Author Archives: Kirbi Phillips

Festejo Dance

In an interview with my old dance teacher, he describes the traditional Peruvian Festejo Dance:

Interviewer: “What is one of the most famous dances in Peru?”

Informant: “Festejo is definitely one of the most popular dances because it’s so festive and has a good rhythm.   There’s a lot of African influence in the dance so the music is very procession heavy and theres a lot of movement in the hips.  One of the best parts of the dance is that it can be performed in a pair or in a big group, so it’s perfect for festivals and big celebrations!”

Interviewer: “What are the traditional costumes like?”

Informant: “Traditionally the women wear big colorful skirts and blouses and the men wear either colorful pants or a colorful shirt.  The major colors are the colors on the Peruvian flag: red, white, blue, and green.”

Interviewer: “What kind of music do they dance to?”

Informant: “It’s Afro-Peruvian music so there’s a lot of percussion.  The cajon box drum is an especially popular instrument to use when making music for Festejo dancing.”

Interviewer: “What are the origins of this dance?”

Informant: “It was brought over with the African slaves which sparked the African influence over Peruvian culture.  At first, the slaves were discriminated against and their culture was not blended with Peruvian culture until the 1950s when Peru wanted to distance themselves from their Spanish influence and create their own culture.”

Interviewer: “How did you learn about this type of dance?”

Informant: “My friend from Peru taught it to me.”

Analysis: The history of the Afro-Peruvian dance also shares the history of the Peruvian people and the immigration patterns of the area. This piece of folklore is important because it demonstrates how much of an influence African culture has on the region and how it did not have much of an influence until after 1950.  I especially enjoy this piece of folklore because I love dance and learning about how dance influences culture and vice versa.

Rosemary Herb as Medicine

In the following interview, a energy worker and herbal and flower essence specialist explains the significance of the rosemary herb:

Interviewer: “What is one of the main herbs you suggest to your patients?”

Informant: “Rosemary is an herbal staple.  It’s a grounding herb that helps your spirit stay connected to your physical body especially during stressful and challenging situations”

Interviewer: “How do people use Rosemary?”

Informant: “You can rub the herb on any part of your body to make you feel more grounded, especially the forehead and in the palms.  Rosemary can also be ingested which will have the same effect”

Analysis: I have used rosemary and believe it works.  I feel more grounded and able to control my own body when either ingesting or touching this herb however I understand that there is a lack of scientific evidence to back up this claim.  I first heard about this homeopathic method from the informant who heard it from her teacher who prefers to remain anonymous.  She does energy work on both humans and animals and has had great success with her controversial methods.  Using the Earth’s resources as medicine has been around since the beginning of time and the informant is building off of their ancient work to discover more about the undiscovered field.

Le Heron

The following French fairytale was told by my old high school French teacher:

First in French:

Un jour sur ses longs pieds allait je ne sais où
Le Héron au long bec emmanché d’un long cou.
Il côtoyait une rivière.
L’onde était transparente ainsi qu’aux plus beaux jours ;
Ma commère la Carpe y faisait mille tours
Avec le Brochet son compère.
Le Héron en eût fait aisément son profit :
Tous approchaient du bord, l’Oiseau n’avait qu’à prendre ;
Mais il crut mieux faire d’attendre
Qu’il eût un peu plus d’appétit.
Il vivait de régime, et mangeait à ses heures.
Après quelques moments l’appétit vint ; l’Oiseau
S’approchant du bord vit sur l’eau
Des Tanches qui sortaient du fond de ces demeures.
Le mets ne lui plut pas ; il s’attendait à mieux,
Et montrait un goût dédaigneux
Comme le Rat du bon Horace.
Moi des Tanches ? dit-il, moi Héron que je fasse
Une si pauvre chère ? Et pour qui me prend-on ?
La Tanche rebutée, il trouva du Goujon.
Du Goujon ! c’est bien là le dîné d’un Héron !
J’ouvrirais pour si peu le bec ! aux Dieux ne plaise !
Il l’ouvrit pour bien moins : tout alla de façon
Qu’il ne vit plus aucun Poisson.
La faim le prit ; il fut tout heureux et tout aise
De rencontrer un Limaçon.
Ne soyons pas si difficiles :
Les plus accommodants, ce sont les plus habiles :
On hasarde de perdre en voulant trop gagner.
Gardez-vous de rien dédaigner ;
Surtout quand vous avez à peu près votre compte.
Bien des gens y sont pris ; ce n’est pas aux Hérons
Que je parle ; écoutez, humains, un autre conte ;
Vous verrez que chez vous j’ai puisé ces leçons.


And in English:

One day,─no matter when or where,─

A long-legg’d heron chanced to fare

By a certain river’s brink,

With his long, sharp beak

Helved on his slender neck;

“Twas a fish-spear, you might think.

The water was clear and still,

The carp and the pike there at will

Pursued their silent fun,

Turning up, ever and anon,

A golden side to the sun.

With ease might the heron have made

Great profits in his fishing trade.

So near came the scaly fry,

They might be caught by the passer-by.

But he thought he better might

Wait for a better appetite─

For he lived by rule, and could not eat,

Except at his hours, the best of meat.

Anon his appetite return’d once more;

So, approaching again the shore,

He saw some tench taking their leaps,

Now and then, from their lowest deeps.

With as dainty a taste as Horace’s rat,

He turn’d away from such food as that.

“What, tench for a heron! poh!

I scorn the thought, and let them go.”

The tench refused, there came a gudgeon;

“For all that,” said the bird, “I budge on.

I’ll ne’er open my beak, if the gods please,

For such mean little fishes as these.”

He did it for less;

For it came to pass,

That not another fish could he see;

And, at last, so hungry was he,

That he thought it of some avail

To find on the bank a single snail.

Such is the sure result

Of being too difficult.

Would you be strong and great,

Learn to accommodate.

Get what you can, and trust for the rest;

The whole is oft lost by seeking the best.

Above all things beware of disdain;

Where, at most, you have little to gain.

The people are many that make

Every day this sad mistake.

‘Tis not for the herons I put this case,

Ye featherless people, of human race.

─List to another tale as true,

And you’ll hear the lesson brought home with you


Analysis: My old teacher first heard this fable when on a French exchange program in high school.  Since hearing it, she has shared it with her daughters and every French class she has taught at the high school.  It spotlights the theme of taking good things as they come to you rather than waiting for something better.  This piece of folklore has special significance to me because I heard it from my French teacher rather than finding it on a website or in a book where you can find the fable today along with any similar tales.  The Heron is a classic example of a French fable because of the use of animal characters and inclusion of a moral to the story.  In my opinion I think it is better written and easier to listen to in French but translating the fable to English has helped the popularity of this particular fable grow.

Yiddish Proverbs

The following proverbs were recited by my grandfather:

“Whomever looks for easy work goes to bed very tired.”

“One fool makes a lot of fools.”

“Better the child to cry than the father.”

“Sorrow makes the bones grow thinner.”

“A meowing cat can’t catch mice.”

“We know when we start out; when we’ll return, we know not.”

‘Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.”

“Let God worry about tomorrow.”

“Don’t depend upon others — do it yourself.”

“The boaster gets stuck in the mud.”

Analysis: The proverbs my grandfather remembered were told to him by his mother at a young age and throughout his life she referenced them.  Growing up with a Jewish family, these proverbs are still very relevant in today’s society.  My mother and aunt normally provide me with a proverb while giving me advice much like my great-grandmother did with my grandfather.  These pieces of folklore are particularly interesting because they have remained mostly constant throughout history.  Previously, they were translated from Yiddish to English but some proverbs still contain Yiddish words that Jewish people still commonly use today.  This collection of proverbs all has themes of working hard, living in the present, and focusing on oneself rather than others.  These themes sound very familiar to me because my mother and grandmother try to give me similar advice today.  This is one of my favorite pieces of folklore because I knew about these proverbs before this class and it has personal relevance in my life.



Yo Mamma Jokes

The following history of the yo mamma joke is told by my old high school history teacher in an interview:

“Yo mamma jokes have been around since Babylonian times.  The earliest record we have of yo mamma jokes comes from an ancient Babylonian tablet which reads ‘..of your mother is by the one who has intercourse with her. What/who is it?’ Although this joke does not make total since in today’s context of the joke, as a riddle the phrase makes more sense.

Yo mamma jokes were used throughout history by intellectuals such as shakespeare who used the joke in his play Titus Andronicus’ when he writes:

‘Demetrius: “Villain, what hast thou done?”

Aaron: “That which thou canst not undo.”

Chiron: “Thou hast undone our mother.”

Aaron: “Villain, I have done thy mother.”’

Even in ancient times, people were digging jabs at each others mothers as a form of comedy.  The joke later evolved to fit the big screen as it was featured in movies such as the Monty Python  and began its transition into mainstream popular culture.  In later years, yo mamma jokes have been featured on many television shows and movies such as South Park, various Adam Sandler movies, and classics like Remember the Titans and Mean Girls.  Here are some other examples of modern day yo mamma jokes:

Yo momma is so fat, I took a picture of her last Christmas and it’s still printing.

Yo mamma is so ugly when she tried to join an ugly contest they said, “Sorry, no professionals.”

Yo momma is so stupid when an intruder broke into her house, she ran downstairs, dialed 9-1-1 on the microwave, and couldn’t find the “CALL” button.

Yo momma is so fat when she went to KFC the cashier asked, “What size bucket?” and yo momma said, “The one on the roof.””

Analysis:  Although the form in which the yo mamma joke is delivered has changed overtime evolving from a riddle to a joke, the main themes of the joke have remained constant.  The themes of the jokes include but are not limited to weight, intelligence, and beauty.  Other common themes are yo mamma jokes about other people having sexual intercourse with one’s mother.  The yo mamma joke is still prevalent today but not as much as it once was in the early 2000.  This is a very interesting piece of folklore because it is not limited to geographical boundaries.  Overtime, the whole world has learned and created their own variation of yo momma jokes while still maintaining the same themes.

Mauritius Sega

The following history is told by my friend I met on vacation this year from Mauritius Island:

“One of the biggest pieces of folklore in Mauririus is the art of dance!  Everyone dances in Mauritius, it’s our way of life!  Traditionally the people of Mauritius dance to Sega music which is music sung in our native language of Creole and play traditional instruments such as the ravanne, triangle, calebasse, and the maravanne. The ravanne is a percussion instrument that is made from a wooden hoop and a piece of goat skin stretched over the top.  The triangle is the same as the triangles we use in the United States and makes the same sound.  It’s a triangle shaped piece of metal.  The calebasse is a string instrument much like a guitar and the maravanne is a wooden box containing sand and seeds.  We use these instruments and the songs of our people in our language to create beautiful music the whole island dances to.  Originally the Sega was sung by slaves, but since then we have preserved our culture and turned it into a musical celebration used to tell stories.  We use Sega dance to express our desire for joy and happiness while at the same time expressing the heartaches our people have experienced overtime.  I especially love Sega dancing because of the traditional costumes we wear.  The women wear long colorful skirts and the men wear open-neck shirts.  It’s truly a wonderful sight!”


Analysis:  Dance is an extremely important part of Mauritius Island culture and no traditional Mauritian celebration would be complete without Sega music.  The songs tell the deep history of the people and they dance to express themselves in present day life.  The dancing is African style with lots of movement in the hips.  This is an interesting piece of folklore because I love dance and believe music and dance is one of the purest ways a person can express themselves.  More information about Sega music and dancing can be found on the Republic of Mauritius’ government website proving how vital this piece of folklore is to the entire culture of the island.

Bar Ghost Story

The following ghost story was told by a friend in a personal interview:

Interviewer: “Would you mind retelling me the story of when you detected those spirits in that bar in Washington?”

Shannon: “Of course! We had just gotten back to our hotel from a day-long horse show and wanted to get a drink so we decided to change and head into town to look for local bars.  We found this one dive bar near our hotel and went in to check it out.  There were no people in the bar but it was open and the bartender smiled at us as we walked through the creaky door.  Immediately I detected some paranormal activity”

Interviewer: “Have you ever detected paranormal activity before?”

Shannon: “Oh yes! Plenty of times! I can tell as soon as I walk in the door most times.  I have detected spirits during underground sewer tours, in old barns, houses, and even some kitchy little shops”

Interviewer: “So you were sure there was a spirit in that bar?”

Shannon: “Yes a chilling sensation overcame my body and I was immediately aware of another presence in the room.  However, I was not scared because something was telling me that the spirits were friendly”

Interviewer: “Something was telling you?”

Shannon: “Yeah I just had a gut feeling and in most cases my gut is not wrong.  So I asked the smily bartender if he had seen anything strange in the bar and his jaw dropped to the floor.  He said that every night before closing, he would turn all the bottles facing forward and clean up the bar.  When he would return the next morning, the bottles would all be spun around and various other things would be out of place like chairs that he had stacked the night before.  After reviewing the security camera footage it became clear that a human being did not mess with the bar and it was a supernatural entity”

Interviewer: “Were you ever scared of the ghost?”

Shannon: “Oh heavens no! I could tell that it was a younger spirit and perhaps he or she was just playing pranks on the living.  I’m sure the afterlife isn’t too exciting and so spirits create other ways to pass the time including messing with living humans”

Analysis:  Although I was skeptical of Shannon’s story at first, I believe she felt a spirit at that old bar.  There are a lot of common ghost story motifs in this particular ghost story including the old bar, security camera footage detecting the moving bottles but no human or ghost.  This is especially interesting because it is unlike any ghost stories because the spirit detected was identified as friendly and young; most ghost stories tell a ghastly tale of an evil spirit haunting a mortal human but this story remains upbeat and lighthearted as Shannon concludes the activity is just young, friendly  spirits goofing around.

The Power of Garlic

This story is told by a high school teacher who observed the actions of several school janitors in Gary, Indiana.

“In Gary, Indiana where I taught in a mostly-Black high school, the cleaning staff was comprised of white Southern Europeans.  They were mainly Greek Orthodox, and they firmly believed that placing garlic chunks in rooms, drawers, behind stacks of books, on top of doorjambs, etc would keep evil spirits away.  One day I went in our book storage room and threw away all 40-plus pieces of garlic I found.  Within a couple days, it was all back.  Each year when teachers arrived to set up their rooms, there was always at least one piece of garlic in each desk.  Everybody just accepted it – remember this was in 2004 – because the whole Southern European culture in our community so strongly believed in the practice”

Analysis: His story reveals the prevalence of Southern European culture and folklore practices in Gary, Indiana in 2004.  The Orthodox Greek janitors believed that Placing garlic pieces in particular places in a building would keep the evil spirits away.  Although he did not directly speak with the janitors, the other teachers provided an oral history of the old tradition of the janitors placing garlic unusual places and replacing the cloves when needed.  My old high school teacher, Curtis, is an atheist so he was quite skeptical about these superstitious practices, yet there was nothing he could do to stop the overflow of garlic into the school.  The janitors’ will to rid the school of evil spirits was much greater than Curtis’ will to rid the school of garlic because the janitors were so frightened by the potential of evil spirits.





The Number 4 in Vietnam

The following story is told by my old high school teacher regarding his life in Vietnam:

“My Buddhist friends will NEVER write the number 4 – not for any reason. Nothing is priced at 4 dollars, and nobody will accept 4 dollars for anything or give it in change. Some people don’t leave the house on the 4th, although that does not seem to have spread to the 14th or 24th much”

Analysis: He collected these observations overtime by living in Da Nang, Vietnam and making friends with the locals.  He completely immersed himself in Vietnamese culture and started getting involved at a local orphanage where he interacted with and financially supported children in the orphanage.  This helped him connect to Vietnamese culture and helped him learn first-hand of many of Vietnam’s folklore practices such as their superstitions regarding numbers by hearing stories from locals and observing everyday activities.  This piece of folklore serves as a classic example of number superstition in Vietnamese culture.  However, it is important to note that the superstition is only about the number 4 by itself; numbers that include the number 4 are fine.  It is interesting because the Chinese have a similar superstition about the evil of number four.  In both Vietnamese and Chinese, the number 4 in their respective languages is very similar to the word death in those languages.  This trend is also observed in other East Asian languages including Korean, Japanese, and Cantonese.

The Lucky Number 8 in Vietnam

The following story is told by my old high school English teacher who used to live in Vietnam:

“Ads in Vietnam puts items on sale for 88% of their original price.  The 8th, 18th, and 28th of each month are lucky, and on those days, fake money is sold in the streets to be burned for luck.  People get married on those dates.  Some people even pay to have their phone numbers include the number 8 to gain respect from their customers.”

Analysis: These folklore practices in Vietnam are because they believe the number eight to be lucky in Vietnamese culture.  This idea stems from the Vietnamese language much like the superstition about the number four.  In Vietnamese, the word for the number eight is almost identical to the word for “develop.”  Since development is viewed positively in Vietnamese culture, the number eight is celebrated.  It is very interesting that although four is an unlucky number, 14 is not, whereas the number eight is a lucky number and so is 18 and 28.  My old teacher learned of this lucky omen through his interactions with local Vietnamese people during his time in Da Nang, Vietnam and observations of everyday life.