Background: C.M. is a 58-year-old woman living in Franklin Park, IL. She was born in Chicago, and has lived in the Chicagoland area for all of her life. She works as a nurse practitioner at Nye Partners in Women’s Health, and has been working there for 7 years. Before that, she worked at Loyola University Medical Center as a labor and delivery nurse. She is married and has two grown children.
C.M.: I heard this story from my dad. He told me that before he was born, and he was born in 1932, that his mother’s brother, his name was Georgie, but his name was actually just George. His last name was Wilming, W-I-L-M-I… I think? N-G.
Anyway, they lived out in Iowa on a farm, I think in Elizabeth, and they were using dynamite sticks to blow out the tree stumps out of the ground, ya know, to clear the land. One of them blew up and – he was there, he was too close – Georgie, and he got injured. He had wounds, terrible open wounds from the explosion. And in order to heal these wounds, they smeared cow manure on him, and they healed! They used home remedies because there were no doctors at that time, and this one worked.
Q: And how did your dad learn this story?
C.M.: My grandma told my dad, my dad told me, and now I’m telling you!
Q: Did the wounds heal completely?
C.M.: Yup! There apparently was no scarring or anything.
Performance Context: I interviewed the informant over the phone, as I am in California and she lives in Chicago. This remedy would be used out on the farm, especially in the early 1900’s, when someone got terrible wounds and there were no doctors around to prescribe any Western medical treatments.
My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how, without access to a doctor, people were able to come up with easy home remedies, coming from easily accessible material, to take care of the problem. However, I am curious how someone figured out that cow manure could be used as a healing salve in the first place! Folk medicines are not always superstitions, they can also be founded in fact. Many folk remedies eventually end up being validated in the scientific community, so it is possible that this one might, as well!
“So I’ve heard from other people in my sorority that in USC’s Kappa Kappa Gamma, every week at Monday night dinners, every girl in the chapter is weighed. And at the end of the weighing, the heaviest girl is named ‘the Kappa Cow’ for the week. Apparently they give her a little plastic cow figurine. It’s messed up.”
This account depends entirely on hearsay, making it all the more interesting. As the informant is a member of a rivaling sorority, it is possible that the story was invented slanderously. However, this particular hazing practice corroborates that image of Kappa Kappa Gamma, as an aggressively looks-oriented sorority, that seems to pervade USC. As with most hazing practices, this ritual promotes unhealthy body image, but reaffirms the dominance of older member of the sorority over the new members. Such practices are allegedly “team-building” and “character building,” at which I roll my eyes.
Every year at hanukah my mother tells the story of hanukah and afterward, when the historical story is done, she tells this story which was told to her by my grandfather:
Item: So everyone knows about Santa Claus coming down and bringing presents to the Christian children but Santa has a best friend too. His best friend is named the Great Han. Every year at hanukah the Great Han sets out in his giant flying menorah with each candlestick filled with presents for the little children. The Great Han flies around delivering all the presents to the good jewish children. And you know, when Christian children are bad they get coal, well, the when the Jewish children are bad they get a cow dropped on them. So every year at Hanukah tim all the little Jewish children go outside and hold hands and dance in a circle around the fire hydrants singing this song. The lyrics go:
Han Han Han We’re waiting for you now
Han Han Han Please don’t drop a cow
At this point my mom would have me and the friends my brother and I had invited preform the dance. We’d all hold hands and dance around in a circle singing the song.
This tradition was passed down from my mom from her father. I believe he made it up. I have no memory of her preforming it before he died, however. It only began to show up as a tradition when I was around 11 but we do it every year. For my mother it symbolizes her connection to her father and for us it was a symbol of community between our family and friends. The tradition is so silly and lighthearted that it serves as a celebration of happiness more than a tradition of religious significance. There is an acceptance that the Great Han does not exist and will not drop a cow on you, so there is no reason to be scared.
This tradition was so important to my family that when I went to college my mom insisted that I be skyped in for the telling of the Great Han story.
There is religious significance in it, however, in what it takes from christian folklore of Santa Claus. Both are male figures who ride on flying objects and bestow gifts to the good children and punishment to the bad children. It shows an insecurity among the jewish community to equalize their holiday with the much more popular christian holiday by creating folklore around Hanukah.
똥싸는거는, 옛잘에 소가 똥을싸잖아, 소가 길에있는것들 다 막 먹고 똥을싸. 사람들은 지나가다가 길에 많이 이것저것 잃어버리잖아. 그래서 그것들을 소가 먹고 똥을싸. 소 똥에 엽전 (coin)이 나오는거야. 소 똥을 뒤집으면 밑에 엽전있을수있는거지. 똥이 좋다는 얘기는 소 똥이야 사람 똥이 아니고. 오직 소 똥.
Long time ago, everyone had cows, everyone who farmed. The cows would walk along side the road, the same road as humans did. When humans traveled, they naturally dropped things here and there. The cows would eat this up, whatever it was. And so when it pooped, there was a chance that yeobjeon, coins (the form of money back then) could turn up. That’s why dreams with cow dung are a sign of good luck – not human poop but only cow dung.
Information about the Informant
My informant is a college student at a community college in San Jose. He’s an avid amateur photographer, and we know each other through going to the same online high school. His family’s very closely-knit, with his parents very involved in the lives of their children. I collected this family in-joke from him while we were visiting the same high school friend outside of Las Vegas.
When asked why this joke was important to the informant, he replied that, “It is or was for a long time the only joke my mom remembered. So when you said, ‘joke,’ that’s immediately what I thought of.” He and his mother do have a tendency to enjoy humor that involves subversions such as the one in this joke. In this case, that the punchline of the joke is the interruption and the derailment of the usual structure of a knock knock joke. Its subversion of the usual knock knock joke structure may be precisely the reason why the informant’s reason remembers it when she cannot remember any other joke, making this joke one that is precious both to her and my informant as the one family joke that they both remember and can share.
“Basically, you run up to the cow and tip it over” -informant
Cow tipping is a hobby usually found in rural areas where cows are common. The idea is to surprise the cow and push it over, because it looks funny.
The informant tried to go cow tipping with her friends on a weekend up in rural California. However, she found that it is harder than it sounds, because cows are easily frightened and will run away if you run up to them. Furthermore, cows sleep lying down, so you can’t surprise them when they’re asleep. The informant, although disappointed that she could not successfully cow-tip, still had fun with her friends in the adventure. She learned about cow-tipping from back home in Washington, because she lives near rural areas where the custom is more popular.
I have heard of cow-tipping before, because my father grew up on a farm and told me about the custom. However, he also warned me that it is very dangerous, because cows are heavy and might try to kick you. I believe that I’ve seen cow-tipping in literature before as well. I feel a little bad for the cows who are tipped, because it sounds painful and annoying to get stuck on your side like that. I don’t think I would ever actually attempt to go cow-tipping, although it is kind of funny when you talk about it. I think it reflects the need of rural youth to find creative ways to entertain themselves, because they don’t have access to many of the distractions that are available in a city or even a suburb. It would be exciting to get in a little trouble and do something mischievous like cow-tipping, which probably would annoy the dairy farmers. I doubt that adult would partake in this custom, as it seems more suited to the humor of children and older youth.
The informant grew up in Tamilnadu, India and has participated in several festivals and holidays. She says that a large part of many festivals and holidays include cow feces. For example, cow feces is often mixed with water and then this mix is used to wash out the front porch of a house. A white powder, which is also ground up and made out of cow feces, is then used to create decorations (folk art) to make the front of the house look good. The informant says that cow feces is very clean and she believes that it causes cleanliness. In some rural areas, cow feces is even used to clean dishes. She says that cow urine is often sprayed around the house the day of a festival so that the cleaned house can be even cleaner. She says that cow feces is also used in many rural areas to build mud huts and many people sleep around and even on it. On a side note of animal feces, elephant feces is also believed to have medicinal properties and if one places a wound in fresh elephant feces, the injury is said to heal faster.
It is interesting to note the complete cultural difference there is between Western culture and Tamil culture. While Western culture is often disgusted by the idea of feces and aims to separate and distances itself as far as possible from feces, the Tamil culture embraces cow and elephant feces. It is believed that these animals have pure feces because they are vegetarian animals and therefore, their feces is not toxic like human feces are. It is so pure that Tamil people use it in everyday form, from cleaning dishes, to the daily art on the front porch, to the infrastructure of the house, to using it to clean on days of festivals and holidays.
My informant first heard this folk simile as a child growing up on a farm in Nebraska. One day when he was out with his father, it began to rain. While rain was not out of the ordinary at that time of year, the rain was coming down with unusual ferocity. My informant recalled that the wind was blowing the rain in every which direction and when the rain hit the ground, it splattered everywhere. Another farmer turned to my informant’s father and rattled off this folk simile.
Growing up on a farm, my informant knew from experience exactly what happens when a cow pisses on a flat rock. “It’s splatters everywhere and makes a huge mess,” he explained. This is not a secret, and anyone can understand how this directly compares with a heavy rainstorm. But for one to fully appreciate the humor in this simile, they would have to have a first-hand experience to relate to. For this reason, this folk simile is mostly shared among farmers and others residing in rural communities.
There’s no underlying message that can be found within this simile. It’s used because it takes something that’s funny to think about, to the folk group, and applies it to an unfavorable situation. It turns an unfavorable rain storm into something to laugh about.
This folk tale was collected from my Father. My father was born as a farmer’s son into a veteran’s family in Taipei, Taiwan. His father and mother ran away from China to Taipei during the Chinese Civil War. Much of his cultural practices and beliefs are taken from the mainland Chinese culture. Because of his background, he is considered a “mainlander” in Taiwan (Chinese in Taiwan are divided into Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese or indigenous). My father graduated from Iowa University with an MBA. His B.A was obtained in Taiwan.
During one of our telephone sessions, he mentioned the following story his mother had once told him in Chinese. I’m paraphrasing and translating it here to the best of my memory:
“Your grandmother once told me this story about tending cattle. There’s a big rat-like creature…um, a weasel. Yes, a weasel. It attacks big and small animals. So, back in the day, “cow” boys, who tend the cattle, would take the cattle into the mountains to graze and then bring them back after they’ve had their share of grass. And the weasel though it wants to eat the cattle… can’t–they are much too big. So the weasels, being as sneaky and clever as they are, would come around to the back of the cow and plunge its claws into the cow’s behind. Reaching in, the weasels would pull out the cow’s intestines and tie it to a tree. Feeling pain, the cow would run forward which would cause more of its intestines to be pulled out which would result in more pain which would result in the cow running faster. The cow would run and run until it collapsed…which is when the weasel comes and eats the cow. While I don’t really believe that weasels are able to do this, parents often tell their children this folk tale as to scare them into standing more alert and being more prudent when they are tending the cattle. This way, the children will be ready when real dangers, such as mountain wolves, appear.”
As we can see from what my father said, the implicit moral of this folk tale is to be extra prudent when tending the cattle. We can confirm it as a folk tale because it is not a story to be taken seriously. Although the tale is set in the real world, my father reiterates that no one actually believe weasels have the ability to hunt cattle like the tale depicts. Interestingly, the main character of this folk tale is a weasel. In his description of the weasel, my father describes the weasel as a sneaky and clever creature, but more sneaky than clever. This suggests that the weasel is the trickster character, similar to the fox in Western folklore, in Chinese folk tales.
I, the collector myself, have heard another folk tale featuring the weasel as this sort of trickster character. In this one, a chicken invites a weasel to dinner during Chinese New Year only to find himself the dinner of the weasel. I believe this attribution of the trickster character to the weasel is due to its small size, agile capabilities and carnivorous nature.
So at traditional weddings we have to kill an entire cow. Dowry is dealt with in number of cows. For example, if two people are getting married, the man pays a certain number of cows for the bride. And at funerals its more like a celebration. We also kill a number of cows for funerals. The president of Botswana just retired. So at every village, city, or town that he went to they gave him a cow from each place.
Ruchira said that all of these traditions show the importance of cows in the culture of Botswana. According to Ruchira, other than diamonds, cows are the second biggest part of their economy. Historically, cows are also a really important part of life because they were how people sustained life. They did this through the trading of cows. They traded them as a commodity instead of using money. It has been a recent development for the people to sell cows to meat companies for money, and cows are very valuable. Ruchira roughly estimates that cows can reach up to two thousand dollars in value.
In Botswana, cows have remained a symbol of wealth through time. The more cows an individual owns, the wealthier he or she is considered to be. People of the villages know who is wealthy by word of mouth and by just noticing the number of cows that a person owns. In the past, Botswana was mostly rural, and the people viewed cows as investments in the sense that they can provide milk, meat, and labor power. The people invested in cows rather than deposit money at the bank. Ruchira feels that this is logical and that cows are more beneficial than money in the bank. He said that nowadays people in Botswana keep cows mainly to maintain tradition, and people still maintain the traditional view that cows and diamonds equate to wealth.
Besides a difference in economy, the concept of dowry is also different between Motswana and American culture. According to Ruchiras account, the groom pays the dowry in Botswana; while in America, the dowry is traditionally provided by the family of the bride. Also, Botswanas preservation of the tradition of keeping cows as a sign of wealth ties into the idea of maintaining an identity. Although the people of Botswana actually sustained life with the ownership of cows in the past, people continue to carry out the tradition during modern times to preserve this part of their identity.