USC Digital Folklore Archives / general

The Number 4 in Vietnam

The following story is told by my old high school teacher regarding his life in Vietnam:

“My Buddhist friends will NEVER write the number 4 – not for any reason. Nothing is priced at 4 dollars, and nobody will accept 4 dollars for anything or give it in change. Some people don’t leave the house on the 4th, although that does not seem to have spread to the 14th or 24th much”

Analysis: He collected these observations overtime by living in Da Nang, Vietnam and making friends with the locals.  He completely immersed himself in Vietnamese culture and started getting involved at a local orphanage where he interacted with and financially supported children in the orphanage.  This helped him connect to Vietnamese culture and helped him learn first-hand of many of Vietnam’s folklore practices such as their superstitions regarding numbers by hearing stories from locals and observing everyday activities.  This piece of folklore serves as a classic example of number superstition in Vietnamese culture.  However, it is important to note that the superstition is only about the number 4 by itself; numbers that include the number 4 are fine.  It is interesting because the Chinese have a similar superstition about the evil of number four.  In both Vietnamese and Chinese, the number 4 in their respective languages is very similar to the word death in those languages.  This trend is also observed in other East Asian languages including Korean, Japanese, and Cantonese.


Bar Ghost Story

The following ghost story was told by a friend in a personal interview:

Interviewer: “Would you mind retelling me the story of when you detected those spirits in that bar in Washington?”

Shannon: “Of course! We had just gotten back to our hotel from a day-long horse show and wanted to get a drink so we decided to change and head into town to look for local bars.  We found this one dive bar near our hotel and went in to check it out.  There were no people in the bar but it was open and the bartender smiled at us as we walked through the creaky door.  Immediately I detected some paranormal activity”

Interviewer: “Have you ever detected paranormal activity before?”

Shannon: “Oh yes! Plenty of times! I can tell as soon as I walk in the door most times.  I have detected spirits during underground sewer tours, in old barns, houses, and even some kitchy little shops”

Interviewer: “So you were sure there was a spirit in that bar?”

Shannon: “Yes a chilling sensation overcame my body and I was immediately aware of another presence in the room.  However, I was not scared because something was telling me that the spirits were friendly”

Interviewer: “Something was telling you?”

Shannon: “Yeah I just had a gut feeling and in most cases my gut is not wrong.  So I asked the smily bartender if he had seen anything strange in the bar and his jaw dropped to the floor.  He said that every night before closing, he would turn all the bottles facing forward and clean up the bar.  When he would return the next morning, the bottles would all be spun around and various other things would be out of place like chairs that he had stacked the night before.  After reviewing the security camera footage it became clear that a human being did not mess with the bar and it was a supernatural entity”

Interviewer: “Were you ever scared of the ghost?”

Shannon: “Oh heavens no! I could tell that it was a younger spirit and perhaps he or she was just playing pranks on the living.  I’m sure the afterlife isn’t too exciting and so spirits create other ways to pass the time including messing with living humans”

Analysis:  Although I was skeptical of Shannon’s story at first, I believe she felt a spirit at that old bar.  There are a lot of common ghost story motifs in this particular ghost story including the old bar, security camera footage detecting the moving bottles but no human or ghost.  This is especially interesting because it is unlike any ghost stories because the spirit detected was identified as friendly and young; most ghost stories tell a ghastly tale of an evil spirit haunting a mortal human but this story remains upbeat and lighthearted as Shannon concludes the activity is just young, friendly  spirits goofing around.


Yiddish Proverbs

The following proverbs were recited by my grandfather:

“Whomever looks for easy work goes to bed very tired.”

“One fool makes a lot of fools.”

“Better the child to cry than the father.”

“Sorrow makes the bones grow thinner.”

“A meowing cat can’t catch mice.”

“We know when we start out; when we’ll return, we know not.”

‘Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.”

“Let God worry about tomorrow.”

“Don’t depend upon others — do it yourself.”

“The boaster gets stuck in the mud.”

Analysis: The proverbs my grandfather remembered were told to him by his mother at a young age and throughout his life she referenced them.  Growing up with a Jewish family, these proverbs are still very relevant in today’s society.  My mother and aunt normally provide me with a proverb while giving me advice much like my great-grandmother did with my grandfather.  These pieces of folklore are particularly interesting because they have remained mostly constant throughout history.  Previously, they were translated from Yiddish to English but some proverbs still contain Yiddish words that Jewish people still commonly use today.  This collection of proverbs all has themes of working hard, living in the present, and focusing on oneself rather than others.  These themes sound very familiar to me because my mother and grandmother try to give me similar advice today.  This is one of my favorite pieces of folklore because I knew about these proverbs before this class and it has personal relevance in my life.




Mauritius Sega

The following history is told by my friend I met on vacation this year from Mauritius Island:

“One of the biggest pieces of folklore in Mauririus is the art of dance!  Everyone dances in Mauritius, it’s our way of life!  Traditionally the people of Mauritius dance to Sega music which is music sung in our native language of Creole and play traditional instruments such as the ravanne, triangle, calebasse, and the maravanne. The ravanne is a percussion instrument that is made from a wooden hoop and a piece of goat skin stretched over the top.  The triangle is the same as the triangles we use in the United States and makes the same sound.  It’s a triangle shaped piece of metal.  The calebasse is a string instrument much like a guitar and the maravanne is a wooden box containing sand and seeds.  We use these instruments and the songs of our people in our language to create beautiful music the whole island dances to.  Originally the Sega was sung by slaves, but since then we have preserved our culture and turned it into a musical celebration used to tell stories.  We use Sega dance to express our desire for joy and happiness while at the same time expressing the heartaches our people have experienced overtime.  I especially love Sega dancing because of the traditional costumes we wear.  The women wear long colorful skirts and the men wear open-neck shirts.  It’s truly a wonderful sight!”


Analysis:  Dance is an extremely important part of Mauritius Island culture and no traditional Mauritian celebration would be complete without Sega music.  The songs tell the deep history of the people and they dance to express themselves in present day life.  The dancing is African style with lots of movement in the hips.  This is an interesting piece of folklore because I love dance and believe music and dance is one of the purest ways a person can express themselves.  More information about Sega music and dancing can be found on the Republic of Mauritius’ government website proving how vital this piece of folklore is to the entire culture of the island.


Armenian Poem

The following poem was read to me by my friend’s Armenian grandmother first in Armenian, and then in English:


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Analysis: This poem written in the 1920s by Yeghishe Charents speaks to the beauty not only of the culture and land, but also of the language.  This is Mary’s (my friend’s grandmother) favorite poem that she heard from her mother growing up in Beirut, Lebanon.  The poem is beautiful in English but even more beautiful in its original language: Armenian.  This poem is a fantastic piece of folklore because it explains some of rich history of the Armenians and their land. It exemplifies Armenian national pride which is very big in the culture.  The poem touches on mournful traditional Armenian music which Armenians take pride in because it tells their long story of how they have persevered throughout history.

Folk medicine

Stone Circle Flower Essence as Medicine

In the following interview, a energy worker and herbal and flower essence specialist explains the significance of the stone circle flower essence:

Interviewer: “What are some of your favorite flower essences?”

Informant: “I find the stone circle flower essence to be quite powerful.  It places an aura of solid protection in the energy field so that one does not take on any unbalanced energy from the environment”

Interviewer: “Who do you recommend this essence to?”

Informant: “People and animals under a lot of stress that need balance in their life.  Especially people or animals who are ultra sensitive to the energy around them and therefore have a higher risk of getting hit with negative energy.  They have to be protected.”

Interviewer: “Who is an ultra sensitive”

Informant: “Your sister, for one.  She is very effected by her environment and the littlest thing could throw her off balance.  For example if a big storm came with a bunch of negative energy that could mess up her balance as well as if she got in a big fight with her parents or is stressed about school work.  Anything out of routine could potentially upset their balance.”

Interviewer: “So how should people like my sister take this flower essence?”

Informant: “I make it at home and it comes in a little dropper bottle.  It’s a liquid that can either be ingested or rubbed on the skin or hair”

Analysis: The informant learned all of her practices from her teacher who would prefer to remain anonymous who learned them from a teacher before her.  This folklore is especially important to me because it pertains to my sister.  I have first-hand seen the effects of this flower essence and how it has completely changed my sister’s personality.  She is more patient now and in control of her emotions.  Although there is a lack of scientific evidence, this remedy that has been passed down for generations seems to work at least in the informant’s experience.


Thet Mahachat

Thet Mahachat is one of the biggest festivals in all of east Asia celebrating one of Gautama Buddha’s past lives.  My old english teacher went to Thailand a few years ago to celebrate this festival and recalls his trip in an interview:

Interviewer: “What is the Thet Mahachat festival celebrating?”

Informant: “Thet Mahachat celebrates one of Gautama Buddha’s past lives, his reincarnation as Prince Vessantara Jataka.  When he was reincarnated as this prince, he was determined to be charitable in anyway possible and gave away all of this possessions.  Such a nobel spirit is celebrated with parades, dance and drama performances.  Gautama Buddha is also honored with a sermon from all the monks from the Vessantara Jataka chapters.  Most Thai holidays were centered around a moral and in this case it’s highlighting the significance of charity”

Interviewer: “Did you listen to any of the monks’ sermons?”

Informant: “Unfortunately no, I did not get a chance to because I was distracted talking to a local about the festival and the dance performance we were watching.  It was incredible! They illustrated the whole story of Gautama Buddha’s rebirth into Vessantara Jataka and his life story.  My favorite part was during one of the drama performances when they brought out the elephants.  According to the Thai folklore, on the day of Vessantara Jataka’s birth, a white elephant was also born and brought rain to the land which was in a drought”

Analysis:  Although my old english teacher was unable to hear the words of the monks, he was able to immerse himself in the culture in other ways by just watching the festival on the street and interacting with the people.  His recollection of the Thet Mahachat festival highlights the main themes of the holiday which are charity and elephants.  Elephants hold a certain cultural significance in most East Asian cultures, but specifically Thai culture and folklore.  The elephant from the story was said to have powers of bringing rain to the land and is regarded highly by the people of Thailand.  The motif of the elephant commonly occurs in Thai culture and can be seen at other holidays and festivals.  This piece of folklore seems incomplete to me because my teacher did not hear the monk’s sermon but is still quite valuable because it tells more about the Thai culture and how they celebrate.


El Familiar

The following Argentinian urban legend was told by my old high school history teacher:

“There are many urban legends in Argentina, my favorite being El Familiar.  According to the legend originating in the sugar plantation in Salta, Tuchman, and Jujuy, the Argentinian government was struggling economically which meant the sugar industry would take a big hit. However, the titans of the sugar industry found a way around their economic misfortune, by partnering with the Devil.  The Devil promised to protect the sugar industry from the failing economy in return for a yearly human sacrifice.  The sacrifice would be selected by the sugar industry and then dragged to the Devil in Hell by a decapitated black, rabid dog dragging a chain around its neck.  Legend has it, the dog still rabidly wander the sugar plantations searching for its next victim”

Analysis:  Although this is only a legend, it has increased religious practices of protection in the northern areas of Argentina.  The eminent threat of the Devil leads Argentinians to use rosaries or blessed crucifixes for protection.  This is one of my favorite pieces of folklore because I am very interested in urban legends.  Although they are never true, they have a great impact on the communities and culture around them.  In this case, the old urban legend has decreased unwanted activity in sugar plantations and increased religious faith in northern Argentina.



A rural area of India experienced a UFO sighting in 2002 my Grandfather remembers hearing about from his colleague who was living in India at the time.  In an interview with my grandpa he describes what his colleague remembers from the incident:

Interviewer: “How did your colleague hear about the UFO sighting?”

Informant: “He was was working in Mumbai at the time and so he didn’t see the UFO himself but most of the country heard about it.  They were all terrified that the Muhnochwa was going to come after them next.  He told me he heard it was spotted in Uttar Pradesh and that people there reported that it looked like a UFO but it was this thing they named a Muhnochwa that beamed red and green lights and swooped down from the sky trying to scratch people with its huge talons”

Interviewer: “Did he know anyone who saw the Muhnochwa?”

Informant: “He knew people who knew people who claimed they saw it and were scratched by the talons, and that’s where the chaos started.  People started panicking over something that only a handful of people claimed to see and there had been no other spottings since that incident.  People started taking preventative measures such as holding sermons to ward away evil and staying up all night to stand watch.  People stood around bonfires all night looking for the mysterious creature but it never showed again.”

Interviewer: “Why aren’t the people still worried about a potential attacks?”

Informant: “The police were able to convince the people that the attack was just a rumor, but I guess we’ll never know.”

Analysis: My Grandfather believes that life outside Earth is entirely possible which is why the story has an ominous tone because nobody is really sure what happened.  The only facts are that the country quickly turned to chaos when an unknown threat was detected and the community that was directly effected banded together to help solve their alien problem.  They turned to religion first to protect themselves, and then gathered weapons and fire to protect the community if another attack happened.  UFO sightings are not uncommon even today, but it’s the way in which communities respond to them which reveals most about that certain group.  I particularly like this piece of folklore because I too believe that life outside of Earth is possible and like to entertain the possibility.


Ecuadorian Food

Main Piece:

The Participant is noted as CM. I am marked as LJ.

LJ: What type of food is served at your parties back home?

CM: Before I used to live in the, uh, Ecuadorian neigborhood…before it got really gang infested….ha. But my mom used to cook a lot for the community. Um, but we have typical um rice, ensalada [salad]. And we have this thing called Ornado. Its like a leg of pork, but its like …its like the same way that you do rotisserie chicken, but with a leg of pork. And it has a lot of Ecuadorian spices. We also have this thing called fritada. Its fried pig fat, which is also a staple of Ecuador. We also have mote–its the grains that’s in pozole [Mexican chicken stew with hominy]. We mix it with different vegetables…and yea…

LJ: Haha thanks. Who is food cooked for?

CM: We have a lot of people who haven’t been able to visit Ecuador. And yea we make it for everyone who can’t go back.



I asked the participant to tell me about what it was like to grow up Ecuadorian in Chicago. She touched on parties and food–above is the food aspect of it.


The participant is of Ecuadorian descent and has lived in Chicago most of her life. She is, at the time of the recording, a first year student at the University of Southern California.


 This shows so much connection and love for her community. Food helps preserve the culture that was, in a way, left behind in Ecuador. It serves as not only a connection to the past, but also continues to transmit the culture from generation to generation as the children learn how to host these parties and cook the food.

It is reinforced by the idea that the food itself carries a lot of cultural meaning, especially for those that are disconnected from Ecuador.