USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Southeast Asia’
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Krasue in South Asian Folklore

NC: So there’s this story about crossaway or crosu (Krasue) I don’t know exactly how to pronounce the name but in southeast asian folklore she is supposed to be a very beautiful woman and she’s only a head, so she’s a decapitated head and her entails are hanging out and she’s supposed to float around uh a building- a haunted building or something um she’s- I think she’s searching for something and she might also kill anyone who comes into the building. That’s all I’ve heard about it.

 

Background:

Location of Story – Southeast Asia

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. NC approached me in person in response to the text and had just discovered this creature herself. 

 

Analysis: Krasue is physically unlike any other “monster” or creature I have heard of before. I was particularly interested in the dichotomy between the woman’s beauty and the grotesqueness of her lower half. For me, this hints at a commentary about how women are viewed around the world globally: her head is attached but her body has been ripped apart by what exactly? If women often fall victim to objectification, then it makes sense that this lore would depict her “body” has being completely consumed by something else or at least lost to something or someone besides herself. Additionally, the fact that she is bound by a building, confirms the archetypical “domestic” woman, but the threat she poses to anyone else trying to reside in her household disrupts this stereotype and protects the space as her own.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Tales /märchen

Pontianak

Pontianak is a female ghost, or the Southeast Asian equivalent of the vampire. A woman could become a pontianak by committing suicide upon discovering that her husband is cheating on her, or if the woman dies during pregnancy. They live on banana trees, and there are many banana plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. When I was a kid, my grandmother would warn me not to get too close to banana trees. Or don’t look up when you’re near a banana tree. They like to hang upside down too. I’ve never seen one and I haven’t known anyone who’s seen a pontianak, but they’re usually seen by village folks. Pontianak have long black hair, long fangs, and a white dress, and they usually haunt only men. They don’t suck blood like Western vampires do, but they suck out your organs.

The informant grew up hearing stories about the pontianak. The legend of this creature could be a reflection of expected gender roles in Malaysian and Indonesian societies, and also fertility and faithfulness.

Folk speech
general
Humor
Riddle

Zhao

Shine

一个日本人,

yi ge ri ben ren

One Japanese Man

站在门口,

zhan zai men kou

Standing at the doorway

拿着一把刀,

na zhe yi ba dao

Holding a knife

杀了四个人。

sha le si ge ren

He kills four people

 

This was learned by my informant when she was growing up in Singapore in school, when she was about ten or eleven years of age. While she can’t quite recall who she learnt it from, she said it was rather useful for learning characters in Chinese.  It is in essence a word riddle, in which the bottom four lines would be told to the other person and the other person would try to guess what the word was.

Even though there is supposedly nothing meant by the content (morbid as it is), it is just there because it fits the word. However, when my informant was growing up during the 1950s and 60s in Singapore there was a great deal of resentment against the Japanese for WWII. The words of this riddle could originate as a subtle form of anti-Japanese rebellion or statement for the brutal acts that they performed in Singapore and most of South East and East Asia.

During World War II, it was very common for Japanese soldiers to enter houses indiscriminately and slaughter whole families for numerous trumped up charges, like being Chinese, or having a wife that the soldier found mildly attractive or even looking at them wrong. Therefore this might be a reflection of not only this anti-Japanese sentiment but also oppositional culture.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends

Orang Minyak or “Oily Man”

This is a male creature, commonly shaped as a human. As can be inferred from his name, he is covered from head to toe in black oil. Sometimes, he is described as naked and sometimes he’s wearing a black pair of swimming trunks. In many stories, he plays a significant roles as a rapist that only targets virgins. There is some dispute over his origins though, it is unclear whether or not he is of human origin or is a creature from the spirit world. Some speculate that the Orang Minyak is the result of a spurned lover that has powers due to his solicitation of either a bomoh (Malayan Witch Doctor) or a contract with a creature from the spiritual world. The Orang Minyak is commonly found in Malayan folklore with appearances made in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

This knowledge was imparted to my informant when she was on a school camping trip at the tender age of 16 in Singapore in the late nineteen sixties.  The Orang Minyak is commonly one of the perpetrators and has been blamed for many rapes especially in the 1960s, early nineteen seventies, even though the reports have been few and far between since the 2000s.  According to my informant, the more superstitious Malay students would wear sweaty shirts to give the appearance of someone who had just been with a man.

Strangely enough, while the Orang Minyak has always been part of Malay folklore, there was a surprising amount of hype produced after a series of movies about the Orang Minyak were produced in the 1960s. Before this, there was an occasional sighting and crime committed by the Orang Minyak, however, there was a sudden onslaught of cases and sightings of the Orang Minyak after the movies came out. This prompts many to question if the Orang Minyak became a convenient cover-up for many rapists and rape cases.

Customs
Festival
Foodways
general
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

月饼 (Mooncakes)

During the Mid-Autumn festival, it is customary to eat mooncakes (月饼) while drinking tea and admiring the moon. Mooncakes are essentially pastries that are filled with lotus seed paste, red bean paste or mung bean paste and a salted duck egg yolk. It is said to originate during one of the dynasties to ensure that a secret message to coordinate a rebellion were hidden as a message in the mooncakes.

                  This was practiced by my informant ever since he could eat solid food. It has been part of Chinese culture since at least the Yuan dynasty. However, this practice has been becoming less frequent due to the fact that one of the essential ingredients to making traditional mooncakes is lard; and in today’s health conscious society not many people would like to eat something so very fattening.

                  Even though mooncakes are a very traditional sort of food, it has begun to change in the last couple of years. Now, there are all sorts of mooncakes made with all sorts of flavors and materials. In Asia, Hagen Daaz sells chocolate coated, ice cream filled mooncakes and in recent years, there have been snow-skin mooncakes with the outer ‘skin’ being made out of glutinous rice paste.

                  It is interesting that the mooncakes have changed so much in the recent days with the introduction of more varieties in fillings and crusts. There are even mooncakes for the heart healthy because as mentioned above, many people now don’t want to eat fattening mooncakes.

Customs
general
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Singaporean Chinese Wedding

When the groom and his entourage comes to the brides home to collect the bride, the bridesmaids lock the front door and refuse to allow the groom or his groomsmen entry to pick up the bride until they pay a small sum. Usually, the amount of money paid is an auspicious number, like 88 or 888 or 999. The haggling is usually done between the groomsmen and the bridesmaid, and the bride and groom themselves hardly ever participate in this exchange.

                  This was first introduced to my informant at her cousin’s wedding when she was about eight during the sixties. It is not known to my informant whether all Chinese perform this particular custom or just Chinese in the Singapore/Malayan peninsula.

                  The numbers are ‘lucky’ or auspicious because of what these numbers sound like in Chinese. For example, the number 8 in Chinese sounds like the word for strike it rich, while the number 9, bears phonetic similarities to the word for a long period of time. Therefore , it starts the wedding ceremony off with a good start.

                  Customarily this is to ensure a happy start to the wedding because with the exchange of money, this is the ‘modern’ version of ‘purchasing’ the bride from one family and bringing her into another. Even though this tradition is rarely seen nowadays, as Church weddings and Western culture is pervading more of the lives of younger Chinese.

Game
general

Five Stones

A childhood game, played primarily by girls with five small cloth ‘stones’ that are either filled with sands or beans. Game involves throwing and catching the ‘stones’ while not touch the other. There are five stages to this games, the first stage is when you take one stone and throw it up in the air while snatching one on the ground without touching any of the other stones, and then catch the one that you threw up in the air. If you touched any other  ‘stone’ or missed the falling ‘stone’ you’d lose your turn. This goes on till the fifth round, which you have all five in your hand and you toss all five in the air, flip your hand and catch it on the back of your hand.  Additionally, with two or more people, the other player gets to choose the ‘stone’ that you need to throw up in the air.

 

My informant started playing this game when she was about six, growing up in Singapore during the early sixties. She played this game mainly because it was what girls that age did during that time, the boys played their games and the girls played theirs.

There are variations on the rules depending on what school you went to and who you played with and they are mostly about which hand to play with after the first whole round and the fifth stage. While there are websites and it is documented how to play, most people learn to play from their classmates and their parents.

While this game is relatively old, they still play this game today in schools. Even though it isn’t as widespread as it was in the past. One of the reasons why this game is so popular is due to the fact that it is convenient to carry around and it would not be confiscated by the teachers if they are caught playing in school, unlike video games.

Folk speech
general
Humor

Singaporean Joke Acronyms

Acronyms :

SBS

Singapore Bus Service

Side-By-Side

SDU

Social Development Unit

Single, Desperate, Ugly

MRT

Mass Rapid Transit

Mad Rush to Train

SAF

Singapore Armed Forces

Serve And Forget

PAP

People’s Action Party

Pay and Pay

PUB

Public Utilities Board

Pay Until Bankrupt

LTA

Land Transport Authority

Long Tio Ah (Crash)

 

These were a few acronyms that my informant heard from one of his ex-classmates from high school. The middle column is the correct versions of these abbreviations. While there are more than just these few, these are just the ones that he could remember off the top of his head. While this might not mean much to the average non-Singaporean, to most Singaporeans this would be rather amusing as it fits the stereotypes of the particular government function, according to my informant.

These are not meant to offend anyone, but just to poke fun at the establishment a little. If you have not noticed, all of those listed above are government owned or governmental establishments. The government in Singapore is also one of its largest employers and therefore most people are beholden to the government. Like people everywhere though, they enjoy making fun of their government and this is meant to do so.

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.

Earth cycle
general
Legends
Narrative

Why the rat is the first animal in the Chinese Zodiac (为什么老鼠在十二生肖里排第一)

从前,玉皇大帝举行一个比赛来决定十二生肖的顺序排列, 那天早上谁先到皇宫就排那位。 每一个年会有一个不同的动物。消息宣布的时候,第一个听到的是老鼠。老鼠知道自己个子小,没机会用自己的体量来赢,所以他就想出一个能赢得办法。

比赛那天早上,他就到牛的家问他,可不可以坐在他的背上载他到皇宫去。牛答应了,老鼠就爬到他的头顶上。但,因为牛虽然大,不是世界最聪明的动物,过了不久,牛忘记老鼠坐在他的头顶上。

一到皇宫前,老鼠就跳下牛的头, 成为第一个动物来到皇宫。牛果然不开心,但没别的办法,只能默默的接受第二位。

A long time ago, the Jade emperor decided to have a race to see who was going to be the twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac. The first twelve who reached the Jade Emperor’s place would be the members of the Chinese zodiac in that order. The first person to hear about the news was the Rat. Since the Rat was small, he knew that there was no way he would win without outside help and began to formulate a plan.

On the day of the competition, he went to the house of the Bull, because firstly, most creatures were scared of the Bull and it wasn’t smart like the tiger, horse or dragon, who would know what it was thinking and the Bull lived nearest the Place. He asked the Bull, if he could hitch a ride to the palace and the Bull agreed. Since the Bull wasn’t the brightest of animals, he forgot that the rat was riding on his head halfway through the race.

Once at the palace, the rat jumped through the air and was the first animal to enter the palace and won the race. Naturally, the Bull was not pleased with this development, but he had no other choice than to accept his place at number two.

 

This was told to my informant during a Chinese New Year celebration when she was in primary school during the year of the Rat. It tends to be a story to tell children about the reasons behind the placements of the Chinese zodiac and why such a small animals is placed first. Like most legends, there are multiple versions floating around the world. Some are because the Rat defeated the elephant by going into its ear and other stories discuss the reasons why the Cat is not in the Chinese Zodiac

Unlike the western zodiac where it follows the signs in the sky, the Chinese zodiac rotates every twelve years with an animal representing each year. Each year is supposed to be prosperous for doing different things, luckier years for having children or getting married are the Dragon and Pig years. The Dragon because it is a symbol for intelligence and strength, while the Pig is a sign of wealth and prosperity in the Chinese culture. On the other hand, the rat is supposed to be a cunning and quick witted animal

This is an example also, to teach children that might does not always win, but the smart and the cunning usually end up on the top. Teaching children not to underestimate things because of their size, but evaluate carefully and not be rash.

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