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

The Crow and the Pot

“So, there’s a crow, and he’s really thirsty, and he’s flying around looking for water, and it’s a hot summer day.  So he comes across this pot, and because pots usually have water in them, he flies down to the pot.  So the crow finds water in the pot, but he can’t safely reach it, so he thinks about how he can get the water safely.  So he finds some pebbles around the pot and decides to start throwing them into the pot, slowly raising the water level of the pot until he can safely drink from it.”

ANALYSIS:

What I found really fascinating about this folk story wasn’t just the story itself, but the fact that the informant didn’t have anything to say regarding the moral or meaning behind the folk story.  This is a great example of folk stories being passed down but the meaning being lost from generation to generation.  The meaning that I took away from it as a listener is that intelligence should be valued just as highly as strength, because, in the end, the crow didn’t get to drink the water because of his strength but because of his intelligence.

For another version of this folk story, see Aesop’s Fables “The Crow and The Pitcher”.

 

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Black Crow Superstition

LP’s (the informant) family is originally from Mexico. Apparently her entire family believes in the following idea about black crows being a bad omen, but her mother is especially superstitious about it. She’s the only one who actually goes outside to scare them away whenever she sees them. This is a superstition regarding bad luck that can come from crows around your house specifically.

“Whenever you see a black crow coming towards your house it will bring you bad luck. So my mom goes outside and will yell at the crows in Spanish and get them to go away. She scares them off because they will bring bad luck if they stay. If they actually get in your house…well…you’re done for. But if they’re in the street, you have to be respectful because it’s not your property, so you don’t scare them off. According to my mom, she was seeing a lot of crows around my house before the fire (a portion of her house caught fire about two months ago) but she was too lazy to scare all them off. So she was convinced that since she didn’t make them go away, my house was cursed and that’s why it caught fire that one day.”

I have heard about similar superstitions with crows, but more so black cats. I know birds can always represent different types of omens, and ravens are especially symbolic of death and other negative connotations. I think it’s interesting how her mom truly believed that the fire in their house, which was actually due to a power surge, was a result of not scaring away these crows.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Crow Cawing Outside a Window

My roommate’s parents were both born in Indian (she was born in the United States) so she sat down with me in my apartment and explained some folklore that she learned from her parents. Her relationship to the folklore isn’t necessarily that she truly believes in it, but that it’s an important part of her culture and something she thinks about from time to time.

She told me about a belief she learned specifically from her grandparents in India:

“A crow cawing outside your window means expect a guest. This was something that my parents never said to me. It was my grandparents.When I was in India looking out the window and you hear the ‘caw, caw’ my grandparents would be like, ‘Oh, there should be a guest coming'”

Q: Did you hear other people say the same thing as your grandparents?

“I would say I knew other people who believed it, but no one ever was like, ‘ah, I hear a crow, a guest is coming’ But it’s one of those, like, ancient things that I guess, turned into a saying.”

This folklore is not necessarily a proverb, because it’s not a fixed phrase statement. It could be considered proverbial speech. It could also be categorized as a folk belief, since a crow is considered to be a sign that someone is coming.

Tales /märchen

The Crow and the Bottle

Text: 

“There was a crow and a bottle of water, but the crow’s beak was too big for the head of the bottle. So the crow was wondering how to get to the water, and it started to drop pebbles into the bottle so the water would keep rising. Eventually the water got to the brim and the crow was able to drink. It goes to show that if you’re really smart then you’re able to get what you’re looking for. Persistance is important.”

Background:

This is a Chinese story, and my informant learned it from him mom. He likes it because it shows that persistence goes a long way in achieving your dreams.

Context:

This was just told to him as a child, he doesn’t remember any specific instances that it was told.

Personal Thoughts:

I think persistence has always been a big part of Chinese culture, as well as intelligence and hard work, and these values are very present in this tale. It’s also interesting that a crow is the main character in the story. In Chinese culture, the crow usually has bad connotations, and will oftentimes signal bad luck. However, maybe this tale tries to comment on the fact that even if you are someone of “lower status,” as long as you work hard and are smart, you will still be able to achieve great things.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Protection
Proverbs

Crow’s Mouth

Information about the Informant

My informant is a freelance editor and translator living in Taiwan. She was born in Taiwan and has lived there essentially her whole life, except for a few years in America. I asked her specifically about this proverb that I’d heard my grandma tell me when I was young as I’d never really understood it, and she told me the origin of the proverb and how it became the version that I heard as a child.

Transcript

“‘Having a crow’s mouth.’ Because we Chinese believe—no, not believe, Chinese always claim that crows are bad luck. The story’s very simple. It’s just…we feel the crow—because it’s black, so it’s bad luck. So when it—and other people say…uh…most of the time, it’s just that we believe, it may go against biology, but we believe that most of the time, crows don’t speak. That they don’t go, ‘Wah, wah, wah, wah.’ So when they do speak, it’s that bad things are about to happen. That it’s kind of like…a…prophet, can predict, can tell you that bad luck or bad things are coming. So, so, when they speak, they just…they tell you that you will have misfortune—not necessarily you, not you specifically, just somewhere around there or Taiwan or something. Just that there’ll be misfortune.

So then people started saying ‘having a crow’s mouth,’ became like ‘you’re acting like…a crow.’ That is to say, what you say, after you say this thing, it’ll actually happen. So they’ll say you have ‘a crow’s mouth.’ But if…if a person says something and then it doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t count as ‘crow’s mouth.’

Collector: “But you…you—when you say someone has the ‘mouth of a crow,’ you don’t know yet if the thing will happen. Just, as soon as they say, ‘Oh, this bad thing might happen,’ then you need to say, ‘CROW’S MOUTH.’

‘Yes.’

Collector: So you haven’t even checked, to see if it’s really happened.

‘Yes. And, when it—when it first started, ‘crow’s mouth,’ this term was…was…changed—it was that the thing the person said, if it really happened, then we would berate him, saying, “It was you having a crow’s mouth.” That is, for instance, uh, we at NTCH [informant’s work place], each of us wishes…wishes that our boss won’t, won’t do a certain thing. And then a person then, then says, ‘Oh!’—never mind, if we, let me give an example, for instance, we have our first day off, we just had, let me see, Memorial Day. And the day before we get Memorial Day off, someone says, ‘Let’s hope that…after the holiday ends, the first day we come back to work, we don’t get called to a…kind of…meeting…that starts at 8 in the morning and lasts till 7 in the evening kind of meeting.’ I’ve heard that the person who likes our English writings, that boss has that kind of meeting a lot. And then…and then—because everyone thought he was just kidding, ‘No, no, no, that won’t happen,’ and then, yeah, the first day back at work, it actually happens that there’s a meeting from 8 in the morning, as soon as you get to the office, you get called to the meeting, lasting until the afternoon, 7 o’clock, getting home at 7 pm. And then people will yell at the person who said it, ‘You have a crow’s mouth.’ However, if it was this person, it happens that every thing he says like that always has this kind of effect, that is, whenever he says something, it always has this effect, for instance, he eats lunch, that one, that one, at that place that [a coworker of hers] took you to eat once, and then, the dish that they like to eat, they say, ‘I hope they’ll have that dish today,’ and then that person says again, ‘They won’t have that dish today because it’s that…um…that—lately that dish has been going up in price. They definitely won’t use that dish.’ And then when they go, they really don’t have that dish, they’ll say, ‘You had a crow’s mouth!’ And then…um…in the future, when he talks, people will say, ‘Don’t have a crow’s mouth,’ to stop him first. So when he’s prepared to—before he, um, starts to talk, you have to say, ‘Don’t have a crow’s mouth.’ But then, that is, nowadays, um—actually, Taiwanese people are becoming more and more superstitious. Because we’re having more and more bad luck. Don’t we say a lot that we are a bad luck family? The whole country, it has more and more of a workload, things like that. Less and less money. Then everyone starts to become really nervous, whenever someone starts to say something, they say, ‘Don’t have a crow’s mouth!’ Meaning in case, meaning if you say it, then it’ll become a bad thing. So, this phrase became a sort of ‘stop someone from becoming’—it’s superstitious, in case what they say becomes a thing that, um, comes true.”

Analysis

The meaning behind the proverb and how it became a preemptive warning instead of a way to blame someone after a misfortune is pretty clear in the transcript. I do agree with her that this change from a comment or exclamation after the fact to a warning (and the time I remember hearing my grandmother tell me the proverb, she did sound pretty horrified and frantic) does reflect a change in the culture of Taiwan. I don’t believe necessarily that it is due directly to a sort of economic crisis or “bad luck” for the whole island, but it does seem to at least reflect a change in behavior from a more relaxed one where such prophecies were not welcome but tolerated, to one that actively tries to prevent these prophecies from ever being made in the first place.

Original Chinese

Continue reading Crow’s Mouth

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Magic
Protection
Proverbs

Korean Crow Superstition

If a crow cries in front of your house, death is near.

 

My informant first heard this when he eleven years old, living in the rural city of Daegu, Korea.  He had woken up early in the morning not to the rooster’s crow but to the cawing of a crow.  His father also awoke to chase the bird away.  His father cautioned him to be careful for the rest of the week because crows usually caw in front of a household that has death in its near future.  The cawing of these birds struck such fear in families.

The crow is not a welcome omen in the American culture, either.  I would think so because the crow is a fowl that is completely black.  Usually black is a sign of something ominous, evil, and more specifically death – hence, people wear black to funerals.  In Korea the term for crow has the meaning “blacky.”  I remember pulling into our driveway with my mother, and she was disconcerted to see a crow resting on our porch.  She chased it away as he described his father had done.  The black ominous figure casts a shadow over people who believe the crow brings news of death.

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