Author Archives: Sierra Chinn-Liu

“The Legend of Ka Punahou”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Hawaiian, Caucasian
Age: 67
Occupation: Retired schoolteacher at Punahou, part-time Hawaiian Studies consultant, director of Music for Holoku, May Day, and K-1 singing, broadcaster for UH (University of Hawai`i) baseball games
Residence: Honolulu, Hawaii
Date of Performance/Collection: April 1st, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hawaiian

A long time ago, there was a very dry time on the island of O`ahu. No rains fell. All the streams were dry. Because there was no rain, the crops were not able to grow and the people were becoming worried.

At the foot of Rocky Hill, at the base of Mānoa Valley, lived an old couple and these dry times were hard on them…

Every day, Mukaka, the husband would walk up to Mānoa Valley to get ti roots and ferms for food. His wife, Kealoha, would walk down to Ka-Mo`ili`ili where the stream flowed. She would fill her water gourds there and carry them up the long, rough trail to her home near Rocky Hill…

One day, the trip seemed more difficult than ever so Kealoha stopped to rest on a rock. Water was very important so she knew she needed to go to Ka-Mo`ili`ili each day. But she was very tired, and didn’t want to continue…

She got up and lifted her carrying pole. It was a windy day, and the wind almost blew her down, but she struggled to walk back home. Mukaka was preparing food when she arrived home, but she was too tired to eat. She laid down on her mats and cried because she was so weary. When she finally got to sleep, she had a dream…

In the dream, a man stood by her and asked, “why are you crying?”

Kealoha answered that she was very weary because of the long, hot, dusty path she had to take every day to Ka-Mo`ili`ili and that she was too tired…

The man told Kealoha that she didn’t need to go to Ka-Mo`ili`ili every day because under a hala tree near her home there was a spring. And there she could fill her gourds… Then the man was gone.

In the morning, Kealoha told Mukaka about her dream. But he didn’t think it was true. He thought it was an empty dream that came about because she was thirsty…

Mukaka began to walk toward the upland mauka, and Kealoha watched him wondering why he didn’t do what the dream said: to pull up the hala tree to search for the spring… She went to look at the tree and saw that the ground was dry and hard, so maybe there wasn’t any water there. The dream must have been empty.

But that night as they were sleeping, Mukaka had a dream. In his dream, a man sat by him and told Mukaka that there was water under the tree. The man told Mukaka what to do. Mukaka had to catch some red fish and cook them in an `imu, then make an offering. Only then would Mukaka have the strength to pull the hala tree out of the ground to fill the spring…

When Mukaka got up the next morning, he realized he had the same dream as his wife; he knew he needed to do what the man in the dream said to…

So Mukaka and a friend went to Waikiki to fish. They were able to catch some red fish; Mukaka knew that the god, Kāne, was with them. They rushed home to heat the `imu. When the fish were cooked, Mukaka prayed. Then they ate. And after that, Mukaka told his friend about the two dreams he and his wife had had. Now it was time to pull up the hala tree to see if there was any truth to the dream. The two men grabbed the hala tree and they pulled hard. Their muscles strained, and sweat poured down their bodies… They stopped for a while, then tried again, but the tree didn’t move. The friend looked at the ground and said that there couldn’t be any water here…

Mukaka said that he knew the dream was true. He knew Kāne was with them. So he had to try again… So the two men began to pull again, and this time, the tree began to move. They pulled harder and harder and finally, the tree came out of the ground. And they saw water moistening the earth. Mukaka ran to get his digging stick, his o`o, to clear away the dirt and stones. A tiny stream began to gush out. The three people stared and Kealoha shouted, “Ka Punahou! The new spring!”

Now there was water for the entire neighborhood! Kealoha didn’t have to walk to Ka-Mo`ili`ili. Water soaked the ground. Walls were built, and taro was planted. Through these taro patches, lo`i kalo, water flowed steadily. Fish, i`a, were brought there. The i`a and kalo grew so the spring provided food as well as water. The people thanked the gods, Kāne and Lono, the gods of agriculture. Now their lives were good…

Many years later, a school, Punahou, was built beside that spring. And it bears the name Kealoha shouted in joy. The school seal is a hala tree, with water and kalo leaves. The founders of Punahou said that the school would be a spring for wisdom, a fountain of learning. As the hala tree stands firm through wind or storm, so shall the children of this school stand strong and brave through joy and sorrow. As the hala has many uses, so shall these children be useful to Hawai`i.

 

How did you come across this folklore: “This is a narrated version of the legend that I did, an adapted version of the one written down by Mary Kawena Pukui, a Hawaiian teacher and linguist.”

The legend of Ka Punahou––although it may be dismissed by outsiders to the Punahou community as just that, a legend––is an integral part of education at Punahou School, and a story passed down generations through faculty and students that is frequently reenacted. Everyone at Punahou must know the story and will see it performed/have to perform it at some point in her Punahou experience. At this point, it could even be folklorismus, as maybe it was invented just for the purposes of a school creation story, but it keeps getting told and the vast majority of the Punahou community would argue in favor of its plausibility and value to the institution.

 

Hawaiian “Baby’s Firsts”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Okinawan, Filipino, Korean, Hawaiian
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Aiea, Hawaii
Date of Performance/Collection: March 18th, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hawaiian

ʻahaʻaina māwaewae

The rituals start with the baby’s birth. ʻAhaʻaina māwaewae is the celebration 24 hours after a child’s birth—so what happens in this one is that… it’s like whereas the ʻahaʻaina palala (one-year celebration) is a physical celebration of the child surviving, the ʻahaʻaina māwaewae is more of a psychological celebration. This is where you decide the pathway for the child, and decide to take the responsibility of its safety and welfare. This is also when you dedicate the child to the ʻaumakua, and the reason for this is so that the child won’t be high strung and unruly; so that the child follows the traditional values of the family and their belief system. ʻAumakua is a family guardian that can take shape in the form of animals or plants or elements.

 

hiapo

Hiapo is the first born. Doesn’t matter what gender, it’s just the first born child. The reason why hiapo is so important is because that’s who the elders are gonna look toward for responsibilities and to perpetuate the traditions and to prepare and teach the younger siblings and the younger generations when they come. That’s why the ʻahaʻaina māwaewae is so important, especially with the first child, because they need to be nurtured and they take so much time.

When a woman finds out she’s pregnant, her husband will start raising a pig for the ʻahaʻaina māwaewae, and then as soon as the child is born, there’s special seafood that’s secured—these foods are like symbols of the child to be like. So… they’ll get a crab/fish (ʻamaʻama and/or āholehole) because these are the `aumakua of the area, and these are mainly specific to the families that grow up in Kaʻū because a lot of these peoples’ guardians (`aumakua) is this animal…

So the ʻamaʻama crab and the āholehole fish are the `aumakua—so they (the family) eat it to pay homage to him (the guardian), and that’s like a form of dedicating the child to the `aumakua… and then they also have lūʻau leaf (taro leaf) because kalo (taro) is the plant form of Lono, and Lono is the god of harvest and fertility. And they also have mahiki, which is a kind of shrimp, and mahiki literally translates to “peel off,” like fish scales… that one is meant to peel off as in peel off the bad; you want your baby to be “clean,” like they don’t want him sheathed in bad things.

Then they have kala, seaweed, and that word means “to loosen or set free.” Like you’re literally separating the child from his mother and that child is now independent in a way, and now, with the support of his family, is going to learn what he needs to, grow up and survive and eventually actually be independent from the family. And at the same time, they’re going to eat ʻaʻama, because that means to paʻa … “to stay close with the family,” because although the child is going to learn to be independent and learn to take care of himself, he is also going to remain close with the family and understand that he needs to take care of them. Because the Hawaiian way of thinking is that you can’t have any… there’s no rogues—everyone belongs somewhere, you are a part of a family unit and it’s uncommon if you aren’t. If you’re not, that means you did something very wrong. Family is the most important thing.

They also have mele inoa and mele maʻi that they have at the different `ahas… `aha `aina is like a party, it’s like a pa`ina… so a mele inoa is a name chant—pretty much self explanatory; a chant about your name. But when you get your name depends… Some people will go to a kahuna (priest), and they’ll ask the kahuna to dream—that’s how a lot of people get their names, through dreams. Someone will dream it up. There’s other ways you could get it, you could be named after a grandparent or an elder. You could have an inoa hoʻomanaʻo (a name in rememberance of a person or an event), relating to a past event or mostly to recognize a person or event close to the time of your birth. Queen Liliuokalani, her middle name is Kamakameha (“sore eye”) because when she was born her aunt had an eye infection. The names don’t need to be pretty, they’re to remember people.

I have a friend, Mahue Matekino (he’s from New Zealand), his name is an inoa hoʻomanaʻo and his name means “the one forgotten”—‘mahue’ means forgotten, and ‘matekino’ means death/dead, like a body… it relates to cancer, and he was named that because two weeks before he was born, his grandpa died of cancer, so he was the forgotten grandchild because he didn’t get to meet his grandpa… It’s really sad, but to Mahue it’s not sad, because you get to remember the best—the name physically ties you to that person.

And we have inoa pō, and the inoa pō actually kind of relates to having a dream, but not strictly. It doesn’t necessarily need to come in a dream, but this name is in honor of the `aumakua, and can sometimes be given by the `aumakua in the form of a dream.

There’s a lot of names in Hawaiian that are not pretty, but nowadays everybody just wants fricken’ pretty names… (less legit)

Then there’s ‘mo ka piko,’ and this name is given in contempt to anyone who has been rude to the family or rude to one of the chiefs. And, I guess that because they strongly believe that what your name entails are the traits you’re gonna inherit—it’s very common if you have this name to be very protective of the family or chief (inoa kuamuamu). ‘Inoa aloha aliʻi’ is “to remember a beloved chief.” Ākeamakamae (my sister) almost had an inoa aloha aliʻi.

The other chant, a mele ma`i, is a “genetalia chant,” as weird as it sounds, and that one is for the main purpose of procreation—a lot of ali`i (chiefs) would have it, would have one done for them—to spiritually influence them to procreate. And for the child, a mele ma`i explains how you came about and that this is what you need to do and why it’s important. It’s not so much the numbers of people that’s important, but they need the tradition to keep going, that’s why it’s important. When one kupuna (grandparent) dies, they need a baby to be born to “counteract” it, in a way.

 

ʻahaʻaina palala

This is the celebration after the child’s made one year, counted from birth (not conception). And then this is a celebration of the child surviving, which doesn’t have as many embedded traditions other than the physical ceremony where everyone celebrates the child passing the critical year mark. Usually this celebration is a lūʻau, a huge family gathering with traditional food, dance, music, and chants. A lot of preparation goes into the lūʻau and literally everyone comes because the first birthday is such a big deal.

 

How did you come across this folklore: “I’m in a Hawaiian Studies class called Hawaiian `Ohana, and we learn about the traditional family system from a particular area on the Big Island, and we chose this place because there’s a lot of history and traditional values that have been maintained from ancient times, which isn’t common around the rest of the islands in the state.”

Other information: “This is one of the most important ceremonies and traditions in the collection. When you’re born is a huge event, but coming of age—it happens when people have their baby’s first lu`au—it’s a ceremony that comes with it. Your first year is critical if you’re gonna make it, so it’s a big deal. That’s when the baby’s diet changes, when you start accepting that the baby’s gonna grow and be part of the community and stuff… but birth, naming, taking responsibility, etc. is a related ceremony all by itself.”

These ceremonies ritualize the transition from gestation to birth, and from birth to infancy in the life cycle. As my informant mentioned, even though the child is very young, this is kind of like a coming of age ceremony, when the baby essentially becomes a real person and therefore part of the community. Naming the baby officiates his/her presence in a family, which is marked by other parts of the ceremony, such as dedicating the baby to the family ‘aumakua, and is when parents/family members decide to acknowledge the baby and to take responsibility for him/her, to nurture and care for him/her.

Senior Skip Day

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Okinawan, Filipino, Korean, Hawaiian
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Aiea, Hawaii
Date of Performance/Collection: March 18th, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hawaiian

So Senior Skip Day is a Punahou tradition. So the seniors are required to skip school but we have to meet certain prerequisite requirements before we’re allowed to go, like all your books that are due at the library have to be turned in—you can’t have any library fines, all your work for your classes has to be turned in, etc…

And for some reason if you can’t go or don’t want to go, you have to get a form signed. So Senior Skip Day basically everybody has the same Senior Skip Day T-shirt and is wearing it… and you load up on the buses on the last instructional day of school and as a class you ride out to La’ie to the White Estate and basically have a picnic day…

I mean I don’t know what the fuck to call it… The about-to-graduate mini-vacation for the actual seniors portion isn’t the interesting part… So on that day all of the juniors (because it’s the last instructional day and the seniors are gone), all the juniors make shirts, “senior shirts,” which each group makes and they wear them to show that they’re seniors as well as what group they’re in.

And everybody from freshmen to juniors, that’s when they choose their spot to sit at for the next academic year. So people will sometimes come to school at 6 in the morning or earlier…

What used to happen—it stopped on our freshman year—was freshman prank day and that was when the juniors used to prank the freshmen… Our freshman year we had a crazy bitch, named Ilima (she was captain of the women’s wrestling team, covered in tattoos and piercings, known for her… “intensity” and hate for a certain group of girls in our grade)… and she took things WAY too far, managing to instill fear in all 400 students of our entire freshman class, even though for the most part everyone came out unscathed…

And if you’re wondering about the sophomores, the sophomores basically have nothing to worry about that day; they have zero responsibility. But to ensure that none of the freshmen get hurt (I mean, “pranked”) anymore, the deans set up a popup tent in the middle of the quad… and they take turns watching the Academy and escorting students to class themselves to make sure that nobody pranks the freshmen. Like if you’re known to be “targeted” by that year’s juniors, you can tell a dean and ask for protection… Which means that everyone only gets sneakier, so I guess the new tradition is to try to prank the freshmen without getting caught by the deans. That’s all I remember…

 

How did you come across this folklore: “it’s one of those unsaid traditions, I actually have no idea how I found out about it… you just “hear about it” as a freshman and you participate until you’re a senior when some things get officialized but really everything you do is up to you. You do what everyone else does/has done.”

Other information: “What happened our year, this kind of thing becomes infamous when certain people take it too far…”

I would be surprised if there were a lot of high schools that didn’t have some kind of event like Senior Skip Day, something to ritualize the liminal period between high school and not (graduation/college/the real world, etc.), or the junior-senior bridge (underclassman vs. upperclassman), or something that otherwise distinguishes seniors from the rest of the student population. It’s a time when people are allowed to make trouble, do things they usually don’t, and don’t know which group they belong to… yet everyone else, even those not going through the same transition, play along in a way and mark it as well.

 

 

“Quinceañeras”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Caucasian, Mexican
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Temple City, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 14th, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

… Let’s see… So you get there and you eat dinner and it’s kind of like the first hour or so is just socializing with your family and friends… because you invite everyone you know, basically… and everyone brings a present or money… and then, after dinner’s done, they go through like a slideshow of pictures of you growing up and stuff… and then I think that’s when they do speeches—like your mom does a speech, your dad does a speech, sometimes an uncle, or grandparents…

I went to one where her dad was in jail, so he actually wrote a speech and then her brother gave it… they had pictures of him before he went to jail, and him and her together on the slideshow running during the time her brother was giving the speech written by her dad about how much he loved her and how sad he was to have missed her growing up even though he was a terrible dad… and everyone was bawling… It’s kind of the point for someone to cry at these things…

And then there’s dancing; and so you get a court––like a bride gets her bridesmaids, you get like four or five girls––and you also assign them guys to be partners, and of course you get a partner. So you perform like a ton of really choreographed, complicated and tough dances. You go through months of hard core practice for them… and everyone just kind of goes and sits down while you’re performing, and then there’s one you do with your dad—it doesn’t have to be intricately choreographed or anything, it’s your choice of style of dance… and I think you get one more non formal one, it’s kind of at your discretion how many dances you want.

At one of them, she was a ballerina, so she had her own recital for just herself, but the other two, they didn’t have that because they didn’t have a dance routine to perform solo. That part’s not a requirement or anything…

Then they bring out dessert after all of that, like the main thing is done after all that… and everyone is now free to dance—again it’s one of those big social things, you’re allowed to dance, it’s not just a dinner. They don’t open presents while you’re there. And that’s kind of the end… you just kind of socialize ‘til it’s over (they’re usually like four to six hour events, that just carry on…).

Oh! The most important part: her dress(es)… She wears this really big—usually a white dress because there’s usually a mass part before it, and you wear this big white, formal prom-like dress—and she wears this for the church. And in the reception, she wears whatever she wants. It’s still a formal dance, but it’s not as strict… and then there are dresses for the dances, which she gets to choose, too. That’s why they (the quinceañeras) get so expensive, because they (the family) pay for the dresses of everyone else in the procession… they pay for everything.

 

How did you come across this folklore: “I wanted to talk about them because they’re a cool coming of age type of ritual thing… and I’ve been to a couple, but I didn’t get one because I’m third generation, so we’re kind of removed. I’m also half white. I was just as likely to get a sweet sixteen as a quinceañera. I studied abroad for a month the summer I turned sixteen, so on my sixteenth birthday I was abroad. So instead of a fifteenth or sixteenth birthday party, I had a big going away party that wasn’t as formal as a quinceañera, but it had the same general idea of celebration around that time.”

Other information: “I can tell you about them—I’ve been to several, and even though I never had my own, they’re still really important, especially to some families. Usually parents who are actually from Mexico, those kids will have to have one… it’s only first generation because it gets really expensive.”

This is an example of a coming of age ceremony, ritualizing the transition from girl to woman in Mexican(-American) culture. Something that stood out in the particular details of the quinceañera were how much it resembles a wedding-like ceremony, reflecting the cultural emphasis on this time period in a girl’s life and the importance of marriage (which is another marker of being a woman, the transition to the role of wife and eventually mother).

“La Llorona”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Caucasian, Mexican
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Temple City, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 14th, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Who was La Llorona? She drowned her kids. Her husband cheated on her, and then she drowned her kids to get back at him. And then he was mad at her, but that didn’t affect her so much as the overwhelming sadness that hit her. Over time she got so sad…

Because she was so sad and realized it was because she couldn’t live without her children, she killed herself too… but her spirit is unhappy so now she comes back and steals other people’s children to make up for losing her own.

 

How did you come across this folklore: “All of my elders told me; parents, grandparents, uncles used to tell this to all the kids.”

Other information: “This is used as a threat from your elders; IF you’re a bad kid, La Llorona will come and get you… like if you’re misbehaving in the supermarket or make a scene/throw a tantrum outside… or if you don’t listen to your parents, she’ll just come and take you in the middle of the night… We all believed the story… you just innately believe your parents, and don’t think they’re gonna lie to you, you know? And you definitely don’t think your grandma’s gonna lie to you… But just the thought of being taken away from your parents induced the right amount of fear to make it a very real threat.”

Even though it’s not always so believable, particularly outside of childhood or in these specific contexts of being threatened, La Llorona is still real. And the analogous stories (possibly oikotypes) elsewhere in the world show that this kind of theme is important to other groups of people, too, whether it’s used as a threat to make children behave, or to scare newcomers, etc.

“Lady in White”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Caucasian, Filipino, Puerto-Rican
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Hawaii Kai (O'ahu)
Date of Performance/Collection: April 12th, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

So he (my teacher’s friend) was driving on the Pali highway—middle of the day, nothing spooky about it—when he drove by a lady dressed all in white, with long white hair and… a white dog, walking down the Pali highway, hitchhiking. In his head he was thinking, oh my God, what an idiot, hitchhiking on the Pali, that’s so dangerous!

… and so he didn’t stop, just drove right past her…

Then, he was still thinking about it, so he looked in his rear view mirror to try to see behind him and check if they were still waiting there and… there they were, sitting in the back seat of the car.

(inhales deeply) Which is obviously how he ended up crashing the car… So, the lesson of the story is, if you ever see the lady in white, or the white dog—together or separate, you HAVE to pick them up. Otherwise bad things are going to happen to you…

 

How did you come across this folklore: “this is another one told by Hawaiiana teacher, but this time he was talking about an actual friend.”

Other information: “My teacher’s friend was in the hospital… so when he (my teacher) went to go visit his friend in the hospital, having heard that this friend had crashed his car, he asked him what happened. What the friend said in response is the story of the Lady in White…”

There are a lot of legends similar to this one, by no means limited to Hawai’i. This theme of a woman, usually in white, associated with some kind of macabre “aura,” returning dead for some purpose and somehow demanding respect, is found in a lot of places around the world… and these versions also reflect a similar relationship to belief that is contextual. You might not always believe in or expect the Lady in White to show up, but you wouldn’t rule out it happening, especially in a spiritual/”haunted” area like the Pali and much less at night.

For another version of this, see Glen Grant’s Chicken Skin Tales, which was also made into a TV show on a cable channel in Hawaii called “Chicken Skin,” where people tell/reenact various ghost stories from the islands written in the book. This story was featured on an episode, which began by interviewing a man in a hospital…

Grant, Glen. Glen Grant’s Chicken Skin Tales: 49 Favorite Ghost Stories from Hawaii.Honolulu, HI: Mutual Pub., 1998. Print.

“Handprints”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Caucasian, Filipino, Puerto-Rican
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Hawaii Kai (O'ahu)
Date of Performance/Collection: April 12th, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

When asked, “why don’t you drive on the Pali at night?” your response will be a sigh because the answer is obvious and comes in the form of various horror stories and unexplainable events. Long story short, no matter what story you’ve heard, driving on the Pali is always sketch. Anyway, this version starts like this:

So it was said that, a long time ago, there was a young couple that after a date, went up to the Pali lookout and (intake of breath) as they’re sitting there, looking out, they start hear something funny (like strange, not humorous)…

And so the guy’s like, “what is this?” and the girl’s freaking out a little bit…

His date was clearly really scared already and so of course he decided to be all “macho” and go outside and investigate. So he goes out and she can’t see him anymore… and then she hears him scream and then she hears the slap of hands on the car (gestures slapping)…

… and she freaks out even more, and then stupidly, also decides to go outside to find him/discover what the noise is… and of course she also disappears….

Then the next day, when people come looking for them, all they find is the car. They find a car on top of the Pali lookout, all covered in handprints (makes a wide gesture), and no one, to this day, knows where they were…

They were never found. And that’s why no one drives/stops at the Pali lookout at night. The End!

 

How did you come across this folklore: “this is something I think everyone in Hawaii has heard throughout life, especially in Hawaiiana class–but this version was one told more saliently/memorably at freshman sleepover by my paddling coach.”

Other information: “I’ve also heard versions where the car is found covered in bloody handprints, or something like that, but I find them less believable. This version, and the other horror stories from the Pali, are so believable that anyone from Hawaii will agree that driving on the Pali highway at night is a terrible idea.”

This legend, among the others forewarning those intending to drive on the Pali highway at night (which is passes through several areas than many would consider as “sacred” to the native Hawaiians), illustrates that belief really is contextual. One might not believe the story in broad daylight, in the comfort and safety of one’s home, but when obligated to or given the option to drive on the eerie Pali at night, all of these legends suddenly become a hundred times more plausible and a lot of people will go out of their way to avoid this.

 

 

 

 

Punahou Grey Lady Sightings

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Self-identified as multiracial/multicultural Hawaiian
Age: 60
Occupation: K-12 Science teacher, working on special science projects
Residence: Honolulu, Hawaii
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2nd, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

He (my colleague) was… walking home one day, from his office down in Bishop Hall… when he noticed this lady coming down the chapel steps. And… he goes in front of her and he can see that she has no face. It’s just… black (encircles face with hands), all black inside this cowl. And at that point he realizes that she’s not walking… she’s floating a few inches off the ground, and her left shoulder was up a little higher and she was just floating, floating until she floated right through that grating at Bishop.

***

I used to teach high school… and one of the kids in my AP (homeroom), he worked running the lights in Dillingham auditorium. And he’s looking over at the right side and he sees a shadow, but then he’s looking around for… well you know, he works with lights, so he knows where all the sources of light would be; how could a shadow be over there on that wall, when there’s no light source? And then he takes his light, and with his hands steers it over to shine it on the shadow, because it should just disappear, but what the shadow does, it kind of turns, like it’s facing him, stands up, and then walks down into a crack…

 

How did you come across this folklore: “This is a story that was told to me by a friend, another Punahou faculty member, and another story of a similar interaction from a former student that told me what happened to him.”

Punahou is a very old school, with some buildings well over a century old… and lots of eerie things are known to happen from time to time. In other more detailed versions of the story, the Grey Lady is supposed to be a spirit of a former Punahou faculty member who inhabits the school chapel and reveals herself to people on campus, usually at night and when they are alone. She usually just scares people, and doesn’t cause harm. One of the purposes of this legend is to make the Punahou community more exclusive–it’s a campus wide legend, she stays on campus, and typically is only seen by students, faculty, or staff of the school.

 

Wasting and The Potato

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese
Age: 41
Occupation: Mechanical contractor
Residence: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Date of Performance/Collection: April 30th, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Chinese

Waste not, want not…

 

Back when they were in China, when Nai-nai was young, they [Nai-nai and her family] were hungry (well I guess at least Nai-nai was really hungry) and what I remember is this…

Her dad was a drunk, he was really bad. He used to beat them all the time and he wouldn’t take care of them. Every time they had money that would make it so they were able to get food, he wouldn’t use it for that, he would gamble it. And they were mad because he’d lose the money and go drinking, and then he’d feel bad about it so he’d come home and beat somebody.

Nai-nai’s mother was always working, so she was mostly with her sisters. We don’t know her, but she was kind of mean, Nai’nai’s oldest sister. She was really mean I guess because she was the oldest so she had to be like their parent, but she’s no longer alive now… and I don’t think she ever came to the US…

Anyway one day, Nai-nai was really really hungry, and she had no food. She saw, through the neighbor’s window, potatoes, sitting on the windowsill. They were setting it on the windowsill to cool down because they were freshly baked. It was cool, but breezy… so the aroma of the potato wafted in the wind… When Nai-nai saw it she said she could smell it… and it was steaming still, which she could see… and she was so hungry she went and took it, but she took more than one, I think she took two because she wanted to bring some home to her sisters, that she thought would make them happy but it didn’t. And so her oldest sister beat her silly… and made Nai-nai give the potatoes back to the neighbors, who felt so sorry for Nai-nai and said she could take them because they knew she must have been so hungry. But Nai-nai’s sister wouldn’t let her because she said it was wrong. Nai-nai stole them.

 

How did you come across this folklore: “everyone in the family knows this story, and now you guys have probably been told the story as a supplement to the American (soft) version, “waste not (want not)” because of the lesson forewarning you (and all of the other kids) to never waste, especially food.”

Other information: “That was one of the turning points in her life where… she really realized you’re not supposed to steal, period. She became a Pharisee (a legalist); OBEY THE RULES OR DIE, basically. She told it [this story] to us a couple times I guess, but now she uses it more for the little kids, one of those lesson-teaching stories to scare them into not wasting (and not stealing).”

 

Proverbs circulating through families are often accompanied by a story. For my family, the reason why wasting essentially qualifies for consideration as a mortal sin, is because of one of those grandparent stories from “back in the day”…  For us, the ultimate proverb is “waste not, want not,” and the story around it is nai-nai’s (my father’s mother)’s story about the time she was beat to within an inch of her life for stealing a single potato.

“Ya Sui Qian”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 29th, 2013
Primary Language: Chinese
Other Language(s): English

So there is a tradition in China: Elder generations will give lucky money to younger generations during the Chinese Lunar New Year. The reason why parents choose to give their offspring lucky money come from a story as follows:

A long time ago, there was a monster named “Sui.” It came out every New Year’s Eve to touch little children’s heads when they were in deep sleep. Whoever being touched would had a fever the next morning, and would become idiots when the fever had gone…

There was a family who got their only son in their late years. So both of the parents loved their son a lot and were afraid that “Sui” would came to their son on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Eve, in order to prevent “Sui” from coming to their house, parents decided to play with their son till very late. They gave their son a piece of red paper and eight coins to play with. The boy wrapped the coins and unwrapped them, until he was tired and went to sleep. Later that night, “Sui” came to their house eventually. Wind blew out the candle, and “Sui” was about to touch on their son’s head. The moment when “Sui” extended its arm, the bronze coins in the red paper shone with brilliant light, and “Sui” was so scared that it escaped out of the house faster than the light. Other villagers learned the story, and they chose to follow the same thing that the family had done. No single child was touched by “Sui” and got fever thereafter, and that’s why Chinese people now still keep the tradition to give their children “Ya Sui Qian”–literally meaning the money to prevent “Sui” from coming during the Chinese New Year, which is also called “lucky money.”

 

How did you come across this folklore: “When I was in the elementary school, my Chinese teacher tried to explain what “Sui” means in Chinese, which means “one year.” Then she expanded the word with some phrases and Chinese traditions to help us better understand the meaning.”

Other information: “And this story was part of her explanation of “Sui” –marks one year in the Chinese lunar calendar with all kinds of related folklore.”

Lucky money is clearly a protective measure… in this story used by parents to prevent their children from becoming idiots. But as a whole, this story also represents the way that one word (“Sui”) can encapsulate not just a direct translation, but an entire story and is strongly tied to a tradition.