USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘child’
Game
general

Banzai

My informant is a twenty-three year old man who is half-Japanese, half-Mexican. He grew up more with Japanese culture, and was very eager to share the folklore he knew from this culture. The following is from when I interviewed him in the USC Village.  

 

Peter: “My mother and grandmother would do this thing during walks. We would yell ‘Banzai!’ and they would pull my arms in the air while I jumped.”

 

Me: “What does ‘banzai’ mean?”

 

Peter: “I’m pretty sure ‘banzai’ is a war cry. Warriors would yell it while bayonet charging… so it’s kinda funny that we would use it for something so lighthearted and playful. It literally means ‘May you live ten-thousand years.’ Actually, the ‘may you live’ is inferred because ‘banzai’ just translates to ‘ten-thousand years.’”

 

My informant then helped my find the Japanese script and translation with my computer so I could add it to my entry:

~Original script: 万歳

~Roman script: Ban-zai

~Translation: (May you live) ten-thousand years

 

I then asked my informant if he had any other thoughts to add or any other meaning ‘banzai’ has to them.

 

Peter: “I was taught that this is something to yell when jumping into a pool or body of water. It’s basically the Japanese version of ‘cannonball.’ [He chuckles]

 

Analysis:

While I have heard ‘banzai’ being used on the playground as a child, I have never seen it used in a structured play format. In Peter’s account, ‘banzai’ is somewhat like a game: his maternal figures shout it and lift him to assist him in jumping high. It’s also amusing that ‘banzai’ translated later in his life to something fun to yell while jumping in a pool. To me, ‘banzai’ denotes daring in able to have some fun.

 

Game
general

Hand Clapping Game

I interviewed Audrey when I met her in Everybody’s Kitchen, a USC dining hall. I asked if she had any folklore she wanted to share. She was very eager to share details about a schoolyard game she used to play in elementary school. The following is lifted from the interview:

Audrey: “There was this hand game-thing kids would play in elementary school. And it’s so weird because me, Brianna, and Caroline [Brianna and Caroline were not present at the time of the interview, they were just referenced by the speaker] had a different version of the same thing! Like, it sounded vaguely similar. They all started the same and the devolved into chaos.

 

I then asked my informant to perform her version of the piece for me, which I then asked her to write down for me so I could accurately document it:

 

Down by the banks of the hanky panky,

where the bullfrogs jump from bank to bank,

with an eep, ay-p, ope, oop,

oop-flop-a-dilly and an oop-flop-flop.

Pepsi Cola Ginger Ale, 7-Up, 7-Up, 7-Up, you’re out.

 

Audrey: “Brianna’s version also mentioned sodas, but Caroline’s didn’t! So weird!”

 

Me: “Where did you learn this?

 

Audrey: “I learned it from a third grade classmate. Like a bunch of third grade classmates did it. It somehow became… knowledge.”

 

Me: “When would you play this hand clapping game?”

 

Audrey: :Elementary school recess or field trips — anytime third graders are put in a room together with nothing else to do.”

 

Analysis

I personally played a lot of hand clapping/patty cake games in elementary school, but I’m not familiar with this one. I found another website that documented many versions of this same game: http://awe.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=94034&messages=404&page=1&desc=yes All the versions are slightly different, but fit the same cadence as my informant’s version. It makes sense that it would vary so much because of how children’s folklore is taught and spread.

Folk speech
general
Musical

Yo Sun-Sun Ikimashou

On a few occasions my informant, Peter, has taken my hand and rhythmically chanted a short, japanese phrase while swinging our arms back and forth. I never knew what he was saying or who he had learned it from until I asked to document it. The following is from when I interviewed him in the USC Village:

 

Me: “Can you explain that thing you do where you swing our hands while sing-chanting in Japanese? What is that?”

 

Peter: “Well, when I used to go on walks with my grandmother, we would hold hands and swing them while chanting this over and over again: ‘Yo sun-sun ikimashou, yo sun-sun ikimashou.’”

 

Me: “Could you please translate that for me?”

 

Peter: “The ‘Yo sun-sun’ part does not have a real meaning…”

 

Me: “Can you extrapolate on that?”

 

Peter: “It’s like, ‘la, la, la” in English. It’s just sing-songy.”

 

Me: “And the second part?”

 

Peter: “That means, like, ‘Onward, here we go…;’ but in a pleasant way.”

 

My informant then helped my find the Japanese script and translation with my computer so I could add it to my entry:

~Original script: 行きましょう

~Roman script: Ikimashou

~Translation: (A nice way of saying) Let’s Go

 

Analysis:

I’m so glad my informant chose to share this with me. I now know a little more about his cultural background and how that comes into play in his everyday. I’m also honored that he has done this with me when we hold hands. I think it means he feels connected to me, and wants to replicate the happy feelings he got from his grandmother in me.

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

Vietnamese Proverb

RN is the informant, PH is myself.

PH: Do you know any legends, jokes, proverbs that you especially like?

RN: Proverb?

PH: Yeah

RN: Can it be in another language?
PH: Yes

RN: I’ll give you the English translation and you can just write [that it is a] Vietnamese proverb

PH: Do you know how to spell it?

RN: [says the proverb in Vietnamese]

PH: I’ll let you spell it.

RN: It means there’s nothing like fish and rice, there’s nothing like mother and child.

The actual proverb in Vietnamese is:

“Không có gì bằng cơm với cá, không có gì bằng má với con.”

Translations of this proverb vary, and this translation was off the top of the informant’s head. The informant speaks Vietnamese, as it is the language primarily spoken in his home, but not at an advanced level.

For another instance of this proverb, see Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong.

 

Game
Humor

Kill, Kiss, Marry

Informant is my 11 year old sister who goes to middle school in NJ. This game is called “Kill, Kiss, Marry” which is a familiar concept if not more PG than the “Kill, F**k, Marry” that I usually hear it called. But she’s 11, so I’ll gladly take “Kiss.”

“You probably know this game already. What you do is take three people and ask your friends to rank them in order of who they would want to Kill, Kiss, or get married to. Even if you like all three you have to kill one, so that makes it hard……….. also, it’s best to play it to make your friends awkward. So if the three people are in the room or if you know they like one of them, that’s a good time to play.”

I asked her if it was customary to give reasons for the ordering. “You can if you want, but you don’t have to,” she told me.

It’s interesting that this kind of game exists on the adult and kid levels. I wonder where she heard it from originally. I think at their age, these kids play the game as a way to rank their friends or make each other uncomfortable— not because they actually want to kill, kiss, or marry one another.

Proverbs

Only A Stupid Child Falls More Than Once at the Door

My informant is the mother of a USC student. She is an immigrant from Cameroon and came to America with her husband and son before giving birth to their daughter.

 

“Most of the houses have entrance doors that are raised. There are no accommodations for the less able….everyone is expected to get in and out. If you fall or trip once, you should remember the next time you approach the door. If you miss again, you will be considered incompetent.”

 

Analysis: This proverb is essentially one that states that you should learn from your mistakes and from past experiences. If you trip once at the door, an intelligent person would remember the next time they encounter it, whereas a person who is oblivious will trip again because they did not pay attention the first time. Though the proverb can be applied to all situations where people fail to learn from their mistakes, the use of the word child implies that the person who is hearing the proverb—regardless of age—is acting like one. It exemplifies the expectation in the Cameroonian community to learn from your mistakes and take care not to make them again.

 

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

“The good Lord put a strong foundation on precious things”

“Well, so my mom used to complain about how big my feet were for someone so small, and my grandmother would tell me that, ‘The good Lord put a strong foundation on precious things.’ . . . So that was the saying that made me feel better.”

 

The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up. The informant learned this proverb from her grandmother (known in the family as Me-Ma) and the informant thinks she learned it from her own mother (the informant’s great grandmother).

 

The informant says that her grandmother used this saying “in that moment because I was feeling bad about how big my feet were and it made me feel special.” She thinks it means “that you should be happy with what you have and things will change and you will be fine. At least someone’s looking out for you ahead of time and you don’t even know.”

 

This proverb sounds right in line with the things that would be said among that side of the family. What I mean by this is that my mother learned a lot of similar sayings that sound like they might come from the Bible, but actually do not. The reason for this might be that religion was a really important authority in this group of people, and making something sound like it is entrenched in that way of thinking gives it legitimacy, even if it’s something silly. Additionally, it is interesting that such a strong proverb was used to make a little girl feel better about her big feet. This might be because a child would be more likely to believe something, even if that something was as substantial that she should accept her herself, if it came more formally phrased.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Grandma Walking Stick

Item:

The informant’s great grandmother, a well-loved Argentinian woman, passed away when he was very young — at an age where he could only speak a little bit. He and his mother’s side of the family called her “Abuela Bastón”, or Grandma Walking Stick, for the distinct sound of her moving around with her trusty walking stick. After her death, there was a day where the family was sitting around, and the informant was nearly sleeping lying on his back. Suddenly, he sat up, pointed ahead, and exclaimed “Abuela Bastón! Abuela Bastón!”, claiming he heard the sound of the walking stick. It caused a bit of a reaction especially with his grandmother, who was very spiritual.

 

Context:

The grandmother (daughter of the deceased) was apparently very spiritual. She completely believed the informant was pointing at the spirit of Abuela Bastón only he could see. The rationale was that Abuela Bastón was there to check in on her great-grandson. While the informant doesn’t remember this incident, he does have vague memories of the sound of the walking stick during his youth. He doesn’t believe in ghosts or spirits but does respect the fact that it’s an important part of his family and culture, so he stays pretty objective about it so as not to offend.

 

Analysis:

It stands out the the informant, despite not really believing the spirituality of the situation, is motivated by cultural and familial respect to not refute that it was indeed a spirit. It’s also not quite a “ghost story” — more so a visitation from the spirit or soul of a recently dead family member. There wasn’t anything terribly haunting about it, and there wasn’t a visual component. Plus, it came from the mouth of a young child, although the clarity with which he suddenly woke up and spoke her name was uncharacteristic.

Folk speech
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Shell Station Joke

Q: Where did the turtle go to get gas?

A: At the Shell station!

My inormant learned this joke from a joke book that she got when she was in elementary school.  As a child, she loved reading joke books and remembering jokes.  Because she enjoyed being humorous, she would tell her newly learned jokes to her friends to see if they thought the jokes were funny or not.
On the way to dinner one night, she and her friends passed a Shell station.  Using this perfect opportunity to say her joke, my informant recited the joke.  After a long pause of everyone in the car looking at her, she burst out laughing to end the awkward silence.  Even though this joke isn’t very funny, she tells it when there’s nothing else to talk about or when she’s bored.
My informant does not actually think the joke is funny.  She actually believes that this is the stupidest joke ever.  She only thinks it’s funny because of how lame it is.  It’s just one of those jokes that is easily remembered to tell in any situation.
If someone were to tell me this joke, I would laugh only because I think it is lame.  This joke is definitely not one of the funnier ones that people enjoy hearing.  I agree with her, this joke one of those jokes that people tell when they’re bored.  It’s also a great ice breaker when there’s an awkward silence or when people just meet each other.  This turtle joke shows how jokes are necessary in our society.  Jokes provide people with something that they can all relate to.  Jokes give people an opportunity to all agree on the humor or lack of humor of the joke.  They’re great topic starters and offer people a chance to see what kinds of people they’re with.

Customs
Game
general
Kinesthetic
Musical

Norwegian Nursery Rhyme

The informant related an activity she did with her children.

When I was a real little girl, My grandpa used to put me on his foot like this and hold my hand. [She crosses her legs at the knee and holds her hands at about knee level as though holding the hands of a toddler.] He was Norwegian and he would sing: “Ah ria ria runken. Hasta netta blunken” [phonetic transcription] [She mimes bouncing the child every other syllable.] I have know idea what it means.

I find it interesting that the informant remembers and passes on this piece of folklore despite not knowing even what it means because, even though she does not speak Norwegian, she is sentimentally attached to the rhyme.

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