Tag Archives: rural

The Wedding Singers

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian
Age: 55
Occupation: Financial Manager
Residence: San Ramon, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/26/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hindi

Main Body:

Informant: So singing at weddings was big. And I’ll describe this from my memory because I haven’t seen it anywhere else. But I remember, you’d be on the groom’s side. So everyone is sitting on the floor. Typically this would be in the courtyard of … some kind of thing like if there are a few houses it would be in the courtyard in the middle. But then, houses were usually one story high. And on the roof of the house, there would be all these girls sitting all around, on the edge of the roof. They’d be sitting in a row and they’d be singing. So whenever a particular part of the wedding ritual took place, they’d be singing a song that was relevant or appropriate. What they’d also do is, typically, they’d be picking on the groom’s family. 

Interviewer: So these are all women from the bride’s family?

Informant: Yup. And I don’t think there was any restriction on whether or not they could be married or unmarried or anything. While the ceremony is going on, they don’t wait for pauses or anything, they are just continually singing over the ceremony. And they weren’t faint or anything. I mean, they weren’t overpowering but you could very clearly hear them. 

And this is the funny part, I remember one time I was looking up. And their songs, you know, sometimes they would have pathos in them because it was a sad thing because, typically, the bride would not return home after being married off. So they would, the singers would pick on the groom’s family. Like “Oh look at his mustache” or “Oh he’s bald,” or something like that. So I looked up, I was a little kid, to see what all the singing was about. And I remember my older brother telling me, very sternly, “You’re not supposed to look up.” So you can’t acknowledge them. But at the same time, it was very clear that people would feel deprived if there wasn’t that singing.

Background:

The informant is my father who was born and raised in northern India in the state of Punjab and immigrated to America over 20 years ago. He was raised for a time in a rural village setting which is where much of our family comes from and this tradition is one he noticed being practiced in those rural, village weddings. This did not happen in his own wedding.

Context:

I am back home due to shelter-in-place. One night when my family was sitting in the study I asked my father if he had any folklore samples I could add to the archive. This was one of the ones he shared with me.

Analysis:

I think I understand where this tradition comes from. India is, by and large, an incredibly patriarchal society. Brides are married off, largely expected to stay home. Even now I see it during dinner settings there is an unspoken expectation that the women clean and bring the food to the table while the men sit and wait. So with the wedding being a somewhat sad affair for the bride’s family, losing their sister/daughter/niece to another family, this tradition is sort of a way of rebelling against that. Disrupting the ceremony, making fun of the groom’s family, ultimately all in vain as the bride will be married and leave. But it’s the bride’s family’s way of expressing their love for the bride and acting out to show, in a roundabout way, that they will miss her.

La Bête: A French Monster Legend

--Informant Info--
Nationality: French-American
Age: 18
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/17/19
Primary Language: French
Other Language(s): English

Context: CW, with a mug of hot tea sits, on my couch after an afternoon of doing homework and recounts stories from their childhood. CW is a USC Game Design Student who loves the macabre, and the morbid.
———————————————————————————————————————
CW: So I know one French story… that I don’t remember what town specifically

CW: But there was a town, and a beast that kept eating people’s sheep and…

CW: I think also sometimes people, and they just called it the beast.

Interviewer(MW): What was that in French?

CW: La Bête

MW: Cool

CW: I’m pretty sure a farmer girl went and found it and killed it and now it’s an attraction in the town.

MW: I actually think I’ve heard a version of this before

CW: So a lot of people are like “oh, I saw the beast”

MW: Yeah, I think this is where the Tarrasque comes from in D&D

CW: Interesting…

MW: Were there any visual qualities that the Beast had that you know about

CW: It was like…a really big wolf but like real big

MW: Where did you hear this story originally?

CW: My middle school French class

MW: Why do you like this story?

CW: Cause monster stories are cool, and monsters are spooky, and also feminism.

———————————————————————————————————————

Analysis:

This story conveys an obvious historical anxiety, rural communities were searching for an explanation for their missing sheep, it suggests that communities are looking externally for problems assuming the supernatural rather than suspecting other members of their communities, or regular actual wolves. It speaks to the desire to know why something has gone wrong, and when that problem is found to be seemingly unsolvable, help comes from somewhere unexpected. When the beast is slain by the farm girl, who would likely have been seen as weak in the conditions a story like this emerged in. This story teaches fear, but likewise empowers rural French communities, if now as a tourist attraction a way to share their culture and turn a profit from it. It likewise empowers non-men, given that the hero of the story, someone who conquers a beast known to eat people, is a woman. This version of the story presents this conquest as a slaying as well which situates this unexpected hero as physically powerful as well, providing agency to a group that’s often denied that.

Goin’ Cattin’

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/21
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

This was told to me after I asked about the informant’s shirt. The shirt had some slang that I was unfamiliar with. The informant is from rural Eastern Oregon.

“Um, so basically, my slang is “Cattin’” like “Cat-ting” like cats and felines because we have a lot of cats around the house, they’re all outside, and we and my sister are bored, we’ll be like “hey, wanna go cattin’?” which means we go outside and find all the cats and pet them and have fun with them. And then, that’s cattin’. My sister made me a t-shirt for Christmas one year”

Analysis:

Although a very niche reference, the whole family and the informant’s wide range of friends have taken on this piece of slang and are able to reference it when relating to the informant. This shows how slang can move very easily between groups – now he uses it in college as well which means it has reach an even larger audience than just in rural Oregon – all the way in southern California.

“We’ll do it. Me, myself, and I.”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 81
Occupation: Retired Dietician
Residence: Berkeley, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: March 18, 2015
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

“We’ll do it. Me, myself, and I.”

The informant (my grandmother) was born in Missouri and has lived in Berkeley, CA for close to sixty years. She has always been a remarkably hard worker; she was raised by her uncle on his farm, where she more than carried her own weight, and, after completing four years at Penn State (where she was the only female Chemistry major at the time), she insisted on paying her uncle back every dime of her tuition. The informant moved out to California, went to graduate school at Mills College, and became a nutritionist working with nursing homes and other care facilities to develop standards for feeding different types of patients. After having two sons, the informant became the President of the Parents Association for the Head-Royce School in Oakland, CA and remained an active member of the Claremont Book Club.

This specific line, which the informant uses sparingly, was something she picked up from her mother (my great-grandmother, who lived to the age of 102 and played piano avidly until about a month before her death). The informant’s mother was born in Blue Mountain, Missouri (“And she’s still there! Buried on the family farm,” the informant notes). She used this line in two very different contexts: 1. whenever she felt she wasn’t being offered enough help from her children—especially in tasks like setting the table—and 2. when she her ability to complete a task was called into question.

The informant claims that this line was a fairly common saying in Missouri during her childhood.

More in the Cellar in the Teacup

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 81
Occupation: Retired Dietician
Residence: Berkeley, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: March 18, 2015
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: In the country, when we were just joking around, usually offering food, with guests—people we liked—we’d tell them, “Take a lot of them; take two!” And sometimes we’d add, “There’s plenty more down in the cellar in the teacup.”

The informant (my grandmother) was born in Missouri and has lived in Berkeley, CA for close to sixty years. She has always been a remarkably hard worker; she was raised by her uncle on his farm, where she more than carried her own weight, and, after completing four years at Penn State (where she was the only female Chemistry major at the time), she insisted on paying her uncle back every dime of her tuition. The informant moved out to California, went to graduate school at Mills College, and became a nutritionist working with nursing homes and other care facilities to develop standards for feeding different types of patients. After having two sons, the informant became the President of the Parents Association for the Head-Royce School in Oakland, CA and remained an active member of the Claremont Book Club.

This pair of sayings seems to play on the idea that rural Missouri families were not always living bountifully, but that what they did have, they were willing to share with friends. The notion that “a lot” means “two” is indicative of a lack of resources, as is the idea that the speaker’s reserves are meager enough to be fit into a teacup.

The second part of the item—the comment about the teacup in the cellar—is a somewhat well-documented saying, though the documents date in the early 1900s. Specifically, I tracked down a Good Housekeeping magazine from July 1916. A stamp on the inside cover reads “The Pennsylvania State University Library.”

Citation 1: Lane, Rose Wilder. Free Land. New York: Longmans, Green, 1938. Print.

Citation 2: Wood, Eugene. “The Feast of the Home-Coming.” Good Housekeeping July 1916: 56. Print.

“He’s a Hoosier”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: College Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/24/13
Primary Language:
Other Language(s):

The informant describes a phrase that is specific to St. Louis, Missouri.  The informant believes he learned this word from one of his friends first, but sees the term as a way of describing a certain group of people in a derogatory way.  He also thinks of being at Six Flags in St. Louis because this is where he sees many hoosiers.  The informant found it weird that no one knew what a hoosier was when he came to California.

The informant explains that the state emblem of Indiana is the Hoosiers and the University of Indiana is called Hoosiers as well and for some reason in St. Louis a hoosier indicates hick.  When you see someone who is like a hick – people who are overweight, not very smart and farmers – you say, “Oh, they’re a hoosier.”  The word hoosier is effectively synonymous with “white trash.”

The term hoosier used in St. Louis is interesting as it shows how a term in one region is specific to the group who uses it, but different terms with the same meaning exist outside of St. Louis.  Hoosier effectively meaning “white trash” indicates that groups around the U.S. come up with different ways of categorizing this type of person – described as overweight, unintelligent, and a farmer.

Cow Tipping

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23rd, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

“Basically, you run up to the cow and tip it over” -informant

Cow tipping is a hobby usually found in rural areas where cows are common. The idea is to surprise the cow and push it over, because it looks funny.

The informant tried to go cow tipping with her friends on a weekend up in rural California. However, she found that it is harder than it sounds, because cows are easily frightened and will run away if you run up to them. Furthermore, cows sleep lying down, so you can’t surprise them when they’re asleep. The informant, although disappointed that she could not successfully cow-tip, still had fun with her friends in the adventure. She learned about cow-tipping from back home in Washington, because she lives near rural areas where the custom is more popular.

I have heard of cow-tipping before, because my father grew up on a farm and told me about the custom. However, he also warned me that it is very dangerous, because cows are heavy and might try to kick you. I believe that I’ve seen cow-tipping in literature before as well. I feel a little bad for the cows who are tipped, because it sounds painful and annoying to get stuck on your side like that. I don’t think I would ever actually attempt to go cow-tipping, although it is kind of funny when you talk about it. I think it reflects the need of rural youth to find creative ways to entertain themselves, because they don’t have access to many of the distractions that are available in a city or even a suburb. It would be exciting to get in a little trouble and do something mischievous like cow-tipping, which probably would annoy the dairy farmers. I doubt that adult would partake in this custom, as it seems more suited to the humor of children and older youth.

Georgetown Chupacabra

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Caucasian
Age: 19
Occupation: Berkeley Biology Student
Residence: Berkeley
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

There was a guy in Georgetown who heard noises outside of his trailer. He grabbed a gun that for some reason he kept in his run-down trailer, he ran outside to find a chupacabra. A chupacabra is like a goat-eater, is what it’s also called. I don’t really know what it looks like. But in this case I hear that what he shot at might have actually been a sick, hairless, bear cub, which is pretty sad. Anyway, the guy shoots at it and misses, then shoots again and kills the thing. He said when he shot it, it was screaming “like a four year old girl.” Which is a really disturbing analogy, because, how, precisely, would he know? Anyway, that’s what I heard. It happened in the town just over from ours. The guy was a big hick, and he went to high school, I think, with our high school economics teacher.

This is a FOAF story that happened in the performer’s hometown. It definitely gives a feel for the town identity. As the performer of this story lives nearby the town where the chupacabra was allegedly found, she knows the area and is familiar with what bear cubs look like. She is fond of the story, because it is quickly becoming a town legend, and has apparently made the town infamous, where before the town was too small to be of any note. The story has become part of the town identity.

A homemade cocklebur tea will cure a horse or cow of constipation

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 65
Occupation: Consultant
Residence: Claremont, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2007
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

This informant spent his youth on a farm in Madison County, Nebraska.  His parents farmed many acres and they raised several kinds of livestock.  He first learned this folk remedy from one of his friends in high school.  He is not sure how it came up, but it’s never difficult for immature minds to reach constipation and other digestion problems as their source of conversation.  My informant has only heard of this remedy and doesn’t know anyone who has ever tried it.

The cocklebur is a plant with spines at its leaf bases.  As far as other properties, it is poisonous to livestock, and animals will avoid it while foraging.  Less picky animals, such as pigs, will commonly eat the plant, get sick, and die.

To make the tea, one just has to mash up cocklebur leaves, add water, and mix the combination.  The plant is sickening, so when it enters the animal’s system, the animal will do what it can to reject the poison. In the process of cleansing the animal’s body, all of the other stomach contents are emptied, curing the livestock’s constipation.  In fact, it gives the animal a case of diarrhea.

The consequences of using the tea may not seem beneficial at first, but without treatment, constipation could be fatal or cause serious health problems for the animals.  This folk remedy and others are commonly shared among farmers to prevent the death of livestock when a specific medicine cannot be procured.  Oftentimes, the wellbeing of a farmer is dependent on the health of his livestock, and this sort of information could really be helpful.

If a cow is bloated and sick, you have it chew on a rope

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 65
Occupation: Consultant
Residence: Claremont, California
Date of Performance/Collection: March 2007
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

My informant was raised on a farm in northeast Nebraska and, in his youth, he was active in maintaining the farm with his parents.  One day, about 50 years ago, one of the family’s cows became sick.  The cow became bloated and my informant’s father had to explain that cows are too stupid to know when to stop eating.  This particular cow had eaten too much alfalfa.  This situation can be especially problematic if the alfalfa is really fresh because, according to other farmers, it expands as it is digested.  If nothing is done, there is a significant chance the cow will die.

It seemed likely to my informant that this remedy may have originated when someone gave their cow something to chew on to help it cope with the pain of the bloating, and the cow recovered.  My informant believes that chewing on the rope might ease the stomach and allow the cow to burp and let out some of the air that has it bloating.  Also, this method has proven effective, because if the cow is dumb enough to binge on alfalfa to a point where it endangers its own life, it can surely chew on a rope for hours on end.

At the time my informant first heard of this remedy, he did not know of a medicinal cure for the bloating.  Considering the cows had to be fed, housed, and cleaned, uncommon problems like bloating went without a definite cure and farmers had to ask each other what to do in these situations, and in this way, folk remedies spread from farm to farm.