Tag Archives: agriculture

Maui Harnessing the Sun

Informant Context:

James has lived in many locations internationally, including Cosa Rica, Mexico, and Nepal. His family is located in Hawaii, where he will often visit during his breaks from school. He is a student in London, United Kingdom, studying fashion. 

Transcript:

JAMES: Obviously I am not native Hawaiian, but having spent some time there—especially now that my family lives there—um, there’s obviously a pretty rich cultural… culture of storytelling, and obviously they had their own kind of mythology and stuff. And one that always stuck with me was that on oddly enough, in the hotel that we used to say at often when we would go to Maui, there was a huge massive like—oh gosh, it must have been, it was probably like 30 feet tall, 20 feet tall and like 40 feet wide—is a massive wood carving of Maui harnessing the sun. Which comes from… obviously, Hawaiian legend and myth—of how in the early days of creation, the sun raced—was obviously a personified person, and they would drive rapidly around the earth, basically, racing around the earth and… days were so short,  that people couldn’t do anything, they couldn’t get anything done. And so, they—the people, you know, cried out to Maui their demigod savior, and said, “Can you do something—[laughs]

INTERVIEWER: [joins] 

JAMES: —about this?”, as people tend to do of their deities and stories, and even in modern days, but that’s a lit—that’s a different issue [laughs]. Um… and yeah, so as far as I’ve been told the story, it’s—Maui climbed up to Haleakalā, which is the, uh… largest—larger of the two volcanoes on Maui, and cast out his fishing net—which is one of those ones that you like… yo—I don’t know like, the term for it, but you like, swing it out, and it like, spreads out. And he managed to catch the sun, and brought him down to earth, and was basically like “Hey!”… basically threatened him, which I feel like you shouldn’t do to like, the *sun*, but… he… basically threatened him—

INTERVIEWER: [laughs] You’re nice to the sun?

JAMES: [voice broken by laughter] You know? Like, you kind of… be polite, [or(?)], diplomatic, but—

INTERVIEWER: [laughs]

JAMES: Anyways, I guess you can do whatever you want if you’re a demigod. And uh, yeah. But he harnessed the sun, brought him down, and basically [showed him(?)] like, “Hey! You—we need like, more… we need longer periods of light. Because otherwise, the food isn’t gonna grow, and if… we can’t just keep working at night, because you know, electricity isn’t a thing. And so, please go slower.” And then he released him, and that is where they believe the day comes from. The… uh, as far as… in its longevity, um… and its consistency, I suppose, being where they are at—near the equator. Um… but yeah! That one always stuck with me, mostly because we would just see this massive woodcarving over, um… in the foyer of this restaurant. [unintelligible] is always… like, like right in the middle of the hotel. Um… but I always… I always loved the Hawaiian myths, I suppose. I think they’re very…  mythology in general, I mean, is just fascinating…

Informant Commentary:

James has a general interest in religious folklore, especially the folklore of those places he has personally visited. He expressed a positive view of folklore in Hawaii, citing institutional efforts of preservation and respect, such as laws surrounding burial grounds and other sacred land, as well as the consistent invocation of traditional Hawaiian symbolism around government buildings and tourist areas (e.g., the statue mentioned in the transcript). When countered on this idea, James acknowledged that many of these efforts are, in his words, “performative”. 

Analysis:

This story is best categorized as a myth, as it is a creation story and an explanation of a natural phenomenon: the length of the days. Based solely on the narrative of the story, the myth of Maui harnessing the sun seems to reference a fundamental trust in deities to intervene on behalf of man, even capturing one of the (if not the single most) powerful natural force.

Ghost Story: Cursed Tomb

Main Piece: 

“If there’s a woman and she’s pregnant with a kid, if she dies and gets buried, there’s a possibility that the kid is still alive. The tomb will be cursed and the kid will still live and grow and live in the tomb. And the village where the tomb is won’t receive any rain for many years.”

Background:

My informant said that this was a folk belief that he had heard, like a ghost story, growing up in China. The informant had little personal relationship to this story, but had heard it repeatedly from a variety of ages. It seemed more region-specific than specific to another group. He offered interpretations of the story both as a regular “spooky story” to tell and as a folk belief in farmers to help avoid or explain away destitute lands. 

Thoughts:

Ghosts are often reflections of what a culture considers unfinished business or a scar from the past. It’s likely that in this case, we’re seeing part of a natural grieving process for the loss of both the pregnant woman and the unborn child. Because there is a feeling of doubled loss, a supernatural consequence may feel necessary. Additionally, there’s a strong sense in this story that the natural order is being disrupted. Pregnancy is supposed to lead to new life, but it is disrupted here and ends in death. As a consequence, the natural order of the weather is equally negatively disrupted. The curse on the tomb is a curse of no rain and thus no crops. 

Elders know best – Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

“A un novillo joven hay que enjuntarlo a un buey viejo para que surco salga derecho.”

Transliteration:

To a young bull, you have to bind it to an old bull so that furrows go straight.

Translation:

Elders know more, so in order for new generations to learn, they must learn from their elders.

Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

 

Context and Analysis:

When I asked my informant, a 78-year-old male, to recount to me any proverbs he might know he mentioned this one. I asked him where he had heard it and what it meant. He said he heard it in his home town Autlan, Mexico when he would go to the countryside. Before he told me the meaning of the proverb he made me attempt to guess for myself. After a couple of failed guessed he revealed to me the meaning he interprets from this proverb. He said, “Hay jóvenes que se tragan el mundo y creen que la computadora te dice todo pero para aprender bien necesitas la experiencia de alguien que ya haya vivido. A mi me invitan a muchas conferencias donde les platico de mis fracasos.” Loosely translated to: ‘there are many young men that think they know everything and believe everything the computers tell them, but in order to learn you need the experience of someone who has lived. I get invited to lots of conferences where I tell them about my mistakes.’ My informant explained to me that he believes the best way to learn is through the experience of others. He says he loves going to conferences and teaching others about the mistakes he has made in his life because this will prevent them from being made again. My informant wants me to emphasize how much more useful life knowledge is than theories and techniques you can learn in a book. He says the most valuable people are the ones that can learn from both books and absorb what they can from other’s experiences. 

I agree with my informant on the importance of not just taking knowledge from books and published sources, but also taking advantage of older generations that are happy to share what they have lived through. My informant is a civil engineer and has done many public works and constructions people utilize every day. The stories he has to tell would teach anyone many qualities but especially other civil engineers considerably about, work ethic, problem-solving, and techniques. I also asked my informant if he would ever consider publishing a book to which he responded he enjoys sharing his experience one on one because it is too much to fit in a book and this makes it more personal. I believe there are many people like my informant that love sharing their experiences personally and there is a lot to learn from them.

It is apparent this proverb originates from the countryside for its reference to cattle and the technique of how to teach a young bull how to plow. These are agricultural references, so I would argue the proverb originates from an agricultural background.

 

 

 

 

Babies and the Moon

Informant C is 20 year old and studies Journalism. She is half Turkish and speaks Turkish as well. Her mom is Turkish and is from the Eastern Turkey area, about 200 miles west of Syria. Her entire family is scattered over Turkey and have resided in Turkey for many generations. Many of them are involved in agriculture.

People are very mystical about the moon. If there’s like a really really bright moon its considered really good luck especially in the country where you can see the stars and everything. So if the moon outshines the stars that means one of the best things that’s going to happen in your life is going to happen soon. The moon is so mysterious and unknown, and it probably represents something for everyone. So people in Turkey are also really fascinated with babies. And if like a really little baby is born, they’ll like put the baby on the shovel and put it out in the moonlight. And they say like ‘Make my baby stronger’ and it’s like a whole kill the baby or make him stronger. They think that the moon is like curing this baby, it is bizarre. It’s such a strange area. And another thing like if you put the back of a shovel in the moonlight and if it reflects a certain way then you’ll have this many more days of good crop. There’s so many things with the moon. They truly believe it and really do the shovel thing with the children.

 

Analysis: Here informant C tells about some of the rituals that involve the moon in Turkey. She says that the moon is mystical and mysterious and that inspires the large amount of folklore about it, as is also seen in other cultures. Also in Turkey, the people are prized for being strong and independent, which explains why the parents would want their babies to be big and strong, so they put them out under the moon. This is similar in some ways to older customs in Sparta where children were required to prove their strength from a young age.  She also talks about how the moon inspires some agricultural predictions about how the crop will be, since agriculture is so important for this area.

For more about Turkey’s Black Sea region and their folklore, including placing a baby on a shovel, see

Wise, L. (2013, February 23). Folklore and Superstitions of the Black Sea. Retrieved April 30, 2015, from http://www.brighthubeducation.com/social-studies-help/15017-superstitions-and-traditions-in-turkeys-black-sea-region/

El Boniatal, or Sweet Potato

“Dicen que el boniato es un jugete. Me dio trenta tauretes. tres mesas y un tinajero. Maquina con costureros que no se pueden nombrar, y me dio para forrar el corral de la arboleda. Valla a casa para que vea donde queda el boniatal.”

English:
They say the sweet potato is a toy. It gave me thirty stools, three tables & a water jar holder. a sewing machine with sewers which cannot be named and it gave me enough to fix the corral for my grove. Go to my house so you can see where my sweet potato plantation is located.

This cuban refran, or saying, is basically saying that the speaker is thankful for their vegetable/ crop because it provides for them all of their neccessities. My informant was a field worker in cuba when she was young and picked it up among elder family members. It makes sense that they would hold the sweet potato in such high regard, as they lived an agricultural life-style and would be almost completely dependant on their crop to make a living.