USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘White’
Game
Gestures
Kinesthetic

“Black and White” Chinese Children’s Game

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

Context: MW is my grandmother, who was born in Shanghai and then lived in Hong Kong later on in her youth. She moved to San Francisco as a young adult and has lived in the Bay Area for the last six decades. She is a native Mandarin speaker, but is also fluent in English. I sat down with her and asked her to talk about some stories from her childhood. Before this, she had mentioned a “black and white” game that she played with the other kids, and I asked her to return to that subject and explain it to me.

ME: You mentioned a “black and white” game earlier that you play with your palm.

MW: Yeah, yeah.

ME: Could you explain to me what that is?

MW: Nothing. Oh this? [Holds out hand, palm facing up] Just, we play…

ME: How do you play it?

MW: So we say… and then it’s like, [holds hand behind back, then moves to hold it out in front of her, palm facing up]. You play, it’s the game, right? And then we play game like everybody go, [holds hand behind her back] and only you [holds out hand, palm facing up] is white, is good. Right?

It’s like, we always go like this [holds hand behind back], and then sometimes I go like this [holds hand out, palm up]. Right? That means… I won.

ME: Could you explain why that means you won?

MW: It’s like, we play, who will do okay? If the game, if you throw the ball. Who will be the first one to do it. So we don’t let them know [moves hand back behind her back], and ‘one, two, THREE!’[brings hand back out, palm facing up], right? And with three people, then it’s like we all white, and then this one, this [turns hand over so that palm is facing down], is black.

ME: So ‘white’ is your palm facing up and ‘black’ is your palm facing down?

MW: Yeah.

ME: So how many people do you play it with?

MW: You play it about three people.

ME: If everyone has their palm like this [I have my palm facing down], what does that mean?

MW: Then it’s nothing. But if it’s ‘one, two, three’ and one is out [puts out palm facing up], then he won.

ME: Then why can’t you do this [palm facing up] every time to win?

MW: Because one can start, and then the other ones can follow you, I don’t know. So it’s everybody, like this [palm facing up], then that’s fine, but it should be [flips palm, facing down].

Thoughts: This game stood out to me when MW first mentioned it in passing because I had never heard of a hand game like this, and she called it “Black and White,” which was interesting because the two opposing colors seem to appear a lot in folklore. From what I gathered by my grandma’s description/demonstration, three children play the game and they start with their hands behind their backs. Then, on the count of three, they all put out their hand with it either facing palm up (white), or palm down (black). This part I am the most unsure of, but I think that the goal of the game is to be the only person of the three to have the “white” hand or the “black” hand. Thus, neither “black” or “white” is better, instead, the winner would be the person who chooses how they place their hand uniquely. This is surprising to me, because typically in children’s stories with the colors black and white, one signifies good and the other evil, but in this game they are only meant to signify opposites.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Indian Funeral and Cremation

Indian funerals generally last 13 days where everyone is expected to wear white to celebrate their sadness over losing their loved one. As they commemorate the life of that person they are also beginning to release them. It is the duty of the man of the house to burn the body because of the Hindu belief in cremation. Once the cremation of the body is complete, the ashes are thrown into the ocean to dissolve the Pancha Maha-Bhoota, or the five elements. Through the dissolution of the elements of earth, water, fire, air, and aether, the spirit and soul of that person is liberated from their physical confines.


 

Though the interlocutor has witnessed various funeral occasions, she has only actively taken part in a funeral celebration a handful of times; because of her residence in India, she has been exposed to the traditions tied to funerals. She mentioned that the idea that celebrating sadness seems like a counter-intuitive sentiment, but in Indian culture it allows the passage of humans beyond earth easier, and those that are left behind are able to embrace their emptiness. As for her own plans regarding her time to pass, she stated that she plans to be cremated as well, and she finds the idea of the Pancha Maha-Bhoota dissolving to be reassuring.

Indian funerals are known to be quite visually striking, especially to those who are accustomed to the tradition of black clothing and solemnity. The white worn by participants and loved ones is pious and peaceful with an established sense of purity. Thus, the meaning of death is revealed as something that is to be rejoiced, simply a time in which one ascends beyond their physical body; this is quite a positive view on death. The number 13 appears quite often with calendrical measures of time, and because the funeral event lasts 13 days it ties one’s death to merely a measure of time. The cremation of the body at the hands of the male in the house also places power in the hands of the men while commemorating the renewing properties of fire as it allows disintegration and regeneration. The involvement of the Pancha Maha-Bhoota and the ocean also tie the funeral to the elements of life and nature, grounding the celebration among the living with the earth, the forces that we all will eventually return to at the time of our own demise.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Wearing white after labor day

Informant is a student at the Penn State University who grew up in upper NJ.

She told me about a certain rule in the fashion world which requires people to refrain from wearing white after Labor Day:

 

“So the rule is, you can’t wear white after Labor Day… until Memorial Day when you can again.” she says.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because… that’s just the rule.” she tells me. “That’s what my mom told me and we do it,  and everybody else I know does it too.”

 

She couldn’t tell me why, other than that it’s just something people do. I’m not really sure I have a great guess either.

After some research I learned that in the early 1900s, wealthy socialites would create secret “fashion rules” to tell new and old money apart. Eventually it just trickled down to the masses in 1950.

Interesting that despite the information widely available, these traditions continue.

 

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Good Luck Butterflies

An old woman told my friend that seeing seeing white butterflies is good luck.

Lindsey: I was working on a community service gardening project and this old woman started talking to me. She said that if a black butterfly lands on you, it means you or someone you are close to will die or get very very ill. By the same token, a white butterfly indicates good luck.

Me: Had you ever heard of this before?

Lindsey: No, but I told my mom, and she said that a white butterfly is only good luck if the first butterfly you see in a year is white.

Analysis: In many cultures and religions, butterflies can be a symbol of rebirth. At first, one is young, and then they go into a sort of hibernation, and then they break from a cocoon into a beautiful butterfly. White is an auspicious color as well, in that white often symbolizes purity, goodness, and untarnished youth. To see a white butterfly, an animal which is relatively elusive and fast-moving, is to glimpse at a special gift that feels as though only you were meant to see it.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Protection

Funeral Customs

Funeral Customs

Funeral:

Q: Why do Koreans wear white at funerals?

A: Because it’s clean. It shows that when they’re being sent off from this world to another, whatever world there is, they’re going off cleanly. It cleanses them of their life they led on earth and also paves the road in front of them to be smooth and clean.

Q: Why do people where black now?

A: Because it’s an American tradition. Normally Koreans, Asian cultures in general, wore white. Traditional clothes are also worn at funerals; it’s a sign of respect.

 

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Casa Matusita A

This house situated in Downtown Lima, Peru is the most famous haunted structure in the entire country. It is famous throughout, you can ask anyone in Lima, and they will all know of it whether they believe in paranormal phenomena or not. The house was first brought to my attention when I moved to Peru by one of my maids, she told me all about it and then my mother confirmed the stories circulated, but said they were all made up. During her last visit, I had her recount a couple of versions of the story of the Matusita which she knew (there are dozens):
At the turn of the twentieth century, there lived in the house a cruel man with two servants (cook and butler). During dinner with friends, the servants decided to get their revenge and poison their master and his friends with hallucinogenic substances. They served the tampered dinner and locked the door of the dining room. A few minutes later, the servants heard  a horrible scuffle. They waited until the noises ceased and then when they opened the door, they saw that the diners were torn to pieces, there was blood spread everywhere. The servants felt terribly guilty and took their lives right there. This version is said to explain the loud voices, conversation and laughter followed by blood curling cries and sepulchral silence that neighbors and passerbyers have attributed to the house.  It is said that if they get close to the house or look in, they will go mad at the sights of gore and debauchery inside.
This version shows the rift between the master and his servants which can be extended to the sentiments that the indigenous and African workers feel towards their European (and later on Asian) masters. This tension is found to this very day since in Peru there is a very strong, but passive racist undercurrent that is perpetuated from generation to generation and never confronted. The race of the master is left unsaid in some versions of the story like this one (it is implied he was white); however , there are also versions that connect this version to version b which I also discuss. In those versions, the master is Asian and a descendent of the Chinese family who lived in the house in the 19th century.

Childhood
Folk medicine
Foodways

Chinese Custom: Wearing White

Last month when I was home for Spring Break, my mother once again berated me for wearing a cream colored hair bow. She says that in China, wearing white in your hair means that someone in your family has died and it is taboo to wear white in your hair when that is not true. In Chinese culture, the color white is the color of mourning and death. So, a lot of the times people wear white to the funeral.

This has always been interesting to me because in American culture, people wear all black to funerals and white is the color of pureness and innocence. Then, a woman wears white at her wedding to represent her final transference into womanhood. In Chinese culture, brides often wear red and gold because red is the color of happiness and gold represents wealthiness. I feel that color is always such an interesting kind of symbolism in today’s culture. In each society, certain colors mean different things and can transfer different messages. I know that roses are always a big deal because if a guy gives a girl yellow roses, he only wants friendship, they have to be deep red to be romantic.

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