Author Archives: Ivan Kumamoto

A Taiwanese aboriginal story about two suns

The following story was told to me by the informant while talking about the things she learned while studying abroad in Taiwan.

“An aboriginal story from Taiwan… There’s a lot of different versions of it (the aboriginal story) and actually different tribes have the same story but different versions, but the one that I heard was told by a man of the Atyal tribe, he’s probably about sixty. So, It’s the story of two suns, and in the story, they’re living a long time ago, and the tribe is having a huge problem because there’s two suns in the sky, and it gets too hot, and it’s never dark, and it’s destroying the plants, and the people can’t live because they can’t sleep and they can’t produce any food for themselves, and I think the plant that they grow is millet. And so they want to select a hero from the tribe to go and shoot one of the suns with a bow and arrow, and so they keep on choosing the strongest man, and they have him go out. But every time he goes out, by the time he gets close enough to the sun to shoot it down, he’s become an old man, and he’s no longer the strong warrior of the tribe that could do it, and so they go on for a long time and they can’t… they have no way to solve the problem, and so then one time there’s a wise man and he’s strong, but he’s not the strongest, but he’s a smart young man and he says, ‘I’m going to take a young boy from the village, and I’m going to carry him on my back with me, and I’m gonna train him, and I’m gonna take him on my quest with me to take down the sun.’ and so by the time they get close enough to the sun, the wise young man is no longer a young man; he’s an old man. But he’s brought up a new young man who’s now strong enough pull the arrow and to shoot down the sun, and so he shoots down the sun and saves the tribe, and that’s how the story of two suns goes.”

The informant learned about this story because she was studying the ancient Taiwanese aboriginal language of the Atyal tribe. Their language is almost extinct, with only about 200 remaining native speakers. However, as the informant points out, this same legend is shared by some of the other aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, in different versions. When I asked about the origins of the Atyal people and other aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, the informant said that they are indeed related to the same Polynesian peoples who also inhabited New Zealand and/or Australia (she couldn’t remember which).

By examining aboriginal cultures where they are at risk of going extinct, we can learn more about ancient culture, and perhaps draw conclusions as to how modern cultures came to be. Unfortunately, aboriginal peoples like those belonging to the Atyal tribe are dwindling and being forgotten, a pattern that shows no signs of reversal. It’s important to document legends and myths such as the above before they disappear, so they can be examined and studied and perhaps teach us something about our modern society.

La-a (pronounced “Ladasha”)

The informant told me about this joke when I asked him about some good jokes he had heard.

Informant: “So this is a joke I’ve heard from many people, some of them have claimed it to be true. The joke goes: ‘I heard about this person named Ladasha, and her name is spelled La-a. So it’s “Laa”, but it’s pronounced Ladasha. And I’ve heard this as a joke from some people. But one person who told me, actually insisted that they knew someone who knew Ladasha. Which is obviously not true.”

Collector: “Why is this a joke, what’s the funny part about it?”

Informant: “Oh, its just typography”

Collector: “When did you hear this first?”

Informant: “High school I believe, a couple years ago. I would hear about it every couple months or so. It was a thing people knew about.”

Collector: “Why do you think specifically the name Ladasha?”

Informant: “Because its funny and it sounds like a real name”

Collector: “It sounds like an African American name. Is there any reason why that is?”

Informant: “Some of those names I’ve seen do have vanity punctuation”

Collector: “So do you think this is poking fun at that?”

Informant: “Probably. I think there’s a Tiana in my high school (T’ana) so it’d be like, ‘T’ana’ so that was a vanity punctuation”

Collector: “So Ladasha could be a real name”

Informant: “Yes. But more likely I think is that someone named their baby that after they heard the joke”

This joke, in my opinion, is likely to indeed be poking fun at some African American names with unconventional punctuation, or as my informant called it, “vanity punctuation.”

Early family dinners on Sundays

My informant was telling me about some customs his family in New Jersey celebrates, and he seemed particularly fond of early Sunday dinners at 2pm.

Informant: “Every Sunday you eat dinner at like 2pm, and you have like a really big dinner that someone cooks. And you always have bread at the table, salad, pasta, and your whole family is expected to be there.”

Collector: “And then you wouldn’t have dinner after that?”

Informant: “Yeah, it was really dumb, like ‘why are we eating dinner right now?’… Italians really like to cook, and when they have a guest, they always try to feed them”

When I asked the informer if he knew why his family chose to do early dinner at 2pm instead of just a regular large dinner at the “normal” dinner time around 6pm, he was unable to recall how this tradition started. My personal hypothesis is that it’s a way for the Italian side of his family to reconnect to their European roots, since many European cultures eat a large meal at around 2pm, and then dinner is typically late at night, around 10pm or so. However, a 10pm dinner would probably be too out of the ordinary for this Americanized family to handle, so they just chose to stick to an easier option, of having a large family meal at 2pm.

Hockey in New Jersey and no-shave rule

The informant and I were talking about sports and superstitions so he mentioned something specific to his home state’s sports culture.

“Hockey is really huge… a culture unlike anything in California. Everyone grows out their beard during playoffs season, and they don’t shave it until their team’s out of the playoffs. Bad luck for your team if you shave your beard. I don’t [participate], because I’m Asian and I can’t grow a beard.”

Sports superstitions are nothing unheard of, but it’s still interesting to observe how they vary from region to region. Some people don’t wash their jerseys until their team is knocked out of the playoffs, and some people don’t shave their beards. How such a tradition begins and spreads amongst a group of people would be interesting but probably difficult to investigate.

New Jersey Taylor Ham

The informant and I were having breakfast one day, when he mentioned how much he missed Taylor ham from New Jersey. I asked him to tell me more about Taylor ham.

“So there’s this breakfast food and its called Taylor ham and it only exists in four counties in all of New Jersey and everywhere else in New Jersey it’s called pork roll, because that’s the generic version of Taylor ham, and in New York City and Pennsylvania it’s also called pork roll, and no one else in the United States knows what it is, and it’s amazing, and every morning a New Jerseyan wakes up, and they are like ‘I want a Taylor ham on egg and cheese and everything bagel at salt pepper and ketchup’ and they go to the bagel shop they get that… this guy named Taylor just decided to have this cut of ham.”

A peculiar aspect of the informant’s account of Taylor ham is his perspective that New Jersey has the “original” Taylor ham, and that other parts of New Jersey and New York call it something else. It would be interesting to find out if these other people consider “pork roll” the original version of the ham, and consider “Taylor” ham some quirky name that a small weird group of people in New Jersey use to refer to pork roll. Clearly, Taylor ham is a point of pride for my informant, and something that he shares the knowledge of with some fellow New Jerseyans.