USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘respect’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Food For the Ancestors

The Main Piece
“During certain times of the year we would leave out food for our ancestors, the date would very because it would depend on the date they died. So my grandma died on the 18th of September so we would leave food out for her then every year. It wouldn’t be for every relative we had ‘cus that would be excessive, but the ones we were especially close to we would be sure to leave food out for them. They would usually leave out duck, chicken and fruit on a nice porcelain plate, or whatever nice plate they could find around the house (just not any paper plates). For every ancestor it would always be the same food. After a night they would take the chicken and duck back into the house, pray for said ancestor, and eat it. However, they would leave the fruit out, unsure of why they would not eat the fruit exactly, but never questioned it since she was only a child.
Background Information
My informant is Rachel Tan, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Rachel did not understand the practice at first, she was too young to understand. She would spend a lot of time at her grandparents’ house since her family traveled a lot. The practice was more from her Cambodian side, her grandmother being full Cambodian. Rachel would help her grandmother with this practice during her elementary school days before she was old enough to stay home alone. She thinks of it fondly as a time where she was able to “take care of her ancestors” and hoped that her descendants would eventually take care of her as well.
Context
We discussed this in Ronald Tutor Campus Center over lunch as we were talking about our families and life back home.
Personal Thoughts
My grandmother is Cantonese, but is also very connected to her culture, feeling it is extremely important just as Rachel’s grandmother does. Therefore, it was easy for me to relate to growing up with grandparents extremely cultured, but not understanding all of their practices. I honestly thought it was a bit odd that they ate the food that they left overnight, but I suppose every culture has its oddities. Hearing about how this practice gave her more of a connection with her ancestors and hopes to have this practice create some type of relationship with her descendants that she may never meet in the future was very touching and heartwarming.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Treat Your Mother with Respect

The informant is a graduating senior at the University of Southern California, studying Creative Writing and Social Sciences with an emphasis in Psychology. She was born in Egypt and originally held Egyptian citizenship, but moved to the United States when she was quite young and is now an American citizen.

This piece is an Egyptian proverb about the importance of respecting your mother. The informant recounts her and a friend’s experience with Yo Mama jokes (jokes that insult another person’s mother: ex. Yo Mama’s so fat she rolled over twice and ended up in Africa) and how that reminded her of an Egyptian proverb.

“In Egypt you also cannot make Yo Mama jokes. You will get beaten up. A friend who went there, who grew up here but he was Egyptian, and he went there one summer and he made Yo Mama jokes cause we were in middle school and that’s what we did; everyone’s an asshole in middle school. And um, I think he got punched in the face by his cousin for making that kind of joke.

No it’s just like, the biggest insult you can say to somebody is to insult their mother. It’s like, especially to guys cause it’s like their pride and joy, like “You always treat your mother with the deepest and fondest respect.” So, that was a big proverb. And culture shock when I came here in middle school and everyone was in the Yo Mama phase and I was like, “That is appalling.” But like, I don’t know. Like Yo Mama So Fat jokes, it was just very strange to me.”

Analysis:

While the proverb itself is fairly standard, demonstrated the cultural value of the mother figure in Egyptian culture, it was fascinating to see the conflict that arose when members from both cultures, such as the informant and her friend, participating in or witnessed jokes that directly opposed what they had learned from that proverb.

general
Gestures
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Respect for your Elders

S is a 21-year-old Filipino woman. She is currently majoring in Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She grew up in the Philippines and therefore identifies as Filipino, however, she also identifies as Chinese. S speaks English, Mandarin, Tagalog and Hokkien, the last being two of many languages specific to the Philippines.

S: Do rituals count as folklore?

Me: Yeah.

S: Ok, so like, one of the things is like when you meet an elderly person, you like place their hand on your forehead.

Me: Like your hand. on your forehead?

S: No, like I would take your hand and place it on my forehead, like the elderly person’s hand. Like, it’s called, um, Mano. M-a-n-o. Yeah, so it’s just like a sign of respect, you do that with everyone, like even people you don’t meet (know), like if their really elderly. And like you always add like the word po, p-o, at the end of every sentence.

Me: P-o?

S: Yeah, ’cause it’s just like a sign of respect for, like, regardless of gender, you just, you like add it. so you say like, oh, like in the Philippines you’d say like “Oh, come, let’s eat,” and then you would add po at the end. It’s just something like that. It has a lot to do with respect and just like valuing those kinds of uh, values.

Me: Valuing their age I guess. And like their wisdom maybe?

S: Yeah. Exactly.

S explains the ritual, or practice, in the Philippines when meeting an elderly person. You take their hand and place it on your forehead. You do this out of respect, to honor their years and their wisdom. Respect is a common theme in both the Chinese and Filipino traditions and rituals that S has talked about, as well as many other Asian cultures.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Wear Red on Happy Occasions

S is a 21-year-old Filipino woman. She is currently majoring in Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She grew up in the Philippines and therefore identifies as Filipino, however, she also identifies as Chinese. S speaks English, Mandarin, Tagalog and Hokkien, the last being two of many languages specific to the Philippines.

S: So for like the Chinese culture there is so many, like it’s so crazy, but I guess, like the most popular ones, like would wearing red for like a birthday count as folklore?

Me: Yeah. But why wold you wear red for a birthday?

S: So like, so it’s the belief of the Chinese that red is like the ultimate like color for luckiness, and just like power and everything, so for your birthday you want everyone to be wearing red. And if anyone comes in wearing black, like that’s a big no no, ’cause black would mean like death or just like negative things, and like wearing black to a birthday or like any happy celebration would be like, it’s a sign of like disrespect and like wish that person like that bad luck. so never do that.

Me: Is it something that you do even now that you’re here? Like now that you live in the U.S.?

S: Um, no, not here, but if I’m with like family, or if I know that it’s a Chinese family, it’s like a more common known thing. So like even all around the world, you know. Yeah, so, but like you can wear other colors actually, as long as it’s not black though.

S talks about the Chinese culture in which it is customary to wear red on birthdays because the color red symbolizes luckiness, power, and in general just has good connotations. She says that it is okay to wear other colors as well, though it isn’t the same thing as wearing red, as long as you don’t wear black. Black symbolizes death and has other bad connotations so black is not to be worn on happy occasions, and it is considered disrespectful if people do wear black on happy occasions. Though she does not follow the practice so much now that she lives in Los Angeles, she still does when she is with family or other Chinese people.

Proverbs

Respect your Siblings

Informant: “When I went to temple school a long time ago when I was a lot younger, we always learned a bunch of sayings and proverbs, or… I’m not sure what the difference is in English. But a very common one which I’ve had used on me a lot was

‘Anh em như thể tây chân’

which means

‘siblings are like your limbs’

The idea was if you were fighting with you brother or sister, they would say this to remind you that, you know, you’re stuck with your siblings so you might as well get along with them. Like, if you’re angry at your arm you wouldn’t just cut off your arm you just deal with it, or if your leg is hurting you, you just deal with it. In the same same way, if you’re angry with your siblings, you can’t just try to cut yourself off from them.”

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: According to the informant, Vietnamese culture places an extremely large value on respect and family. This proverb is a clear example of this as it both shows the importance of one’s siblings, as they are just as important as your arms and legs, and it explains the importance of working together with your siblings. In much the same way as you need all of your limbs, you need your siblings and your family in life.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Respect for your Mother and Father

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.

Myths
Narrative

Sri Lankan respect for elders

My informant grew up in Irvine, California; his parents immigrated to the United States from Sri Lanka. My informant learned this myth from his parents:

“Okay, my parents aren’t very religious, and I didn’t really grow up in a religious environment, but this is a story that like, all Sri Lankans tell their kids. And uh, they kinda tell a similar story to everybody. So a key part of Sri Lankan culture—and I’m sure many other cultures—is there’s a lot of importance placed on respecting your elders. So they tell this story about these two parents, Shiva and Pavarti, who have two children, one of which is Ganesha. He is the famous elephant god that like, represents Hinduism and everybody knows this elephant god. So he’s the son. Um, the two parents Shiva and Pavarti tell their children, ‘We will give our inheritance to the one who will walk around the world and come back to us first.’ So the daughter actually starts walking around the entire world, and it takes her like, five months to come back. But Ganesha walks around his parents and says, ‘You are my world, so I just walked around the world.’ And it’s just a story that my parents used to tell me to teach me to respect my elders and to respect them. And I think it was a story that kinda resonated because I loved the irony in it. And I was a little bit of a smartass growing up, so this little trickster… I don’t know, I related to him a little bit, and I thought it was funny.”

This story has religious origins, but my informant views it as more of a folk myth; he did not learn it in a religious context. It is a well-known story for Hindus, but like many stories from major religions, it has spread beyond the religion itself. This particular story has a cultural relevance that would appeal to people of all faiths; the “respect your elders” message is one that resonates with very diverse populations. My informant postulates that Sri Lankans place more emphasis on the importance of showing respect to one’s elders than Western cultures do. Despite the underlying lecture his parents are delivering when they tell him this story, my informant is aware of what makes it enjoyable for him. He likes the humor and the relatability of the main character. Even so, he is able to appreciate the deeper meaning and the lesson his parents were trying to teach him.

**For an audio recording of this story, listen to Ganesha Walks Around the World by Jai Uttal. It is a published version of this same story recorded in an audio version.

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