USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Armenian’
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The End of the Evil

Title: The End of the Evil

Interviewee: Taleen Mahseredjian

Ethnicity: Armenian

Age: 20

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?):

In her room in her house in Los Angeles. She is a sophomore at USC, studying neuroscience. She gets some papers ready for her essay that she will write soon. She looks up and realized that she promised to tell the interviewer a folktale. She lets out a sign of exhaustion, then go and sits on a colorful couch. The interviewee and the interviewer are close friends, brought together through the USC organizations of Helens and Trojan Knights. She is finally ready to tell the folktale.

Piece of Folklore:

 Taleen – “Once upon a time, this isn’t going to go well. Once upon a time there was hill. On the hill, there was a tree. In the tree, there was a hole in a tree. In the hole in the tree, there was a nest. In the nest there were three eggs. On the three eggs there was a Cuckoo. So one day a fox comes to the tree and says, ‘This hill is mine, this tree is mine, there is a hole in the tree.’ He calls up to the bird, ‘What do you have up there?’ The bird says, ‘It’s just me and my three baby birds, living peacefully.’ And the fox says, ‘Nope, that is too many birds. Throw one down or I am going to go get my axe and cut down the tree.’ And the bird says, ‘I found this hill, on this hill I found this tree, in this tree I made a nest, and laid three eggs. I’ll give you one if you let the rest of us be.’ So she threw down a baby bird and the fox left. A few seasons later, the fox returns. The fox comes to the tree and says, ‘This hill is mine, this tree is mine, there is a hole in the tree.’ He calls up to the bird, ‘What do you have up there?’ The bird says, ‘It’s just me and my two baby birds, living peacefully.’ And the fox says, ‘Nope, that is too many birds. Throw one down or I am going to go get my axe and cut down the tree.’ And the bird says, ‘I found this hill, on this hill I found this tree, in this tree I made a nest, and laid three eggs. I’ll give you one if you let the rest of us be.’ So she threw down a baby bird and the fox left. The mother bird starts crying and a crow hears and flies to the tree. The crow asks the mother bird why she is crying and she recounts the story. And the crow goes, ‘Don’t be naïve, this hill is everyone’s, it does not belong to a single person. Besides, where would a fox get an axe?’ The next time he comes back, don’t listen to him and he will go away. So the mother bird thanks the crow and the crow flies away. A few seasons later the fox returns. The fox comes to the tree and says, ‘This hill is mine, this tree is mine, there is a hole in the tree.’ He calls up to the bird, ‘Throw down a bird or I will cut the tree down.’ The mother bird sticks her head out and says, ‘No this is everybody’s hill, it does not belong to you. And you don’t even have an axe.’ And the fox goes, ‘Is that so? Who told you that?’ And the mother bird says, ‘The crow told me that. Go away you’re not getting anything.’ And the fox goes away and walks around for a bit thinking. He decides to get back at the crow for what he did, so he goes and he plays dead in a field. The crow flies overhead and sees the seemingly dead fox in the field. The crow swoops down to harvest his eyes. Right as the crow reaches the fox, the fox jumps up and bites the crow’s neck, trapping it. He asks, ‘Why did you tell the mother bird that I don’t have an axe, what’s it to you?’ And the crow says, ‘I’m sorry, but if you let me go I’ll make it up to you by giving you my hidden stash of treasure, if you want it it’s all yours. So the fox lets the crow go, and the crow goes to show the fox where the treasure is hidden. From above he notices that there is a farmer’s dog taking a nap under a bush. He tells the fox that my treasure is in the bush. The fox dives into the bush looking for treasure, and the dog wakes up delighted in the fact that he now has lunch. The fox then laments about his life and his past evils. The fox gets eaten by the dog. Everyone else lived happily ever after. The end.”

Analyzation:

This tale is very unique. And yet, at the same time, there are many things that are recognizable and that carry past the Armenian culture itself and into more global and mixed cultures, such as that of the United States. For example, within the story, the mother Cuckoo has their chicks. That is no coincidence. Within folklore, some cultures tend to favor the number three, while other cultures favor the number four and so on. With western countries, it appears to be the number three. That is not the only time three appears in the folktale. Within the tale, the wolf comes to the tree three times, and as in modern western jokes, the change happens the third time around. That is when the mother Cuckoo tells the fox to go away, and finally stands up for herself. Also, this story has a huge overarching sense of freeing yourself from people telling you what to do, and from people claiming that things are theirs.

Tags: Armenian, Folktale, Evil

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Coffee Fortune

Original Script: “Basically he Armenian culture has this thing where they can get the fortune read through coffee…it has to be…they have a specific coffee powder that they use…usually a group of woman gather at a table and the coffee is poured. It is usually the oldest woman who reads everyone’s fortune at the table, you know ‘the wise woman.’ Who my cousin mentioned was kind of scary…Anyways, after they drink the coffee the head lady reads the fortune…it is kind of like Harry Potter at that part where the lay was reading tea leaves…kind of like that. Basically my cousin fortune was true that she got from the coffee reader. The wise woman told her she was going to get married soon…and she did! It was really cool”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Kamilah and her mother have always been spiritual people. The belief in witches, demons, and angels is strong to Kamilah’s mother however, it is even more so in her home country—Nicaragua. While Kamilah did not particularly believe in witches as her roots from Nicaragua do, the case with Rosario Murillo, really made Kamilah a strong believer in them. However, while Kamilah is not technically Armenian, her closest friends, who are like her family, are. Thus, she is very familiar with the nationality and practices of the Armenian folk.

Context of the Performance: Getting a fortune read

Thoughts about the piece: When Kamilah had told me this story about the coffee reading, my mind automatically went to the pop culture Harry Potter series before she had made the comparison herself. I knew that there were cultures that believed in the drinking of an herb (in this case coffee) could tell one’s fortune, however, hearing the process from Kamilah was a very fascinating experience. As mentioned, the connection with the pop culture phenomenon of Harry Potter, was an interesting parallel to this Armenian practice, for both have an elderly woman communicating the fortune to the individual out of a herb like substance. Additionally, I thought it was very interesting how they have a “wise woman” at the head of the table. It reminded me of the previous story I had interviewed Kamilah about (one that was about witches in Nicaragua) and that being personified as a witch is attributed to people fearing a person. In this setting, to me, it seems a that this fortune telling can be attributed to witchcraft because of the group not only being compiled of woman—and only woman—but also for the fact that there is a head “wise” witch, a woman which all the woman look up to as a leader and also fear her—personifying the woman as a witch.

Moreover, it is also interesting how it has to be a specific kind of coffee for the fortune telling to take place. With the group of woman, and the specific type of coffee, the coming together of a fortune seems almost ritualistic. Especially, the going around of the table to tell one another’s fortune as well as the wise woman being the head of the table, and also the only one to tell the fortunes—seems like it is all part of a ritual. This also brings in an interesting question, and opposition to the common American belief, in respecting elders. While America separates themselves entirely from the elderly—having specific designated homes for the elderly and having one of most developed retirement programs in the world, most foreign countries have a great respect for their elders, specifically their wisdom which is shown in this display of fortune telling among the Armenian women.

Furthermore, I think it is interesting that even though Kamilah is not Armenian, she does believe in some of the customs of the Armenian people because of her closeness to her friends. This adds the notion of culture being learned and not being something one is born with. Thus, her cousin—whom she is also close to—going to one of these fortune telling rituals, even though not Armenian, and the fortune actually becoming true, initiating the belief in both Kamilah and her cousin tells us that culture can be learned. Hence, this ritual can also be seen as an inanition to a kin group.

Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Magic
Protection
Signs

Pickled Grudges

Pickle a food item, and keep it for 40 days because that’s how long a grudge should last. On the 40th day, you have to throw it away to remove the grudge.

The belief is that the pickle withers and dies in place of the relationship between the people involved, so that the grudge would not poison their connection.

LB mentioned this as an extreme of grudge-holding among her people when she jokingly told me she would hold a grudge toward me and strike when my guard was down. While she was joking about her grudge, she used this story as an example of how I should beware around her, because her people (Armenians) are supposedly infamous for holding out grudges for extreme measures of time.

LB first heard this from a friend of hers who was carrying out this practice at the time, over a perceived snub from a close friend. Because she could not act out toward the friend as they saw the wronging unevenly, and their long-term relationship is more important to her than the perceived wrong. She placed a cucumber in a jar of vinegar for 40 days, and on the 40th, the jar should be broken to release the resentment. The cucumber is used as a sacrifice in place of an important relationship.

LB’s friend’s jar actually never made it to day 40, as it broke on its own on day 35. While it was a mess to clean up, LB’s friend took it as a sign that the grudge had run its course before the time was even up.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Folk Remedy: Iodine

Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this Armenian folk remedy which makes use of staining skin with iodine with me during this conversation.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: The most ridiculous, like some of the Armenian remedies, like I can see them working, but this one makes… no sense. Like, and it’s been done to me since I was a child. Any ailment you have, whether it be a fever, whether you have a lump on your nose, whether you have warts… For some reason, they truly believe… this… does something for you. Like it chemically does something for you, even though it makes no sense. They take pure iodine, the liquid form. They stain your skin, on your chest and your back, in a hashtag. And… you leave it on you. And they keep redoing it on a twenty four hour basis. And supposedly, after you do that a number of times, your ailment is supposed to completely go away. Disclaimer: it has never worked for me.

Me: What’s the rationale behind it?

Informant: There’s none. I don’t know what it is. They just, they truly believe… I think it’s actually a remnant of a time when Armenians were Pagans. When they believed that there were, you know, demons and um… spirits and all those things. And so I think they believed that the hatch-mark in iodine would… I’m sure back then they had a different chemical, but the hatch-mark is supposed to ward away the evil things. So if there was something lingering in your body, or if there was some… ailment or problem in you, the hatch-mark would deflect it, and it would leave your body.

Me: So it’s more about the shape and not the iodine itself?

Informant: Yeah… I think the iodine is just an instrument because it stains. Iodine stains your skin really well, and it’ll stain it for a while. And that’s the point. Um… because I’m sure they… I mean, I’m sure they could have used henna just as easily. It’s just the fact that it stains your skin, and it has to be the hatch-mark shape on your front, and on your back.

Me: So then like… who would do that to you?

Informant: Um… just whoever’s taking care of you. A mother would do it. A mother… Fathers never touch their kids. You know, a father doesn’t really pay attention to the child’s upbringing, until they’re of a certain age where they can do an internship or start pursuing jobs or they’re in highschool and need life advice or whatever. But the mother’s the primary caretaker… of a child.

Me: So that holds true in Armenia?

Informant: Yeah. That’s… ’til this day. It has not changed.

Analysis:

This remedy is an example of a piece of folk medicine that has been passed down through families for generations. My informant does not believe the remedy works for her, though her parents continue to practice it. The remedy is used to treat a variety of ailments and is not specific to one illness.

Folk speech

Armenian Rabbit Nursery Rhyme

Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this nursery rhyme about two rabbits with me during this conversation.

Interview Transcript: 

Informant: This one is a fun nursery rhyme. I think this was during, like, this came out originally, this rhyme, during the, um, the Soviet Union, to kind of symbolize Stalin. Which is hilarious because the rhyme basically goes, like: One rabbit is asking another rabbit, um, which symbolizes two innocent Armenian people, “Oh, like, what are you doing there? Why are you hiding under that tree? Like, come over to, um, come over to this other person’s house.” And he’s like “No, no, no, no, no. I won’t go to that other person’s house because a great big dog will come and… eat my tail away.” And… it’s completely illogical. There’s no reason why that would happen, but… that’s the idea. It’s to enforce paranoia into everyone. Like, don’t go outside, don’t interact with other people, like keep to yourself, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Me: What influence did Stalin have on Armenia? Was it more like, hearing about it? Or did…

Informant: No, the USSR owned Armenia. From 19… From the end of 1915 after the genocide, after they helped end the genocide, when they invaded Armenia and kicked Turkey out, um, during the genocide, which today, today commemorates the anniversary of it, um… So basically, the USSR reigned over Armenia just like it reigned all over all the other states in the Soviet block, um, by terrorizing the people. Like, economically the country… Armenia wasn’t doing as badly as it is now, ’cause it was under the influence of the Russian economy, which back then wasn’t doing that badly. It was bad for the people, but for the wealthy, who were like trading with Armenia, because Armenia has… had, before it was exploited for all of its stuff, had a very good produce industry, and, um, a very high quality of education. So we had a lot of people, like that other people knew of, who were getting, like, taken in by Russian soldiers and like taken to Russia and used for like, the space race or for research or whatever it may be. So you could be taken away from your home for some kind of advantage at any time. So the idea was, you know, stay away from people. Communism. You know, like stay away from people. There is a, everyone is equal, but there is a sovereign that will chop your head off if you believe you were special.

Me: And then like, why do people still tell it today?

[Pause]

Informant: It’s… cutesy. For kids. ‘Cause the rhyme… the rhyme rhymes. You know? It’s just a cutesy little rhyme. You can imagine a little bunny hopping around and being asked like, “Oh, why don’t you go hang out with this person?” Like, “Ah, ’cause I’m scared. This big bad wolf’s gonna come eat my tail.” Like it comes out really cutesy. And, you know, it’s just a fun thing to tell. Like why do we tell the story of Hansel and Gretel? Because it kind of, harshly, for the house of candy, it’s fun to describe it. So… yep.

Analysis:

This nursery rhyme provides an example of citizens of an occupied nation using humor to make light of their situation under an oppressor. Other children’s rhymes such as “Ring Around the Rosie” and “London Bridge is Falling Down” similarly use tragedies as their inspiration. The using of a “great big dog” to represent the Soviet Union and bunnies to represent Armenia references both the Soviet Union’s great size and its military strength. Children’s folklore also commonly addresses violence and misfortune.

Humor

Armenian Pothole Joke

Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this Armenian joke about a man who falls into a hole with me during this conversation.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: This one is really funny. It’s just kind of like a… it’s just… a parody. Basically, the story goes, um… A guy who was drunk is walking along, and he falls into a hole. Nevermind why there was a hole in the middle of a… road in Armenia, but apparently there is. So he falls into it, and… he tries to heft himself out the first time, and it doesn’t work. He’s like, “Alright,” and tries it another time. He tries to heft himself out, “Huh!” He’s exhausted. It’s not working. And then he says, “Alright. I’m going to try one more time to get out of this hole, and if it doesn’t work I’m just going to go home.” But… he’s already trapped in a hole. He can’t get out. So the point… that’s the whole funny thing about it.

Me: When do people usually tell this?

Informant: When everyone’s very drunk. And sitting around in a circle. That one… and the one about the… Most Armenian jokes revolve around someone who’s drunk. The majority of them.

Analysis:

This joke is an example of humor that would be used at a party. It derives its humor from the ridiculousness of the situation the subject finds himself in and from the subject’s illogical thinking. It also references the impairment in thinking that occurs when one is drunk.

Folk speech
Humor

Armenian Days of the Week Rhyme

Armenian: Ուրբաթ, Շաբաթ, Կիրակի, արջը գնաց մարզանկի, ուսթա Սակոն կրակեց, արջի փորա դրակեց.

Phonetic Translation: Urbat’, Shabat’, Kiraki, arjy gnats’ marzanki, ust’a Sakon krakets’, arji p’vora drakets’.

English Translation: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. A bear went to the gym. A hunter saw the bear. The hunter shot the bear, and the bear’s stomach exploded.

Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this rhyme, which is used to teach children the days of the week, with me during this conversation.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: The way that… So, in Armenia the way that parents will teach their children the days of the week is we have this rhyme. So, you say the days of the week, Monday through Friday. Armenians start with Mondays, we don’t start with Sundays. And it goes: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. A bear went the gym. A hunter saw the bear. The hunter shot the bear, and the bear’s stomach exploded.

[Laughter]

Me: Wow…

Informant: And it’s… it is really violent, but it rhymes really well, and so it’s caught on a lot to Armenian kids.

Me: Where do children usually learn this from?

Informant: Hmm… Armenian education systems are different than in America. For example, a child is expected to go to elementary school with… sort of the basics already down… Like the mother is expected to be a very good mother in that sense, if you think that a mother teaching you, you know, education at such a young age is a quality of a good mother. Um, they were supposed to come in with like a working knowledge, and the rhyme was generally taught by the mothers. So it was just a fun way for the kids to like, learn it and, you know, it was funny. Like, the violence in it, in Armenian stories in general. Just like in Grimms’ fairy tales. They’re very violent, and it’s just what makes them funny.

Analysis:

This rhyme is an example of violent children’s humor. Children’s media, such as the Warner Bros. television show Looney Tunes, often contain violence and, specifically, violent humor, despite the association of children with innocence. This rhyme also provides children with an easy way to remember the days of the week, as the rhyme associates memorization of them with something funny.

Game
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Egg War

Form of Folklore: Holiday Ritual

Informant Bio: The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, moved to Moscow, Russia at six months, then to Detroit Michigan at age three. Since she was five years old, she was raised in Glendale, California. Most of the folklore she knows is from her mother (passing down traditions she learned) and from peers at school. Her mother remains as her main source of cultural folklore (Armenian) whereas her friends in school exposed her to the folklore of American culture.

Context: The interview was conducted on the porch of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item: On Easter morning, after the eggs are painted and put out on the table (it’s part of breakfast). So we basically eat the eggs for breakfast. And before we eat them, the way we open them is like… um… taping the top of one egg against the bottom of the other, so the pointier side is hitting the flatter side. And if it cracks that egg, that means you like won the egg fight. And if there’s a few people playing, you move on to try and crack theirs. And then if you win all of it, you’re egg is like the sacred egg and you don’t eat it; you put it aside and you eat one of the ones that was weaker.

Informant Comments: The informant believes that this Easter ritual is a pleasant way of getting the family together to play an innocent game. She enjoys playing the game and believes the best part is being able to eat all of the loosing eggs and saving the winning egg for another day (another war). Everyone wonders if the egg will be able to beat the rest of the eggs the next day also.

Analysis: This Easter ritual seems like a harmless game that can bring some excitement to a regular morning breakfast. This egg war is very common in Armenia (where the informant is from). This ritual, unlike others, brings out some good natured competitiveness in the family member. Luckily, it almost never leads to an argument since the strength of the eggs the members of the family have chosen have nothing to do with the people who chose them; thus, no egos are wounded. Essentially, only good can come from adapting this Easter ritual because it starts the day off with a certain level of excitement and offers an initial topic of discussion for the rest of the meal.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Pulling Ears

Form of Folklore:  Folk Belief (Protection)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, where she attended a Russian school.  At the age of fourteen she and her family moved to America, where she was formally introduce to the English language and had to continue going to a school where the primary language was English.  She has had exposure to both Armenian (from her youth and family) and American folklore (by living and studying in America).

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house.

Item:    Armenian Transliteration – “Yerp vor vat bani masin es khosum yerekhayi mot, yerekhu akanju petka kashel”

English Translation – “When you speak about bad things in front of a child, you need to pull the child’s ear”

Informant Comments:  The informant does not really believe that pulling a child’s ear when speaking of bad things will prevent the bad things from happening; not does she believe that not pulling a child’s ear will guarantee that the bad things they are talking about will happen.  She does not actually use this folk protection in her life.  She thinks it is simply something older women (i.e. grandmothers) do so they do not feel bad about saying bad things in front of children.

Analysis:  This folk belief (protection) seems to be based on the idea that twisting a child’s ear is equivalent to taking away what they heard or preventing them from hearing all the bad things that will be said.  It does seem as though this protection is more for the people saying bad things than for the children who may hear the bad things.  It somehow offers a loophole for them to say all of the bad things they want without being condemned for saying them in front of children (offering protection to the speakers instead of the children).  Regardless of why they have this folk belief or who it is intended to protect, people can choose to believe it and do it if they please (under the assumption that the pulling of the ear is not painful).

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Salt Cross

Form of Folklore:  Folk Belief

Informant Bio:  The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, where she attended a Russian school.  At the age of fourteen she and her family moved to America, where she was formally introduce to the English language and had to continue going to a school where the primary language was English.  She has had exposure to both Armenian (from her youth and family) and American folklore (by living and studying in America).

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of the informant’s house.

Item:    Armenian Transliteration – “Yerp vor andzreve galis, aghov khach petke arvi getinu vor kuturvi”

English Translation – “When it is raining, you need to make a cross on the floor with salt so that it will stop”

Informant Comments:  As a child, growing up in Armenia, the informant believed that making a cross on the floor in salt actually was the reason why the rain would stop.  Now, she no longer believes this and has not passed this folklore on to any of her children.  She does not think making the cross would be a bad thing, but simply thinks it is not a necessary act to stop the rain.

Analysis:  Making a cross on the floor may have some connection with the fact that most Armenians in Armenia are Christian.  Since rain is sometimes considered to be the “tears of God”, perhaps making a cross on the ground that the rain falls on is a way of making the tears/rain stop.  The roots of this folk belief could be numerous; this is merely one possibility.  I do not think that it is in anyway required to stop the rain.  However, if children would like to feel that they are in some way in control of the weather (even when they are not) I see no harm in telling them about this folk belief.

[geolocation]