USC Digital Folklore Archives / Old age
Folk Beliefs
general
Life cycle
Old age
Protection
Signs

A Death in the Family (Philippines)

Informant: Natasha is a 19 year old girl who grew up in Bangladesh but attended high school in Manila, Philippines and now lives in England as a college student. Her mother is Filipina and her father is British.

 

Original script: “Okay so my parents met in the Philippines whilst my Dad was working there, but at the time since my Dad was so busy with work and was constantly being called in on the weekends, both my Mum and my Dad would get frustrated at the little amount of time they got to spend with each other. Seeing as though my Mum was rarely with my Dad on the weekends she would often use the opportunity to go see her grandfather who was quite ill during this period, so she’d come along to take care of him as well as bring him medicine. Over time my Dad was quite frustrated with not being with Mum and in a slightly selfish manner was irritated with the amount of time she was dedicating to her grandfather. He then decided to take the initiative and plan a weekend away and so my Mum agreed and they went off. One night in their hotel my parents were lying down in bed and as they are laying there a huge black moth- which both of my parents say to this day was the biggest moth they had ever seen- flies into the room and lands on the wall facing my parents. Immediately my Mum senses and tells my Dad that something feels wrong and both feel very unsettled. 10 minutes later my Mum receives a phone call from her family telling her that her grandfather has sadly passed away. My Mum believes that the moth was a symbol of death and was warning her that her Grandfather was passing. At Filipino funerals it is common for them to be open casket. As my Mum approaches the casket she finds herself crying and blaming herself for being irresponsible and not being there to take care of him. As she apologizes over his body she says her last goodbye by kissing him on his cheek. Now one of the weirdest part of the story is what happens next. To this day my Mum swears that after she kissed him on the cheek her Grandfather cracked a small smile. After all of the events that have happened and the guilt she felt before, she now felt like all was ok as she believes this was a sign of his forgiveness. The end.”

Thoughts about the piece: This story is a great exemplification of how a person’s belief system can be shaped by people, in this case Natasha’s parents. Parents can be a huge influence on their children’s belief systems- most especially in early life where they are likely the single biggest influence. The way that Natasha’s parents believe so strongly in the presence of a supernatural being in this story, most especially her Mother, has definitely influenced the way that Natasha perceives things. To an outsider looking in, you may just think that the moth was a coincidence and that the Grandfather smiling is just something that her Mother convinced herself of in a moment of grief to try to overcome it. However, the fact that this took place before Natasha was born, that she has been told this story countless times since she was very young, and that her mother is someone who she trusts deeply are all factors which shape Natasha’s belief and consequently the way in which she tells the story. She has a deep emotional connection to the story and thus, she tells it as an absolute occurrence.

Something else to note is the Filipino culture that peeks through the story. Filipinos are generally very family oriented and they also have very strong belief in ghosts and superstition. The fact that Natasha’s father is British and was initially skeptical about the whole moth situation and did not look as much into it as her Mother but now completely believes in the supernatural aspect of the story shows how possibly being immersed in Filipino culture and such could have altered his belief system.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative
Old age

Great Grandmother from Across the Country

*The informant is a grandmother, a wife, has a degree in Art, and has heard, and been involved with, many ghost stories.

 

Informant: I was born in San Diego, California, and Mum’s family was living back here in Maine. Mum always thought that she was her grandmother’s favorite, although her grandmother probably didn’t have a favorite. In my parents bedroom there was a little alcove where they kept my crib so they could keep an eye on me to make sure I was alright. I remember as a toddler standing up in my crib and seeing this white figure of a older woman walk into the room and it was like she was glowing. She was white, but I could see she was an old woman, and she went to the bed and my mother sat up and they were talking to each other. As I got older I thought it was a dream that I had had, so I never really said anything about it. When I got to be an adult Mum told me about her grandmother that she had loved so much and how when we were in California she woke up one night an there was her grandmother standing by the side of the bed. Mum was talking to her and she said “Grammy, what are you doing here in California? You’re supposed to be in Maine.” And she said, “Well, I wanted to come and see you before I left so that you didn’t worry about me or be sad, and so I could say goodbye.” Then the next morning my parents got a phone call and my great grandmother had died that night– a little bit before Mum saw the figure and talked to her. Mum told me this story and described what she looked like and I went “OH MY GOD! [laughs] I thought that was a dream!”. I described what I thought she looked like and she was said “Well yeah, that was my Grandmother”.

Collector: Was your great-grandmother sick? Was her death expected at all?

Informant: She was quite elderly, but I don’t think she had a lingering illness or anything. We knew it was coming soon but it wasn’t expected. And Mum always thought she was the favorite so she wasn’t really surprised that her grandmother came to say goodbye.

 

Collector’s Thoughts: I’ve collected many interesting stories from this informant, and although it may not sound the most reliable as it was recorded as a young child, many believe that children are able to see and experience spirits more than adults can. The validation from her mother that this experience really happened helps make the story more believable. I’ve heard many other stories where spirits visit to say goodbye and the fact that her favorite grandchild was not able to say goodbye to her in person may be the reason why she returned- to tie up loose ends. Many ghost stories revolve around that idea of a ghost returning to do something they were unable to do while they were living.

Myths
Old age

Vision before death

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“In my family, when my relatives are dying, they will always see someone who is dead before them, like they’re calling them. Like when my grandmother died, she saw her husband. (But how do you know about that? They’re dying right?) Yeah, but you know, like, when my grandma was dying, she would say ‘did you see grandpa? Grandpa was here.’ It’s within a few days, that week. And my aunt did that too, ‘I saw Raman’, which is her husband, who died 20 years before. I don’t know, who knows?”

There might be some other scientific explanations on that phenomenon, but I think it also make sense to me that when people are dying their brain uses this way of reasoning to release their fear toward death: there is still a good side about death that you’re gonna meet with your beloved one who has also been dead.

 

Customs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Korean Birthday Count

Main piece:

In Korean, the new year counts as a year. So I’m technically nineteen or twenty in Korea.

 

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 mom- when I was younger, I would ask my mom’s age. This was when I was really young. And my answer would always change. And when I realized they were always changing… I asked why. She explained that she gets mixed up about her age because America doesn’t count new years as a birthyear. It’s almost like a communal birthday for everyone. It has to do with renewal, and rebirth, um… like a new year. New year is one of the biggest holidays in Korea. It’s like Christmas and thanksgiving combined. And I think since it follows the lunar calendar, It follows the idea that we change on the same day as well. Like against our will. I don’t identify as twenty years old. To me, it doesn’t make sense, and I guess that’s my american side. I feel 18, if not younger. So, it’s not very particularly special to me other than the fact that it represents how much Korea loves new year. My mom is technically 50, but I think in Korea she’s 53 or 54, I don’t even know. I think Korean’s just love being older than people. It’s so hierarchy based. Even if you’re months older, the younger one has to respect you. If an older person hits you on the train, no one can save you. They’re allowed to because they’re old.

 

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

This is performed every new year. When you’re born, you know how in america you’re 0 years old? You’re already a year old in Korea, they count in the womb. And you get another birthday on New years, and then another on your actual birthday. So you’re always one or two years older than your biological age. So my mom would be like “I’m forty!” “I’m forty two!” “I’m forty one!” and I’d be like mom what are you…?

Personal Analysis:

This piece was especially hard to follow- I needed the informant to explain to me time and time again how exactly the years were counted. It reflects an innate belief among Koreans that the elderly should be respected. The older a person is, the more prestige and immediate respect they receive. In American society, women strive to be younger, even going so far as to lie about their age. In Korea, there are traditions put in place to extend the age of a person meanwhile their biological age remains the same. The piece also touches upon the importance placed on the lunar New Year. It is so important that Koreans count it as a year on their own age, and everyone in the country celebrates their birthday with the moon.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Old age

Baba Yaga

Ekatherina Chumakova

 

Баба Яга (Old Lady Yaga)

Baba Yaga

“A scary old witch who lives in the forest in a hut that has chicken legs. She is usually like a boogeyman figure who will kidnap and eat children if they don’t behave, or if they wander alone into the forest. Baba Yaga is generally malicious, and flies around in a stoop with a broom for steering. She eats children and hapless travelers in the forest, and is said to be immortal. At the same time, if you’re a hero in a legend, she will give you tests and if you pass them, she can’t eat you and must grudgingly point you in the right direction. She is not always immediately evil: often she will pretend to be a kind old lady who is very hospitable, and will offer you a place to stay for the night. But most of her hospitality is a trap: the water with which you bathe might be boiled, the food might trap you in her clutches, and the bed makes you fall asleep so she can prey on you. However, she is often wise and if you can use common sense and get around her sometimes obvious traps, she will aid you in your quest.”

Analysis: This is a legend which also has links in numerous fairytales. Propp identified her as a typical villain figure, or, more often, a test for the main hero that he needed to pass in order to succeed. Baba Yaga does not usually seem an active figure unless she is dealing with children. This is probably used in stories to children in order to make them behave and not wander off into the woods. When it comes to adults, however, Baba Yaga does not seek them out but rather waits for them to come to her. There are many, many different conceptions of Baba Yaga in Russian folklore. Her appearance as an old woman both gives her an appearance of wisdom and age, and might also represent the separation of old women from society and family life in some respects: she is no longer bearing children, nor can she actively participate in household chores. In the village life in Russia, old women were sometimes seen as a burden, one more mouth to feed that had no concrete wisdom to give (being a woman). The idea of old women as witches is also a very popular one in Russia and Europe. That she has a broom reinforces the image. However, it does not accuse all old women of witchcraft, unlike Europe and the US: this is a singular character with a single name, as well known as ‘the boogeyman’ or ‘La Siguanaba’ in other cultures.

 

Customs
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kenyan Funerals

Description: “Since there are 42 tribes in old traditions. I’m in from four different tribes. Luya Kikuyu, Luo and Messai. For traditions we adhere to the Luo traditions the most. But even still it’s not, we’re kinda moving away from that. It’s kind of more for the older people.  After the person is taken to the funeral home, they’re brought back to the family home and put in a room, like where people are. If they had family near by. And then there’s a process of two or three days until the burial which normally happens close to the family home. There’s a burial site which is usually right near the home where the whole family is buried. The burial site is close to where you live as opposed to you being close to the burial site. It’s better to be buried with your family but if not that’s ok. But like in the city and like where I live people are buried in the cemetery. So there’s that difference compared like to my grandma’s place. There’s usually a service where they service food before the burial service and then everyone gathers around. A few people say a few speeches about the person. And then, after that the actual burial happens. They throw in roses at the coffin as it goes down there. Once it goes all the way down people will throw soil like take handfuls of soil and toss it in. If there’s enough time everyone will throw soil in but most of the time there’s not enough time so it’s usually just the main family characters, people that were close to the person. And then after that there’s also food is served. Traditional foods are like beef stew, mazen beans, rice, mashed potatoes, things like that.”

2. He knows about these customs because his grandmother told him. He’s been to some funerals but nothing exactly like this one.

3. I walked into his room and asked if he could tell me about Kenyan folklore. This was one that he told me.

4. Because Kenya is so new, It’s adopting the Western traditional methods of funerals. That’s why he’s only been to contemporary funerals. Still, there are not too many differences between his way of funerals and the Western way. We carry a lot of the same traditions and ideas.

Foodways
Holidays
Life cycle
Material
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dia De Los Muertos

“Day of the Dead. It is just the celebration of the past ancestors. It’s celebrated before Halloween or on Halloween, I’m not sure. Wait – it’s November 1st. we usually celebrate it by going to the cemetery and having a picnic, setting up their favorite food and celebrating their memory. Who they are and who they are as a person.”

 

Do you have a favorite memory from this day?

“When we celebrated my grandfather. We celebrated his memory here in the States. We set up a little shrine for him and set out some of his favorite food: sweetbread and molé.”

 

When did you start celebrating this day?

“When my grandfather died so when I was like five.”

 

Who usually participates in this tradition?

“Usually the whole family. Usually go to the big family plot and visit all of the family members, the ones from recent memory.”

 

Analysis:
I think this celebration is very popular in one form or another for many cultures in order to celebrate the dead. I think it is unique that the informant and his family in their culture celebrate all of their dead on one day. They remember their recently deceased and memorialize them. This tradition enables the family to mourn and celebrate the passing of important people in their lives and bring them together as a whole.

Gestures
Old age

The Traditional Kenyan Greeting

“When you greet someone who you consider reputable or older than you, you greet them by shaking their hands with both of your hands. You keep on holding on until they acknowledge you and say thank you. Usually, you do it with people you don’t talk to every day, like the parents of your friends.”

In Kenya, it is traditional to shake another’s hands with both of your own hands when greeting an elder or a person of high status. Because the other person is meant to have the control, it is they who decide how long the handshake should last. You are only supposed to let go after you have been acknowledged.

The informant, Alastair Odhiambo, is a 19-year-old international student who was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. Alistair and his family have deep roots in the country, so he is confident that he knows a great deal about Kenyan folklore. Although Alastair does not remember who taught him how to properly shake an elder’s hand, he does know that he picked it up after observing how other Kenyan children interacted with their superiors. He claims that Kenya has long valued respecting elders, so this tradition is only a reflection of that belief.

It is always interesting to see how ancient values and beliefs are still maintained in today’s modern culture. Even though it may not seem like much, the way young Kenyans shake the hands of their elders says a lot about the country and what they believe in. It reveals that all elders and people of high status must be treated with honor and respect. The fact that Alastair was able to learn this common practice simply by observing others tells us that it is popular and that it is used quite often.

 

 

 

 

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Myths
Narrative
Old age
Signs

Lechuza (Mexican folklore)

TK: What did you learn growing up in New Mexico? Any good folk tales or proverbs?

TB: My aunt used to tell us about the Lechuza. She was an old woman who could turn into an owl. I guess she was a witch.

TK: What did she do?

TB: I’d have to check for all of it. I remember she was supposed to have stolen babies, and would sometimes fly over your house at night. You could tell if she was around when you heard an owl. My aunt told us we were supposed to whistle at the owls and they would leave, it was like scaring her off. Except those normal sized ones were harmless, but they were like her messengers or something. The lechuza was supposed to be a lot bigger, like human sized. Sometimes people would shoot …. or try to injure the owl if they thought it might be a lechuza and then they would find a body the next morning of an old woman, but I never heard about that being for real.

THE INFORMANT: Male, mid-twenties, who grew up in a second-generation Mexican family in Santa Fe, NM. He was reluctant to recall the details of the story, but grew more enthusiastic after he recalled certain elements. He also recalled that his aunt was very spiritual and would often tell stories of this type to him and his brother and sisters while they were growing up, although now he does not put much stock in them, but still finds them interesting.

general
Gestures
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Respect for your Elders

S is a 21-year-old Filipino woman. She is currently majoring in Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She grew up in the Philippines and therefore identifies as Filipino, however, she also identifies as Chinese. S speaks English, Mandarin, Tagalog and Hokkien, the last being two of many languages specific to the Philippines.

S: Do rituals count as folklore?

Me: Yeah.

S: Ok, so like, one of the things is like when you meet an elderly person, you like place their hand on your forehead.

Me: Like your hand. on your forehead?

S: No, like I would take your hand and place it on my forehead, like the elderly person’s hand. Like, it’s called, um, Mano. M-a-n-o. Yeah, so it’s just like a sign of respect, you do that with everyone, like even people you don’t meet (know), like if their really elderly. And like you always add like the word po, p-o, at the end of every sentence.

Me: P-o?

S: Yeah, ’cause it’s just like a sign of respect for, like, regardless of gender, you just, you like add it. so you say like, oh, like in the Philippines you’d say like “Oh, come, let’s eat,” and then you would add po at the end. It’s just something like that. It has a lot to do with respect and just like valuing those kinds of uh, values.

Me: Valuing their age I guess. And like their wisdom maybe?

S: Yeah. Exactly.

S explains the ritual, or practice, in the Philippines when meeting an elderly person. You take their hand and place it on your forehead. You do this out of respect, to honor their years and their wisdom. Respect is a common theme in both the Chinese and Filipino traditions and rituals that S has talked about, as well as many other Asian cultures.

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