Jar of cloudy shark oil in Bermuda
We have this jar—like this little flash of shark oil at home—and what we think is that when it goes cloudy it means a hurricane is on its way. And for the most part, yeah, hurricanes always come when that jar gets cloudy.
Rebecca comes from Bermuda, a British overseas territory located in the North Atlantic Ocean. Hurricanes pose a large threat to the inhabitants of the island, thus it is important to be able to predict their arrival in order to prepare. Rebecca’s family is not the only one to use shark oil to predict the weather. “Many families have a jar in their cabinet somewhere. It’s not just me.”
As to why shark oil in particular is necessary in the prediction of hurricanes, Rebecca is unsure. According to her it is a common belief that has been around for a long time. More important, its success rate is extremely high. Rebecca can cite countless times when the cloudy shark oil was followed by a storm. It is a belief that she grew up with. The shark oil has been in her kitchen since she was a little girl and she always associated it with hurricanes.
There are a number of reasons why I think the shark oil could be an integral part of the prediction process. Sharks are very high on the food chain, and, therefore, capturing one, especially in a time before large fishing boats, would be a tremendous feat. It would be equivalent to capturing and killing a full-grown lion with your bare hands. As a “king” of the ocean, the shark’s oil could act almost as a divine serum that potentially could harness a supernatural power (in the eyes of an indigenous population). It certainly is a very different way of predicting the weather, but many maritime cultures have sea-based beliefs as to what will signal the coming of inclement weather.
I have heard of animals being able to predict the coming of storms—dogs often grow restless under the approaching shadow of a storm—but never have I encountered the use of parts of a dead animal to predict the weather.
Many women and children wear wraps around their waist—kind of like when people tie towels around their waste, but we call it a “wrappa”—and if a woman’s wrappa falls off in public she has believed to have committed adultery. I’m not sure where the origin of this was, but I guess they thought that if your rappa was loose enough to fall off, then you’re a whore or a prostitute because you need to get it on and off easily. In the times that this belief was serious, the woman as usually stoned in the middle of the village—stoned to death—or was just shamed into leaving the actual village, so this offense is very serious because I come from a polygamous area, and adultery is seen as the most humiliating thing you can do to your husband and his other wives and their whole family.
Polygamy is not something that American’s understand very well. We are a monogamous culture. However, like in this village in Cameroon, adultery is taken very seriously here. Not only does it violate religious code but it violates moral code as well. As opposed to in Cameroon, women in the United States are not physically abused for their transgressions. However, it does seem more socially acceptable for an American man to be unfaithful to his wife. While women have gained much more equality over the years, there still remains this male-dominant atmosphere that stigmatizes women being unfaithful—men can do it, but a woman is called a whore if she is unfaithful.
I find this belief to be quite ridiculous. Just because a piece of clothing fits loosely on a women does not mean that she is more sexually “devious” than the women who wraps herself up tightly in her clothing. Say the weather is unbearably hot: why would anyone want to wear anything that fits tightly around his or her body? I find it incredibly stupid that this is this becomes something by which people can judge women and accuse them of being unscrupulous or immoral.
Ok…so when I was little I was in my “why phase”—I’m not really sure when that was exactly, I think I was maybe like four or five—you know that point in your life when you just ask why to everything? Ok, so every like, once every like, once every two weeks I would come home and see the bathroom and the toilet was, like, blue! And I would always go to my dad and ask why the water was blue, and he’d always say, “well, because a smurf came and peed in our toilet!” I didn’t question it—I mean… I was four or five so… smurfs exist right!? Um… but yeah, I just never questioned it until I started helping clean the bathroom when I was, like, 8? Until then I believed that smurfs came and peed in our toilet and made the water blue. He thought it was funny. I think its funny too…now that I know, like…I just think it’s a really funny story.
Haley’s story touches upon an interesting paradox of childhood: constantly questioning everything about the world but also believing whatever your parents tell you. Haley come from a very intelligent family that is scientifically and mathematically inclined—her mother is a doctor and her father a computer engineer. Being of a rather analytic nature, it is surprising that her parents simply didn’t explain to her that the chemicals in the toilet bowl cleaner made the water turn blue. Haley says that if she ever had a question about anything, her parents would take the time to sit down and thoroughly explain to her the details of what she was inquiring about.
I find that, being of such a scientific nature, her parents wanted to experience the magic of childhood in which the fantastical, the supernatural, and the improbable is generally preferred over the banality of reality. For Haley, the blue smurfs’ pee was an escape to a fantasy realm. Yes, she eventually learned the truth about the toilet bowl cleaner, but her mental dislocation from the real world afforded her a wonderful childhood.
So every year we have what’s called “midsummer”—its in June every year. And we have a maypole, which we dress with flowers and all this, like, nice stuff. A maypole is supposed to be a sign for a woman and man. It’s like a big pole… it’s like a cross almost. And there’s this special song that we sing every year, and everyone has em…those things on their heads. What do you call them? Flower wreaths? Yes, flower wreaths. Everyone has flower wreaths on their heads. The song is called “little frogs”. So we have the maypole and there is singing and jumping, and the sounds we make sound like frogs.
This Swedish ritual is a celebration of the arrival of spring. The maypole—a pole that bears symbols for both masculinity and femininity—represents the fertility and life that is associated with spring. When I asked why the frog played such an important role in the celebration, Stina replied that the frog jumps, and the jumping is supposed to represent the leap (or the “spring”) from winter to a time of blossom and growth.
If speaking in Freudian terms, the pole itself could very well symbolize the phallus and its ability to disseminate its seed and be a catalyst of birth and growth. The flowers could represent the innocence that will soon be taken away once male and female unite.
In the United States I have never heard of any celebrations of spring or any particular season in and of itself. Toward the end of the winter we usually keep an eye out for the ground hog that “springs” out of his whole to tell us how much longer winter will drag on. However, there exists no celebration of the spring’s arrival.
It looks like you sold the butter but lost the money. This one is when you’re, like, when you look sad…people can say that cuz they’re like…you’ve done something good and you’ve lost it. You have your butter and you sell it and then you lose the money you make. So you do something well but you don’t keep it.
This is a rather tricky saying to unpack. In essence, I believe it attempts to say that one cannot sustain the success one has achieved—it is an ephemeral success. This saying seems akin to the American saying, “you’ve dropped the ball”. This saying implies that you’ve done something great (or have been given the opportunity to do something great) but failed to sustain that greatness—you messed up.
I believe that my experience in diving perfectly embodies this saying. I am a springboard and platform diver, and in diving consistency is what makes you successful—consistency in practice and consistency in meets. When my coach gives me corrections he always stresses that we take a few moments to reflect on what we’ve just done after we successfully make the correction he asks of us. It doesn’t matter if I am able to make the correction once; what matters is that I am able to sustain the correction, hold on to the change, otherwise I’ve done something great and then lost it—just like this Swedish saying describes.