Informant (“A”) is a 19 year old, female from Rancho Santa Fe, California, and attends The University of Southern California. She is a Human Biology major. She is of European descent and her family includes her mother, father, and older brother who attends college in Texas. Informant has studied ballet for 17 years, including work in a professional company.
A: “…Now this one is going to sound really weird but recently there was a production of ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ and there was this kinda offensive song sung in it.
This sort of got turned into a backstage chant, and like I’ve also heard other people do this too. We all huddle in and whisper this ‘We’re gonna rape, kill, pillage and burn, we’re gonna rape kill pillage and burn, eat the babies’. We say this multiple times getting louder each time until all of us are full on screaming it backstage. You know how people can like to scream vaguely offensive stuff, but its not that bad to us because we all know where it’s from. Then right before I go on stage I’ll do like a cross, you know the like Catholic one. I’m not really religious but I’ve been doing it for years. I think it started when I did a really hard solo and it had that cross in it. It basically tells me that I’ve done all I can and now I just have to perform. It’s another aspect of getting mentally ready, because so much of performing is about being physically but also mentally on your game.”
Analysis: The crossing seems to be a sort of parody of superstition. It may be an attempt to ‘use’ a previously accepted superstition in a socially accepted way or to comically parody their own use of superstition before the performance.
This backstage chant seems to be a sort of ‘trust building exercise’ that uses both humor and chanting to reinforce a sense of community. In high stress situations like ballet performances, such reinforcement likely serves to cater trust in other dancers, as the difference between an effective performance and a mishap could rely on other dancers.
This piece of folklore came from my co-worker, who grew up in Tampa, Florida. Although he did not know much about the history of the Calusa Indians, what he did know was the legend in Tampa that the Calusa Indians cast a spell to keep them safe. Since it seems to be working, many people still believe in the legend. The Calusa Indians lived in the area where my co-worker lived, so the people in his area knew a little more about them, whereas people in other parts of Tampa might not be as familiar with the legend.
“There’s this urban legend in Tampa, where I’m from, about the Calusa Indians who were destroyed by the Seminoles, and it’s a whole history that I don’t know much about. But, there’s a legend that this chief put a spell over the Tampa area protecting it from hurricanes. So, when Hurricane Andrew came through and destroyed all of Florida, it was weird that Tampa was mostly unaffected. In recent history, with Katrina, it was supposed to go directly at Tampa and then a day before it was supposed to make landfall it just veered off towards Louisiana. In the last 20 years all of the really strong hurricanes have been forecasted to go at least somewhat into Tampa and none of them have ever hit Tampa. It’s really weird. We also get the branches of the storms that aren’t bad, so a lot of people believe that the Calusa Indians are protecting.”
Q: Will people say specifically that it’s because of the Calusa Indians?
“I mean, my mom would always say it and there were other people who believed it too…at least a lot of the people I knew would be like ‘oh it’s that old Indian tribe’ or something along those lines”
The informant (L) is a 22 year old film student at the California State University Los Angeles. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her grandparents started an oil business in Oklahoma and had to live in Saudia Arabia once the business took off, from 1974 until 1991. They traveled while they were living overseas and would often bring back gifts for their family still in Oklahoma. One of these gifts was an ankh from Egypt for each person of the family. Though L’s family is Mexican, the gifts were given because they are connected to Isis and Isis is connected to the concept of life according to the Egyptians. L was not alive at the time so she did not receive one of the ankhs, which she was slightly bitter about. She still believes in the power of the ankh in protecting her family, and said that everyone in her family who has one wears it or displays it in their house. She also gave me an example that proved the ankhs protected her family. Her older brother was working in a factory in Oklahoma when he was a young adult and due to an accident, one of the machines malfunctioned and spit out shrapnel. Though her brother was not the one using the machine, he was so close to the machine that shrapnel hit him before he could get out of the way. When he looked down, he realized that the shrapnel had hit the ankh he was wearing and bounced back instead of cutting into his body. The ankh is worn over his heart, so the shrapnel could have done major damage if it had managed to pierce his skin. L believes this is physical proof that the ankhs protect her family from harm.
L seems to be very convinced that the ankh protects her family, and the example regarding her brother makes it seem that the ankh both protects the family from physical problems (like the shrapnel) and provides a sense of comfort for those who have an ankh to wear. While L wishes she had her own, she implied that the protection extends even to members of the family who do not have their own personal ankh. I also think the connection to the ankhs have to do with their origin: the grandparents brought them to the family and therefore connected themselves to the ankh as well as the ankh being a spiritual object in ancient Egypt. By having an ankh, the family is connected to itself and something more than what is on this earth.
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.
Item and Context:
“When I was a kid, I read ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ like nobody’s business. Like, I would just devour them. And so, when I discovered that there was one called ‘Tintin in Tibet’, of course I was delighted, being of half-Tibetan ancestry. While I was reading it, I found this superstition in there where one of the sherpas, the mountain guide dudes, tells Captain Haddock, who is notorious for flouting other people’s cultures and traditions, that he isn’t supposed to pass a chorten, a Buddhist monk’s memorial structure, on the right, because it will ‘unleash the demons’. Weirdly enough, when I went to Tibet a few years ago for a family trip, we went hiking up in the Himalayan foothills, where there happened to be a ton of chortens just dotting the hillsides. We were accompanied by a couple of local sherpas, who found it supremely bizarre that I was doing everything I could to veer left as I passed them by, so that I wouldn’t offend anyone. I saw them laughing at me, and so I asked them, simultaneously embarrassed and confused, what they found so funny. They asked me if I’d read any Tintin comics before, and so I told them yes. To my amazement, they started laughing even harder at this. I was growing increasingly upset, and so I asked them what the hell was going on. They told me, trying desperately to keep their faces straight, that they had seen several American and European tourists doing the same thing that I was doing because they had read the Tintin comic. With one final snort of laughter, they informed me that the superstition from the comic wasn’t a real Buddhist superstition, and that the guy who created them, Hergé, completely made it up!”
This is an example of “fakelore”, which later grew into something a lot of people believed in because it was propagated by such a popular franchise, much like the series of Paul Bunyan stories, which was actually created by the logging industry to encourage the locals to believe that logging was a great American tradition. A question is brought up here – if the practice is conducted by a lot of people today, is it still fakelore or is it now folklore? Maybe because the society in which this practice was supposedly traditional never did it in the first place, it’s fakelore, but because there are people who believe in it now because they grew up on the Tintin franchise, it has now transformed into folklore.
“‘The walls have ears,’ you know, everyone is listening, shut your mouth, don’t talk. Don’t talk bad about the government, don’t talk…don’t say stupid things, because there’s always someone listening. That’s my parents’…their Soviet upbringing. Because, like, everyone was listened to… I had relatives who, for a joke, went to prison. So that kinda…got pretty well ingrained, just don’t…don’t talk bad.”
My informant moved to the US when he was less than two years old, but the memory of Soviet oppression was so strong for his parents that they taught him to hold his tongue about the government, and authority in general. Obviously, this stems from the horrors of the GULAG and other ways in which the Russian people were oppressed during the Soviet era. The fact that even the Americanized children were taught how to survive in a communist country shows how enduring an impression the repressive Soviet regime made on those who lived under it.
“If you’re doing something where you’re gonna be in front of people, or there’s gonna be a lot of people and someone could potentially wish bad upon you, you put a dot somewhere. Your mom or grandma will put a dot on you, and usually it’s hidden or on your forehead. And if someone does think something bad, that will keep the bad thoughts away. So like for weddings, the bride and the bridesmaids will have them, because there’s a lot of people, and they’re thinking about you, and maybe people are jealous.”
My informant is of Indian extraction. Although she was born and raised in California, she remembers her mother putting dots on her hairline for protection when she had to give presentations in front of the class. This is another iteration of the cross-cultural trope that seems to imply that celebration or putting oneself on display in a positive way could lead to disaster. The dots serve as protection against the negative thoughts of others, working much like charms or amulets work in other cultures.
Whenever Andy used to drive in the car with his sister, his sister used to kiss her hand and touch the roof of her car when she went through a yellow light. By touching the roof of her car, it would guarantee safety as she went through the intersection. Andy and his family always touch the roof of their car when they go through yellow lights. However, one time specifically, Andy’s sister went through an intersection at a yellow light and did not touch the roof of her car. That specific time she did not touch the roof of her car, she got into a car accident. Since that day, Andy’s sister and her whole family always kiss their hand and touch the roof of their car when they drive through a yellow light at an intersection. They now consider it very bad luck to not kiss your hand and touch the roof of your car when going through a yellow light.
Whenever my friend Kenny and his Dad go scuba diving, they dive down to the bottom of the ocean and kneel on the sand. They both perform the sign of the cross, where they take their right hand and touch their forehead, move their hand down to their sternum, and then cross to their heart and the opposite side of their heart. After they perform the sign of the cross, they look up to the sun. They perform this ritual every time they go diving together in order to keep them safe while they are under water.
Dylan and his friends always lock every door in their house and close every window before they watch a scary movie. They believe that if you leave a door unlocked or a window cracked, there is a high chance that something evil will come into their house. Before putting on any scary movie, Dylan in his friends need to lock the doors and windows or they cannot start the movie.
One night, which happened to be Friday 13th , which is known as a very unlucky night, Dylan and his friends forgot to lock all the doors before they watched a scary movie. Halfway through the scary movie, a burglar snuck into his house. The robber knocked over a lamp downstairs in the house. He left by the time Dylan and his friends made their way down the staircase to see who was there. Because the one time they forgot to lock all the doors in the house and a burglar came in, Dylan and his friends can never watch a scary movie again without checking to make sure that all the doors are locked and the windows are closed.