CONTEXT: JM is a third year USC student from Pennsylvania. He describes a tradition he learned from his mom to mark the new year (Jan 1). He reflects fondly on the tradition, though he expresses that he didn’t really understand why they did it.
JM: On New Year’s Day, my mom would make us eat donuts in the morning for good luck and for dinner we would always have pork and sauerkraut. I think it’s a German thing but I’m not entirely sure why. So breakfast was donuts and dinner was pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. I think you’re technically supposed to eat the donut at New Year’s Eve, but my mom always gave it to us in the morning. She’s Italian, but I think her dad’s side is German and that’s where it came from.
ANALYSIS: This is a foodway, and a celebration and marker of the start of a new calendar year. JM believes this tradition follows German tradition that his mother inherited from her family. I have heard of donuts and pork and sauerkraut being eaten in Germany for good luck. This also makes it a tradition that brings family together, both when it is eaten, and across generations. Eating pork and sauerkraut for New Year’s Day is also practiced by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities, commonly in the region where JM is from. Both foods are eaten for good luck, which is a superstition associated with the calendar year- starting new.
The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as WC. WC: My father has an interesting theory about eating pork. Especially because of my own personal beliefs, I don’t believe in eating pork, and he says he know that pork can carry parasites, but parasites don’t eat pork. So his stomach will be fine. I don’t know if it’s some type of weird reverse osmosis type of situation going on, but he believes that because he eats pork, and worms don’t eat pork, pork being in his stomach protects his stomach from worms. BD: Did he get this from one of his parents? WC: One of his older mentors, when he was growing up, just had all types of quirky theories about a lot of things.
Analysis: This is an interesting logical fallacy that instated itself as a personal system of belief. It is also interesting how the informant is now vegan, rather than a eater of pork, like his father. There is also not much scientific backing to it, which explains why the younger generation is hesitant to believe in it. However, both the informant’s father and his mentor believed in it, showing that there is some hold to this belief.
Informant Background: This individual was born and grew up in Hawaii. His family is of Japanese and Chinese descent. He speaks Japanese and English. His family still practice many Japanese traditions, also many Chinese traditions. They celebrate some of the Japanese holidays. Many of the folk-beliefs and superstitious are still practiced. His relatives who are Japanese lives in Hawaii as well. He currently lives in Los Angeles to attend college.
In Hawaii, there is a tunnel that runs through the mountain. It was a site of battle in ancient Hawaii. It is to be believed that it is full of spirits of the warriors and the chiefs who died in that battle. The one thing you cannot do is bring pork…You can bring anything you want, but not pork. Pork is a big part of a lot of beliefs in Hawaii. Pig in ancient Hawaiian culture is depicted as a pig-god so to bring a dead pig is then to bring the god in dead form to the ghost of the people. If you bring pork over that tunnel, your car will stop. The way to make it start again is to get rid of the pork somehow like throw the pig out the window.
The informant stated that this is a knowledge passed to him through his grandparents as he was growing up in Hawaii. He said he never had direct experience with his car stopping but heard from others who forgot to follow the rule and had their engine stopped working.
This legend also shows different beliefs and perspective on how different cultures and places values different animals and objects to be sacred. In this case pig is considered sacred while for Hindus cow is sacred. Though these beliefs seem strange when looking in as an outsider, it plays a large role in the culture.
This legend also shows how the belief transcends generations and technological development through overlapping ancient warrior battle with sacred god-like animal figure with automobile engines. The legend also shows how the believability of the tale can be carried on through a memorate. If one car engine stopped over that tunnel while there is pork in the car, then the legend can continue.
The pig can also be considered as contagious magic. The pig/pork is an object that will be automatically cursed once put into the area. The pig/pork curse can be lifted once the item is discarded; the item is cursed, not the person or car.
My informant, whose background actually features multiple nationalities, remembers her traditional dinner that they had every New Years day for good luck. It consisted of pork and sauerkraut. When she talked of this dinner she actually referred to it as a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, the Pennsylvania Dutch actually referring to German Immigrants, a mispronunciation of the German word for Germans, Deutsch.
The sauerkraut is cooked in a crock-pot with the pork for the entire day, and my informant said that apples were sometimes included in the pot with the sauerkraut to make it sweeter. Considering the abundance of apples in the region, this is no surprise that they were used.
The Pennsylvania Dutch traditional dish from which my informant’s contemporary meal comes from is actually something known as hog maw, which was pork sausage and potatoes stuffed into in a cleaned pig’s stomach, boiled, and sliced.
My informant also mentioned that kielbasa, an Eastern European traditional sausage, was also included with the shredded pork and sauerkraut. This influence comes from the Pittsburgh area, which features a large eastern European population that immigrated to the area for jobs in the steel mills around the turn of the century 1900s.
Jillian grew up with the Hawaiian culture and accepts most of the superstitions that they believe. She learned countless superstitions from her classmates that are all tied with various myths and legends involving gods of the island. She explains the Pali as a windy mountain pass and cliff area in Oahu, Hawaii that connects to the other side of the island. She says that it is known to never take pork over the Pali; nobody dares to bring it across because of the fatal consequences that could happen. She heard a story that somebody once ate spam and crashed his care while driving over the Pali. Even bringing pork in ones stomach can be considered as taking pork over the pass, yet some people do not believe that carrying pork in one stomach is considered as bringing it over. In any case, this high cliff area is an ideal place for people to have many accidents, and bringing pork over increases may risks including death.
Pork is a staple in Hawaiian cuisine. Because any transportation of this popular meat is restricted, it is obvious that it is important to the Hawaiians to stick to these superstitions. Even though most people will want pork, they are willing to give up an essential food to secure their safety while crossing the Pali. Hawaiians often believe in the ancient superstitions, even if they do not know why. It is similar to American superstitions such as Never walk under a ladder. People do not know why they should not walk under a ladder, but it is just an action that people choose not to do. These accepted superstitions are very common in Hawaiian culture and are followed so that they do not get any bad luck. Luck is an indispensable part of the superstitions that they have, in which their actions revolve around pleasing the gods of the islands. In Hawaii, the superstitions are very clear. Most of the people do not dare to test the waters and see if it is really true, yet there is the superstition to blame if anything goes wrong while crossing.