USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘safety’
Folk speech
Proverbs

Proverb for How to Approach Different Kinds of Bears

[The subject is MSt. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

MSt: If it’s black, attack; if it’s brown, lie down; if it’s white, good night.

ME: Could you explain that for me?

MSt: Alright, so when you’re, like, in the backcountry, you see a bear, there’s different, like, responses that you should have depending on the type of bear, so if it’s black, attack; brown, lie down; uh, white, good night. So black bears are easily scared… One time I, like, there was a black bear- a black bear kind of came into my campsite and was like, rustling around, scaring everybody, but we were just, like, real loud that night, and we all sang into the campfire, and like, we scared it away.

ME: So black means you attack.

MSt: Black means you attack. ‘Cause they’re scared of humans. So they mostly just don’t want the trouble. Like, any bear’s gonna get between you and their cub, but pretty much, like, black bears don’t want the fight. They just wanna, like, live their own life. Which, retweet.

Brown bears: brown, lie down. So brown bears, grizzlies, will attack you, but only if, like, you’re interesting to them. So just, like, lay down, try to make yourself small, like, be very clear that you’re not gonna try to attack them, ‘cause they will fight you and they will win. Play dead, because you will most likely die if you see a grizzly bear, but there’s a chance you won’t if you just, like, play dead.
And then white is good night, because, like, if you see a polar bear you’re fucked.

Context: MSt is one of my suitemates, and a sophomore student in college. She was born in Germany and moved to Michigan when she was five years old, where she grew up and lived until coming to USC. German was her first language, and though she still understands it she has forgotten how to speak fluently and now considers English her primary language. She has always been interested in hiking, camping, and spending time outdoors. In the middle of a conversation about our favorite deadly animals, I mentioned polar bears and she recited the proverb above, which I then asked her to explain. She told me that she had heard it from a teacher on a high school camping trip after they saw a brown bear pawing at one of the tents and scared it off by blowing whistles and loudly singing songs.

Thoughts: The reason MSt saying this stuck out to me in the middle of our conversation was that growing up, I always knew that there were different ways you were supposed to react depending on the type of bear you ran into, but I had no way of remembering what there were. This was the first time I had heard something like “leaves of three, let it be” (a proverb about avoiding poison ivy) that applied to bears, and it feels like something I should have learned growing up. I can see it being spread very easily from person to person because in addition to being short, catchy, and easy to remember, it is actually helpful to know if you’re in a situation where you might encounter a bear, and besides that, the last third of it is funny. It makes sense as a proverb that an authority/mentor figure would tell a student (which is how MSt first heard it), but also as something kids could say to one another for fun in a relevant conversation (which is how I first heard it).

Childhood
Customs
Folk speech
general
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Secret Family Call

Text

The following piece was collected from a twenty-two year-old girl who is also a student at USC. . She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “My family does a special call to let each other know where we are.”

Collector: “What does is sound like?”

Informant: “One person would go ‘Who who-oo!’ and then if another person in the family hears it, they have to respond ‘Who-oo-O! Who-oo-O!’”

Collector: “So what is it for?”

Informant: “Basically, it’s a way to keep track of all the younger kids. I have a bunch of siblings, so if we ever lose track of one of them, it’s a way to quickly call out to them and find them. Or have them call out to us.”

Collector: “Does it work?”

Informant: “Always.”

Context

            The Informant learned the call from her older sibling, who learned it from their father who came up with it. She believes in the family call’s ability to help make people’s location’s known, both in a lighthearted way and a method of finding a younger kid if they were to wander off at a grocery store. She remembers it for the frequency of which she and her family uses the secret call.

Interpretation

            I loved hearing about this secret family call. I believe it to be a fun and effective tool. To me, having insider knowledge, in the form of a secret family call, is a perfect way to feel a part of something. Secret calls as a form of familial folklore is reminds people that they are part of a group, a group that cares about safety and awareness of each other enough to have designed an entire secret system as a way to be aware of each members’ whereabouts.

Childhood
Customs
Game
general
Humor
Magic
Protection
Signs

Drawing Game — Pig Protector

Text

The following information was collected from a seven-year-old Caucasian girl from South Haven, MI. The girl will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Daddy sometimes will draw pigs on our hands when we are sleeping.”

Collector: “What does it mean?”

Informant: “Um…haha…I don’t know. It’s funny because we don’t know who did it.”

Collector: “Does he do it to you and your sisters?”

Informant: “Yeah haha…He will draw it on my hand and then on my sister’s hand. And we wake up and he pretends he didn’t do it…Umm haha… But we know he drawed it.”

Context:

            The Informant picked this up from her father. He would draw pigs on the Informant and the Informant’s sisters’ hands when they were sleeping. Then they would wake up with a drawing on their hand he would pretend he hadn’t done it. It became a game of who could find him and get him to admit he drew it first. The pig looks like a smaller circle inside a larger one, with two ears, four legs and a tail. It is the same drawing every time. The Informant remembers because she finds it funny and enjoys playing.

Interpretation:

            I found this piece to be very intriguing. I understood it to be a sweet little game played between a father and his young daughters. But while searching for a deeper meaning, I’ve come to another conclusion, one that is hardly obvious to a seven-year-old. I believe this game to be a way a parent can make a child feel like he or she is always watched over and cared for, even in sleep. It reminds me of the childhood comfort of falling asleep on the couch, only to awake in your own bed, tucked in and warm. I imagine that waking up with this drawing on your hand, a sign that someone who loves you is with you even when you are unaware of it, would be a huge comfort and affirmation of the love that you feel from that parent.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative
Protection

Bears and Menstruation

My mother grew up in rural California. She spent a lot of her time outside and hiking. When she was a Girl Scout, she heard that when you are on your period you should avoid going in the great outdoors.

JE:”I always heard growing up that it wasn’t safe to hike or go camping while you were on your period. Apparently bears and other predatory animals can smell it and are more likely to attack. When I was growing up, two women were killed by a bear and the rumor was that it was because one (or both) of the women were menstruating.”

Me: Who told you this?

JE: My Girl Scout Leader was the most distinct person I can remember. There were some men at my church who wouldn’t let their daughters (my friends) because they thought that women should not hike, camp or even venture into the back county during their periods because it will attract predators who will come and eat them. This cautionary advice goes for women around the world. ”

Analysis: I researched the validity of this superstition, and it holds little scientific evidence. The superstition has a strong hold on people because it’s a pretty visceral- blood, gruesome attacks, young girls, etc. To me, however, it seems like a fear of bears morphed into an unfounded belief. At one point, this was perhaps a good way to keep young girls from exerting themselves in the woods when their families believed women should be at home. The stereotype only reinforces the idea that women are not as suited to survival in the wilderness as men.

For the Yellowstone Bearman’s advice on this folk belief, see:

http://www.yellowstone-bearman.com/menstruation_data.html

Legends

Beware the Parking Garage

“Whenever your car has been parked and you haven’t been right next to it. Before you get closed to your car, you need to kneel down and look under the car to make sure there is no one underneath it.”

The informant interrupted herself saying:

“That does sound crazy doesn’t it. (laughs) But it isn’t crazy.  I really believe it.  I think its true”

The informant continued.

“You do this because there have been cases of people hiding under people’s cars, slashing their Achilles tendon with a knife and then robbing them or sometimes doing harm like raping them or grand theft auto. And you have to be especially careful as a woman.”

The informant learned this from a friend who had heard of real cases in Memphis, TN.  She asserted the truth of her friend because “she’s a real attorney.”  Her friend had told her that it happened in enclosed parking or high rise parking, not so much out in the open.  The informant said that she would tell this to my daughters and anyone really going into an underground parking structure with their car.  They really need to be careful.   “I always park in an open area because it’s harder to hide in an open area.  I don’t want anything to happen to anyone but especially my daughters.  I find women more vulnerable than men.”

I think the legend, regardless of how true it may be, arose from people’s fear of being trapped alone and defenseless in a parking structure.  Under the car is dark just like under a bed.  This fear of someone hiding under a car is the grown up version of fearing monsters under the bed.

Folk speech
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Texas Ranch Safety

“When I go to my, my dad’s ranch. In southwest Texas. It’s about 45 miles from the, from the border to Mexico. Um, and when I bring, uh, when I bring friends down there, to the ranch. He’s huge on safety. Because of rattlesnakes that are out there, and coyotes, and just other animals, and sharp plants that can, that’ll be, detrimental to your health. So he brings all my friends together, and he like, makes us be silent. And he goes, ‘Alright boys, I want you to know, that in all these 800 acres, anything out there can either bite ya, sting ya, prick ya, or even kill ya. And he basically scares all my friends before we, we go out.”

The speech the source’s father makes changes, except for the one saying that is always constant. “Alright boys, I want you to know…” Click here for an audio clip of that saying.

To me it’s important to note a piece of irony with this safety speech, because a big part of Texas ranch culture is shooting guns.

“He, he warns us about the plants and animals, and then we go, shooting animals with guns”.

 

As someone who lived in Texas for ten years, to me this really just reflects Texas culture, especially West Texas. It shows a profound respect for the environment, while at the same time maintaining the idea that Texans have a right to shoot everything in it.

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