USC Digital Folklore Archives / May, 2012
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

“Hang a dream catcher over your bed and it will help keep bad dreams away.”

My friend Mike told me that his father, who is full blooded Native American, has one over his bed and believes in the purpose it serves. This is a Native American custom that many Native Americans take part in. The origin or this is American and goes back a long time. Many other people that are not Native American also have dream catchers. I know of a few people that have them and also believe in there purpose.

general

“An apple a day will keep the doctor away.”

“An apple a day will keep the doctor away.”

 

This one was said by Caitlin, her grand mother told her this when she was young. She says her grand mother told her this to promote healthy eating. This is a very well known proverb so it’s kind of hard to find the origin. I had heard this one before as well.  I was able to fine this one on the internet as well. Bupa.com

“(As with many old wives’ tales it seems there is more than a grain of truth in the old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. All you have to do is make sure that the apple is included as one of the five portions of fruit and vegetables you eat each day. Five-a-day’ – a new health campaign introduced by the Department of Health – aims to encourage people to eat more fruit and vegetables. Increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables can significantly reduce the risk of many chronic conditions such as heart disease and some cancers including bowel cancer. Other health benefits attributed to eating ‘five-a-day’ are reducing the symptoms of asthma, improving bowel functions and delaying the development of cataracts.)”

general

Paying Santa for Presents

A friend of mine told me that when she was young her mom use to tell her that the reason Santa Claus got her more presents than her mom did was because her mom had to go to the North Pole and pay Santa for the presents.

 

I don’t know if this was something that was common to say in there family or not. But it is a good variant of a story everyone knows. Everyone knows the story of how Santa Claus brings all the children presents on Christmas. I don’t know if this variant has an origin. I don’t think it does. This comes from my friend.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“When you see a hater, point them out!”

This quote comes from an old roommate and friend of mine. When ever you do something good there is someone there to put you down. We call these people haters. The world would be so much better without them but there everywhere. I don’t know where this saying comes from but I do know that it is pretty old. I don’t think there are any variants but there could be. If there are any I have not heard them yet. If I were to guess where this saying came from I would say the south because everyone I know who knows this proverb is from the south, including myself.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“If you were dropped in the water and instead of sinking you stood up and walked on water back to the shore, the media will say that you can’t swim.”

“If you were dropped in the water and instead of sinking you stood up and walked on water back to the shore, the media will say that you can’t swim.”

No matter what you do the media will have something negative to say about it. My mom told me this saying when I was in high school because I was a well known football player and when I played in a game and I did well the next day you can count on the paper having something negative to say about me. This happens to pro athletes, famous actor and anyone who is in the spot light of the public. I don’t know where its proverb comes from but I would imagine that it comes from the United States and maybe even California. I have yet to hear this proverb anywhere else.

Legends
Myths
Narrative

The Tale of Two Brothers (Vietnam)

There once were two brothers who lived in Vietnam.  The older brother’s name was Tan and the younger brother’s name was Lang.  They were very close.  Then one day Tan decided to get married and moved away to live his life happily with his new bride.  His younger brother Lang, began to distance himself from his brother and one day disappeared.  He had left his home and wandered about, finally resting by a river, when he died from exhaustion and turned into a limestone rock.  His brother Tan began to worry about him and went out in search of his brother.  After a while, when he couldn’t find him he found a nice rock to sit on by the riverbed.  He soon fell asleep and died in his sleep from weariness and turned into a tree.  Not soon after, Tan’s wife began to wonder where her husband was and went to look for him.  When she couldn’t find him, she leaned against the tree by the riverbed and rested her foot on the rock.  Eventually she died and turned into a vine that wound around the tree.  Years later, a king came and ground up a leaf from the vine, a nut from the tree, and mixed it with lime.  The product was a sweet red juice that the king loved so from then on he brought that combination to all the weddings and it became a tradition to drink it between family members at every wedding ceremony.

This proverb was first heard by the informant from his mother just after the family had attended his aunt’s wedding.  The informant had asked, “Why do the family bring around that tree to everyone and they have to eat it?”  The informant’s mother answered that the tree represents a good marriage not only between the husband and bride but also a peaceful relationship between the two married people’s families, in order to prevent the same thing that happened to Lang, Tan and his wife.

This is a Vietnamese custom that has long been used at wedding ceremonies and receptions when the family of the groom brings the plant around the room and offering it to family members as they are being introduced.  This custom has also been brought over to the United States and is still practiced at modern traditional Vietnamese weddings as well.  It is passed on from generation to generation, to provide peace and healthy relationships between families.

 

Legends
Myths
Narrative

Legend of the Rice Cakes

There once was a King with three sons.  He was about to die so his dying wish was to have one of his sons succeed the throne after him.  However, he couldn’t decide which son to choose, although they all wanted it.  Since he enjoyed food, he said to his sons, “Whoever brings me the tastiest food he made from Vietnamese ingredients will become king after me.”  So the sons set off around the world to find the best food.  One son traveled to the mountains to bring back boar meat.  The second son brought back the tastiest fish from the South Sea.  The third thought long and hard about what he should bring to his father.  On the final day, he brought two simple rice cakes, which looked very plain when compared to the expensive dishes his two brothers had brought.  When the king asked the youngest son to explain why he had brought such simple dishes, the son explained that rice is the most valuable food in Vietnam, although it is very abundant.  The round rice cake represented the sky under which all the Vietnamese lived, while the square rice cake was stuff with beans and pork to represent the Earth that they live on (back then they still believed that the Earth was square). Each rice cake was made to represent the love that the son had for the King as well as Vietnam.”  After everyone heard this explanation, they knew that the youngest son would be the next king, and they all bowed down to him.

The informant first heard this story when he was a teenager, although he doesn’t remember who told it to him.  It was during the Lunar New Year (Tet) season because the Banh Chung and Banh Day (square and round rice cakes) are traditionally made and eaten during this time of the year.  During this time, families make Banh Chung and Banh Day and travel to their relatives’ houses, giving these cakes as a gift of love and caring for one another.

The feeling of receiving these rice cakes is a feeling of love and belonging to a group of people who care for you.  Because of this, the Vietnamese people have carried this tradition across the Pacific Ocean to America and still do this during the New Year season, maintaining the Vietnamese traditions and unity of the people.  The story continues to be passed on by those who know it, generally those who are adults and can remember the story and the significance of it are the ones who pass it down to the younger generation who in turn cherish it and will later pass it down.  I think this legend, real or fake, is a good explanation of Vietnamese unity and loving spirit.

Folk speech
Humor
Musical

Barney Theme Song Parody

 “I hate you, you hate me, let’s get together and kill Barney, with a bazooka, and a big ol’ machine gun, boom, boom, boom and Barney’s dead.”

This is a song sung in the same tune as the song from the Barney television show that used to go, “I love you, you love me, we are happy family, with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me too?”  In a way it is a play on it and mocks the cherished children’s show, which is as classic as Sesame Street and Big Bird.  However, this version is sung by slightly older children, such as the informant from Moorpark, CA, who are aware of more violent objects such as machine guns and bazookas.  The informant learned of this version of the Barney song from her older brother who was in sixth grade and had learned it from his friends at school.  She repeats it because she is at the age where she repeats everything her older brother does, no matter what it is, in order to impress the “grown ups” of how much she knows.  She likes it because she is a very lyrical person and likes to sings rhymes and tunes in the car whenever the family travels.

This is a saying often restricted to children, generally those who have grown up in the 90’s when Barney was still quite popular, who have grown older and are capable of creating such a creative and mocking rhyme.  I think that the kids retell it as a method of proving to other people and kids that they have grown up, almost a hierarchy among children.  Since the older kids know the new and different rhyme, they can distinguish themselves from the “kiddies” and “babies” who still watch Barney, the friendly purple dinosaur.  I think it is a sense of status that causes the children to spread this chant and they enjoy that feeling that they can be different from other students.

 

There are many versions of this mock barney song which can be found at http://www.amiright.com/parody/90s/barney0.shtml For example,

“I hate you, you hate me
Let’s get together and kill Barney
With tanks of water and acid he will drown
Barney escapes but he falls down”

Customs

“Blow out the candles and make a wish.”

This phrase was said to the informant on her birthday in January every year since she could remember speaking.  It is tradition for the family and/or friends to sing “Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear [informant’s name], happy birthday to you.”  Following the Happy Birthday song, the family members and friends are supposed to remind the birthday person to make a silent wish and blow out all of the candles in one blow so that the wish will come true.  For her family especially, they like to blow out the candles, make a wish, and then keep the wish a secret or else it will not come true.  The informant feels that this is not especially symbolic of anything, except that as the birthday girl, she should have something special that sets her apart from the others whose birthday it is not, so she gets a wish.  In turn, she likes to give the same opportunity to everyone else she celebrates birthdays with and the secret wish is always made.

This tradition is a tradition found commonly everywhere around the United States, especially because the Happy Birthday song is in English.  However, there are variations in other languages such as Spanish.  In both cultures, it is traditions to have the same number of candles on the birthday cake as the number of years the birthday girl or boy has lived.  Sometimes this tradition lasts until old age.  As a young person blows out the candles, she is blowing them all in one blow in hopes that her wish may come true.  She usually also blows out the candles herself, without any help, showing the strength and independence of the younger generation.  As the birthday person grows older and is blowing out seventy or eighty candles, blowing out the candles is a symbol of health and strength.  Often if the person is old she will also be helped by the younger generation, often little children younger than five years old, which I believe is symbolic of the young helping out the old.  However, though the people blowing out the candles may change, one thing always remains the same.  The birthday child, teen, parent, or grandparent will always receive one silent wish after the candles have all been blown out.

Game

“Black and white, black and white, black and white”

The informant first heard of this game in the third grade when she was about eight years old.  She was at her cousin’s house and they planned to play hide-and-go-seek-in-the-dark but everyone wanted to hide.  Nobody wanted to be the seeker.  Therefore her cousin told her a game that you can play to pick who has to be “it.”  All the players start with their hands behind their backs.  Then they are supposed to chant “black and white, black and white, black and white” while flipping one hand in the center of the circle.  For example, at the call of “black” one’s hand might be facing palm up, so at the call of “white” the palm must be facing down.  However, you can start in either position you want, palm up or down.  At the call of the third “white” the players with their hands in the minority position have to replay the game.  The majority doesn’t have to be “it.”  When the player number reaches three, whoever has the single odd hand has to be the seeker.  After the informant learned of this handy game, she used it for every game when no one wanted to be seeker.  She thinks it is a quick and easy way to pick fairly.

Though this game is originally Vietnamese, the informant’s cousin taught her in English.  The Vietnamese translation would be “đen và trắng,” but those words aren’t used as much.  This game is commonly played among children, even when they aren’t playing a game with a seeker.  Sometimes they will play just to see who the last person is and that person will be the winner instead of the loser who has to be “it.”  This game is spread by the children who love to play it and the game is a useful way of passing down the tradition of Vietnamese games.  Also I think because it is such a simple game, it arose from the children from Vietnam who are poor so they don’t have material games to play.  Therefore they come up with games they can play just with their hands or minds, so that they can still have fun and enjoy their youth.

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