USC Digital Folklore Archives / Signs
Folk Beliefs
Signs

Bad Dress Rehearsal, Good Opening Night

Main piece: Okay, so… if you have a terrible dress rehearsal- well, what I should say is, how your production does in its final dress rehearsal is supposed to be an indicator of how your first performance is. BUT if you have a terrible dress rehearsal, it means that you’re going to have a great opening night. And if you have a great dress rehearsal, it means you’re going to have a bad opening night.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Um… again it’s something that, this is a universal thing, this happens at all theaters. It’s universal knowledge. There wasn’t a specific instant where I realized that this is what everybody thought. It was something I just heard over and over. As I did more and more performances, it’s something I myself found more accurate. I think it makes a lot of sense. It can really kind of scare your cast into trying their absolute hardest. If you’re in a show and you have a terrible dress rehearsal, it’s easy to feel defeated and think the show isn’t good, it’s never going to be good. But because of the superstition, if you have a terrible dress rehearsal, you’re going to try that much harder to overcome everything that happened in the dress rehearsal. There’s a really beautiful energy in not knowing if the production is going to work. If you know that your show is amazing, then you sit back too much, and you don’t try as hard, and you don’t really bring yourself to the stage, and you don’t really plant yourself in the present. The, kind of, energy in throwing it all together and hoping something sticks… you are giving so much more of yourself as a performer.

 

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

In the final dress and opening night of a production. That’s pretty simple haha. It’s not something that carries across. If you have bad rehearsals all the time, you’re not going to have a good opening night. Its very specific to the dress rehearsal.

 

Personal Analysis:

While I have done some plays before, none have been serious enough to accumulate folk beliefs. This opposite outlook on the status of dress rehearsals is an interesting way to counteract the potential anxiety accrued from having a bad practice run. The underlying intention is to calm the nerves of the performers so that they feel confident in acting the next day. While I am not convinced that having a bad dress rehearsal removes the mistakes from a performance, I am convinced that tacking on a positive connotation to the act serves to dispel the frustration associated with a less than satisfactory dress rehearsal.

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Pine-needle in the Rice Cake

Main piece:

On Korean thanksgiving, it’s called Chuseok, and this is the holiday where families will meet up at the oldest relative’s house- like oldest one alive. And one of the most important dishes served at Chuseok are called songpyeon, which are rice cakes. They’re filled with pine nuts, and some brown sugar, they’re like dessert rice cakes, and really good. You can generally get rice cakes any time, but these rice cakes are special for this time. It’s kind of like a yule log, you wouldn’t make a yule log in the middle of the summer. When you make these rice cakes, you will get a pine needle- oh, by the way, when you’re making these rice cakes, they’re steamed on a bed of pine needles- so you’ll put a pine needle in one or a couple of the rice cakes and if you pick a rice cake and eat it and find a pine needle in it, it means you’re either going to get pregnant or married. Like, soon.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

A long time ago, my mom made these with me and she told me about it. But I was also taught about it in Korean school, when the holiday came around. They made us make them too. I think it’s every Korean child’s rite of passage to learn how to make rice cakes. That and dumplings. I’ve gotten the needle but it’s because I wanted a needle. I made my mom find one for me, which meant she ripped some open until she found one. But like not enough that like the whole thing is ripped apart. Just enough so that she could peek inside it… and I could have the pleasure of ripping it open!

The rice cakes are so good, they’re so yummy. Korean’s love predicting things, and like family values. The faster you get married, the faster you have grandchildren, the better. I didn’t get pregnant. I know it’s a pine needle- if I had chosen it on my own, I wouldn’t be scared of getting pregnant. What, the pine needle is going to impregnate me? (I wish.)

 

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

You’d only eat the rice cakes on Korean thanksgiving. I don’t actually celebrate it as much as I used to, but i think it’s in september or november. Oh— just kidding, it’s august on the lunar calendar, which means it’s in september! The day changes depending on the lunar new year.

 

Personal Analysis:

This piece reflects the importance the Korean culture places on family. The pine needle is representative of two predictions, marriage and pregnancy. After the interview, the informant revealed that men who chose a rice cake with a needle in it would only retain the prediction for marriage, while women held both predictions. Besides the obvious, men cannot get pregnant, the prediction does not extend to the man in the sense that he will get someone pregnant. If a woman chooses a needle and is single, her prediction would be marriage before pregnancy. This comments on the taboo of children out of wedlock in the Korean culture, as well.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Initiations
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

The Choice of a Lifetime

Main piece:

In Korea we have this thing where on the baby’s first birthday, it’s called Dol, what we do is we put various items in front of the baby. Classic items include yarn, pencil, money- and people put other stuff, they cater it so like they’ll put fruit or something, they’ll generally cater it. And you put them in front of the baby, and whatever the baby chooses, it predicts their future. So, each item represents a different future. The yarn represents longevity. The pencil represents academic prowess. Money represents wealth. Sometimes food can represent always being food, or like fulfillment.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

My family. I have siblings, so for my siblings’ first birthday, we did that. I wasn’t alive for my sister’s, but… we did that and we have photos. It’s a huge thing. I’m pretty sure it was the biggest birthday party of my life and I don’t even remember it. I like it the same way that people like horoscopes. I think that having some sort of prophecy is really intimate especially if it’s about yourself. Personally, it feels like our family’s results were pretty correct in the sense that my sister got yarn, and she’s very dedicated to being healthy. She’s the health nut in our family. My brother picked money, mostly because my dad like pushed it towards him, but he’s very frugal. And i picked the pencil, and I really like writing, so I like it because to me, it’s something I share with all my siblings and it’s something that korea has been doing for a very long time. It originates from when korea was really poor, so baby’s wouldn’t make it to their first birthday. So when they did, the whole village came together and everyone provided a dish of some sort. Having a lot of dishes and food is integral to Dol, and for me, growing up, when I look at the photos, there’s not a lot of food, but there’s still a lot in comparison to what I usually had. So it was a very special occasion because it represented a day where i guess my family could go all out. It’s something I want to do with my kids, definitely. It’s a tradition that resonates with my country’s history, my family’s history, and possibly future. It’s a cute celebration of life, and possibility.

 

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

The ritual is done in a home, or now a lot of rich families rent out venues for it. If you know any rich korean families who have a child that is about to turn one, you should know they’re going to have a party and kind of invite yourself to one. Family, really close family, or friends who are as close as family are invited. But oftentimes, some rich families will invite a lot more people, expecting gifts. Some families, they might put something down that represents marriage, and it would be sort of great if a girl picks that one because it means she won’t be a widow or an old maid. I don’t know anyone that’s done that, I think it’s a pretty old one.

 

Personal Analysis:

Korean culture is very much centered around family, both the making of a family and the upkeep of the reputation of the family. From the start, knowing what your baby will become or what interests they may have would readily equip the parents for the future. Parents then could plan around the choice, giving their child a lifestyle catered to the object they chose. I believe it’s rather soon to decide the fate and future of a child, but since I am an outsider to the culture, my values are not aligned to the Korean family dynamic.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Game
general
Magic
Protection
Signs

The Sandman

LaRose Washington

 

The Sandman

Origin: Puerto Rico

Story: When you go to sleep, the sandman comes into your dreams. He makes sure that you fall fast asleep.

Meaning: he is the one who helps you stay asleep.

Usage: Usually parents say it to their child when they want her to go to sleep. They’ll say, “If you don’t go to bed soon, the Sandman will miss you.” Also adults say it when they are ready to go to sleep. “I’m going to go see the Sandman”.

Analysis: This is an almost folktale creature in its conception, yet mentioning the Sandman usually seems to just be folk speech. While children might conceptualize him as an actual being, it seems that adults use it primarily as a form of expression or euphemism. His usage creates a calm and non-frightening incentive for children to go to sleep, which is probably the only effective way to make them sleep: it would be rather hard to frighten them into obedience with the boogeyman in this case, as they would never go to sleep. Presenting him as someone you would meet in your dreams, therefore, someone benevolent, is probably the best approach parents can make.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Signs

The Calvert Middle School Ghost

Calvert Middle School Ghost

Origin: Prince Frederick, Maryland, USA

Story: When I was in middle school, I was told this by my friends. This middle school used to be a high school, and there was access to the pool in the basement. There were two guys and a girl who skipped class and went to play by the pool. They all were koking around when one of the guys fell into the pool and hit his head. Both his friends let him in the pool when they saw the blood. Now, his ghost haunts Calvert Middle School, and is looking for his friends who left him. Every time the doors open in the school randomly and no-one is standing there, it is said the ghost has entered the room. When a door slams closed, it is said the ghost has left.

 

Analysis: This is an urban legend told amongst children in the playground, so it is childrens folklore. It serves as a message against disobedience by ditching class, as an explanation for opened and closed doors, and against disloyalty to one’s friends above all. This reflects the values that children hold, and the pervasiveness of the ghost story means that dying from betrayal from your friends would be a significant enough emotional trauma to result in a ghost.

Folk Beliefs
general
Humor
Legends
Magic
Myths
Narrative
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

El Cipitio

El Cipitio

Origin: El Salvador

Told by: Cesar Henriquez

“El Cipitío was an 8 year old boy that was cursed by a god. His name comes from the language of the Native Americans in El Salvador. The language is called Nahuatl. His name comes from the Nahuatl work ‘cipit’, or ‘cipote’, both of which mean kid.
El Cipitío was cursed to remain in his 8 year old body for eternity. He will never grow old. The curse placed on him also turned his feet to be backwards; the toes point behind him. He wears an excessively oversized pointy hat on his head, and nothing else. He wanders around lightly populated areas and is knows as a mischievous being. He whistles at pretty women, and yet also throws small stones at them. He is always naked, save for his hat, which makes it easy to see his backwards feet, his oversized belly that hangs over his waistline and genitals. He resembles more of a shrunken and fattened old man, despite being an 8 year old boy for life. His elongated and skinny nose on his face resembles a small recorder type flute.”

“These stories were told to me by my dad when I was a kid. The stories themselves are typically used to scare people from going to certain areas, or for parents to scare their kids out of going somewhere that might be otherwise unsafe for them. I remember my family telling me things like this with an air of providing me with knowledge, for the purpose of me knowing what others were talking about when speaking about it in public. ”

Analysis: This is a typical urban legend figure that nonetheless ties deeply into the historical roots of the country. The origin of the name from Nahuatl natives keeps that culture alive despite political power generally being in the hands of those who reject that culture and the natives. He is a trickster figure, and while somewhat malicious does not seem as threatening as other urban legends. His description is rather comical, too, which takes away from his seriousness: knowing exactly what the monster looks like takes away the fear of the unknown element at least visually. As a child, he is definitely more a trickster, but also shows that children might not be trusted (perhaps strange children or pickpockets). He might also be used as an explanation for women hearing whistling, or something like stones falling on them. While he might be a cautionary tale, he also seems to just be an explanation for unfortunate things occurring.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Legends
Magic
Myths
Narrative
Protection
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

La Siguanaba Character

La Siguanaba

Origin: El Salvador

Informant: Cesar Henriquez

“Her name was originally Sihuehuet, which is Nahuatl (Native Americans of El Salvador) means beautiful woman. She used her charms and got help from a witch to get a Nahuatl prince (Yeisun) to marry her. After they were married whenever the prince went to war Sihuehuet would have affairs with other men. From one of these affairs El Cipitio was born. The father of El Cipitio was a god called Lucero de la Mañana. Their affair was apparently an insult to the god of the sun (He was the god of gods). Anyway, Sihuhuet decided that one day she was going to get another witch’s help and poison her husband Yeisun during a big event, and take the throne for herself, to eventually give to Lucero. The potion took an unexpected effect and turned Yeisun into a huge monster that killed all the attendants at the festival, and destroyed everything and ate all the food from the feast. Eventually the guards’ struggles paid off and they killed the two-headed monster.
“When Yeisun’s father found out about all of this he was piiiiiissed. So he begged help from the Sun god to curse Sihuehuet and her illegitimate son. The Sun God, having been greatly insulted by Lucero, took this to heart and turned El Cipitio into what I explained before. As for Sihuehuet, he condemned and cursed her for life as well. She would from then on be called La Sigüanaba (or Sihuanaba in some versions of the story) which is also Nahuatl and means hideous woman.
“The legend goes that she is always seen only by men traveling along at night, or by kids lost at night as well. She is always at water’s edge, either a lake or stream or fountain in the city when no one else is around. She is always seen from the back, usually naked, combing her long beautiful hair. She takes the shape of a beautiful woman, or the man’s girlfriend, or the kid’s mother. They say she’s always out looking for her son, El Cipitio. As the men or kids approach her they are more and more captivated by her beauty, or by the fact that they see their girlfriend/mother sitting there naked combing her hair. They get closer and closer and eventually when they get close enough, she turns to face them. She has the hideous face of a horse. When people look at her they are most likely to die, but if they don’t then she goes to touch the men/kid. When she does the person she touches goes insane and it’s incureable. She’ll then lead them out further away from people and leave them lost, away from cities or anywhere that they can be found. It’s pretty trippy honestly and thinking about her face creeps me out.”

 

Analysis: This is an urban legend conflated with mythology. The gods of Nahuatl, the native religion, are part of the mythology, and are responsible for things like sunrise, the sun, animals, etc. La Siguanaba was a mortal woman but interacted with them, which puts her story close to mythological status. She becomes a reviled figure firstly because of infidelity: this is not only against social norms and is meant to warn people away from breaking it, but might also impose male patriarchy against women cheating on men rather than vice versa. Notably, she was only cursed when she got a son from the affair, which would certainly threaten patrilineal systems. Yet when men see her, they only see their mothers or girlfriends: it is unclear whether this points to an existing conception of fidelity for men. Certainly, it seems to warn them against cheaters. Yet also against their own wives and mothers, implying perhaps that even they cannot be trusted.

Adulthood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Game
general
Initiations
Kinesthetic
Life cycle
Magic
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Fountain Run at USC

Informant: USC alumni

“The USC fountain run is a tradition for graduating seniors. They are not allowed to go into the water of any of the fountains at USC or else it is said they won’t graduate. But on the last week of class, they all get together, drink, strip down to their underwear or swimwear, and run through every single fountain at USC. It is this big celebration of achievement and a right that only graduating seniors have. Usually some people get too drunk, but it’s all about celebrating freedom and no more rules. It’s something you do with your friends, and something people reminisce about years later when they meet other USC alumni.”

 

Analysis: This is a ritualized tradition for separating a ‘privileged’ group of students from the rest. Only seniors are allowed to do this, because it is a right of passage- you cannot participate if you have not completed all the obstacles and challenges that the last four years brought. It entails formally breaking taboos, such as going inside the fountain before you graduate. This superstition also underscores that its a privilege that only people who have completed USC can partake in. After the formalized, restrictive education process at University where rules must be obeyed or else expulsion, students celebrate on the brink of freedom while they are still technically bound to the student body.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Signs

When Your Hands Make You Lose Money

The Main Piece
Look at your hand, making it as flat as possible with your fingers firmly touching one another. Do you see any holes or spaces between your fingers? Well, one can only hope not. According to my friend, Demie, any holes between the cracks of your fingers represent a great loss of money and income. For many Chinese people it is believed that money will fall through the slits of your hand, leaving you unable to catch it. She even remembers seeing portraits of men and women trying to catch their money, but it continuously falling back towards the ground. It served as a reminder to keep your hands tight and shut, especially when holding money. “My father always told me when I had cash in my hands to hold onto it tight, or it’ll fall through. But I think he also just didn’t want me to drop any of it on the ground.” This superstition reveals the Chinese belief in having one’s fate semi-predetermined.
Background Information
My informant is Demie Cuo, a current undergraduate student at USC and friend of my close friend, Elizabeth Kim. She has yet to meet someone that has holes between their fingers but has always figured “there has to be some people out there with them… what’s the point of making a belief that affects no one.” Demie recalls having her elementary school friends tell her this belief. “We were really into superstitions and beliefs like that. Especially one’s where we could figure out what our lives would be like in the future.”
Context
As we were studying together and she was procrastinating on her homework in the study lounge, she started staring at her hand and brought up this folk belief that she was told by her friends.
Personal Thoughts
I found this interesting to hear about having one’s wealth predetermined for them. It is easy to state that “the world’s against you,” but it is another thing to believe that it is because of body shapes, birthmarks, etc. that one’s life turned out the way that it did. The story was unique and interesting, I had heard of beliefs having to do with the markings on the palm of one’s hand, but never the cracks of their fingers.

Folk Beliefs
Game
Humor
Signs

Hands Mean Cancer?

The Main Piece
“If your hand is bigger than your face then it means you have cancer.” After hearing that one usually puts their hand in front of their face and the performer slaps the performee with their own hand.
Background Information
My informant is my roommate, Sarah Kwan. She is an undergraduate at USC and considers herself a hilarious person making people laugh at the jokes she tells. She enjoys telling this joke because she feels it is a “old-school classic.” She can recall when her own friend pulled the joke on her when she was in high school and has used it to prank others ever since. It was a good way for her to make groups of people laugh, although it did not work all the time. Because of its “classic”-ness many people had heard of it and did not find it amusing, however she continues to use it despite naysayers’ attitudes.
Context
This joke was performed in front of me and a couple other of my roommates. Unfortunately, many of my roommates did not particularly enjoy the joke, but it was an ice breaker as we half heartedly laughed at the joke. This may have occurred because of the fact that we were only a couple of weeks into the school year and did not know each other too well.
Personal Thoughts
I felt her attempt to break the ice with this joke had good intentions even if it did not work out the way she expected it to. It also revealed to me the usefulness of a joke and how these joke would get passed down from person to person, not necessarily being told by one another as stories are, but in the way that pranks are pulled on each other, thus creating a chain reaction of jokes or pranks.

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