Tag Archives: forest

The Oxen and The Tiger

Context: J is a 21 year old Filipino American college student who grew up in California, who was regularly visited by her Grandparents who shared stories from their childhood. The piece was collected during a discord audio call. 

Intv: “Hey! I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind telling me the story that your grandmother told you about.”

J: “ Yeah sure! So There’s a story my grandma used to tell, she heard while growing up in cambodia! Just a little outside of the capital of Phnom penh. It’s about the origin of tiger stripes and why ox have no upper front teeth.”

Intv: “Okay sounds great! I’d love to hear it!”

J: “So basically this tiger was stalking these oxen getting beaten around by a man while working the farm fields, full of curiosity, the tiger approached the oxen after the man walks away and asks “my ox brethren, why do you let the weak man beat away at you and make you work for him when you could easily kick him down and be free like me?” and the ox replies “it’s because the man has intelligence that makes us listen to him” the tiger then asks, “what is intelligence?” and the ox replies ‘go ask him yourself’ which the tiger does but approaches the human arrogantly because the tiger thinks he is the most powerful being in the world and demands that the human man show the tiger what intelligence was or the tiger would maul the human. the human responds ‘ah, i left my intelligence at home so i would have to go retrieve it but i don’t trust you around my livestock’ and while the tiger insisted that he’d wait for the man, they came to an agreement where the man would tie up the tiger to prevent him from potentially attacking his oxen. However, after tying the tiger very tightly to a tree the human placed a bunch of leaves and branches on the tiger and lit him on fire. The oxen began to laugh at the tiger while pointing at him with their front legs and they laughed so hard that they fell on their front two teeth and broke them and they never grew back. while the tiger screamed in agony until the rope tying him to the tree burned away and he fled back into the forest, with the black stripes being his burned flesh for forever”

Analysis: As a first time listener to this story the main thing that stands out to me is the human animal relations. Humans are depicted at the top of the food chain, not because of power but because of our wit. The unnamed human in this story even acts like a common trickster character, by pretending intelligence is a physical object. Also through the oxen we see another aspect of human capability and intelligence, through just how the oxen says “intelligence makes us listen to him.”

Tree People of the Philippines – Dwende

Text and Context

DA (informant) – We have the dwende in the Philippines (I think a lot of cultures have them, even Guam). They’re kinda like dwarves and they live in anthills, tree stumps, stuff like that, which is why growing up we were taught to ask for permission before entering the woods.
My mom told me my brother got really sick to the point that they had to go to the hospital, but they couldn’t tell what was up. Apparently he peed on a tree stump and it pissed off the dwende living under it and it cursed him. He was fine in the end though. (laughs)
Interviewer – How were you supposed to ask permission to enter? And what might happen if you didn’t? Similar to what your brother experienced?
DA – You would say, “Tabi tabi po” which basically means “excuse me.” And yeah, it’s so you don’t get cursed in case you happen to disturb their home by stepping on them or something.
Interviewer – Is there anything you can do to lift the curses of the dwende?
DA – Yeah! Witch doctors (in the Philippines: albularyo, in Guam: suruhanu). First they see what’s causing whatever you’re feeling. Usually with melted candle wax and a bowl of water: they let it drip and the hardened wax would form into who caused it. And they tell you what to do based on that. But I don’t really know much about this part.
DA – I remember whenever I got sick as a kid, my mom and my grandma would bring me to an albularyo. She would do this ritual with candles over my head, but I don’t remember much.

Analysis

The informant was telling me about where they had grown up, including the Philippines and Guam, spurred on by an art project that drew upon magical creatures.
The dwende are little tree spirits who, if you disrespect, will cause harm to you, but if you are polite to them, they will leave you alone. I have heard similar stories of the tomten from my own Swedish heritage, who could cause trouble if the inhabitants of the house did not leave them offerings or respect the coexisting tompte.
Belief in the dwende demands respect and politeness for nature, as a dwende could be under any tree one passes. Dwende curses could be lifted by healers who had mastered traditional remedies and were also deeply woven into the traditional Filipino culture. There is a particular saying that can grant you access to these spaces without harm, which lets the dwende you mean no harm to them.

Douens

Description: They are ghosts of children who reside within the forest that lure children by calling out their names and having them follow their footsteps. The children eventually become lost and become Douens themselves.

Background: The informant has a prevalent interest in urban legends and found this story while searching for ghost stories and urban legends.

Transcript: 

DT: One of my favorite ones I’ve looked up cause I like scary urban legend stuff is Douens, which are spirits of kids whose feet are on backwards. They call out other kids’ names if they are in the forest and make them follow in their footsteps, which make the kids become lost and eventually turn into Douens. Basically it’s a story they told kids to stop them from going into the forest alone.

Me: From where did the urban legend come from?

DT: I think it’s Caribbean. From Tobago I believe. They’re basically like imps and fuck with people pretty much, so there’s different versions of them on what they do or stories rather.

My thoughts: 

Ghost children are certainly a common occurrence across many types of folklore. While a terrible reality, children do die. Douens are interesting takes on those that disappear within the forest.   Despite the simplicity, I see a lot of space of nuance. Unlike most monsters, who lure children for the sake of eating them or something similar, Douens are likely searching for companionship, luring children to transform them into one of their own. So while Douens are likely created for children to fear, there could be another perspective where they can be sympathized with as they are likely once children themselves.

There’s A Man in The Woods

“I have a story about the man in the woods at the soccer field. So, as a child, my brothers and I participated in Brookside Soccer, which is you know like your average recreational soccer thing that children do and a lot of my friends, or at least a lot of people in my grade, also had older siblings who did Brookside and there was this one field, I don’t know how old my brothers were, but they would always play on this certain field and whenever I was there I would see people in my grade who also had older brothers who were playing and the big deal with this field was there was a huge forest surrounding it. The thing about the forest is, on the outskirts of it, would grow honeysuckles, and especially as a young child, they looked tasty. So the whole appeal to the soccer field- it was kinda great because we could eat honey suckles. So me and my friends, we would always go the border and get honeysuckles but you wanted to be fast because the whole idea was there was a man living inside- if you went a little deeper into the forest, you would inf a man and a campsite or something. The guy was always depicted as a homeless guy with a big beard and kinda dirty and ruffled. The whole idea was that you didn’t want him to catch you. There’s another part of the story, that in the forest where he stayed, there was an aluminum trash can that you would see around the soccer field. The idea was that as a kid, you would go to the trashcan by the soccer field and he could hear you. There was also a little bit of part of like asking for wishes, through the trash can to the homeless guy. So i don’t understand why we were scared of him but also like he would help us? The idea is that you’d want honeysuckles but you had to be quick because you didn’t want to see the man in the woods.”

Background:

My informant is a 16-year old who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. She and her two older brothers participated in a recreational soccer program when they were much younger based out of a neighborhood in Kansas City called Brookside. The school she attended was the same school her brothers went to and so it was not uncommon for friends of her brothers to have younger siblings she got along with. Oftentimes, she would come along to the recreational soccer matches and play with the other younger siblings. The area the soccer matches happens to contain several large fields, a few of which bordered dense forest as this area was on the outskirts of the town.  

Context:
My informant brought up this story during a walk around her neighborhood when I asked her about scary stories from her childhood. 

Thoughts:

This story appears to be in the vein of urban legends about some crazed killer. In addition, it serves a very clear purpose, that being of regulating where these young children could and could not go. My informant emphasized how this topic came about mostly because her and her friends wanted honeysuckles from the nearby woods. Therefore, they probably created this figure from similar urban legends they had heard in order to justify not exploring the woods any further. This was only reinforced by any figures of authority, who did not want them to explore the woods. The informant mentioned to me that her older brothers might have corroborated parts of her story to instill the fear of the woods and keep her closer to everyone else during these soccer matches. The other interesting component is how a homeless man in the woods is scary for a child living in the city. The informant told me that she lived in a city, and these soccer matches were a time where she and her friends were far away from that environment. As such, their fears as an amalgam of the fear of strange men, which she would have seen growing up, and that of the woods, which were far more unknown and mysterious to her. The man is not supernatural, but to them he represented a very real threat but in a strange environment.

Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht

“Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht.”

“You do not see the forest for the trees.”

Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany, and spent the majority of her childhood there. She heard this proverb from her friend when she was upset. She continues to think of this proverb in stressful situations.

Interpretation: This proverb is meant to help people when they are wrapped up in small problems. It teaches the audience to see things from a broader perspective rather than focusing on specific issues that will not matter in the greater scheme of things. It also works to soothe people who are upset or overwhelmed.This proverb also tells the audience about Germany’s environment. One-third of Germany is covered in forestry, so it is fitting that a well-known German proverb utilizes the forest as a symbol.