USC Digital Folklore Archives / June, 2011
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Ritual – Chinese

Notes:

Every birthday the subject eats either a meal of noodles or one single noodle. The noodle symbolizes good luck for the upcoming year. The subject’s mother also practices this ritual on her own birthday as well as the subject’s grandmother. The subject say’s that she learned the ritual from her mother and that the ritual stems from a “Chinese tradition rooted in one [their] staple foods.”

The ritual of eating noodles is very important to the subject in that she has repeated the ritual every year since the age of three. To prove this point, during my conversation with the subject she remembered that she had forgotten to eat a noodle on her birthday (just two days prior). She immediately prepared Ramen noodles and ate them.

When asked if she actually believed that something bad would happen to her if she did not eat a noodle/noodles on her birthday she said no but she has not gone through a birthday before without eating noodles and would “rather not risk it.”

It is also important to note that the variety of noodle does not matter (i.e. egg noodles, spaghetti, rice noodles, glass noodles, etc.) According to the subject, it is the act of eating anything “noodle like” on one’s birthday that is important. Upon further research the length of the noodles can also be a factor in whether the person will live a long life.

general
Proverbs

Proverb – Hawaii

“The Mene Hene will steal your things unless you clean your room.”

In order to get the subject to clean her room, her mother would tell her that the Mene Hene, (well known elfish beings in Hawaiian culture) would steal her things. The subject describes the Mene Hene as “thievish little elves.” To the subject, the story of the Mene Hene was her mother’s attempt to motivate the subject to not only clean her room, at any given point, but to also continue to keep her room clean for fear she would not be able to find her things (clothes, shoes, toys, etc.) when they were needed. Furthermore, it is important to note that the story of the Mene Hene was only told to her while her family still lived in Oahu, Hawaii.

I am sure if one were to look in other cultures they would find that there are many variations of this same saying. The creatures/ beings that will steal your things might be different but the effect is the same.

general
Narrative

Story

Notes:

The subject’s grandfather and immediate family were out to dinner when the subject and his grandfather got into a disagreement. The subject’s grandfather yells at him. After the dinner the subject was still upset about the incident as he had never been yelled at before. His father explained why he never yells at him through an old saying

About the clouds and the sun…

“One day the Clouds and the Sun saw a man with a coat down on earth. The Cloud and Sun entered into a competition to see who would be able to make the man take off his coat first. The Cloud tried first by creating horrible howling winds which in turn only made the man tighten his coat. The Sun tried next by shinning brightly. The man in the coat, figuring it was a nice day and that he should enjoy it, took it off. “

The moral of the story, for the subject, was that you can achieve the same effect, if not better, if you are pleasant.  In an effect, the subject’s father never yelled at the subject because he felt that he could achieve the same end by not raising his voice.

I think that the subject’s father gave the subject that illustration to capture the essence of his parenting style. We can only assume that the father used the illustration to also indicate that his father, the subject’s grandfather, had another style of parenting probably symbolized by the sun in the story.

Customs
general

Ritual

Notes:

During a high school health class, the subject’s health teacher explained that she was in the kitchen with a friend. The friend was cooking a pot roast and before putting the pot roast in a pot she cut off both ends. The health teacher asked her friend why she cut off the ends and the friend responded “that’s just how my mom always did it” but the health teacher’s friend said that she would ask her mother.

A few days later the health teacher’s friend came back and told her mother cut off both ends because her mother (the friends grandmother) cut them off. The health teacher’s friend was able to ask her grandmother why she cut off the ends of the pot roast and the grandmother replied “because it wouldn’t fit in the pot!”

The health teacher explained to the subject and her class that the underlying meaning to the story was that sometimes there is no underlying story and the and that the reasons why people perform what may seem to be a ritual is completely logical.

Folk Beliefs
general
Narrative

Saying – Chinese

Notes:

The subject’s parents told him that if a person pulls together their fingers on one hand and there are gaps between their fingers then that person is deemed to be greedy. The subject further explained the reasoning behind the saying: “The person is greedy because no matter how much they grab—how much they have in their hands—it will continuously slip through the gaps between the person’s fingers.” The inability of the person to ever assess how much they have in their hands is indicative of the person’s insatiability.

When the subject was asked what this means to him he replied, “I don’t know because I don’t have gaps between my fingers and for the most part I am a pretty giving person.” My question would be what would happen if a child did have gaps between their fingers? Is that person automatically destined to be greedy?  Does the saying also extend to those who are poor?

Foodways
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ritual – German

Notes:

In order to usher in the New Year the subject’s family eats a meal comprised of sauerkraut, sausage, black-eyed peas at midnight on New Year’s Eve. The meal is supposed to bring good luck throughout the year. The subject identified the traditional meal as uniquely German and that the tradition has been kept up through many generations.

For the subject the meal has become less and less important to her and more of something she feels she has to do in order to not upset her grandmother. However she enjoys the fact that the meal symbolically brings her family together like other occasions (i.e. Christmas, Easter, etc). When asked if she would continue this tradition with her own family she said that it would first be up to her husband and secondly it the continuation of the traditional meal would hinge on if she ever learned how to properly prepare the sauerkraut that is required for the meal.

Black-eyed peas as part of a traditional/ritual meal can also be seen in the Italian culture. The appearance of sauerkraut in the meal, however, makes the meal uniquely German.

Childhood
general
Musical

Song

Notes:

“Like ship on the harbor, / like a mother and child, like a light in the darkness, / I’ll hold you a while.

We’ll rock on the water, / I’ll cradle you near, /And hold you while / Angels rock you to sleep.”

The subject’s mother would sing her this lullabye every night before the subject would go to sleep. Her mother sang the lullabye every night until the subject was nine years old. The song was a source of comfort to the subject. It is important to note that while the subject had difficulty reciting the songs lyrics and looked online to find the lyrics where she found that the song’s origins are….

The song has inherent mother/ daughter imagery and draws upon comforting images like angles and water.

Upon further investigation I found that the song is actually of Irish origins and that the subjects mother could have acquired the song while on vacation in Ireland years before the subject was born.

Folk Beliefs
general
Narrative

Saying – Chinese

Notes:

The subject acknowledged that she was aware of a variant of a piece of folklore I has collected earlier: “If you put the fingers on one hand together and there are gaps in between your fingers then you will be poor.” This is different from another piece of folklore that makes the conclusion that the person is greedy. The main difference being that one is greedy and one will be poor.

So in a sense, looking at the same saying, the subject argued that the man is actually poor because he can’t ever keep what he has in his hands. The second subject (she) offered this explanation: “If someone always spends what they have in their hands then they will have nothing in the end.” The subject stated that she too learned this saying from her parents and that she had never heard of the variant of the saying.

My conclusion is that the two viewpoint on the (essentially same) proverb can be melded into one by saying that someone with gaps between their fingers will be a greedy poor man.

Festival
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Festival – Spain

Notes:

The subject learned this piece of folklore while on vacation in Spain during the summers of 8th and 9th grade. According to the subject, the whole of Spain observes a day in the month of June called El Dia de San Juan. The townspeople spend the whole day preparing for the event by building a very large bonfire on the beach. At nightfall the townspeople set the bonfire ablaze. “At this point,” says the subject “tourists and other visitors participate in the culminating event where, at midnight, all of the women present run into the ocean and splash their faces with the water” symbolically keeping themselves beautiful and youthful looking longer.

The subject said that even though she, herself, did not participate in the event she was able to understand the symbolic implications of the act, especially after watching the event for a second time.

Upon further investigation the festival of El Dia de San Juan takes place in June every year around the world.

Folk Beliefs
general

Folk Belief – Nigerian

Notes:

The Ibo saying goes “Never answer yes to a voice calling you if you are not sure who it is. It may be an evil spirit calling you.” My mother used to tell me this all the time because for some odd reason I always thought I heard people calling my name (my name happens to sound like many things). I would get annoyed and shout “Yes. Yes! Yes!!” until my mother would say “Yes what?” To which I would reply “Weren’t you calling me just a second ago?” My mother would reply “no, “ and add “how many times do I have to tell you not to answer yes if you do not know or you are not sure who is calling you?”

Another take on this superstition can be found in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart where one of the character’s mother calls her from another hut and instead of answering “yes” she says “is that me? (Achebe 41),” which is a way to verify that the person calling you is human and not an evil spirit.

To me, not only is it a widely held superstition in the Ibo tribe but also it is a way to teach children how to answer with a yes and not a what and to properly identify who is calling them because it requires the person being claed to seek out who is calling them by not yelling across the room, yard, etc. to see who is calling them. It is a part of Nigerian culture as a whole to approach the person calling you, especially if they are an elder, by answering yes sir, mamn, mother, father, uncle, auntie, etc.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Thing’s Fall Apart. Anchor Books: New York, 1994.

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