USC Digital Folklore Archives / May, 2016
Folk speech

Arabic Proverb

Subject: Arabic proverb.


 Haifa grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to a progressive family. She is a Professor at the King Saud University in Riyadh and conceders herself a religious person, but does not believe in a lot of the superstition behind some of the stories. She grew up, and works, around all different kinds of people that shared with her different traditions and folklore of which she has shared some of her favorite.

Origional Script:

ابن البط عوام.


Phonetic (Roman) script: Ibn al bat awam

Transliteration: Ibn al bat awam.

Full translation: The son of a duck is a floater.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Much like the English saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”





Tongan Creation Myth



Cate grew up in Sydney, Australia to her adopted family. She grew up in a Catholic household near Sydney as an only child. She later married her husband who is of Tongan decent, moved to Queensland, Hervey bay, where she runs a small bookstore and raises their two children.

Original script: “An ancient Tongan called Maui went to an old fisherman to ask for a fishing hook. The fishermen put up all the hooks for Maui to choose from. He told Maui to choose wisely. Maui chose the oldest hook and the fishermen said he’d chosen well. When Maui went fishing, he hooked what he thought was a big fish and kept reeling and reeling. Eventually, he could see something black rising out of the ocean on the end of his line… and it turned out to be New Zealand.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Cate says: “When my husband was growing up in Tonga, his grandmother used to tell him stories like this all the time. There’s a very strong tradition of story telling in the islands. It’s a bit similar to Aboriginal dreamtime stories in that they’re not real but there’s still some semi-belief (if that makes sense.)”

Context of the Performance: This is a story told to children to explain the origin of New Zealand.

Thoughts about the piece: Passed down through oral tradition this story is similar to a lot of Origin stories and creation myths it is a story which contains a plot and at least one major character, in this case the fisherman. It is also typical of creation myths in that it takes place in some unspecified time. What is interesting about this story is the choice the main character has to pick the hook. There is meaning to the older hook being the “right choice” to create a new land.


Workplace Tradition

Subject: Event Planner Traditions (Workplace)


Original script: “We always carry an emergency case with us, literally think like a magicians magic hat. We have EVERYTHING in it, from shampoo to protein bars, and it is only in a little clutch! It has saved our lives a dozen of times! And we use it for everyone! The brides, the clients, us, the vendors, it does come in handy. In fact I don’t know an event planner that doesn’t carry one of these kits with her. “

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Abby says “I have been working with an event planning company for a couple of months and love it. I can say throughout these moths these emergency kits have come in handy DOZENS of time. They are literally the best things ever. “

Context of the Performance: The Emergency kit it used during wedding celebrations.

Thoughts about the piece: The wedding kit is a piece of occupation folklore that no one outside of the wedding planning business would be aware of. Because of Abby’s work ethic, and because she works for a professional company, the wedding kit is essential knowledge and an essential tool for preforming the job correctly and avoiding any major disasters.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jewish tradition

Subject: Jewish Traditions

Informant: Abby

Original script: “Matzo Ball soup is a Jewish tradition usually made for high holidays like Yom Kippur or Shabbat. However, in my family we make it when we are also sick. I don’t know, it really makes us feel better.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Abby grew up in a traditional Jewish family but they ere very reformed and adapted the soup to sickness as well as holiday celebration.

Thoughts about the piece: The matzo ball soup has been removed from its traditional place in Jewish tradition and made it’s was to everyday practices of Abby and her family. Much like chicken soup, matzo ball soup, for Abby, is associated with home and curing sickness, a comfort food that has it’s origins steeped in tradition.


Folk speech

Indian Proverb

Subject: Indian proverb.

Informant: Aminur Rahman

Book: Woman and Microcredit in Rural Bangladesh.

Original performance: “lajja narir vushan”   WMRB pg74.

Phonetic script: “lajja narir vushan”

Transliteration: “lajja narir vushan”

Full translation: Shame is like clothes for women.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: this saying is popular in rural Bangladesh where women’s honor is tied to modesty.

Context of the Performance: No context.

Thoughts about the piece: This proverb is important because I believe it illustrates in a few words the attitude towards women in places like Bangladesh and a lot of rural areas in the world.


Folk speech

The Law of The Stick

Subject: Indian tale.

Author: Erin P. Moore

Book: Gender, Law and Resistance in India.

Original performance: “A clever Brahman received a buffalo from his patron. The buffalo was fat and looked as if it had a lot of milk. Taking the buffalo the Brahman walked the direction of his village. The road was deserted and dangerous. Halfway there the Brahman saw a man carrying a walking stick [lathi] in his hand. The man tried to make friends with the Brahman and walked with him for a while. After a bit he stopped and said “Brahman, Maharaj, your buffalo if very strong, give it to me. “Why give it to you?’ the Brahman said.” No reason” the man said, swinging his stick in the air. “Quickly, give me the buffalo. If you don’t give me the buffalo immediately, with this I’ll smash your skull to pieces. To the extent possible, I want to save myself from the sin of killing a Brahman. Otherwise, I’ll put an end to you.

The Brahman was startled. He too was strong. But upon looking at the stick in the mans hands he became worried. He thought for a moment then said happily “ brother, if you want to take this buffalo, give me something in exchange. If you take it without paying, wont this is a sin for you? I am a Brahman. If you give me something, it wont be a sin.” “What do I have to give you?” the man said. “If I had something id give you for sure.” “You have a stick,” the Brahman said, smiling to himself. “Give this to me. I am a Brahman- what does the stick mean to me? I am a Brahman and in this way you can save yourself from sin. I understand your dharma. Exchange the stick for the buffalo and you will be saved from sin.”

On hearing this, the man was very pleased. He thought, “this Brahman, what a fool he is! He is exchanging just a stick for this sturdy buffalo.” He immediately gave his stick to the Brahman. “Move aside, move aside! “The Brahman said loudly. “Move away from my buffalo. If you don’t I’ll break your skull.” He swung his stick in the air. “What is this Maharaj?” the man said nervously. “Why wont you give me the buffalo in exchange for me stick?” “You don’t know?” the Brahman scolded him.” The one who owns the stick owns the buffalo, now go away.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: this story is shared by villages in Rajasthani to display their vision of justice that “might makes right.”

Thoughts about the piece: This piece is interesting because it exhibits the view of justice held by the villagers of Rajistani, which is very different to those of the West. While the west believes in trial and equal sharing, the unfair might of the powerful is what drives justice in these villages.


Moore, Erin P. Gender, Law, and Resistance in India. Tucson: U of Arizona, 1998.



The beehive


Liz was born in a traditional English household but grew up traveling around Southern England and the middle east because her father was in the Royal Air force. Her mother was a Nurse and her father a serving officer. She had two siblings a brother and a sister. Her family was not religious but consider themselves members of the Church of England.

Original script: “In the 60’s everyone had their hair in beehive that entailed going to the hairdresser and having it backcombed to death, it would stay up for a week sometimes! There was a report that a roach had got inside and laid eggs in the woman’s beehive.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: In the 1960 the beehive hairstyle was very popular among women. It is in this setting that the story takes place.

Thoughts about the piece: Like stories of spiders laying eggs in the body, this piece illustrates the fear of being invaded by creatures that live with, around and in us without our knowledge. It may also serve as an example of how vanity may be hiding something ugly underneath.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

12th night

Subject: 12th Night


 Liz was born in a traditional English household but grew up traveling around Southern England and the middle east because her father was in the Royal Air force. Her mother was a Nurse and her father a serving officer. She had two siblings a brother and a sister. Her family was not religious but consider themselves members of the Church of England.

Original script: “On the 6th of January a cake is bake usually a fruit cake and inside the cake a bean was hidden, and the person who received the bean in their cake became the lord of misrule for the night. It was a general practice in Britain at the time. My father always got the bean and we were always disappointed because we were so looking forward to being in charge. I don’t know where they learned it from, just tradition.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Preformed on January sixth or the last day of Christmas in the Church of England and usually coincided with taking Christmas decorations down.

Context of the Performance: Preformed on the sixth of January.




Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

La Descarnada

-La Descarnada (El Salvador)

Original script: “my grandfathers friend had a chilling experience with a beautiful and sensual woman who appeared in the desolate roads asking for a ride. When he asked where she was headed she said a few kilometers. Then she got in the car and began to touch and kiss him then something dreadful happened; the skin from her body fell off! He was found in a total state of confusion and a lot of people said La Descarnada is a bad spirit of a bad witch.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Her grandfather believes the woman to be the witch “La Descarnada”

Thoughts about the piece: A lot of the Myths and tales from this area of the world seem to center around women and the evil behind there seductive powers. Perhaps they serve as tales of caution not to mess around with lose women or maybe deep down they express a fear of women.


Folk speech

English Proverb.

Subject: Proverb

Original script: “ your geese are always swans”.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Liz was told this while she was at work after defending a colleague who had done a bad job.

Thoughts about the piece: The swan is a prominent member of Anglo Saxon folklore and are often associated with love, beauty and nobility.