USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Ocean’
Folk Beliefs
Signs

Red Sky At Morning

Background:

My informant is a twenty-two year old deckhand on a lobster vessel out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. He began working part-time on the boat as a senior in high school and began lobstering full-time just out of high school. He has also worked fishing cod, crabs, and halibut. He spends a great deal of time on the water in his free time as well.

Performance:

“I think everyone has heard this one. ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailor’s take warning?’ Basically it just means that if you’re going out and you see a wicked red sunrise…that’s probably not gonna be good. At night it’s supposed to be red, so that’s okay. We say it on boats and stuff but I think I heard it when I was little somewhere. Everyone says it I guess. Honestly it’s pretty fucking accurate…like, every time I see a red sky when we’re going out in the morning we’re all like ‘shit, this day is gonna suck.’ It’s not like a huge storm or anything, usually, but it really sucks when it’s wicked choppy and rainy or windy or something. I don’t know if there’s science or something about it but I think it’s legit.”

Thoughts:

This saying gives some predictability to an otherwise very unpredictable job. Often both the weather and the success of the trip are equally uncertain. Mike was incredibly adamant that the superstition is true based on anecdotal evidence. Despite the superstition, it does not seem that a red sky in the morning would seriously deter a boat from going out; rather, it portends the quality of the day.

Legends

Storm Drain called “Hitler’s Tunnel” in Palos Verdes

The informant is from Palos Verdes, apeninsula area on the coast of Southern California.

The informant claims there is a large storm drain that leads into the ocean which has gained popularity among the youth of the area. The storm drain, nicknamed “Hitler’s Tunnel”, has been responsible for inspiring many myths in the area.


AB: A bunch of kids would go into–literally go into the tunnel, and… allegedly, there was a group of middle schoolers from Dana High–from Dana middle school, whatever– that went into the tunnel and was never seen again. It was a group of like three kids. There’s like a bunch of creepy graffiti outside of that tunnel because, like, everyone goes there to get scared…or whatever. 

Why is it called “Hitler’s Tunnel”?

AB: The Hitler part actually had no significance at all. I was wondering, like, “Is it a tunnel that was used during World War II or something like that?” and turns out there’s actually nothing with that tunnel that has to do with World War II or anything like that. Just has to do with three kids that disappeared there once.

Do people still go there?

AB: Yeah, people go there to tag it and write obscenities on it. And that’s pretty much what it’s known for.


 

A Google search of “Hitler’s Tunnel, Palos Verdes” yields thousands of results, including many videos taken by youths exploring the tunnel and maps indicating the locations of the tunnel.

 

Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Protection

You Should Never Go Into the Sea in a Month with an ‘R’

Informant: “I don’t remember how to say it in Italian now, but I remember the saying translates to ‘You should never go into the sea in a month with an “R”‘. I remember learning this when I was studying in Florence my Junior year of college, I was in Florence from January to June, but right in the middle, right around March, so spring break time, I went down to Sicily with a bunch of my friends. And it was a lot warmer than in Florence, but it wasn’t super warm, and so all of my friends wanted to go in the ocean, and my relative really had a hard time with that [laughs] because they were like ‘oh no, you can’t go into the ocean, it’s march’, and I said ‘So what if it’s march?’ and they said ‘you can’t, it’s a month with an r.’ And it was sort of a big deal. And I think the origin of this comes from, you know Sicily is an island, and in the past when a lot of people were poor, they didn’t go to school, and they didn’t know how to swim, and maybe it’s different now, but in the past most Sicilians didn’t know how to swim. And so if you go into the ocean when it’s cold, you might get a cramp or something, and you’re more likely to drown, plus in those months it’s colder, so if you think about it, January is cold, March, April… And May is warm, so that’s ok, and June, July, August. And September is starts getting cooler, and October, November, December. My friends ended up swimming anyways, but my relatives thought they were crazy…”

Collector [a few weeks after initial interview]: I was reading the transcript of my interview with you, when I realized that the Italian word for January, ‘Gennaio’, does not have an ‘R’ in it, despite this being one of the months you mentioned. How does this impact your opinion of this saying?

Informant: [short silence, then laughs] “Wow, you’re right! I can’t believe I never thought of that! Wow… that’s weird, I guess I had just always thought about it in English. Is that the only one? Wait… [Informant lists off all the months in Italian]. Yeah, so I guess that’s the only one that doesn’t work. All the other months that have ‘R’s in English also have ‘R’s in Italian except that one… Its so strange because I know when I was first told this, the person who told it to me said it in Italian. I guess maybe they just thought that they didn’t need to worry about January because it’s always so cold in January that no one would want to swim.”

Informant is a retired math teacher, and a mother of three. Her parents moved to the United States for the Italian island of Sicily, and she was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles. She still keeps in touch with her Sicilian relatives, and will periodically visit them.

Collector Analysis: Sicilians, living in a geographical area completely surrounded by water, would of course have a body of folklore concerned with when it is safe to go into the ocean, and when it is not. This saying serves as a mnemonic device to help remember when it is ok to swim in the ocean, and when it is unsafe to do so. For this reason, I would imagine that this originated more as a way to keep children safe from drowning in the ocean during the colder months in the winter as well as the late fall and early spring. Of course, this does not apply to anyone going out on the ocean, as most Sicilians would need to go out on the ocean year-round to support their livelihoods.

Customs
Festival
Kinesthetic
Legends
Life cycle
Magic
Musical
Narrative

The Turtle and the Shark

The informant’s family originated in Samoa, his parents were born and raised there before traveling and moving into the United States. He takes many visits to Samoa and is very in touch with his Samoan heritage and culture. He shared some common folklore with me that he could think of off of the top of his head. 

Informant…

“During a time of a huge famine and starvation spread across Samoa a blind grandma and granddaughter were put out of there family because they were seen as kind of a burden. They decided to jump into the ocean to cast their fates upon sea because it was giving and caring. Magic turned them into a turtle and a shark. The grandma and granddaughter wanted to find a new home. They traveled for a long time and were constantly turned away from potential homes until they found the shores of Vaitogi. Vertigo had high cliffs and a rough coastline, the shores were occupied by a compassionate and generous group of people. The old woman and her granddaughter turned back into their human form. They were welcomed by the people of Vaitogi. They fed them and offered that they make this village their new home. The old woman decided to make it her home, but she felt a connection to the sea as if it were her home too. She couldn’t stay on land, so she told the villagers that she and her granddaughter had to go back to the sea. She said that they would make village waters their permanent home. She gave the villagers a song to sing from the rocks and a promise that when they sang the song she and her granddaughter would come to visit. They returned to the sea and turned into their turtle and shark forms. To this day, the people of Vaitogi still sing the song and many villagers will tell you that they have personally seen the Turtle and Shark. To each of them the legend is as alive today as it has been.”

The informant also told me that there is a song that goes along with the legend, he said that he doesn’t know it and only certain people in the village of Vaitogi are able to know the song.

Analysis…

This legend of Samoa is different because it goes against the Samoan value of family by throwing the grandma and her granddaughter out of the house. However, this legend depicts that it is hard to be accepted into the different samoan communities but when you are accepted they treat you as family and give you the upmost respect. This legend helps to show the culture of the people of Samoa and how they do things. The grandmother wanted to be a part of the ocean so she left the village that accepted her but lived in the nearby shores and visited only when a song was sang. Also, this legend shows the importance of animals in this society. The grandmother and granddaughter were both transformed into two common sea creatures, and shark and a turtle. The informant wasn’t sure why but it is important to the story. The informant said that this story originated in Vaitogi by its natives, but he heard it from his grandma.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Signs

Red Sky

Red Sky At Night, Sailors Delight, Red Sky In The Morn, Sailors Be Warned”

My informant for this folk saying served in the US Navy over two decades ago, and now owns a sailboat in the Los Angeles area. My informant said that he first heard the saying in passing in training for the navy. When he asked what the phrase meant, he was informed that it was a centuries old phrase that described weather patterns in the sea.

Typically, he was told, a red sky at night means calm weather and smooth sailing. On the contrary, he was told that typically when sailors see a red sky in the morning hours, it is connected to weather patterns that call for rain, winds, and storms. My informant stated that he had done more research on this quote, and found that indeed, it does have a scientific backing.  The red color in the sky is due to suspended particles and reflections of clouds, he says, which is good at night and bad in the morning.

My informant tells me that throughout his experience at sea as a Capitan in the navy, as well as sailing his own boat, this phrase has held true “for the most part”. It’s a good way to gauge what’s to come, it’s a good predictor just so you have an idea what’s coming, he says. He says it’s never been the opposite, and that he would trust this saying over anybody else’s word.

I believe that this saying likely originated centuries ago as a warning or useful tip passed from one sailor to another. Perhaps older sailors would pass it on to their children or those new to the sea. Making it into a rhyme, and thus turning this fact into folklore, likely had to do with giving it a ring, and making it easier for sailors to remember the term. Night must rhyme with delight, so the sailors don’t get confused and think that it is the other way around. It seems that it was created as a practical rhyme to help sailors remember the general laws of the ocean at sea.

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