USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘bear’
Myths
Narrative

American Alabama Tribe Myth: Fire

Informant: I have a myth I heard from an Alabama tribeswoman I used to work with. Want to hear that one?

Interviewer: Sure.

Informant: At the start of the world, Bear owned Fire. It kept him and his people warm and let them see even when it was dark. One day, Bear came to a forest. On the forest floor, he found tons of acorns. He set Fire at the edge of the forest, and began to gorge himself on the delicious acorns. As the acorns around him began to run out, the wandered deeper into the forest.

While Bear was eating, Fire was burning at the edge of the forest. Soon, though, Fire had burned up nearly all of its wood. It began to shout “Feed me! Feed me!” to Bear, but Bear was too far away.

Man, however, was not far away, so he, hearing Fire’s cries, wandered over. Man hadn’t seen Fire before, so he asked it what he could feed it to help out. Fire explained that it ate wood, so Man picked up a stick and fed fire. Then he grabbed another, and another, until Fire’s hunger had been quenched. Man, meanwhile, warmed himself by the Fire. He sat nearby, feeding it wood and enjoying its warmth and colors.

After a while, Bear returned to Fire, but Fire was angry at Bear for abandoning him. Fire blazed brighter and brighter until it was blinding to Bear, and told Bear to leave it alone. Fire’s heat scared Bear away, and Bear could not get close enough to carry Fire back with him. Man and Fire were left alone, and that is how Fire came into the possession of Man.

Context: My informant is an eighty year old woman from a very scientifically/factually inclined Midwestern family. This performance was done over Facetime with my informant, since she lives in Seattle. Otherwise, however, it resembled a classic storytelling situation.

Background: My informant heard this story from one of her coworkers while working at a company in Alabama. It stayed with her because she enjoyed how well the story personified the wildness of Fire, but also thought its dependence on other beings for “food” made a lot of sense. Furthermore, the fact that Fire had not been found by Man, but rather had been inherited by a member of the natural world also stuck with her.

Analysis: Personally, I thought the story was great. It shares many similarities with myths I’ve heard from my own home region in the Pacific Northwest, primarily through its use of animals as characters and its personification of elements such as fire. It also demonstrates a really interesting progression where an important facet of our own life – in this case Fire – is not discovered by the ingenuity of mankind alone. Rather, mankind receives Fire from nature, as if we were successors of animals and part of the natural world, rather than detached from it.

Legends

Coconut butter lotion

Main piece:

Out on the trail I saw plenty of bears. And there’s all kinds of advice now where you’re supposed to hoist your bag up in a tree, or spray stuff to mask your smell, piss in a ring? You name it.

I slept with my food in my tent every night. And I knew a ton of folks who did the same! People’d say it was crazy now, but we did it. And the whole time, believe it or not, not a single bear in a tent.

The only guy I ever knew to get bit by a bear was in his tent, sleeping. And the bear bit him straight through the tent! We found out later he was a segment hiker – just in for one night. Not doing the whole trail, and he wasn’t sleeping with his food! But he was slathered in coconut shea-butter lotion. Must’ve smelled pretty tasty.

Context:

Maggie hiked the Appalachian Trail (The AT) in Spring to Fall of 2004. She took the South-to-North Route, passing over 2,200 miles of wilderness trail.

Background:

Bears are a nuisance along the AT, as they are attracted to human activity because of the prospect of food. They are dramatically overpopulated along the trail, especially in the Smoky Mountain region.

Analysis:

This is a cute story which emphasizes an important reminder – that proper food storage, which contains smell, will prevent bear attraction. However, use of scented cosmetic products is just as bad, and can lead to hikers being bitten or attacked!

In that sense, this is is a warning tale!

Humor
Legends
Narrative
Protection

Professor Thompson’s How To Get Rid of A Bear Story

A fellow classmate and I went to Professor Thompson’s office hours to ask him for any folklore. ME is the classmate, PH is myself, and TT is the informant.

PH: We were wondering if we could collect folklore from you for the project.

ME: Specifically, any stories about Alaska, the Alaskan wilderness, maybe about animals

TT then proceeded to tell us a story not related to animals that is documented in a separate post. That other post has more background about the town he grew up in, where these stories come from.

TT: Oh, and I have one about …

There are plenty of stories about their encounters with animals and whatnot, um and especially with bears, that was the main thing you had to watch out for, especially brown bears, so there was all these stories of people getting, you know, attacked by bears and chased by bears, um, and the one that kind of sticks out in my mind, that my dad told me as if it were true, but I, I kind of wonder, (laughs) iit sounds a little traditional to me. Um, so this guy was out, um, somewhere and this uh, this brown bear started chasing him, and he climbs up this tree, which is what you can do when you’re chased by a brown bear, people are climbers, and uh, so the bear wouldn’t go away though, he just kind of waited for the guy underneath the tree, so the guy would try to climb down the tree and the bear would run over right underneath the tree, ready for him, so after a while, this kept going on, the guy would yell at him, try throwing sticks at him, nothing, the guy’d be up there for, like, hours, and he’s getting really annoyed, you know, the bear’s not getting him, but he’s not leaving either, and see it’s going to get dark, and he’s up in the tree, and so then he gets really annoyed, and he realizes he has to, uh, he has to take a leak, so he comes down, uh, about most of the way out of the tree, the bear rushes over right underneath the tree, and he just starts peeing right on the bear’s face, and the bear gets so upset, so annoyed, that he tears off, and then the guy can go home.

(We all laugh)

PH: Alright!

ME: That’s interesting…

TT: So as a kid, I always remember that story, so in case I ever got chased up a tree by a bear that was going to be my fallback move

(We all laugh again)

PH: Good to know!

ME: Now we know what to do, too

general

Indiana Grizzlies

“There’ve been a number of sightings of grizzly bears around Crawfordsville [my hometown in Indiana], and my parents always used to warn me about them when I was little. Allegedly a while ago some family in Crawfordsville lost their kid in the woods one night, and the whole town basically blamed it on the bear. The weird thing is, grizzlies aren’t native to Indiana or any of the surrounding areas. It’s essentially like the sasquatch of Crawfordsville, because even though there have been a lot of sightings even recently, no one’s ever gotten a picture. Everyone is still afraid of it though.”

 

This is from my friend who comes from a small town in Indiana with a lot of folklore traditions. He’s lived there all of his life, and apparently there are a lot of these little local stories legends about his town which is awesome. He said that this one is kind of funny now, because he took it as such a serious threat when he was a kid, but now he doesn’t even believe in it.

 

Customs
Folk Dance
general
Holidays

Teddy Bear Dance

I caught my friend watching her family videos on YouTube so I asked her what was going on, and she explained to me some of her family traditions.

Informant: “Every Christmas eve, everybody gets a stuffed animal in my family and we put on Dolly Parton and Kenny Loggins Christmas CD. And play it around the house. And you select a leader so the leader is doing a dance move, and everybody copies.”

Collector: “Can you tell me more about these artists? Is there a reason why…”

Informant: “Cause ‘I believe in Santa Claus’ is the best Christmas song ever.”

Collector: “Does she sing the best version, or the most popular version? Or why that one specifically, because I’m sure there’s many versions of that song.”

Informant: “Its catchy. Everybody loves Dolly Parton. I don’ know, my mom likes country music, so…”

Collector: “Is this just your family, or do other families in Ukiah…”

Informant: “I think it’s just my family. We have so many stuffed animals. Like, everyone. I think I probably, when I was growing up I probably had like 20 stuffed animals. Maybe people just gave me stuffed animals for like, every holiday”

Collector: “Do you know why?”

Informant: “I don’t know why. It’s probably like an easy gift. When I was a baby. That’s probably why.”

Collector: “So this family tradition… when did it start? Did it start with your parents?”

Informant: “That’s a good question… it started with my parents’ generation for sure… but also, my parents’ parents, my grandma like, had this space where there was a fireplace in the center of the room, and they lived without electricity, so they’d always play the record and dance around… and then like, having no access to like, electronics or whatever… like, their popular culture was record players… or records, not record players.”

What the informant mentions at the end about records is particularly interesting because it points to a cultural shift in the way that family members interact with each other. This Holiday tradition started with my friends’ family at a time with a lot less technology than we have now, and they have maintained their family tradition of doing the Teddy Bear Dance, even though technologically they could engage in other more “modern” forms of entertainment. Although instead of using a record player they probably use a CD player or some sort of speaker system that hooks up to a digital music player, the spirit of the dance is probably kept largely the same. Family traditions like this are fairly common, and can vary widely depending on the family.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

What is a Gay Bear?

My informant is a 20 year old gay film student who self-identifies as a bear. Gay bears are loosely defined as masculine, bigger, hairier guys who are into other masculine, bigger, hairier guys. Here he tries to define what a gay bear is:

“So the bear community if you don’t already know is a community of gay men who tend to be on the heavier side of life. And uh, weight, like, there’s no specified weight that makes you a bear, there’s a lot of schools of thought on it and the jury’s kinda out on it, but um, people tend to think that it’s just bigger guys. Muscular, heavy, just big. But really the biggest, uh, the biggest component is hair. Hairy men, hairy gay men, are bears. ….That’s not a good quote. But the bear flag is a nice little piece of folklore, it consists of uh, orange, black, brown, and uhm… orange black brown colors, more, and those are supposed to be the colors of, all the different colors of body hair, all the different possible colors of body hair on men.”

The informant knows about the bear identity and the bear flag through friends who are bears, but initially (especially in high school) gained most of his information about bears through the internet, because “nobody really talks about gay culture in high school, let alone bears.” As he said, the jury is out on what really defines a bear, and the definitions of the identity is in itself so diverse and numerous that anyone you ask will have a slightly different concept of it. However, here my informant references a semi-official (though born out of folklore) bear “flag” to identify gay bears more with hairiness.

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