Category Archives: Legends

Narratives about belief.

Ghost Story in Primary School

Background: The interviewer and the informant went to the same primary school together in Qingdao, China. Interview asks the informant to retell a horror story that was very popular in their primary school. 

Informant: So next to the gate there was this statue of a woman, she’s playing a harp. And a long time ago there was this girl who stayed in school for longer than usual, cuz you know, she was on duty to clean the common areas in the hall. She was about to leave and she’s the only one left, and when she passed by that statue, she saw the statue woman blink. Then all of a sudden she really wanted to pee, so she went back into the building, to pee of course. Ok she didn’t go into the building, she went to that small restroom near the playground, you know where that is. She got in there, saw a janitor, and that person was wearing a hat and cleaning the floor. She didn’t bother and went in to pee. Then when she’s finished, she couldn’t get out! There was an air wall that blocked her way. Then… she never got out.

Context: This story was really popular in this particular primary school. Almost every student who went there has heard of the story. The interviewer and the informant first heard of the story when they were in second or third grade. Some people heard it from their classmates, and a few heard it from the older fifth and sixth graders. 

Analysis: The statue mentioned in the story was situated near the school gate and near a small school garden. There is a very shallow pool in the garden, and first and second graders are usually prohibited from going into the garden. I think this story serves as a cautionary tale masked with a mysterious, horror element. The physical location of the statue is at a liminal point—beyond the statue is prohibited and possibly dangerous. The girl in the story is in danger when she sees the statue, and when the impact of this terror is translated into real life, young school kids may be deterred by the statue and areas around it. This explains why the story was popular especially among younger kids. For the fifth and sixth graders, the garden and the school gate are no longer dangerous to them. The mystery and threats in the garden lose their attractions, and subsequently the tale is no longer scary. 

Ghosts and Murderers on a Bus

Background: The interviewer and the informant recall a ghost story that circulated in their primary school in Qingdao, China. 

Interviewer: Can you retell that Beijing bus story?

Informant: Yep. There’s umm there’s a guy, and he went on a bus. umm and then the bus got to a station, and then several people came onto the bus, and then suddenly there’s an old grandma walking towards him. And she sort of forced him to get off the bus. He said, this isn’t my station yet. That grandma didn’t give a damn and was like, pulling him off of the bus. And then after they got off, she said to him, those guys that just got on, they were ghosts, you see, they don’t have feet……and then the next day he picked up a newspaper, he found that the bus rushed into a mountain valley, and everyone on that bus died. He felt like he passed the gate of hell ‘cause that grandma literally saved his life.

Interview: Ohh I remember those guys wore Qing Dynasty robes too, like the ones Qing zombies wore on TV!

Informant: Yep yep yep, and oh yeah then the next day when the police found the bus, they opened the gas tank and it was filled with blood…

Interviewer: whooo I still get chills listening to this story…

Informant: Yeah and I heard it was adapted from a true crime story. 

Interviewer: Oh really? I think xxx told me that story the first time, but then two years later I saw something very similar on Baidu Tieba [note: a popular blog site, the Chinese equivalence of Reddit]. 

Informant: Yeah yeah I saw the post too. It really blew up everywhere hahaha. I forgot where I heard about the true crime version, but it was actually a murder case. I think it was a guy, he also was taking a bus ride, and then a few other guys went onto the bus too, and then it was still an old woman who pulled him off of that bus. It was like she saw blood on those guys, and they probably just killed somebody, and they were trying to ditch the body or something like that. Anyways the next day the bus rushed into a valley too. Basically they controlled the bus driver and hijacked the bus, but it lost control and fell down the road.

Analysis: This was a very popular story among fourth and fifth graders in this primary school. I think the reason its horror works particularly well for this demographics is because that bus was the most common form of transportation for students at that age. It serves as a metaphorical cautionary tale to alert the young students of the danger with riding the bus alone. 

This is also interesting, because the ghost story is created on the basis of an urban legend. The two versions are essentially the same story, but with slightly different elements. This shows that folk tales are very prone to variation and multiplicity.

The Aswang – Filipino Demon

Main piece:

BR: My grandmother is very religious and even more superstitious, and she was raised in the northern part of the Philippines. And one bit of folklore that she always talked about when I was a kid was the concept of the Aswang, a creature who appears human during the day but becomes a hideous beast during the night. And the Aswang brings bad luck and death wherever it goes, and is considered to be one of the stealthiest demons in Filipino culture, cause it can shapeshift, and usually slips by unnoticed. So my grandma always brought up the Aswang whenever anything bad happened, and it terrified me because she seemed dead serious about it. 

Context:

The informant, BR, was born and raised in the Bay Area. His father is from Hawaii, and their family immigrated there when he was very little from the Philippines. BR was always scared by this story when he was little, and even to this day he is still afraid of the dark. This story was collected over a phone call.

Thoughts:

We talked about in class how there are always a lot of stories that are meant for scaring children, and I think this one is interesting because it appears human during the day as a normal human. This not only encourages children to be on their best behavior (as most other children’s tales that we talked about) but also brings into question your relationships with other people, which is very important. It kind of seems like a metaphor for if you’re in a toxic relationship, or someone is giving you trouble. And that’s an important thing to be scared of, and so it makes all the more sense to scare children of that when they are young because young children have those same issues.

The Jersey Devil

Background: 

My informant, NK, is 19 years old and of South Korean descent from both her mother and father’s sides of the family. Her grandparents live close to her, so she spends a lot of time with them. She is very passionate about cooking. Even though she is majoring in biochemical engineering at UC Berkeley, she has always been, and remains to be, extremely interested in conspiracy theories. While she may not necessarily believe them, she enjoys hearing lore from across the world. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance:

NK: So, there’s this urban legend in New Jersey, called the Jersey Devil. I’ve heard about it from different like conspiracy shows or websites, and just word of mouth. Um, and it’s one of those things like Bigfoot. The myth goes that there’s a woman – there’s some variations obviously – but she had one kid or thirteen, depending on who you ask, and she had a pact with the devil or hooked up with him, or something. And so either that one kid or the youngest one was born deformed, so he had like wings and a beak and was human-like but also bat-like. He grew up to huge sizes, and then would be seen around New Jersey, I’m not sure which area. And then there’s been sightings, I’m not sure when the first one was, but there were a lot in the 20th century. I wanna say it’s similar to Mothman: big wings, red eyes, part human. 

SW: Do you know anything about the origins of the story?

NK: I’m not sure, but I think there were some sightings that were hard to explain, so people kind of made up the lore to explain them. 

Thoughts:

I love urban legends. As NK pointed out, like many urban legends, it’s safe to assume that the legend of the Jersey Devil developed in response to some unexplained sightings in an effort to make sense of them. There are a few different variations of the Jersey Devil legend. Most seem to identify the woman NK mentioned as Mother Leeds, as Leeds was one of the first settlers in New Jersey, and family with the name Leeds can still be found there today. There have been numerous accounts and sightings of the Jersey Devil, many of which can be found all across the internet. For more background on this urban legend and personal sightings of the Jersey Devil, see “The Jersey Devil.”

Annotation:

“The Jersey Devil.” Weird NJ, Weird NJ, 13 Jan. 2017, weirdnj.com/stories/jersey-devil/.

The Ritual Game: One Man Hide-and-Seek

Interviewer: Okay so how do you play this game?

Informant: Well as the name suggests you have to do this alone, while everyone is out of the house, preferably. You take an old doll that you don’t like anymore, cut it open and remove all the stuffing. Then fill it up with white rice. Once the doll is totally full of rice, cut a hair from your head and poke it into the heart of the doll’s body. Then take a knife and prick a finger, doesn’t matter which one, and wipe the blood onto the rice protruding from the doll’s back. Once you’ve done that, take a bit of red string and sew up the back of the doll and cut it off with the same knife you used to prick your finger. Once it’s sewn up give it a name, and it has to be a name that no one you know has.

Interviewer: Sounds like you have to be very careful during all this prep work.

Informant: Oh yeah and we’re not even done yet. Actually playing the game is specific too. You then have to take the finished doll to a bathroom, run a shallow bath, and then place the doll in the water. Turn out all the lights in the house, finding a hiding spot and count to ten. You shouldn’t forget to take the knife with you when you go to hide. Say ‘ready or not here I come’ then go back to the doll. Repeat ‘I found you, I found you, I found you’ then ‘you’re the next it, you’re the next it, you’re the next it’ and tie the knife to the doll’s hand. Then go to hide again, it doesn’t have to be in the same place. If you make it to sunrise, you’ve won the game.

Interviewer: Do you get anything out of winning?

Informant: No, I don’t think so. You just get bragging rights.

Interviewer: What happens if you lose?

Informant: The doll kills you, supposedly. But if you need to stop the game, like if the doll finds you, it’s recommended that you always have a glass of salt water prepared to pour on the doll. When you pour the water, shout ‘I win, I win, I win’ then the game is over.

Background: One Man Hide and Seek was part of a film project that she was doing for school. She researched this game but does not remember which sites she learned it from or its origin.

Context: I was interviewing my informant for rituals that she learned about through research and hearsay from others. She was happy to tell me about this one since it resulted in one of her favorite movies that she made.

Thoughts: I severely doubt that the original reason for doing One Man Hide and Seek was just so one could have bragging rights, so it must have been a ritual for something else originally. I did a little digging online and found a site that suggests the ritual was originally posted on a ‘Japanese horror bulletin board.’

Please see “One-Man Hide and Seek / Hide and Seek Alone.” Know Your Meme Accessed March 20, 2020

The Tale of Lady Godiva

Informant: My parents used to tell me the story of Lady Godiva. She rode a horse naked through Coventry in I believe some time around 1066. They told me she did it because her husband was over taxing the peasants of Coventry and she begged her husband to lower the rents and the taxes. He said he would grant her request if she was willing to strip naked and ride through the town on a horse. Which of course, she did. I always thought he must have felt right silly about agreeing to that. When he realized she was going to do it, he ordered all the towns people to go inside and to not look. That’s where a Peeping Tom comes from. This chap Tom peeked out his window and saw her and was struck blind and later died.

Background: My informant heard this story from her mother when she was a child growing up in Birmingham, 20 Miles from Coventry.

Context: My informant started sharing the information while I was finishing up collecting another piece of information regarding The Beast of Bodmin Moor.

Thoughts: An interesting short story to be sure, and I suppose it can be considered female empowerment through using one’s body to send a message. However, I don’t know if a child would get that idea unless explained thoroughly to them.

The Legend of The Beast of Bodmin Moor

Informant: In the 1970s there was a rumor, legend, whatever, that there was a beast on Bodmin Moor in Devon. The moor was isolated and creepy and people became afraid to go there because of this beast. You need to know there were a lot of sheep on the moor that had been found mutilated and chewed by something. And there were reported sightings of a huge panther like thing with yellow eyes and a big black cloak. Then in the late 1970s people said somebody found a huge cat like a lion or a tiger or something. The rumor said it had been released from a nearby zoo or private owner, someone like Jo Exotic.
Other people said it was some sort of paranormal beast. Nobody ever got a picture of it. But THEN, and I think it was the late 1970s, somebody found a tiger or a panther skull on the moor.

Interviewer: So wait there actually way a panther on the moors?

Informant: Ah but! They sent it to the museum in London and it was indeed the skull of a panther, but the way it was detached from the rest of the body it looked like a rug. It turned out somebody had chucked out an old ratty rug and it rotted away leaving only the skull. So the mystery has never been solved.

Interviewer: Do you think it could have been someone just wearing the rug as a costume and messing with people?

Informant: Might have been, yeah. Could have been.

Interviewer: But I don’t know how they would have disemboweled the sheep like what you described.

Informant: Yeah. There weren’t wolves around there in 1978, I don’t think, so it couldn’t have been them. But it might have been foxes or natural wildlife, or a big dog.

Context: I asked my informant about what stories she knew about as a kid growing up in England. This was the first thing that came to mind.

Thoughts: There are pictures of a black cat when one searches for the beast which definitely coincides with my informants description of the creatures. I wonder if once upon a time there was a large cat in the area or if it really was just a large dog.

The fear of COVID-19 and the Police

Abstract: The Corona Virus pandemic has caused a lot of confusion in turmoil as people were suddenly ordered to return to their homes and not be allowed to roam the streets unless it was absolutely essential. This worried people such as JP and he began to hear rumors from students on campus saying they’d been pulled over by the police while in Downtown and told to return to their home or else they’ll be fined. Other’s heard they were giving tickets if you roamed near public places. These rumors are analyzed below. 

Background: JP is a Mexican America from Florida and currently lives in California and like all of us, he’s been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. He is a University of Southern California student who studies Engineering. We were discussing the pandemic occurring across the world and the tight restrictions Los Angeles implemented to minimize the spread of the virus. We discussed how he was doing living near campus and any issues coming up due to it. He mentioned how he heard cops were pulling over people on the streets for being out of their homes.

Transcript:
P: How’s living in your apartment going? 

J: Dude it’s pretty weird like I’m the only one here right now and you know me I like to cook so I put on my mask and I drove to ralphs to pick up some stuff to cook and I heard people in line whispering that the police are apparently pulling people over for being on the streets? I was shocked at hearing this and I kept listening in on their conversation. They kept saying how the police might even start doing runs through freeways and just block off the ramps and only let you on if you have a valid reason. 

P: That’s a ridiculous man like what if you have an emergency or something? That’s not going to happen.

J: I know it sounds absurd but its the possibility of it happening you know? Like at this point it feels like anything can happen I mean look just a few weeks ago you and I were working on Homework in a study room just worried about our Engineering Midterm and now we’re stuck worrying about another midterm and this pandemic. This is not the way I envisioned us finishing our junior year. 

Interpretation:
Clearly there is a lot of skepticism going around due to this unknown virus and pandemics are a great way to spread fear and rumors which will continue to stir the pot and cause more panic. Rumors such as these seem to be spread to keep people in their homes and away from the public so they don’t spread the virus to others. On top of this, these skepticisms are effective methods of keeping in people in check but also in a state of shock due to their lack of detail and origins. This pandemic has made it really hard for people since it keeps them thinking of what the risks are of leaving their homes. If they leave their home, will they encounter a cop or will the be exposed to this new Virus? This is a risk people are taking just to sustain themselves with essential goods such as food and toilet paper.  

The Menehune People of Hawaii

Abstract: The original inhabiters of Hawaii known as the Menehune people are small people about the size of Dwarfs that live in the mountains and tend to cause disruptions such as high pitched noise at night. These inhabitants were once great and living on all of the islands until the Tahiti people forced them into extinction. The beings still inhabit the island but as ghosts or spirits seeking to rebuild ancient monuments and other necessities for their survival.

Background: DM is a student at the University of Southern California who is a native Hawaiin and grown up with many Hawaiin tales to explain how her place of living came to be. She finds great interest in the history of her island She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and with that, has heard a lot of folklore. After reading about famous Hawaiin Folklore, I saught to ask her about what she knows about her Island and its origins. 

DM: The first one I have for you is both factual and fictional about the Menehune people. So for the factual part, they are the first people to inhabit the Islands of Hawaii before the Polynesians and other tribes came in. They’re responsible for a lot of interesting features left around Hawaii like temples and some fishing spots. People talk about them being short people who live in the mountains like Hawaiin Dwarfs. And the creepy part about them and this is where it could be fake is at night when you heard weird sounds and things moving around people just assume its the Menehune people causing all of the weird noises. It’s not the real ones who do this though it’s their spirits that roam the island.

Interpretation:

It seems like these spirits are agitated because they were removed from their own Island thus why they create loud ominous sounds in the night. They’re also trying to rebuild which was once theirs by adding new structures and places to sustain themselves and continue to live on their islands. Hawaii has many large mountains and some of which are very difficult to reach thus these are the places where these people live. It’s interesting to hear that this particular story is both confirmed to be factual and fictional as there is proof that these people did on the Island but the fiction comes in the description of their current whereabouts. These people are also the dwarfs of Hawaii almost paralleling Dwarfs who work in mines and live in the mountains as portrayed by other media sources. This kind of the story of a group of people haunted those who moved them off of their land is similar to the story in America where Native Americans are believed to continue to live as spirits on their own land and haunt those who seek to settle on it or disturb and precious sites. In these cases, the haunting is justified as these people were wrongfully escorted off of their lands and killed which is why they seek to continue their residents on the islands to prosper on the land they started. 

Dragon Boats Legend

Piece
It was originally a native tribe holiday. A dragon boat competition. Rowboat? Like rowboats competition, in the beginning of summer and you had lots of special food. After the festival, the weather stays warm.
In the old days, China was always a kingdom. This was before China unified to one kingdom. At that time, there were several kingdoms and there was always war, it was not very peaceful. There was a king, back before… it was called the three kingdom era. There were more than three kingdoms but that must have been the three major ones. There was a test to see who had the most knowledge, every year, and the winner would get to advise the king. The poets were very knowledgeable in literature, and there was one poet, Qu Yuan, who was very loyal to his king, but another king was trying to lure him with his daughter to marry. Qu Yuan was a very good advisor, but his king did not listen to him, so Qu Yuan worried that his kingdom would be swallowed by the others. So at the end, he gives up on the king and was so sad that he jumped into the river and die. The people of the kingdom tried to find his body and that is where the dragon boat competition started. They also made a lot of bout-zons and threw them in the river in hope that the fishes would not eat him.
Context
The informant heard this story from their mother during a childhood celebration. The informant does not practice any of the described activities nor celebrate the holiday as an adult with a family.
This story was shared during a family gathering as it related to another story told that specifically focused on the tradition of throwing bout-zons into a river after a person has died in those waters.
My Thoughts
This story highlights a lot of the attributes important to Taiwanese culture: Chiyan is loyal to his king, even when he is not heard. He cares for his people and works for their benefit. And he is honored after his death by the people that he served. He is not tempted away from his duty by the offer of a princess’ hand in marriage, but instead seeks knowledge and to do what is good for the people of his kingdom. This idea of self-sacrifice and the pursuit of knowledge is perpetuated in many Asian cultures even now. While Americans may find his death pointless, the intended audience of Taiwanese people see his death as a statement of his care for the kingdom and its people.
Scholar Huang Zheng wrote that the Dragon Boat Festival was to commemorate two individuals: Qu Yuan and Wu Zixu, and that the festival sought to exorcise evil. This version introduces another character and attempts to explain the dragon figureheads of the boats.
Zheng, Huang. “A Review and the Expectation of the Dragon Boat Festival Culture.” Journal of Hunan Agricultural University, 2010.