USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Armenian’
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.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Folk Tale – Armenian – Mother’s Heart

Folk Tale – Armenian

“There’s this story about a man who betrayed his mother. So he’s a momma’s boy but his wife hates her and so gives the husband an ultimatum: kill your mother or I will leave you. He’s sad, but he does it… rips out his mother’s heart, throws it on the ground. Then weeks later, he is walking home from the market and he trips on his mother’s heart and falls, skinning his knee or something. The mother’s heart says from the ground, genuinely concerned: ‘Oh my dear boy, please don’t be hurt.’ I believe this story is a metaphor for a mother’s infinite and unconditional love, even in complete betrayal.”

I agree with the informant’s interpretation of this tale. Even in the ultimate betrayal, being matricide, the mother is still loving and concerned for her son. Even in death, she reaches into his life. This story very effectively portrays the power and scope of a mother’s love for her child. Furthermore, the conflict that exists between a mother, her son, and his wife is portrayed in this tale. Often wives and mothers become jealous of each other, because both want to be the primary woman is the man’s life. The mother has cared for her son throughout his life, and now another woman has entered and, in some ways, replaced her. On the other hand, when a man remains too dependent on his mother after marriage, his wife may also become jealous and believe she is not enough. This dynamic is extremely gendered, but it nonetheless is depicted in an exaggerated manner in this story. The son is too dependent on his mother, so the wife forces him to murder his mother to prove his love and dedication to his new wife. This dynamic between these roles is exaggerated in this story, but it effectively exhibits the conflict that often exists.
This jealousy between new wife and mother is depicted in many stories, and often is portrayed as a struggle between the women. An example of this is the film, Monster-in-Law (2005), directed by Robert Luketic. In the film, a humorously violent struggle ensues between a mother and her son’s new fiancé (Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez).

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

Story Closure – Armenian

Story Closure – Armenian

“At the end of a story or fairytale that a mother tells her child, she always ends with: ‘Three pomegranates (or sometimes apples) fell down from heaven. One’s for the story teller, one for the listener, and one for the entire world.’”

The informant was unsure as to why her mother said this after telling her stories, but stated that she knows both pomegranates and apples are symbolic. I agree that this symbolism is important, as apples are often viewed as fruits of knowledge, while pomegranates can be seen to represent fertility. In my opinion, this sort of closure to the story depicts how each participant in the storytelling process, including the society in which it exists, benefits from the story. The heavens give each person a fruit at the end of the story. In some ways, this seems to possibly symbolize the seeds of knowledge and ideas that are implanted in a child’s mind by their parents through storytelling. Furthermore, it seems to be a variation of other story closures, such as “happily ever after.” Perhaps it is also just a way to end a story on a happy note, while also allowing the storyteller/narrator to assert themselves outside the context of the story at the end of their performance.
I found a few variations of this story closure, usually only in the last part of the phrase. Instead of “for the entire world,” a couple variations say, “for he who understands” or “for he who takes to heart.”

Folk speech
Proverbs

Proverb – Armenian

????? ??? ?????, ???? ????? ??????
Transliteration: Yerger shat gitem, bayts yergel chgitem
Translation: I know many songs, but I cannot sing

The informant was unsure about the meaning of this proverb, but said that her grandmother used to say it to her when she was younger.  She said it was usually used when her grandmother was criticizing her, and took it to describe things in life that she understands but is not a part of.  I agree with the informant, but I also think this proverb can be applied to a variety of situations.  I understand it to mean that no matter how much you think you can do something, you must actually do it to be sure.  To me, it seems to almost be a variation of, “practice what you preach,” with somewhat different connotations.  In other words, you can talk or explain or justify endlessly, but real experience and being proactive is what is needed.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Proverb – Armenian

???? ??? ??????, ????? ?? ??????
Transliteration: Achquh inch tesnar, sirtuh chi mornar
Translation: Whatever the eye sees, the heart won’t forget.

The informant was unsure about the meaning of this proverb, but said that her grandmother used to say it to her as a child, and usually when describing past experiences.  She assumes it has something to do with how experiences shape a person.  In my opinion, this proverb is attempting to explain how no matter how insignificant an experience seems, all experiences converge to create a unique perspective on life and the world.  Furthermore, even if exact instances or details of experiences are forgotten, emotions are never forgotten.  In some way or another, whether consciously or subconsciously, all experiences affect an individual.

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