Tag Archives: farming

Apple Harvesting with the Family

Background: The informant is a 55 year old mother of three who was born in Pennsylvania. She currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She moved to Chicago when she was 28 years old. She lived in Pennsylvania until she was 10 years old, but would go back every year to visit her grandmother. Her grandmother lived in a small Pennsylvania town in a house surrounded by an apple orchard.

Context: The context was the story was shared over the phone, brought up during a discussion about foods. The informant seemed happy to share old stories.

Text:

TC: I’m reminded of, when I was growing up, my grandmother lived in a big house surrounded by a huge amount of apple trees, basically an apple orchard. Whenever the apples came into season, the entire family and some neighbors would come over and pick all the apples. After we were done, my grandmother would make apple cider by herself, that’s why I love apple cider to this day. Oh, also, all of us would help her make plain doughnuts. You know, that’s why I always order plain doughnuts whenever we’re out at a doughnut shop. All together, we would feast on a meal of apple cider and doughnuts. 

Me: So, you did this every single year?

TC: Yes. I remember, even when some of us started moving away, my grandmother would still continue on the harvest. She would make her apple cider and doughnuts and share them with whoever was there with her… I forgot to mention, my grandparents were farmers, which was why they had many many trees on their property. They owned a huge area of land and it was the center, or the focal, point of where my family would gather.

Analysis

Informant: She views the tradition fondly as a time of her childhood. She didn’t think much of the roots but was focused on it being a time of familial gathering and a feast of sweets.

Mine: The family gathering together to pick the apples is reminiscent of old harvest traditions and festivals. It’s an excuse for everyone to gather together and bond through mutual work. Typically, whenever the harvest would be done in the past, apple cider would always be prepared and a feast would be waiting at home for the farmers. Given that the informant’s grandparents were farmers, they were likely aware of this tradition, even if they didn’t explicitly tell their family members. The meaning behind the cider and doughnuts didn’t matter, it was only needed to share time with family – it served as a gathering place. To this day, apple orchards are still used as a prime gathering place, many times field trips used as outings or friends go apple picking as an activity. Typically, sweets and apple cider are still served, emphasizing that while the tradition has changed in terms of farmers gathering the harvest of the year, it still remains to be a community event. 

To see another version, TIM STONESIFER. (2009). Celebrating an apple tradition The National Apple Harvest Festival begins this weekend. 1–.

Nisse of Norway (Norwegian Santa)

Main Content:

I: informant, R: roommate M: me

I: So it’s a Christmas tradition, like, so we have Santa but it’s not that kind of Santa, it’s like a little gnome

R:*laughs* Gnome?

I: No yeah it’s like, not very tall, its like a little dwarf situation going on, but you leave out like porridge for him Christmas Eve so he doesn’t come and like um mess with your house or like tie you up or something

R+M: *laugh*

M: I love that!

R: *inaudible dialogue…* kidnapping at times..

I: no no yeah you have to please,, it comes from farm…farming, I think, so like farmsteads. So we would have like, they would be like caretakers of your, like they would take care of your animals and like watch out for your farm and stuff and then you left out food for them and we still do that. Cause I think you leave cookies and milk in the US?

M: Yeah

R: But that’s for Santa 

I: But it’s the same kind of situation, except you do it to like you know give a gift for your like uncle gnomes or whatever

M: yeah that’s so cute

Context: This is a practice that my informant has been doing since he was a little boy. The Norwegian legend of ‘Santa’ is different and thus their offering and practices are different as well.

Analysis: The Norwegian’s legend of ‘Santa’ is very different from the American telling, showing multiplicity and variation in the lore. The origins of these gnomes came with the Norwegian farmsteads wherein these gnomes would be responsible for the success or failure of the farms so in order to please the caretakers- as in many other cultures- offerings are made. In this case, porridge. In the US we offer milk and cookies and good behavior in exchange for gifts. These gnomes come around the winter solstice/ Christmas time, which is another common occurrence; folklore and celebrations often to be align with the solar calendar which can be representative of the life cycle.

For another version of this legend see: Varga, Eva. “The Nisse of Norway.” Eva Varga, 4 Nov. 2013, evavarga.net/the-nisse-of-norway/. 

Kalo Farming and Menstruation Superstition

Main Text

Subject: There was a superstition. Um…that, like, while we were helping with the kalo fields. Was that, um, anyone, anyone who is menstruating at the moment, couldn’t help. Um…basically like, plow the fields or whatever. Because like, native Hawaiians, they didn’t have as like, strong, as like…um…like gender binary, misogynistic, like, beliefs. But…more that like…that, and so like everyone was expected to help for, um…agriculture and harvesting and all that. But that like, anyone who is menstruating, like, the smell of blood attracts like, evil spirits. So like—and, when you’re…when you’re farming, like, any energy that you have while farming, um, will…be put into, like, will grow with the food, so if you have like, negative thoughts while you’re farming, um…like you will have, like, negative energy in your food. Um…so like, not that like people who are menstruating have like, negative energy on—already, but that like, they will attract like, negative energy to the field. While it’s being plowed.

Background

The subject, a 21-year-old Chinese-American student at USC, went on a service learning trip to Hawaii, as part of the Alternative Winter Break USC program. The trip lasted five days. The goal of the trip was to learn about native Hawaiian culture and the independence movement and contemporary struggles the state experiences.

Context

The subject first learned about this superstition from a Native Hawaiian student majoring in Native Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaii. That student shared the superstition while people on the Alternative Winter Break trip were helping Native Hawaiians prepare a plot of land for the planting of kalo, a staple Native Hawaiian food. During the initial sharing of this superstition, people who actually were menstruating were not allowed to help in preparing the field, out of respect for the cultural significance of the superstition.

The subject recalls a similar superstition with regards to cooking, which they learned from a Hawaiian botanical garden tour guide. Traditionally, Hawaiian men would make food, because if women were menstruating and cooking, the evil spirits would enter the food as well.

The subject once shared this superstition about menstruating in the field with a person outside the Native Hawaiian folk group. The person hearing about the superstition called it misogynist, because it purposely excluded women from the fields. The subject thinks it is not right for themself to pass a judgment on the superstition, because they are not Native Hawaiian.

Interviewer’s Analysis

This is an example of Frazer’s concept of homeopathic magic in practice. Homeopathic magic is the idea that like produces like—in this case, that negative energy from menstruation draws evil spirits or other types of negative energy into crops and food. In addition, outside the context of Hawaii, farming superstitions are quite a common phenomenon, due to the uncontrollable environmental risks that are involved in growing crops. Any superstitions that provide any additional sense of personal control over the environment helps to ease anxiety.

As someone who is also not Native Hawaiian, the interviewer agrees with the subject’s opinion that it is improper to judge the morality of this superstition. The interviewer would like to further argue that trying to evaluate whether a folk belief is discriminatory is unproductive. Folk beliefs are not necessarily adopted with social justice theory in mind—nor should they be coerced into forming some sort of coherent ideology. Folklore is unofficial discourse with no predestined direction of development, and to treat it as if it were a systemic institution would be scientifically inaccurate.

El Chupacabra

Title: El Chupacabra

Ethnicity: Mexican-American

Age: 20

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): AJ is sitting on a sofa in front of the Trojan Knights house, it is a calm warm Sunday in South Central Los Angeles. It is a group of 10 male students from the University of Southern California sitting on the front porch, sharing stories. All of these men are members of Trojan Knights, and are relaxing after having started cooking homemade friend chicken. All of these men are close to one another, including the interviewer. AJ says he has a good one as he puts his drink down.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee – Ok so this thing ate my goat. Well, he sucked it really.”

Interviewer- “What thing?”

Interviewee – “The Chupacaba. At least I think it was one. It was back when I was in Texas, and my family has this farm you know? And I had to take care of a lot of animals, including our goats. Now heres where it gets good. (Long pause as he looks around at our faces). I went one morning to check on the goats and feed them, and I found it.”

Interviewer– “Found what?”

Interviewee – “My goat that I had lovingly named Joe Tuffhead. He was dead, and I can’t really explain what happened to him. When wolves come to feed, they feed, but Joe was still intact, mostly. This was the weird part, he… he was drained. You know what I mean? He had no blood anymore, it’s like something sucked it right out of him. He was hollow, yeah that’s what it was. I was looking for that word. Hollow. Poor Bob was hollow.”

Interviewer– “I thought his name was Joe?”

Interviewee – “Oh yeah, right, that’s what I meant. Sorry I have a lot of goats I mix up their names.”

Interviewer– “What did you do after you found Joe?”

Interviewee – “Oh my dad and I built another small barn house and had the goats in there every night from then on. No more Chupacabra attacks, no more dead goats. Everything ended well.”

Analyzation: AJ seems to have a hazy memory up until the actual scene of the dead goat, which would make sense. The most traumatic things are usually the ones that stick in our heads the clearest. We did not get to hear the father’s explanation of the situation, and so we get the idea of a young Adrian when he was growing up in Texas. Overall however, AJ is someone to be trusted, but there is also something to be said about the situation, and about how AJ was preforming this piece of folklore in front of 9 of his friends and fellow students, perhaps wanting to impress them. This idea of the Chupacabra however, is recurring within the Hispanic community in the United States and other countries. Often, when livestock die and there is no real reason as to why that has happened, people blame the Chupacabra. And it fits the MO. When animals die for no particular reason, the idea of a monster coming and killing them seems just a likely as anything else. The myth of the Chupacabra has been around for a while, and continually mutates in various ways. From this story, it appears the Chupacabra got tired of eating livestock in southern Mexico, and Mexico entirely, and has moved on to greener pastures in Texas. Of course this is better explained by pointing out that people from Mexico have been migrating every northward, and their myths and stories come with them. It is only logical to hear of the beast in the United States at this point.

Tags: Chupacabra, Goat, Mythical Creature, Farming

Swedish Mythological Creature: The Tomten

Contextual Data: After talking to me about the Spring-time witch pilgrimage in Sweden, my friend mentioned also that when she was in Sweden and her family went into the woods, they saw small cabins where moose hunters stayed, which were popularly referred to as troll houses. She then started talking about this gnome/troll-like creatures called Tomten. The following is an exact transcript of our conversation.

Informant: “Um, so one thing that they like to talk about is something called the Tomten, and the Tomten’s basically like—”

Me: “How do you spell that?”

Informant: “T-O-M-T-E-N. Um, and he’s kind of like… I don’t know, like a little gnome or like a mini Santa Clause kind of. And especially around Christmas the Tomten has like a Santa-like role, but he has like a little beard and he has like this red pointy cap and… But he’s also kind of mischievous and if you lived on a—in a in northern Sweden you would have to put out porridge every night for the Tomten and if you didn’t put out porridge, he would like, let foxes into your chicken coops and like let your sheep roam free. I mean it wasn’t like, ‘Put out porridge and the Tomten will like shine your shoes in the morning.’ It was like, ‘Don’t put out porridge and the Tomten’s gonna fuck you up’ [Laughs]. Um… So yeah. Um, but it’s actually kind of interesting because there are all these stories about—I remember reading them when I was little, like a little kid. Like illustrated books about the Tomten and kind of his—well actually how he cares for the farm animals and stuff and then goes and gets his bowl of porridge. So maybe it’s not always as sinister as I described, but—but if you don’t, like… You put out the porridge. You don’t not put out the porridge. Um, and I mean, so there are a lot of kind of traditions like that up north.”

– End Transcript – 

When I asked my informant what she thought the significance of this was, she said that she thought it had to do with the fact that many Swedes believe that there is a connection between the people and the land. She said that even nowadays people in Sweden see nature as having kind of a “magical quality to it” — thus the rise of these earth-based mythical creatures (i.e. creatures of “lower mythology”). This is why she feels the story has lasted.

Certainly this can be seen in the way that a Tomten (at least in stories) is perceived as caring for the farm and the animals. Leaving out the bowl of porridge could therefore suggest some form of repayment or offering of thanks. The stories in which the Tomten doesn’t necessarily care for the animals but causes chaos if he doesn’t receive his porridge could be seen as an indicator of beliefs about the power of the land and of these earth creatures—that they’re meant to be respected, and that in some way, something is owed to them for being able to live a peaceful life. Both of these ideas harken back to this perceived connection between the people and the land that my informant says is so important in Swedish culture.

Annotation: http://www.amazon.com/The-Tomten-Astrid-Lindgren/dp/0698115910/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1367443488&sr=8-1&keywords=tomten
This story, a picture book aimed at children and perhaps one of the ones my informant was referencing, depicts the Tomten as a friendly creature that is very much a part of the land and the farming culture.