Category Archives: Legends

Narratives about belief.

The Tale of Lady Godiva

--Informant Info--
Nationality: British European
Age: 79
Occupation: Retired
Residence: Sherman Oaks, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

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 Info--
Nationality: British European
Age: 79
Occupation: Retired
Residence: Sherman Oaks, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

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

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Florida
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

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

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Hawaii
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/21/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

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. 

Bah-tzan Legend

--Informant Info--
Nationality:
Age:
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: 2020
Primary Language:
Other Language(s):

Piece
During celebrations, we eat bah-tzans. The reason we eat bah-tzan is because there was a story. There were two friends, they were very good friends. Normally you stay in your town, but these two friends were in different towns, so they said they would meet by the river. One would wait by the river and the other would come. The story is that the friends are so loyal that even when there was a flood, he waited. But he died in the flood but the friend want to remember him so he made so many bah-tzan sand threw them in the river so that the fish would eat them instead of his friends’ body.
Context
A bah-tzan is sticky, glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. It is more commonly called zongi in China. There are many different types of this type of dumpling depending on the region as different foods are mixed in with the rice such as meats, egg, peanuts, and mushrooms.
The informant learned of this story from their mother during a celebration in her childhood. The story was interesting, however when asked about how they felt about it, the informant responded with, “wasteful” and while an entertaining story, not significant to their personal cultural identity.
The family was eating a different kind of bah-tzan than normal and so one member asked about the different types and if there was a story behind bah-tzans.
My Thoughts
My initials thoughts were in line with my informant, it seems wasteful to throw so much food into the river. And while I admire the friends’ loyalty to one another, I feel that one must have a certain amount of discernment in dangerous weather and trust that the friendship can stand a missed meeting. This story says a lot about Taiwanese culture which heavily values loyalty, family, and friendships. Self-sacrifice for others is highly praised in Taiwanese culture, thus this story has appeal to them. Furthermore, the story shares the importance of the body when honoring a deceased individual.

Dragon Boats Legend

--Informant Info--
Nationality:
Age:
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: 2020
Primary Language:
Other Language(s):

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.

Haunted Train Tracks, San Antonio

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 50
Occupation: Computer Programer
Residence: Wylie, TX
Date of Performance/Collection: April 25, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context: My informant (M) grew up in a small town in Texas about an hour outside of San Antonio. This was a local legend she heard growing up about haunted train tracks. She told me every kid in her town knew about the tracks, and it was a common outing for high schoolers to go see the tracks. She told me that if you visit the tracks now, there are police cars and signs telling people not to stop on the tracks because it creates too much traffic. San Antonio plays into the legend and features the train tracks in museums and historical tours.

Main Text:

M: There’s a place in San Antonio where a bus filled with children got stalled out on a railroad track. They weren’t able to move the bus so the train came and it killed all the kids inside. So the legend is that the kids now haunt the train tracks. So if you drive on the train tracks at around midnight-and you can put like baby powder on your bumper or something- but if you stop on the tracks and put your car into neutral, supposedly the kids will push your car just enough for it to get off the tracks. Then, if you get out and look at your bumper, you’ll see little handprints on it from where the ghost kids pushed your car. I guess they do this so you don’t have to experience the tragedy that they did.

Me: Did you ever do it?

M: No I wasn’t allowed to drive to San Antonio at midnight (laughs). But in high school, a lot of kids would do it and then come back to school and say ‘oh you know we did it and it totally worked I saw the handprints and everything.’ And there were all of these “first-hand accounts” that made it really believable at 15, 16 years old.

My thoughts: It seems like a common story around the United States to have a haunted site where kids died and now they push your car. I did some research and I found a similar story from Los Angeles about the ghosts of Gravity Hill, I linked it below. I also included a link to the San Antonio ghost tours website that tells this story with more historical information. 

Los Angeles Gravity Hill: https://www.ranker.com/list/gravity-hill-haunting/erin-mccann

San Antonio’s Ghost Tours Site: https://ghostcitytours.com/san-antonio/haunted-places/haunted-railroad-tracks/

Dropbear

--Informant Info--
Nationality: White American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: San Diego
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/30/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

PH is a 20 year-old student who lives in San Diego, California. She learned about the folk creature of the dropbear through her friend who is from Australia. She told me about it in an interview.

Text:

PH: my Australian friend tried to convince any non-Australian person she met about the existence of dropbears. This one is quite famous, I already knew about it. The fact that it’s so famous though made it easier to convince people because you can google dropbears and there’s a wikipedia page and lots of pictures so it seems legit. The pictures are all faked. The wikipedia page is actually about dropbears as folklore but at first glance it just looks real. Dropbears are koalas except carnivorous and vicious with very pointy teeth, they drop out of trees and attack people. Honestly almost every time my friend mentioned them to people she convinced them of their existence. It was always fun watching her casually do it to people. When we ran into other Australians she would mention dropbears and they would laugh and keep up the ruse.

Thoughts:

The legend of the dropbear plays into the exported national image of Australia as a land full of wild and strange creatures. People believe the informant’s friend when she tells them about dropbears because they don’t know any better, they assume that it’s true because they know that “there’s a lot of weird animals in Australia.” The informant’s Australian friend clearly takes joy in exploiting this popular representation of Australia and tries to convince people of something that is totally made up. It is something, according to this informant, that Australians seem to be “in on.” They know better but they like to perpetuate belief in the legend.

The idea of the dropbear, a hidden, dangerous creature that descends upon the unsuspecting walker at any moment, reveals anxiety about the unknown creatures in the woods. The jungle is a place of rich and dense biodiversity, and a lot of creatures can be dangerous. This legend reflects the anxiety of facing them. Moreover, foreigners’ gullibility with respect to the dropbear reflects the anxiety about encountering a national other, one characterized by wildness, the jungle, and primitivity. The Australian telling the story then stands in for this other, from a far off and unfamiliar land. The story also gives its tellers some national pride in being Australians.

The Tooth Fairy

--Informant Info--
Nationality: White American
Age: 20
Occupation: student
Residence: Orrinda, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/24/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

JA is a 20-year-old student from Orinda, California. She recalled this story in an interview.

Text:

JA: I don’t remember when I first learned of it… but the tooth fairy comes to your house the night after you lose a tooth when you’re a kid. You put your baby tooth under your pillow at night and while you’re asleep, the tooth fairy takes it and replaces it with a gift. So, like, in reality, your parents took your tooth and put something there.

But, anyhow, most people use money as the tooth fairy gift, but my parents always gave us these little toys. I think I got a nice marker once. Little toys like that. And I believed it when I was a little kid but I lost my teeth really slowly so by the time I lost my last baby teeth I was pretty old and had my suspicions (laughs.) And then when I lost my last baby tooth that night I felt my dad’s giant hand putting something under my pillow.

I don’t really know what to make of the whole thing, just that it’s a fun game to play to reward your child for the milestone of getting adult teeth. I remember talking about the tooth fairy with my friends in elementary school.

Thoughts:

The tooth fairy is a common legend in America. It is a tradition that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood through the changing of a person’s physiology. As the body changes, the child is rewarded, maybe to allay what Freud calls castration anxiety, or a fear of becoming disincorporated, a fear of alterations in the physical body. The tooth fairy is a way of transitioning kids through that process, celebrating it, and marking it as a significant and positive moment in the life of a child. I remember that my own parents gave me a homemade card for when I had learned how to cut my own nails. This gesture follows the same basic function that the tooth fairy does which is to mark a time of physiological change with a ritual designed to acknowledge mental and spiritual change, to allay the fear of the body being picked apart and to redirect that fear, sublimate it, toward a positive feeling of pride in maturation.

La Llorona

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Arizona
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/2/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Context:

MV is a 2nd generation Mexican-American from New Mexico. Half of her family is of Japanese-Mexican descent and much of her extended family lives in Mexico. I received this story from her in a video conference call from our respective homes. She learned this story from her grandmother, who told it to her as a child. She grew up in near the Rio Grande in Albuquerque New Mexico, a river which also goes through Mexico.

Text:

MV: So the story goes that um.. there was this woman. She doesn’t really have a name, but… she was like a really beautiful woman and she lived in this little town and she fell in love with this man and she loved him so much and they got married, and she was like really obsessed with him, she really wanted to like… marry him… and just have him. So they ended up getting married and they had a few kids, a boy and a girl. She really loved the kids and they were really beautiful too because she was the most beautiful woman in the village.

One day, like, she was noticing that he was, like, was coming home really late, and was really sus, and wasn’t telling her where he was going or if he was at work or what was going on. And so, she found out that he was having an affair, and this, like, shattered her entire world… she went crazy!

So, she goes into the Rio Grande, and she takes her kids, and she’s so sad about what happened and she can’t stop crying (which is why she’s called La Llorona, hehe) So she’s bawling and bawling and she drowns her kids! In the river, cuz she’s just so sad, crazy, and like, I don’t know she was really into this guy… She drown herself in the river too, with her kids, after that. And pretty much, the legend after that is like, when you hear the wind going through the bosque (forest) near the Rio Grande, like that howling is her crying… that’s La Llorona!

JS: What do you think the story means?

MV: I think it’s just, like, a heartbreak. She had her heart broken really badly and she didn’t know how to handle that.

Thoughts:

The legend of La Llorona appears across a wide swath of Mexican and Central American folklore. In her historic-geographic study of the legend, Ana Maria Carbonell finds this destructive motherly figure to date as far back as the early days of colonization in the Americas. La Llorona is often seen as a figure to be feared, a deranged mother bent on murdering her kids, but Carbonell reads her against the patriarchal system which backgrounds her, and which causes her to place her self-worth or ontological justification within the (patriarchal) institution of marriage which, when shattered, has disastrous and deadly effects. This narrative shows the loss of the children not as a result of psychological derangement, but of hierarchical relations which compel la Llorona to destructive acts of love. Water is here a figure for destruction as well as birth. This figure of la Llorona, instead of a passive subject of the patriarchal gaze, has some subjective agency and is able to act out against a patriarchal order which subjugates her and which she fears for her children to enter. Note that the informant explained la Llorona’s actions in terms of the violence that was afflicted upon her and her inability to cope with it, not because of some internal fault, but because of external oppressions.

Carbonell, Ana Maria. “From Llorona to Gritona: Coatlique in Feminist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros.” MELUS, vol. 24, no. 2, Religion, Myth, and Ritual. Summer 1999