USC Digital Folklore Archives / June, 2011
Folk Beliefs
general

Folk Belief – Nigerian

Notes:

The subject, as many Nigerians, is a firm believer in the power of dreams and that certain motifs in dreams can be used to find their meaning and/or imbedded warnings. On numerous occasions, the subject has had dreams in which she would or people in her dream would be eating fish. The appearance of a fish in a dream means one of two things: (1) if the fish is not being eaten then dream doesn’t really mean anything at all. However if there are people in the dream who are eating the fish, especially fried fish, then the dream means that someone close to you is about to die.

I am not a big believer in superstition and dream interpretation but as a first hand witness to the power and validity of the subject’s dream I am now a believer in, at least, the validity of the subject’s dreams. The subject has had three dreams, all very similar, all on different occasions, and all of the dreams included people eating fried fish. The first time she dreamed that dream the subject’s mother died. The second time a close family friend’s wife died of breast cancer. And just a couple of years ago her beloved friend and coworker suddenly died after a routine surgery. Three days before her coworker’s death the subject had the fish dream.

Now anytime the subject dreams the “fish dream” she proceeds to warn her kids and husband to be careful and not to carry out any plan if you feel like maybe you shouldn’t go or if you feel like some “outside force is hindering you from leaving”

Customs
Foodways
general

Custom – Nigerian

Notes:

Many traditional culinary dishes in Nigerian culture contain lots of pepper and so there is a saying, that was said to me many, many times (as I loved to talk at the table when I was younger) that you should “not talk while eating at the table for fear of getting pepper stuck down your throat.”

The practical implications of this saying is that talking while eating something that contains pepper can be dangerous and potentially deadly. The cultural implications is that it keeps children from excessively talking at the table, which—in many cultures—is considered to be bad table etiquette, and reminds everyone of the dangers of talking while eating not only foods that contain pepper but really anything.

I think that this is rooted in Nigerian culture because when you go over a Nigerian’s house for dinner everyone is so busy eating that no one really talks when the actual meal is in progress. It is not until most everyone has had their first helping of food that dining table conversations begin. Furthermore this custom gives nosey children (like me) a chance to eavesdrop on the conversations of adults by using the excuse that I am eating and not being able to disturb/interrupt because my mouth is full of food.

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

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Story – Nigerian

Notes:

“Once upon a time, 12 year old Olalube was behind the rest of her family, carrying goods that they had gathered from the farm. In order to get to the main road that leads back home the family had to go through the forest. Everyone just assumed that Olalube was right behind them but when they came out from the forest to the main road they looked behind and Olalube was nowhere to be found. They put their goods down and went through the forest looking for her. She didn’t come back, she didn’t answer. The family went back home crying thinking that a lion had eaten her or that maybe the voodoo man had gotten her. It was actually the lion that had the girl but he did not eat her because he had already eaten his lunch that day. Olalube begged the lion not to kill her for she was a good cook and would make him anything he would like to eat. So the lion went out and killed lots of game and brought it back to Olalube. After skinning the animals and seasoning the meat Olalube cooked the best egusi soup with large chunks of meat and fufu for the lion to eat the egusi soup with. After the lion finished his dinner Olalube grew anxious and frightened as to whether the lion liked her dinner or not. She was so happy and relieved when the lion told her that he was not going to kill her but rather keep her there in the forest for her to cook for him. So everyday the lion would kill goat, antelope, deer, and many other animals to bring home to Olalube for his dinner until one day, Olalube was walking around the forest to get some tomatoes and spices to cook with when a hunter caught a glimpse of her and called her name. Olalube was so scarred when she heard that voice because she was not aware that anyone else except for her family and the lion, knew her name. The hunter was so concerned for her and so she told the hunter the deal she made with the lion. The hunter told her that her family had already believed that she was dead so Olalube told the hunter to tell her family that she was alive and well. Olalube also told the hunter that she would try to talk to the lion and see if he would let her go and visit her family from time to time. She then gave the hunter a secret signal to let the hunter know when the lion wasn’t home and that it was okay to visit. The next time the hunter came back he brought Olalube’s parents. The mother was crying and begged Olalube to return home with them, Olalube refused. She reasoned with her parents and said that the only way she could possibly leave the lion is if she taught him how to cook. So from then on Olalube began to teach the lion how to cook and how to look for the right spices and leaves in the forest. Her parents left and when the lion came back home Olalube proposed the idea of going to visit her parents but the lion said no because that was not the deal he and Olalube had agreed upon. After so many visits from her parents, Olalube’s mother’s agony got to Olalube so she finally agreed that the next time her parents would come to visit she would leave with them to go back home. In the meantime Olalube would spend all of her waking hours making meals for the lion. So the next time her parents came back she left with them. It wasn’t long after she left that the lion came back from his daily hunting expedition, which was out of the ordinary but the lion had a funny feeling that Olalube would leave this day. The lion was somewhat upset but he wasn’t mad he mostly just missed her. That is when the lion began to sing ‘Please come back Olalube so I can make you my queen. You taught me how to cook and I know how to cook. You taught me how to eat and I know how to eat well-seasoned foods. Please come back and be my queen.’”

The subject began telling me this story when I was about five. I didn’t really understand the translation of the story until I was about 16 and I couldn’t remember the words until I was about 17. The subject told me that she had learned the story from her mother. And after years of listening to this story I can see the inherent Nigerian customs and beliefs that are in the story. A significant motif that jumps out is the power of a woman who can cook. In the story this skill essentially saves Olalube’s life. Cooking is part of the rudimentary basics that a girl should have basically mastered by the age of 15. Especially in past generation, it was crucial that the women know how to cook by this age because girls were married anywhere from 14-21. Essentially, if a girl could not cook, she was destined to be a maiden for life and her only purpose would be to help her parents when they grew old.

general
Legends
Narrative

Legend – China

Notes:

This is only a part of a bigger story, but the subject doesn’t know the whole story. It’s the story of The Monkey King and The Journey West. There is a monk who is traveling west for some reason, and who runs into the Monkey King at some point, but the subject does not know why or when in the story this happens. The story of the Monkey King was written in the Miung and the Qing Dynasties, but it is set in the Tang Dynasty. This monkey, before he was a king, was born from an egg-shaped rock. He is made of stone. He is very brave amongst his monkey brothers and he becomes Monkey King. His goal is to find eternal life because he figures that he has everything else already. So why not be Monkey King for all eternity? Apparently he was a daoist. During his search for eternal life, he finds and receives these supernatural powers, which allow him to grow very small and also to giant size. He also has supernatural strength as a result of his ability to become giant. He then thinks to himself that he needs to find a weapon to carry with him at all times that is equal to his own power. To do this, he goes to the Dragon King’s palace, which is underwater to get a weapon for him. The Dragon king is infamous amongst the animal kingdom for owning weapons that can defeat any army or anything, even with supernatural powers. The weapon he finally finds perfect for him is a long spear which was grow with him and shrink in size with him. Once he has this weapon, he travels to Heaven to get a job, so to speak. Heaven does not take him seriously, and the spirits there give him a low-level, mostly useless job. He becomes angry once he realizes how useless the job is, and he goes to an orchard, where he declares himself to be equal to all under Heaven (he declares himself “Sage King”). This infuriates the Jade Emperor (the Emperor who governs Heaven and all below it). The Jade Emperor then sends troops from Heaven to defeat the Monkey King. The Monkey King easily defeats all of them with his weapon and his supernatural powers. The Monkey King, in a fit of self-importance and hubris, decides that he will run to the edge of the Earth to show how powerful he is. (The subject is not sure why this is important in the story). When he reaches the edge of what he thinks is the Earth, he urinates on it to mark his territory. Then, he hears a booming voice, which is the Buddha, which says to him, “Why did you just pee on my hand?” The Monkey King realizes that he has been outsmarted by Heaven and by the Buddha, and that he is in fact only on the edge of the Buddha’s hand. Having thus been caught by Heaven, the Monkey King is imprisoned within a prison in Heaven.

The moral of the story is supposedly that one should not let hubris overtake them, and that no matter how important, strong, or powerful one thinks that one is, one may never outsmart or defeat Heaven. Heaven will always put on in one’s place, no matter what. The subject believes that this story could also be a metaphor for the relationship between defiant children and their parents.

It is interesting to not that this is a very popular story among Chinese people. I asked everyone I know of Chinese descent and they all acknowledged that they have heard of, often frequently heard of, the same story from a parent, grandparent, or similar close relative.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Tale – Nigerian

Notes:

The subject relays a story she heard from her mother as a young girl: “Once upon a time there was a king who had two daughters. When his daughters got to the age of marriage many of the eligible bachelors of the kingdom came to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. But the king said he would only give his daughter’s hands in marriage if the bachelor could tell him their names. But no one except for the king and queen knew his daughter’s names. A local farmer was interested in marrying one of the princesses. The princesses pass through the farmers yard every morning and evening. So the farmer decided to try his luck. The farmer stuck two axes in the ground on the princesses daily path and put on a fake beard on the axes. He then hid in the bushes to watch the girls come and go. As the princesses were going about one day Oni (Today) saw the first axe and called out to her sister ‘Ola (Tomorrow)!, Ola (Tomorrow)! Run,! Hurry! Come and look at something! The axe has grown a beard!’ The two princesses marveled at the spectacle that was the axe and beard. They walked ahead one more yard and Ola saw the second axe so she yelled ‘Oni! Oni! Run! Hurry! Come look at something! The axe has grown a beard!’

So the farmer learned the princesses names. The farmer then went to the king and boldly asked for the princesses hands in marriage. The king scoffed and said ‘So many nobles have tried and failed, how can you, a lowly farmer, know their names?’ The farmer said ‘I know their names.’ He told the king their names and the king was startled! But the king had to hold up his end of the bargain so he told his two daughters, Oni and Ola, that they had to marry the farmer. And so there was a big party and the two princesses were given away to the farmer. The farmer became the richest farmer in the kingdom that only attended to the king’s farm and so the princesses and the farmer lived happily ever after.”

The subject also told me this story when I was a young child. The Yoruba song that accompanies this story had such a captivating syncopated rhythm that I would make my mom repeat it over and over again. Till this day, I still cannot sing it correctly. To me, the story of Today and Tomorrow is a classic rendition of the clever common man who outwits the more handsome, the more “technically” eligible bachelors. I don’t really know if this story has any real cultural meaning but it is definitely a commonly told Yoruba fairy tale.

Folk speech
general
Riddle

Riddle – American

Notes:

The subject learned this riddle/joke in her AP English class in her senior year of high school. After the AP test the teacher and students sat around and exchanged riddles. The teacher offered up the following riddle: “A man walks into a restaurant and orders a bowl of albatross soup. So he puts down his spoon, pushes in his chair, goes home, and shoots himself. Why did the man kill himself? Well a bunch of people, including the man and his wife were stranded on an island after their cruise ship sank. The people soon ran out of food and the man’s wife dies of starvation. The people don’t know what to do so they say they caught an albatross and they turn it into soup, the man along with everyone else stranded on the island lives off of the ‘albatross soup.’ The people stranded on the island finally get rescued. Later on the man goes to a restaurant and orders albatross soup to remember his time on the island. Only the albatross soup doesn’t taste like it did back on the island…that’s because the man wasn’t eating albatross soup on that island, he and everyone else was eating his wife!”

The joke is not really funny to the subject but she likes the idea of the riddle because no one ever really gets it. She doesn’t find it funny because, she says that if she put herself in that position she would kill herself also.

I think the joke is a play on existential irony and that if I were that guy, before killing myself, would kill everyone else who lived off of my wife and lied to me about what it was.

Folk Beliefs
general

Folk Belief – China

Notes:

The house the subject lived in as a child was a new house on old farmland. So there were many bugs in the ground, particularly crickets. The crickets kept the family, especially the father, up at night for years.  And for many years the subject did not understand why there were so many crickets. The subject soon realized that every time a cricket hopped into the house while the mother was present the mother would not do anything to apprehend the cricket. So in actuality there were so many crickets in the house because no one killed them, or more specifically, because the mother would not and would not allow anyone else to kill the crickets. In the Chinese culture crickets are a symbol of good luck. The subject’s mother grew up in Taiwan so crickets didn’t really bother her, her mother was more worried about insects like cockroaches and ants. Furthermore, the subject’s mother was rooted in Chinese tradition and superstition. The subject figured that after a while her dad could not stand the sound of the crickets and sprayed bug killer.

In the advent of colliding cultures the more modern of the two usually prevails. In the mother’s traditional Chinese culture crickets, as plentiful as they probably were, were considered good luck. In American culture, however, they are considered a complete nuisance.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Ritual – Hawaii

Notes:

The subject learned this ritual from her best friend Brenna, who’s mother learned of the tradition on a vacation in Hawaii. On New Year’s Eve @ midnight you must jump over 7 waves for good luck. The subject has successfully attempted this feat.

The subject described the experience: “It connects me with the ocean which is a big part of living in a sea-side town.” Both the subject and her family now participate in the ritual Furthermore, the subject comes from a very superstitious family.

The number seven itself, is very significant in her family because it is considered the number of completion and is considered good luck. The subject was not aware of any other cultural implications of the ritual because it was not originally her own but her friend’s.

Upon a conversation with someone else about this tradition, that subject said she had seen the ritual take place in Brazil and that it was possibly brought over to brazil by African slaves during the slave trade. It seems as though this ritual is a classic example of the Khron’s “historic geographic” theory.

general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ritual – Brazil

Notes:

The subject explained many different types of New Year’s rituals, traditions, and celebrations. However, one aspect of the New Year’s festivities seems to pervade and intertwine with every other activity that takes place that day, and that is white: both in idea and color white is literally the official color of the day. Everyone wears white specifically, new white clothes for the whole day. The white, the subject added, symbolizes peace and hope for the New Year.

A caveat tot his “white-only” tradition is the idea that white is good but a little color is great. So women/girls will wear colored undergarments and attached colored pieces of linen or string to their garments, each color symbolizing a different desired effect for the New Year. This specific ritual, as apart from wearing white, is referred to as “Simpaticas.” The subject went on to say that New Year’s in Brazil is somewhat like a national holiday in America: everyone participates, young and old, native and foreign.

It is interesting to see how Brazilians, in particular, are so ingrained in their culture. Their sense of nationalistic pride is almost contagious in that so many people who have gone to Brazil that I have had contact with say that once you are there you feel as though you are Brazilian. It is in fact, a culture that takes pride in having others take part in their cultural experience.

general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ritual – Brazil

Notes:

Along with many other Brazilian New Years traditions, the subject explained the phenomena of jumping over seven waves on New Years Eve. Similar to the piece of folklore I collected from a Catalina Island native, one must jump over seven waves for good luck in the New Year.

The subject however had a variation on that variation in that after jumping over the seven waves you must make a wish. African slaves brought the origins of this tradition, according to the subject, to Brazil during the slave trade. Moreover, the New Year’s ritual was connected to certain gods like Iemanaja (sun god) and Exu (goddess of the salty sea). After jumping the seven waves one must never turn their back to the sea so one can assume that one would complete the task by facing the sea.

This seems like a more complete rendition of the seven waves tradition than I have heard from others Many people recreate this ritual for New Years but very few people have direct connection to the cultural context that the tradition actually comes from. That is not to say that this ritual is definitely from the Brazilian culture as it is to say that this particular variation has historical and cultural context.

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