Location: Brooklyn, NY
Date: March 14, 2018
“Don’t pout or a bird will land on that lip!”
“It’s kind of ridiculous. Like, of course a bird isn’t going to land on my lip. But, like, kids are also crazy and would probably believe everything. When I started hearing this phrase so much it bothered me, but now as I’m older, I can see why my grandma might’ve said it. She is such a sweet old lady. Like all the time, all the time, she would tell me all of these little sayings and stuff. But yeah, no, I’m pretty sure half of them were to just behave better and keep still.”
“Originally this was taught to me by my grandmother to stop me from pouting as a kid. Now I find myself teaching this to the kids I babysit.”
This piece was definitely one of the more odd ones that I came across. Why is a bird landing on the lip? Is that a bad thing? What kind of bird could even land on a lip? I mean, in a sense, I get it. You don’t want some bird smacking you in the face. It just wasn’t as clear to me as many of the other proverbs and warnings and sayings that I had heard over the years.
So, I decided to do some research. It turns out, the more popular version of this phrase is “Don’t stick your lip out or a bird might poop on it!” This was much more clear to me; bird poop is something that’s much more familiar than a bird actually landing on me. It also could go hand in hand with a kid acting like they are ‘full of shit’ when they are pouting.
The participant’s grandmother was described to me as a very sweet, kind, old lady. The participant also comes from a somewhat religious family. This all said, it could be that the grandmother thought the original saying was too crude for her grandchildren, so she changed it a little bit. Clearly, though, if the informant can remember it after all of these years, it must have been pretty effective.
The variation of this piece of folklore is quite different, but it doesn’t change the true meaning of the proverbial phrase, much like most variations of proverbs. Still, you can tie back its origins to the more popular version – or perhaps the more popular version arose from this one. In any case, like many proverbs were designed to do, it will make kids behave.
The Main Piece
The Gods have always been seen as powerful figures. In this tale, the Gods of our world have revealed their righteousness and sympathy for man. When two lovers have been forcibly separated because of their dueling families, as they are locked away on two separate sides of their households, the Gods decide to intervene in the dispute. They help the two lovers see each other again by calling upon the birds of the region to create a bridge for them once a year. They are allowed to spend their time together upon the bridge until the sun rises. Then, they must depart and wait the long year once again. The performer states “I always thought that it was so cute how they would wait for each other. I mean a year is a really long time and they only had that one night, but that one night must have been super magical.” She did also say that she may have left some parts out of her story since it was a long time ago.
My informant is Elizabeth Kim, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Elizabeth was told this story by her father whenever she went to sleep during her youth, around the ages of six and seven years old. It was one of her favorite stories as she imagined finding her perfect soul mate, someone willing to wait every year for just one night with her. There was a time in her life where she would request the story every night. The story is a representation of true love, but also her dreams and goals as a child. As she looks back on it she says “I know it’s lame, but I still hope to find someone like that. It’s the stuff fairytales are made of ya’ know?” She says she is unsure of whether or not her dad made it up or not, but whenever she mentioned it with friends they would claim to have never heard it before.
I was told this unique story as I was interviewing Elizabeth towards the second semester of our freshman year outside of Parkside Apartment at USC. The setting was casual and conversation flowed easily.
I learned a lot about the type of relationships Elizabeth fantasized about and the context of which these fantasies were instilled in her. It was great to hear about her childhood and her love for stories. I was interested in hearing the full story since she did say she felt she may have left some parts out, so I researched more. Although I could not find the version Elizabeth mentioned, there are different versions, some not even including lovers exist all mentioning a bridge of birds. One version is: Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds. While plot lines, details, or circumstances may vary in different versions there remains the common factor of a bird bridge being formed which I found interesting.
Hughart, Barry. Bridge of Birds. N.p.: St. Martin’s, 1984. Chronicles of Master Li and Number
Ten Ox. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.
The informant (L) is a 22 year old film student at the California State University Los Angeles. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma until leaving for college after high school. She attended camp many summers during her middle and high school years. She told me the story of the Waluhmaloo bird that is told at Camp Waluhili in Chouteu, Oklahoma. She had never seen a written version of this story, so the spelling of Waluhmaloo is just a guess. The story is told by the older campers and counselors to the younger campers (who are as young as seven) when they are taking their first hike to the Indian graveyard. L was both told this story when she was a younger camper and later told this story to the younger campers when she was older. Below is a paraphrased version of her story:
“The camp is on an Indian graveyard. When the white people were attacking the Indians a long time ago, the Indians needed protection. The magical Waluhmaloo bird made a deal with the Indians that he would protect their graves if they agreed to stop hunting the Waluhmaloo birds. The Indians agreed and even now, the Waluhmaloo bird protects their graves and will cause something bad to happen to you if you disrespect the graves. Before you enter the graveyard, you have to spin around three times and say out loud that you believe in the Waluhmaloo bird. Once you go into the graveyard, if you step on a grave, you have to say you’re sorry out loud to the graves. ”
This story seems to give something for the older campers to distinguish themselves from the younger campers. The passing of the story from older campers to younger campers is a rite of passage and effectively lets the younger and older campers share something. This story may also remain popular with campers over the years because it gives a way to deal with the tension formed by being so close to not only a graveyard, but a graveyard of what are now seen as a group that the American government and people treated very unjustly in the past. There is a hesitance within American culture to deal with the dead, as if remains somehow hold some special property. This is symbolized by the Waluhmaloo bird, who is there to make sure the graves are not disrespected. I am not sure if the camp is actually on or near an Indian graveyard, and I was unable to find any more information about the practice through internet searches. I don’t really think that the realness of the graveyard matters as long as the campers themselves believe it is there, and that it is real.
“Rare Bog, Rattlin’ Bog,” A Camp Song
Rare bog, rattlin’ bog, way down in the valley-o
Rare bog, rattlin’ bog, way down in the valley-o
And in this bog
There was a tree [arms in front of you in a circle]
A rare tree! [swing arms to left and right]
A rattlin’ tree [shake arms down and right]
[clapping]: And the tree was in the bog, and the bog’s down in the valley-o!
And on this tree
There was a branch [stick one arm out]
A rare branch [swing arm back and forth]
A rattlin’ branch [shake arm down]
And the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog, and the bog’s down in the valley-o
And on this branch
There was a twig [stick one finger out]
A rare twig [swing arm back and forth]
A rattlin’ twig [shake arm down]
And the twig was on the branch, and the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog, and
the bog’s down in the valley-o
And on this twig
There was a nest [make hand into a fist]
A rare nest [swing back and forth]
A rattlin’ nest [shake arm down]
And the nest was on the twig, and the twig was on the branch, and the branch was on the tree and
the tree was in the bog and the bog’s down in the valley-o
And in this nest
There was a bird [repeat nest gesture]
A rare bird [repeat]
A rattlin’ bird [repeat]
And the bird was in the nest and the nest was on the twig, and the twig was on the branch, and
the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog and the bog’s down in the valley-o
And on that bird
There was a feather [stick finger out]
A rare feather [swing arm]
A rattlin’ feather [shake arm down]
And the feather was on the bird and the bird was in the nest and the nest was on the twig, and the
twig was on the branch, and the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog and the bog’s
down in the valley-o
The informant is a young woman who attended many years of camp, being immersed in American campfire traditions. Thus, this piece was learned from others of her camp. She admits that very few of her friends and family remember this specific song, and when asked to recall it, she had to take many moments to write it out herself to solidify the tune in her mind.
So many characteristics of the piece indicate that it is suited for children: it’s rhythmic, repetitious, and physical, allowing children to learn quickly and engage with others in a performative way.