USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Korean’
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Legends

Korean: Origin of Man

Folklore:

This is Korean legend on the creation of man. In the beginning of time a tiger and bear wanted to become human so god put them in a deep cave. They both stayed in the cave for years without any food and as time passed they both started to freak out because they did not know why they were in cave. Eventually the bear decides to leave the cave and when he emerged he  was a man. As soon as he realized he was human he started wondering by himself looking for his best friend the tiger. In the end the tiger emerged from the cave as a woman.

Background and Context:

The informant is a Korean American sophomore at USC. He was born and raised in Northern California but he lived in South Korea for six months right after highschool. I collected the folklore on a Wednesday night in a very casual setting. My informant learned this story growing up as bedtime stories from his parents. While he does not believe in this creation story he still finds it interesting and relevant to his cultural heritage.

Final Thoughts:

My thoughts on this work was that it was new to me and interesting because I am Korean-American but I have never heard of this story before. I also found that the story contradicted itself slightly as the tiger and the bear wanted to be human but humans did not exist in the context of this story because it is a creation story on humans came to be. Otherwise I thought the story was interesting and unique because I have never heard stories similar to it.

 

general
Legends

Starcrossed Lovers

Folklore:

This is korean story about two star crossed lovers. The star crossed lovers are a peasant boy and a princesses, who fell in love and married. The king the father of the princess decides to have the marriage annulled as he does not approve of the marriage because of their different social classes. and spectated then across the heavens. However the birds see the star crossed lovers and black birds help them reunite so build them a bridge out of their bodies that connects to two halves of heavens so the the lovers can can be reunited. The birds build a bridge once a year for the lovers.

Background and Context:

The informant is a Korean American sophomore at USC. He was born and raised in Northern California but he lived in South Korea for six months right after highschool. I collected the folklore on a Wednesday night in a very casual setting. My informant learned this story growing up as bedtime stories from his parents.

Final thoughts.

Final thoughts on this story is that there are a lot of stories similar to this story in East Asian cultures. I believe the message of this story is true love conquers all as the two lovers get over many difficulties. There are three main difficulties the lovers get over the first being their different social classes, the second being the disapproval of parents in the stories case the father and a long distance relationship which is only being to meet once a tear. All of the hardships the lovers  overcome are similar to ones couples today struggle with but at a extreme.

 

general
Legends

Three Hatchets

Folklore:

In Korea there was a boy who had a silver hatchet. One day he was working chopping down tree when he accidentally loses his grip on the hatchet and throws it into river. After he loses his silver hatchet a man comes out of river and and asks the boy one is your hatchet I’ll return it to you. Is it this gold hatchet, is it this silver hatchet or is it this copper hatchet? The man points to each hatchet one by one as he speaks. The boy lies and says the gold hatchet is the one he lost but the old man knows he’s lying and says because he lied and he is greedy he won’t receive any of the hatchets. He also tells the boy if he had spoken the truth he would have received all the hatchets.

Background and Context:

The informant is a Korean American sophomore at USC. He was born and raised in Northern California but he lived in South Korea for six months right after highschool. I collected the folklore on a Wednesday night in a very casual setting. My informant learned this story growing up as bedtime stories from his parents.

Final Thoughts:

I believe this story is used to teach people a lesson. As the moral of the story is not to steal or lie. This is the moral because in the story the boy lied to the river man and was punished by not getting his hatchet back, while he would have been rewarded with all three hatchets if he had told the truth. Overall this story is interesting and unique because instead of creating two parallels between two characters you have one character learning what his opposite actions could have caused.

 

Folk Beliefs
general

Dragon Dream

Folklore:

This is a true story when my informant’s mother was pregnant with him she didn’t tell his grandmother because she became pregnant out of wedlock. At the time his mother lived in the United States while his grandmother in South Korea. However one day out of the blue the grandmother calls his mother asking if anyone is pregnant or dead. As she had dreamed of a huge dragon which in Korean culture signifies that a huge event has happened. The grandmother had called asking because none of their relative in South Korea had anything significant happen to them, so the grandmother knew my informant’s mother was pregnant from a different country. She also had the same dream with a smaller dragon when his mother was pregnant with his younger brother.  

Background and Context:

The informant is a Korean American sophomore at USC. He was born and raised in Northern California but he lived in South Korea for six months right after highschool. I collected the folklore on a Wednesday night in a very casual setting. My informant learned this story when he was young from his parents. He believes this to be a true story.  

Final Thoughts:

I think this is one of the most interesting pieces of folklore I have collected because my informant completely believes it to be true and I find it very believable too. It is also interesting how the dragon can symbolize life or death two completely different aspects of life. What was also amusing was how the dragon in the dream changed sizes for the first born son vs the second born son. This is also a view into Korean culture as usually the first born sons birth is the biggest celebration for births.

 

Holidays

Korean New Years Traditions

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as KP.

KP: New years. For Koreans, new years is huge, right? New years, for us at least, we have like a family reunion, with like our other extended family. If you are like, considered a child, you bow, and you get money, and it’s wild. So obviously, the bigger the family reunion is, the more money you get. So that’s great. We always eat ddukguk, which are rice cakes. Traditional korean foods on the holiday—ddukguk is the main one. Every Korean family eats that on New Years—that’s just a thing you do. This is just typical Korean tradition, and it’s even way more intense in Korea.

BD: What do you mean way more intense?
KP: Well, I mean, New years is a way bigger deal there. Everything is closed. Here, all the American places are closed, but for some reason the Korean places are open. I don’t know about that. On Christmas all the Korean places are open. Straight up, we don’t care—we’ll work. Money is money, right?


Analysis:

This piece of Korean folk tradition covers two topics—money and food. Food is a central part of many holidays, but the ubiquity of a particular dish is pretty interesting, especially that it has also become a thing here in America. The discussion of money is also very interesting. “Red envelope money” is a tradition in Chinese culture as well. It is likely that this tradition is tied with the ideas of “good luck” and “good wealth” for the coming year in Korean culture, as it is in Chinese culture.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Korean Fan Death

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as DS.

DS: In korea, if you sleep with the fan on, there’s a myth that you’ll die.
BD: Why?
DS: I don’t know.
BD: Who told you this?
DS: My mom.
BD: Where did she get it from?
DS: Her mom.
BD: Is it common in other Korean households?
DS: Yes, it’s very common. But everyone thinks of it as a joke.
BD: Does your mom actually believe it?
DS: No, she doesn’t. But she still always tells me to turn the fan off when I sleep.


 

Upon hearing this piece of folklore, I had thought it had a very clear scientific basis of belief—a fan would provide a slight breeze as one sleeps. Thus they could catch a cold and get very sick. But after reading more about this idea, Koreans do not have a clear scientific backing behind what they call “fan death.” They believe electric fans can actually kill people. The Atlantic discusses fan death and its origins in a recent article: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/05/is-this-going-to-kill-me-fan-death-korea/528243/. Historically, a man had been found dead with two fans in his room. Frank Bures, a writer on illnesses, believes this incident is from where the belief stems, but we really do not know for sure.

Tales /märchen

Heungbu and Nolbu

옛날 어느 마을에 흥부와 놀부라는 형제가 있었다. 못된 놀부는 착한 흥부를 돈 한푼 안 줘서 쫓아내고, 흥부는 찢어질 정도로 가난하고 힘들게 살아간다.

 

이 도중에 흥부가 놀부네 집에 밥을 얻어먹으러 갔다가 인심사나운 놀부 형수 주걱으로 싸다귀를 맞고 밥풀이라도 더 얻기 위해 구걸하다가 풀이 죽어 되돌아온다.

 

어느 봄날 흥부는 제비가 구렁이에게 공격당하는 것을 보고 도와주는데 새끼 제비의 다리가 부러져 있었다. 흥부는 다리가 부러진 제비를 치료해준다.

 

이듬해 봄, 제비가 박씨를 떨어뜨리자 흥부네는 그 박씨를 심는다. 박은 놀랄 정도로 거대하게 자라는데, 흥부 가족은 먹을 것이 없어 박이라도 먹기 위해 박을 꺼내서 박을 탄다. 그러자 박 안에서 온갖 곡물과 금은보화, 심지어 일곱난쟁이들까지 쏟아져 나와 흥부네는 하루아침에 부자가 되어 풍요롭게 잘 산다.

 

이 소식을 들은 놀부는 흥부에게 그 비결을 듣고 더 큰 부자가 되기 위해 당장 제비를 잡아 강제로 다리를 부러뜨린 다음, 다시 고쳐준다. 이듬해 봄 제비가 박씨를 가져왔으며, 놀부는 그것을 심어 박을 키워 탔는데, 박 안에서 나온건 곡물과 금은보화가 아닌 40명의 도둑들과 도깨비, 똥물등이 쏟아져 나와 도둑맞고 마구 두들겨 패고 집까지 덮치면서 놀부네는 하루아침에 거지 신세가 되고 만다. 그후 착한 흥부네의 도움을 받게 되면서, 자신의 잘못을 깨달은 놀부는 개과천선하면서 우애롭게 살게 된다는 이야기.

 

In the old town, there were brothers named Heungbu and Nolbu. The naughty Nolbu did not pay the good Heungbu for a penny, and Heungbu lived a poor life.

 

In the meantime, Heungbu went to Nolbu’s house to beg for food but Nolbu’s wife hit him with scoop.

 

One spring day, Heungbu broke the leg of a swallow, helping the swallow avoid from being attacked by a serpent. Heungbu treated the swallow’s broken leg.

 

The next spring, when the swallow dropped a seed, Heungbu sowed it. The seed grew surprisingly large and bore a big fruit, and the Heungbu family opened the fruit. Then all the grain, gold, and even the seven dwarfs are poured out in the fruit. Heungbu became rich and rich every morning.

 

Nolbu, who heard this news, listened to his secret and immediately took a swallow to become richer, then broke his leg and healed it again. Nolbu brought it in the spring of the following year, and Nolbu planted the seed that the swallow dropped and it bore a fruit, but the inside of the fruit did not have grains and gold, but thieves, goblins, and poops poured out of it. Nolbane became poor overnight. Nolbu realized his bad deeds. Heungbu helped him and they both had happy lives.

Background Information:

This is one of the most famous stories in Korea. The lesson from the story is that a good person will get rewarded and a bad person will get punished. Everybody learns it at elementary school.

Context:

It is performed to teach young generation to be a good person.

Usually the performance is a form of puppet animation.

Personal Analysis:

This story is good for teaching kids to be selfless, while warning them not to deceive others. It’s good that it’s a part of school curriculum so that morals and ethics are incorporated at an early age. I’m not sure of an American equivalent. The end of the story is the best because Heungbu helped his brother instead of keeping his riches to himself, which could ultimately be just as bad as tricking a swallow. It teaches grace, giving something that wasn’t deserved.

Tales /märchen

Rabbit and Turtle

Main Piece:

 

큰 병을 얻어 임종을 눈앞에 둔 물 속 나라 용궁의 용왕이 병을 낫기 위한 방법을 수소문 한 결과 토끼의 간을 먹으면 낫는다는 이야기를 듣게 된다.

 

하지만 물 속 나라의 백성들은 전부 물고기인지라 뭍에 사는 토끼를 잡아올 방법이 없지 않은가. 그 때, 용왕의 신하인 자라가 자신만만하게 나서며, 손바닥 뒤집듯 쉽게 토끼를 잡아올 수 있을거라 말한다. 자라는 물과 뭍을 오갈 수 있기 때문에 뭍으로 올라와 토끼를 찾아 간다.

 

토끼를 만난 별주부는 달리기 경주에서 승리하여 온갖 아양과 아부를 떨어 토끼를 설득하며, 결국 토끼는 별주부의 등에 타고 용궁으로 가게 된다.

 

토끼를 본 용왕이 대뜸 “내가 살기 위해서는 니가 죽어야 한다.” 라고 말한다. 이에 토끼는 잠깐 당황하지만, 기지를 발휘하여 “안타깝지만 지금은 나에게 간이 없다. 나만 아는 곳에 몰래 감춰두고 왔다.” 라고 말한다. 토끼는 잔꾀로 용왕을 속이고 무사히 탈출한다.

 

토끼의 배웅 겸, 몰래 감춰놓았다던 간을 받아올 겸 해서 별주부가 다시 토끼를 데리고 육지로 올라가나, 토끼는 “거짓말이야”를 외쳐주고는 산속으로 도망가버린다.

 

이에 허탈한 별주부가 자살을 결심하려고 할 때 지나가던 도인이 “그대의 정성에 하늘이 감동했다” 라며 신선들이 사용하는 약을 건네준다. 별주부가 “어르신의 존함은 뭡니까?”라고 묻자 도인이 “나는 패국 사람 화타다”라고 자신의 이름을 밝히고 이야기는 끝난다.

The King of the country in the water got very sick and heard that only the liver of a rabbit can cure it.

 

But all the people of the country in the water are fish, so there is no way to bring the rabbit. At that time, Yongwang(The King)’s servant, the turtle says that he is able to grab the rabbit easily. Because he can go to water and land, the turtle went up to the land to visit the rabbit.

 

The turtle that meets the rabbit wins the running race and eventually the rabbit rides on the back of the turtle and goes to the palace.

 

“You have to die for me to live.” the king says. The rabbit panicked for a moment, but said, “Unfortunately, I have no liver now.” The king is suspicious, but let the rabbit go to get the liver.

 

The rabbit shouted to the turtle, “It was a lie” and run away into the mountains.

 

Disappointed, the turtle tried to commit suicide, a stranger gave him a medicine from heaven that can cure the king’s illness. The turtle asked “What is your name?” and the stranger answered “I am Hwata from China”.

 

Background Information:

This is a very old Korean novel. It figuratively shows how Choonchoo Kim of Shilla escaped from Kokuryeo.

Interestingly, this story can be viewed from the rabbit or from the tortoise.

 

Context:

This is performed as puppet animation or graphic animation for children.

Personal Analysis:

The ending is a bit of a plot twist and also a bit random. The rabbit is very sneaky, and the turtle is a faithful servant. From the rabbit’s point of view, he was just trying to protect himself and did what it takes to survive. He became a victim at one point because the king asked for his life to keep his own. On the other hand, from the turtle’s point of view, the rabbit is the bad guy for running away with a lie. We want to pity the turtle and side with him especially when he wants to die, but he was given the task to kill a rabbit which is cruel. It is an interesting story because it correlates with history. These animals are a popular choice in lead characters in children’s stories, because they contradict each other.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Funny Korean Proverb

Informant SL is a junior studying business communication at the University of Southern California. She is of Korean descent and only moved to America at the age of 16. Here, she performs a proverb that is very notorious to her because she heard it for the first time after doing something she learned she shouldn’t have done.

Original Proverb: 누워서 침 뱄기

English Translation: “Lying down and spitting.”

The informant was an only child growing up. For this reason, in elementary school, she didn’t have anyone to vent about her parents with. So one time she bad-mouthed her parents to a friend. This friend told her mom, and the friend’s mom told the informant’s mom. The story ends with the informant’s mom repeating the proverb to the informant. The proverb is very apt in this case because the informant explained that she essentially “lied down and spit on herself” because by telling a friend, she invariably ended up telling her mother. The informant believes that this proverb is very significant to know because it can apply to almost anything. It is akin to the concept of karma because what goes around will always come around (or land on yourself as spit in this case).

To me, this proverb is very simple to decipher. I take it to mean don’t do anything that could come back to bite you. This is especially relevant in today’s day and age due to the prevalence of the internet and social media. Everything we do online is documented and saved forever in the archives of the internet. This means something we have published over 5 years ago could be resurfaced at a later date. Everyone knows of very obvious examples of where this has happened, but everyone at one point or another has posted or commented something they would not like the world to see. For this reason, it is imperative that one doesn’t “lie down and spit”. This etiquette is essential to prevent something incriminating coming back to cause harm further down the line.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Common Korean Proverb

Informant SL is a junior studying business communication at the University of Southern California. She is of Korean descent and only moved to America at the age of 16. Here, she performs the proverb she is most familiar with because it is very commonly stated in Korean society.

Original Proverb: 오늘 걷지 않으면, 내일 뛰어야 한다

English Translation: “If you don’t walk today, you must run tomorrow.”

The informant explained that this proverb means that if you don’t do something easier today, it’ll be even harder tomorrow. She likes the proverb because it’s not something she lives by, but it motivates her to hear it. Since Korean is her first language, it feels deeper to her. She heard this proverb from her father who told her because she was not doing her work back in elementary school, and it has stuck with her ever since.

This proverb resonated with me because procrastination is something I often find myself struggling with. I have heard many different versions of this proverb, like the “journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”, yet none really stuck with me like this one did. This proverb articulated my thoughts on procrastination by putting it into very simple terms. Essentially, everything is made easier by splitting it up into more manageable parts. However, if things are put off, the effort to complete it is a lot more uncomfortable and unmanageable. The analogy between procrastination and running is very accurate. Both are very uncomfortable, yet very often unavoidable due to human nature.

 

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