USC Digital Folklore Archives / Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
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Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
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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.

Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Gingers Do Have Souls

Gingers Do Have Souls

 

Informant:

Haley Croke. Haley is a first-year student at USC studying in Annenberg. Haley grew up in Denver Colorado and is familiar with certain Colorado legends. She also has an important and unique point of view, since she is a Millennial, which seems to be the most “out-there” and transformative generation we have seen thus far. Because of this, Haley is a perfect informant, as she holds a modern and up-to-date perspective. All interviews were held in a study-room on campus.

 

Folklore:

“Okay… I’m not sure what constitutes ‘Folklore’ exactly, but this is pretty significant in my life, that I guess you could call a legend, or a rumor. It definitely seems to fit the category, in my opinion, at least. So… obviously I have red hair… Or as everyone says I’m a ‘Ginger.’ Because of the fact that I obviously have red hair… I faced a lot of making-fun-of… or ridicule basically my whole life. It was never that bad, like, guys and other people usually had it way worse. But the worst part is this… like, legend, that ‘Gingers have no souls’…? I have no idea where that came from… It doesn’t really affect me ‘cause I have thick skin but it is honestly pretty annoying. My whole life I get these, like, stupid ‘Where’s your soul?’ jabs. I’ve even been to sports games where people chant that at ginger players. No clue why the fact that I have red hair constitutes a lack of soul… but whatever. Some jokes can be kinda funny in the right light.”

 

Analysis:

I have experienced these jokes so many times in my life. It seems to be a pretty recent phenomenon. I had always thought that these jokes stemmed from more ancient times like the Salem Witch Trials where people believed those born with red hair had a tie to dark arts. Turns out, it’s actually a lot simpler than that. While I’m sure those ancient superstitions certainly played a role in this phenomenon, the “Where’s your soul?” trend is from the culturally-effective show South Park. “The phrase ‘gingers have no soul’ comes from the South Park episode ‘Ginger Kids’ that first aired on November 9th, 2005. At the beginning of this episode, Eric Cartman gives a class presentation on the subject of red-headed children and “Gingervitis,” a made-up disease.” This actually seemed to cause a rippling effect of ridicule towards red-heads, as the show introduced “Kick a Ginger Day,” where some particularly cool school children actually organized in real life outside the show in order to torture these “Gingers.” The movement also gained notoriety from a red-headed boy posting an angry rant to Youtube exclaiming that “Gingers do have souls!” Because of this, a popular meme was formed.

 

A full explanation of this phenomenon can be seen here:

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/gingers-do-have-souls

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

New Year’s Day traditions

Informant is a Korean born immigrant who went to primary school in Korea and college in Hawaii lives in Los Angeles

Tradition as told by informant: New Years Day is a big holiday for Koreans, usually lasts 3 days long. It’s a fun day for children because they get to eat, play games, and practice the Sebeh tradition( Sebeh is the best part for the children), bow to the parents and grandparents and wishing them a good fortune for the new year.  And parents/grandparents or elders will bless them back with money.  It’s a  family tradition.

Done every year with the whole family together, and yes it is my favorite part of the holiday when we get free money.

Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Breaking a Water Buffalo’s Horn

GD is from Orange County. She is a first generation Vietnamese American. Her parents are Vietnamese refugees. GD is a student as USC majoring in global health on the pre-medicine track. She wishes to return to Vietnam to serve the rural populations through maternal and child health care.

“When Vietnamese girls turn 16, they’re considered strong enough to break a water buffalo’s horn. No joke.”

“Where did you hear this from?”

“My grandpa told me this on my 16th birthday. I actually have no idea how real it is. I just heard it from my grandpa…he told me it’s symbolic of strength specifically for women.”

“Does this mean that women are supposed to be stronger than men?”

“The idea is that girls at 16 are stronger than boys at 16 because they mature faster and earlier, which is why a girl of 16 can break a water buffalo horn and a boy of 16 cannot.

This traditional Vietnamese belief is very interesting and unlike any I have heard before. I know that in many cultures there is a similar rite of passage that marks the liminal period for boys, often around the age of 13. However, this folk belief appears to stem from a less paternalistic society, where women are viewed as strong (literally) and independent, even surpassing the strength of boys at age 16.

Folk Beliefs
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Spicy Food in Indonesia

My informant SH told me this when we were eating spicy Indonesian noodles. He asked me if I could handle the spice, and when I asked “how about you?” he told me he was training himself to handle more spice. When I asked him why, he responded with this:

“In Indonesia, if you are a guy who can’t eat spicy, people assume that you’re gay!”

“Who told you that?”

“I think my parents or grandma told me this. As a kid because I didn’t like spicy food, they told me this to try to get me to eat more spicy food. I asked around afterwards and apparently it’s a real thing. Even when I went back to Indonesia recently and I was eating with my relatives, they legit thought I was gay when I wouldn’t eat the spicy food!”

Since a lot of Indonesian food is spicy, it is probably assumed that most “true Indonesians” can handle spicy food. Based off this assumption, eating spicy food would be the norm, and if you deviated from the norm, then you would likely be associated with other deviations from the norm in Indonesia, such as being homosexual.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Kikuyu Tribal Stereotype

“The Kikuyu tribe are known for being very good merchants and businessmen. They are known for coming in, and if they take over another tribes land, they will make it very profitable. They consider this a good trait, but other tribes see them as being greedy and that they will take all of your opportunities to make money”.

According to the informant, Kenya has over 42 historical tribes that can be traced back for many years. Because there are so many, there are several stereotypes about each of them that are understood by the general population. For example, the Kikuyu are well known for being greedy but successful businessmen who will stop at nothing to make a profit, even if they have to hurt others along the way. Many Kenyans resent them because of this.

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. He explains that his friends taught him the stereotype as a child because even in the large city of Nairobi, the stereotype still exists. It is common knowledge that the Kikuyu own and run a large part of the city. Many who live in Nairobi dislike them because of this. Alastair does find this stereotype silly because of how silly it sounds when it is stretched, but he does acknowledge that there is some truth to it, since the Kikuyus do have a lot of power and money in Nairobi.

This Kikuyu stereotype originated during more rural times before cities like Nairobi were properly developed and built, so it is interesting to see how it has managed to follow the tribe into the modern era. The current use of it to explain why the Kikuyu are in control of so much of Nairobi’s metropolitan area only strengthens it, as it only gives Kenyans more reasons to believe in its validity. It can be dangerous to believe that stereotypes like this are rooted in actual reality, though, so Kenyans should be careful with them if they want to avoid conflicts between their tribes.

 

 

 

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

La Siguanaba — El Salvadoran Witch

 

 

TK: Is there any legends or myths in El Salvador?

MC: Haha there’s so many but they’re scary. (Very quickly) I don’t know but my grandma used to say when you walk alone after midnight this woman comes after you with the long hair and she chases you and you couldn’t talk and you got to your house all freaking out and you get to the house and everyone is looking at you and you couldn’t talk for 24 hours because this woman touched you.

TK: So did you ever see this woman?

MC: NO! because I never was walking in the middle of the night. But they say this happens to all the guys because after the guys drop the girls off on the date they would be walking alone and see this woman and you know she was really pretty and sometimes she would look like the girl.

TK: Could she change the way she looked?

MC: Ya she looked like the girlfriend of the guys so they get confused and you know they start talking to her and then she changed to a really scary looking…

TK: A really scaring looking what?

MC: Like, you know, like an evil witch and they got scared but by that time they were already scared and touched by her and they couldn’t talk. And my grandma says they happened to a few people that she knows and the next day they start telling the story what happened to them when they could talk and not to go on that path and this woman was called La Sigwanata? (laughing) TK: What? How is it spelled?

MC: Let me spell it for you (goes and gets a pen and paper) this story has been going on for years… (spells it on paper “La Siguanaba”).

TK: Has this been going…

MC: (cuts me off) This story has been going on for generations and generations and I told this story to Nicolas (her son) and he was like ‘tell me more tell me more!’ And the story is still going on there like if you go by these trees you get touched by this woman.

TK: And that’s it?

MC: That’s it.

TK: And people know about this?

MC: Everybody (eyes widen).

TK: So this is a story?

MC: I think it’s a legend because at school it was in our books and we had to write about it.

 

THE INFORMANT: Maria grew up in El Salvador and therefore has different legends than the ones I grew up with in America. Her immediate recollection of this story shows what an effect it had on her growing up, as she can still recount the details and remember people it supposedly happened to that she knows.

ANALYSIS: La Siguanaba is a well-known El Salvadorian legend. Siguanaba means “horrible woman” and it is said she bore the child of a god but was an unfit mother, so the god cursed her to her fate of wandering alone at night and mostly appearing to solitary men walking alone. From behind, she looks like a beautiful long-haired woman but is actually horrifically ugly, like a witch. Some people say they can see her washing clothes in a river and looking for her son.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Protection
Proverbs
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Before the devil knows you’re dead (Irish saying)

PP: The Irish have so many sayings, proverbs, stories, myths, stuff like that. A lot of them are about death. It’s a very death centered culture, but they don’t look at it as necessarily a bad thing, it’s more about a celebration of the person’s life. That’s why they have parties at wakes instead of all mourning, and they sometimes give the body a cigar or whiskey. So a lot of the sayings they have are about the afterlife. It’s also because they’re mostly Catholic, or at least used to be and that sticks in the culture too.

TK: What’s an example of a saying about death?

PP: It’s something like, “May you be in heaven an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.” If you think about that one it seems to be referencing the Catholic belief that heaven and hell are both outcomes after you die and that even if you were destined to go to heaven there’s a possibility the devil could grab you anyway. So if you get to heaven safely and then he finds out then it won’t matter.

TK: Did you hear this a lot growing up in Ireland?

PP: I think actually I heard it more in America. We [Ireland] had a big tourism industry, it was called the Celtic Tiger, and people would come over and learn about our folklore, our myths and stuff like that and it became really popular in America for a while. So a lot of the “Irish blessings” along with the stereotypes about Irish people that we have here in America are kind of exaggerated, it was a way for Irish people to sell their way of life to tourists, and part of that was exaggerating their interest in death, or their interest in alcohol, or any of those stereotypes.

TK: But there is some truth to the death ones.

PP: I think so. When I was growing up we were a very religious family. It was sad when someone would die but we also celebrated the good times we had with that person and we knew we were going to see them again in heaven so it was never like a final thing.

 

THE INFORMANT: The informant is a middle-aged woman who spent most of her adolescence and college career in Ireland and has since emigrated to America. She is very fond of the old Irish traditions and proud of the rich cultural heritage of her home country. She does admit that Ireland can be an overly tight-knit place and is unwelcoming to outsiders, and the main reason she left for America was a sense of feeling restless and slightly unwelcome due to the fact that she was not born in Ireland (even though her whole family is from there, she was born in South Africa).

ANALYSIS: This is a very well-known saying whose origins are not readily apparent. As the informant noted, much of Irish culture has been appropriated or exaggerated for an American audience, who generally associate Ireland with leprechauns, fairies, beer, potatoes…cultural touchstones that do not truly represent the full extent of Ireland’s history or contemporary present. Research suggests that this blessing does indeed have very strong ties to the Catholic religion. Traditionally, it was said that (especially for those who did not get a chance to make a confession before their death) the devil would make a last-minute attempt to have a dying person renounce their belief in God and join him instead in Hell. This blessing was meant to be a way of protecting someone from the devil’s preying on them in this way. The “hour” is usually a “half-hour,” which shows the traditional Irish wit: technically, if such a thing were necessary it could happen in an instant but the “half-hour” is unnecessarily long just to make fully sure that the dead soul makes it up to heaven long before the devil is even aware they could possibly be turned to his side.

Folk Beliefs
Initiations
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Quest to Delaware Valley High School

Original Script: “Okay, so when I moved to Milford, Pennsylvania, I didn’t know anyone! Besides mom and Chuck, and we all know just how fun that could be. Anyways, I had been going to DV for a couple of months and had made some really awesome friends. But they told me about this legend at the school, how this one kid died from a seizure in the hallways and you can hear locker slams, and water dripping in the hallway at night (apparently he was on the swim team). But it was weird because apparently he had epilepsy, but the school didn’t know about it…I don’t know the whole story doesn’t make sense. But I really wanted to see if the legend was true because I’m really into that stuff and also a lot of people have heard the ghost at the school. Anyways, because I was swim team manager, I had a key to the school for early morning practices. But of course, my friends and I thought it was a good idea to go at night to see if it was true. So I told mom that I was sleeping over at my friend, Jess’s, house. And Jess told her mom the same. So we met up with our other friends outside the school, I honestly have no idea how they were able to sneak out…but apparently they do it all the time. Anyways, we used my key to get into the school, we weren’t worried about cameras or anything because that school is so cheap, we live in the middle of nowhere! Trust me, they are not too worried about security. But, we walked into the school, me, Jess, Katie, our friend Nate and Josh.
First of all, it was already creepy to begin with. I mean the school is old! So it gives off creep vibes. In the first fifteen minutes, there was nothing and we started getting board wandering up and down the halls. But, in the next few minutes. I have never been so terrified in my life. We were at the really old part of the school. A part that hasn’t been rebuilt in such a long time, and all of a sudden we heard dripping, and almost if wet people were hitting the tile, then we heard lockers slam shut! Safe enough to stay, we didn’t stick around longer than that. We ran out of the school and Jess drove me back to my house. I stuck up into my room and barley slept that night and when I came down the next morning, mom was surprised to see me out of bed! She asked what I was doing home so early and I told her it was because of swim team practice this morning! Hahaha, it was really funny because when I got to the school, I totally forgot that we didn’t lock the door behind us! So, I definitely thought we were going to get caught. But, when I walked up to the Swim team supervisor, she looked me down and was like, ‘Jenna…when I got to the school the door was open!’ I knew I had been caught, but then she said, ‘I guess Noah forgot to close up after afternoon practice yesterday, so I guess you are the only one with the key now!’ I was trying so hard not to laugh as Noah kept protesting that he didn’t forget! I never said anything after that, and now I will literally be late to all my classes because I refuse to walk through the old part of the school again!”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Jenna grew up in Chandler, Arizona with her family. About two years ago, she moved across country with her mother and now lives in Milford, Pennsylvania. Jenna loves stuff about ghosts, and she is always willing to see if the legends are true. She has gone on a many legend quests but have yet to hold them true until this one. She is now a senior in high school and eighteen years old and plans to go to California in the fall.

Context of the Performance: Sneaking into a school at night

Thoughts about the piece: This interviewee happened to be my younger sister, whom I am very close with. She had told me the story the day after it happened. Though, I interviewed her again because I thought it would be perfect to that of a category of a legend quest. This story, as seemingly innocence as it was, speaks volumes in relative terms to Jenna’s belief system. Jenna has always been interested in the supernatural, but has never experienced anything that has seemed to be true. (I conducted an interview with her based off of the legend of Bloody Mary, she tried the ritual and nothing had happened that was seemingly supernatural, please see that article for reference). However, this being the first, “supernatural,” thing Jenna has experienced, gives this story a specific edge.

Firstly, this story does fall under the category of a “legend quest” because it is a quest of a high school student to see if the legend of the ghost at Desert Valley High School is true. Furthermore, the ghost story adheres to the category of a legend, something that can (or has) happened in the real world. Secondly, the fact that this legend scared Jenna, that there was happenings of the unknown (i.e. the watery footsteps, the slamming lockers, etc.), signifies that this story held some significance to it. It might have been the social environment Jenna was in. For example, the fact that everyone believed in the legend or it could have been because of the building Jenna and her friends were in was an old building—it could even have been a combination of the two. Thus, it is interesting that this legend quest can also transform into a memorate. In a follow up with Jenna, she had told me that she had shared the story with her other friends that week—friends that believe in the legend as well—and her friends approved that it must have been the ghost of the boy.

Interestingly, this legend quest can also fit into the category of inanition into a group of sorts. Jenna was new at her school, she had mentioned in the story that “everybody” has heard the ghost, and she might of wanted to fit into the new social environment. So, experiencing such a legend quest with a group of friends already part of the Delaware Valley High School, made Jenna ‘fit in’ more with the group, it initiated her as part of the Delaware Valley High School students.

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Practical Jokes on Halloween

Original Script: “Okay…so like this is annoying. Like SO annoying and it happens every damn Halloween, I SWEAR. And I love Halloween! But, okay, so I like scary movies, I just like the adrenaline rush that they give me. I don’t know. But there are some creepy ass movies that really scare me. Like ones with clowns or creepy girls that crawl—something about the crawling just freaks me out. I usually watch them with my stepdad, Chuck. Anyways, there was this movie called Mama, and it was not that scary. EXCEPT, when she crawled upside down in a long dress with her hair covering her face—similar to a crab walk but creepier. IT REALLY FREAKED ME OUT! So during Halloween, Chuck got this GRAND idea, to play a joke on me. I was in my room minding my own business, it was nighttime. THEN, the power went out, and I’m like ‘oh what the hell’ because whose power randomly goes out. I was pissed. So I open my bedroom door to ask Chuck what was wrong. Because I was trying to binge watch on Netflix on all the ‘scary’ movies they had. Mind you, my room is at the end of the hallway, directly across from the stairs. So I get no response, and it is creepy as hell so I take another step out of my room. And hear something creaking up the stairs. I step again, and there is a freaking look a like Mama crawling up the stairs. I screamed SO loud, and kept screaming. But then Chuck—who was dressed as the lady—starting laughing and fell down the stairs. I was so pissed. Now it is funny. But I was literally so pissed. Like good, you should of fallen down the stairs. AND like how the hell did he crawl like that? Did he practice? AND THAT’S NOT ALL. The Halloween before that, I opened my bedroom door and there was a creepy clown standing thing in my room—like a thing you get from the Halloween store! I should have been prepared. This Halloween, I am going to make sure Chuck get’s his just-deserts. I am starting to plan NOW. In freaking MARCH! I can’t wait.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Jenna grew up in Chandler, Arizona with her family. About two years ago, she moved across country with her mother and now lives in Milford, Pennsylvania. Jenna loves stuff about ghosts, and she is always willing to see if the legends are true. She has gone on a many legend quests but have yet to hold them true until this one. She is now a senior in high school and eighteen years old and plans to go to California in the fall. Jenna loves scary movies and is not scared of many things—besides those stated in the above piece of folklore. According to her, she plans on pranking Chuck this year, 2016, around Halloween.

Context of the Performance: Halloween

Thoughts about the piece: I felt that this particular piece of folklore that I collected was rich in the folkloric terms we had learned in our Forms of Folklore class. Foremost, there is the precedent of the practical joke, where there is a victim—Jena—and initiator—Chuck—and a dope—the scaring of another person. There is the obvious separation of groups, the people who think it is funny, like Chuck, those who are on the inside of the joke and those who are the unsuspecting casualties, like Jenna, who are outside of the joke.

However, it is interesting to note the occurrence when this practical joke transpired. In Milford, Pennsylvania, where Jenna lives, contrary to popular belief, it really does not start snowing until the end of November. Thus, there is this transitional period from fall to wintertime. Additionally, while Halloween does mark the end of a season, there is seemingly coherent transition between everyday life as well. For example, the marathon of Halloween movies on ABC Family will start to transition into Christmas time movies, the radio will start singing Christmas carols, and department stores will stop selling their Halloween decoration and start to set out Christmas decorations. (It is probably the perfect time for a practical joke such as this, because one would have to question Chuck’s sanity if he dressed up like a dead woman crab walking up the stairs on a regular basis).

Pop culture happens to play an interesting role in this joke as well. As Jenna had noted, the movie Mama (2013) directed by Andrés Muschietti, personifies woman “creepily.” Especially, in horror films, the ghosts and/or dead creatures are most often portrayed as being female: The Ring (2002) and The Grudge (2004). Furthermore, there is also the portrayal of clowns being scary, even though they were supposed to be a child’s entertainment at parties. In pop culture, these clowns are often portrayed as being murderous: It (1990), Amusement (2008), and Poltergeist (1982). There are even designated costumes at Halloween stores, or aisles, that say “Ghost Woman” or “Murderous Clown.” Hence, while in the past these might of not been scary costumes, and or events, in today’s society, the realm of scary, even the “horror” genre has completely changed.

Finally, it is important to note that this practical joke has almost become a tradition in Jenna’s household. Chuck has played this joke on her for two Halloweens in a row, and Jenna had stated that she plans on a practical joke this coming Halloween, where Chuck is the unsuspecting victim and Jenna is in the know.

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