The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).
K- “Ok so we have like a folklore of garden gnomes where it’s like, so it’s like my family in Mexico like my tias (aunts) from my mom’s side they believe that garden gnomes they come alive at night. And like the proof they have of it it’s like my grandma used to own gnomes and her neighbors used to own gnomes in Mexico. And the garden gnomes the next day would be found in different places and a lot of stuff was broken and sometimes my mom and her sister would wake up at night, and they used to hear things and they would look outside and they would never see the gnomes there. So there’s that story that they become alive at night in Mexico.”
Did you hear this story anywhere else with other people or other versions of it?
K-“Well recently I was talking to one of my cousins who like is from same side from my mom side and we all grew up here in America but like my cousins was supposedly telling the story to some friends whose parents were also from Mexico and like their parents here in LA here in California their parents own garden gnomes. And the thing is that this friend was telling my cousin that he actually believes what the parents are saying, because one night the garden gnomes were not where they had placed them and they found them inside the house and like the friend found them one night in the house and they were like rolling in the hallway. Since then, they got rid of the gnomes, or at least they tried to. They threw them away but the next day they were in the same place they had put them before. That’s another version, at least from here in California.”
How long ago was the first time you heard this?
K-“Two or three years ago. I just found out about my mom”
Analysis- This story is very interesting in the fact that this is one of the few stories from Mexico where inanimate objects, that are not haunted, come to life. The Mexican culture does not traditionally include creatures such as gnomes but instead, it consist of larger creatures and ghosts. This is because the country did not originally have gnomes until places, such as the United States introduced them to there. This story can be seen as a representation of the fear towards the unknown and the things that are not traditional. Traditions or stories of gnomes coming to life are more common in Europe.
The informant, J, is 18 years old born and raised in Coachella, California. His mom is from Delano, California, while his dad is from Indio, California. He is majoring in Print and Digital Journalism with a Media, Economics, and Entrepreneurship minor. He also considers himself Mexican.
J-“So the folklore story that we used to hear was La Llorona and that was a big thing in Mexican culture. La llorona is this ghost of a woman and she lost her children while looking by the river they drowned and you can hear her crying and crying. Parents would tell their kids this stuff this story whenever they would do something that seemed pretty dangerous or they’re like behaving badly. So like I remember going to the park and doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing and like my parents telling me ‘oh you’re going to end up like la llorona’s kids like they drowned in the river because they were doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing.’ Just like when you were behaving bad they’re like ‘I want la llorona to come after you’ and stuff like that. I remember my aunts and uncles would tell me this stuff before going to bed, ‘I would hear her crying at night’, just trying to freak me out. Now as an older person is funny but then it wasn’t funny because you take that stuff pretty seriously when you’re that young”
Do you remember what age you were when you heard this?
J-“I think I was like 7 or 8. Oviously you’re not going to tell a 6 year old that because like they’re still naïve. But like when you’re 7 or 8 you have a better concept of the world around you. That’s when you can start telling kids stuff like this”
Do you still hear the story?
J-“Uh, like everyone that surrounds me is like pretty much grown up so they think its like a running joke like ‘remember when tio (uncle) would talk about la llorona?’ There’s like no little kids in our family”
Do you think there is a specific reason why they told you that story instead of another?
J-“Well I’m Mexican. The area that I grew up in California is mainly Mexican citizens and so that’s something very popular at least in Mexico folklore. So yea that’s probably the reason why. That’s what they grew up with in Mexico”
Are there any forested areas or bodies of water nearby where you lived?
J-“By my house there was this park that also serves as a rain ditch so whenever it rains that park takes all of the water so that way it doesn’t go into the streets. That place is full of grass 8 of 10 times of the year and then like the other 2 is filled with water. So that was usually a point of interest with la llorona because like she’s crying by the river so this would be considered the river by the house”
Analysis- In this version of la llorona, the children died accidentally while playing near the river. Traditionally, la llorona was the one that drowned her children. This could have changed so that it would not be so harsh and scary to the children who it was being told to. The body of water also changed to fit even the rain ditch. This shows how the folklore changes according to its context and who its being to. Since there are no more children to tell the story to, the legend is beginning to die away. It is now only a memory from time to time. If there are no children added to the family, the story may be completely forgotten. It is evidence that while the story is known by everyone, it is predominately used as a legend for children, and it is otherwise not really spoken about.
“Ok, so, there’s these two parents. Well, wait, not parents. There’s this couple, and they can’t have kids, and they’re, like, pretty old now. So it’s snowing one day, and the husband goes outside, and has an idea to build a snowgirl…? So like a little girl instead of a snowman. They made her look really realistic and then a stranger comes by one night, and he, like, does some sort of magic and then he leaves. Then, at night, the snowgirl comes to life. And so they’re really excited, because now they have a daughter, so they take her inside. But, she’s, like, snow, so they keep her from going outside as it becomes spring and summer, and in the summer the girl wants to go outside, um, and her parents always tell her ‘no’, and they don’t tell her why, they don’t tell her why, they don’t tell her that she’s snow. Um, so, the parents go to like the market, or they leave the house one day, and the girl goes outside, and she melts. And the parents come back and she’s, I guess, dead.”
“I mean, I like it. It’s stuck with my all of these years. I don’t know, I didn’t do, like, a great job of telling it. I think the message is to always be honest, I guess? And I like that, I think if the parents were, um, more honest with their daughter they could’ve saved her.”
“My parents got, like, a little set of stories from India. It’s not an Indian story, but they used to read it to me at night. Sure enough, I actually met the informant’s mother later that day. I asked her about the story and she said, “Oh yes, we used to have plenty of books filled with little stories that we’d tell the kids before they went to bed. Not necessarily Spanish, or Indian, just some fairy tales and little stories.”
I had originally asked this informant to participate because I knew that her and her family were very much still in touch with their roots. She visits India nearly every year, goes to Indian weddings, lived in Spain near her family for half a year, talks about all the traditional Spanish food her mom makes. So when I asked her to share with me some form of folklore, be it a proverb or a cultural event, or a story, that this is the one she thought of.
To be honest, it could have been because she had been around a previous informant who was also telling a tale, but I still believe it is telling. Out of all the stories that her mother told her over the years, and I’m sure countless relatives had told her, she remembered “the one about the snow girl.” She couldn’t remember exactly what the story was for some time, and I suggested that maybe she think of something else. But she was adamant about teling this story; she called her mom, called her dad, called the house, and finally it clicked.
After more of my own research, I found the origin of the “Snow Girl” tale to be, in fact, Russian. The Snow Girl, or Snow Maiden, is formally known in Russian folklore as Snegurochka. There are many tales of Snegurochka, and many variations of this same story that the informant had told me. Here is a variant where she melts, but does so intentionally, after her parents compare her to the value of a hen when a fox brings her home from being lost in the woods. However, in this story, she refuses to leave with the fox, and her once banished dog brings her home and is rewarded, and she remains in tact and happy. To read yet another version, you may want to check out The Snow Maiden and Other Russian Tales by Bonnie Marshall. (Marshall, Bonnie C. The Snow Maiden and Other Russian Tales. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004. Print.)
Beyond the interest of all these variations, however, is the context of this informants nationality telling this story. Clearly, with so many stories, the Snegurochka is something that Russian’s identify their culture with. Yet, here is a girl, whose parents are from countries that don’t even traditionally see snow, retelling the tale in Southern California as the one piece of folklore that she would like to share. This just goes to show that while one’s heritage and self-proclaimed culture are important, they are not all encompassing of the folkloric artifacts that they hold dear.
“This story is called Soup on a Nail. It’s an old Norwegian folk story. OK, so the story goes that there’s this village and there’s this woman in the village that’s known as being very miserly. She doesn’t give at all to the poor, she’s very very selfish, um, and things like that.
So one night a man comes and knocks on her door and he’s a beggar. He’s really really poor. And he says “Um, excuse me, is there any way you can spare me maybe just a pot of soup or something. I’m so so hungry,” and she says, “Absolutely not, I hate beggars. Just please go away.” And he says, “Oh, well, could I possibly just have some water. Maybe you don’t even have any water but that’s OK.” She says, “Oh, of course I have water” and he says “Ok let me come in and just boil the water,” and she says “Ok fine”.
So she lets him come in and he boils the water and he says “Now this soup tastes pretty incredible if you just have some bone marrow but you probably don’t have any bone marrow or anything like that.” And she says, “Of course I do, what are you talking about?” and gives him the bone marrow.
So he takes the bone marrow and he mixes it in —
OH and I forgot to mention earlier the point of this story is that he says “I can make soup on a nail; all you need for this soup is one nail,” and she says “Ok, I have a nail, take it.” Not like a fingernail, like a nail for the wall. So he puts the nail at the bottom of a pan then boils the water and then adds the bone marrow.
Then he’s like “You know what works really well with this whole mixture? If you just have some vegetables. I know you might not have some vegetables and they’re hard to come by, not many people have them.” She says, “Well of course *I* have vegetables.” So she gives him the vegetables and he mixes this in.
And this goes on and on, like he adds meat, all these different things and flavors to this soup, and makes this really delicious soup, and in the end he says “There! I’ve made soup on a nail!” And he takes it away, and she’s given him a meal without realizing it. It’s about, like, it’s not that hard to give to people, and it’s bad to miserly and selfish and not give to the poor.
“It was taught to me by my grandmother, and i haven’t heard it since I was maybe five.” The informant said she doesn’t know why she remembers the tale so well, but it always stuck with her. Her grandmother told a lot of tales to them when they were kids, and always tried to impart wisdom through fun stories. She likes the story because charity is something she’s believed in her entire life.
Informant: “This story would probably be told to a small child. Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of a simple story and isn’t too long or anything, and um, like teaches good lessons, so yeah. I know my grandma is the one that taught me it, but I wouldn’t tell the story to my friend or something, yeah.”
Tales are often told to children to teach them lessons, and there’s no lesson more important than the golden rule: treat people the way you would like to be treated. The informant comes from a family that is generally wealthy, but she says that her grandmother did not grow up with as much. In telling this story, her grandmother is teaching her that not only is it important to help those less fortunate than you, but also that it is not that difficult.
In the story itself, the rich woman is described as selfish and rude. She also can’t see what the beggar is doing despite the listener being able to pick up on it fairly quickly. It was interesting hearing the voices that the informant gave the characters in the story, which can not be translated over text. The tone of the woman was snobby and rude, while the beggar was cunning and shifty. Without this intonation, one might read this story as the woman acting like a complete and total fool for no reason, but with the tone that the informant used, it’s revealed that it is the need to display her wealth and capabilities that makes the woman susceptible to the trap.
Hearing tales like this are always interesting to me, because I was never told many tales as a kid. However, my mom would use folklore to instill the values of being kind to others, and helping those less fortunate than I am, but it was typically done through proverbs.
I researched this story a little bit further, and found out that I actually had known this tale all along, despite thinking it was brand new. The variation that I am used to is called ‘Stone Soup’, and I believe I learned it in school growing up. Other than its title, the story is almost exactly the same. It’s interesting that even a change as simple as one word can lead to such different recollections of stories and tales.
For one of the most popular variants, which includes a group of tricksters gathering ingredients for a soup that does not even exist, you can check out the book Stone Soup by Marcia Brown.
Brown, Marcia. Stone Soup: An Old Tale. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1947. Print.
There’s this really old couple, they’ve been married for years and years, and they haven’t been able to have a baby. And so, they’ve been praying to the gods, whatever japanese gods there are, and finally one day, as the woman goes to the river to do her laundry, she finds a giant peach floating in the river. She was like, “wow! It’s not the season for peaches! This will be great to take to my husband!” So she takes the peach home and brings it home to her husband for dinner. It’s like, keep in mind, it’s a giant peach. The husband, the old japanese husband, goes to cut the peach, and all of the sudden, the peach breaks in half, and there’s a child in the peach, and he goes, “Stop! I am the child you’ve been praying for! Sent by the gods!!!” And at first the old couple were in shock. And then realized they were blessed, and raised the child as if it were their own son.
The son grew up to be a very strong and handsome young man, and he turned out to be a great warrior. All of the sudden, the town criar, or the emperor’s messenger, came and announced that the princesses and their maidens had been captured and now they’re on an evil island. So peach kid goes to his mom and dad and is like, “Hey! I can do that! Will you let me go on this journey to rescue the princesses and their maidens? It would bring great honor to our family.” The mom doesn’t really want to let her son go, but… So she says “Son, I’ll sleep on it.” So the son wakes up in the morning and finds a travelling pack filled with rice cakes and other supplies and a note from his mother allowing him to go but telling him to find some friends along the way.
So, in sequential order, and the abridged version of this, he befriends a dog, a monkey, and a sparrow by giving them rice cakes! And they all are brave animals and want to help him in this noble quest. They like… for some reason got a boat, and sailed to the island where there’s a giant castle guarded by demons. With the sparrow’s quick wit, because he was able to fly around the top of the castle, and the monkeys intelligence, and the dogs strength, they were able to get into the caste and rescue the princesses! And before they killed the king demon, they held a sword to his throat and forced him to tell them where he kept all his treasures. So after they found the treasures, they killed the king demon, put his head on a stick, and sailed away with the head of the king demon, the princesses, and all the treasures. They came back and presented to the emperor his returned princesses, um gold, and the head of the king demon. The emperor let the boy take the gold home for his family, and the parents were very grateful. They were really poor, by the way. They lived in a hut. And so they never had to go one day hungry ever again. All from a peach, you know? You never know. So the son and the parents and all the animals lived together happily ever after with all their money.
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?):
I heard it from my grandmother and she lived in Korea during the time that Japan was in control of Korea. In her culture, there were a lot of both Korean and Japanese influences, so she used to tell all these weird fantasy fairy tales to me as a kid. It’s symbolic to me because it ties me to my grandmother and the memory of her.
Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):
It’s a kids tale. It’s like found in japanese fairy-tale books. My grandma told me when she was babysitting me. I was really sick and had nothing better to do but she didn’t want me watching any more tv.
Despite having attended an immersion school with both Spanish and Japanese programs, I have never heard this story before. It incorporates the importance of honor and valiance in many Asian cultures. The most interesting component of this retelling was that the informant said it was a traditional Japanese folktale, though her heritage is Korean and Chinese. This statement leads me to believe that although it may be associated with Japanese culture, the tale may have been dispersed throughout Asian culture as a whole. Despite how isolated the country of Japan was until the twentieth century, the informant’s Korean grandmother knew the tale and could recount it with confidence. However, it was never claimed as Korean by the informant- the credit was given to Japan. It makes me wonder why, as Asian cultures are known for taking pride in their country’s heritage, this tale wasn’t immediately accredited to the grandmother’s country of origin.
Annotation: This story is a retelling of the classic Japanese fairy tale, Momotaro. The story can be accessed through classic Japanese folktale storybooks, or individual published retellings. Below is a link to the “Peach Boy” folktale.
Michelle De La Cruz
25 Years Old
The Story of Pina
“There is an old story my grandmother use to tell me, it was about pineapples and working hard. I’m sure the details vary, and I am positive the names were ones my grandmother chose because it was names from her favorite books as a child I think… these names were familiar to us in a lot of her stories. It loosely went something along these lines: Once in a mystic jungle near the beach on the sands of the Philippines lived a man and a woman named June, and Mara. They weren’t very rich, they weren’t very powerful, but they were two of the hardest working people in their village, and everyone loved them for it. Every day they would farm and work hard to keep a healthy livestock, to sell back to the village, and the village appreciated how hard they worked. One day, while sitting in their hut, enjoying dinner, Mara turns to June and says (I have great news, you’re going to be a father!) “aking mahal ako ay may magandang balita , ang iyong pagpunta sa maging isang ama” They cried tears of joy, and for the first two years they lived in pure bliss with Pina, their new baby girl. Sadly June grew sick, and when Pina was only two they lost his light from the family.
“Poor Mara had to continue without him. She was a hard working woman who always did what she had to make sure little Pina never grew up without a thing, she worked to always put food on the table and made sure the house was always clean for her daughter. Though she never asked for much from Pina, Mara rarely complained, because she was always willing to do what was needed to have ends meet. As the years passed she began to do everything for Pina. So much that Pina never wanted to do anything for herself. She grew lazy and refused to look for things. Mara would ask Pina to help her with sweeping the hut, but Pina said she could not find the broom sitting right in front of her. Mara asked Pina to wash her clothes, but she said she couldn’t find the soap. Pina was so lazy, she said she couldn’t find things sitting right in front of her nose.
“One day her mother because very ill. So ill she was stuck in bed, crying from pain. She yelled for Pina to help. “Pina, please help me, I am took sick to do it my self and I am so desperate for porridge. “ Pina heard but did not reply. After several minutes of silence Mara grew angered and called for Pina to come to her room. “I’m too weak Pina, please, I need food.” “That’s so much work, I don’t want to make you food,” Pina replied. “Don’t be lazy Pina, all you have to do is put water and rice to boil, and stir it with the ladle every so often. I just need food to eat. Please Pina, I am too weak to make it myself. “ Pina didn’t like hearing she was lazy, so she ran into the kitchen and began banging around drawers and pots. “I don’t see the ladle. This is too hard for me right now. Its not fair!” “It’s in the drawer Pina, it’s always right there! Just look! Please.” Mara sighed and cried to herself, “I wish you would grow a thousand eyes all over your head! Then you can find what you’re looking for. Maybe then you won’t have any excuses!” an hour went by and Mara suspected Pina had been too quiet- she must have run away to play with a friend. Mara pushed herself up from bed and sluggishly went to the kitchen and began cleaning up the tantrum Pina had left behind. She slowly looked around at the mess and sighed, “She probably went to a friend’s house so I wouldn’t make her clean all this up.” She made her food and went back to bed.
“She slept with a fever all night, and in the morning when she woke, her fever was gone. She walked outside and called for Pina, but still no response or Pina. She looked out into the backyard and saw a tree growing from the Pina’s favorite play spot. For weeks she mourned over the thought of her daughter running away because she thought she was so terrible, she vowed she would never make Pina do another thing again. She broke her back cleaning the house, and every night she made Pina’s favorite food, in hopes she would forgive her and come home. One day, she was sweeping the backyard where Pina used to play, for months now the strange plant had been growing and by this time the leaves of the plant had fully opened. Inside, she saw this strange yellow fruit that resembled a child’s head with a thousand eyes. Mara shrieked as she walked towards the fruit remembering what curse she wished upon her daughter. From this day on the Magical fruit was named Pina or Pineapple, celebrated as a reminder to always work hard and not be lazy. As well as reminding you to never wish harm unto others, and learn to control your temper when mad.”
“Sometimes I think I work really hard and really put my all into things because I the back of my mind I don’t want any one turning me into a lazy pineapple. As a kid I enjoyed eating pineapples, this story made me feel like when I did I was eating lazy kids. Didn’t really freak me out though, and to this day that is why some times I am myself lazy, because I ate too much of it right out of pineapples as a kid. My grandma would always joke, pineapples aren’t before work food, they are an after work treat for that reason. If you eat them before you do your work, it will never get done. She used to always say that because pineapple have so many eyes they are good for you to see better… so she would say “Chelle, clean your glasses off and eat some pineapple, maybe then you will see…” it was always a weird thing to my friends, but I still relate this story to why pineapples are my favorite fruit and why I always think of it as a fruit to eat in celebration of a job well done!
“My grandma used to tell us these stories while we cooked. And this was one she chose when ever we wished harm on one other of if none of us helped out she would threaten to wish us into pineapples. Also some times when we wanted to eat pineapples we would make her tell it so we could joke about eating kids and being lazy cannibals… my cousins and I are really weird haha! I can remember most the words in fluent Tagalog, but as the years passed and I grew less fluent it became more and more English .. except for that one line I remember verbally in Tagalog. My grandma would always say that line as if she was saying it to grandpa. I know for sure my grandma changed stuff because she always gave character names but I remember another friend at church told me she had heard of it when she was young. So I think the story exists in other families too. I don’t think my grandfather’s side has that story, though. I remember we talked about that at her funeral reception.”
Origin: as far as Michelle knows, there are many stories based on fruit in the Philippines.
Analysis: This seems to be a cautionary tale for children, as well as an entertaining one that explains the origins of a popular fruit. It is a good bit of narrative family folklore, and although the names were chosen at will by the grandmother, the story itself is fairly well known in the Philippines. As they were immigrants, it was a helpful way to keep oral traditions alive and tie them back to the community they had left. It is a fable, as it tries to impart lessons onto the children that they carry with them: do not be lazy and don’t wish harm unto others rashly.
For another version of this story, please see Philippine Myth on the Origin of the Pineapple, online at http://www.philippinesinsider.com/myths-folklore-superstition/philippine-myth-on-the-origin-of-the-pineapple/
“When I was little, my great grandfather told this story to us. He was going back home from a bar one night, a bit drunk, on his horse one night. He heard a noise and looked behind him, and saw a creepy woman standing there in rags, with long dark hair covering her face. She called out to him and asked for a ride, but he was scared and kept going. She laughed, and when then he felt a strange presence behind him. He glanced back, and she was sitting behind him on the horse! He couldn’t look at her because he was afraid of dying, so he spurred his horse to go faster and faster to try and throw her off. She scratched at his back and kept laughing madly, until finally her presence was gone as he got closer to his house. When he got home, his shirt was all torn in the back, and his back had bloody scratches on it. Since then he never went on that road in the dark again.”
Analysis: This is a personal twist on a popular urban legend in El Salvador. La Siguanaba is often said to be a woman alone, with long dark hair obscuring her face and trying to lure men and children to her, which resulted in death or insanity. This personal account reflects a deep belief in the legend, and might have blown up drunken impressions on a rural road on horseback in the middle of the night to such a thing. Personal accounts like these keep the legends alive and most people who believe and spread them will reference at least one such person who has personally experienced it.
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.
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.
The Main Piece
Why is the cat not apart of the Chinese Zodiac calendar? Supposedly, the gods set up a competition, a race, for all the animals to compete and win their place in the calendar. However, while all the other animals knew what day the race would be on, the rat was clever and lied to the cat. The rat told the cat that the race would be on a different day so that when the race actually did happen, the cat was no where to be found. The cat wound up missing the race and was unable to be a part of the Zodiac calendar. This tale also explains why cats hate rats in the real world as well.
My informant is Rachel Tan, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Being that her mother is Chinese and extremely cultured, she had a good understanding of the Zodiac calendar. Her mother would tell her this tale to explain how the animals got their place. She explained that it was a childhood story that she, and many of her other friends, grew up with. As a child, she enjoyed imagining and reenacting the race with her stuffed animals. It was because she could relate it with the Zodiac calendar, something she uses even to this day, that she can so easily remember the story and its relevance. She states that the story represents not just her childhood, but also her culture.
This Chinese tale was told to me previously as Rachel and I ate Panda Express together at the Ronal Tutor Campus Center. We were discussing our life back home, the setting was casual and conversation flowed easily.
I enjoyed hearing about the Zodiac calendar. My mother was never really too cultured so hearing about my own culture was a delight. I found it also intriguing that the tale was also able to incorporate an explanation for the cat’s dislike of rats, thereby offering some sort of validity to the story.