USC Digital Folklore Archives / February, 2011
general
Narrative

Story – Japan

“This is a story that is repeated in martial arts circles in the US and Japan. There are representations of this in Bruce Lee’s movie Enter the Dragon. The basic story goes; a martial arts master is on a boat in a harbor. As tends to happen in these stories, some guy is trying to make himself look cool and challenges the master. The master says alright, but not here on this crowded boat. He points to an island and says, let’s go on to the beach and fight there. When they arrive at the beach, he insists that they take a given amount of paces before they turn and fight each other. The challenger agrees, they turn back to back and start pacing. The challenger takes his ten steps and turns around. The master is back in the boat rowing back to where they came from.”

Andrew told me that he heard of this story at the end of 9th grade. He had decided that he wasn’t content with how he was as a person. He wanted to change and one way he did that was to train in martial arts; he now practices 7 different forms of martial arts. He also said that he is the kind of “doofus” that whenever he becomes interested in anything, he researches it as much as he can. He also said that the story is one of the most repeated stories besides the tea cup one, but he hasn’t really repeated the story much outside of the martial arts world. Andrew said that he heard this story from his master and many others in the martial arts world. He thinks that the meaning of the story is that brute strength and skill aren’t the most important, intelligence matters just as much if not more. I agree with Andrew about the meaning of the story. It seems to be a simple story about the importance and power of one’s intelligence. I think it also serves as a cautionary tale that you should not show off or boast of your skills because that could get you into trouble. I hadn’t ever heard the story before Andrew told it to me, but I agree with his analysis, and it definitely seems to serve as a lesson for those in martial arts and for others as well.

Annotation: This story is referred to in the Bruce Lee film, Enter the Dragon.

Enter the Dragon. Dir. Robert Clouse, Actors: Bruce Lee. Concord Productions Inc, 1973.

general
Myths
Narrative

Folk Story – Jewish

“After the Exodus when the Red Sea folds in on itself and restores itself to normal; the Hebrew people who have just been saved and are celebrating on the banks of the river. And, it said that in heaven, the angels joined in and celebrated and danced and sang, until god asks them how they can be rejoicing when they have seen the slaughter of thousands of his creations, his beloved Egyptians.”

Andrew said that he heard this story from his rabbi, but doesn’t recall there being any special context or reason for why the story was told. To Andrew, the story means that God loves all his creations. He said that just because someone has done wrong or you don’t like them, it doesn’t mean their life isn’t valuable. Andrew said that he would sum up the meaning of the story with, “Love thine enemy and life is precious.” I agree with Andrew as to the meaning of the story. But, while I do think one message is that all life is precious and that just because someone has done something wrong doesn’t mean their life isn’t valuable, I do think there is another message. According to the story, God questioned the Angels as to why they were rejoicing when they had seen people being slaughtered. I feel like the story is also saying that we shouldn’t take pleasure in anyone’s pain, or in anyone’s demise.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general

Folk Remedy – India

“If I’m sick my parents give me tea with ginger, honey, or cloves. The honey tastes good but the other stuff tastes nasty. For a sore throat, my parents tell me to suck on some cloves. For a stuffy nose, they tell me to put salt water in my nose. For sinus problems, I’m supposed to gargle with salt water. Getting a head massage with coconut oil is good for hair, and it’s supposed to be cooling.”

Asif told me that his parents have been giving him these homemade remedies since he was a small child, probably around 5 years old. As far as he knows, the remedies have been passed down through the generations in his family, and are actually quite common in India. From his experiences, he said that whenever his parents give him the remedies he feels better afterwards, and actually prefers the remedies to some of the more mainstream or western medicines. He thinks that he will continue to use the remedies and pass them onto to his own children.

My parents are from India and they have given me the same simple remedies for these common ailments. The only remedy that I actually use is the tea with ginger in it because I take more common medicines most of the time. When I was younger, my mom would put coconut oil on my hair, which felt pretty good. If I had an upset stomach my mom would sometimes give me ground up nutmeg. Also, my mom told me that although she hadn’t ever tried it, she heard of people in India making a paste of dried ginger and applying that to their foreheads as a remedy for a headache. It is supposed to burn a little but it helps get rid of a headache. But, now I mainly use the medicine you buy at a store. These remedies are just known and accepted in India, but I fear that they are becoming less popular as India is modernizing.

general
Legends
Narrative

Traditional Story – China

“There were once two villages that bordered one another. One of the villages practiced headhunting as a tradition to their worship and it caused quite a bit of trouble for the other village. Something needed to be done in order to solve this issue between the two villages. The leader of the village that does not practice headhunting came up with a plan and so he met up with the people of the village that practiced headhunting. The leader said and promised the headhunters that he will provide an individual from his village to serve as their prey but only if they promise that this will be their last hunt, and so they agreed. A man fully dressed with a cloak that covered his entire body was sent into the village where the headhunters will hunt him. With great skill, the headhunters took the man’s life, however when they lifted the hood they realize the man whom they have killed was none other than the great leader of the other village. Tears came falling from the headhunters lamenting over the great sacrifice made by this man for his own people and from that day onward the headhunters stopped their headhunting tradition in honor of the man who gave his life for others he cared about.”

Chien-Jui said that he heard this story from his grandfather when he was younger, and that his grandfather would always tell him many different stories. Chien-Jui said that he does not recall the context in which he was first told the story, but that it was common for his grandfather to tell him such stories. In his opinion, the point of this story is to demonstrate what sorts of qualities a leader should have. Specifically, what he got from this story is the characteristic of sacrifice; a great leader must be willing to sacrifice for his or her followers. He said that sacrifices are not all about death; or rather the types of sacrifice should illustrate the leader’s devotion to the mass almost like their protector, their hero. I agree with Chien-Jui about the meaning of the story. It seems pretty straightforward, as a lesson to be a good leader. I believe that the story is trying to convey the idea that sometimes leaders do need to make sacrifices for the good of their people.  I think that the story also shows that sometimes drastic measures need to be taken to find solutions to problems, and you must be able to make tough decisions as a leader. Also I think the story serves to show that just because something is common practice doesn’t mean it should be accepted. Just because the village used to practice headhunting didn’t mean that it or right or should be accepted.

Childhood
general
Musical

Children’s Song – Korea

“Hak gyo jong ee, dang dang dang, uh seo mo yi za, sun shang nim ee wo ri lool, gi da ri shin da”

“School bell is dang dang dang (ringing), let’s gather around, our teacher is waiting for us.”

Kwangsub told me that this is a traditional Korean children’s song. He said that he first learned this from an elementary school text book. But now he thinks kids probably learn it when they are in kindergarten. He said that lots of people know the song and it isn’t just taught in school or learned from books. He thinks that its purpose might be to teach children to be prompt and on time getting to class.

I think that Kwangsub is right when he says that the purpose of the song might be to teach kids to be on time when they are at school. It is similar to English songs that are meant to teach children how to do things or to help them remember things. It seems like this Korean song is analogous to songs like the “Clean Up” song that was featured on the Barney television show many years ago, and is now widely used without reference to the show.

Korean Children’s Song

Childhood
general
Life cycle
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Traditional Story – Korea

“In Korean traditional stories, in heaven there is a kingdom and there is a princess who is usually in love with a normal guy. In this story, the princess’s father, the king separates them, far far apart. But, they were crying all the time and complained about the situation. The crows saw what was happening, so they made a bridge for the princess and the guy. So, once in a year, July 7th, all the crows gather and sacrifice themselves so that the two people can meet, then they cry and tears fall. Usually, around July it rains a lot and lots of crows go bald. So, this story was a way to explain the phenomenon.”

Kwangsub said that he first learned of this story from a children’s book that his parents bought for him. He said that it’s like the Korean version of stories like Snow White or Cinderella, that lots of people know it and he thinks that it started out being passed down orally but now it is being written and sold in books. He doesn’t really like the story. From what he remembers, it does rain on July 7th rather often, but he doesn’t really see many crows around that time and so the story doesn’t make much sense to him as an explanation a natural occurrence. Also, he said that now that he’s grown up he has lost interest in the story.

I don’t know if I completely agree with Kwangsub about the meaning of the story, and the story itself. Since he got the story from a children’s book, I think it might have been simplified and there is a more complicated version that is meant for older audiences. I think it’s very possible that the story was simplified for the children’s book, similar to the way the Grimm’s simplified the stories they found and made them more palatable and acceptable for children to read. Also, I think that there might be more to the meaning than just trying to explain why it rains and why the crows might go bald since July 7th isn’t a significant date in Korean culture and many animals go through changes during the year and don’t  have stories created about them. I think the story that Kwangsub read was a simplified version of another story and has maybe become a story of its own, resembling but separate from the original story.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Traditional Story – Korea

“Back in the day, salt was very expensive in Korea, as well as other parts of the world. This is a story that explains why the ocean water is so salty. There was one poor guy, who was very nice. Once, he helped this poor person on the street, took care of the person because he looked sick. The guy who he helped was a wizard. The wizard gave the poor man a bag that produced salt. A certain word made it create salt, and another word made it stop making salt. The poor man became rich from the salt. Then, there was a greedy man who made the good guy drunk and find out the information as to how the poor guy became rich. The greedy guy stole the bag, but didn’t want to be caught and so he ran off to a foreign country in a boat. On the way to the other country, he decided to see if the bag worked, so he said the word so the bag started to create salt and he was happy but he didn’t realize that the boat was starting to sink from the weight of the salt, and he couldn’t stop it because he realized it too late and didn’t know what the word to stop the bag creating salt was. And, that is why the ocean is salty.”

Kwangsub said that the story gives an explanation for why the ocean is salty and also has a moral. He said that he likes this story a lot because it’s is interesting and teaches you not to be greedy. He said that he learned this story from a children’s book when he was younger. It’s supposed to be a very famous story. He said that lots of people know of this story in Korea, and that he thinks that only recently have people started to learn the story from books. I agree with Kwangsub about the meaning of the story. Even though it is from a children’s book, it seems like a complete story that hasn’t been changed much, it explains a natural occurrence and has a moral to it. There are many stories of a similar nature in other cultures, and this one explains why a characteristic of the ocean which is very important part of Korean culture.

Folk speech
general

Tongue Twister – Korea

“Ganjang gongjang gongjangjang eun duenjang gongjang gongjangjang yida”

“Soy sauce factory manager is soybean paste factory manager”

Kwangsub told me that this is a traditional Korean tongue twister that he learned from a textbook in a Korean language class. But, he said that lots of people know and it and learn it just from word of mouth. According to him, it’s pretty much nonsensical; it has no meaning and is just supposed to confuse you.

To me it means absolutely nothing, even less than the tongue twisters that I know in English. I think it’s just meant for amusement for children. But, it does obviously incorporate things from Asia, soy sauce and soybean paste.

Korean Tongue Twister

Customs
Earth cycle
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Festival – India

“In my house, we used to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi. Ganesh is the god of obstacles; he has a human body and an elephants head, with only one tusk. Initially, people used to do this in their homes. Then it became more of a community event, especially in Bombay. Small communities would get together and keep a deity of Ganesha and do prayers everyday and have events, like childrens programs and presentations and such. It’s a 10 day event. You have to do it either for 10 days, 5 days, or 2.5 days. After praying every day, on the 10th day you take the deity to the sea and submerge it and let it go. It’s called Visarjan. Every year, people would make these deities, from as small as an inch to as large as 100 feet tall. The deities were made from clay, they were made very beautifully. There are artists who make the statue of the deity Ganesha.  Every day you would have prayers, and Prasad which is sweets prepared to offer to god and is shared with everyone.”

In my mom’s house, they used to prepare for this by clearing the front room. They would go buy a deity and create a sort of alter and present it with silk garments and plants and lights and things. Every day, they would do the Pooja (prayer ceremony) in the morning. Generally the men in the family would do the Pooja, it was usually my mom’s father or one of her brothers or uncles, depending on who was there that day. Every day, after the Pooja they would have Aarti, which was a prayer after the Pooja. My grandmother would make Prasad every day. People who didn’t have the deity in their home would come visit them and we would share the Prasad and food with them. On the 10th day, they would submerge the deity.

I haven’t ever been to the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in India. But, from what I have learned from Sunday School and from what I have read about or seen on TV, I know that the Ganesh Chaturti is a festival that is meant to honor Ganesh, as given by the name. But, I also know that it is a big deal in Bombay more than other parts of India. Thousands of people gather to take part in the Ganesh Chaturthi. When we did the Ganesh Chaturthi at my house, I don’t remember it being that large of a deal, mainly because it takes a while to prepare and having to continue the same process for many days requires a decent amount of time that wasn’t always readily available.

Annotation: This festival is documented in an article in the NewYork Times.

New York Times. Parade Caps Festival for a Hindu God. 30 August, 1997.

<http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D06E2D71031F933A0575BC0A961958260&scp=3&sq=ganesh%20chaturthi&st=cse>

Foodways
general

Meal – India

“On cold days we make Khichadi, which is rice and lentil with some spices. You are supposed to have it with soft rice. On a cold day, it’s a tradition to eat, it’s a light meal and is easy to eat and digest. There is also Kadhi, which is made from buttermilk, and is a warm soup. The name Kichadi refers to the entire meal of the Kichadi and the Kadhi, you can use both names, but when someone says Kichadi it is assumed that Kadhi will also be made.  I used to have this on cold days when I was small. Now I make it for my children when it’s cold, or if my kids aren’t feeling well since it’s easy to digest.”

At home, my mom makes this for me and my sister. I actually didn’t know that this was supposed to be eaten on cold days. I knew that it was a simple meal that was easy on the stomach but I hadn’t associated it with eating it on cold days. It is a meal that I enjoy eating, since it’s not made very often. Usually, whenever my mom would make Kichadi she would start to remember things about her mom and tell us how she would eat the Kichadi or how her mom would make it for her if she wasn’t feeling very well.

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