Author Archives: Harrison James

A Ugandan Tall Tale

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“I was rafting, on the Nile River in Uganda, we spent the whole day rafting, and we set up camp for the night in this little encampment area on the bank. So we’re sitting there, we’re like cracking beers and stuff, just sitting around this campfire, like the classic storytelling setting, and someone’s like ‘aw man, maybe we should tell ghost stories,” and I’m like ‘oh I don’t know if I know any.’ And we just go around and some people tell some scary stuff that’s happened to them or like various ghost stories that they know, and then this Ugandan guy that’s with us, one of the guides is like ‘I know a ghost story.’ And we’re like ‘okay!’ what could this guy be possibly about to tell us, so we strap in. And he tells us he was just chilling in this village in Uganda, just hanging out, when this man approached him and his friends and was like, ‘I’ll bet you I can drink a whole bottle of Konyagi without throwing up.’ And just to fill you in Konyagi is like the world’s shittiest gin. It is, it comes in plastic bags in like individual serving sizes and it comes in bottles, it’s like turpentine. It’s absolute worst. So, this man, he’s a stranger, comes up to my guide and is like ‘I can drink a whole bottle without throwing up.’ And the guide’s like, ‘ok you’re on, I’ll take you up on this bet, if you throw up, you have to pay me, if you don’t throw up, I owe you the bottle.’ And he’s like ‘ok.’ So they go to the store and the buy the bottle and the man drinks the entire bottle of Konyagi and everyone is just stunned that he was able to do it, then he dies. Of alcohol poisoning, he died because he didn’t throw up. So this man bought the alcohol that killed the stranger so he’s like ‘oh my god, I feel so responsible, I have to at least buy this man a coffin.’ So him and his friends get in this truck and they drive to wherever you go to buy coffins in Uganda and they pick one up for this little village outside theirs. So they’re on the way back and they’re on the road driving along when they see this hitchhiker. They pick him up and he’s like ‘hey are you headed to so-and-so’ and they’re like ‘yeah as a matter of fact, we are, you can hop in the bed of the truck, there’s a coffin back there, don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal,” and he’s like “oh ok no problem.” So the hitchhiker gets in the bed of the truck and they’re cruising along on the road and it starts to rain, and the people inside the truck don’t really notice because they’re sitting inside but the guy in the back is like ‘oh man, I don’t want to get rained on,” so he hits inside the coffee, he’s like “I’ll just hang out inside this coffin until it stops raining.” So he gets in and he closes the door and he’s just waiting there. So they’re driving along the rain eventually stops. The people in the truck no nothing about what’s going on in the back. The guy in the coffin still thinks that it’s raining so he’s just sitting there. And they’re driving along and they see another hitchhiker and he’s like ‘hey are you headed to so-and-so’ and they’re like ‘yeah as a matter of fact, we are, you can hop in the bed of the truck, there’s a coffin back there, don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal,” and he’s like “oh ok no problem;” same thing as before and he sits in the bed of the truck too. So they’re cruising along, and the guy inside the coffin realizes it’s stopped raining. And he didn’t know that this other person is in the bed of the truck as well. So he’s like ‘oh it’s stopped raining, I think I’ll just pop out and take a look.” He opens up the coffin and he’s just like rising out of it. Meanwhile, the guy who was sitting in the back of the truck didn’t know that there was a man in this coffin trying to get out of the rain. So what he sees is a man rising out of a coffin that he thinks is like a zombie, and he’s so horrified at the thought of this man rising out of this coffin to see him, that he jumps out of bed of the truck and dies.”

Context:

The informant heard this story while he was in Africa working to spread HIV prevention and awareness. This rafting excursion was taken as a leisure trip amidst all of the work he was doing.

Analysis:

The way the informant told of this whole ordeal was so engrossing that I wonder just how great it would have been to hear the original story from the Ugandan man. That said, this story is not a ghost story, as he said it was. Even though he related it as if it happened to him, the story and its slapstick comedy is too perfectly paced for it to have actually happened. Or could it? That’s the beauty of legend.

 

Valentine’s Day and White Day in South Korea

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“Um, in Korea, they observe like different ways of celebrating like Valentine’s Day, in comparison to like Western cultures. Uh in Korea uh on Valentine’s Day, on February 14, instead of the guys getting something for the girls, it’s girls getting something for the guys. It’s usually like homemade chocolates, um like homemade baked goods, just like all this stuff. And then, a month later, on March 14, it’s called White Day where the guys kind of give back to the girls. There’s a saying I think where they give back three times as much, but what they do is the usually give also chocolate, marshmallows, and if it’s like couples they give each other like lingerie, all this other stuff.”

Context:

White Day is celebrated not only in South Korea, but also in Japan, Taiwan, and China.

Analysis:

That the men have to three times as much to the girls on White Day than they receive from them on Valentine’s Day points to the holiday’s purpose as a celebration of human relationships, and what inevitably ensues from them. The spring date of the festival reflects the associations of this particular season, mainly, fertility. In giving three times more than they receive, the males are attempting to find a partner, ultimately to fulfill the unconscious goal of reproduction.

Easter in Texas

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“We have a ranch. It’s 30 acres, fairly big. I’d say if you walked all the way around it, on the fence, about three miles. Um and on this ranch we’ve got forest area, and then we’ve got these big fields, and every year, at Easter, my grandpa would take 1500 dollars, and he’d put them in eggs, and he’d invite everybody, depending on who was coming, he’d like, up the ante, you know, if a lot of friends of the family we’re coming he’d put down 2000, 2500 in these eggs. And the night before, you’re not allowed to watch him, you couldn’t even be there, he plants these eggs, in this field. Sometimes he’ll dig [pauses for emphasis] a foot deep. The trick is, they have to be like visible. Sometimes he’d plant them and then at night it would rain, and the eggs would sink to the bottom, get covered up by mud. The thing was, he’d always keep track of how many eggs there were, he made a map, of where all the eggs were so if anybody didn’t find them he wouldn’t waste any money. Now, it was getting to the point where he’d put money into the eggs at the beginning, and people weren’t finding all of the eggs. But, he started to just place all the eggs out there, empty, and mark them with either like a 0, an x, a triangle, you know, like a square, and each one of those corresponded to a certain amount of money. And you’d collect all your eggs, these empty shells and you’d give it to him you’d hand them in and he’d pay you that amount of cash. And of course there was a brunch. It started at eleven o’clock [pause] but there was a brunch, and a dinner. Anyway the brunch, the kids ten and under got to go in first, get a five minute head start.”

Context:

The informant, who went to high school with me, regarding his family’s Easter tradition, stated: “it was just a family gathering and we did that every single year until my grandpa died this year, so uh we don’t do it anymore, but we did it every year since I could remember. I think, I think even like decades before that, you know. And it’d be a time, where the whole family got together and told stories from over the years because people would come from all over, come from Alabama, we had people from Kentucky come, things like that. We would have all of our family come in, and one year, people from Phoenix came in, and Barstow, which is just down the road. So we’d tell stories, get to catch up.”

Analysis:

The enthusiasm with which the informant told this story indicates how important this Easter tradition is to him. That the tradition died along with the death of his grandfather demonstrates the great extent to which the grandfather was revered in the informant’s family. The importance placed on this game of egg hiding and the lengths he would go to make this game a success reveal a lot about the character of the informant’s grandfather, mainly that he was a sporting man that was invested in devising the best possible egg hunt, but also a wise man, one who would thoroughly plan his endeavors.

 

The Monkey God

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“Ok so the story is called, I think like the English translation is called, like the Monkey God, or like the Monkey King or something. Basically it’s about this, uh, this like monkey character in like Chinese mythology, who uh, like he’s born basically with godlike characteristics. Um and he proves himself like a very strong warrior, uh like very smart, things like that. Um, but he greatly angers the gods, like in heaven, in this, it’s set in like a Buddhist context, kind of. He greatly angers the gods, so, he’s kind of like uh, he’s not exactly a full-fledged god in their eyes. Um so he greatly angers them so he’s basically punished for I think like 500 years, he’s punished um to like basically like have this like giant mountain, be on top of him for 500 years and that’s his punishment. Um and he is basically set free when this Buddhist monk um comes by and decides to accept him as his disciple, um and basically the rest of the story is about this monk as he, he gathers two more disciples, each of them have sin in their own way, and basically it’s about his journey to India to, I dunno, achieve some sort of salvation of some sort. Um, and basically like his disciples greatly help him along the way, and the whole myth is about their misadventures, facing adversities and stuff, and overcoming it. Um and basically about how this monkey god sort of redeems himself for all of the sin that he’s committed.”

Context:

The informant said that “it’s like a really popular Chinese folklore. Like I used to watch cartoons of it when I was little. Yeah so like um, it’s a really long myth so like basically it’s like broken up into a ton of episodes. Um yeah so I used to just watch it as a kid. They had a lot of different versions of it, animated and live action.” She also would hear parts of the story while attending Chinese school as a child.

Analysis:

My research revealed that the story, as most people know it, stems from Wu Cheng’en’s 1592 novel, Journey to the West. The novel itself is a fictionalized account of the pilgrimage to India of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang, already a legendary figure by the 16th century. That this story about a Buddhist monk is so popular says a lot about Chinese culture, mainly that the ascetic life of a monk is something that all people can learn valuable lessons from.

Here is a link to the USC library page on the book, where it’s call number can be found, as I could not find the full text online: https://library.usc.edu/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/0/0/5?searchdata1=4023263{CKEY}

An Encounter with the Yeti

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“So when I was younger, my grandfather would always tell me stories about his experiences with the yeti. And he was very keen, on like, calling the yeti the yeti and not big foot or ice man or anything. And he described the yeti as this monstrous, white-furred creature that lived in the coldest parts of the world. And so he said that one time, him and his buddies were up in Alaska (actually buddy, I remember it was one person), him and his friend were up in Alaska and I had just learned about glaciers in elementary school so I ask him like ‘what’s a glacier?’ and  he told me this story about how he was in Alaska and he was like touring the glaciers, um and him and his friend were in a tour group and went off the track, off the trail. And they were walking around just waltzing about minding their own business when all of the sudden they came up to a giant impasse where one glacier, there was like a giant ditch before the other glacier, um and so they had to get across somehow. So he said they had no idea what to do, they had gone off the trail, completely by themselves, and he said that all of the sudden, the yeti, who I was aware of because of these other stories, the yeti had come from out of nowhere it seemed um and picked my grandfather and his friend up and over the giant ditch and placed them on the other side.”

Context:

The informant stated that even though he “couldn’t actually logically reason it out like oh there has to be a yeti because of this evidence and that evidence,” because his grandfather said it, “it had to be true.”

Analysis:

The story the informant’s grandfather tells is a legend because it takes place in the real world and its truth value is unknown. His grandfather still maintains that the stories are true, most likely reflecting his unspoken desire for his grandson to continue to spread the legacy of the yeti through his own stories told to his kids and grandkids.