Tag Archives: korean folklore

The Story Bag

Main Piece:

This is a transcription of the story as told by the informant.

The Story Bag is about this guy who, every time he met someone new he would ask them to tell him a story and he would put that story in his bag. And then he got older and he was about to get married. And he hung it on the wall and one of his servants heard the voices on the wall. The stories had been packed together for so long that they hated this guy. The servant heard the stories talk about how they were going to turn into poison berries for the man to eat, poison water for the man to drink, and an iron skewer so that when he dismounted his horse he would step on it. They were also going to become snakes that were poisonous and hide in the man’s wedding chamber. The servant decided that he was going to stop it. So the next day when the man went to go get married he was about to eat the berries and the servant stopped him. He stopped him from looking into the water too which was poisonous. The servant pretended to fall and pushed him away from the skewer. In the bridal chamber, the servant ran in and cut up all the snakes. He told the master that he heard the stories on the wall and that he can’t keep the stories in a bag because stories are meant to be told.

Background:

This folktale was a story told to the informant by their Korean grandmother. The informant is Korean-American and was told many Korean folktales as a child. This story was told to them before they would go to bed. It reminds them of comfort and childhood.

Context:

This story was told from memory as I was discussing family traditions with the informant. The informant told me that their family would tell folktales all the time.

Thoughts:

This folktale can easily be interpreted as a fable. It is very straightforward and explains the need for stories to be told to other people. In many cultures, sharing stories is a way of staying connected to their history and ancestors. This story was able to captivate the audience of children and teach them a valuable lesson. This story helps perpetuate the tradition of telling folktales in Korean culture and passing stories down from one generation to the next.

Stomach Ache? Try a Needle in the Thumb

Piece:

Interviewer: “Do you know any folk medicine?”

R.B.: “…oh my god… actually yeah. My mom used to tell me if my stomach hurt to stick a needle in my thumb and the it will go away.”

Interviewer: “R.B, what that makes no sense… did it work?”

R.B.: “… I mean I guess. It lets out all the bad blood”

Informant:

The informant is  half-Korean, half- caucasian young adult female, who grew up in Seattle, Washington. Her mother is an immigrant from Korea and spoke to her frequently in Korean growing up, but was not surrounded often by her asian family as they lived in Korea. Her father is white American man of European descent who grew up in the Pacific Northwest. She spent a lot of time with her white side of her family growing up because they lived nearby.  

Context:

Informant R.B. and I were at dinner when I was interviewing her for the folklore collection project. When asked if she had any weird medicines, this is the folklore she remembered.

Interpretation:

Informant R.B. took this piece of folklore very seriously. And, when asked later if she would still use this method of treatment, she responded yes and that she would tell her friends to because it worked. R.B. received this piece of folklore from her mother her learned it from her own mother in Korea. For their family, this folklore represented more than a cure, but a lasting family tradition. I found this piece to be very interesting because it showcased how different cultures treat their illnesses.

 

Em-chang

Context:

The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out.

Piece:

Subject: Okay, so kids, you know how kids like swear on their mother, right?

Interviewer: Right.

Subject: So like, in Korea we do this one our forehead [It’s basically the Shaka sign but with the end of the thumb on the forehead] and stick our tongue out and say em-chang.

Interviewer: Em-chang?

Subject: Yeah it basically means, if I’m lying my mother’s a prostitute. And it varies between places in Korea, sometimes you put the hand vertical on your face, or you don’t stick out the tongue, sometimes the thumb goes on the tongue.

Interviewer: Wow, and this is common?

Subject: Yeah it’s the equivalent for swearing on your mom’s life. Arguably harsher.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, it seems that a lot of different cultures have their own forms of swearing on their mother. The common link is always the mother figure. It begs the question as to why, however I think it’s a simple answer. The mother figures in our lives are extremely important to us, especially when we’re very dependent children. The importance of the mother role is very clear across the globe.