city, every now and then

Analysis: Champ is a mythical creature that lives at the bottom of Lake Champlain, it seems to be an important part of the community since a lot of people believe in this lake monster to the point where the lake has actually been scanned. There have been more than three hundred sightings of this creature since 1609. Real or not it has definitely been something that distinguishes Vermont, since not all states have a “20 ft long serpent, thick as a barrel.” The belief in this creature has also been passed down for generations and has even created a revenue generating attraction since the local baseball team uses it as their mascot. After some research, there is even a “champ day” on the first saturday of every August. It’s clear that this monster brings a sense of identity and representation for people in Vermont. 

Vermont Maple Syrup Foodway

Context: SF is a USC sophomore studying journalism and he’s also my classmate in Anthropology class. I decided to have a zoom meeting with him and talk about some folklore from vermont. 

YM: Tell me some folklore 

SF: Oh! Every year we have a food way 

SF: So maple syrup is massive in vermont, right ? because we have a lot of maple trees and maple forest. It the second biggest producing region behind Canada quebec, just cause its bigger um but we have the highest density per capita

SF And uh there’s this big tradition called sugaring which is the process of tapping trees and getting maple syrup.. And you have to do it at the right time of year because it needs to be cold at night and then during the day.. so the sap can melt and flow down the lines 

Sf: You have to collect a massive amount, maybe 60 gallons of sap for one gallon of syrup.. And then you just sit in this shareshack.. And you just sit there and boil it for a really long time 

SF: Basically an excuse to hang out.. Kinda like ice fishing .. with some buddies or something like that

SF: There’s this thing some people do when they’re sugaring, called sugar on snow.. Um that is you boil the sap beyond syrup but not all the way to sugar… and then while it’s still boiling hot and pretty thick you take it outside and you pour it on fresh snow and you take a stick and you stir it in the snow and it basically turns to maple syrup taffy

SF: And it’s so amazing tasting because it’s just sugar.. It’s just a really fun thing to do when you’re a kid or when you’re hanging out in the cold

YM: That’s really cool!

SF: And you know we are legit because trader joes sells vermont maple syrup

YM: hahaha.. So you grew up doing this? 

SF: haha yeah with buddies we would tap trees

Analysis: The making of maple syrup seems to be exclusive to Vermont and the practicing of sugaring is a form of socializing. It forms identity and cohesion within a community and the state. It is a tradition as people like SF grew up doing this to spend time with friends and family. The making of maple syrups is important in defining the culture, environment, geography and history of Vermont.