USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Origin Story’
Folk Beliefs
Myths
Narrative

Chinese Zodiac Origin Story

So I understand that you’re going to tell me a story?

“Yeah, I got you a story. This story’s about, umm… why the Chinese Zodiac’s in the order it is. So you know the Chinese Zodiac, right? It’s like, 12 years, it’s a 12 year cycle, there’s 12 animals, and it’s, umm… Rat, uhh, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat… Chicken… Wait, Monkey, Chicken…? I think it’s Monkey, Chicken… It’s either Monkey Chicken or Chicken Monkey, [laughs] and then it’s Dog and Pig [laughs].”

We’re off to a great start!

“It’s Monkey, Chicken. It’s Monkey, Chicken. Cuz’ I have to translate from Chinese to… yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay so the order that… so then, once upon a time, back in the old days, some god was like, ‘hey, we, uhh, there’s a lot of animals-‘ ”

Do you remember this in Chinese?

“Do you want me to say it all in Chinese?”

Yeah, if you can.

“You want me to, like, say this story, well I mean it’s, like, it’s a folk story, it’s just a story… Saying it in Chinese would be harder for me, because I remember the contents of the story, and my Chinese is worse than my English.”

Okay, then we’ll go on in English.

“Yeah.”

Who’d you learn it from? Let’s start there.

“Probably my grandma? Or my mom or dad? This was told to me when I was really young.

It was a race, the gods were deciding which 12 animals to deify, kind of, or like make into a calendar, or something, some sort of race. So it, so… yeah, so something was happening, but they were like, ‘Hey, alert all the animals, we’re gonna have a race to determine who’s the dankest- Oh, I’m sorry, who’s gonna be deified, who’s gonna be chosen, right- [laughs] Asian-American…

But yeah, so then, they told the rat to go alert everyone. So the rat was like, ‘Okay, I’ll do that.’

And the rat does go and tells everyone, but he tells everyone that the race starts a little bit later than it actually did, and then… the rat also specifically does not go to the cat, because the rat hates the cat.

So then, umm, then the day of the race comes, the rat’s there on time, and a few are early, or the ones that happen to be nearby, so then, umm, the race starts, and then the animals start running, and then some of them show up late, and some of them are on time. And then, umm, so you think, oh, it’s a race, how the heck is the rat first place then?

Well, the rat’s real smart. So he told the ox to show up on time, because the ox is a real strong, dependable guy, and the rat was like, ‘I’ll navigate for you, and you run, and together, we’ll be a great team.’

So the rat sits on the ox’s back, and he navigates, and they get a head start and ox is a strong, sturdy partner, and then they get to the end first, and right before the finish line,  the rat jumps off the ox’s head to be first place.

And that’s why the rat has this reputation of being like, really shrewd, and somewhat manipulative, and the ox is sturdy, solid.

The reason the tiger came in after, and so is the rabbit, but in the middle of the race. There’s also a river, so like, those animals weren’t as adept, so the ox could walk straight through no problem, because he didn’t mind it as much, and everyone else starts trickling in.

And normally the dragon would be like, number one, even more so than the ox, but uhh… the dragon and the phoenix were having a uhh, uhh, like a tussle. They were, they started the race, and then they, like, started arguing with each other, cuz’, historically dragons and phoenixes are, like, real bad to each other, they don’t like each other, fight a lot, they’re both like kings of the sky, but theyre like very different kinds of king, and they’re both very prideful animals. So then they started fighting, and the dragon won the fight, and then managed to end up fifth. [laughs]

And everyone else starts trickling in, monkey, dog, and the pig actually ends up making it.

Umm, yeah, and the cat woke up too late, cuz it didn’t know, cuz the rat didn’t, like, alert the cat, and then the cat’s basically like, oh, well I guess I dont, oh, [laughs]

So the cat’s not in it, even though there were a bunch of cats back then. That’s that story.”

Analysis: This is a very unique take on the Chinese Zodiac origin story, as told from memory and in constant mental translation. Yet, with the occasional bit of American slang, all of the animations that the informant was making use of, and the constant changes in pitch and inflection to emphasize humor, it was a very fun and unique experience to listen to.

Like many myths, the Zodiac origin story probably has a slew of moral wisdom packed into it. The full story, therefore, likely has more lessons for the audience from each animal’s experience. Knowing the informant personally, however, it is evident why he recalled the rat’s cleverness most clearly, as that part of the story was likely the most relatable to him.

Legends
Narrative

Guarana: An Origin Story

Title: Guarana (Origin Story)

Interviewee: Rafael Blay

Ethnicity: Brazilian

Age: 19

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): In his room in Webb, with 3 other friends playing video games in the background. It was a Thursday in April, all the work done for the week, so spirits were high. The interviewee sat on his bed to recount some tales and such.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee- “The legend says that there were two Indians that wanted to have a kid, and they prayed to the good god. The good god heard their plea and gave them a child. The child grew to be a young adult. Another god, jealous of the happiness of the child, turned himself into a snake and found the child. The god snake bit the boy and killed him. The parents were devastated. The good god took pity on them and told them to take the child’s eyes and plant them in the dirt. From the dirt grew the Guarana plant, as it looks like eyes. That is where the plant is from.

 

Analyzation:

This story in an of itself is unique to Brazil and the Guarana plant, but once again there are similarities one can draw upon to examine this piece. Like any good folklore story about the origin of something, it explains how it came to be and how it cam to look a certain way, or act a certain way. In this case, the Guarana plant actually looks like a bunch of eyes growing on a plant, so while the origin story is outlandish, one must look at the actual plant and realize that the story is as weird as the plant, and the two go together. This story is something and has been passed down by Brazilians, as the interviewee said that he thinks the people that went through the ordeal were natives of South America.

 

Tags: Guarana, Brazil, Origin Story

general
Myths

The Origins of New Zealand (Maui Origin Story

Piece:

The origins of new Zealand – myth (Maui)

“So, Maui is the son of Rangi (sky father) and Papa (mother). He wanted to fishing one day, but his brothers wouldn’t let him. So he made a hook out of, like, a magic jawbone or something and then he hid in a boat. I’m not sure why he hid, but his brothers were mean to him or something. Then he caught a really, really, really big fish that is the North Island. It’s so big that they fall out of the boat or something and the boat is the south island. And his brothers don’t wait to pray to someone before cutting up the fish. And that’s why there are mountains and rivers and gullies in the North Island.”

Informant & Context:

My informant for this piece is a USC student from New Zealand who lived in Auckland for 18 years. The story she is telling is a Maui origin story about how New Zealand came into existence.

Thoughts:

This is a very relaxed approach to storytelling. The unabridged Maui origin story can be found here: http://www.newzealand.com/us/feature/the-legend-of-new-zealand/. The vast majority of the points match, but a lot of the details of the story have been removed in my informants version.  I find it incredibly interesting to hear a white person from New Zealand telling aboriginal origin stories. To me this indicates a more concrete sense of heritage in the country, and a more collective sense of identity for the country.

Legends
Narrative

Romulus and Remus

The informant is a second year student at the University of Southern California, studying History. He is from Chicago, IL, and he lived abroad in Rome when he was younger. At USC, he is involved with student affairs and television production.

This piece is a legend regarding the founding of Rome that the informant learned while he was living there.

“So, these two twins named Romulus and Remus are born and then set adrift in a river and, which is common in these sorts of legends and such. So then they end up going into the forest and a wolf, a she-wolf, sees them and she decides that she’s going to raise them for some reason. And so they suckle at her teat, uh, is the actual language used, um, and they are essentially raised by wolves.

And then, so they grow up and they’re, they want to found a city. Right? And Romulus wants to found it on the Palatine Hill and Remus wants to found it on the Esquiline Hill, which are two completely separate hill in Rome. So what they decide to do is say, “Okay, let’s see how many birds fly over each hill, and the one with the most birds wins.” Mkay? So, basically they sit there all day with an auger. And birds start flying over these hills.

Eventually, a flock of 11 blackbirds fly over Remus’ hill. And Remus thinks that he’s won and that he’s gotten the right to build at Esquiline, or to build the city on the Esquiline. And Romulus is like, “Well, there’s still time in the day yet.” And at the last second, 12 blackbirds fly in over the Palatine Hill. So it’s decided that it be build on the Palatine Hill. And Remus is very upset about this.

So when Romulus starts doing the ceremonial task of plowing the boundaries with a plough, uh, Remus goes up to him and jumps over the line. He crosses the line, literally. And so, Romulus, incensed by this, because this is a really sacrilegious thing to do, Romulus basically beats him to death. And then Romulus becomes king of Rome.

Now, that’s what the Romans say. But then there’s also the Sienese version, which is that Remus just left in disgrace and went North and founded Siena, which they’re claiming so that they can say that they’re great. Because they were founded by Remus. So that’s that story.”

Analysis:

In this version of the legend, it matters very little that Remus and Romulus are set adrift at birth and raised by wolves. Aside from establishing their background, it plays no role in affecting the rest of the story. It may be that the informant is most interested in what happened after the brothers left to found the city than in what led to that point.

It’s also notable that the Sienese and the Romans tell this legend in different ways; though this legend typically refers to the birth of Rome, it makes sense that the Sienese would seek an origin story for their city as well. The informant was not aware of other Sienese legends about the birth of Siena, but it would be interesting to see how other legends might compare.

For another version of this legend, see the “Romulus and Remus” entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica online.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Romulus and Remus.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/, n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.

Myths

Winken, Blinken, and Nod

About the Interviewed: Max is a twenty year old college student at Pasadena City College studying Architecture and Fashion Design. His ethnic background is remotely Swedish, though his family has been in America for a couple generations.

I got Max to tell me a bedtime story his grandmother used to tell him a long time ago.

Max: “There were once three children: Winken, Blinken, and Nod. They were bored of their dull, ordinary lives and sailed out to sea in a wooden boat to find their fortune. While they were out adrift, Winken, Blinken, and Nod found three beautiful golden nets that they decided they would each use to catch all the fish in the sea.”

“They used their nets to capture as many fish as they possibly could, and soon the ocean was empty. Not satisfied with that, the three sailed into the night sky to catch the stars themselves. They began to round up the stars, but soon the night sky was black.”

“Lost in the cosmic abyss, the fishermen couldn’t find their way home. Tired and bloated from collecting all the fish and stardust, the trio dosed off. As they slept, the stars and the fish began to unravel from their nets. As the fish fell, the became shooting stars, which shot Winken, Blinken, and Nod to the moon. There Winken and Blinken became the eyes, and Nod the mouth, of the Man in the Moon. If you look out into the night sky, you can still see them, smiling at their catch.”

I asked Max if he knew where it came from, but he had no idea. His grandmother is long since passed away, and he thinks that she carried on the tale from her mother. It’s a very sweet, but kind of melancholy story. It has almost some mythic proportions, explaining the origin of the Man in the Moon.

general
Legends

Origin of the Austrian Flag

My roommate this semester is from Austria, from a tiny village about half an hour by car from Vienna, and I asked her if she knew of any national legends. She then began to tell me the legend of how the Austrian flag came to be what it is.

She said, “So you know how the Austrian flag is red-white-red? Well there was a king, and he supposedly wore a white mantle/cloak and he fought in a war and he got bloody all over, but he won in the end,  but his mantle at the end of the battle/war, was bloody over here [as she gestures to one area of her body] and bloody over here [she gestures to the opposite side of her body] and was white in the middle. And that’s how the Austrian flag developed.” She then told me that she had been told that legend while in elementary school by her teacher.

I did a bit of research, and the king mentioned in the tale was not a king, but a duke, Leopold V, and he fought in the crusades. During the battles, he was soaked in the blood of his enemies and his white cloak turned red. However, the small strip of his coat that was underneath the belt remained white, and so when he took of his belt, there was a horizontal strip of white separating the two swathes of blood-soaked cloth. Leopold V was from the first ruling dynasty of Austria, and this red-white-red became a part of their coat of arms and eventually came to represent Austria as a whole.

I believe that this legend is a classic example of a national legend, or origin story. It is based in fact, after all, many European nobles traveled to the Middle East to fight in the on-again-off-again wars called the Crusades in the late Medieval Period (11th-13th centuries, mainly). Whether or not Leopold V actually wore a white coat on the battlefield, which is not too much of a stretch of imagination, as the Knights Templar wore white cloaks emblazoned with a red cross, or whether or not he actually got so soaked in his enemies blood that it turned that white coat red, is up for debate. However, it is a Romanticized tale that is at the very least based in facts; whether or not it is true does not really matter. This story also reveals something about the Austrian people, Leopold V was a great warrior who accomplished great feats on the battlefield. To have adopted the colors he wore at the end of one of the bloodier wars of the Middle Ages shows that the Austrians are proud of their military might, of their warriors.

 

Myths
Narrative

Syrena

My informant was born in Boston, but his parents immigrated to the United States from Poland. He is an American citizen, but he has spent a few summers in Poland, and his parents keep many Polish traditions alive in his household. He told me about some of the similarities and differences between the ways that Christmas is celebrated in America versus in Poland. This is his account:

“Okay so, there’s a mermaid, and the Polish word for mermaid is Syrena. I don’t think she has a name. She’s just, like, “the mermaid.” And she frolics the world’s seas, and like waterways, I guess, with her mermaid family, because her dad is the ruler of water. He’s like, the king of water. And then one day she’s just swimming around, and she almost gets caught in a fishing net, and she needs to swim to shore to seek refuge because she’s hurt. And when she gets to the shore, she asks the river—because she can talk to all the waters—she asks the river, “Where am I right now? What’s going on?” And the river’s like, “Oh, you’re in Poland.” And the mermaid is like, “Oh. Okay.” And then the river offers to like, show her the lands, basically. She’s like, “Yeah, just swim upstream, and I can show you the beautiful lands that Poland has to offer.” And the mermaid’s like, “All right. That sounds awesome.” Um… so then they’re swimming, and eventually they swim towards like, a village. It’s called Mazowsze, and she just starts talking to the people there, and they’re all really friendly and hospitable. And she likes them and she decides to like, live with them. So then one day, the tribe is doing a hunt in honor of the prince, for whatever reason. And… But the prince has these golden arrows, and he’s on his last one, and he lost it, and he’s looking around for it on the banks of the river, and he meets up with the mermaid, because the mermaid, it turns out, had the arrow. And so she points him in the right direction of where she saw the reindeer that he was like, tailing. And then they get to this hut of the guy named Mr. Warsz, and he’s very hospitable and gives them food and shelter for the night. So they’re very grateful. And they’re in this beautiful clearing that this guy had like, set up. And then, because the prince was so grateful to this dude, he named the clearing Warszowa, which later became Warszawa, which is the Polish word for Warsaw, which is now the capital of Poland. So that’s the story of how Warsaw came to be.”

Analysis: My informant remembers this story from the times his mother told it to him when he was younger. He thinks she must have learned it from her parents; as he explained, “I mean, it’s a very culturally significant story, so I’m sure she heard it growing up.” This story is classified as a myth because it takes place essentially “before” or “outside” the real world. It has a sacred truth value because it is supposed to be an account of the formation of a nation’s capital; the mermaid likely did not literally exist, but she is accepted as “truth” and as an integral part of the narrative. It can be categorized as an origins story, for, like many myths, it explains how something came to be. These stories are, as my informant says, “culturally significant” because they provide an explanation for why the way the world is the way it is. The fantastical elements—golden arrows, talking mermaids—make the story intriguing, especially for children. Indeed, my informant was a child the first time he heard it. Yet it is also a story for people of all ages; children may be fascinated by the prince and the mermaid, whereas adults may take nationalistic pride in the fact that it is a story about Poland and its capital.

Legends
Narrative

Roma origin Story

My informant learned this from her parents when she was a child. It is the origins of the Roma people

“The oldest stories come from Egypt. Gitano is how they say gypsy in Spain, so Gitano like hyptano. Like Egyptian.  They say that on the outskirts of Egypt there lived the mystery people. They had the knowledge of the past and future and could cure people.  They would be called in by the pharaoh if he needed soothsayers….so the Roma people became very powerful in the land. And people got jealous and so they drove them out into the desert and they continue to wander and continue to be a nomadic people.”

My informant believes that this is a very important story because the Roma people are nomadic and so it is important to know where they came from.

It is very important for this group to know where they come from, especially since they have been so split up over the centuries.  Nation states do not take kindly to nomadic people who wander over their borders and so the Roma people need to be strong in their identity.  This story also allows them to have always been outsiders with mysterious powers.  It’s very empowering for a people to know that they had all of this power before and could continue to use it.

Customs
Folk speech
Legends
Narrative

What we call a clothes-pin

Context and Informant Bio

My informant is a female USC film student who is studying to become a director of photography (or DP: the crew member on a film set responsible for lighting scenes and composing shots with the camera). She started learning set procedure and lingo even before taking film classes at USC by volunteering to help out on student sets. Today she is well-versed in set terminology and, as a senior film student, enjoys teaching younger students set protocol.

On this set of a USC student project,  my informant worked as the 1st A/C (first assistant cameraman – assistant to the camera operator). At one point she asked a freshman production assistant (or PA:  a person who can help any department on the set with small tasks, such as running errands) to give her the “C47″ she had clipped to her sweater. The PA was unsure what my informant meant, so my informant pointed to the clothes-pin clipped to the PA’s sweater. She then gave the following explanation.

 Transcript

PA: What is, C47?

Informant: Uh, it was a term that was developed back in the day. On equipment lists of stuff, it was listed under C47, so they called them C47s.

Me: And what is it that you’re holding?

Informant: A wooden clothes-pin.

Analysis and Background

There are several variations on the story my informant told about the term “C47″ for a clothes pin. Generally the story involves an official equipment order form, as my informant described, on which the order code for clothes pins was C47. Another version of the story I’ve heard plays on the common stereotype of frugal movie studio executives, and tells that when executives saw equipment listed on order forms that they could not divine the purpose of, they would deny the order. So when reporting equipment orders to the executives, DPs would list C47 instead of clothes pins because the number made the item look like important equipment.

Clothes pins are an item found on film sets that it may be hard to think of a purpose for, but they are in fact very helpful. Wooden clothes pins are what the lighting crew use to clip colored filters (called gels) onto lights to give the light a particular hue.

Film sets are full of strange terms for common objects. The legend about C47s justifies the terms with a simple explanation that basically amounts to: that’s just what we call them. More important than the story about the origin of the term however is the use of the story. The story is never told to a seasoned crew member on a set, it is always brought up in the context of explaining the term to a newcomer, like the freshman production assistant in this instance. Learning terms like C47 and the stories behind them is part of the process of learning set protocol. Once you know the terms, you become an accepted part of the crew, and often this basic knowledge allows a crew member to move up from production assistant to grip (crew member in the lighting department), and beyond in climbing the ladder of crew positions.

 

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.

[geolocation]