Tag Archives: Narrative

Cold Wind on a mother’s back

Context:

J is a 23-year-old Salvadorian-american and resides in Southern California. She’s heard various superstitions and stories from her family and friends. She heard this one from her mother after a family reunion.

The context of this piece was over a dinner when J was asked if she had heard of any folk beliefs from her family.

Text:

J: “I know of one that we always make sure to follow no matter how like dumb people think it is. Like my mom told me about this one so that when I have babies I wont get sick or anything like that. She told me stuff like women need to be wrapped up after having a baby. Kanda like a baby themselves. If they didn’t then stuff like the wind would get to them,”

Me: “The wind? What do you mean by it getting to those women?”

J: “Like if a woman left her back exposed after having a baby, then they’d get really bad back pain because of the wind. My mom said that the cold wind was the worst thing a woman could be touched by after giving birth. It’s because wafter having a baby the woman’s body is like weak and its sensitive. So she has to be covered in clothes or blankets so that her and her back stay like warm.”

Me: “So if the wind touches her back, it hurts her?”

J” Yeah so like wind is cold and since the baby took all of her warmth and strength the wind would leave her in pain. We just say the back is the most important part because that’s where they put like the shot thing for the pain so its left more out in the open. So yeah, now you know to always have you back covered up after having a baby”

Analysis:

I think it’s really interesting to hear about this folk belief because something as simple as wind could have a greater affect on someone’s body. I know that the wind is usually avoided as it brings the feelings of coldness but the way it is spoken of in this belief is somewhat animalistic. This belief connotes the wind negatively as it makes it clear that the wind is something that can hurt a woman and should be outright avoided. I think this belief is especially interesting because it revolves around a woman’s body post-birth. I know that in many cultures birth is sacred and the creation of a new life in the world is highly valued, so it was interesting to hear how the birthing process needs the after-care.

The House Ghost in Singapore

Background/Context:
The interlocutor, EF, is a close friend of the interviewer (INT). EF’s parents were staying in Singapore. They were sharing a house with another person during their time there.

Description (as told over email):
(EF): “okay story time: this takes place in singapore. my parents were washing dishes at around 2pm and they share a house w another person. that person wasnt home and was away in the philippines. their bedroom door was locked and no other person had access to tht room. when my parents were finishing up washing dishes. they noticed in the hall tht leads to their housemate’s room, that there was a white figure and they saw it walk through the door into the locked room

When my dad was playing around his house at night and he noticed that there was somebody sitting on his neighbor’s porch. When he approached the figure, there was a very dim light so he couldn’t see anything but a shadow or a silhouette… nothing too defining. The weird thing tho was tht the figure’s eyes were glowing orange-red but my dad didnt really think abt it at the time bc he thought it was normal. he went up to it to ask where his neighbor/playmate was. The figure didnt answer and nobody really knew what my dad was talking abt when he told other ppl

one night my mom was cooking and she heard the front door closed so she peeked to see who it was and she saw like a shadowy figure pass by and walk into their housemate’s bedroom so like she thought it was her housemate. when she turned around, the fire on the stove was like WAY higher than it was before and she had to turn it off right away. and then after a few mins, the front door closed again and when she looked it was the housemate she thought was already there. she asked him too like “didnt u just come in?” and he said no and tht he just came back.”

INTERLOCUTOR’S OPINION:
(INT): “do you think it was actually a ghost?”

(EF): “i mean, kinda, yeah??? idrk how else to describe something like that happening over and over again yknow? it’s just too weird lol like if that happened in my apartment i think i would definitely think it was a ghost plus my parents and their friends are all 100% it was a ghost so…

then again Filipinos can be pretty superstitious lol so u should also take that into consideration”

FINAL THOUGHTS:
I definitely find EF’s interpretation of this story interesting. I’m sure that something odd or seemingly unexplainable occurred in that house that made EF’S parents feel some unnatural presence. The roommate being in the Philippines also eliminates a possible explanation for these strange occurrences. Perhaps it was her parents’ superstitious nature that led them to believe these separate instances were indicators of the supernatural. Overall, I don’t doubt their story but I do think that other factors should be considered before downright saying it was a ghost.

You will leave the world empty-handed – Arabic Story

Context:

He heard this story in the 1960s from a family member of the man who passed away (منكو, pronounced “Mango” despite the “k” sound). The burial took place in Amman, Jordan, and said that “people talked about it for two decades but still old people in my age remember the story and talk about it till these days.” According to him, “it was not usual at all that deceased people have their body parts hanging out of the coffin.” He said that it is like a warning: no matter how much you have, money does nothing for you when you die. A peaceful life is therefore better than a life spent chasing money.

Text:

“A very rich man, multi-millionaire, knew that he was going to die soon because he was very sick. When he wanted to do his will, he asked that when they put him in the coffin, to put his hand out of the coffin, open and empty. He wanted people to see that he took nothing with him. He left empty-handed.”

Thoughts:

This story is profound because it acknowledges the temporary nature of material goods. Because there are stereotypes about Arab parents wanting their children to be either engineers or doctors so that they can make a lot of money, this story feels like a counterbalance. Although it is not bad to make money, encouraged by the stereotype, the story warns people to not focus their life on getting money for the sake of being rich. If someone does not heed the story, they essentially wasted their life; what good will their riches do when they die? Additionally, because having body parts hanging outside the coffin was “not usual at all,” the man must have known this as well, and went against the norm in order to make his warning memorable. This story acknowledges the presence of greed in humanity, and encourages its listeners to value moderation.

Maui Harnessing the Sun

Informant Context:

James has lived in many locations internationally, including Cosa Rica, Mexico, and Nepal. His family is located in Hawaii, where he will often visit during his breaks from school. He is a student in London, United Kingdom, studying fashion. 

Transcript:

JAMES: Obviously I am not native Hawaiian, but having spent some time there—especially now that my family lives there—um, there’s obviously a pretty rich cultural… culture of storytelling, and obviously they had their own kind of mythology and stuff. And one that always stuck with me was that on oddly enough, in the hotel that we used to say at often when we would go to Maui, there was a huge massive like—oh gosh, it must have been, it was probably like 30 feet tall, 20 feet tall and like 40 feet wide—is a massive wood carving of Maui harnessing the sun. Which comes from… obviously, Hawaiian legend and myth—of how in the early days of creation, the sun raced—was obviously a personified person, and they would drive rapidly around the earth, basically, racing around the earth and… days were so short,  that people couldn’t do anything, they couldn’t get anything done. And so, they—the people, you know, cried out to Maui their demigod savior, and said, “Can you do something—[laughs]

INTERVIEWER: [joins] 

JAMES: —about this?”, as people tend to do of their deities and stories, and even in modern days, but that’s a lit—that’s a different issue [laughs]. Um… and yeah, so as far as I’ve been told the story, it’s—Maui climbed up to Haleakalā, which is the, uh… largest—larger of the two volcanoes on Maui, and cast out his fishing net—which is one of those ones that you like… yo—I don’t know like, the term for it, but you like, swing it out, and it like, spreads out. And he managed to catch the sun, and brought him down to earth, and was basically like “Hey!”… basically threatened him, which I feel like you shouldn’t do to like, the *sun*, but… he… basically threatened him—

INTERVIEWER: [laughs] You’re nice to the sun?

JAMES: [voice broken by laughter] You know? Like, you kind of… be polite, [or(?)], diplomatic, but—

INTERVIEWER: [laughs]

JAMES: Anyways, I guess you can do whatever you want if you’re a demigod. And uh, yeah. But he harnessed the sun, brought him down, and basically [showed him(?)] like, “Hey! You—we need like, more… we need longer periods of light. Because otherwise, the food isn’t gonna grow, and if… we can’t just keep working at night, because you know, electricity isn’t a thing. And so, please go slower.” And then he released him, and that is where they believe the day comes from. The… uh, as far as… in its longevity, um… and its consistency, I suppose, being where they are at—near the equator. Um… but yeah! That one always stuck with me, mostly because we would just see this massive woodcarving over, um… in the foyer of this restaurant. [unintelligible] is always… like, like right in the middle of the hotel. Um… but I always… I always loved the Hawaiian myths, I suppose. I think they’re very…  mythology in general, I mean, is just fascinating…

Informant Commentary:

James has a general interest in religious folklore, especially the folklore of those places he has personally visited. He expressed a positive view of folklore in Hawaii, citing institutional efforts of preservation and respect, such as laws surrounding burial grounds and other sacred land, as well as the consistent invocation of traditional Hawaiian symbolism around government buildings and tourist areas (e.g., the statue mentioned in the transcript). When countered on this idea, James acknowledged that many of these efforts are, in his words, “performative”. 

Analysis:

This story is best categorized as a myth, as it is a creation story and an explanation of a natural phenomenon: the length of the days. Based solely on the narrative of the story, the myth of Maui harnessing the sun seems to reference a fundamental trust in deities to intervene on behalf of man, even capturing one of the (if not the single most) powerful natural force.

The Night of the Silent Drums

BACKGROUND: BB is the interviewer’s mother. For several years in the 1980s, she lived on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands while working for the local resort.


TRANSCRIPT:
BB: “When I lived and worked on St. John, USVI, in the 1980s I heard a story about how, when there were sugar cane plantations on the island (then part of the Danish West Indies) in the 1700s, there was a rebellion of slaves that went something like this: slaves had coordinated attacks on their captors by using different drumming patterns as codes. The slaves were unaware of the naval and land coordination of their Danish captors. The weapons they used were machetes, which they were given to clear the fields. After a particularly long and bloody battle between the slaves and their captors, in which slaves were cornered at the eastern end of the island, on a high cliff above the treacherous Sir Francis Drake Channel, hundreds of slaves jumped to their deaths.
I don’t know how much of this story is true, but it always fascinated and horrified me — and that a place of such serene beauty (now) could have such a sad and tragic history.”


ANALYSIS: This is a historical event that has become interwoven with the cultural tapestry of St. John. Even though BB did not see ghosts, there’s a ghostly quality to this story, the stains of slavery now shrouded by the serene beauty of the Caribbean. For another telling of the story, see:

Anderson, Lorenzo John. The Night of the Silent Drums. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1975.