Tag Archives: myths

Ohia and Lehua

Context: TC is a 22 year old senior at USC, she is also my coworker. T was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii,  and is really familiar with a lot of legends of Hawaii. During our break at work I decided to ask her about any known legends she’d like to share with me. There were other people in the break room which created the atmosphere of storytelling and interest was sparked among the other individuals. We all gathered around her while people ate their snacks.

YM: So who are Ohia and Lehua? 

TC: They were young lovers. But one day Pele; she’s a volcano goddess. She met Ohia and decided that she wanted him for herself. But he rejected her so this upset Pele, she then turned him into an ugly twisted tree. Lehua pleaded to pele to turn him back but pele ignored her pleas. The other gods felt sorry for the young girl so they turns her into a beautiful red flower on the tree so the two lovers never had to be apart again

TC:Legend says that as long as the flowers remain in the tree, that the weather is sunny and fair. But when a flower is plucked from the tree, rain falls like tears as lehua cannot handle being separated from her love, ohia

YM: Does Ohia and Lehua represent a specific tree? Or is it any tree? 

TC: Oh yeah its a tree called ‘Ohi’a lehua haha just like their names 

YM: Do you believe this story, what are your thoughts about it ? 

TC: Yes, It’s a love story about lovers who can’t be together but in the afterworld they are together? Pretty much saying that in the end, love conquers all despite all forces trying to break It apart. Whether it’s people or just life.

YM: I believe that

Background info: TC shared that her grandmother would always tell stories at the dinner table. The legend of Ohia and Lehua was popular throughout the years. Most of the stories her grandmother told her had Pele, the volcano goddess that was considered the protector and creator of the island. She grew up listening to stories to appreciate the trees and plants more. Caring for the earth and believing that they have a spirit or are alive is important to T and her family, knowing that nature is alive reminds them that they should care for it. 

Analysis: Although this is a legend of Ohia and Lehua, this story points more towards nature mythology, an allegory of natural processes. The two loves are obviously a representation of nature and their separation is the natural process when the seasons change. Lehua is the official  flower of the island of Hawaii, it seems fit to have a story  for it. It is also recognized as Pele’s flower; it seems appropriate to include the protector and creator of the island.  This myth also holds a significance that TC mentioned, “love conquers all despite all forces trying to break It apart. Whether it’s people or just life.” Which I think is true and this story is perfect to send that message across. 

The Vietnamese Creation Myth

Background: My informant is a Vietnamese college student. Their parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam when their parents were around 20, for religious and other reasons. My informant’s identity and worldview is largely shaped by their Vietnamese culture and immigrant upbringing. One of my informant’s main life goals is to one day move back to Vietnam and be in their homeland.

Context: This conversation was recorded on a zoom meeting that we had on a Monday evening. My informant is a friend of mine, and the conversation occurred in both of our rooms. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. After our call, some other people joined the zoom call and the atmosphere was generally friendly.

Viet Creation Myths

A dragon called Lạc Long Quân came from the sea. And he fell in love with fairy from a mountain. So one day she travels down the mountain And meet this dragon, man. And she calls love with this dragon, man. And they’re like, Let’s have babies. And so you know they do the thing they fall in love and they have 100 eggs between them. Eventually those hundred eggs hatch into 100 men. But, and this was all like, not in the mountains or like in in the sea this was in Vietnam. So then they were like “I can’t be away from my home much longer.” And so They divide up their children. She took half up to her home and he took the others into the ocean. And it’s generally believed to be that the Vietnamese people descended from these 100 eggs. And it is generally believed that the 50 that went with the fairy to the mountain are the ethnic minorities of Vietnam. And the 50 that went down to the shore with the dragon they are the ones that are ethnically Viet or người kinh.

Me: And then like after the fairy takes the people up to the mountain and the dragon takes the people down to the sea. Do they like interact with the people, or is it just like did they just leave the eggs there and then like dip?

Yeah, generally generally it slowly like they raise their kids.

Also so the 50 people in the mountains there’s another iteration, saying that they were ethnic minorities,  and some iterations say that they were meant to leaders who eventually become the rulers or like the kings. 

Thoughts: I think this is the first creation myth I’ve heard about a racial-ethnic/national category of people, if we are not counting the story of Adam and Eve. It is certainly the first creation myth I’ve heard about a racial-ethnic/national category of people from a person identifying with that racial-ethnic/national identity. I was intrigued by the motif of fairies in this myth because I am not familiar with fairies occurring often in Asian folklore. Prior to this, I had believed that fairies come primarily from European or non-Asian folklore. Regardless, I think it is really interesting how the creation myth uses the geography of the area as well as two entities to express the multifaceted nature of the Vietnamese population. 

The Owl: A Native American Bad Omen

Context:

My grandmother M is Native American and would often tell me stories about her life on a reservation in Arizona. I asked her about any stories that she carried with her as a child or even in adulthood that relate to her cultural background. She shared this story with me about her experience with an owl.

Main Piece:

The story I remember most is not of her life on reservation however a story that happened to her as an adult. My grandmother once told me that the owl is considered a negative omen in Native American culture. She also told me that she experienced this negative omen first hand and has since hated owls. Molly had seven sons and one of her eldest had purchased a motorcycle. He was in his twenties and was of age to purchase the bike but had never ridden one before. My grandmother told me that one day she had noticed an owl out during the day perched on a tree near her bedroom window. She found this very odd because of the time of day, and because she lived in East Los Angeles where seeing owls would be rare. The owl spoke a name to her, and she was very unsettled. The owl had spoken her son’s name. Her son had been home but was about to leave on his bike to hang out with his friends. My grandmother stopped him and told him to stay home because she had a bad feeling about him leaving. She didn’t tell him about the owl for fear that he wouldn’t believe her and would probably think she was crazy. That night, my uncle was in an accident on his motorcycle and died. To this day, my grandmother regrets having kept the owl from him.

Notes:

Stated by Native-languages.org, many Native American tribes consider the owl an omen of death. Hopi however, consider the owl a symbol of authority and wisdom. It is interesting that my grandmother didn’t look at the owl as a sign of wisdom given that her own tribe sees them that way. Possibly it was a sign of wisdom in that it gave her the warning signs and she was left to her own devices to solve the problem. My grandmother has never shared stories with me regarding anything supernatural. I don’t think that was something that they talked about because I don’t think they believed in it. Given that my father also had an experience regarding the death of my uncle and he is very logical and not easily swayed without proof, I believe there is truth to it.

 

 

For more on Owls in Native American folklore:

http://www.native-languages.org/legends-owl.htm

https://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=64&p=2

Back When Tigers Used to Smoke: The Origin of Korea

Context:

The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out.

 

Piece:

Subject: You know how most fairy tales start with, like, “once upon a time”?

Interviewer: Mhm.

Subject: The, uh, Korean version is, “back when tigers used to smoke.” Like cigarettes. Back when tigers would smoke tobacco basically. I don’t know the exact origin, but there are old Korean paintings depicting a tiger with like a little ancient Asian-Korean pipe. Koreans love inserting that sh*t, like so, I guess no one knows where it actually came from, but a lot of stories begin, “Back when tigers used to smoke tobacco.” Assuming they don’t anymore.

Interviewer: That’s so interesting, that’s the literal translation?

Subject: Yup.

Interviewer: Is it something to do with like, the legend of how Korea started with a tiger and a, uh lion?

Subject: A bear.

Interviewer: A bear, yeah, is it something to do with that?

Subject: Tiger is like, America has an eagle, Korea has a tiger.

Interviewer: Makes sense.

Subject: Like Korean wild tigers have gone extinct after Japanese occupation, cuz they would hunt tigers as like sport. So I don’t think there’s any tigers left in wildlife Korea. But Koreans pride themselves, um North Korea claims they have tigers, I don’t know they totally could. But like, yeah tigers, the quintessential Korean animal. Do you know the fable of how Korea started?

Interviewer: Not really.

Subject: It’s super simple, God basically came down and found a tiger and a bear who both wanted to be humans. So God told them to like, “okay if you go live in a cave, only live off garlic and warm wood for 60 days or 100 days or something, then you will be a human.” The tiger left because it was impatient, but the bear survived, the bear became a woman and had the child of the God. So the human woman, who used to be a bear, got pregnant from God, and gave birth to an egg. Out of that egg was Korea’s first king, supposedly, like King Arthur type thing. That was like 50,000 years ago I guess.

 

Analysis:

As you can see, our conversation led to much of what this analysis section would talk about. The tiger is a very prevalent and defining symbol for Korea, and as they were once given human characteristics in old fables to explain the origins of their country, it makes sense why fairy tales would begin with a description of a time when tigers would be human-like. Maybe setting the story before the God came down, or during the first settling of humans in the country.

Specifically, the tigers in Korea are Siberian tigers. It brings luck, and embodies courage and absolute power.

 

The Myth of Persephone

The following was recorded from a conversation I had with a friend marked EAL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a religious myth she grew up learning in school.

 

CS: “So how did you learn this myth?”

EAL: “I was really into Greek mythology as a kid and my mom bought me like a big book of Greek mythologies and we’d read them together as bedtime stories when I was really young.”

CS: “Can you tell me the story?”

EAL: “So basically Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, the god of harvest. She was very carefree, beautiful, and like vibrant. And so Hades, who is the God of the underworld, who is like dark and depressing, saw her and said he wanted her to be his wife. So she was playing in the field and his chariot comes up out of the ground and he abducts her and takes her to the underworld. And then because she was in the underworld and Demeter was so upset, winter came because she was heartbroken about the abduction of her daughter. And while Persephone was in the underworld she ate six seeds so like she has to stay in the underworld since she ate the food of the dead for six months, so that kind of explains the seasons. So the summer she can be with Demeter and its like the harvest season, and then the winter she has to be with Hades and that’s why it’s winter.”

CS: “Did you ever hear varied versions of this myth?”

EAL: “Yeah I’ve heard it before, maybe without the season aspect, so I think there’s definitely variations that leave that out. In others they’re married, but in the version I’ve read she doesn’t love him at all and is just kind of stuck with him.

 

Background:

The participant is a freshman at the University of Southern California and was raised in Chicago, Illinois with a strong Christian religious background. Her mom introduced her to mythology, mostly Greek and Egyptian, at a very young age.

Context:

An in person conversation recorded while walking to an event.

 

Analysis:

I found this myth really captivating because I also used to love Greek mythology and was an avid reader of myths such as this one. I hadn’t heard this version before in regards to how that is where seasons originate. I believe when I used to read Greek mythology it was from a children’s book so it makes sense why details such as that would be left out. It is interesting to see how folk myths, even when tied to religion, still have variations from one to the next.