USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘suicide’
Legends
Narrative

Bay Area Ghost Story

Informant EB is 52 years old and recounted the story of a paranormal encounter he experienced last fall:

Have you ever experienced anything that you would consider to be of supernatural origins?

“As a matter of fact, I have. First some backstory. When my wife and I were purchasing our home we were told by the realtor that the prior owner, a contractor who had built the house himself,  had committed suicide along the side of the house due to financial difficulties and his wife leaving him. Early last November, a day or two after Halloween, I was walking my aging dog whose hips are starting to fail around the walkway surrounding our property in order to avoid her straining herself by climbing up the stairs inside. Upon rounding a corner, which due to tree cover and a lack of windows on that side of the house was submerged in near complete darkness,  I saw, for only a split-second, what could only be described as a face come rushing at me before passing right through sending a curdling chill down my spine. My dog started barking incessantly and I, obviously shake, continued on into the light of the front of the house and inside.”

Did your opinion regarding the existence of the paranormal changed after this experience?

“Yeah I’d say so. I wouldn’t say I didn’t believe in the paranormal prior to this experience but having never had any personal encounters I definitely had my fair share of doubts. I’definitely say this experience has solidified my belief in the existence of the supernatural to some extent.”

What context would you share your experience in?

“I have told several people in the month since. Whenever talk of ghosts has come up in conversation I’ve brought it up.”

How did people react to your experience?  

“A mixture of fear and skepticism. I would be skeptical too had I not been the one to experience it. ”

 

Analysis: The story took place “a day or two after Halloween” meaning it quite likely could have fallen on November 2nd, which is also All Souls Day. All Souls Day is a day on which the Catholic Church remembers those dead that are now in Purgatory being cleansed of their venial sins and carrying out the temporal punishments for their mortal sins. November 1st or 2nd is also a part of the three days of Day of the Dead festivities popular in Hispanic cultures during which the souls of ancestors are remembered and are believed to return from the dead to visit their living relatives. As such the soul of a man who had died via the mortal sin of suicide would, according to the catholic doctrine and Hispanic customs be more likely to appear during this time frame. A motif common to many ghost stories and which also appears in this story is its occurrence in a liminal location, the property line between the former homeowner’s property and that of his neighbors.

Initiations
Legends
Narrative

Moki Hana – the Haunted Dormitory

The informant is an 18-year-old college student attending university in Hawaii. She was born and raised in the Bay Area, California, but has a great deal of family living in Hawaii who she visited frequently when growing up. While I was on a hike with the informant in San Ramon, California over spring break, she was describing her dorm to me and began to tell the story of how it came to be haunted.

“I live in a dorm called Moki Hana on campus. I first heard of the ghost from my RA, he told us about it on the first day we moved in. There’s a closet on my floor on the side of the bathroom with a sink in it that is used as a janitor’s closet. In the 80s a freshman hung himself in that closet, on my floor, and his ghost haunts the tower. The Resident Assistants have to stay in the dorms over the summer and one night one of them felt a really sharp pain on her chest and couldn’t get up, and she refused to sleep in the dorms for a few weeks. You’re not supposed to sleep with your feet to the door because it’s a way for spirits to enter your body. Also nobody will go to the bathroom during witching hour because they don’t want to encounter him. I just try to be respectful when I’m talking about it, especially if I’m in the dorms. Anywhere on campus or in the local vicinity they call the dorm ‘Moki Haunted.’”

In this ghost story, a tragic event that actually took place in the Moki Hana dormitory, the suicide of a freshman student, is transformed into a persistent haunting that affects any student who lives in the dorms. Upon hearing of this, I was reminded of previous conversations that I have had with the informant in which she has emphasized that Hawaii has an extensive history of spirituality, and I believe that this coupled to the sense of isolation and unfamiliarity that many college freshman face when moving to an island away from home serves to amplify the fear instilled within the students who are placed in Moki Hana dorm. The informant’s Resident Adviser may or may not believe in the ghost, but I think that his purpose in informing the freshman who live in the haunted dorm about it is in part to make them aware, but moreso to provide a sense of unity among the residents and as a way of initiating them into the dorm, as for the year they live in Moki Hana the common fear of encountering or upsetting the ghost of the student who committed suicide there will function to bring the residents together.

general
Musical

Tadpole Song

I think I’ll eat a tadpole,

maybe even a bug.

I’ve got some worms down in the garden

that I recently dug.

You said you didn’t love me,

you told me it was true,

so darling this is really, really,

what I’m gonna do.

 

I think I’ll eat a tadpole,

then I’ll lay down and die

and you’ll be sorry,

oh so sorry,

that you told me goodbye.

 

So if you really love me,

just tell me with a hug

before I eat a tadpole or a bug.

I really mean it,

before I eat a tadpole or a bug.

 

The informant was my father, a 49-year-old engineer who currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, but who grew up in the area surrounding Austin, Texas. The song is one that his mother used to sing to him and his siblings when they were little. The informant says his mother had a beautiful singing voice and would either sing hymns or songs like this before the children would go to bed because she was always in charge of this activity. He says it is interesting to him because “it must have come from some popular pop music of some age” and he “almost suspect[s] that it’s a fragment, but it was passed down to us as a whole,” “almost a vignette.” He also heard it from his older sister as she was learning to sing it for her children. He performs it because it reminds him of his mother, but also because “it’s just, it’s the cutest concept of a song . . . you know, it’s a child’s concept of love combined with a child’s concept of mortality. Uh, you know, you left me, I’m gonna basically hold my breath and die if you don’t come back. You know, and eating a tadpole is going to kill you, you know, it’s just all, I just love the construction and the cuteness of it.” He sees it as a way of teaching children that breaking somebody’s heart is a big deal. He also admits that the whole thing is “a little twisted.”

 

This song was collected while I was home for Spring Break and performed in my living room. It was interesting to me because my father also used to sing it to me and my sister when we were children. It’s a song with a nice tune that seems harmless, but it has lyrics that are actually pretty dark. I remember it as being sad when I was much younger, but looking at it now it strikes me that the subject of the song is suicide, even if the narrator is not going to die from eating a tadpole. I think the song is mainly meant to be cute and entertaining, but I also agree somewhat with the informant’s assessment that the song is about teaching children the effect their actions and words can have on another person.

 

A version of this song was performed and released (“I Think I’ll Eat a Tadpole”) by Sue Thompson in 1966. Thompson’s version has the above version as its chorus and additional verses. While the chorus is recognizable as the informant’s version, many of the words have been changed and the overall tone of the song is different. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHnlZfJAHT0

Thompson, Sue. "I Think I'll Eat a Tadpole." The Country Side of Sue Thompson. Ridgeway Music, 1966. CD.
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Casa Matusita B

During the 19th century, the house was inhabited by a migrant Chinese (sometimes Japanese) family. The father worked very hard and came back late at night every day. One day, he came back earlier and was surprised to hear strange noises coming from his and his wife’s bedroom. He went there and fount his wife in bed with a lover, irate, he grabbed a knife and hacked them both up into pieces. When his kids got home, he decided to kill them as well since he saw no feasible explanation of his deeds and he didn’t want them to hate him. After that, he committed suicide.
While property records show that a Chinese family did indeed live in the house during the early 19th century, there is no proof that the above events transpired. This story’s popularity however could be attributed to lingering xenophobia, staring from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century, there was a very large wave of Chinese migrants to Lima. These immigrants were brought to Lima under false pretenses of wealth and opportunity when in reality, they were brought to collect guano since there was a dearth of cheap labor in Lima (the remaining Africans who were brought over as slaves were too few and the indigenous population had fled to the Andes to avoid being enslaved). These Chinese immigrants suffered horrendously and died by the thousands; however, there was a good number who survived the Guano age and established themselves in the city. In spite of their work which had brought an immense level of prosperity for Lima, these migrants were viewed with distrust by the Peruvians of European descent and were actively discriminated against. This version of the story is a vestige of that sentiment.

Digital
general
Narrative

Japanese girl’s suicide drawing

My informant tells me this story of a teenage girl in Japan who drew a drawing Japan shortly before she committed suicide. The story and drawing went viral in Asia. In the forums online, it is said that you can see the girl’s sadness in the eyes of the girl in the picture. Forums warn against staring into the girls eyes for longer than 5 minutes, telling me that people have committed suicide after doing it. According to my informant, people say the picture changes,as you view it there is a hint of a growing taunting smirk appearing on the girls lips or a dark ring grows around the girl or her eyes.

Me: “Have you looked into the picture for five minutes?”

Informant: “No! I thought it wasn’t a big deal, but it’s really scary when you actually try it! I can’t meet the girl’s eyes for more than a few seconds because I’m afraid of what I will see!”

Me: “Do you believe that people have committed suicide from looking at the picture?”

Informant: Not really… I don’t think they did. But it’s a freaky story, so I don’t know.

Analysis: Through my research, I could not find any solid news articles to support the claim that people have committed suicide after looking at this drawing, though many people claim there are hundreds. Furthermore, I found some forum posts that claim a video-game designer in Japan was the real artist of the portrait and that he was still alive and well. Some forum posts claim that because the image has a blurry quality to it, if you stare at it for too long, your vision will get blurry as well and you are under the illusion that the picture is changing before your eyes. This also has to do with the image being seen on a digital screen.

Because of the context of the story and the atmosphere in which it is often read, this will help induce fear and influence a person’s response. This most likely is an elaborate internet hoax, much like a chain email letter. People enjoy being scared because it provides an adrenaline rush which can be extremely addicting.

My informant is 23, Korean-American, and currently studying at USC (expected graduation 2013). She first saw the picture and heard the story when she was in high school, approximately 16 years of age.

Folk Beliefs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Burn yourself to go to paradise

Informant: “My parents told me that a man once told a girl that if she burned herself, she would go to heaven. And that’s what she did. She burned herself. She was saved, but she’s was like deformed. And then she died. It was all because of that religion and the cult. That’s why my parents don’t want me to believe in religion.”

Me: “Have you heard this story from anyone else?”

Informant: “Yes. My friends’ moms know about it too!”

Me: “Do you know what religion it was that caused people to burn themselves?”

Informant: “It was that exercise cult thingy.”

Me: “How does that make you feel? Do you believe in religion?”

Informant: “Any religion that makes you burn yourself is bad. It is not real. It’s… bad. Just bad. I don’t believe in religion because my mom and dad told me that it’s bad.”

Analysis: Through research discovered that the informant was talking about the Falun Gong practictioners and the incident in TianAnMen Square in 2001. Falun Gong is a spiritual exercise, similar to Taichi. In 2001, a group of five people (including one twelve year old girl) set themselves on fire in the middle of TianAnMen square. The incident caused major controversy in China.

This retelling of the story of the self-immolation incident in Tiananmen square is an example of an event improperly portrayed by the media, and through word of mouth became a warning against all religion. In reality, there is no evidence that the people who participated in that incident practiced Fa Lun Gong, according to the article.

China has always been a relatively atheist country. During Mao Ze Dong’s reign, he did an attack on the Four Olds, including old culture, which included religion. At the time, the primary religion of choice in China was Buddhism, but with the drive for “New Thought”, many young revolutionists abandoned religion. This may have contributed to the informant’s parents’ thoughts on religion being bad, as they would’ve been teenagers at the time of the Cultural Revolution in 1976.

Annotation: http://en.minghui.org/cc/88/

Fa Lun Gong Burning

general
Legends
Narrative

Japanese Suicide Story

There are these these two cliffs in Japan that are known for being a popular suicide spot.  One day, a photographer was on one of the cliffs taking pictures, you know, of the wildlife and plants and stuff.  Well as he was snapping shots, he noticed a girl on the other cliff.  He realized that she was going to commit suicide but there was nothing he could do since she was too far away, so he just started to take pictures of her suicide.  Well, later he went home and developed the pictures.  Each picture showed the woman falling lower and lower towards the water.  When he reached the final picture, the one right before the woman hits the water, he notices that the woman’s eyes are looking straight at the camera.

I was told this story by my informant while we were eating a late night dinner.  We had been just casually talking and exchanging horror stories for fun.  I asked her what this story meant to her, and she replied that this story seemed to be teaching that suicide is something that is evil and demonic.  It also seems to be a story to deter others from committing suicide.

Currently, Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.  Japan has always had a long history of seppuku.  Seppuku is the act of honorably committing suicide and was a totally acceptable act among Japanese citizens.  Nowadays, many people are committing suicide due to social pressures such as job loss and depression.  The problem has become so prevalent that the Japanese government is now actively funding suicide prevention programs in order to lower the suicide rates.  I believe that this story must have arisen from this need to decrease suicides as the act itself is portrayed as being something terrible and horrifying.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Automatic 4.0 if your roommate kills himself

My informant heard a story about a college kid who killed himself and how his roommate then received an automatic 4.0 because of that. He liked it because it seems to offer a rare chance for free good grades since college work can be very stressful. At the same time, it’s more interesting because you’d never want to hope for that chance, since it would mean the death of a friend.

I couldn’t imagine the story being true since it’s not a logical policy, and I’ve never heard of a real college giving away a 4.0 like that. I think people like it, though, because they want it to be true. It balances the reward with something morbid and horrible, so since it’s balanced out, it could be easier to believe. And it shows just how stressful college can be. If one person kills him or herself due to this stress, though, at least the roommate will get the thing the other student was trying to achieve. It is somehow transferred in the story, showing how we want the efforts of the dead not to go to waste. Again, though, this isn’t logical and therefore I couldn’t see it being a real policy.

In an episode of CSI: NY, a stressed student murders his roommate to try and get a free 4.0, framing someone else for the deed.

Annotation: “Some Buried Bones.” CSI: NY. CBS. 7 Feb. 2007. Television.

Legends

Legend-Japanese

In the abandoned outskirts of Osaka, there is a lonely tunnel that leads to a small lake with a small bridge. A forsaken and forgotten area, for years it was a convenient place for depressed Japanese people to end their lives in secrecy, without shame. Legend has it that the souls and spirits of these tormented people still linger there, and that living creatures who venture too close can sense the suffering and rage; they are in danger of turning mad from its misery.

This is a legend that Saltah learned from her Japanese boyfriend during her stay in Osaka, Japan. He and a friend had decided to go see the lake for themselves because of the legend. He said that his car engine suddenly stopped working, that his car started to quake, and that his friend completely panicked. When he got back home, he checked the Internet for news of a minor earthquake, but did not find any. Saltah, of course, wanted to check out the lake for herself. Saltah and her boyfriend went in a car packed with a group of friends. She says she is not easily scared, and rarely panics, but crossing the tunnel, she began to feel a chilly “pushing feeling.” They parked by the lake which was dark because “the trees are really tall—and they cover the sky.” Saltah began to feel “hysterical” as she yelled at her boyfriend not to stop the car; she said she yelled “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s just go!”

When I asked her what she thought this legend meant, it was clear that she believes every word of it. She told me that the spirits of those that committed suicide there were still there, and were probably more miserable because they could not escape the place. If a living person is exposed to this, she said, “their minds are crazy.” She then went on to remind me that the Japanese make so many of the world’s scariest movies—she seemed to be suggesting that there are many unhappy Japanese. “They were isolated for centuries on an island,” she said, and anyone or anything that is isolated for too long can get a little “crazy.”

I think there are a few things we might be able to deduce from this legend. First of all, it is interesting to note that a popular suicide site is a secluded place. It seems to me that this reveals a bit about Japanese attitudes toward suicide and shame. Often, we hear of people committing suicide in famous places, or people trying to jump in front of crowds—off buildings in large cities, off famous bridges, onto subway tracks. In the US, for example, the most popular place for suicide is the Golden Gate Bridge. One might read this as a desperate cry for attention, or ‘cry for help.’ In Japan, then, we see that this element must be largely missing from suicide motives. Far from a public cry for help, suicide in Osaka seems to be something shameful, something to do in secrecy. This is especially interesting in light of Japan’s historical tradition of seppaku and jigai—seppaku was sometimes performed publicly. However, when for the right reasons, suicide used to be considered courageous and honorable. Now that the public opinion has been largely westernized, suicide has become dishonorable, while the Japanese’ strong dislike of shame stays the same: now that suicide is shameful, it is done covertly, and is not used as an attempt to gain attention.

Another thing interesting to note is that this lake is in a rural, deserted place located near a large city. It seems to me that this may be an indication of the extremely urbanized nature of human life in the modern age. The source of terror and panic is not a hazardous highway, or a crowded city—but an isolated lake that lacks people, that lacks artificial lighting. It is surely a sign of the times that people now find reason to fear a place for lacking modern modifications.

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