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 Beliefs
general
Myths
Narrative

How Singapore was Founded

A long time ago, before much of history was recorded down, there lived a young prince of Sumatra. His name was Sang Nila Utama. He was searching for a place that would be suitable for a new city, however to no avail. Sang Nila Utama set sail for the Riau Islands and was welcomed by their Queen.

One day while out hunting, he spotted a deer, but it disappeared far too quickly for him to catch. He climbed up a large rock in hopes of finding more game, but instead he spotted another island nearby. Never seeing the island before, he asked one of his advisors what the island was called. The advisor told him that it was the island of Temasek. Always seeking new places to explore, Sang Nila Utama decided to venture out to that new found isle.

However, while out at sea, the boat they were in started filling up with water! They were sinking fast. To delay this, they started throwing everything heavy overboard, but still, no success. Until, one of his closest friends told him to throw his crown overboard as well. Seeing that there was no other recourse, he did so. And the storm stopped.

Landing safely as what is now known as the Singapore River, he started to hunt, as this was a new place with (hopefully)more game. During this time, a quick flash ran past him and he decided to give chase. After a while, it stopped and looked at him. It was nothing like the Prince had ever seen before.  Asking his friends what it was, he was told that it was most likely a lion.

Taking this as a sign, Sang Nila Utama set up a city at this spot. He declared that this island was not named Temasek any longer. But it was to be called Singapura (Singa is the word for lion and pura is the word for city) or Lion City for the great sight that he saw. He ruled this land for many years and is supposedly buried at present day Fort Canning Park.

 

 

My informant first heard this story when he was around the age of eight from his tuition teacher during the school holidays. He really did not think very much of this story and was one of the few folklore tales that he had recalled from his youth.  However, he felt that, like all tales, there was probably a grain of truth in it, as Malay annals do recall a King named Sri Tri Buana, also called Sang Nila Utama that ruled Singapore or Singapura for a few decades.

However, it is rather unlikely that the prince had seen an actual lion in Singapore, because Singapore is located in the tropics, and the natural habitats of lions tend not to be in tropical rainforests. It was more likely that the animal the prince saw was a tiger because until the early nineteen hundreds, Singapore was home to many tigers. They became extinct due to overhunting as the British offered rewards for every tiger killed, and that quickly decimated the Singaporean tiger population.

Like most legends, most of this story is likely to be embellishment that was tacked on later in time as it sounded better.  It is highly unlikely that there was a sudden storm that arose that threatened to sink the ship or that he threw his crown overboard. The most likely occurrence was either it was added on later in time or his crown dropped overboard and they needed to fabricate a ‘good’ omen to make it sound better.

However, due to this story, the lion is Singapore’s national animal and is a large symbol for most of the people who live and visit the island country.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

井底之蛙,不知天高地厚

Jing di zhi wa, bu zhi tian gao di hou

Well bottom’s frog, no know sky high earth thick

The frog at the bottom of the well, has no comprehension of the vastness of the world.

My informant learned this particular proverb in the 1960’s. During this time, my informant was a ten year old child growing up in the village of Putian, in the Fujian county in Mainland China. He was taught this as a child while in school, and their teacher told this to their entire class. This proverb means that those that grow comfortable and cocky with their little place on Earth really shouldn’t because there are so many things that they do not know out there.

As with most Chinese proverbs, there is a story that goes with it. However, my informant could not recall most of it off the top of his head other than the fact that it involved a frog living in a well talking to a sea turtle that was looking down the well at it.

In Chinese culture, animals often embody values or have values that are normally associated with them. My informant did not elaborate on the qualities of the frog, but sea turtles and turtles in general, are held in much esteem by the ancient Chinese.  The sea turtle in particular embodies wisdom, patience and longevity. All of which are qualities that the Chinese prize.  Therefore, from this, we can assume that the frog is supposed to embody bluster and ignorance. This proverb then, not only implies the limited nature of human knowledge but also the fact that that is nothing to be proud about.

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.

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