Author Archives: Nicole Vartanyan

Healing Coin

Form of Folklore:  Folk Belief (Medicine)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Glendale, California.  Most of the folklore he has been exposed to comes primarily from his father, who is of Arabic decent.  Other folklore has been attained either through media sources (i.e. Reddit) or through personal life experiences in America.

Context:  The interview was conducted on the porch of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item:    In Arabic culture, if you get a bump or a cyst or anything that creates a bump on your arm, one thing you can do is to get a large coin, put it on the bump and wrap up your wrist (or wherever the bump is) really tight.  And this makes the bump go away.

Informant Comments:  The informant’s father told his older brother to use this folk medicine to get rid of a bump he had on his wrist.  After a day or so, the bump did, in fact, go away.  The informant does not know if this folk medicine will always work, but based on what he has seen, it seems to work most of the time.  Either way, he believes trying this remedy could not hurt.

Analysis:  This folk belief (medicine) is common among Middle Eastern cultures.  The act of placing a coin on a bump or cyst and tying it tightly may be construed as having an implied focus on the power of the coin to heal (possibly by some sort of magical aspect).  On the contrary, the coin is of little essential importance; any flat hard object would suffice.  It is, in fact, the constant pressure which helps the bump or cyst disappear.  Not always, but most of the time, cysts will pop and bumps will become less inflated when pressure is applied to them.  It seems that people had realized the correlation between placing pressure on a bump and having that bump go away; thus, they came to the plausible conclusion that they should place a large coin on the bump before tying it in order to increase pressure even more.  This folk medicine is rooted in this rational progression.  Whether it always works or not, it is a method of healing developed through logical thought and passed on from generation to generation.

Noble Thief

Form of Folklore:  Narrative (Marchen)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when she and her family moved to the United States (Glendale, California), at the age of thirty six.  Most of the folklore she has been exposed to is founded in Armenian culture.  Her social surroundings in Armenia and her father are her primary sources of folklore.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the dining room of the informant’s house.

Item:    There once was a thief who wanted to repent for his sins and stop being a thief so he went to the nearest church to ask for God’s forgiveness.  The priest at the church told him that he should simply try to be a good person.  The thief asks, “How will I know if God has forgiven me?”  The priest points to a tree in the yard of the church and says, “When the fruit from that apricot tree grows, God has forgiven you.”  So the thief leaves and doesn’t steal from anyone even though he is really poor and is in need.  He keeps coming to check if any fruit has grown on the tree, but every time he checks, there’s no fruit.  Finally, he’s so desperate that he knocks on the door of a middle aged woman to ask for some help and shelter (so that he doesn’t steal again).  The woman say, “Well, I live here alone with my three children and we don’t have much but you are welcome to stay.”  Later, that night the children are begging there mother to give them food and she tells them that food is cooking on the stove and will be ready soon.  The thief sees that the woman seems to be boiling some sort of soup.  The children asked if the food is ready and the woman simply says, “Soon, soon”.  The children are running around and playing with each other as they wait for the food to be ready.  They play so hard that they get exhausted and fall asleep.  The thief approaches the woman and tells her that she is a horrible woman for not feeding her children before they fell asleep.  The woman, with tears on her face, says, “Sir, come see, I have no food.  All I have is a stone boiling in this pot.  I lie to my children that there will be food soon so that they may fall asleep with the prospect of being fed.”  The thief is startled and deeply saddened by this news, so much so that he leaves in the middle of the night and steals food for the woman and her children.  He leaves the food at their house and leaves.  On his journey from the house, he passes by the apricot tree in the church yard and to his surprise sees that there is fruit on the apricot tree.

Informant Comments:  The informant loves this story and told it to her children as her father had told it to her.  She likes the fact that doing the right thing is not a matter of black and white.  The story implies that the thief is forgiven for his sins when he actually steals.  The informant does not believe that this actually happened but has seen acts similar to the thief’s in her personal experience.  She believes if more people heard this story and understood it, then people would look out for one another and try to do the right thing more often.

Analysis:  The idea of receiving God’s forgiveness and Christianity are apparent in this marchen but seem to lead the listener to the true moral of the story; this being that the intentions behind actions are of far greater importance than the actions themselves.  When the thief would steal for himself, he was not forgiven; when he would do nothing at all, he was not forgiven; only when he stole in order to help others less fortunate was he finally forgiven.  Regardless of how religious or non-religious one is, this story offers the listeners a comfort in knowing that when they do something that is not typically considered “right” bur for the “right” reasons, they are being moral, even if their direct actions are not so moral.

Trust, but Verify

Form of Folklore:  Folk Speech (Proverb)

 Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when he and his family moved to the United States, at the age of forty two.  In his youth, he had been exposed to folklore founded in Armenian, Russian, and Greek culture.  Even though he now lives in America, he is surrounded by a tight net community composed of people who speak Armenian or Russian and come from a background similar to his own.  As a result, most of the folklore he knows is mainly based on his cultural upbringing.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house in the presence of his wife and mother-in-law.

Item:    Russian Transliteration – Doveryai, no proveryai.

English Translation – Trust, but verify.

Informant Comments:  The informant learned this proverb from his grandmother.  He believes it is something people should live by.  Trusting people is an important part of life but if people trust everyone blindly, they could get hurt very quickly and frequently.  This is why people should verify the actions of the people they are trusting to see if that person is worthy of the trust given him.  Verifying is simply security.

Analysis:  This proverb was originated by Russian leader Vladimir Lenin.  The problem with this proverb is that it is based on the idea that trust can exist when one is verifying the actions of the person they claim to trust.  The fact that one is verifying the actions of another is proof of a lack of trust.  This proverb make more sense if it was “Tolerate, but verify”.  The tolerance would imply civility and verifying would be a pleasant way of checking up on those who are being tolerated.  Trust implies far more than tolerance; verification cannot coexist with trust.

Annotation:  This proverb was famously used by President Ronald Reagan when he met Russia’s General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and signed the INF Treaty.  A transcript with the proverb being used can be found in this archive:  http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1987/120887c.htm

“Opa”

Form of Folklore:  Folk Speech (Proverb)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when he and his family moved to the United States, at the age of forty two.  In his youth, he had been exposed to folklore founded in Armenian, Russian, and Greek culture.  Even though he now lives in America, he is surrounded by a tight net community composed of people who speak Armenian or Russian and come from a background similar to his own.  As a result, most of the folklore he knows is mainly based on his cultural upbringing.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house in the presence of his wife and mother-in-law.

Item:    Russian Transliteration – Ne skazi “opa”, poka ne pereprygnesh.
English Translation – Don’t say “hop”, until you jumped over.

Informant Comments:  The informant learned this proverb from his grandmother.  He believes it means people should not say they are going to do something until they do it.  He, now, lives in accordance with this proverb.  The informant does not say he has done anything until he does it (even then, he will still remain quit).  The informant believes saying “hop” is not even needed; the important part is jumping over, then it’s up to the individual to say “hop” if he wants to.

Analysis:  This proverb basically means that one should not brag about something they have not done yet, until they do it.  It is a warning to those who tend to say they are going to do something so much that they never get around to doing it.  Until someone does something, he should not brag about doing it because since he is already bragging about the doing the act the necessity to actually do it tends to dissipate.  As a result people will say that they are doing many things when in reality they are doing none of them (from lack of necessity).  This proverb is used as a warning against such a result.


Go Slowly

Form of Folklore:  Folk Speech (Proverb)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when he and his family moved to the United States, at the age of forty two.  In his youth, he had been exposed to folklore founded in Armenian, Russian, and Greek culture.  Even though he now lives in America, he is surrounded by a tight net community composed of people who speak Armenian or Russian and come from a background similar to his own.  As a result, most of the folklore he knows is mainly based on his cultural upbringing.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house in the presence of his wife and mother-in-law.

Item:   Russian Transliteration – Tsikha yedzish, dalshu budzish.
English Translation – Go slowly, go far.

Informant Comments:  The informant heard this proverb from his father.  He believes that it is true most of the time.  In his experience, those who took their time to do something right would usually achieve more that those who would rush through a task.  He, however, believes that going too slow and not finishing in a timely manner is almost as bad as finishing with a poor product.  The proverb, therefore, holds partial truth for the informant.

Analysis:  This proverb is similar to one in English:  “Slow and steady wins the race.”  Patience is the fundamental virtue in this folklore.  The person who has the patience to go slowly will be successful (i.e. go far) in life.  The proverb does hold a lot of truth, but like the informer, I would say that go slowly is not always the primary virtue.  Sometimes, being prompt and being meticulous when doing something is more important than taking the time to do it.  Nevertheless, the proverb offers great encouragement to those who are going slowly by offering them the prospect of going far; it also helps those who are rushed, reconsider their ways and slow down their pace.