USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘farming’
Homeopathic

Kalo Farming and Menstruation Superstition

Main Text

Subject: There was a superstition. Um…that, like, while we were helping with the kalo fields. Was that, um, anyone, anyone who is menstruating at the moment, couldn’t help. Um…basically like, plow the fields or whatever. Because like, native Hawaiians, they didn’t have as like, strong, as like…um…like gender binary, misogynistic, like, beliefs. But…more that like…that, and so like everyone was expected to help for, um…agriculture and harvesting and all that. But that like, anyone who is menstruating, like, the smell of blood attracts like, evil spirits. So like—and, when you’re…when you’re farming, like, any energy that you have while farming, um, will…be put into, like, will grow with the food, so if you have like, negative thoughts while you’re farming, um…like you will have, like, negative energy in your food. Um…so like, not that like people who are menstruating have like, negative energy on—already, but that like, they will attract like, negative energy to the field. While it’s being plowed.

Background

The subject, a 21-year-old Chinese-American student at USC, went on a service learning trip to Hawaii, as part of the Alternative Winter Break USC program. The trip lasted five days. The goal of the trip was to learn about native Hawaiian culture and the independence movement and contemporary struggles the state experiences.

Context

The subject first learned about this superstition from a Native Hawaiian student majoring in Native Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaii. That student shared the superstition while people on the Alternative Winter Break trip were helping Native Hawaiians prepare a plot of land for the planting of kalo, a staple Native Hawaiian food. During the initial sharing of this superstition, people who actually were menstruating were not allowed to help in preparing the field, out of respect for the cultural significance of the superstition.

The subject recalls a similar superstition with regards to cooking, which they learned from a Hawaiian botanical garden tour guide. Traditionally, Hawaiian men would make food, because if women were menstruating and cooking, the evil spirits would enter the food as well.

The subject once shared this superstition about menstruating in the field with a person outside the Native Hawaiian folk group. The person hearing about the superstition called it misogynist, because it purposely excluded women from the fields. The subject thinks it is not right for themself to pass a judgment on the superstition, because they are not Native Hawaiian.

Interviewer’s Analysis

This is an example of Frazer’s concept of homeopathic magic in practice. Homeopathic magic is the idea that like produces like—in this case, that negative energy from menstruation draws evil spirits or other types of negative energy into crops and food. In addition, outside the context of Hawaii, farming superstitions are quite a common phenomenon, due to the uncontrollable environmental risks that are involved in growing crops. Any superstitions that provide any additional sense of personal control over the environment helps to ease anxiety.

As someone who is also not Native Hawaiian, the interviewer agrees with the subject’s opinion that it is improper to judge the morality of this superstition. The interviewer would like to further argue that trying to evaluate whether a folk belief is discriminatory is unproductive. Folk beliefs are not necessarily adopted with social justice theory in mind—nor should they be coerced into forming some sort of coherent ideology. Folklore is unofficial discourse with no predestined direction of development, and to treat it as if it were a systemic institution would be scientifically inaccurate.

Myths
Narrative

El Chupacabra

Title: El Chupacabra

Ethnicity: Mexican-American

Age: 20

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): AJ is sitting on a sofa in front of the Trojan Knights house, it is a calm warm Sunday in South Central Los Angeles. It is a group of 10 male students from the University of Southern California sitting on the front porch, sharing stories. All of these men are members of Trojan Knights, and are relaxing after having started cooking homemade friend chicken. All of these men are close to one another, including the interviewer. AJ says he has a good one as he puts his drink down.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee – Ok so this thing ate my goat. Well, he sucked it really.”

Interviewer- “What thing?”

Interviewee – “The Chupacaba. At least I think it was one. It was back when I was in Texas, and my family has this farm you know? And I had to take care of a lot of animals, including our goats. Now heres where it gets good. (Long pause as he looks around at our faces). I went one morning to check on the goats and feed them, and I found it.”

Interviewer– “Found what?”

Interviewee – “My goat that I had lovingly named Joe Tuffhead. He was dead, and I can’t really explain what happened to him. When wolves come to feed, they feed, but Joe was still intact, mostly. This was the weird part, he… he was drained. You know what I mean? He had no blood anymore, it’s like something sucked it right out of him. He was hollow, yeah that’s what it was. I was looking for that word. Hollow. Poor Bob was hollow.”

Interviewer– “I thought his name was Joe?”

Interviewee – “Oh yeah, right, that’s what I meant. Sorry I have a lot of goats I mix up their names.”

Interviewer– “What did you do after you found Joe?”

Interviewee – “Oh my dad and I built another small barn house and had the goats in there every night from then on. No more Chupacabra attacks, no more dead goats. Everything ended well.”

Analyzation: AJ seems to have a hazy memory up until the actual scene of the dead goat, which would make sense. The most traumatic things are usually the ones that stick in our heads the clearest. We did not get to hear the father’s explanation of the situation, and so we get the idea of a young Adrian when he was growing up in Texas. Overall however, AJ is someone to be trusted, but there is also something to be said about the situation, and about how AJ was preforming this piece of folklore in front of 9 of his friends and fellow students, perhaps wanting to impress them. This idea of the Chupacabra however, is recurring within the Hispanic community in the United States and other countries. Often, when livestock die and there is no real reason as to why that has happened, people blame the Chupacabra. And it fits the MO. When animals die for no particular reason, the idea of a monster coming and killing them seems just a likely as anything else. The myth of the Chupacabra has been around for a while, and continually mutates in various ways. From this story, it appears the Chupacabra got tired of eating livestock in southern Mexico, and Mexico entirely, and has moved on to greener pastures in Texas. Of course this is better explained by pointing out that people from Mexico have been migrating every northward, and their myths and stories come with them. It is only logical to hear of the beast in the United States at this point.

Tags: Chupacabra, Goat, Mythical Creature, Farming

Folk Beliefs
Myths

Swedish Mythological Creature: The Tomten

Contextual Data: After talking to me about the Spring-time witch pilgrimage in Sweden, my friend mentioned also that when she was in Sweden and her family went into the woods, they saw small cabins where moose hunters stayed, which were popularly referred to as troll houses. She then started talking about this gnome/troll-like creatures called Tomten. The following is an exact transcript of our conversation.

Informant: “Um, so one thing that they like to talk about is something called the Tomten, and the Tomten’s basically like—”

Me: “How do you spell that?”

Informant: “T-O-M-T-E-N. Um, and he’s kind of like… I don’t know, like a little gnome or like a mini Santa Clause kind of. And especially around Christmas the Tomten has like a Santa-like role, but he has like a little beard and he has like this red pointy cap and… But he’s also kind of mischievous and if you lived on a—in a in northern Sweden you would have to put out porridge every night for the Tomten and if you didn’t put out porridge, he would like, let foxes into your chicken coops and like let your sheep roam free. I mean it wasn’t like, ‘Put out porridge and the Tomten will like shine your shoes in the morning.’ It was like, ‘Don’t put out porridge and the Tomten’s gonna fuck you up’ [Laughs]. Um… So yeah. Um, but it’s actually kind of interesting because there are all these stories about—I remember reading them when I was little, like a little kid. Like illustrated books about the Tomten and kind of his—well actually how he cares for the farm animals and stuff and then goes and gets his bowl of porridge. So maybe it’s not always as sinister as I described, but—but if you don’t, like… You put out the porridge. You don’t not put out the porridge. Um, and I mean, so there are a lot of kind of traditions like that up north.”

- End Transcript – 

When I asked my informant what she thought the significance of this was, she said that she thought it had to do with the fact that many Swedes believe that there is a connection between the people and the land. She said that even nowadays people in Sweden see nature as having kind of a “magical quality to it” — thus the rise of these earth-based mythical creatures (i.e. creatures of “lower mythology”). This is why she feels the story has lasted.

Certainly this can be seen in the way that a Tomten (at least in stories) is perceived as caring for the farm and the animals. Leaving out the bowl of porridge could therefore suggest some form of repayment or offering of thanks. The stories in which the Tomten doesn’t necessarily care for the animals but causes chaos if he doesn’t receive his porridge could be seen as an indicator of beliefs about the power of the land and of these earth creatures—that they’re meant to be respected, and that in some way, something is owed to them for being able to live a peaceful life. Both of these ideas harken back to this perceived connection between the people and the land that my informant says is so important in Swedish culture.

Annotation: http://www.amazon.com/The-Tomten-Astrid-Lindgren/dp/0698115910/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1367443488&sr=8-1&keywords=tomten
This story, a picture book aimed at children and perhaps one of the ones my informant was referencing, depicts the Tomten as a friendly creature that is very much a part of the land and the farming culture.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Protection

If a cow is bloated and sick, you have it chew on a rope

My informant was raised on a farm in northeast Nebraska and, in his youth, he was active in maintaining the farm with his parents.  One day, about 50 years ago, one of the family’s cows became sick.  The cow became bloated and my informant’s father had to explain that cows are too stupid to know when to stop eating.  This particular cow had eaten too much alfalfa.  This situation can be especially problematic if the alfalfa is really fresh because, according to other farmers, it expands as it is digested.  If nothing is done, there is a significant chance the cow will die.

It seemed likely to my informant that this remedy may have originated when someone gave their cow something to chew on to help it cope with the pain of the bloating, and the cow recovered.  My informant believes that chewing on the rope might ease the stomach and allow the cow to burp and let out some of the air that has it bloating.  Also, this method has proven effective, because if the cow is dumb enough to binge on alfalfa to a point where it endangers its own life, it can surely chew on a rope for hours on end.

At the time my informant first heard of this remedy, he did not know of a medicinal cure for the bloating.  Considering the cows had to be fed, housed, and cleaned, uncommon problems like bloating went without a definite cure and farmers had to ask each other what to do in these situations, and in this way, folk remedies spread from farm to farm.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

When a dog eats grass, it’s going to rain

My source grew up on a farm in northeast Nebraska and recalls learning this indicator when he was 7 or 8 years old.  His grandmother owned three dogs during his childhood, and one day he saw them all eating grass at the same time.  He found this odd, so he asked his grandmother if she forgot to feed the dogs.  She hadn’t, and explained to him that when dogs eat grass, it’s an indication that it will rain soon.  Sure enough, it rained later that day. Afterwards, most of the time he saw the dogs eating grass, rain quickly followed.

It is not out of the ordinary for a dog to eat grass, and it is actually typical if a dog has an upset stomach.  But then again, a coming rain is not likely to make a dog sick.  My informant suggested that there might be an atmospheric change that occurs before a rainstorm that might make dogs believe they have a symptom of an upset stomach, so then they would decide to eat grass.  There is no proof to support this explanation, but it makes sense to my informant considering the likelihood of rain after he saw his dogs eating grass.

However, there were several times that he would see the dogs eating grass and it wouldn’t rain.  In these cases, either the dogs were sick or it was a dry season.  This supports another folk superstition that his grandmother once told my informant.  She would say, “In a dry spell, all signs fail.” My informant’s grandmother knew many folk superstitions, and she would tell them to the family when appropriate.  No one else in the family desired to memorize them all as she had done, but they would remember the ones that she had told them over and over, and they shared those between each other.  These superstitions were likely shared in the same way by many other families.  This particular superstition is likely to be shared mostly by farmers because their occupation and livelihood is dependent on weather patterns, so if there is any way farmers can make use of a weather indicator, they certainly will.

 

Annotation: This particular folk superstition can be found in John Frederick Doering’s article: “Some Western Ontario Folk Beliefs and Practices” in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 51, No. 199 (Jan. – Mar., 1938), pp. 61

folk simile
Folk speech

It’s raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock

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.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Proverb – American

The informant learned the following proverb from his father:

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

The informant interprets it to mean that “you can’t, you know, you can’t produce greatness out of nothing. No, you have to have the basic ingredients to create what you are attempting to make.” The informant recalls that his father often said the proverb to his mother when she complained about his cutting corners: “Since he was a very handy person, he—y—he, um, he jury-rigged whenever he could, but he understood that there were limitations to doing so. And when it was brought up that there were limitations—which it generally was, because my mother was a very nitpicky person—uh, his response was invariably, ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.’” The informant himself occasionally uses the proverb when it seems relevant, but only when he feels that the person he’s speaking to will understand him: “Most people don’no [sic] what a sow is any more.”

When asked what he thinks of the proverb, the informant says, “I feel that it’s, uh, it’s terminology is pretty out of date, but t’lesson is soun’.”

A sow is, of course, a female pig, and the proverb most likely is a remnant of times when farming was the major occupation in America. The comparison between the silk purse and the sow’s ear seems likely to stem from the delicacy of the ear and the way the light shines through it as through silk. A full-grown sow is very large and its ear could conceivably be large enough to use as a purse. The fact that the informant’s father addressed it to his mother is telling and could even be considered sexist; of course, it would be a woman who would want a silk purse and be foolish enough to think that it was possible to make one out of the ear of a pig.

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