USC Digital Folklore Archives / Childhood
Childhood
Initiations
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Drop Bears of Camp Orkila

Artist's rendition of a drop bear

Artists rendition of a drop bear

The summer camp councilor describes the legend of the Drop Bears at Camp Orkila, a traditional overnight summer camp on Orcus Island, WA.

When I was in middle school I went to Camp Orkila three summers. And the second time I was there, we had this councilor called Jim who had me completely convinced that drop bears are real.

Drop bears are a dangerous cousin of the koala bear. Jim described them as looking like koalas except with razor-sharp teeth. They live in trees and at night they drop onto your head, knocking up unconscious. Then they eat you. And he wore this skate helmet at night for protection. He warned us not to leave the cabins at night without a flashlight and he said even with a flashlight we still might be eaten. 

The source explained that the story was that the bears had been brought to the island by the Seattle Zoo in the 1930s after the zoo couldn’t contain them. The helmet is what convinced the source that the councilor wasn’t lying. After all, why would he bring a helmet and wear it every night if the threat wasn’t real.

All the other boys in our cabin didn’t believe Jim at all. They knew he was B.S.ing them but I totally bought it and I was really convinced and I would argue with them about it.

Well long story short, last summer I was the lead Grey Wolves councilor at Orkila—councilor for boys aged ten to thirteenand I brought my bicycle helmet and I told them all about drop bears.

Did they believe you?

[laughs] Well… they said that they did not but I know I scared some of them.

From internet research, it’s clear that drop bears are usually are typically an Australian story. Typically, Australians tell foreigners about drop bears as a prank. The drop bears at Camp Orkila function exactly the same way. The camp councilors and experienced campers are in on the joke and they try to trick newcomers. Because original camp councilor brought a helmet with him a prop, it’s possible that he heard about drop bears on the internet or elsewhere and planned to bring it to Camp Orikila. The camp is an ideal place to spread folklore of this kind because the campers are away from home in an unfamiliar place without access to cell service or the internet, making them much more likely to believe. As with other pranks, the drop bears story at Orkila can also serve as an initiation, or a mild hazing of newcomers.

https://australianmuseum.net.au/drop-bear

Childhood
Game

Blonde in the Bathroom

Informant: My friend who is from Brazil

Original Script: ” A girl with platinum blonde hair was murdered in the bathroom. She looks super pale with bloody cotton ball in her nose, she looks like a corpse. You go in the bathroom and switch on the lights and flush the toilet three times and she appears.”

Background: The Brazilian version of the children’s game Bloody Mary

 

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Ghosts for Naughty Children

I interviewed my grandmother who is from Colombia and asked about any superstitions about ghosts. Below, she described how her grandparents got a household of thirteen children to get to bed early by scaring them about ghosts.

In spanish, followed by a full english translation below:

Ay aver…sobre los fantasmas. Pues eso era lo que nos contaban nuestros abuelos. Como no había luz, entonces ya a las siete se ponía escurecicimo y ellos se sentaban a contarnos historias para que nos diera miedo y para que nos dormiramos temprano. Entonces, ellos siempre decían que en las casas y en las fincas viejas habían era fantasmas de gente que no habían podido poder cansar nunca después de la muerte. Le ponían nombres distintos como el guerrero cojo, o el patasola, o la llorona. Era gente que no podían descansar porque habían cometido un error grave o habían echó alguna cosa mal echa. Entonces contaban eso y decían que ese espíritu estaba viviendo ya en la finca, y que o sí nosotros habíamos echo algo malo como, por ejemplo, comer nos unas naranjas que estaban para los huéspedes, o cualquier cosa que se crecía en la finca, las papas, los plátanos, eso era pecado comérselo por que era para que nosotros lo comiéramos como la familia. Entonces si uno de los niños se había comido un banano o un maduro o una naranja sin permiso, se moría del miedo, que el espíritu de algún fantasma lo cogiera. Entonces en cada instancia inmoral los abuelos tenían un cuento, como uno nuevo para decir nos a no robar, o cualquier cosa incorrecta. Y la manera de castigarnos no era ellos los abuelos, si no Dios, porque la gente que se moría después no podían descansar y venían a vengarse de las casas de los niños que hacían lo mismo que ellos hicieron. Por un lado ya estábamos en la oscuridad y nos daba mucho miedo de un espíritu, y los abuelos eran terribles entonces hacían que se cayera un plumero, o un libro, o que sonarán unas campañas que habían puesto listo para que suenen más sustosas. Como nos daban tanto miedo nos acostábamos temprano, nos tapábamos con las cobijas y nos durmiéramos rápido. Éramos trece niños nosotros y generalmente mi mama y mi abuelita. Ella venía mucho a ayudar por que éramos tantos niños! Casi cada año había un niño nuevo en nuestro casa, y éramos nosotros cada tipo de niño — los gritones, los locos, los felices, los que lloraban mucho. Te puedes imaginar por que hicieron esas historias de los fantasmas. Como más nos hubieran haber puesto a dormir!

ENGLISH:

Ah, let’s see, about the ghosts. Well, those are the kinds of stories our grandparents would tell us. Since there was no electricity, well it would get very dark in the house around seven and we would all sit around together and they would tell us stories so that we would get scared and so that we would go to bed early. So, they would always tell us stories about how in old houses and ranches like ours there were the ghosts of people who couldn’t leave earth after dying. They would give them different names, like the crippled soldier, the one-footed man, and the crying woman. They were all people that couldn’t rest in peace after death because they had committed some fault, or had done something quite sinful. So they would tell us these stories and would tell us that those spirits were living on our ranch, and that if we are ourselves had committed a sin, such as eating the oranges we had reserved for guests, or anything that grew on our land that was off limits, such as our potatoes, the plantains, touching any of those was bad because al that food was to eat as a family, not to steal individually. So if one of us kids ate a banana or an orange or anything without permission, one would be incredibly frightened, that a ghost would come and get them for stealing. So for everything immoral like that our grandparents had a story, like some new one to remind us not to steal. And in that manner it wasn’t ever the grandparents that would punish us, but God himself, because the people that died couldn’t find peace after their loss of life, and they would come to reap vengeance in the houses of those children that also committed their sins. On one hand we were already in the darkness of night, and we would be so frightened of a vengeful ghost, and yet our grandparents were so mischievous that they would make a broom or book fall randomly. Or even worse, they would make some bells they had chime in a way that was more eerie. These effects would make us so frightened that we would go to bed early, and we could cover ourselves with our blankets, and we went to bed quickly. We were thirteen kids in my household and generally it was my mom and my grandmother looking after us. My grandmother would come often because we were so many of us kids. Almost every year for a long time there was a new child in my household, and we were each of us every kind of kid – screamers, wildcats, the joyful ones, those who cried very much. You can imagine then, why they used these ghost stories; how else would they have put us to bed!

Analysis: I found this story very touching, even if my grandmother and her siblings’ experience must have been tough. I can imagine why the grandparents used these tactics to keep the children morally just and from staying up al night and over-running the ranch. My father actually used to do similar things late at night – he would tie up objects with fishline and make them fall and tell me there were ghosts in the house. I got very frightened and would go to bed very early as well. There seems to be a widespread tradition surrounding ghosts in childhood in Colombia. Often enough, these beliefs are intertwined with the predominantly catholic belief system.

Childhood
Customs
general

Growing up in Homs, Syria

The informant is from Homs, Syria, living in the U.S. for twelve years now. She came from Saudi Arabia. She was interviewed at my family’s home.

“I miss everything about Syria. Nothing here tastes as good as it did there, where everything was natural, made with real butter, real animal fat, with fruits and vegetables grown organically, the food was so good you can not even imagine it. We had thriving, bustling cities, where community was vibrant. I loved that as I was growing up, we had neighbors and they would just jokingly show up, spooking me and my Mom, but that was normal, traditional and expected.”

What do you mean by that?

“You could come visit a neighbor, uninvited, anytime. Here, you have to call, make plans, call before and make sure you are still invited. I feel lonely here even though I do have friends. In Homs, when I was bored or lonesome, just walking the city was entertaining, seeing the people selling things, talking, stopping to eat something, to buy crafts, everything was handmade, and everything of exquisite quality, the craftsmanship was excellent, the result of years of practice and work. The textiles, the weaving, the beading, the pottery, our crafts were art! On fridays people do not work, so we visit relatives. The people were very family oriented, our values are community, sharing, helping and being in solidarity. What is happening now in my country is an unimaginable tragedy, what humanity has lost cannot be described in words.”

Here the informant is obviously very nostalgic about growing up in Syria, in what is now lost to endless war and aggression. She described to me that the marketplace of goods and cuisine in Syria was far more limited than anywhere else she has been, but that although restricted, everything was local and home cooked or home made. Particularly interesting is her emphasis on collective community. She described her living situation as a collection of one-story brick houses and that neighbors one often hop among houses, visiting neighbors and chatting casually. This is quite different than the private and individualized neighborhood lives that we live, although of course, we have different needs. I hope Roola gets to visit a peaceful Syria someday. She was very distraught discussing it.

 

Childhood
Customs
general

Bath Time – Japan

My informant was born and raised in Japan, but moved to America to finish her college degree at the University of San Diego. She told me about a childhood custom that is common among Japanese families.

“In Japan a little daughter and dad shower and bath together is normal–with son too. People from other countries say that’s disgusting. (But) it’s because normally dads don’t have time to communicate with their kids cause the work, so bath time is perfect time to have kids time to them. We did until I was 7 or something.”

I knew she had an older brother, so I asked if her dad would shower with both of them simultaneously or one by one. Her response was:

“Both! But that’s only when we’re little like 3 or 4. After that let’s say probably when I’m taking the bath my dad join me after. We just talk and play in the bathtub. Maybe he help me wash my hair, but not the body.”

I thought it was interesting how my informant pointed out how other countries saw this custom as strange, and felt the need to provide an explanation (almost in a defensive manner). I think it is because in Western culture it is more commonly heard of for mothers to take baths with their children since they are the ones to have given birth and are the “caretakers” of the family. A father  taking a bath with his child–especially a daughter– could be interpreted as inappropriate or even as sexual abuse.

However, baths are a huge part of Japanese custom. Japan has numerous public bathhouses located all over the country, varying from rural to urban areas. These bathhouses have large communal baths that are typically segregated by gender. Visitors comfortably bathe and walk around nude in front of complete strangers. With this information in mind, I was not surprised to hear that it is typical for children to bathe with their fathers.

Childhood
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Lizard Burial

My informant as a little boy would perform a ritual. The children of the village used to capture and kill a lizard. Then they would  perform a death ceremony. There was about 20 kids involved. They would bury the lizard and start praying.

“Ya hardon eska werka, mertak amya mabti’shd”, which translates to :

All you lizard, please portray good, because your wife is blind and cannot see at times.

They would have sticks and be beating it against the ground while saying the chant. Afterwards they would go home.There was nothing else to do so they created their own rituals.

My informant is an immigrant from Lebanon. He lived in a small town called Yaroun. Hid family was very poor and lived in a rural area. We shared the folklore over some food in his house.

The interesting part of this piece is the creativity children have. They created there own ritual in to keep from boredom. my informant at first did not want to tell this piece of folklore out of embarrassment but eventually gave in.

Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs

El Ratón Pérez

Informant: Valentina Williamson. 11 years old. Born and raised in Mexico City. My little sister,

Informant: “Whenever a tooth fell out, I would put it under my pillow and the “Raton Pérez” (Mouse Perez) would take it away and leave me money.”

Collector: “When did you first hear about the Ratón Perez”

Informant: “I guess I heard it from my parents. When my first tooth fell out they told me to place it under the pillow as and the ratón would exchange it for money.”

Collector: “Do you know why the ratón took teeth?”

Informant: “My parents told me he wanted my teeth because he collects teeth from all the children around the world. Also, all my friends had the same experience. We all believed in the ratón and would show off the money he gave us.”

Me: “Why did you believe in the Raton Pérez and not the tooth fairy.”

Informant: “If my tooth fell out in Mexico it was the Raton Perez’s job. If I was in the U.S. it was the Tooth Fairy’s job. Like once my tooth fell out when I was in New York and I believed the tooth fairy took it. It was all about where I was. HA HA!  I even thought they would meet up and compare their tooth collections.”

Thoughts: The Raton Perez and Tooth Fairy are classic folklore parents tell their children. What interested me the most from my sister’s performance is that she believed it was locational rather than sticking to one belief. I also know that in Spain they call it “Ratoncito Pérez” or “Little Mouse Pérez.”

 

Interesting read on the origins of the Ratón Pérez: “http://2yearsinmadrid.blogspot.com/2011/07/el-raton-perez-spanish-tooth-fairy.html”

Childhood
Game

Hide and Seek Game

Informant: Valentina Williamson. 11 years old. Born and raised in Mexico City. My little sister.

Informant:

Original: “Una bolita de algodón patin paton melocotón sabes tu donde cayó con verdad y sin mentir con pura casualidad” (Pauses at each syllable)

Translation: A little cotton ball patin paton melocotón do you know where it fell with truth and without lying with pure chance.

Informant:  “When I play hide and seek with my friends we sing that song to decide who is going to count. We all put one foot in and form a circle. We sing the song while one person touches each foot during each syllable. Once the song is over that last person has to say a place they’ve been but think no one has gone to. Like if it landed on me I could say Paris! If no one from the group has been to Paris, I get out and don’t count. BUT! If someone else from the group has been to Paris they get out, don’t count, but I have to stay in! I then use my hand to move around the feet and we sing the song again. The last person to be in looses and has to count.

Me: “Do you know how you came to learn this song?”

Informant: “No idea, I think at school. We always sing it but I have no idea where it came from!”

Thoughts: I have never heard this song to play hide and seek before. When I was younger I recall there was a song about Pinocchio to see who would count. Incorporating the place a person has traveled to adds an educational aspect to the game. Certainly, children question each other about the places they’ve been to and therefore learn from such.

Childhood

Heal, Heal, Butt of a Frog

“Sana Sana Culo de rana. Si no sana hoy sanara manana.”

(Heal, heal, butt of a frog, if it doesn’t heal today, it’ll heal tomorrow.)

 

Interviewer: What is being performed?

 

Informant: Ritual Song by Steph Elmir (Genre: Childhood)

 

Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

 

Informant: It’s a nursery rhyme in Spanish, I love it because it is used after someone is hurt. My mom taught me this in Miami. It’s silly and makes children laugh.

 

Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?

 

Informant: USA- Miami

 

Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

 

Informant: Catholic/ Hinduran/Lebanese Descent

 

Interviewer: Where did you first hear the story?

 

Informant: My mom. My home.

 

Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?

 

Informant: Frogs have magical qualities in Latino Culture and are considered good luck.

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: It makes me feel safe. It reminds me of home and a good relationship with my mom.

 

Context of the performance- Conversation with classmate before class

 

Thoughts about the piece-  Relating childhood folkways is an emotional experience for most students living far from home. Mothers in many cultures use song to comfort their children. Here is a video of the song in Spanish, featuring Kermit the frog. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kw14B0sclFw

Is it culito (ass) or colita (butt)? That seems to depend on which country you are from: http://remezcla.com/lists/culture/colita-vs-culito/

 

 

Childhood
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

New Year’s Eve Tradition

 

Interviewer: What is being performed?

 

Informant: New Year’s Eve tradition by Alec Shale

Every year while waiting for the new year to begin, we would do a giant puzzle and try to finish it before midnight.

 

Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

 

Informant: Tradition created with my Dad for every New Year’s Eve when I was young. I like it because it reminds me of fun times with family.

 

Interviewer:  What country and what region of that country are you from?

 

Informant: United States, Arizona

 

Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

 

Informant: My Family

 

Interviewer: Where did you first hear the story?

 

Informant: When I was 4 or 5 years old.

 

Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?

 

Informant: On a New Year’s Day without much to do, we had a puzzle and decided to race to solve it.

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: To me, this is a tradition that means time spent with family…. Doing an activity, but mostly just talking and enjoying each other’s company. I intend to continue this tradition with my kids.

 

Context of the performance- conversation with classmate

 

Thoughts about the piece- This informant believes his family tradition to be unique but I have also experienced a quiet NYE with my family. Our activity is preparing and consuming a gourmet dinner. In both cases, an introspective preparation precedes a momentous symbolic shift. Googling New Years Eve at home yields almost 19 million results, even a wiki-how; http://www.wikihow.com/Enjoy-New-Year%27s-Eve-at-Home-With-Your-Family

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