USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Mythology’
Foodways
Myths
Narrative

Origins of the Hawaiian Kalo Plant

The informant is an 18-year-old college student attending university in Hawaii. She was born and raised in the Bay Area, California, but has a great deal of family living in Hawaii who she visited frequently when growing up.

While I was on a hike with the informant in San Ramon, California over spring break, I asked her if there were any Hawaiian myths or legends regarding the islands themselves, and she explained to me the history of the taro plant.

“Father Sky and Mother Earth were brother and sister, and they had, kind of like an incestuous relationship, and their first child was a stillborn and they buried it in the ground. That’s what taro plant is, in Hawaii it’s called kalo, and they use it to make a dish called poi. It’s really important to Hawaiians because each taro plant is like the first stillborn, and it’s kinda cool because a taro plant is a stem and a big leaf and there’s a little circle part in the middle that is supposed to be the bellybutton”

The taro plant, called kalo in Hawaii, is a staple in Hawaiian cuisine. This mythology incorporating the taro plant with the origin of the Earth itself shows how much importance Hawaiians place on the land. The land is often still viewed as being Mother Earth, and it is of the utmost importance that Hawaiians are respectful to their ancestors. So, it follows that Hawaiians must be extremely respectful to Mother Earth herself, their land, and this myth encourages every resident of the newly declared state to do their part to take care of their home and warns against wastefulness. This explains why so many native Hawaiians find it necessary to be rude to tourists and foreigners who carelessly destroy their sacred home. The informant said that anyone from Hawaii knows of the origin story describing kalo, and so I asked if there are any specific rituals or techniques that are employed when harvesting the plant. She said that she was not entirely sure, but she does know that you are supposed to pick the root a certain way so as to not hurt the stillborn child. Through this belief, the idea that it is important to not harm the land and to respect it is emphasized once more.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Material
Myths
Narrative
Protection
Tales /märchen

It is bad luck for tourists to remove Hawaiian lava rocks from the islands

My informant has lived on the island of Hawaii his whole life.  He currently works at the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.  He first heard of the superstition when his parents would complain about the increasing amount of tourism to the island.  They would justify their discontent by acknowledging that all of the tourists who would return home with volcanic rock would be stricken with bad luck.

At the national park, my informant has been taught, and is expected to know, the details of the superstition.  Apparently, the volcanic goddess, Pele, curses visitors who return to their homelands with a lava rock.  At the national park, they frequently receive packages which contain lava rocks that people have taken and wish to return because of their bad luck.  They expect that by returning the rocks, their luck will change for the better.  The worst instance he has heard of was a man who was laid off of work and broke his leg in the same month.  He believes the superstition was created by native Hawaiians trying to discourage tourists from disturbing the landscape.  He has never left the island with a volcanic rock before, so he doesn’t have any firsthand experience with the curse.

In my opinion, the lava operates as an item the tourists can blame their misfortunes on.  Then, whenever something goes wrong, they think of the lava rock instead of brushing it off.  Then the tourists feel like they have to free themselves of the burden the rock has put them in.  Also, I have heard of how much the native Hawaiians hate tourists, so it’s likely this superstition was started to discourage tourist activity.  Also, this makes sense because tourism to Hawaii has only become popular in the last century.  To tie an ancient figure like Pele to a more modern practice makes it evident that the curse is not genuine and the native Hawaiians just don’t like tourists taking pieces of Hawaii home with them.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Myths
Narrative

Korean Origin Myth

A spirit descended from the heavenly skies in search of a bride. If you feed animals garlic for a hundred days, they will transform into women. Thus, the spirit imprisoned a tiger and a bear in the Baik-Doo Mountain for a hundred days, feeding them garlic. However, the short-fused tiger escaped before the hundred days while the patient bear waited. The bear consequently transformed into a woman, and the spirit took her for his bride. They bore a son, the Dang-Goon, the creator of Korea. That is how the country of Korea came to be.

 

My informant first learned this myth in his elementary school in Daegu, Korea.  His teacher taught his class how Korea became what it was that day.  She started with this particular myth that explains how the great predecessor was divinely created – directly from a heavenly spirit and a bear turned into a woman.  The children believe the story completely, especially since Baik-Doo Mountain is an actual mountain.  Everyone in Korea is familiar with this myth; it is something that has been told from generation to the next.  It has become a vital part of the Korean tradition.

It is common for the Koreans to use animals in their narratives and give the animals characteristics.  Oftentimes, the tiger is portrayed as conniving, ravenous, and temperamental.  Therefore in this myth, the tiger cannot stand the hundred days and escapes.  The bear is usually portrayed as wise, slow and lazy, though.  The bear in the myth remains patiently.  Although this myth shows the bear in a positive aspect, in other Korean stories, the bear can represent stupidity and indolence.  I was not surprised to hear that the bear was the animal that waited long enough to become a woman.  In my opinion, Koreans have such a myth as this to reinforce the idea that their first king was not a mortal being but a direct descendent from a god.

general
Legends
Myths
Narrative
Tales /märchen

How Red Hill (Bukit Merah) Got its Name

A long time ago, in the annals of Malayan history, when Singapore was merely a little sleepy fishing village, there was a bloody event that stained the soil of the (present day) Red Hill red with blood. In these early years, fish that had sharp, sword like mouths used to swim up to the shore and attack fishermen, making it unable for them to venture out and fish. Nobody had any idea what to do, the Sultan tried ordering soldiers to attack, but these attempts only made attacks more frequent and causing the soldiers themselves more harm than the fish.

Then one day, a young boy,  who lived on the hill came up with a solution. He advised the Sultan to use banana tree trunks as a wall to ward off the attacks, as the fishes mouth would get stuck in the tree and they can kill the fish more easily.  This plan worked very well, and the fish eventually stopped attacking.

However, the boy became a hero in the eyes of the villages and the Sultan became threatened by him, growing paranoid that the villagers might want this young boy to become the next ruler and overthrow him. His paranoia increased day by day, until one day, he ordered a small squad of his elite guards to assassinate the boy in his sleep. That night, the head of the this team took out his kris (wavy blade dagger) and stabbed the boy in the heart. Killing him instantly.

The blood that flowed out would not stop gushing out of the wound, this scared the soldiers and they ran away as fast as possible. This young boy’s blood coated the hill that he lived. None of the villagers knew who ordered the boy kill, but that it was a tragic event, and to commemorate this event, they called the hill Bukit Merah (Red Hill) to remember this boy by.

My informant was informed of this legend when he was a boy in Singapore during the 1990s. This was told to him by one of his older cousins at a family reunion, when they were watching a TV special on the origin of place names in Singapore. He suspected it was partially to scare the living daylights out of him, but nevertheless, it stuck. Because of the story though, he went to look up the actual reason what made the soil on that hill red, and it was because of the soil type on that hill tended to have a reddish hue to it.

Fishermen in rural villages are not the most rational or scientific of people, and the most likely reason for the name would be that as the soil, without any plants or crops growing on it would look like blood soaked soil to these uneducated villagers in the early part of the last millennium. Therefore naming the place, Red Hill or Bukit Merah.

There are many versions of this story. In some versions, like this one, the species of fish attacking the village is unknown, others name it as swordfish and some call it Gar fish. In another version of this story, the boy does not die and it the blood coming out was the blood of the earth from a homunculus which, a witch created to throw off the guards from actually killing the boy.

Earth cycle
general
Legends
Narrative

Why the rat is the first animal in the Chinese Zodiac (为什么老鼠在十二生肖里排第一)

从前,玉皇大帝举行一个比赛来决定十二生肖的顺序排列, 那天早上谁先到皇宫就排那位。 每一个年会有一个不同的动物。消息宣布的时候,第一个听到的是老鼠。老鼠知道自己个子小,没机会用自己的体量来赢,所以他就想出一个能赢得办法。

比赛那天早上,他就到牛的家问他,可不可以坐在他的背上载他到皇宫去。牛答应了,老鼠就爬到他的头顶上。但,因为牛虽然大,不是世界最聪明的动物,过了不久,牛忘记老鼠坐在他的头顶上。

一到皇宫前,老鼠就跳下牛的头, 成为第一个动物来到皇宫。牛果然不开心,但没别的办法,只能默默的接受第二位。

A long time ago, the Jade emperor decided to have a race to see who was going to be the twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac. The first twelve who reached the Jade Emperor’s place would be the members of the Chinese zodiac in that order. The first person to hear about the news was the Rat. Since the Rat was small, he knew that there was no way he would win without outside help and began to formulate a plan.

On the day of the competition, he went to the house of the Bull, because firstly, most creatures were scared of the Bull and it wasn’t smart like the tiger, horse or dragon, who would know what it was thinking and the Bull lived nearest the Place. He asked the Bull, if he could hitch a ride to the palace and the Bull agreed. Since the Bull wasn’t the brightest of animals, he forgot that the rat was riding on his head halfway through the race.

Once at the palace, the rat jumped through the air and was the first animal to enter the palace and won the race. Naturally, the Bull was not pleased with this development, but he had no other choice than to accept his place at number two.

 

This was told to my informant during a Chinese New Year celebration when she was in primary school during the year of the Rat. It tends to be a story to tell children about the reasons behind the placements of the Chinese zodiac and why such a small animals is placed first. Like most legends, there are multiple versions floating around the world. Some are because the Rat defeated the elephant by going into its ear and other stories discuss the reasons why the Cat is not in the Chinese Zodiac

Unlike the western zodiac where it follows the signs in the sky, the Chinese zodiac rotates every twelve years with an animal representing each year. Each year is supposed to be prosperous for doing different things, luckier years for having children or getting married are the Dragon and Pig years. The Dragon because it is a symbol for intelligence and strength, while the Pig is a sign of wealth and prosperity in the Chinese culture. On the other hand, the rat is supposed to be a cunning and quick witted animal

This is an example also, to teach children that might does not always win, but the smart and the cunning usually end up on the top. Teaching children not to underestimate things because of their size, but evaluate carefully and not be rash.

general
Legends
Myths
Narrative

Guan Yu and Hua Tuo (关羽和华佗)

在三国年代,关羽,一位蜀国将军在大战时候, 被一个沾满了毒的箭被射在左臂,无药可救。原因是关羽不限离开战场半步,毒已经流入骨头吸不出来。但那时都有一位神医, 名叫华佗。没其他办法,蜀国的将军请华佗来救关羽的一臂和一命。

华佗一看伤口就便告诉关羽必须开手术要开肉刮骨。华佗问他要不要把他麻醉一下。 关羽说他不怕痛,这样就可以开始了。

华佗来自前关羽跟一位官,马良, 下棋。动手术的时候,旁边的观众听到刀刮骨头的时候都受不了。但关羽不停的下棋,喝酒,有时候还笑, 好像不痛的样子。几分钟之后,刮完了。华佗就便缝关伤口,缝完了,关羽称华佗的医术无比,臂也不痛了。工作做完了,华佗就默默离开。

During the period of the Three Kingdoms, Guan Yu, a prominent general in the Shu army was poisoned by a poisoned arrow in his left arm during battle. The army doctors could find no way to treat it, in part due to the fact that Guan Yu refused to leave the battlefield and the poisoned had seeped into the bone. However, there was also a very famous physician that lived during that time by the name of Hua Tuo. Left with no other recourse, the other generals invited Hua Tuo to look at Guan Yu’s arm.

After examining his arm, Hua Tuo told Guan Yu that he needed to operate and asked if he needed or wanted to be anesthetized during this operation as it was very painful. The operation included scraping the poison off the bone and this was unbearable for most people. Guan Yu just laughed and told Hua Tuo to just go ahead because he was not scared of a little pain.

While this was going on, Guan Yu was playing chess with another official from the country of Shu by the name of Ma Liang. During the whole operation, not once did Guan Yu complain of the pain, even though everyone around him cringed at the sound of the knife scraping bone. Moments later, the operation was over and Guan Yu praised Hua Tuo’s skills, but Hua Tuo refused to accept any reward and left as suddenly as he came.

 

This story was told to my informant by his father when he was a young child growing up in China during the 1950s. According to my informant, this story is part of a very famous saga about a time of discord in history. However, he says that this particular legend is most likely not true because, while Guan Yu did receive an arm wound such as this, it was the right arm and not the left. Additionally, by the time this injury occurred, the doctor mentioned in this tale was killed twelve years prior due to the paranoia of the ruler of another kingdom.

The period that this is set in is very real. There were three countries that were warring over control of China after the Han dynasty. Guan Yu was part of the Kingdom of Shu and the other two countries were Wei and Wu. The stories of these times were eventually written down and compiled in a book called, Romance of the Three Kingdoms or 三国演义。

However, this story is still very interesting and is still passed down from generation to generation. Firstly, because it is an interesting story, but also to prove to toughness of the Chinese people and how wonderful Chinese medicine was before Hua Tuo was killed and all his works burnt. Hua Tuo was actually (after his death) known as the “God of Medicine” and his name is used to call brilliant doctors these days.

 

Annotation: Can be found in羅貫中. 三国演义 . China: 中华书局: 2005

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