Author Archives: Sarah Wu

Cuban Pig Roast

“So my family has this tradition, actually it’s a Cuban tradition but we bastardize it a little. A lot…of roasting a pig and throwing a party every winter. In Cuba, pretty much everyone celebrates Noche Buena on Christmas Eve and they basically throw gargantic parties and roast a whole pig and eat a ton of food, which is why Cuban holidays are the best! So my family, which is part Cuban, also likes to celebrate this tradition only we’re always out of town on Christmas Eve visiting my family in Miami, where a lot of people also celebrate Noche Buena because of the large Cuban population. So sometimes we celebrate it twice which is fun, but also means we gain like ten pounds every winter. Anyway, we usually host our party in early December or early January depending on when my brother…Adam is home from college because he is the right hand man to my dad who is the supreme pig roaster. Pigs are roasted outside in homemade pits…ours is in our backyard. It’s a largish square structure built out of bricks and covered with cement, and the whole family helped out and it’s decorated like Watts Towers because that’s the best place in the world. There’s also a wire contraption that holds the pig and it looks like a bed that the pig lies on. We invite a ton of people who bring other food. Cuban traditions are…all about community, so it’s important that there are a lot of people. My grandmother who is full-blooded Cuban cooks other Cuban food like Cuban black beans and rice and yucca. And the pig cooks all day and it’s cut in front of everyone…and by everyone. There’s also live music played by whoever brings an instrument, and lots of dancing…it’s similar to the celebration in most other Cuban households with the only major difference being how the pig gets cooked. One family we know skewers the pig on a long pipe and attaches a steering wheel to one end so they can drive the pig around and around above a fire…this is the other common way of cooking a pig!”

My informant’s knowledge of her family’s celebration of Noche Buena revolves mainly around the roasting of the pig. This is a long process that takes an entire night, which seems to bring people at this celebration together. It also has certain rules, such as how the pig is usually roasted outside over coals. The essence of this holiday is based not just in the food, but in the act of roasting (no shortcuts, no buying pre-roasted pig). I also found it interesting that there were alternative ways of cooking a pig, with the steering wheel method encouraging people to interact even more with the central food of the holiday. Noche Buena actually exists in several locations such as Spain and the Philippines, but only the Cuban and Puerto Rican communities add the pig roast as an integral part of the holiday.

“Why Kicking?”

“Ok, so when Captain Cook was discovering the Hawaiian islands, he had a servant carry him from the ship to the shore. And he sat on the servant’s shoulders, and then was carried to shore! And then the servant was like Why kicking? Why kicking? And then Captain Cook continued to kick his legs while on the servant’s shoulders, and then the slave again says Why kicking? Why kicking? And then because, and then it’s later found out, that there were sharks in the water. And that is why Waikiki is called Waikiki.”

My informant recalls this joke that her piano teacher told her. She says he liked to entertain people, and was a 60-something year old man. She remembers going to monthly recitals at a nursing home, where he would often set the mood by telling jokes and funny stories. She suspects he did this to try to bridge the generation gap between the performers and the audience. His humor made it easier for everyone to mingle together after the performance.

I think it’s a good example of people showing that they belong to a specific group through folk humor, as this is a place-based joke. Captain Cook was a British cartographer and navigator who mapped parts of the Hawaiian Islands on his explorations, and this joke puts a humorous spin on how one of the places he encountered got its name. Interestingly, my informant switched between ‘servant’ and ‘slave’ when she was telling this joke, which reminded me of the ways in which jokes can cover aspects of culture that are normally considered taboo in everyday conversation.

Nose Picking & The Fire Department

“When I was little, my grandfather told me if I picked my nose, I don’t know if this counts. He told me that if I picked my nose, that my finger would get stuck, and the only way I could get it out is if I called the fire department, and they would have to cut my hand off. I was totally afraid of him when I was little.”

The informant recalls her grandfather telling her stories to ‘spook her’ when she was little. She believes he was trying to be funny, since he wasn’t very good with kids. She says he also used to tell her mother the same story when she was little, and continued to pass the trauma down to future generations. This story is different from the average folk belief or superstition because the informant’s grandfather did not necessarily believe the story, but came up with it as a way to trick her. However, since she believed it when she first heard it, it became ‘real’ for her. This instance is slightly reminiscent of fakelore, where one party generates fake folklore (e.g. Paul Bunion) for gain, but the fakelore becomes accepted as true folklore. Obviously, this example is on a much smaller scale.

The Chicken Riaba

“There’s this really popular Russian fairytale to tell your kids about the chicken Riaba. So that chicken um…it uh…what do you call it? It had an egg…so it nests an egg? Lay an egg! Ok, so it lays an egg, but that egg is golden. And uh and then again, it’s in the village with the old woman and the old man, so the older married couple. So the older woman is trying to break it and it doesn’t break because it’s golden. And the man is trying to break it and it doesn’t break because it’s golden. And uh…so what happens next, oh my god. See? I remember, I remember it in my heart. So …ok! So here comes the little mouse. So they basically try to break it, it doesn’t work, and then the little mouse runs by and with its tail just whisks the egg from the table. The egg falls and breaks. And then uh, the old woman’s crying, the old man is crying. So what are we gonna do? And then the chicken Riaba tells them, oh don’t cry grandma, don’t cry grandpa. I’m gonna lay another egg for you, which is going to be a regular egg. Which…doesn’t make much sense. So not a golden one, but a normal one. So they’re happy and the chicken Riaba is gonna give them another egg.”

According to my informant, The Chicken Riaba comes from tales her grandparents told her before she could read. She adds that these tales don’t technically have an author, and were typically passed down from generation to generation. While I was listening to this story, I have to admit it made absolutely no sense to me, which I was amused to hear she agreed with at the conclusion of the tale. First, the couple tries to break the egg, but then both man and woman become sad when the mouse breaks the egg. Then, when Riaba offers a much less valuable normal egg in place of the golden one, they are somehow happy. I’m not entirely sure what this märchen is supposed to mean, but my informant seemed to take it all in stride despite her admission that it doesn’t necessarily make logical sense. Perhaps this points to cultural differences; after all, there are many tales, legends, and myths in my repertoire that probably make even less sense than The Chicken Riaba to those outside my culture.


Informant: “Every Russian child knows this tale, it’s about um, it’s actually about a piece of dough. It’s like a doughnut which comes alive. So it’s about this old man and an old woman, and they live together and they don’t have children in the village. And so one day, they decide to make uh this type of child from a dough which is Kolobok.”

Me: “Kind of like the Gingerbread Man?”

Informant: “Yes, yes! So that uh, they make this Kolobok. And he starts talking…and then he runs away from them. And he’s basically on a quest, but there’s really no purpose. He’s not trying to save a princess or to get gold or anything. So and it’s rolling down the road and it encounters different animals and everyone wants to eat it and it just tries to get out of it. So first it encounters the bear, and then the bear says oh Kolobok, Kolobok I will eat you. And he’s like no, don’t eat me! And then Kolobok tells his whole story about how he was made from dough and scraps and everything, and then he just runs away from the bear. And then he comes across a wolf, let’s say, and then the wolf says well, I’m gonna eat you. And then he retells again the same story, and he says oh you can’t eat me because even the bear didn’t eat me. So…and then he comes across the fox. I think he tells again the whole thing, let me see. I’m not sure if the fox eats him, somehow he gets away still. In the end he does get away but the idea is that it’s like very repetitive because he just keeps repeating his story and getting away from all these animals. And so then finally he goes back home.”

As I mentioned in the interview, the tale of Kolobok bears many similarities to the tale of the Gingerbread Man. However, there is a key difference here, with the doughnut making it all the way back home instead of being eaten by the last animal it encounters, the fox. Like other heroes of Russian folktales, Kolobok displays wit and quick thinking, telling each successive animal it cannot eat him because the previous one didn’t eat him. My informant mentioned that in Russian animal fairytales, the fox is always the one who possesses the greatest amount of cunning, yet even the fox is taken in by Kolobok here. And although he is a doughnut without any features, he still clearly takes great pride in his identity, since he takes the time to share his story with each animal he meets. One last thing I wanted to point out was the informant’s mention of a lack of purpose to Kolobok’s quest. Usually, when a hero leaves home, there is some greater purpose to his actions, but here Kolobok just rolls out the door and eventually rolls back home. Perhaps the story is meant to suggest to small children that independence will come, but it is good to keep your wits about you when you travel. Of course, that is just one of many possible interpretations.