Tag Archives: story

Chimney Sweeps are Good Luck

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

My informant, an Irish-American male, grew up immersed in Irish culture. He was excited to share his stories with me — especially because sharing stories and poems is an important part of Irish social culture. I collected this story from him while we sat on his couch:

 

“So one Christmas, we had a chimney sweep come over. We called him and asked him to come over to clean out our fireplace. And he comes over — and our door bell has not worked in and years. Like since I’ve been at my house, the door never once worked once. Like the wires are cut, you know, like it was significantly broken. So, the chimney sweep presses the doorbell and it rings. It fully rings! And we were all very confused so we just kind of sat there for a hot second. And then we heard it again– and it rang again! And we were like what is going on? And my mom was like, “Oh my God! It’s a chimney sweep!” And she asked him how he rang the doorbell, and he responded– he was just like, “I just pressed it and it rang.” And then my mom pressed it– and it worked one more time and then after that it stopped working again. And it hasn’t worked since– but it worked when the chimney sweep came over. So that’s really weird.”

 

Because this story is from his personal experience, I asked him to explain how he knew about the folk belief that chimney sweeps bring good luck:

 

Killian: “It came up a lot. It’s pretty much common knowledge in Ireland. I don’t remember a specific person it came from.”

 

I then asked my informant if he knew where the folk belief came from or when it developed:

 

Killian: “I mean, there’s not much rhyme or reason to Irish superstition. I dunno, maybe it’s good luck because they clean out your fireplace so your house doesn’t burn down?”

 

Analysis:

I have never heard of this folk belief, but I think it fits with my other knowledge of Irish folklore. This collection is also fascinating because it comes with a story of personal experience that fits within the folk belief. To me, it’s similar to a ghost story but it fits with Irish legends rather than local legends.

 

Alexa Tells A Joke

--Informant Info--
Nationality:
Age:
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language:
Other Language(s):

BACKGROUND:

In recent years, Amazon has launched a produce called the Amazon Echo. The AI “personality” that the Echo conveys is even given a familial name, Alexa. The device is used to serve as a home assistive device, with the capabilities of setting timers, controlling lights, and even convey bits of folklore. Because Alexa has access to a massive database of different bits of information, the device can retell a joke it “heard” from someone else. I decided to test this and ask a device to tell me a joke. In return, I was told a joke that started out sounding like a historical fact (a function the Echo is often used for) and flipped my expectations by ending it with a pun.

“INTERVIEW”:

My “interview” with my source and artificial storyteller, Alexa, went as follows:

Me: Alexa, tell me a joke.

Alexa: As the old story goes, someone sees a reflection of the moon and mistakes it for cheese… un-brie-lievable!

MY THOUGHTS:

Due to the fact that this is a machine with no actual purpose other than to serve its users, I concluded that this source’s identity did not need to be kept anonymous. There is no legal obligations that a user needs to serve Alexa given that its personality is based off 1’s and 0’s, not actual emotions. I still find it extremely fascinating that this device is able to convey bits of folklore, just like a human can. I wanted to explore this concept and see what would happen. I felt like a joke was a good place to start. I’ve heard a version of this joke before but never told like this. I love the way it plays off the fact that it is a machine, in that it starts to convey the joke as a fact, much like it normally conveys facts, and then turns it around and ends with a punchline. This variation of the joke is a fun way in which modern technology can influence the world of folklore.

Tree story, India

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/24/18
Primary Language: Hindi (urdu)
Other Language(s): English

This story was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in New Delhi, India and is 20 years old. She told me a story that her grandfather used to tell her whole family when they sat in the front porch of their house.

 

She told me that there is a really big tree which was always barren in front of her house, and her grandfather said that the only time this tree was in full bloom was when it had a nest in which a mama bird had 4 babies. One day, a snake climbed up the tree and ate the babies, and the mama cried and cried until all the leaves fell off and the tree has never bloomed since. She says this story brought a flavor of fantasy to her locality which in turn gave her a sense of wonder ever since she was a child.

 

This story reminded me of the stories I used to hear from my own grandparents, and I think it is a really nice way to increase that sense of wonder and turn something seemingly ordinary into something that brings the family together.

Witch house, India

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/24/18
Primary Language: Hindi (urdu)
Other Language(s): English

This story was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in New Delhi, India and is 20 years old. She told me a rumor that was started when she was younger about a house in her neighborhood.

 

She told me that she had never the house’s owner up until a few years ago. She had only seen 30-40 cats that went in and out of the house. She is not sure about how it started, but all the kids in her locality were scared of looking at the house for more than a minute at a time because somebody started a rumor that the evil witch inside would throw kids into a well inside the house or eat them for dinner. She says it became a fun little test among her friends for seeing who was the bravest by making people stare at the house. Looking back at it now, she thinks it was probably a parent who started this rumor so that the kids would come home right after it got dark.

 

It looks like this is one of those stories parents use to scare children into behaving and not leaving their house at night, like Mexico’s La Llorona or Panama’s La Tulivieja. I like that children turned it into a fun game instead of being scared of it. All of the Indian people that I’ve met are very playful and not easily scared, so that reaction makes sense to me.

Creepy Clown Story

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: NY
Date of Performance/Collection: March 22
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant is USC sophomore born and raised in Amherst, NY.

He tells me the story of a “deranged clown” he and his friends came across in the summer of 2016.

He tells me:

“Yeah, we were walking in the forest by my house. I was going to shoot some pictures and my two friends were with me. It was like noon, a perfectly normal day.

So I was going to take some portraits and then we were going to go see a movie. It was so normal, but as we’re walking down the path in the forest— it’s behind the school, we went all the time so this was no different— I saw this color out of the corner of my eye.

And this was happening right around the time when all those clowns were showing up in videos. So my first thought was “oh god, a clown.” And so I turned and there he— it— was, a clown standing in the forest. It looked like he was holding a knife, I saw a glisten which could have been a knife, but also maybe a phone or something. A watch glistening or something, but I’m pretty sure it was a knife.

He wasn’t looking at us but immediately I had a flash back to a video I saw where a clown started chasing someone at like, full speed. So I wasted no time and we high tailed it out of there.

Usually I don’t believe in this kind of stuff. Honestly I thought those clown videos were just all faked. But when you see one yourself, and you think that somebody’s crazy enough to go stand in the forest dressed like that, you don’t care what’s faked. You get the fuck out of there!”

Personally I’m also skeptical of this “killer clown” thing. It seems a little too “Hollywood” to be true to me, it kind of taps into this scary movie fear we have as a society. I don’t know if I actually believe he saw a clown, or if he even believes he did. Part of me thinks he’s just playing off of the trend and wanted to have a creepy clown story of his own.

I also wonder about the “scary clown” thing— why is it true? What’s so scary about clowns, or as a society did we choose to make the clown scary because it’s a better narrative?

Tanbouri’s Shoes

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Syrian
Age: 52
Occupation:
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 11, 2017
Primary Language: Arabic
Other Language(s): English

Abu Al Kasem Al Tanbouri used to live in Baghdad, and he had very old shoes, which he used to patch up every time when it breaks. The shoe became a collection of patches, and it was known for everybody. One day, his friends insisted on him to get rid of these old shoes, so he threw it in the dumpster, and he went back home. On his way home, he passed by the market, and he saw these nice, colorful glass bottles. But he thought these are too expensive and he doesn’t need them. Then he passed by a place where they sell perfumes, and he thought this expensive perfume deserves to be in one of these beautiful, colorful glasses. So he went back, and he got one glass bottle, and then he got the perfume, and put the perfume in the glass, and put it on a shelf in the house.

Meanwhile, a man was passing next to the dumpster, and he saw the patched shoes, and he recognized them. So he thought, it’s impossible for Al Tanbouri to get rid of the shoes, and I need to take it back to him. When he knocked on the door, nobody answered (because Al Tanbouri was out), and he saw an open window in the house. So he threw the patched shoes through the window, and hit the glassed perfume, which broke, and the perfume spilled out of the glass.

When Al Tanbouri came back to the house, and he recognized what happened, he cursed the shoes, and he took them angrily, and he threw them in the river. After a while, a fisherman found the shoes in his net, and he recognized them. He thought that he needed to take them back to their owner, so he went to Al Tanbouri’s house, and he told him, “I found your shoes in my net.”

Tanbouri took the shoes and put it on the roof to dry. A cat thought the shoes were a piece of meat, and started to chew on it. So Al Tanbouri followed the cat, trying to get it to leave the shoes alone, but the cat put the shoes in his mouth, and started to jump over roofs. All of a sudden, the shoes fell from the cat’s mouth, and it hit a pregnant woman, and she fell down on her back, and miscarried the baby. So her husband went to the judge, accused Al Tanbouri with killing his unborn baby, after he recognized they were Al Tanbouri’s shoes. So the judge ordered him to pay blood money.

Al Tanbouri got very angry, and he started cursing the shoes, and thought, “I need to throw it in a place where no one will find it.” So he threw them in the sewers. In two days, the sewers flooded. When the workers came to check the reason of the flood, they found the patched shoes, and they recognized who the owner is. They took him to the judge again, and the judge ordered to send him to prison.

After he was done with his sentence, they gave back the shoes to him. Again, he cursed the shoes, and he thought, “I need to bury it in a deep place.” When he started to dig, the neighbors thought that thieves were digging through the fence, so they went to the police, and the police came and took him to the judge. Al Tanbouri asked the judge to write a document that he has nothing to do with the shoes anymore, and no matter what trouble they are causing, he has no connection to it.

Al Tanbouri’s shoes were famous for their bad luck.

Background information: The informant learned this from a friend of hers and thought it was entertaining and funny. It is a Middle Eastern story.

Context: The informant told me this in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: I thought this was a funny story – the fact that a pair of beaten-up shoes, nothing really important, can have serious ramifications on Al Tanbouri’s life is pure comedy, as well as the fact that the shoes inadvertently followed him everywhere. He tried so hard to get rid of them following well-meaning advice from his friends, and they caused so much trouble for him. I don’t recall any stories I’ve heard that are similar to this, so it was quite interesting and entertaining to listen to.

For another version of this story, see The Tanbouri Shoes (My Auntie’s Stories), published by Asalah (2008). ISBN-10: 9953488851.

Juha’s Nail

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Syrian
Age: 52
Occupation:
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 11, 2017
Primary Language: Arabic
Other Language(s): English

Juha had a house he liked very much. But, he needed some money so he had to sell it. For him, to keep a connection to his house, he put in the contract that he is selling all of the house, except a nail on one of the walls. After a week, Juha knocked the door, and when the new owners opened, he told him “Excuse me, I am here to check on my nail.” And he kept doing this almost every day and especially during lunch or dinner time, to be able to share the owner’s meals. After a while, the owner was so tired of Juha’s visits, he left the keys with him and departed. The phrase “Juha’s Nail” stayed as a expression for when you use an excuse to keep coming back for something you are attached to.

Background information: This is a piece of folklore read about in school in the Middle East. The informant found the story for the phrase, “Juha’s Nail,” particularly funny. Juha is a recurring character in many Middle Eastern stories.

Context: The informant told me about this story in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: I think it’s so cool and interesting to have a metaphor used in language that started as a story/joke. I have not learned about Arabic metaphors, so it’s fascinating to learn about the origins of one of them.

Juha and His Sheep

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Syrian
Age: 52
Occupation:
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 11, 2017
Primary Language: Arabic
Other Language(s): English

Juha had a white, cute, chubby sheep, and he used to love him a lot. Juha’s friends wanted to trick him, and to slaughter that sheep for them for dinner. They told him that the end of the world will be tomorrow, and there is no point of keeping his sheep, and that they should their last picnic and enjoy the meat next to the river. So Juha slaughtered the sheep, and he started a fire to grill it. His friends went to swim in the river, and they were laughing and joking about him. He got upset, and he threw all their clothes in the fire. When they came back, they were upset at him, and he told them: “Why do you need their clothes if tomorrow is the end of the world?”

Background information: This is a traditional story heard throughout the Middle East. Juha is like Charlie Chaplin in a sense – he always does funny stuff and gets into funny situations, and is a recurring character.

Context: The informant told me this story in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: It’s interesting to see the amount of stories and jokes that revolve around this Juha character. To have one main character seems to make it easier to relay jokes and stories – no background information or context is needed, since it is always Juha. He gets into funny situations all the time, so it makes sense that these things happen to him. I feel bad for the sheep, though – getting it killed for something to laugh about is a cruel joke! Juha definitely and rightfully got back at his friends.

Panchatantra = Indian comic book

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian
Age: 20
Occupation: undergraduate student
Residence: New Delhi, India
Date of Performance/Collection: 2017-3-18
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hindi

Main piece:

“Panchatantra is a folktale comic book for kids created to teach morals and important life lessons. In one of the stories, there is a god/deity, who is disguised as a poor female street beggar. She goes to a rich family household and asks for food and money. They say no, so then she moves on to the village and goes to a poor couple’s house. The couple has like no food or anything but she asks for food and water. They give her one roti (which is like tortilla/bread) and water even though they had none for themselves. So then when the rich family and poor couple wake up, their lives are switched.

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Informant said she got her Panchatantra from her aunt on her 4th birthday as a gift but it was very common and every kid owned it. Informant said that the story shows that no matter how much you have- a lot or a little- you should share with people. It teaches people to not be selfish and greedy.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It is read by kids as a comic book in India.

Personal Analysis:

The Panchatantra is like Aesop’s fables. It is a good way to combine something fun and educational. It is not education in a literal or academic sense, but it is one way that India teaches kids how to be generous. It shows the values of the nation that cares about giving rather than receiving.

The Proud Eagle

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Iranian-American
Age: 77
Occupation: Small Business Owner
Residence: La Canada, CA, USA
Date of Performance/Collection: March 12, 2017
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Persian/Farsi

“This is a story about an eagle and the issue of pride that has been, uhh… told generations after generations to caution the young generations about not to be too proud of themselves and be humble. I’ll say this story in Farsi first, and then translate it in English. [Tells story in Farsi]

Now translate in English, the story about a proud, extremely proud eagle. And as he was flying, I… says to himself, ‘I’m so proud of myself, and my power, and how I can see things, and I’m the strongerest, the strongest eagle on Earth, and anything down there, if it moves, I can tell, I can sense it.’

As he was flying, a hunter down below, using bow and arrow, aimed at her… uhh… and sh… sh…, you know, aimed an arrow at her. Uhh… so causes the eagle to start falling. As… he was, uhh… I’m sorry, I changed my pronouns! You know, I went from he and she; can we redo that?”

No, it’s fine, you can keep going!

“[Laughs] Okay. As he was falling down, uhh, he was looking at the arrow that caused him to fall, and noticed that the, uhh, the important thing that was guiding the arrow was a feather of another eagle. That caused his fall. And eventually his demise.

So the story goes to explain that, uhh, most of the things that are happening to us, are as a result of some of the things we’re doing, uhh, due to our neglect, due to our incompetence, that’s happening to us.”

 

Analysis: This story is very similar to tales and proverbs in other parts of the world relating to pride. I am reminded of the English phrase, “Pride comes before the fall,” which is itself derived from the Bible. It seems to be a very common belief that excess pride often results in one’s own misfortune, but it is interesting to note that in this case, the story is told from the perspective of the Eagle. Not only this, but the hunter is not seen as good or evil, he is instead a merely neutral actor. This places all of the responsibility for wrongdoing on the Eagle’s pride, instead of the entity that caused the Eagle direct harm.