Tag Archives: Hero

Los Ninos Heroes de Chapultepec

Background: The informant was told this legend by his grandfather. 

Transcript: 

DO: Ok so from what I recall they were basically the child heroes who were stationed at Chapultepec castle to defend it from invaders, and they successfully repelled the invaders at the cost of their lives, and are honored on the back of some Mexican currency. and I heard it from my grandpa when I was young and it was one of the first like times the concept of martyrdom was introduced to me indirectly. They were all slain but the last one wrapped themselves in the Mexican flag to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. I don’t think they actually won but they defended the castle to the very end. Like we know who the winner of the Mexican-American war was. but yeah it’s like a whole not-legend-cuz-it’s-fairly-real type legend. Honor their sacrifice for defending their country until the very end type deal. Slightly fuzzy but yeah that’s what I remember.

My thoughts:

Many times, stories about real people would be commemorated and become a part of the larger culture and serve as a source of unity. This is such a legend created from very real events. As I have spent my own childhood hearing stories about Chinese heroes and people who defended and served the country, I sometimes can’t help but feel conflicted by stories of martyrdom and fighting for one’s nation. Though the stories I grew up with mostly served as a way to indoctrinate children into the ideals supported by the Chinese government, I feel that this is very different. Mostly in the sense that the stories I heard came from schools and government supervised media, while this one came from the Informant’s family members. Overall, it is a praiseworthy story that would solidify one’s identity and values especially given the context of the Mexican-American war.

Wong Fei Hung- A Chinese Legend

Informant is a Chinese American student at USC from Houston, Texas. Her parents were born in China, but she was raised in the United States. This is a story that she was told when she was younger.

“So, uh, this is one of the stories that my dad used to tell me about when I was younger. It’s about a person called Wong Fei Hung, who was a legendary Chinese martial artist who was born sometime in the late 1800’s. So it was actually a real person haha. But there are many stories about how he was the greatest kung fu martial artist of his time, and had mastered many of the kung fu styles, including one that he had made famous, called the Hung Gar style or something. One of the stories goes that he helped to save parts of China from the Imperial Japanese Army by teaching the local farmers kung fu so that they could fight back, and then leading them against the Japanese troops to save their lands. He’s a pretty big deal in China, so I guess its pretty cool because he was a real person and not just a myth. I’m not sure if all the stories I heard were completely true however.”

Did you ever do kung fu?

“Oh no not me hahaha. But this is a famous story for a lot of Chinese people, so you don’t have to be a kung fu student to have heard of it.”

 

Collector’s Comments:

This is an example of a legend about a person who actually lived in real life and did important things, but the stories told about them may have been exaggerated or made up to make them seem like an even bigger deal. I have also heard about this story from my Vietnamese dad, so it is a very popular tale in Asia.

 

For another modern version of this story, see the movie Rise of the Legend (2014), a Chinese film on Netflix that tells about the Wong Fei Hung legend and how he rose to fame and saved his town.

 

The Surfer Who Lived in a Cave

I bet being a surfer you know some local surfing legends or stories that get passed around?

 

Yeah. So there’s this old surfer, he was one of the best surfers in Southern California back in the 60’s, and he lived in the Newport Harbor jetty, like in a cave, in the rocks. And he had one suit, and he would paddle over from his cave in the jetty to go dancing in the clubs in Newport. And since he always wore this one suit, everyone always knew it was this one guy that lived in the cave in the jetty. And I don’t even think he worked, but uh, the story goes that he was just this great surfer that lived in the Newport jetty and would go dancing and be really classy with that one suit, and he would paddle it over, so like the funny thing is, when he was done with his night you’d see him like paddling across the harbor channel back to his cave, and I just think that’s hilarious.

 

Do you know what the guy’s name was?

 

I don’t remember his name, I could look it up.

 

Where’d you hear that story?

 

I read in a history of surfing book. Well actually the first time I heard it was through, hmm…my neighbor is like this old surfer guy, and it came up one time when we were talking about a surfboard company, and he told me the story. Apparently his dad knew the guy, they were in the same friend group and they’d all surf together. But this guy was the only one who could surf all those tough spots cause he lived right there in the cave. Yeah I hadn’t thought of it for a while until I read the story in this history of surfing book, and I was like oh my gosh that’s totally the same guy. From my understanding he only lived in the cave for like 4 or 5 years, and then went back to living in a normal house.

 

Why did he decide to live in a cave?

 

I mean it was the 60’s, and back then surf culture was really about not conforming to society, and kind of saying ‘fuck you’ to society. So the cool thing was that he was this total homeless hippie, but then he would pretend to be all classy and go dancing with all the other people, just because he could.

 

Do a lot of people know that story?

 

People who know a lot about the history of surfing, and I guess like, the roots of surfing in California would know it, and I guess people from older generations would probably know it.

 

ANALYSIS:

This legend seems to be passed around largely among surfers – the surfer in the story seems to be a sort of historical hero in the surfing community. He embodies what surfers idealize: a great surfer, at one with nature and the waves, isolated from society, but still a little notorious and able to mingle with the rest of society while still being recognized as an outsider, a ‘hippie’, a person who does their own thing and isn’t tied down by material possessions.

Vikram And Vetal: The Bride’s Dilemma

Item: 

“Vikram and Vetal stories are popular all over India. Originally, there are only twenty five, but they became so popular that people began to come up with their own. The first story starts off like this – the brave and clever king Vikramaditya, identified later on simply as Vikram, is summoned by a tantrik (sorcerer) in order to bring back a corpse which has been possessed by a vetala (malevolent spirit, sometimes translated as ‘vampire’), in order for the sorcerer to exorcise the spirit and perform the last rites of the corpse. So Vikram, courageous as he is, ventures into the haunted, creepy forest and finally finds the tree from which the animated corpse is hanging. Vetal, as the spirit calls himself, is an incredibly sharp-witted individual, and offers King Vikram a trade – he will tell Vikram a long story and end it with a question. If Vikram answers the question correctly, then Vetal will return to the tree. If he stays silent, his head will explode into a thousand pieces. So, Vetal starts to tell a story – ‘Two young men named Suryamal and Chandrasen travel to a town one day to visit a temple nearby. When they arrive there, Suryamal sees a beautiful young woman praying to the Devi (goddess). He falls in love with her straightaway, predictably. And so, excited by this, he goes to tell his friend Chandrasen. The latter young man advises Suryamal to speak to her parents if he’s serious. So he does, and they say that the only condition of the marriage would be that the young woman has to return to her town every so often to pray to the Devi, of whom she is an ardent devotee. Suryamal agrees readily, and gets married to the young woman. Her parents ask him to stay longer,but he and his friend are required to return to their hometown because of some urgent matter. On their way back through the forest, however, they are attacked by a gang of bandits, who behead them and leave them there. The bride, on her way to perform her prayers to the Devi, stumbles across her dead husband and his friend. Devastated, she prays to the Devi, who answers her prayers and tells her to fix the heads back onto the bodies of the two men and sprinkle some amrita (nectar) over the corpses to reanimate them. She obeys, but in the process accidentally puts the heads on the wrong bodies – Suryamal’s head ends up on Chandrasen’s body and vice versa. Which one should she marry? Remember, if you do not answer my question, your head will burst into a thousand pieces!’ Vikram takes a moment to think about it before speaking but finally responds – ‘Since the brain is the most important organ of the body and makes all the decisions, stores all the memories, then she should marry the man who has Suryamal’s head, of course!’ Vetal is satisfied with this answer, but alas! Vikram spoke, so Vetal flew away.”

Context:

The interviewee explained her memories of these stories – “Every month, we would get a children’s magazine known as Chandamama (Uncle Moon). In these magazines, the most popular read was the Vikram and Vetal story. I used to devour these stories and fight over them with my older sister. This one stuck in my head because it was the first one that I had ever read, and because the problem posed in the riddle was pretty intriguing to me. If I was in the bride’s shoes, I wouldn’t know which one to marry!”

Analysis:

The Vikram and Vetal series of stories is extremely interesting because not only does it contain an embedded narrative, but the inner narrative takes the form of a sort of neck riddle. Now, in the original series, King Vikram has to try twenty five times before Vetal comes up with a complicated enough question to stump him. Upon the king’s confusion, Vetal at last decides to accompany him back to the tantrik. Within these twenty five tries, the story opens in much the same way every time – ‘Once again, the undaunted King Vikram arrived at the tree and carried Vetal away with him, and once again Vetal began a story.’ and also ends the same way every time – ‘Vetal was satisfied with his answer, but alas! Vikram spoke, and so Vetal flew away.’ This almost unchanging structure is demonstrative of the Parry-Lord Oral Formulaic Theory. What is interesting, however, is that much like the format of the many versions of the Arabian Nights, the neck riddle stories embedded in the narrative are not restricted only to the original twenty five. In fact, as with the magazine, youngsters all over India and within the Indian diaspora who are familiar with the stories come with their own neck riddles all the time, creating an infinite wealth of Vikram and Vetal folklore. The riddle in itself takes the form of an anecdote ended with a question, which is never straightforward. This story in particular stresses the importance of the mind over the body, which corresponds with the traditional Hindu view that the body is nothing but a vessel for the soul and the mind. Therefore, as Vikram concludes, the bride would be better served to marry the man with Suryamal’s head/brain rather than the one with his body.

“Nazrudin and the Duck Soup”

            The informant admitted immediately that he was not precisely sure of when or why his family began telling the stories of Nazrudin; he understood them to be largely grounded in Jewish culture and no one is his family identifies as Jewish. However, the informant then explained that tales of Nazrudin had spread throughout the Persian empire as well as geographically across the Middle East, which could explain how the story filtered through his Indian and Iraqi sides of the family.

            He always thought the tales of Nazrudin to have a highly comedic value, but even at a young age he noticed the twists at the end of each tale, when Nazrudin would exact a unique kind of justice on those who had wronged him or had taken advantage of him. He also stated that all of his Jewish friends from childhood had heard at least a few tales of Nazrudin each, although details within the tales would vary from child to child. He followed up his previous story, “Nazrudin at the Bathhouse,” with “Nazrudin and the Duck Soup,” another tale that ends in a humorous twist.

 

            This time Nazrudin is not in Persia. After hearing this story, I imagined Nazrudin farther north, where there are more forests, and this story evolves from an event when Nazrudin and his friend catch a duck. So him and his friend go in the woods and they go trapping, and they catch a duck. They come back to Nazrudin’s house and they ask themselves, “What can we do with this all meat? What can we make that will make it last a long time?” So they make duck soup. Now, they prepare the meat, they throw in all these different vegetables and herbs, and they make this amazing, delicious duck soup that just melts in your mouth―as much as soup can. They both have a great time and really enjoy the soup. Nazrudin shows his friend to the door when the meal’s all done and says goodbye and the friend leaves. Nazrudin is left with this pot of big soup and, what do you do with leftovers? You just keep on eating them. So, he thought that was the end of it.

            The next day, however, there’s a knock on the door and Nazrudin walks to the door, not expecting anyone, opens it, and there’s a stranger standing there. Nazrudin asks, “Can I help you?” And the stranger says, “I’m a friend of the man who helped you kill the duck. Can I have some soup?” Apparently the soup was so good that Nazrudin’s friend told another friend about it and said Nazrudin would be happy to give him some soup. And, acting as the host that he is, Nazrudin says, “Of course.” He brings the man a bowl of the soup, the man eats and leaves.

            The next day there’s a knock on the door. Nazrudin opens it, there’s another stranger, who says, “I’m a friend of a friend of the man who helped you kill the duck. Can I have some soup?” Nazrudin again says, “Of course.” Nazrudin shows him in, serves him some soup, and the man leaves. This continues for many, many days to the point where Nazrudin hears a knock on the door to another stranger, who says, “I’m a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of the man who helped you kill the duck. Can I have some soup?” Nazrudin takes the man into the kitchen and says, “Wait here.” He takes a bowl into the kitchen and fills it with tepid water. He places the bowl of water in front of the man. He looks at it, he smells it, tastes it, and turns to Nazrudin completely unsatisfied and says, “This is not soup!” And Nazrudin says, “No, no, my friend, this is the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the duck!”

 

            This time, the tale of Nazrudin discourages taking advantage of a friend’s hospitality. Although Nazrudin is thankful for his friend’s help in trapping the duck and thus shares his soup with him, but the continual generosity he is expected to give to those who are distant from his friend is no longer reasonable compared to the aid his friend contributed. The core moral teaching in the legend, then, is that individuals should not expect gifts and generosity by relying on associations with others; only when we directly contribute to an outcome do we deserve a portion of the reward.

            Also notable in the legend is Nazrudin’s patience; he does not boil over in fury or chastise his friend, choosing instead to quietly execute his scheme until a guest finally notices. Again, Nazrudin’s cunning and foresight wins out over his mistreatment by his friend.