USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘origin’
general
Myths

The Polish Eagle

Informant IT is a sophomore studying Computer Science and Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She is of Polish descent and has lived in many parts of the world. She is fluent in several languages including Polish, English, and Mandarin, and she considers herself very good at learning languages. In this piece, she tells the interviewer (AK), about a Polish myth concerning the founding of Poland.

IT: So, this is the story of the Polish Eagle, and how Poland is set to be founded. So the three brothers Lef, Czech, and Bruce were living in small villages. But it came to the point where the villages were just too small to live comfortably. So they set out with some troops and they started going through mountains and rivers and they couldn’t find anyone. And it had gotten to the point where they got to the top of a mountain top and they decided to go 3 separate ways. Lef went straight ahead, Czech went left, and Bruce went right. And Lef went down the mountain and went over another valley, and at the top of another mountain, he saw an eagle flying in the sunset and the light apparently fell very beautifully. Uhh on the head of the crown of the eagle head. That’s why it has a crown on its head on the Polish flag. And he decided that this is where they would settle and they brought all the people there, and they called themselves the Polonians. Which means “The people of the fields”. Yeah, that’s the story of the Polish Eagle and how Poland was founded.

AK: So would you say this is more of a legend, or is it almost accepted as fact of how Poland was created?

IT:  I don’t know if I would say it’s accepted as fact, but every single Polish person knows this story, like there’s movies and games and comics about this.

AK: But it’s just been passed down through generations?

IT: Yeah, yeah and they had flown the flag with the eagle on it and the eagle with the crown on its head when they had founded it way back then. And it’s definitely accepted by everyone now.

I really enjoyed listening to this Polish myth about its creation. It definitely invoked a sense of nationalism and pride in my informant and she even mentioned that every Polish person has definitely heard this story. This is one of the aspects of it that makes it into a myth. It has a sacred truth value since everyone knows the story and has accepted it. I knew just about nothing about Polish culture, so it was really interesting to learn a bit through this piece.

Life cycle
Narrative

Origin of a Name

D is a 57 year old man. He is a practicing cardiologist at a hospital in the northern suburbs of Illinois. He identifies as American as he grew up in Boston, but he strongly associates with his Scottish heritage as well. D completed his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth University and he attended Cornell University for his degree in medicine. During his studies, both undergraduate and med school, D studied abroad in France two times. While in medical school, D studied at the Faculté de Médecine et de Maïeutique de Lille in Lille, France. English is his primary language, yet he is also fluent in French.

Me: Can you tell me about your Scottish heritage?

D: Well, my last name is Campbell, and it’s, well, the name is Scottish. Um, the name comes from the Clan Campbell.

Me: Do you know what the name means?

D: Campbell, or, well, I guess it was Cambéal if you want to to get specific, which is made up of two Scottish Gaelic words that when put together translate to mean “crooked mouth.”

Me: Why crooked mouth?

D: It (Cambéal) was more of a nickname than anything. It took the place as a surname later on.

Me: But then why were they nicknamed “crooked mouth.”

D: Oh, yeah, well the Clan Campbell wasn’t a very popular group in Scotland highlands. They supported the British government, so the highlanders didn’t really get along with them. Mostly the name is taken to mean, untrustworthy or tricksters, other things alongs those lines.

Me: Why? I mean, can you give me some history?

D:  The Campbell’s were responsible for many massacres, and many people hated for their support of the British government, but I think the most prominent one is probably the Massacre of Glencoe. In the late 1600’s, the British government used their supporters, the Campbells, in a plan to suppress Jacobitism. After spending over a week in Glencoe, taking advantage of the MacDonald’s hospitality, the Campbells killed around 40 unarmed Clan MacDonald men, women, and children. And I visited Glencoe during a backpacking trip with my buddies in college. I remember asking for Campbell plaid. The saleswoman at the shop gave me a dead stare and told me “we don’t sell that here.” There were also signs in some store windows that said “no dogs or Campbells allowed.”

Me: Wow, they really don’t like Campbells there do they?

D: I think Glencoe is a specific case because the massacre was so terrible. I didn’t get the same reaction in other parts of Scotland. For the most part, it was a long time ago and people don’t care so much anymore. I found Campbell plaid pretty easily as soon as we travelled closer to Edinbourgh.

Me: How do you know all of this?

D: My father mostly, and this little green book he gave me. It that talks all about the history of the Campbell Clan. I gave the book to my kids to read as well. It’s important to know where you come from.

D’s heritage obviously means a lot to him, most of it ties into his last name. He knows a lot about Clan Campbell and their history. He has the tartan specific to the Clan Campbell as well, so he is proud of his heritage. Regardless of the questionable things that his ancestors did, the family still has a rich history. He wants his kids to know about their ancestry as well because he passed down the book about their family that his father gave him to his children.

Here is the link to the book D is talking about: http://www.amazon.com/The-Campbells-Campbell-Scottish-Mini-book/dp/1852170360

general

Vietnamese Dragon Origin Myth

“The legend goes that Lạc Long Quân, the King of the Dragonkind, lived in and reigned over Vietnam in about 3,000 BCE. Sometime in his life he married Âu Cơ, who was a goddess of birds. Quân fathered 100 children who all hatched at the same time with Âu Cơ. Once they were all born, the King and his wife realized that they could not live together anymore and raise all of the children together, so they split and the King went to the coast with 50 kids and the wife went to the mountains with the other 50. According to the legend, all of the Vietnamese people of today are directly descended from these 100 children, making us all dragon people.”


This legend was collected from one of my friends. He is fully racially Vietnamese, and both of his parents emigrated from Vietnam to the US when they were adults. He said his parents try to keep their Vietnamese traditions alive, mostly through cooking traditions, but also through some stories. This is the only one he really remembers clearly. To him, it’s important because his parents identify strongly with it. They don’t actually believe that they are part dragon, but the myth takes on a more significant metaphorical meaning. I don’t really know enough about Vietnamese culture, but I could imagine that this myth provides the Vietnamese with a sense of unity as well as a divide between the mountainous peoples and the coastal peoples of Vietnam.

general
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The (Rumored) Truth of Movie Popcorn’s Origin

The first informant is a 65-year-old man who grew up in Southside Chicago and Baltimore with his parents and two brothers. He is a father, grandfather, patent attorney, musician, and inventor.

The second informant is a 95-year old man who grew up in Davenport, right near downtown with his parents and two brothers. His father came over from Russia and owned a grocery store in Davenport. He now lives in Skokie, IL with his wife and caretaker. He has three sons and 9 grandchildren.

 

Informant 1: “Your great, great-grandmother on your Grandma’s side was the pioneering movie theater operators.”

Informant 2: She was the one who started popcorn in theaters.”

Informant 1: “Well, it was rumored she was.”

Informant 2: “No, that was a definite.

Informant 1: “Umm,”

Informant 2: “And, what happened was there was a theater chain that was in Davenport. And it was very profitable, and the owner found out that she was doing it, and he started doing it and told the other theater chains. I read something historical somewhere about popcorn and they’re giving that theater chain credit, when they actually copied it from Grandmother.”

 

This particular interview made me think of the film we watched early on in the semester, Whose Song is It Anyway.

 

It’s an origin story—or an attempted, alleged origin story—of popcorn in movie theaters. Informant 2 was insistent that his grandmother had in fact been the pioneer of movie theater popcorn and got somewhat heated when Informant 1 suggested that it might be rumor that she actually did this. Informant 2’s account was closely concerned with credit and business—the idea of the underdog, or the small business, versus the big chain.

 

This interview concerns originality and relates to our discussions about originality and society’s—in particular, American society—obsession with it. Copyright falls into this arena, as well, a legal way of giving credit, and in doing so, giving ownership, to one individual or corporation for something that very well has been the product of several minds and over the span of several years.

Legends
Myths
Narrative

Legend of the Rice Cakes

There once was a King with three sons.  He was about to die so his dying wish was to have one of his sons succeed the throne after him.  However, he couldn’t decide which son to choose, although they all wanted it.  Since he enjoyed food, he said to his sons, “Whoever brings me the tastiest food he made from Vietnamese ingredients will become king after me.”  So the sons set off around the world to find the best food.  One son traveled to the mountains to bring back boar meat.  The second son brought back the tastiest fish from the South Sea.  The third thought long and hard about what he should bring to his father.  On the final day, he brought two simple rice cakes, which looked very plain when compared to the expensive dishes his two brothers had brought.  When the king asked the youngest son to explain why he had brought such simple dishes, the son explained that rice is the most valuable food in Vietnam, although it is very abundant.  The round rice cake represented the sky under which all the Vietnamese lived, while the square rice cake was stuff with beans and pork to represent the Earth that they live on (back then they still believed that the Earth was square). Each rice cake was made to represent the love that the son had for the King as well as Vietnam.”  After everyone heard this explanation, they knew that the youngest son would be the next king, and they all bowed down to him.

The informant first heard this story when he was a teenager, although he doesn’t remember who told it to him.  It was during the Lunar New Year (Tet) season because the Banh Chung and Banh Day (square and round rice cakes) are traditionally made and eaten during this time of the year.  During this time, families make Banh Chung and Banh Day and travel to their relatives’ houses, giving these cakes as a gift of love and caring for one another.

The feeling of receiving these rice cakes is a feeling of love and belonging to a group of people who care for you.  Because of this, the Vietnamese people have carried this tradition across the Pacific Ocean to America and still do this during the New Year season, maintaining the Vietnamese traditions and unity of the people.  The story continues to be passed on by those who know it, generally those who are adults and can remember the story and the significance of it are the ones who pass it down to the younger generation who in turn cherish it and will later pass it down.  I think this legend, real or fake, is a good explanation of Vietnamese unity and loving spirit.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Magic

Theatre Occupational Superstition: “Break a Leg!”

Interview Extraction

Informant: “The ‘break a leg’ legend. Do you know that story?  It has nothing to do with fracturing any of the major leg bones.  That in a different usage of the language ‘to break a leg’ is ‘to bend a leg’.  So that gives us two possible origins of why when you want ‘to break a leg’ that the old way of bowing, is that you bend the back leg and then take the bow.  So that ‘to break a leg” means to get a big bow at the end of the show.  And other one is a similar thing on bending, that if coins were tossed on the stage at the end of the show, you would have to then bend down, thus breaking the straight line of the leg in order to pick up the coins that were being tossed on stage.”

Analysis:

The superstition of why you say “break a leg” to an actor is because saying “good luck” brings you bad luck.  There are many different origins of why you would say “break a leg” to an actor, and the phrase also changes based on what country you are in.  For example, in France you would say “Merde” which is French for ‘shit’.  The idea of this is that in wishing for something bad to happen such as the actor breaking their leg, the opposite will take place.

There are may theories behind where this idiom came from, such as the idea that my informant mentioned which suggests that to “break a leg” is a different usage of language that also means ‘to bend a leg’.  I like this theory more than the other origin theories that I have seen in my research, such as the idea that to “break a leg” comes from the production of Shakespheare’s Richard III where actor David Garrick became so consumed with his role as Richard III that he did not realize his leg was broken during the performance.  This legend is popular because it promotes the idea of being so into your performance as an actor that everything else is forgotten, and all that exists is the part you are playing in the world of the play.  This is the kind of mind set that all actors should aspire to accomplish, so it is no wonder that this story has achieved such a high level of fascination in the imagination of people who work in theater, especially actors.

The reason why I like this theory more than the other theories I have seen in my research is that it is very logical.  I have always thought that it is interesting that we say “break a leg” to an actor before they perform, but we do not say this to a designer or crew member before they do their job.  If this legend is the real reason behind why we say “break a leg”, than the reasoning behind not wishing a crew member to “break a leg” makes sense because only actors have historically been the ones that bend their legs to either bow or pick up the coins that had been thrown on stage for a job well done.

My informant was born in 1949, Connecticut.  He works as a costume designer in the entertainment industry occasionally, and serves as the head of the USC costume shop in addition to being a faculty member for the USC School of Dramatic Arts.  He has more than 40 years of experience in the theater.

Game

Rubber Ducky

The informant is currently a student at the University of Southern California and went to elementary school in Northern California. The game was described in a casual setting where the informant and all audience members were sitting on the couch. The actual piece of folklore is performed in a school setting during recess for young children.

Informant: Uh so this game…it’s called Rubber Ducky, I couldn’t tell you why it was called that…And it was played, so there’s two teams, as many people as you want can be on the team, doesn’t even have to be an even number of people on each team…Um, just like however you divide it up. And you play, like, with a basketball court, on the short length of the basketball court. One’s on one side line, the other’s on the other side line, those are where the teams are. And you can either divide it like, the field extends from like, the base line to half court, or full court, depending on how many people you have. And, uh…you get as many dodgeballs as you want, it’s very very, well, depending on the amount of people, and you just hit the dodgeball to the other side. If it lands, you get a point, if they catch it, you don’t get a point.

Audience Member: Hit it with what?

Informant: Just hit it with your hand. Just hit it over, spike it over, throw it over.

Audience Member: Over what?

Informant: Over the basketball court. And you have to hit it, and if it lands on the other side of the basketball court, then you get a point. But if they catch it, or if it lands before the other sideline, then, you don’t get a point.

Audience Member: Can you lose a point?

Informant: No, you can’t lose a point, you just don’t get a point.

Audience Member: So you play this where?

Informant: Elementary school. Me and one of my friends made it up.

Audience Member: How does it end?

Informant: Uh…You just play to a certain amount of points, or play until, you know, recess is over.  Whoever is winning at the end.

Audience Member: And your whole elementary school played?

Informant: The whole elementary school, people in other grades. Teachers got in on it, and coached and like reffed it. It was awesome.

The game described is a game that does not involve many rules and is easy to learn. The title of the game “Rubber Ducky” has no relation to the actual game and seems to serve as more of a humorous title to amuse children. It is also a nonviolent and simple game, which is probably why the game became so widespread across the informant’s elementary school, and why the teachers allowed it and encouraged its growth. The simplicity of the game comes from the fact that two 8 year olds created it and the widespread popularity of the game in the informant’s elementary school shows how fun and easy it is to play, allowing it to multiply and change across grades , time, and possibly schools.

Unlike most folklore, the origin and the creator can be traced back to my informant. Although the game is not completely unique, taking aspects of several different sports and games, the name and its execution causes it to be considered a new game. Its rapid spread from two people to an entire school shows the power of folklore, and the informant states that last that he heard, which was a few years ago, the game was still being played in the elementary school. Therefore, it can be said that this children’s folk game follows the idea of monogenesis, and can be tracked back to its origin.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Theater Occupational Superstition: Macbeth (Version I)

Interview Extraction

Informant:”Now the interesting thing about a lot of old stories is- and this is actually something we mentioned in class, how there are often two or three explanations that might not even relate to one another for many of the old stories or traditions.  The Macbeth legend that I know, there are two- no, three variations of the Macbeth legend.  One is the story that the incantations used are actual witch’s incantations so therefore if you believe in witchcraft you do not want to evoke them.  The second one on Macbeth is that, Macbeth being an old ‘war horse’ and an audience favorite, was frequently the play that would replace a show that wasn’t doing well.  So if you heard someone talking about Macbeth, you didn’t like it because it meant that the play you are doing might be closing early, and be replaced by a revival of Macbeth.  I kind of like that legend the best.”

Analysis:

The Macbeth superstition is among the most common superstitions that people working in theater follow.  The legend of Macbeth is that it is bad luck to say ‘Macbeth’ in the theater.  To prevent unlucky things from happening such as the set falling over, people are encouraged to say ‘The Scottish Play’.  If you do make the mistake of saying ‘Macbeth’, you have to cut the curse by performing some kind of protection ritual.  This ritual changes based on who you talk to due to the fact that it is such widespread legend and many people have different ideas about the curse.  The first time I heard about the legend was in Boston when I broke the rule of not saying ‘Macbeth’ in the theater, and the people I was with made me run around the theater three times to cure the curse.  The next time I heard about ‘The Scottish Play’ legend was in Los Angeles, where the cure for the curse was to spin around three times and spit over your shoulder.  It is hard to say if the cure changes based on your location because people in theater often travel for work, so the ideas on the legend would be mixed.  There are many different origin stories behind the legend of Macbeth, and the stories my informant mentions are only some possibilities.

I am familiar with the legend that Shakespeare might have used real witch’s incantations in his play, but I am not sure if this is true.  It depends on your beliefs about witchcraft.  I think the reason why this particular legend is so popular is because witchcraft and magic hold such a high place of fascination in our imaginations, and believing in them is fun.  People are attracted to theater because it is about the magic of storytelling.  Therefore when people in theater participate in these kind of belief systems, they are doing so because it is an extension of working in an occupation that is full of play.  Theater is like magic in the fantastical sense, we rely on illusions to invoke a spectacular idea in the imaginations of the audience.

I was not familiar with the idea that perhaps Macbeth has transformed into a superstition based on the idea that it is a show that frequently replaces unsuccessful productions.  It is very possible that this legend is the true reason behind why the play has become part of theater lore.  This is because Macbeth is a very popular production and you can always find it being performed during a production season, so I can easily see it replacing a show that didn’t prove to be popular.  If this is true, then Macbeth probably evolved into a superstition of bad luck because it has it’s origins in bad luck.

My informant was born in 1949, Connecticut.  He works as a costume designer in the entertainment industry occasionally, and serves as the head of the USC costume shop in addition to being a faculty member for the USC School of Dramatic Arts.  He has more than 40 years of experience in the theater.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Theater Occupational Superstition: Don’t Whistle in the Theater!

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “Ok, so you want to hear the story about why you don’t whistle in the theatre? One reason is that supposedly the first riggers* in the theatre were sailors. And sailors received their orders via whistles, which supposedly carried better than voices in the wind. And so you didn’t want to be backstage randomly whistling ‘Two Gentlemen from Veronia’ and have the scenery come crashing down on your head because you were whistling the cue* for the sailors who were doing the rigging.

The other supposed origin of that superstition is, in the days of gas lit theatre there were a couple of stage hands who’s job it was to wander around and relight any gas jets that had gone out because other whys you would get sort of a large pocket of unburned gas that would eventually get to another gas jet and you would have a big fireball and the theatre would blow up and… that was bad. So they were listening for a particular whistling sound that supposedly this gas jet that wasn’t lit would make and you didn’t want to distract them from their fairly important work.”

Analysis:

This superstition was not one that I was aware of prior to my informant mentioning this belief in one of his class lectures.  The belief is that it is bad luck to whistle in the theater, and doing so will doom the production you are working on.  There are no known ways to cut the curse.  The superstition of whistling in the theater is similar to the superstition that walking under a ladder is bad luck.  Both superstitions serve as a way to teach safety, because if someone were to break those beliefs they would get hurt.  Something could fall off a ladder and hit them on the head or a piece of scenery could fall on top of them.  You are more likely to get told to stop whistling in the theater because you are distracting the production crew than you are to be told to stop whistling because it is bad luck.  Working in theater can be very dangerous if you are not aware of your surroundings because crew members are constantly moving heavy equipment.  Distracting people from their job not only serves as a danger to yourself, but to others as well.  In that sense, whistling in the theater becomes homeopathic magic because it really will bring your production bad luck due to the destruction and distraction it can cause.

However it is unclear which one of the two stories is the true origin of the superstition.  There is a possibility that the true origin of the whistling superstition came from the first story my informant mentioned, because that theory is more well known to people in the theater than the gas-jet theory.

My informant was born in 1961, Connecticut.  He has more than 30 years of experience in theater and has worked on over hundreds of productions.  He continues to work on theater productions today, and serves as the associate professor of theater practice and technical direction at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

*Riggers: is term that describes someone in charge of moving or lifting heavy objects using a pulley system.  The term comes from sailing speech, in which a rigger is someone who uses ropes to hoist the sails on a ship.  This is exactly what a rigger in theater does, but instead of hoisting sails they are hoisting scenic pieces.

*Cue: is a term used in theater that means a signal to do something.  A signal or cue indicates that it is time to move a part of the set or play a certain song for the production.

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.

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