The following story is said to have occurred in Guatemala.
EO: “My aunt told me the story of the Sihuanaba and I’m not sure if it’s the wide one because like she told it to me very specifically, as if it were her that saw her. So it was like a first hand account sort of thing…I was terrified.”
What happened to your aunt?
EO: “She says she was riding a horse, and someone was ahead of her on a horse. And the person didn’t have a head or something. So they turned around, and it turns out the person’s hair was super messy, like a horse’s mane.”
Did they interact?
EO: “No, she just looked at her, then went away. But that’s all I know about La Sihuanaba. She just looks at people and steals horses–so you can’t go alone.”
La Sihuanaba is a mythological creature of Guatemala and El Salvadoran folklore. Like many mythological creatures shared from parent-to-child, the story of La Sihuanaba is told by parents to convince their children not to roam alone away from the home.
The informant is a 67-year-old Mexican-American woman who is a reverend. She is known for tailoring wedding receptions to couples from different cultural backgrounds, and in her words “taking old traditions and giving them new meaning.” Many consider her to be the “guru of new wedding traditions.”
While out to breakfast while the informant was visiting me in Los Angeles, I asked her if there were any particular rituals or traditions drawn from Asian cultures that she has incorporated into weddings in the past. She responded by describing tea ceremonies, which she has commonly incorporated in the weddings of individual’s having a Chinese cultural background.
“In a tea ceremony, the parents of the bride and groom are called up to the altar. Together, the bride and groom prepare a cup of tea for each parent. The mothers and fathers then each take three sips of the tea, after which they sit back down. I’m not entirely sure why it is important that they take only three sips, but traditionally that is how it’s done.”
My first question after hearing of this tradition was, “How do they boil water at the altar?” To which the informant responded, “Typically a kettle has been heated somewhere behind the scenes, and it is brought out for the bride and groom. Really all they have to do is pour the tea into a cup and serve it to their parents.” This ceremony seems to represent the newlyweds demonstrating their gratitude to their parents for all that they have done, as a wedding marks the transition at which an individual’s spouse now has more responsibility for taking care of that person than do his or her parents. It is also a way for the bride and groom to let the parents know that they will take care of them in the future as old age approaches. While the informant was unsure of the reason that the parents take only three sips of the tea, examining this tradition with a comparative lens that takes into account a broad range of folklore shows that many folk traditions come in repetitions of threes. This often dates back to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity defined by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It also removes the awkwardness that would arise if one of the parents took a great deal of time to finish drinking the entire cup of tea while the entire audience had to sit and wait for them to be done, as three sips can be taken much more quickly and at the same speed by all parents.
The informant was asked about some sayings, proverbs, and customs in her family.
Informant: “A lot of families, to get us to finish all the rice on our bowl, they [parents] say that if you don’t finish the rice on your bowl, your spouse is going to have a lot of pimples and blemishes on their face, so every time, they always remind us of that story, like ‘you know how so and so has a lot of pimples? Their spouse must not finish their bowl, so you don’t want to do that. Mom and dad… they’ve been telling us this since we’re young so it’s expected that our bowls are clean. Otherwise the stories will be reminded every time there’s something in the bowl… what I’ve heard from my German friend, when you’re growing up, it’s either your spouse is going to have a lot of pimples, or there’s a lot of starving kids in Africa. But then I met a lot of international students while I was in college, and he actually says that his parents tell him because there’s a lot of starving kids in China. So there’s a lot of different countries there involved. ”
Collector: “Are Asians specifically more afraid of pimples than other people are?”
Informant: “I think that in Chinese culture we definitely do care about our appearance so having your spouse having pimples I guess it’s not really… it can be frowned upon in the community and since Asian cultures are very community centered, you want to look good so you don’t want… it’s always community centered so you need to care for your spouse’s pimples. You know, its not just about your pimples, it’s you know, you’re responsible for somebody else in the community”
A lot of people in the US probably recall being told by their parents when they were young to finish the food on their plate because there are starving kids in Africa who would be extremely appreciative of whatever food was on that plate. Thus, it’s quite interesting to observe an alternative version of essentially the same saying parents use to get their kids to finish their plate of food. There are likely many more variations of this well-known guilt strategy around the world.
Informant: “One ‘Ca Dao’ [longer Vietnamese Proverb/poem] that I’ve heard used a lot is
Công cha như núi Thái Sơn
Nghĩa mẹ như nước trong nguổn chảy ra
Môt lòng thờ mẹ kính cha
Cho tròn chữ hiểu mới là đạo con
This relates to the idea of, I believe in English the word is… filial piety…? The relationship or respect between children and parents. But in English, it’s not a common word, but in Vietnamese our word for that is hiểu, and that’s very common there too, like kids are named that and it’s a very common name, and a very common word we’d use. It’s not nearly as obscure as filial piety, which I’m still not actually sure what filial piety means, but I was told that’s the closest English translation to that word. Anyways, the best English translation for this is
Dad’s labor is as big as the Thai Son Mountain
Mom’s love is like water flowing from the source
With all my heart I respect and honor my parents
to uphold the [filial piety / hiểu] is my duty as a son/daughter
I heard this first from my parents, and they told me that their parents would say the same thing to them, and it’s supposed to show the sort of respect for parents and elders that exists in Vietnamese culture. I actually think I first heard this is the context of Buddhist Mother’s day, but otherwise it’s something that you would hear people say when you were growing up as a little kid.
Informant is a student at the University of Southern California. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam after the Vietnam war. She was born in the United States, and was raised bilingually by her parents (though she says that Vietnamese “Is definitely [her] primary language at home”). Most of her knowledge of Vietnamese culture comes from her upbringing in he Vietnamese family in an area where a lot of immigrants from Vietnam settled. Additionally, when she was growing up, she learned a lot about her Vietnamese heritage through “Temple School” which she described as “Like Christian Boy Scouts, except for Vietnamese Buddhists”.
Collector Analysis: One of the more interesting aspects of this particular piece of folklore, in this collector’s opinion, is the fact that according to the informant, this proverb contains words in Vietnamese which had no direct English translations. It’s strange to think that a language barrier could also extend to some degree into a culture barrier. Aside from this, this particular saying does a good job of showing the degree to which parents (and to an extent, elders in general) are respected and venerated in Vietnamese culture, to a point where they have need for one common word which serves a purpose that can only be completely encapsulated by two relatively obscure English words.
“If go swimming after you eat, you’ll drown.”
The informant doesn’t remember where he heard this rumor, but he thinks it was probably from a friend’s mother during his childhood. He doesn’t think it’s true now, though. In my opinion, I think this is a popular statement told to children by their parents so that they let their food digest before they get back in the water to swim. Another popular belief is that you’ll get cramps if you swim right after eating, so maybe the parents who say this more extreme belief are just trying to protect their children from painful cramps.
“D” is a 19 year old female student at The University of Southern California. She is a Chemistry major and interested in pursuing Pharmacy after college. She is Vietnamese on both sides of her family and describes herself as very close with her sister, whom she shares many Folkloric traditions with. She played soccer up through high school and is currently active in the rugby community.
“D: So when we were little we used to play hide and go seek tag, kind of, but we were supposed to in bed. All four of us, our bedrooms are in the same wing of the house and so, we had to play when we were supposed to be sleeping and it was all dark and we had to be completely silent. So what we would try to do instead of actually just hiding, we would find the darkest clothing or blanket and just crouch in a corner and pretend we were like a rock or the wall. So the majority of the time it started off as hide and go seek, and we’d try to find the other person, towards like, as we got older, it was like ‘who can scare the other person to get them to scream the loudest so they can get caught’.
Me: So the point was like, to not wake up your parents but still be able to play?
D: Yeah, yeah!
Me: Do you remember when you first started playing?
D: My brother and sister were older so they started playing first, I would say I was about six, so my sister was eight, my brother was ten.
Me: So from that other piece of Folklore you told me about before (titled “Siblings tapping though walls to talk to each other “, also in this database), you would tap on the wall with you sister to communicate without your parents knowing, she would come over there or you would go over there and you would try to scare the shit out of each other by pretending to be rocks and stuff?
D: It started out as hide and go seek, than it was like ‘scare the shit out of each other!’ ”
Coupled with “D”s tapping through the walls to communicate with her sister, as featured in the other piece of Folklore mentioned above in bold, this game appears to be an attempt to extend play past when was dictated by her parents. By attempting to scare each other, they both acknowledged that they were in a situation they were not supposed to be in, and also implemented it into their game play, building a game around the environment provided to them. The use of scaring both allowed implementation of the taboo aspect of the game, while taking advantage of the lack of awareness provided by the dark, as the dark is conventionally very scary for children. “D”s being pulled into game play despite being one of the younger siblings allowed to bonding to take place by showing the younger sibling she was allowed to participate in her form of play.
The informant is a 22 year old college graduate that is now working at a software company in Madison, WI. He grew up in Upton, Massachusetts until he left Upton to go to college in Los Angeles, California. . Upton is a small (population 7,542) town about 45 minutes south-west of Boston. He grew up in a loosely Catholic household with both of his parents and two younger sisters (3 years younger and 7 years younger).
I first heard this rhyming song before I thought to collect it, approximately 2 years ago when he jokingly performed the piece for me. I asked him to repeat the rhyme and asked him a few more questions about it on the date specified below. The song/rhyme is usually said by parents to their small children. He mainly remembers his father saying the rhyme to him and his younger sisters when they were small enough to easily fit on his lap but old enough to sit upright (i.e. they were not newborns). The words are as follows:
Trot trot to Boston,
Trot trot to Lynn,
Watch out little baby,
Or you might fall in!
The rhyme is said while the child is on the adult’s lap. Overall, the rhythm of the rhyme is reminiscent of a horse’s gallop, which makes sense when you take the “trot trot” as referring to horses (not the child) trotting. As each syllable is said, the adult moves their legs by lifting their heels, creating a physical movement for the child that is very much like a what would be experienced during a horse ride. As the adult says the last two words (“fall in”), the adult moves their knees apart and lets the child drop slightly as if they are falling. The adult, of course, does not let the child actually fall and usually has their arms around the child to make sure this does not happen.
Both Boston and Lynn are cities in Massachusetts and are only ten miles apart, making a horse ride between them a feasible idea. The route between them is also near the coast, which may mean that “falling in” refers to falling in some sort of water or marshy land. The informant remembers his father saying this rhyme when they were being silly, so it is not an attempt to seriously scare the child by letting them think the adult would drop them. This plays with the feelings between of protection needed by children. By saying the child could fall, letting them fall a little bit but preventing them from completely falling to the ground, the parent is effectively saying “I’ve got you” without having to say those words.
There are several variations of this rhyme that use different cities in Massachusetts, some of which are published in a book called Trot-trot-to-Boston: Play Rhymes for Baby by Carol Ra. (the ISBN for the 1987 version is 9780688061906)
Though the informant does not have children or any nieces or nephews to tell this rhyme to, he does subject his girlfriend to the rhyme if he is in a particularly silly mood.
Context: The informant is a grandmother of 8 whose parents were originally from Afghanistan but settled in Pakistan. She also lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and has a working knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, and Punjabi along with her native Urdu. She says that a common thing to say when you see someone in new clothes, or looking particularly beautiful; or when someone has very good fortune in (for instance) an exam or a job; or, especially, with children and new babies; is
“Nazr-bad-door” or “Chashme-bad-door”
which, word-for-word, means “look-bad-far-away” or “eye-bad-far-away”, but translates to, “May the Bad Gaze/Evil Eye stay far away from you.”
Analysis: The purpose of this little saying is basically to keep away the Evil Eye, which the informant says can be put on someone if they are envied or have something that others covet (eg, good grades or good health). When the Evil Eye is put on you, you may fall sick, fail in your job or school, lose your money, etc. Children are especially susceptible because they are often the center of attention, especially in the informant’s Pakistani family, and so if someone merely looks at a child with selfish or ungracious thought in their mind, the child could fall ill or have an accident, etc. It is thus important to remember to praise God when you see something beautiful and not be jealous or ungrateful, and this phrase is a way to remind oneself of that, and also to express the desire to protect someone from others’ ill gazes as well. The informant said all this as what people “used to believe”, implying that the traditional phrase is kept even though the specific belief may have been altered or abandoned altogether.
“So a long long time ago, there was a kid… he has to release the sheep at home. So everyday he would run up the top of a mountain, watching the sheep eat grass and the like. So everyday is like this and he thinks it’s really boring. When he was bored, he would look everywhere and when he looked down he would see a lot of farmers, they’re there tilling the soil. So the boy thinks, “Eeeh? I’m this bored, why don’t I fool them first!” So, really loudly… then… so he thinks, “how do I fool them?” And he loudly yells “Save me! Wolves are coming!” So… the farmers at the foot of the mountain go, “Eh? The kid on the mountain is yelling for help… he says there’s a wolf,” so they immediately put down all their work, run up the mountain to save the boy. So the boy is watching the farmers, so he sees the farmers running up the mountain and thinks it’s really funny, and very entertaining, like watching them do a show or something, so he… then the farmers run up and are exhausted, panting, and when they reach the boy, the boy happily claps his hands “Yay, yay, I fooled you guys! I fooled you guys, there wasn’t a wolf in the first place, seeing you all run up, so cute!” So the farmers say “Huh, this kid, playing with us like this,” so they unhappily descend the mountain. So okay, an amount of time passes, the boy still has to go up the mountain every day to tend to the sheep, and he sits and thinks “Ughh, so boring… last time was pretty fun though! Again!” So for a second time… then… he tries it again, yelling “Save me, save me! Wolves are coming, the wolves are coming and carrying all my sheep away! Save me, you better come quickly and save me!” Then the farmers, at first, see him yelling like that and have… have… hesit-hesitate, have some hesitation, thinking “Hm? Is this kid… is it true this time?” But the kid, seeing the farmers… he calls the farmer and sees they are ignoring them and continues, acting really afraid and yelling “Save me, save me!” The farmers don’t want to risk having wolves eating the sheep, so at the end the farmers decide to run up the mountain and save the kid, and they run, run, run, run up the mountain and the kid, again, goes, “Yay, yay, you’re all dense, you’re all silly, hahaha! You’re all really silly!” So this time the farmers are really angry… “This kid really is naughty, so ill-disciplined, right?” “He’s like this, tricking us, wanting us to abandon our work to run up and save him, he… it turns out he’s joking with us.” Then, an amount of time passes, and the kid goes up the mountain to tend to the flock again, and this time he’s really unlucky, there really is a wolf coming. When the wolf is actually coming, it carries away his sheep, bites his goat…his sheep. This time he’s actually terrified and screams “Save me! Save me! Farmers below, hurry up and save, there’s really a wolf! Faster, save me!” Then the farmers hear it this time and think “This kid is fooling us again? He’s already fooled us twice… let’s not go save him.” This time the farmers decide to ignore the kid. Unfortunately, this time, a wolf really does come down. So the wolf ate… carried away all the sheep and wounded the kid as well. This kid, at this time, is really regretful. He thinks, “why did I have to lie in the past to trick people? Now that I’ve tricked people, they no longer have trust, they don’t trust me, so this time when I really have hardship, no one is willing to help me.” So this story teaches children to be honest, don’t lie; if you lie, no one will trust you, and if there’s really danger, no one will save you.”
My mother heard this story from her mother as a child. Her mother would tell her this story, usually like a bedtime story, and teach her the lesson of not lying. My mother and her sisters would often rely on their mother to tell stories like this to pass the time.
At first, I didn’t recognize the story because the title was “Wolf is coming!” in Cantonese (狼來了!) But when I heard the story I recognized it as a version of the folk story, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” I think the difference in the titles comes down to the fact that “狼來了!” is catchier (long loi liu!) and that “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” does not have a particularly smooth Cantonese translation.
In this telling in particular, the “kid” is referred to in Cantonese as siu peng you (xiao peng you, 小朋友), which refers to kids in general but is also understood to refer to boys more often than girls. Perhaps this is because most other versions of the story feature a boy. I also found it interesting that the kid sees farmers, instead of being part of a village and yelling to the villagers for help. The comments of the boy towards the farmers are likely different with each performance. The “hahahas” were added as a sort of flavor by my mother in this particular performance of the piece.
In other versions I’ve heard, the resolution is adverse but not particularly violent; for example, the sheep would run away at the sight of the wolf. I was surprised that this version, which my mother learned as a child, has the kid injured and the sheep eaten. There is also no seen with the farmers teaching the kid a lesson – the lesson comes from the kid reflecting on his mistake.
A variation of this tale in literature can be found in B.G. Hennessy’s children’s book, The Boy Who Cried Wolf. It seems that there’s yet another variation in this authored text; at some point the boy’s friend gets involved. The information of this book is below:
Hennessy, B. G., and Boris Kulikov. The Boy Who Cried Wolf. New York: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2006. Print.