USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘death’
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Protection

Bendiciones

When you greet each other, combination of being catholic in Columbia, you ask or give a bendicion(blessing). It is a common thing to do every time when you greet each other or you are saying good-bye. It is asking for a blessing basically from the other on the one as a sign of belief and good fortune after dismissing the other one from the phone. Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people

Customs

Celebrating Selana

Selena Quintanilla was a Mexican artist who turned really famous in the United States. Her music was with Latin Culture, but sadly, she was killed by her manager. It is a common thing to throw parties and even just watch her movies and music on her birthday to remember how she prevailed as a WOMAN singer in the American culture. She is celebrated as one of the stepping stones for Hispanics/Latinos in the music industry in America.

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Juan is a Mexican-American from Mexico city. He works demolition, but is super into his religion of being a Jehovah Witness. He has been passing down his traditions to his kids, just how they were passed down to him by his dad and grandpa

Customs
general

Funeral – Ireland

My informant is Irish-Korean. When her grandfather passed away, her family flew to Ireland for the funeral. She explained to me a couple of the events that took place for his funeral:

“So my Granddad passed away two years ago. The first funeral event we had, we had kind of like this viewing of the body for close relatives. They are very ‘light feelings’ I guess about death in Ireland so they just had my Granddad kind of exposed in the kitchen right where the food was. No one found it weird and it was just a very normal thing to do. He was in my uncle’s house and not in a proper setting. He was in a coffin, but like an open coffin. Kind of laying super casually by all the food, and people were eating around him and I felt really weird. So we had that event, and then that night all his (Granddad’s) sons and daughters– so like my dad and he has seven siblings– all stayed in the house with him there. And they had him there in the living room and they all just slept in the house, I guess to…bond? Or as a last time remembrance? And then we had another open body funeral for the whole community since we’re from a smaller community in Ireland. They had his body in a funeral home and all my siblings and cousins and relatives that could come would kind of stand in a line around the ‘funeral home’ –I don’t really know what the building was–and everyone in the town that knew my Granddad would shake every single relatives hand as a way of showing (and) saying that they’re sorry.”

Although Irish wakes are responses to the death of relatives and close friends, they are much more casual compared to American ones. In Ireland they like to play pranks with the corpse by creating situations where the deceased seems alive. It’s representative of the strange state between life and burial. We can see this when my informant’s grandfather’s corpse was casually set out in the kitchen, as people ate and interacted with each other in a very social and optimistic environment. This is very different from all the funerals I’ve attended; people are very quiet and somber. Their sadness comes from placing emphasis more on the loss of life as opposed to celebrating the life of the deceased. I also thought it was interesting how my informant’s relatives would sleep near the corpse. It’s as though they’re treating her granddad as alive, one last time.

Humor
Narrative
Tales /märchen

There Was a King

“Ek thaa raja.  Ek thee rani.  Dono margaye.  Khatam kahaani.”

That is a folk story in Hindi which roughly translates to:

“There was a king.  There was a queen.  They both died.  End of story.”

CONTEXT:

“When I was young I always wanted to hear a bedtime story before bed, but on nights when my parents didn’t feel like reading me a real one they would tell me that terrible story instead and then leave before I could ask for another one.  I hated it growing up, but now I do the same thing all the time to my little sister whenever she asks me for a bedtime story.”

ANALYSIS:

What I especially like about this piece of folklore is how quickly it was passed down from the parents to the informant and then from the informant to the little sister.  It shows a very clear lineage of the folklore, which is what folklore’s all about.  There’s also a very unique and self-aware sense of humor to this piece that I find really charming and wish I saw in more pieces of folklore today.

Customs
Holidays
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Dia de los Muertos-Day of the Dead

 

Informant: “Growing up in the United States for most of my life, October to me was Halloween. When I moved to Mexico, I learned about ‘El Día de los Muertos’ (The Day of the Dead).  Living in Miami I remember hearing about the celebration in school but had never truly experienced it. My family and I actually decided to participate in the tradition to fully immerse ourselves into the culture. In our apartment’s foyer, we made an ofrenda (altar) to honor those we had lost. We decorated the table with papel chino (a colorful paper engraved with holes depicting skulls), calacas (sugar coated skulls),  and  Cempasuchitl (a bright orange flower). We also adorned the table with pictures of our dead relatives, a cross, candles, and Pan de Muerto (a breaded sugary dessert). Although we are not Mexican, we thought it was a great idea to honor our lost loved ones. It is a beautiful tradition. There is this specific street in the area Polanco where the middle sidewalk is filled with the Cempasuchitl’s flowers. It is really a beautiful sight!”

Collector: “I know that you live in Miami now again. Do you still celebrate it?

Informant: “No! Now that we moved back to Miami we no longer make an ofrenda. Not to be misunderstood, I love the tradition, I just don’t think it is appropriate for me to celebrate it in the U.S.”

Thoughts: At home in Mexico my family makes an ofrenda every year. What intrigues me about Carlota’s experience with the holiday is that she thinks it is inappropriate to continue celebrating it. Although Carlota was never Mexican she made the choice to participate in the tradition. I wonder if Carlota had lived longer in Mexico she maybe would have kept the tradition.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Old age

Compliment or Curse?

Informant: The informant is Thomas, a fifty-five-year-old man who has lived in Westchester, New York for his entire life. He is a financial consultant for hospitals, has two children, and is of English and Russian descent.

Context: We sat across from each other at the kitchen table in Thomas’s house one afternoon during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: When I was little, my grandmother always told me about her belief that if I, or anyone for that matter, complimented something in her home, she felt that I wished her dead because I wanted the item. I was at her house one day when I was about twelve years old, and she had just gotten a new coffee table in her living room. I admired it, and she responded, “You wish me dead!” Then she went to my dad and said, “Your son wishes me dead; she wants my coffee table.”

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like this piece of folklore because after she died, my family said that I should be the one to get the coffee table. It’s still in my living room today, and every time I look at it, I smile and recall what she told me.

Personal Thoughts: I think that this piece of folklore is interesting because I had never heard of someone being offended by a compliment, or taking a compliment as a curse. What I like most about Thomas’s story is that his family got involved in accepting and appreciating the folklore after his grandmother had passed and gave him the coffee table. In a sense, the tradition can then say alive through Thomas.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Going to Hell in High School

Context: I collected this from a high school friend when we were on a camping trip together over Spring Break.

Background: My friend and I were part of our high school’s marching band.

Dialogue: (Note: C denotes myself, J denotes my friend)

J: When I first went to CV [high school] they— We did the tour thing with the band, and they were like “This is the stairs to Hell! There’s a bomb shelter down there.” Which… fuck knows.

C: There’s a bomb shelter?

J: Yeah, apparently there’s a bomb shelter in CV. It was built in the 60s, it makes sense, y’know. I’ve never looked at the blueprints.

C: I was never told there was a bomb shelter.

J: Um, but I don’t know where that is. I’ve always assumed it was down in Hell, um, but… A couple years after that, uh, I was told by… someone, that a hobo used to live down in Hell and just kind of… slept there, cuz y’know, shelter I guess, and that one day administration found that hobo dead in Hell. So that sucks— Well it’s not really in Hell, cuz Hell you get to from the inside of the auditorium, you gotta go down the stairs from the Jazz Cave, but this was like— you know the stairs behind the auditorium, that go down and are like, sketchy and dark?

C: The spiral ones?

J: N0, the spirals are in the Jazz Cave. The ones that are, like, if you’re going from the Band Room up to the quad, and instead of going up the stairs you go around the stairs, and then there’s stairs down. If you go down those stairs.

C: Okay.

J: That’s where I was told that the hobo died.

C: Oh! Yeah, yeah.

J: And it’s like dark there and shit, so… it would make sense that no one found him there for a while.

Analysis: This is almost my own piece of folklore too, since I went to high school in the same place and knew about the same locations. In this instance, however, comparing my own knowledge about “Hell” (a basement area underneath our school’s auditorium) to what my friend knew showed some variation: I had never heard of the bomb shelter existing before, nor did I know that the specific staircase my friend had spoken about was supposed to be an “entrance to Hell,” as we would have put it back in the day.

Folk Beliefs
general
Humor

9/11: The TRUTH

Context: I was chatting with my roommate about his time in marching band in high school, and the following is one of the encounters he had during one of his festival trips.

Background: My roommate is a psychology minor, and one of the aspects of the subject he’s always been interested in is the part of the human brain that induces paranoia. Because of this, he’s been invested in conspiracy theories for a long time.

Dialogue: (Note: C denotes myself, B denotes my roommate)

C: So what about the van?

B: Oh, 9/11!

C: 9/11, tell me about 9/11!

B: OK! First of all, inside job. Second of all, I was in Victoria, British Columbia on a band trip, and, um, we were getting ready to march in this parade, and we saw this van driving around the– the– I guess the Parliament building? Um, and it said on the side of it, “9/11 was an inside job.” It was like a 9/11 truther van. And I thought, “Why… do you care? You’re in Canada… 9/11 did not happen in Canada.” I just thought that was interesting. I had a lot of questions, first of all… “What?” Second of all, um, like like like are these Americans doing this? Uh, if so, why are they in Canada, why are they in Victoria, British Columbia? Um… you know you’re not even near New York at this point!

Analysis: I actually debated with myself over what to categorize this piece as. The central bit of folklore revolves around a conspiracy theory regarding what “really” happened on 9/11, which is a tragic day in American history. However, the countless people who insist that 9/11 was an “inside job” (AKA a disaster orchestrated by the US government itself) have put such ridiculous and unreal theories out there, that it’s nearly impossible not to laugh at something like a “9/11 truther van” driving around. Because of this, and because of the fact that this theory is a belief shared in online communities without consideration for reality, I decided to categorize it as both Humor and as a Folk Belief.

Annotation: My roommate’s encounter is not nearly the first instance where the “9/11 was an inside job” belief popped up. In fact, in the same conversation, my roommate mentioned the documentary Loose Change as a good place to go deeper into the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Glacier National Park Curse

My mother worked several summers in Glacier National Park at the Many Glacier Hotel. This is the curse of the National Park:

Mom: “Every summer an employee dies. The Blackfoot tradition considers the mountain peaks and valleys that make up Glacier Park to be a sacred space, and not in a good way. Supposedly one only ventures into Swiftcurrent or Two Medicine Valleys if they are brave enough to tempt fate – the deities in charge of these dramatic geographic formations do not welcome humans. Only a Blackfoot Chief or holy man dared venture in. This was the land of Grizzly Bears, Eagles, dramatic weather and ancient glaciers.”

Me: So what happened when you worked there?

Mom: “So, the story goes that every summer the powerful forces of the area would take the life of a seasonal Glacier Park employee as the price to be paid for the encroachment of tourism. In 1967 there was the famous “Night of the Grizzly” where multiple young women were mauled to death by bears in more than one campground in the park. That was before I worked there. Later, in the summers of 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1976 there were employees who met their deaths respectively, as follows: 22 year old bellman had a heart attack and died while attending a Thursday night bonfire kegger, 21 year old hotel groundskeeper fell off a cliff and died while hiking, 86 year old gift shop clerk drove off a cliff and died; and a 19 year old kitchen worker slipped while taking photographs of a waterfall and fell only 10 feet but hit his head and died.

Me: But it didn’t get you.

Mom: “I was careful every time I hiked in the park. I’d wear a bear-bell and always go with other people, and thankfully, the curse passed over me.”

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This curse is interesting. It makes sense that people would die in a place like Glacier National Park, simply because the great outdoors are a force not to be reckoned with. The consistency of the curse is a little unnerving– that every summer one employee would lose his or her life– not simply a reckless hiker. I do wonder if having a certain reverance for the curse, like the interviewee suggested, meant that she was less at-risk of dying. This could be correlation, in that people who are afraid of the curse take more precaution to stay safe, or it could be causation, in that the curse “sees” that you are afraid and therefore avoids you.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“Que come solo, se muere solo”- Those who eat alone, die alone

My mom told me about the Colombian Proverb; “Que come solo, se muere solo”- Those who eat alone, will die alone.

My mom maternal Grandmother, Maria, who had diabetes, mostly raised my mom. So when my mom was eating a cupcake or a pastry as a child, her grandmother Maria, would tell her “those who eat alone, will die alone” as a way to guilt trip her into sharing the forbidden treat with her. She felt guilty giving her grandmother something she knew she wasn’t supposed to have but certainly did not want to risk dying alone. In her young mind, she says, that sounded awful. It worked too well, to this day my highly logical mom intensely dislikes eating alone and would rather skip a meal to wait to eat with anyone but especially enjoys eating with everyone. If she has to eat alone, she says the food is distasteful and makes her feel sad. She says dying alone is not something she fears anymore, she simply does not like eating alone.

Analysis: I found this proverb interesting that even the most logical and rational person can be scared at an early age and have a proverb turn into folk belief that lingers into adulthood. I found the proverb slightly similar to the American expression “You are born alone, you die alone and everything else in between is an illusion.” However the American version denotes nihilism while the Colombian version demonstrates a strong desire to be included even if it’s just a bite.

[geolocation]