Tag Archives: death

Penny for a Clock

Piece
“You cannot give time”
Context
In Chinese culture, you cannot give someone a clock, watch, or any other time-keeping device as it is seen as giving the person time or highlighting how much time they have left on earth. It is especially insulting if given to someone older than you. So instead of giving someone a clock or other time-keeping device, you sell it to them. The person you are “gifting” the clock to will then give you a penny (or the lowest form of currency of that region) so that they are instead purchasing it from you.
My Thoughts
Death is terrifying for most people and thus their culture will reflect that fear of the uncertainty. This practice shows the desire to ignore the passing time, or at least not acknowledge that there time may be coming to close. It also showcases a level of respect shown to ones elders in Asian culture that is not seen in American culture.
Scholar Annamma Joy writes about this in Gift Giving in Hong Kong and the Continuum of Social Ties where on page 250, she reports on a field study where a participant said, “I did buy a clock for a friend, but in Chinese culture clocks are never given as gifts because they are associated with death. But before I gave the gift, I asked her for a small amount of money, so that it appeared as if she had bought it for herself.”
Joy, Annamma. “Gift Giving in Hong Kong and the Continuum of Social Ties.” Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 28, no. 2, 2001, pp. 239–256. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/322900. Accessed 1 May 2020.

Day of the Dead Ritual

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my younger sister. She told me this from one of her conversations with a friend at school.

Background: The informant was relating to the annual Day of the Dead rituals her Mexican friend and her family performed. Although they didn’t necessarily believe in everything, such as the dead actually eating food, they still performed the ritual without fail.

Main piece: 

Friend: Every year on Día de Muertos, my family makes pan de muerto, which is just normal bread with decorations like bones on it. We always make a lot of it, and although we eat most of it, we always leave some for my grandmother also.

Informant: Did she –

Friend: Yeah, she’s dead. So we usually just leave it out overnight along with the things that she liked.

Informant: Like what?

Friend: Oh… things like some stuff she knitted, I guess? That’s all I really remember right now.

Informant: What do you do with the bread the next day?

Friend: We just throw it out. But we eat the rest of it ourselves though. I don’t think my parents really believe in the whole thing, but we always leave it out anyways.

Analysis: Looking at how the friend describes pan de muerto as “normal” bread, I’m led to believe she may be from Oaxaca as it seems that fits the description for the area. It’s interesting to see that she and her family appear to be participating in this festival perhaps due to a mix of social festivities and nostalgia rather than due to actual belief that it is the Day of the Dead.

Gathering 40 Days After Death

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my paternal grandmother. She told this during a conversation over the phone.

Background: This information was about a customary ritual that people participate in widely throughout Pakistan, at least in the Punjab province. It is called چالیسواں which translates into ‘fortieth’.

Main piece: 

Informant: Forty days after a funeral, the women of the deceased’s family sacrifice an animal and cook food. They then invite relatives and neighbors over to their house, giving them the food and getting together to pray for the deceased and make supplication on their behalf.

Me: Why is it specifically after a period of forty days?

Informant: The mourning period after a death lasts for forty days. This ritual takes place after the mourning period has concluded. 

Me: What is the purpose or goal of such a ritual?

Informant: The purpose of this gathering is to pray for the deceased, so that their sins will be forgiven and their good deeds will be increased.

Analysis: Although the forty day period of mourning is an Islamic religious commandment, this particular ritual after that period is over is not a religious ritual but a cultural one, although it is often followed religiously and one who doesn’t participate in it is often considered to be doing something wrong. Also, it is interesting to note that the Eastern Orthodox religion also holds a traditional memorial service forty days after death, as well as a Shia festival called Arba’een, marking forty days after Ashura commemorating the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

Little Girl Ghost in House

SR: Okay, so like I went to Virginia and then, like I think I was 7 but um it was a two story house. I was sleeping and I woke up because I was thirsty and I didn’t know where everything was because it was my second day there. The only light that was there was like a Christmas tree light, so I went downstairs to go get water as I was getting water I noticed my cousin was following me and I was like, “oh, do you want some water” and she kind of like nodded. I drank my water and put my cut back in the sink and then I went upstairs and then I saw my cousin go into the part downstairs. They had two living rooms and she went into the smaller living room and I was like that’s weird but whatever. So I went back upstairs and my cousin was like in her bed and I was like that is so weird. The next day, it was so funny, the next day my grandma was talking about this little girl they see often and then they are like, “oh yeah , she is like always around here. She looks like Stephanie.” Stephanie is my cousin. 

CA: She looks like your cousin that is still alive?

SR: Yeah 

CA: Why do you think there is a girl there?

SR: I don’t know, I think honestly maybe she died in the house. In Virginia their backyards are basically open land and it’s like foresty. Maybe she like died somewhere there and her body is still around. It was crazy my grandma told me she would forget that the girls were at school and she will see the girl and then offer her like food not knowing that it’s not my cousin. The only one that she doesn’t appear too is my uncle. She has appeared to all my cousin’s and even my guy cousin, and my grandma and my nina, but she has not appeared to my uncle like at all.

CA: Why do you think that is?

SR: I don’t know maybe the way she died or I don’t know. 

CA: Is he the head of the house?

SR: Yeah, he is definitely the head of the house. 

CA: So he is the main male presence?

SR: Mhm

Context

SR is a 20 year old student who attends college of the canyons in Santa Clarita. This conversation took place over a casual FaceTime call where I asked her is she had any folklore I could use for the database. She comes from a Catholic Mexican household and has lived in Southern California her whole life. Also, many of her family live in Virginia and she visits there on occasion 

Analysis

This is a memorate surrounding a haunting of a house. The nonchalant attitude of those who lived in the house was surprising because most of the stories I have heard surrounding ghost stories have been meant to inspire fear. However, in this case the girl did not seem to be bothering anyone and it is something that had all gotten used to. It was a story that everyone involved believed to be true and did not find it a ludicrious notion that there was a spirit in their house. 

It is also interesting that the only person the girl has not appeared to it the male authority figure in the house. Thus, showing that she only appears selectively and that she may have animosity against males. 

Wearing Black for a Year After a Death

Piece

EA: You are supposed to mourn someone like your spouse, child, or like parent in like you wear all black for a year. If you don’t then there will be a public hanging of you, no. I mean that is like you don’t care type of thing. 

CA: Is this in Mexico? 

EA: Yeah in Mexico.

CA: Does anyone do it here [United States].

EA: Still like older people will do it here. Like I don’t know if you have seen tia [whose mother recently passed away] she is wearing all black. 

CA: Do they do it for as long?

EA: No, I think now they will do it for a shorter period of time, but I think people like tita [her mother] or like older people will do it for a longer period of time. I don’t know about a year. They will do like grays and black but they won’t put on like loud colors. It’s called el luto. Then also, you are not supposed to go to like a party, a dance, anything that is supposed to be happy and lively for a whole year. See like Papa Javier [husband’s father] didn’t come for your [my sister’s] quinceanera because his brother had just died and like none of his family came because of that reason because we were going to have a party and have music. It is frowned upon like if they come it is like, “did you see that he is here, his brother just died. I can’t believe it either.” The longer the time the better. I would say a good three to six months. I would say after six months maybe people won’t say anything anymore, but the older people will still say something. Especially if it is your spouse and you are like not, then you are talked about that like you didn’t care. 

CA: Is it the same for husbands and wives or is it more frowned upon for one or the other?

EA: Well, yeah most husbands will not do that for their wives. Women have to do it. I mean men, that is a good question it is probably really sexist because it is okay for a man to do it but it is not okay for a women to do it. 

Context

EA is my mother who was born in Southern California, but whose parents are both from Mexico. She and her whole family are Catholic. However, she is not as religious as the rest of her family. She is a Human Resources manager at a small manufacturing company in the San Fernando Valley. The information taken from a casual conversation I was having with my mother about any folklore she had for me while my sister was also present.

Analysis

The luto is an outward expression of grief and how much the loved one that passed away meant to you. This is why it is seen as so disrespectful to break the luto because it is a sign that you did not care about the death. Additionaly, the dark clothes and avoiding parties play on the sadness and loss surrounding death more than the celebration life. The person must have meant a lot to you if you are unable to really enjoy yourself after they are gone.

It would also potentially be a way to release your misery and give yourself a set amount of time to grieve, and after it marks the time when it is appropriate to move on and enjoy yourself without feeling bad about it. With the younger generation it is becoming a more personal decision about when people are ready to start moving on and enjoying themselves. However, this opens you up to more outside criticism and comparison. If everyone mourns the same amount there is no comparison between who has mourned a husband longer than another woman. 

Dia de Los Muertos Alter

Interviewer: So you were saying about Dia de Los Muertes?

SR: Yeah so Dia de Los Muertes is like a special thing for my family and I didn’t really know about it until I was 13. I think I turned 13 when someone in my family had recently past away and they were like “oh, let’s start this tradition again.” We had made the alter, “La Obra” that when we put like the pictues of like our dead one and like the belief about it is that you get to spend that one day with them and like their spirit comes and spends a moment in our home. It is kind of like comforting thing as they are like beign in the other world. I guess it is also guiding them in a way too. I heard that you put a glass of water out. It is for like their long trip walking and it is, you know stuff like that. Giving them and offering them and offering them the things they like here on earth. And it could be like traditionally like a shot of tequilla or a ban de muerto which is very traditional and then like their favorite food which could be like pozole or tacos honestly, but we keep those out because our belief is that they actually do come into our household or wherever the alter may be and they spend that moment with us here on earth. 

Interviewer: So do you only do it for those who have recently died? 

SR: No, we do it for everybody. So I have I want to say my great, great, great grandpa and from that generation on, like people we have pictures for. It could be anybody.

Interviewer: And who taught you about it and showed you how to do it?

SR: My mom, yeah I think my mom. It is because my grandpa is buried in Sacramento and since we live in {somewhere in Southern California}it is like a long trip right so they only way she feels connected to him for that one day. 

Context

SR is a 20 year old student who attends college of the canyons in Santa Clarita. This conversation took place over a casual FaceTime call when I asked her is she had any folklore I could use for the database. She comes from a Catholic Mexican household and has lived in Southern California her whole life. 

Analysis

This excerpt shows the connection Dia de Los Muertos offers to the people that practice it with their loved ones that have passed away. The tradition in SR’s household was not brought back until there was a more recent death and was a desire to connect with them. Despite being focused on keeping the connection with a more recently deceased family members there is an emphasis on including all the people you can. Her great, great, great grandfather is someone she would never have met, but still earned his place on her alter simply by being a part of her family. Thus, showing the importance of family in Mexican culture and seeing the value in staying connected with your anscestors after they have passed on. Additionally, doing it for much older members of your family better ensure that those that come after you will do the same for you long after you are gone. 

Showering After Funerals

NA: Um, also after funerals you have to take a shower. 

Interviewer: And this is everyone or just those who want to participate?

NA: And like some people will do to the extent that even when they get a phone call of someone dying they take a shower. 

Interviewer: Do you have any idea why or what it means?

NA: So my mom thinks it’s because in India like when you go to the funeral. You know here they like put preservatives and what not in the body. So there, there were no preservatives so there was a lot of bacteria and what not and so people were like, “oh my god, it is like on you” because you went to the funeral. Also, in India when you have the funeral they like they burn the body like in person. You know how here if you cremate, here it goes in a machine, but there they literally set fire to it and collect the ashes, so it is on you. So that also is why my mom thinks that you do it, but she is like not a hundred percent sure. She doesn’t know why people do it when you get the phone call, but I think it was like something that it was like every time you go to a funeral you have to shower and that was brought here and people just escalated it. 

Context 

NA is a 20 year old USC buisness student whose family is from India. She grew up in southern California and is still very connected with her Sindhi culture. She is also my roommate and I asked her about folklore she had related to her Indian background. This information was gathered from an informal interview conducted over Facetime.

Analysis

This ritual is about the right way to clean after a funeral or hearing of death. Potentially for both physical and emotional reasons. In India, there were likely practical purposes for showering from the smoke in the air from the burning of the body and the potential diseases carried in the body. However, it is significant the practice has remained after the practical necessity is no longer there. Furthermore, it is also practiced when only hearing about a death, therefore, there must be something more that keeps the practice alive. The showering may also be tied to “feeling dirty” after having an encounter with death. It may have started as a practical purpose, but has shifted to keep the practice alive. Potentially stemming from seeing death the body as impure and needing to regain that by washing yourself and changing your clothes.

It can also be a way of moving on after death. The funeral signifies the last goodbye to our loved ones and personal hygiene is likely to be neglected during the grieving process and funeral rights. After the rights are over, this can signify the need to start taking care of your own health and well-being again. 

The Return of a Dead Friend?

Main Piece

The following is transcribed from a story told by the informant, DH.

DH – So when I was 16, I lost one of my best friends in car crash. And every time my friend and I would drive by the place of crash we would say “we love you (*name*)” and look up to sky. So a year had passed and it was the anniversary of his death. We were driving on that same road, and I had a cassette tape playing. It just so happened to be playing his favorite song. Right when we approached the exact spot of the crash, the favorite line of the song was playing. My friend and I said, “we love you (*name*)” and all of a sudden the tape made a static sound and the cassette popped out of the player.  We pulled over and looked at each other and started to cry. We also looked at the cassette tape, and there was no crease or anything that would have caused it to pop out of the cassette deck.  We put the tape back in and rewound it, and it played just fine.  We think this was definitely a sign from him, as everything had lined up perfectly.  The location, the song, the line from the song, and then the tape popping out.

Background: The informant of the story says to have experienced this first hand when she was 17 years old. She often tells it because it was the craziest occurrence in her life and often thinks about it when she returns to her hometown in northern California. She is also reminded of it when that song happens to play on the radio. 

Context: The informant had told me this story when we drove past the exact spot on our way home from the Bay Area. 

My Thoughts: Personally, this piece of lore creeps me out. I’m not sure wether I believe it or not, but yet again I don’t see why her or her friend would make it up. If anything, this story really makes me believe in ghosts, because there is no way this happened by coincidence. It also makes me wonder if only certain people are able to experience ghosts. This same informant has had many different occurrences like this, and I have another friend who has as well. I, however, have never experienced a paranormal activity like this before. It is also interesting to think about why ghosts would come back and show signs like that. Are they trying to pass a message? Why can’t they just talk? It is an interesting topic to think about for sure.

Chinese Red Name

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and the interviewer.

Informant: So, I grew up in Thailand but my family’s actually from Shanghai, China. There are lots of Chinese people living in Thailand, but even with Thai people there are plenty of cultures that we share. For example, we both don’t write our names with a red ink. Or anyone’s names, people tend to not write any names in color red. I though this was a strictly a Chinese tradition, but it was pretty common in Thailand too.

Interviewer: My Korean family also believes in that myth.

Informant: I guess it’s pretty common amongst all Asian cultures. I just thought it was Chinese exclusive because the color red is so heavily used in China. Chinese people love the color red. We think it can bring good luck and good energy, but it’s also heavily associated with death at the same time. So when you write someone’s name in red, it’s as if you’re welcoming death.

Interviewer: What would you do if you had to write your name and you only had a red pen?

Informant: (laughs) I guess I’ll have to write my name and hope I don’t die suddenly.

Background:

My informant heard about this piece when she was very little from her Auntie. While she doesn’t recall the exact whereabouts of how that was brought up, but she describes it as a common tradition that one acquires simply by being around other Chinese people.

Context:

My informant and I were discussing traditions that we share in common, as we come from two different cultures – Chinese and Korean, respectively. One thing we found was that both our cultures avoid writing a person’s name in color red. This conversation took place at her house, she currently resides in Los Angeles.

Thoughts:

This was an interesting piece of folklore to learn about as it’s common in multiple cultures. I think the reason why it’s so heavily spread in Asia is because how deeply Asian cultures are unified, especially East Asian regions where Buddhist ideologies of linking death and good luck as coinciding factors are common.

Great Grandmother’s Murder House

Storyteller: “So my mom’s entire family is from New Orleans, which is essentially the most haunted city in the world…like there is so much tragedy and everyone…like if you grew up there you kind of believe in ghosts? Like you pretend you don’t but you do. No city can have that much tragedy and death and not have stuff wandering around. So my great grandmother had this really nice house. And I remember like being…sort of with it enough as a kid to be like ‘we are not rich, how did she afford this really nice house.’ And it was because it used to be a brothel and there was a murder there and so my family got it really cheap. So it was a murder house right? So the story was that one of the women that worked int he brothel was married. And her husband came in and dragged her up to the attic and they had a huge fight and he killed her. And there were these dark stains on the floor up there that everyone said was blood stains…that would not come out. Whether they were or not I don’t know, but that’s what I know this story was. So, basically they would always tell us that ‘Herald’, essentially, used to live in the attic because it’s where he killed his wife. And we were like ‘yeah whatever. Ha ha. Very funny.’ So my cousins and I are upstairs one day and we are playing in the attic and all of this weird crap starts happening. Like a door slams and a window that like…things like open and not a problem open and like weird weird stuff. And so we were like ‘oh you know what it is. It’s uncle M, he’s trying to scare us…because my uncle was notorious for scaring the kids all of the time. So we were like, ‘it’s just him.’ And then we were like ignoring it and then I looked out the window and my uncle M was downstairs. And we literally screamed and ran downstairs as fast as we could [laughs]. And to this day…NO explanation for what was happening in that attic. We were like ‘maybe it was like the uncle? or whatever…’ but could never prove that it was another human in our family.” [seeing my disturbed face she adds] “Yeah…it’s very upsetting! [laughs] I did not enjoy that! But yeah, that is the story of my great grandmother’s murder house.”

 

Background: The storyteller is from the south (specifically New Orleans) and she got to spend a lot of time growing up there. As a result, she not only has a lot of knowledge on the stories people told about the city, but she also had her own personal experience with a ghost in her great grandmother’s murder house.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me three stories…one of them included this first person narrative of her experience with what she still to this day believes was a ghost. I met up with her and another storyteller for coffee to go over the details.

Thoughts: Like the storyteller already pointed out, New Orleans is famous for being one of the most haunted places in the world. There really is so much tragedy that has occurred in that city throughout the years that it is not hard to believe that there are many ghost stories and legends that derive from it. It is scary to hear and see things out of the ordinary especially when we cannot figure out the realistic cause of it. Many people refuse to believe in such things as ghosts and live in denial with the fact that they may be real. Some things that cannot be explained frighten us.