(The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.)
Interviewer: Can you tell me a joke?
Informant: Sure. Here’s one my mother always told me. Do you know why the Eskimos warsh their clothes in Tide?
Informant: It’s too cold out-tide. (laughs)
Interviewer: (chuckles) Wow. That’s uhh… that’s a good one. Do you think she got that from somewhere or do you think she came up with it?
Informant: N- She always told that joke – no she probably heard it someplace and just repeated it cause she thought it was funny.
Background: My informant was born and raised in southern Illinois to very strict Catholic parents. She has strong Irish and Italian heritage. Her mother disliked profanity in all senses, so though this joke does carry the now offensive demonym ‘Eskimo,’ it is not very risque in any sense, or directed at Inuit people for that matter.
Context: The informant is my grandmother, and has always had a proclivity for telling stories, jokes, and wives tales. This piece was selected out of many from a recording of a long night of telling stories in a comfortable environment.
Thoughts: I think the most interesting things to examine about this joke are that A) even though it’s from over half a century ago it still makes apt use of a corporate name for the central pun and B) to a devout and strict Catholic woman back in the day, words that we now understand are offensive were regarded as fit for joking. Though this woman – my great grandmother – may have never sworn I don’t doubt she had no problem with other racist or offensive names for people or groups. This is a common and interesting problem with religion as a measure of “goodness.”
“A three dog night, which as far as I can tell, means like, harsh, like probably cold night. Comes from dog sledders, when they were traversing the wilderness. A three dog night would be a night where you would have to like cuddle up with three of your dogs to be able to stay warm for the night.”
The informant is a student at the University of Southern California and he does not recall where he first heard this piece of folklore. It is a saying that is normally only used in extremely cold weathered countries where sled dogs and freezing temperatures are the norm. It has a literal meaning behind it, where in these extremely cold areas, people would huddle and sleep with their dogs in order to stay warm for the night. A three dog night is an especially freezing night, because a person doesn’t need one, or two of their dogs to stay warm, but needs three.
It is said that the band Three Dog Night is named after this saying, where one of the vocalist’s girlfriend heard the phrase being used in a documentary about Australian Aborigines. However, there has also been debate about the saying originating with the Inuits. This search unable to trace back to a single point indicates how the original source was lost and this saying has now become like many other pieces of folklore; with no one author.
Annotation: The Australian band Three Dog Night formed because the vocalists girlfriend heard this piece of folklore about indigenous Australians.
This myth is known to mirror Christian theology and was spread by the natives of Alaska, specifically the Inuit culture.
Inuits first of all believe in a “divine spirit” that created the Raven. The Raven was originally a seagull, who was brilliantly white and pure. The “divine spirit” also created man and the man lived in a hut. The divine spirit forbade the raven from going in to the man’s hut. However the raven would continually intrude on the man’s hut. Yet one day the raven was caught by the divine spirit in the hut. The raven in fear of the divine spirit escaped through the smokehole, and thus turned black due to all the soot. This is the story of how the seagull became a Raven and from then on the Raven became a trickster. The raven is known as the source of sin and trickery to humans, as this Raven taught humankind to lie, steal, and other evils.
My informant stated that in Alaska, that many regions have variations of this story. This version of the story comes from the Chignik Tradition. My informant has heard this from elders of Chignik as he was listening to their stories while at a fishing stop. He shares this myth as he belives that it is very interesting as it is a variation of the fall of Lucifer. My informant states that the elders love to share this myth and keep the Inuit stories alive and he also think it is a creative take.
This is a very entertaining creation myth as seagull must be prevalent on Alaska, yet so are raven. It is an interesting connection that the Inuit people have made that the a raven use to be a seagull. What is also interesting is how similar this story is to the fall of Lucifer: the raven betrayed the divine spirit’s trust and thus spread evil to get back at the divine spirit, Lucifer betrayed God and thus has a vendetta against him. This legend also has a nice narrative structure where a seagull which is white is pure, and a raven which is black contains all of mankind’s evil. Not only is this a creation myth about the raven, but also the birth of all the sins in the world.