USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘kids’
Childhood
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor

Urdu childhood rhyme

Context: The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both from Pakistan originally. He was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. He currently lives in Southern California in a joint family and has also visited Pakistan multiple times since he was very young. His extended family in Pakistan includes many young uncles and cousins who are closer to his age than his parents’. The informant recalls his older cousins would say to him, jokingly, when he was in trouble,

“___ ke bacche

daal daal kacche”

which literally means “___’s child, uncooked lentils”. He elaborates that this was meant as a warning, to scare him into an apology for some misbehavior, because it was always said a precursor to someone “tattling” on him to a parent.

Analysis: The informant explains that it is a saying that everyone, including himself now, says to children younger than oneself. He says that he has never thought about the meaning, and only remembered and said it regularly when teasing his younger cousins because it gave him a sense of authority over them (since only people older than you would say it to you, usually) and because it rhymed, so “it was easy to say and easy to remember”. He continues, “It was just, like a fun, teasing thing to say to the little kids, like you would joke with them but you wouldn’t actually get them into trouble.” From his own words, the informant seems to have recast the saying, not as the veiled threat his older relatives would use against him, but as something to relate to younger kids with.

From a more objective perspective, lentils are one of the staples in many Pakistani diets (i would venture to say, in many South Asian diets too). Uncooked lentils, however, are not very useful. So the rhyme could be commenting on the “bad boy”‘s or “bad girl”‘s lack of worth–no one wants you if you’re going to misbehave. Also, it could be a veiled warning that you’re about to be “cooked” or put “in hot water” or “raked over the coals”–that is, punished. The significance of not referring to the child by [his own name], but by “the child of [his own name]“, could be a reference to the fact that South Asian cultures are patriarchal and patrilineal, so knowing who the father is, is very important. Calling a child his/her own father may be a veiled way of saying they have no father and are therefore the object of shame.

Musical

Tuntun-Tuntun-Taara

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Billi ne chuhe ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Chawkidaar ne chor ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

 

Translation:

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock (Chorus)

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat killed the mouse

Hai!

(Chorus) x 2

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

The guard killed the thief

Hai!

(Chorus)

Analysis: For some reason, similar to many Western nursery rhymes and lullabies, this song is a particularly violent one. It talks about the elimination of a small threat (a mouse) and then of a much larger, much more serious threat (a thief). But this elimination takes place in a very definitive, violent manner–murder, essentially. Unlike Western lullabies, however (some that come to mind are Rockabye Baby, Rain Rain Go Away, Old Daddy Long Legs, and Sing a Song of Sixpence), the violence is not perpetrated on children or seemingly innocent bystanders, but on entities who do pose a real threat to the health and safety of the child and indeed the whole family and therefore could be said to “deserve what they got”. Mice spread disease and could ruin a family’s crop and thereby cause them to starve. Thieves also could cause financial ruin and would not hesitate to do away with any family member who discovered them robbing the house in the dead of night. In rural areas, or places that didn’t have a very trustworthy law enforcement and protection system, the idea that there were people (or animals) that would be able to protect a child from harm must have been very comforting.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

Lemonade,

iced tea

Coca-cola,

Pepsi

Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:

Lemonade,

crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Playground Lingo

Context: The informant is a 23-year-old white female from Florida who grew up with her parents and two older siblings. When the informant was in grade school, a common accusation between kids swinging on adjacent swings, when someone got too close to them, was, “You’re in my shower!”

Analysis: The informant says she remembers the phrase because “I thought it was a weird thing to say, i was like, okay, whatever you say…” This indicates that it was not a widespread saying but perhaps unique to a small area of schools or perhaps even just the one school that the informant attended.

It can be assumed that when someone had possession of a swing, they would be unwilling to give it up or to experience interference from other swingers. The connotation of a shower being a very individual, private space, therefore, transferred onto the swinger’s small area of free movement and they would understandably be indignant of someone invading their “private,” designated area.

Childhood
Customs
Kinesthetic

Alley Murderer

Item:

Informant: “Mhmm the murderer would come back and  jump out and kill the girl if she walked down the alleyway.”

Me: “Wait didn’t the murder occur, like, several decades earlier?”

There is an alleyway that school kids, including the informant, passed by every day coming home from school. The alley was a very convenient shortcut to get home. However, it was told among the kids that years before, a girl walked down the alley and was then murdered. The murderer got away. Now, only boys walk down the alleyway, and all the girls avoid it. They say that if a girl walks down the alleyway, the murderer will jump out and kill her too. So, instead of taking the shortcut, girls would walk about an extra 5 minutes around the large block and meet up on the other side.

 

Context:

The informant recalls this being an occurrence common in early middle school. The murder apparently took place several decades beforehand and the criminal got away. The boys didn’t pay much attention to the story because it was assumed that only girls would be targeted. He said that as they got older, it was talked about less, but the girls still avoided the alley.

 

Analysis:

The concept of a specific place, especially a route, being associated with death or murder is really interesting in this context. Kids at any point in elementary through middle school are beginning to deal with the realities of both death and violent crime. By creating a story (or perhaps propagating a fact) around the alley, they’ve drawn a connection between murder and a specific location and scenario: the alley, a girl, an un-captured murderer. To a certain extent, it’s an example of boys and girls segregating at the early stages of puberty. Perhaps it’s a rare opportunity to have just the boys talking in one place and the girls talking in another for 5 minutes after a day of school. Even more so, it’s almost an empowering way for kids to deal with death. By the girls avoiding the alley, they are effectively cheating what they associate with being killed. And for the boys, it’s almost a courageous act because they are confident they won’t be the victims, so they take the convenient route. It’s also worth noting that for something that happens on a daily basis, 5 minutes extra on a walk is sort of inconvenient. The story was obviously taken seriously enough to convince girls they should take the long way home.

Digital
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Auntie Cockroach (kids)

When he was four or five, his grandmother and mother told him a story about “Auntie Cockroach”. This folktale is a very popular Persian fairy tale for kids and it was a popular bedtime story for Arya. Her mother and grandmother would always end their retelling by asking him to answer what the moral of the story was (being generous, helping people and welcoming guests into your home).
He told me the following rendition from what he remembers:
On a very rainy night, auntie Cockroach received many visitors from animals who needed shelter. There was the zebra, the horse, the cat ad the mouse. The zebra asked to come in because his roof was leaking; the horse came next and asked for some food since he had been traveling all night and hadn’t been able to stop anywhere. Then came the cat seeking the warmth of a fireplace and finally, the mouse whose mousehole had flooded with the rains. Auntie cockroach let all the animals in and tended to their needs; the next morning, all the animals left and were eternally thankful for Auntie Cockroach’s generosity.

What’s interesting about this story, is that Arya revealed that there is another version that goes by the same name: “Auntie Cockroach and Mr. Mouse” and is the adult (more elaborate) version of the kids’ one he’d heard growing up. This version can be found online as a PDF and is titled “Auntie Cockroach (Khale Suske) and Mr. Mouse”

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

House of Tia Toña

In the forest of Chapultepec in the capital (DF) there is an old dilapidated house that is said to be inhabited by a woman who flies into a rage when curious onlookers come to visit.  Visitors to the house have said that when she is enraged, you can hear strange noises in and around the house; you will often see a shadow pass through the windows and the feeling of being watched by someone who sends chills down your spine and goosebumps over your flesh. 
The name of the woman was “Tia Toña”, and she was a very wealthy widow who lived many, many years ago in her house by herself. She was a very kind person and to ease her loneliness, she started taking in homeless children off the street. She gave them money, food, clothes and shelter. But in spite of her charitable acts, the kids were unruly and ungrateful. They made her life impossible and one day, they banded together and decided to kill her in order to take the house and her money.
The kids carried out the murder and threw the body down in the attic. However, they were unable to live in peace because the woman’s angered spirit returned and chased them out of the house – eventually leading each to a terrible death.  From then on, the woman’s angry spirit haunted the house and continues to do so now. Kids are especially warned to stay away from the house.

There is another version of this story that I found in this Mexican newspaper:  http://www.vanguardia.com.mx7leyendasdeterrorquehanpuestoatemblaraldf-668416.html
It is all the same except for the fact that the woman is the one who kills the kids (because they misbehaved so much) only to then be driven to guilt by her actions. She locks herself in the house and has been there ever since. Flory told this story to me during a coffee date, there were no particular gestures that she used to relay it; however, she did say that when she visited the capital for the first time with her parents, her mother repeated this story to her in an effort to scare her away from wandering away from them (it worked, especially in said park).

Game
general

“Levitating” at a Slumber Party

The informant discusses a game she would play with her friends at slumber parties when she was a child, which involves levitating someone.  She holds this game as a fond memory from her childhood growing up in Fullerton, CA.  The informant is now 57 so the game was played in the mid to late 1960s.

The informant explains that late at night all the girls at the slumber party would choose one girl who they would try to levitate that night.  The chosen girl would lie down flat on her back and every other girl would gather around her sitting down with legs folded underneath you.  Each girl would put both hands with their first two fingers under the chosen girl and the girl would go into a trance-like state.  From person-to-person around the circle they would say, “Your bones are turning, your bones are turning.”  After that is repeated enough all of the girls would rotate saying, “you’re dead, you’re dead.”  Then at some moment when people felt that the chosen girl was light or in a trance they would try to lift person with two fingers.  The informant notes that all the girls thought that the person did indeed feel as light as a feather.  There was a belief that they had somehow lightened the girl.

This folklore shows young girls interests in magic and the supernatural.  The act of trying to levitate a girl indicates each girl’s curiosity with magical powers as well as themes of death and altered states as seen with the lines “you’re dead” and “your bones are turning.”  The game demonstrates young girls exploring with ideas of mortality and life after death for the first times.  Understanding more complex ideas such as death is important in this time of life.

Game
general

“skunk in the graveyard”

“Skunk in the graveyard” is a running game you would play with friends outside, and it is like the daytime version of “ghost in the graveyard.” Essentially, one person is the “skunk” and they go and hide while everyone else counts at the “base” and closes their eyes. When it’s time to go seek out the skunk, everyone goes out from the base and once the skunk is spotted, the spotter yells, “skunk in the graveyard!” and that signals everyone to run back to the base before the skunk can tag you. If tagged, you become another skunk and thus another round begins. The rounds continue until there’s but one person left untagged, and that remaining person then becomes the one skunk to start the next game.

[geolocation]