Author Archives: monje

Legend of Pele

Context: TC is a 22 year old senior at USC, she is also a coworker. T was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii  and is really familiar with a lot of legends. During our break at work I decided to ask her about any known legends she’d like to share with me. There were other people in the break room which created the atmosphere of storytelling and interest was sparked among the other individuals. We all gathered around her while people ate their snacks.

YM: So tell me about this legend of Pele 

TC: Well I’ve heard different things for the story of Pele, but I tell you the one my grandma use to tell me about  

YM: oh yeah ! tell me what you know 

TC: okay so there’s this  legend about this lady in white who haunts or inhabits this one highway called the Pali Highway…. Uh there many variations of this story, depending on which Hawaiian island.  Apparently she is the ancient Hawaiian volcano goddess named Pele. If you are driving down this highway…which is a one lane highway through a dense forest, and very often deserted and you see a lady in white, you are supposed to pick her up and take her wherever she asks to go, otherwise…you’ll have bad luck for the rest of your life? I don’t know … I guess because she owns the land.  Also for some reason if you drive down this highway with any pork in your car, your car will break down, unless you throw out the pork. And, do not take lava rocks home. It apparently angers Pele, and there are “stories” of people who have had a lot of bad things happen to them like the loss of a family member or bad accidents.

YM: did your grandma ever tell you why you’re not supposed to take the lava rocks home or about the pork ? 

TC: Well she would say that the lava rocks are a creation of Pele the volcano goddess, so I think if you take them you take something that is hers and doesn’t belong to you. But I always thought it was because you take the land of the islands. The entire islands are made from lava. We’ve had our land taken from us so I think it’s symbolic to that and uh Yeah I don’t know about the pork….It was just kinda like a given that you’re just not supposed to do that

YM: wow, interesting. Do you believe in this legend ? 

TC: I mean I do and I don’t. I’ve gone through this highway many times and nothing has happened to me, but there are real people from my town who swear things have happened to them. I guess I also see Pele as like a mother or protector of the island so in that sense I kinda do believe in her legend

YM: Yeah I see how she would have a symbolic meaning to you 

TC: Yeah I remember being scared as a child but not anymore… I like knowing there’s this woman who is not to be messed with or disrespected and that we should also respect her land 

YM: thats awesome 

Background info: T shared that her grandmother would always tell stories at the dinner table. The legend of Pele was the most popular throughout the years. She grew up listening to stories about Pele and remember being scared as a child. But as she grew older she realized that it was more about honoring and respecting  their goddess rather than fearing her.  

Analysis: This legend seems to encourage the people of the islands of Hawaii to honor their Gods. I would believe the fear inflicted in their everyday lives by the lady in white seems to encourage them to respect the mother  and protector of their island. This seems to be a religious or otherwise spiritual legend that inclines towards myth. The story is essentially a mythic truth that relates to larger works. In this case it’s the story of the mother and protector of Hawaii. As well as a cosmogenic story of how Hawaii was created. It definitely imbukes meaning and is a sacred narrative that the people of Hawaii should believe in otherwise it will bring you bad juju. 

Honi Ihu/ Honi Honi (Hawaii Custom)

Context: KS was born and raised in Hawaii. She’s a really close friend of mine and is a senior at USC, studying psychology . I went over to her place one day and I asked her about some customs in her culture. She told me about honi ihu/ honi honi while she cooked dinner. 

YM: So what is a big custom you and your family have ? 

KS: Theres honi ihu/ honi honi which is just a hug and kiss on the cheek..both people at same time…that comes from the old belief of sharing the ha or breath of life

YM: Can you tell me about the breath of life in your culture?

KS: When I was young my auntys side of the family would always say honi honi and then proceed to do the mutual kiss on the cheek..honi means kiss

KS:I learned in school that this comes from the older tradition of touching noses and taking a deep breath when you meet people..this is called sharing the ha/ha which means breath

YM: What does it mean to you?

KS: To me when you greet someone with a honi honi it just expresses a genuine sense of both love and respect.

KS: I use it for family and close friends from there. It is a gesture that was taught to me by my mom, aunty and grandma..Hawaiian side.. that also makes me feel closer to them and other people from Hawaii 

KS:Since this is not how you greet people in American culture…it is a sort of bonding activity?…like I usually want to greet people with a hug because that is just how I was raised…. the whole handshake concept was very strange to me at first

YM: Awww that is so beautiful, thank you for sharing 

Analysis: I thought this was a beautiful custom. From what KS told me this custom was updated throughout the years, going from a touching nose to greet to mutually kissing both cheeks with a hug. The custom is practiced this way because the purpose of the customs is to share the breath of life. This belief and custom is similar to the eskimo kiss called kunik and the Maori greeting called the hongi where people actually touch noses to greet each other. It’s interesting how this culture decided to adapt or change up their greeting throughout the years. Either way kissing both cheeks and hugging is definitely a more intimate way to greet one another compared to American culture where a handshake is sufficient to greet someone. It seems this custom serves to create a bonding experience and well as promote more unification within the culture.  *****

For another version of this custom, please see pg 407 of Marriage Customs of the World: An Encyclopedia of Dating Customs and Wedding Traditions, 2nd Edition [2 volumes]: Volume 1, Edition 2, by George P. Monger

Red River Valley Folk song (lullaby)

Context: Context: SF is a USC sophomore studying journalism and he’s also my classmate in Anthropology class. I decided to have a zoom meeting with him and talk about some folklore from vermont. 

YM: Tell me some folklore 

SF: My mom use to sing a lullaby that her pops sang to her 

YM: Let’s hear it, how does it ? 

SF: Down in the valley, valley so low

Hang your head over, hear the wind blow  

Hear the wind blow blow 

Hear the wind blow

Hang your head over, hear the wind blow  

YM: Aww thats nice, do you know where it comes from ?

SF:I think it’s from the south west.. It’s definitely a folk song

YM: Does it have a name ?

SF: Yeah it’s called Red River Valley

YM: Awesome

Background info: SF was born and raised in Vermont. He’s from Irish, Scotish and German descent  and for the first years of his life his mom sang him a folk song to go to sleep. 

Analysis: This sounds like a typical soothing lullaby one would sing to a baby. It also runs in the family, SF’s mother who sang it to him used to hear it from her father and I imagine he also heard it from a parent. After having done some research this is a folk song  that goes by two names: Down in the valley, and Birmingham Jail. The song is an american folk song and a ballad. It’s interesting that this was passed down as a lullaby in SF’s family. The origin of the song is said to come from a Guitarist named Jimmie Tarlton who was incarcerated in an Alabama jail in 1925. Like all folk songs, the lyrics are sometimes changed depending on the artist that decides to record. For examples instead of using, “Hang your head over, hear the wind blow, “ artists have used, “Late in the evening hear the train blow.”  ****

For another version of this song, please visit, https://www.balladofamerica.org/down-in-the-valley/

Ohia and Lehua

Context: TC is a 22 year old senior at USC, she is also my coworker. T was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii,  and is really familiar with a lot of legends of Hawaii. During our break at work I decided to ask her about any known legends she’d like to share with me. There were other people in the break room which created the atmosphere of storytelling and interest was sparked among the other individuals. We all gathered around her while people ate their snacks.

YM: So who are Ohia and Lehua? 

TC: They were young lovers. But one day Pele; she’s a volcano goddess. She met Ohia and decided that she wanted him for herself. But he rejected her so this upset Pele, she then turned him into an ugly twisted tree. Lehua pleaded to pele to turn him back but pele ignored her pleas. The other gods felt sorry for the young girl so they turns her into a beautiful red flower on the tree so the two lovers never had to be apart again

TC:Legend says that as long as the flowers remain in the tree, that the weather is sunny and fair. But when a flower is plucked from the tree, rain falls like tears as lehua cannot handle being separated from her love, ohia

YM: Does Ohia and Lehua represent a specific tree? Or is it any tree? 

TC: Oh yeah its a tree called ‘Ohi’a lehua haha just like their names 

YM: Do you believe this story, what are your thoughts about it ? 

TC: Yes, It’s a love story about lovers who can’t be together but in the afterworld they are together? Pretty much saying that in the end, love conquers all despite all forces trying to break It apart. Whether it’s people or just life.

YM: I believe that

Background info: TC shared that her grandmother would always tell stories at the dinner table. The legend of Ohia and Lehua was popular throughout the years. Most of the stories her grandmother told her had Pele, the volcano goddess that was considered the protector and creator of the island. She grew up listening to stories to appreciate the trees and plants more. Caring for the earth and believing that they have a spirit or are alive is important to T and her family, knowing that nature is alive reminds them that they should care for it. 

Analysis: Although this is a legend of Ohia and Lehua, this story points more towards nature mythology, an allegory of natural processes. The two loves are obviously a representation of nature and their separation is the natural process when the seasons change. Lehua is the official  flower of the island of Hawaii, it seems fit to have a story  for it. It is also recognized as Pele’s flower; it seems appropriate to include the protector and creator of the island.  This myth also holds a significance that TC mentioned, “love conquers all despite all forces trying to break It apart. Whether it’s people or just life.” Which I think is true and this story is perfect to send that message across. 

Sindhi Folk Song Wah Wah Sindhi Wah Wah

Context: RP is a really close friend of mine. She currently lives in san francisco and works at Google. I decided to facetime her and ask her about any folklore. She is fascinated with songs and dancing and told me about this sidhi folk dance. 

YM: So tell me about this folk song

RP: When I was in India, I used to really enjoy dancing and listening to the Sindhi songs. Basically, they all are about being grateful to the Sindhu god – Jhulelal…And each caste in India has its own state. But Sindhi, our caste does not. Sindh, this state lies in Pakistan, since the India-Pakistan partition…I, at times, listen to these songs when I am here in the US, because I miss it so much. One of the songs is “Wah wah sindhi wah wah” which actually means Sindhis are the best, also it paragraphs detail about the specific traits of sindhi culture. I personally love hearing this one, since it reminds me of our Sindhi culture. 

RP: Also sindhu language is written like Urdu, starts from the bottom corner of the last page, in the reverse direction.

RP:  Basically the sindhi/Sufi songs have deeper meanings which make you realize how vast the universe is and to be grateful.

YM: In your culture what does this song signify? 

RP: I feel this song symbolises the pulse-beat of the nation you could say.. Like the consciousness of the Sindhi people that it manifests in this song or any other Sindhi song. The song has a spirit and you know it has life and vitality and it represents the people 

YM: That’s beautiful

Background info: RP was born and raised in Pakistan, she identifies herself as Indian and Sindhi folk songs have always been her favorite growing up. Sooner or later she plans  to go back to India, because she wants her kids to learn and imbibe the sindhi culture, which will be very difficult If she plans her future here. 

Analysis: This song seems to represent the culture of the Sindhi people. It is folk song and music that is ethno, meaning it is outside of westorn music (foreign musicology.) Sindhi songs and music are usually danced predominantly with your hands, not much leg movement is done. It appears to also represent the consciousness of the nation as a whole, I imagine that when sindhi songs are danced or heard one experiences a sense of identity and individuality. And of course it is a form of self expression for Sindhi people.