USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Local Lore’
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Don’t Bring Pork on the Pali Highway

“In Hawaii, there’s a big stigma about the Pali Highway. You’re not supposed to carry pork on it from the windward side to the leeward side because it has to do it the belief in the Hawaiian gods The windward side, [my sister] said it was the Kamapua’a, which is the pig god, and then the leeward side is the embodiment of his ex-girlfriend, which is Pele, which is the goddess of fire. If you if you bring poured across the Pali Highway from windward to leeward, you’ll get cursed with bad luck. You’re supposed to bring tea leaves to protect yourself, and that’s why you don’t drive with pork.”

Background Information and Context:

“[I learned about the superstition] through one of my teachers, my Modern History of Hawaii teacher, I believe, because he used to tell different stories and things, so use telling the history of the island and about how we have a really like big mixed culture but also, like, indigenous Hawaiian cultures. So, I would modern Hawaiian culture, at least, is like an amalgamation of a bunch of different things that are mixed into [indigenous Hawaiian culture]. So, different superstitions, too. All of the older aunties and uncles, especially native Hawaiian and aunties and uncles, will be steadfast about superstitions, but I have never met anyone who like really really strict about this one. Still, even if they’re not really really strict about it, like they don’t super believe in it, they won’t do it anyway because it’s just one of those superstition things that you just don’t do.”

Collector’s Notes:

What I find most interesting about this superstition is that, although the informant has never met anyone who truly claimed belief in the superstition, she considers it something you “just don’t do.” This shows the power of cultural expectations and explains why superstitions are so resilient to fading. Moreover, I find the informant’s knowledge of and education about Hawaiian history and culture intriguing because she was neither born in Hawaii nor is she of indigenous Hawaiian descent, showing that the adoption of local traditions does not have to occur from a young age.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Night Marchers

“You shouldn’t whistle at night because you’ll get hunted down by the night marchers. I’ve never really gotten a description of what the night marchers are, but if you get hunted down by them, it’s also bad luck, and then, also, if you hear drums it’s night marchers, so go in the other direction. My sister, she’s in marching band, and one time she was whistling, and her friend just yelled at her across the field like, ‘Don’t whistle! You’re going to get hunted down by the night marchers!’ I asked her, ‘What are the night marchers?’ She just (she shrugs and shakes her head) and ‘Just don’t whistle at night.’”

Background Information and Context:

As the informant said above, she learned about this superstition from her sister, who had shared the experience of being warned about this superstition. They encountered this superstition in Hawaii, where they live.

Collector’s Notes:

It is interesting how the informant and her sister were warned not to whistle at night without ever truly understanding the background for the superstition. It makes me wonder if the person warning her sister even knew what the night marchers are, or if she was merely echoing a warning given to her by someone else. Many superstitions exist and are followed ‘just to be safe’ even though the reasons why it causes bad luck are unknown. Moreover, I was surprised that my informant never thought to look up the night marchers on the internet, because a simple Google search showed me that her bad-luck-causing night marchers were actually Hawaiian warriors whose appearance meant death.

For more information about the Night Marchers, see “Friday Frights: The Legend of Hawai‘i’s Night Marchers” in Honolulu Magazine

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Going to the wagons

A family friend, Ruth, grew up in a small town outside of Boston that had an unusual 4th of July tradition called “going to the wagons.” The following is a conversation between us about the tradition. “R” is Ruth and “L” is myself.

L: So what is the name of the town you’re from?
R: Dedham, Mass. And this would happen in Oakdale Square.
L: Okay.
R: And so the night before the 4th [of July], late at night, um like, we were young kids so we would go to bed first and our parents would wake us up and we would walk down to Oakdale Square, to take us to the wagons. And we would get there and y’know there’d be a crowd of people and like kids–it was kids I guess–who would roll these burning wooden wagons into the square. [It was called] “going to the wagons.”
L: So they were on- like what do you mean they were on fire?
R: They were burning!
L: Like they had, they were just set ablaze? Like the whole wagon?
R: Yeah!…I think what prompted them to stop this custom was, um, the drugstore windows broke from the heat of the flame, and so they stopped doing it. This was in the ‘50s.

The 4th of July is usually celebrated with fireworks, so in a sense this tradition seems an extension of the pyrotechnic theme present in the holiday. It makes sense that peculiar local traditions surrounding independence day would be most common in the Northeastern United States, particularly around Boston and Philadelphia, as that region was the site of much of the early political history of the U.S. as a nation-state.

general
Narrative

The Ghosts that Stop Your Car

Jack is currently a freshman studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Southern California. He grew up in a small suburb in New Jersey, and because of this, it was very easy for local legends to form and be spread. This is one of the local legends he remembers hearing while growing up.
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“My dad used to take me to this windy road about 10 minutes from where I lived. According to him, a little girl and her mom were driving down a hill when the brakes stopped working. Because of that, they ended up going down the hill and crashing into either a tree or another car; honestly I forget, but regardless of what they hit, both the mother and the daughter died. The legend, according to my dad, was that if you put your car in neutral towards the bottom of the hill, the ghost of either the mother or daughter would possess your car and hit the break for you. It was to make sure your car stopped so that you wouldn’t get into the same accident that they did. Like I said, my dad used to take me to that hill a lot when I was younger and we wanted to go a drive. He would put the car in neutral, and just as he said we would roll down the hill for a little bit, and slowly but surely the car would stop. Of course I was younger so my dad totally could have made this up, and he definitely could have just been hitting the breaks himself, and even while thinking about it now I didn’t even realize that ghosts could possess cars and other types of machinery, but regardless my dad is very religious, so I don’t think he would even entertain the idea of a ghost unless he truly believed it.”
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The small town that Jack lived in is common amongst some ghost stories, especially the local legends that are well known by people living in the area yet completely foreign and unheard of by people living outside the town. Some of my friends had also heard of the legend, but again, they were my friends and our parents were friends, so the legend could have spread that way, regardless of whether or not it was true. Assuming the legend is true, it’s interesting that the ghost possesses the car in order to stop it before rolling into the middle of the street. In other stories, the ghost might simply possess just the driver and have him/her hit the bakes, but since the mother and daughter died because of a brake malfunction, it makes sense that the ghosts would possess the car. That is more related to their cause of death. This might show that mechanical ghosts are born if the death of the ghost is directly related to/directly caused by something mechanical. Possessing or becoming a part of that machinery makes the “haunting” closer to the cause of death, and as we’ve learned with other ghost stories, a lot of souls remain near the person/thing/place that killed them.

[geolocation]