USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘native americans’
Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Initiations
Kinesthetic
Legends
Narrative

Waluhmaloo Bird

The informant (L) is a 22 year old film student at the California State University Los Angeles. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma until leaving for college after high school. She attended camp many summers during her middle and high school years. She told me the story of the Waluhmaloo bird that is told at Camp Waluhili in Chouteu, Oklahoma. She had never seen a written version of this story, so the spelling of Waluhmaloo is just a guess. The story is told by the older campers and counselors to the younger campers (who are as young as seven) when they are taking their first hike to the Indian graveyard. L was both told this story when she was a younger camper and later told this story to the younger campers when she was older. Below is a paraphrased version of her story:

“The camp is on an Indian graveyard. When the white people were attacking the Indians a long time ago, the Indians needed protection. The magical Waluhmaloo bird made a deal with the Indians that he would protect their graves if they agreed to stop hunting the Waluhmaloo birds. The Indians agreed and even now, the Waluhmaloo bird protects their graves and will cause something bad to happen to you if you disrespect the graves. Before you enter the graveyard, you have to spin around three times and say out loud that you believe in the Waluhmaloo bird. Once you go into the graveyard, if you step on a grave, you have to say you’re sorry out loud to the graves. ”

This story seems to give something for the older campers to distinguish themselves from the younger campers. The passing of the story from older campers to younger campers is a rite of passage and effectively lets the younger and older campers share something. This story may also remain popular with campers over the years because it gives a way to deal with the tension formed by being so close to not only a graveyard, but a graveyard of what are now seen as a group that the American government and people treated very unjustly in the past. There is a hesitance within American culture to deal with the dead, as if remains somehow hold some special property. This is symbolized by the Waluhmaloo bird, who is there to make sure the graves are not disrespected. I am not sure if the camp is actually on or near an Indian graveyard, and I was unable to find any more information about the practice through internet searches. I don’t really think that the realness of the graveyard matters as long as the campers themselves believe it is there, and that it is real.

Childhood
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Ghost Road Less Traveled

Context: It was late one rainy Tuesday night in early November when I first approached my roommate of 3 months [the Informant] to tell me a ghost story. Like most questions proposed to my roommate, when I asked him if he knew any good stories or spirit encounters, I was met with an immediate enthusiasm for the task at hand. The Informant clearly had something he wished to present to me. Wasting very little time at all, my Informant swooped up one of the desk chairs, lowered the lights, and began sharing with me his personal ghost story. As I recorded his audio and movement, the only light in the room came from the soft glow of the LCD display on my video camera and the desk lamp which sat behind the Informant for dramatic effect. The sounds of rain  tapping against the roof and windows of the New Residence Hall could be faintly heard in the distance. What follows is the story as it was presented to me:

Interview Verbatim:

Me: “Start, whenever you are ready.”

Informant: “So, this is a personal story of mine. I was driving to a friend’s house at night, really late. I had all my windows down and uh… and uh… this was like at the point, I think this was like last year because this was the point in my life, where my eyes, my vision was getting worse and so uh… I was not driving with glasses, but uh… I was very close to my grandparent’s house, and I’ve had weird experiences in their house, as well, cause their house is like legitimately haunted. Like they even say it was, they’ve known it from like little kids, like they’d see weird shit in their windows, like people’s faces (looking out) when they were like outside, and apparently they’d bought it like near or like on top of an old Indian burial ground or land, and so that was not ah… not ah… a thrilling point for me. So I’m like literally, I’m like not even a minute like to their house is here ( he holds up a hand to represent the house)  and I’m on the road to go to it, here (holds up another hand to represent his car). So I just see like a, like this fucking thing just like run across the street, while I’m like driving, in my headlights and I’m like ‘Oh fuck!’ and I brake cause I thought, I’m almost certain at this point that it’s a deer, and I hear like a scream and I’m just like, ‘What the fuck is happening?!’ cause I hear like something hit the car, and I hear this like… literally, I thought it was like a baby dear or it sounded to me like a little child had screamed cause it was like, (gets out of chair to make ghost noise) ‘Mmmmeeeeaaaaa!!!’, so I was just like, ‘What the hell was that?!’ (begins to laugh) Hahaha! I freak out because I’m like ‘Did I just kill a deer?’, and I just like get out of the car and there is like literally nothing there. There’s no dent in my car, no trail of any sort, there’s no deer running around, and I’m just like… and I’m just like…’What is happening!’ (holds hands on his head)

Me: “What do you think it was? What you saw, I mean.”

Informant: “I think it was like the ghost of a little Indian child, now that I think about it, because when I think about like the imagery, I didn’t see like a deer. I kind of saw like this blur, like run and it had like a scream which scared the crap out of me, and then I heard a thud, so I thought I hit something and so it freaked me out.”

Me: “Do you think that it had anything to do with you being on top of the Indian burial site or near to the site?”

Informant: “Oh absolutely, without a doubt. I’ve had so many weird experiences on that road.”

Me: “Where is this road?”

Informant: “A place called Fair Oaks, in Texas. And Fair Oaks has been there for like a long time too, so there’s a lot of old land out there. So I wouldn’t be surprised about all the shit that goes on out there.”

Analysis: After hearing this story and reviewing it, I’m not really sure what to make of it. All the pieces are in place in order to create a very frightening experience, but the “skeptic” within me points to this being a simple misidentification. The fact that the Informant prefaced the story by addressing his loss of eyesight seems to indicate that this may just have been a large bird or unknown creature making its way across the road which was not seen clearly. What is, however, very interesting is the sound that supposedly accompanied the apparition, as it crossed the road and the thud he experienced from within the car. This may have possibly been a direct result of him applying the brakes very quickly and having his car jolt to a sudden stop, but it does add some credibility to the encounter. The fact that this encounter directly correlates to the former site of an Indian burial ground also seems to give this experience some validity. The Informant appeared to be shaken from this event and believes this to be evidence of the paranormal.

Legends
Narrative

Native American Spirit House

Item:

“So, I grew up in Arizona, uh, in a pretty common neighborhood, except that we were backed up right against the Indian reservation. Um and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an Indian reservation, but it’s usually a very like barren, not very developed area, and especially when you have a suburban neighborhood backed up against that, it really uh, it really lends a stark contrast. So even when you’re a child you could tell the difference, like that’s the Indian reservation, this is the suburbia that I live in. And, so, my family was one of the first to move into an area that had before been undeveloped. I had a couple of friends whose families had also moved into that area. And uh, you know, typical childhood playing around and stuff. And so one day we noticed that a new house was being constructed, a fairly common thing in the neighborhood, uh because once again, it was fairly undeveloped before this. Um they graded the land and they started putting it up. Again, I need to stress; this house was right next to where the Indian reservation is. Like, you could see the fence from like the house. And, so, uh, you know. When they were building this house we could hear really strange noises coming from uh, basically just like the, it was like a wood-only structure basically while it was under construction, as most buildings are. And this house was really big, so it took a long time to build. So this place was here just wood, for like a solid year. And, so again, it was backed up, basically right against, nature. The Indian reservation was virgin desert. So, a lot of strange and mysterious animals would go into the construction site. And uh, you know, so me and my friends would also, you know, play in this abandoned house. And um we found a lot of things in there that we um, that wasn’t typical to find in a suburban house that would be typical to find in the desert. For example, we saw a couple of diamond back rattlesnakes, uh that could have easily, totally messed us up. Uh and these were the years before cell phones, so two of my fifth grade friends would have had to have carried me back if I was bit by one. Anyway, so a lot of animals would creep into this place and we started developing sort of this theory, which seemed completely rational at the time, that this place must be haunted; it must be drawing the Indian spirits, because it had to have been built on an Indian burial ground, of course. So all of this was naturally confirmed one night when, I believe it was mid May, the end of school, when um, we heard very strange noises that sounded like music coming from this place, and we were all hanging out in my backyard, which is less than a block away from this place, and we hear this really loud music and we looked over and there were these lights going on in this place, and it was a wooden structure at this point, so it was very strange to see, and it was dark. So we wondered what it was and we all snuck out. We assumed it the time that it was the strange Indian spirits that had called all their snake friends. And uh so we crept up on this place and peeked in and saw all these people dancing, and naturally we assumed that this was a huge, undead Indian party. Of course it had to of been, you know cause it was dark, there were strobe lights going so you didn’t have a good idea of who was there, and we were seeing this from kind of far away, so we totally ran away from there because we didn’t want to get like  some pissed off Native American spirits coming after us, sicking rattlesnakes on us and what not. I mean, it was definitely a real youthful moment, and my parents actually confirmed that it was Native American spirits because, as it were to turn out, uh the “Native American spirits” had the police called on them due to a noise complaint, yeah but we found out uh, that a girl named Amber who lived down the street actually uh had thrown this party, it was a graduation party.”

Context:

The informant, who is from Scottsdale, Arizona, said that a couple of years after the events in this story happened, when he was in late middle school, he ran into Amber and she told him that her and her friends thew a party that night. The informant stated that this realization marked the end of his youth.

Analysis:

This lengthy narrative has several different dimensions. First, it functions as a sort of ghost story, a tale of the supernatural. It also functions as a legend quest in that the informant and his friends attempt to investigate this neighborhood mystery. Lastly, it functions, in a way, as a rite of passage, a transition from childhood to adolescence. When the informant stated that his realization that what was going on in the house that night was not a Native American spirit gathering, but rather, a party, marked the end of his youth, I think he expressed how invested he was in the notion of these spirits and how much the idea meant to him. Essentially, in a manner similar to a child finding out that Santa does not exist, the informant lost the innocence of his childhood.

Customs
Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Zozobra

“Build a giant man essentially, out of flammable material and write fears or things you want to expunge from your life for the new year.  It’s usually done around harvest time.  You write down the fears on pieces of paper and put them in the statue and burn it.  It’s supposed to get rid of your fears and the bad spirits.”

The informant believes that the ritual has Spanish, Mexican and Native American roots.  She learned it when she first moved to New Mexico by seeing it done at a Native American pueblo.  The informant says that her school also does it every year with the 7th graders as part of a harvest fest, and there is a giant one in Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico.  The informant compared the burning of the zozobra (the statue) to the making of resolutions for the New Year.  The practice allows people to start new each year and banish any of their own personal demons in a time of abundance with the harvest.

 

 

general
Proverbs

“You look like an Indian that just struck oil.”

“It means that… if somebody says it to you, it means that you have recently come into some type of money. And you have spent it all on clothing. You’re all fussed up.  You have bought a lot of expensive clothing and you are wearing it.  It’s like you’re wearing your money.”

The informant heard this from her father.  He used to always say it when she and her sister would get dressed up to go out for something.  He thought it was funny.  The informant said, “He was making fun of you dressing up.  He didn’t like to get dressed up so he would put ‘dressing up’ down.”

The informant said she would only ever say the proverb around her immediate family because she thinks that it is racist, but the informant remembers her father saying it as a pleasant memory.  As a child, she did not understand the “racist implications,” and she thought it was funny because he was joking around and happy, and he didn’t do that all that often.

I have never heard this proverb before probably for the same reason that my informant does not like to repeat it.  I have heard proverbs that spread a similar message that usually discourage people from showing their wealth to others.

Customs
Game
general
Holidays
Initiations
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

New Year’s Eve Polar Plunge

In the following, my informant told me about a tradition his family has of swimming in ice cold water on New’s Year’s Eve:

Informant: Starting from 2000 this group of old men and women from my close group of friends and families observe a tradition of, uh, cutting  a hole in the ice during the winter on news years day and swimming

Me: Really, where do you live?

Informant: I live in Michigan, so, uh…

Me: And that’s fun?

Informant: yeah every New Years, like, Eve like the evening before, we cut a giant like strip of ice out from, like, cause their dock is like an elephant, so we cut the strip off from there and, and everybody, and the tradition is to start on this uh, its like a deer skin like pelt, and one of the, one of my buddy’s relatives is is like, hes got a lot of Native American in him, which, I dont know what it has to do with anything really, but they start on, everybody starts on this deer pelt, and they jump into the ice water.

Me: How do you cut the ice?

Informant: Chainsaw, depending on how thick it is. Sometime it hasn’t gotten that frozen over yet 

Me: How long do you stay in for?

Informant: I mean, everybody does it differently, like, the kids will just like hop in and get out, some of the other guys will, like, stay in for a while… its its actually pretty dangerous… then you just get out, dry off, and wait for the rest of the people to go through, although when you get out you’re actually warmer; you feel warm because the air feels so much warmer than the water, and your body has this sensation of like, feeling almost numb.

My informant suggested this tradition arose from the Native American heritage of one of his family members. Although he said he was unaware of the specific traditions which led to its practiced, it is now something his family and friends have observed for the past thirteen years, and at least for them it has grown to represent the bonding of family and friendship before the start of the new year.

Legends
Narrative

The Rice children kidnapping

My informant told me the story of the Rice children’s kidnapping in the town of Westborough, Massachusetts:

“Back in the 1700s when Westborough was young, the three Rice children were playing in a field. Indians came and killed one son, and kidnapped the other two. The children were raised by the Indians, and when they had grown one son returned to Westborough and his family while the other stayed and lived out his life with his new tribe. Today there is a large rock that sits on the spot of land next to the High School where the incident occurred. There is a plaque on the rock that tells the story. Sometimes, late at night, there is an eerie fog that can be seen around the rock.”

My informant first heard this legend from her mother, and then read it again on the rock. She tells it to people when they pass the rock on their way to school. She heard the part about the fog from her friend who lives near the rock and can see it from her bedroom window.

I found this to be an interesting piece of folklore because it is widely known in the town. I grew up in Westborough and the rock with the plaque keeps the legend alive because it is where kids hang out after school. You can’t help but read it as you sit on the boulder so the legend keeps getting revived. It is supposedly true since the town made an official marking to display the story, but the exact spot of the kidnapping is approximated. I also found it interesting that there was no apparent reason for the kidnapping. It represents the Native Americans in a negative light in that they seemingly randomly abducted/killed the children. It reflects upon the tension between the two ethnic groups at the time.

general
Legends
Narrative

Legend

Legend of Tannadoonnah

“There is a tribe of Indians who lived where camp is now…land of birches; you know, birch trees and a birch lake. They lead a simple, peaceful life…they farmed and gathered fish. They lived like this for many years and eventually the white settlers spread into Michigan. They felt their lives were interrupted because white men were taking things from them. Things were tense because they couldn’t communicate with each other and it looked like there was going to be a war. The chief’s daughter was the peacemaker between the Indian tribe and white man because she won affections of one of the white men. Instead of gaining trust from both, she made both sides suspicious of her. All the Indians were afraid she was betraying them. White men saw how close she was with her father and thought she was a fraud. But then, one day, fighting erupted between the Indians and white men, and the princess was scared and didn’t want her people to get hurt. She didn’t want her new friends to get hurt either, so she got in middle of it. She was killed. The main white man told them she wasn’t a spy…was trying to make peace all along, so the white men and Indian tribe gave Tannadoonah a nice burial site. They grew a tree on top of her grave. It grew and now it protects and watches over the land and is supposed to symbolize protection and friendship between nature (Indians) and white men (campers).

They say that campers are still haunted by Indians. Most of the time, Indians go back to their old ways and play tricks on white men. The council fire room at the camp site was the big council meeting room for Indians. You can go to this tree and her spirit is still there. You can see how she lives through the tree. The roots are twisted and you can see parts of her face and elbow in the tree. It’s her body being incorporated into tree.” –Caitlin Fitzgerald

Analysis:

One day when reminiscing about old summer camp memories, my roommate Caitlin shared this story with me. She went to Camp Tannadoonah, a camp affiliated with Campfire Girls. She learned about the story on a tour of the camp when she was five years old. Every summer when she went back to camp, her campfire leader would retell the story. Caitlin definitely believes in the story. The tree and council room have different connotations. While the tree represents princess Tannadoonah’s guardian spirit, the council room holds scary spirits (and continues to scare the campers).

Before telling me her version of the story (the version her camp leader told her when she was five), she gave me the original story as it was presented on both the camp’s website and others who remember the original version. She says:

“Princess Tannadoonah was promised to be married to a warrior. There was a drought, so the men were in charge of finding food. The princess didn’t want to leave home. She decided to stay because her husband promised to come back for her. In the end, she died before he could come back. He buried her body and planted a tree over her grave. The tree, that is now the tree of Tannadoonah, grew over many years. All of its branches represent the amount of love that Princess Tannadoonah and her warrior had for one another.”

For a camp that has been around since 1921, the legend inevitably experienced multiplicity and variation. Today, according to Caitlin, there are endless variations of the story.

After hearing her story, I recalled my days at Camp Cayuga, sitting around a campfire at 9:00 pm (which was late for me at the time since I was in 8th grade), watching camp counselors and campers enact certain camp songs and stories. This daily ritual essentially brings folklore to life and emulates the traditional act of storytelling that Native Americans started hundreds of years ago. All in all, I could not think of a better place to find folklore than at summer camp. Camp brings people together, creates a sense of belonging, and preserves legends and rituals. I almost think of summer camp as a culture that kids engage in. Since I’m from the east coast (and apparently summer camps are more prevalent there than they are on the west coast), I always bring up summer camp rituals, only to find that no one else knows what I’m talking about. Caitlin was similarly surprised that I had never heard of Tannadoonah’s story.

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