USC Digital Folklore Archives / Myths
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Folk Beliefs
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Legends
Myths
Narrative

The Shark

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s):  

Age: 55

Occupation: Banker

Residence: California

Performance Date:-4-15- 18

 

 

What it is: The Shark

“One evening when we were at a traditional Hawaiian Luau, you would’ve been around seven, we met a very nice man. He was showing us how to catch fish with this massive net… throw it over one shoulder, a bit in your mouth, then toss it into the water. Anyway, we got talking and he shared with us a legend, one that he believed to be true, something he claimed to have witnessed. He told us: ‘One day my grandmother walked to this pier just outside of her house with a bucket of fish and be greeted by a shark. She ended up feeding the shark. The next day, sure enough the shark was back. Everyday, she would walk to this pier and feed the shark, telling me this is my ohana, this is my mana, when I asked her why she was feeding the shark. The last time we ever saw the shark was the day she died.’”

Why they know it:  Robert knows this legend because of the man who was working at the luau, who told him the story.

When is it said: This was conversed because he and Rob gained a deeper connection throughout the day. This was a symbol of trust between the two men.

Where did it come from: Maui, Hawaii

Why it’s said: This is not typically stated but when it is, it represents the Hawaiian’s strong ties to their ancestors and their appreciation for their island and all that live there.

How they know it and what it means: The man that was talking to Rob at the traditional luau had personally witnessed these events and talked to his grandmother about it.

Thoughts: I personally really like these types of legends. The ones that you read and think, oh they’re with they’re family now, or they’re in a better place. Having gone through a similar situation myself I understand that connection to something. While I am not sure if the shark was actually the same shark or if the events above were purely coincidence, I choose to believe that it was the same shark and it was her mana. Hawaiian culture is all about their connection to the land and to their ancestors and in doing so they have created, continued these beautiful traditions and legends.

Legends
Myths
Narrative

The Montage

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s):  French

Age: 52

Occupation: n/a

Residence: California

Performance Date: 3-23-18

 

What it is: Thy shall never prosper

In Kapalua Bay, on the west side of the Island of Maui, there is a legend about a plot of land. This specific plot has been the location of several hotels that have never seemed to be able to prosper. The land that is built upon was the ruins of a very famous battle, and is thus, sacred Hawaiian land. In the last decade alone, the hotel has changed hands three times. The Ritz Carlton had been there and has since changed hands and is currently the Kapalua Bay Montage Hotel.

Why they know it:  This is an island legend. Our family friends who live on the island have told us this before and it is now something that we always bet about. “I bet this one won’t last a year”, etc.

When is it said: This is something that is more talked about in passing or when it comes up. For example, “have you heard that the Ritz changed hands again? It’s because of the curse of the land.”

Where did it come from: Old Hawaiian Legend

Why its said: This doesn’t have much meaning other than it is meant to add context to current situations. It is also often used to estimate how long the next development will last.

Thoughts: I don’t always believe in legends that affect the natural world to the extent this one does. However, I have personally witnessed this happen over the years. Thus, I believe that the ancient Hawaiian burial ground does in fact have the power to affect the natural world. Now, I am not sure if the power is magical or if it is a matter of psychological influence by the natives, on to the natives, and onto the tourists. None-the-less, this legend is something that has appear in mundane life. The legend above is also relatable to legends of similar sorts, such as haunted houses, the ‘evil witch’ of the neighborhood, specific plot of land, etc.

 

general
Myths

Baptism: They way to heaven

Main Piece: 

Bryan : A baptism is like um something your parents are supposed to do before you turn one. You have to um um get baptized when you are young so they can wash away all the sins away and you can start a Christian life. If your parents wait to get you baptized its pretty much like bad because um babies can get a lot of bad vibes and I just know something bad happens. This is why my mom would always tell my brother to not take out my niece to places far away because they can get sick and stuff. And then if you don’t get baptized they say you are no Christian and can’t do any of the communions or even a quincenera. They literally would make you get baptized so you can do everything else. So getting baptized is a must in my family.

 

Before you turn one year old, you need to get baptized. When you are born you need to get washed.

Context:  I arranged an interview with Bryan at a Starbucks. It was loud and their seemed to be a business meeting a few tables away. Bryan was talking loudly so I could hear. Background: Bryan was born in Guatemala but came to the Unites States when he was a baby. He was raised in a predominately Hispanic community. He is currently attending California State Long Beach where he is studying Philosophy  Analysis: Bryan’s version of a common religious practice is informal and vague; however, it still shows a common myth. Although, it is not completely sacred to Bryan, you can tell by the manner in which he spoke about the subject that it is taken with seriousness by his parents and the church. This part of the religious belief influenced the manner in which my mother took care of a child. It also influenced the churches decision in not allowing anyone to practice the catholic religion without being baptized first.

Legends
Myths
Narrative

The Legend of The Cousin Who Survived the Holocaust in a Cave

“Okay so the story of—for me anyway, goes back to a time when I had to move out of my studio on sixteenth street and… uh… I was moving a lot of books and two letters fell out of one of the books I was moving. I’d received them a long time before that from my mother, or really not from my mother, my sister had written the letters because my mother didn’t write english, and so my sister would always write these letters for her. The first letter was about her nephew, the only survivor actually of her entire family in Poland; the rest of them had been murdered. And he had managed to survive by escaping into the forest before the Germans were able to get him. And, uh, miraculously he, in the next year, he managed to work his away across all of europe to northern Italy. And he’d met a young woman on the way who already had a child, whose husband had been murdered. But this woman and her child and he found a cave in northern Italy where they lived for over two years. They had a child in the cave, and I saw this child, actually, because, when they were going to Toronto—my mother had sort of uh brought them to Canada from Europe, to live in Toronto—and they were passing through New York on their way, and I met them one night at an uncle’s house. And they had this child who had been born in the cave, who looked to be about—still about—two years old, even though he was about five at the time. That first letter was my mother saying—after he got to Toronto, she got to know him—saying how awful it was out of all her relatives this one cousin, this one nephew, was the one who had survived, because he was lazy, he didn’t want to work, he… nothing made him happy, complaining all the time. My mother found him an apartment to live in and all of that, and a job—not a very good one—working in a factory pressing men’s clothes. And he hated that. That’s not what he came to Canada for. That’s what my mother was telling me in the first letter, what sort of man he was.
“The second letter was something that my sister had written about five years later and in it, my sister talks about the same nephew coming from Vancouver, with his wife and his two children and they were going to stay wit my mother, and she seemed to be overjoyed that he was going to stay for more than a week. What turned out was that—my sister explained this to me over the phone years before—whenever he came to Toronto he would visit and he would bring my mother a present, sometimes a jewel, and my mother really liked this. So I thought these two letters were kind of interesting. The story behind it was that, after being in Toronto for a short time, he and his wife and children just picked themselves up without a word, and they just went off and didn’t say anything, They disappeared. And about a month later, my mother got a letter from him saying that they’d decided to go out to Vancouver to try their luck out West. And what he did when he got out to Vancouver—he had heard somehow through the survivor grapevine I guess—that this very wealthy Jew in Vancouver was getting set to auction some land that he owned on the outskirts of the city. And he was a builder and he was very wealthy, okay. So my cousin went to this auction in Vancouver and, not having any money, he bid and won the bid on this land. He had no money, you know, he had no money. Of course, he was confronted by this wealthy man, and the first the he did was of course, to start telling him his life story—how he had escaped the Germans, and lived in a cave, and had a child in the cave—and at the end of the story, this man agreed to let him have the land, and he would help in in any way he could. So by the time this second letter reached me, this nephew of my mother’s had become a rather prosperous builder in Vancouver. He owned a couple of apartment houses and was sending both of his boys through college—one of them became a doctor and one of them became a lawyer. So there’s a great story about the Survivors. They had the guts and the chutzpah to do something, you know? He was a remarkable person to have been able to do something like that… End of story.”

I asked my informant for any stories he knew. Most were rather contemporary and even the ones from his childhood seemed much more personal than folk. However, a couple of factors, I believe, help this one qualify as a legend. First, there are the number of steps of removal. Although my informant uses two letters to frame his story, it is unclear whether the bulk of the narrative was actually communicated through those. More likely, it seems to have come through a chain of communication, from the cousin, through his mother, and sister, to him. The uncertainty of its facts qualify it as a legend. Did this cousin actually escape the Holocaust, immigrate to Canada with two sons, and become wealthy in Vancouver? Almost certainly. Did he really live in a cave during his escape? Likely. Was it for two whole years? Maybe. Was he actually given a fortune in property for free just by telling his story? It’s possible. And did he really have a child in the cave? That becomes a little more ambiguous. My informant even casts doubt on that claim through his description of the child looking three years younger that it should have been, had it actually been born in the cave. More important than the facts, however, is that this makes a good story to tell, that supports a pride among the Jewish-American community. My informant’s casting this tale as ‘miraculous’ even pushes towards the category of myth. And the number of times I have heard it repeated—normally in snippets—would support the argument that it has become a formative part of his family’s identity.

Myths
Narrative

Ganesha

  1. The main piece: The Myth of Ganesha

“Okay, the elephant headed god Ganesha is known as the remover of obstacles, and there’s an interesting story behind how he got the elephant head. So, there is a…when Lord Shiva, Shiva is married to goddess Parvati, and they had a…they had a son, but Shiva didn’t know. Yeah, so Parvati made a… she made a, you know, she made a baby out of clay, and gave it life. And so, that was her baby boy. Ganesha. And then her husband Shiva once came to her house while she was showering, and little Ganesha was outside, and she had told him not to let anyone in. Since Shiva doesn’t know this is Parvati’s son, and Ganesha doesn’t know Shiva is his dad…

“Ganesha says, ‘Mom told me not to let anyone in,’ and he stops him. After warning him, and the kid doesn’t listen, Shiva beheads him. And of course when Parvati comes out and sees him, sees her dear son Ganesha has been beheaded, she’s upset. And basically, how do you say it in English. She’s heartbroken at her husband, at what he did. And she says, ‘you will bring my son back to life.’

“Well, I don’t know why the other boy’s head wasn’t around. Maybe the head was destroyed. So basically Shiva goes in search of…he goes and finds a baby elephant, cuts off the head, and puts it on the boy, and that’s the elephant headed god Ganesha.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

Ganesha is one of the most important gods in Hinduism. The informant remarked that everyone in India, from small children to old men, would be able to recite this story, albeit varying versions. He said this myth is also the reason that the first prayer in a puja, or Hindu prayer session, is to Lord Ganesha. He learned the story from his mother and older brothers.

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This folk narrative doesn’t fit any of the narrative categories perfectly, but would be best classified as a myth. This story is sacred and revered because it describes the birth and creation of Ganesha, and sets up a mythological reason that Ganesha is always the first God to be praised during a puja. It includes some questionably fantastical concepts, such as Parvati creating her son out of clay and Shiva restoring the boy’s life with an elephant head, but as is characteristic of myths, the morals it imbues are more important than the technical truthfulness of the narrative.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged India-American male, who grew up in an urban setting in India with three siblings. While he moved to the United States over 30 years ago from India, many of his family members still live there, and he enjoys maintaining his links with them through his heritage and Hindu religion.

general
Myths

Medusa

The following informant is an 12 year old. In this account he is explaining who Medusa is and how is father used to tell them stories about her. This is a transcription of our conversation, he is identified as J and I am identified as K:

J: Our dad used to tell us the Medusa story. It’s about a women, like an evil evil women, and she has like… snakes for hair… and if you look in her eyes you turn to stone. And it happened to anyone that looked into her eyes, children, adults, anyone and you would turn to stone

K: That sounds like a scary story, how old were you?

J: He has been telling us this story for about like around 5 years old… and yeah it was more scary and had jump scares! He would tell us in a dark room and out of nowhere he would start tickling us. But it doesn’t scare me now.

K: Do you remember the story he used to tell?

J: Well no, he changes the details every time … but it always was about a women with snakes for hair that would turn you to stone if you looked in her eyes

Context: He and his sister took turns telling me stories

Thoughts:

This reminds me of the Oral Formulic Theory, in that for the story to be effectively scary, the character of Medusa needs to remain the same. By using the mythical being and changing the formulaic (little details) the dad was able to adapt the tale as his son got harder to scare.

For another version of Medusa, here is a clip from Percy Jackson & the Olympians – Medusa’s Garden https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPjZKKV37do

Humor
Myths
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Disneyland Folklore: The Jungle Cruise

Transcription: “At the end of every night, the Skippers yell, “Goodnight, Jungle Monster.” If you are a new skipper, you must throw a banana over the gorilla camp as a sacrifice. It used to be an actual garbage-panda-possum. Now, we think of it as a spirit…There is even a blog called, ‘Capturing the Jungle Monster’ where people can post stories about the Jungle Monster.” You also don’t want to scare the Jungle Monster by talking too loud or coming into your shift late. Whenever something bad happens on the ride, it is because someone angered the Jungle Monster.”

 

My informant used to be a cast member on Disney’s Jungle Cruise. As one of the park’s oldest rides, the attraction is associated with several forms of folklore. I asked my informant to describe the folklore. The ride takes visitors around to look at animatronic animals. However, the ride is also said to feature a specimen that is neither animatronic nor a visible. The creature is known as the Jungle Monster. Over the years, the myth of the Jungle Monster has varied. Originally, the creature was thought of as a hybrid animal, but the folklore has since evolved into spirit.

The folklore is lived out on a daily basis when at the end of each day, one lucky cast member gets to whisper goodnight to the Jungle Monster. My informant mentioned that saying goodnight to the Jungle Monster was seen as a privilege because it demonstrated seniority. The myth of the swamp monster has also become an initiation ritual. When a new skipper is added to the team, he or she must throw a banana into the gorilla camp as a sacrifice to the Jungle Monster. Once the new skipper completes this task, they have become an official Jungle Cruise skipper.

As with other mythical subjects, the Jungle Monster becomes a way to explain the world, in this case, the Jungle Cruise. Whenever something Malfunctions on the ride, the skippers reason that someone must have upset the Jungle Monster. One can upset the Jungle Monster by lacking on their duties or forgetting to say goodnight.

Legends
Myths
Protection

Urraca Mesa

Transcription: “New Mexico is probably the most haunted state in America, especially Colfax County. I went camping at a ranch in Colfax County. The ranch and forest had a weird, eerie feeling. I felt like I was being watched at all times, like something was not right. When we were leaving, we passed this place called Urraca Mesa, which has the most lightning strikes in New Mexico. According to Navajo legend, Urraca Mesa has a gate to Hell. The Navajo also claimed the forest felt eerie…their shaman felt something was wrong and sent out warriors to investigate. They ended up at the Mesa and found a short, glowing being who claimed to be the last of the  Anasazi who mysteriously disappeared in 1500 BC. The Navajo brought the glowing creature back to their shaman. The last Anasazi told the Navajo that the Anasazi were fighting back the forces of evil at the gate of Hell. All the Anasazi went into Hell to stop the demons and save the rest of the world. The last Anasazi stayed behind to seal the gate and guard the entrance. He created cat totems to scare away magpies, which were prophesied to re-open the gate. The campsite was eventually closed because of all the sightings. People who go exploring the area claim to see a blue light that chases them if they get too close to the Mesa.”

This collection is noteworthy since my informant combined his own personal narrative experience with existing folklore. The story has various components and spans multiple timelines. The speaker began the story in present time, traced the narrative back to the Navajo, jumped even further back with the Anasazi plotline, then returned to present.

I doubt that the Navajo referred to the Mesa as the gate to “Hell.” Therefore, the speaker’s use of “Hell” to describe the portal to the underworld signifies his projection of his own Christian beliefs onto the story. In other words, he translated one element of the story into religious terms he understood. Despite his adaptation of the terminology, the speaker established the setting using elements that are familiar. For example, an “eerie feeling” is a common term associated with the supernatural, and lightning strikes identify the land as unnatural and filled with powerful energy.

This story can be classified as a legend since the it takes place in a real location, includes the legendary figure of the Anasazi, and relates to Native American religious legends. Both the Native American and Anasazi legends live on today as people visit the Mesa in search of a blue light.

 

Folk Beliefs
Humor
Myths
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Banana Boats

Main piece:

So, there’s this superstition about fishing – or, I guess it’s more about bananas. Where, if you have a banana on the boat, you’re not gonna catch any fish. And there’s all kinds of stuff related to this too… Like, if someone eats a banana right before going out? Or if you find the banana, there’s a certain way that you gotta get rid of it? But, yeah – it’s kind of ridiculous.

Context:

Superstition described by Randy Peffer at Boatswayne Yard in San Pedro, CA. Randy is a career seaman, educator, and writer.

Background:

This is a well-documented superstition among sailors. There is a novel explanation which is also commonly discussed alongside the myth. Boats carrying bananas generally moved the most quickly in an attempt to maintain their freshness. Therefore, sailors aboard trolling lines would be moving too quickly. Consequently, they would catch fewer to no fish.

Analysis:

Fishermen are superstitious and sailors are superstitious. It should come as no surprise then, that the overlap of these two groups has a seemingly arbitrary superstition like the Banana curse.

Myths
Narrative

Barn Monster

Main piece:

DM: You remember the Shed Monster story, right?

JH: You mean the one Zurbier or whatever his name told?

DM: Yeah! The Dutch fella that lived up the hill from you guys

JH: OH! Yeah, the Barn Monster. First time he told us was around the bonfire back behind my place. Scared me shitless.

DM: Do you think you can re-tell the story?

JH: Oh for sure! Yeah so we was around the fire, and Jos is a big ol’ Dutchy, right? Like – 6’8” or some shit. In a circle of Midwestern fellas, he looks like a fuckin’ giant. Has hands and teeth like one too. So he’s smokin’ a cigarette, Bud in hand callin’ us over to tell us a story and he goes points over at the pole barn a ways off and says, “Heard you boys been messin’ around in the barn recently after sundown”.

And of course you and me were, like, lookin’ around at my dad who knew damn well that we had been and we weren’t supposed to.

DM: Right, yeah.

JH: Anyway, Jos goes on and scares the shit out of us, right? Starts talkin’ about a shadow that can slide up walls and under doors about the size of a man. But he can change shapes and make the floor drop out from under you under the hay, too. He can trip you and touch you with a cold hand, and he moves from barn to barn on the New Moon. ‘Bout the scariest story I’ve ever heard. I don’t know that we went back in the polebarn for a year after that.”

Context:

Story originally told by Jos Zurbier in Decatur, IL.

Background:

Jos was a dutch, immigrant carpenter from the Netherlands. He fit in extremely well in rural, Southern Illinois.

Analysis:

This story reflects the Shadow Person motif which has been popularized in a variety of contexts. Similar stories describe a dark figure which does not speak, though Jos’ localization to the barn is particularly eerie. Additionally, most polebarns don’t have overhead lighting – meaning that shadows are cast by flashlights whenever someone enters them in the dark.

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