Tag Archives: water

Dia de San Juan

M is 44. She was born in Los Angeles, her parents are from Guadalajara, Mexico. She told me this custom about St. John the Baptist day in person.

“El dia de San Juan… June 24th, you’re not supposed to go in the water, like not even take a shower. It’s a religious belief… I remember my mom always telling me I couldn’t even take a shower that day… I’m not sure why, I think because on this day water is holy?”

San Juan, or John the Baptist is associated with water because he baptized Jesus. Some observations of this day involve the opposite of what M told me, where people bathe and splash in bodies of water (see https://www.nativeseeds.org/blogs/blog-news/celebrate-dia-de-san-juan). For information about celebrations in Spain involving fire, water, and plants, see https://centromundolengua.com/the-night-of-saint-john-in-spain/.

Lady of the Lake

AJ: It was a dark, dark night. It was very late and very cold in Dallas. A guy was driving home from work along White Rock Lake when he sees a lady. She’s wearing a white dress and is soaking wet. He pulls up next to her and asks “Do you need help? Do you need a ride?” She says “Yes, I live on the other side of the lake.” He drives her around the lake and pulls up to her house. He asked the owner of the house if he could bring her inside, but when he looked back in the car, nothing was there.

All that was left in the back seat was a puddle. He described her to the man who lived there and he told him that she was a woman who had lived there years ago and had drowned in White Rock Lake on her wedding day. She appears to people in the shallows of the lake or on the road asking for a ride.

Me: How did you hear about the Lady of the Lake

AJ: I guess like family friends? When we would have family nights, my dad and all his friends who grew up in Dallas talk about it. She’s supposed to be bad luck too, so they warn us about going out late and seeing her.

Me: Do you believe in her

AJ: Kind of – I don’t believe that I’ll ever interact with her, but I’ll believe that someone died in the lake and haunts it. Especially when I’m near the dam. That’s where I’m like ‘If I were to see the lady of the lake, it’d be here’.

Personally, I want to know more about the Lady of the Lake before I believe in her. Spurned women ghosts tend to come from other places – why did she just happen to drown on her wedding day? If she had been killed by her fiance or had more of a reason for being a ghost, I think she would have a more interesting story.

Slurs and Insults in a Coastal City

Background and context: The interviewer and the informant are both residents of Qingdao, a Northeastern coastal city in China. The city is known for its beaches, ports, and seafood. A big portion of the city’s economy relies on tourism. 

The informant talks in Mandarin, but with the Qingdao dialect. The interviewer and the informant talk about unique slurs and insults that only Qingdao people use.

1. 潮巴

pinyin: cháo ba

Transliteration: moist [“ba” doesn’t have meaning]

Translation: Idiot

2. 你脑子进水了

pinyin: ni nao zi jin shui le

Transliteration: You’ve got water in your head.

Translation: You’re so stupid.

Analysis: Because Qingdao is a coastal city and the sea has a very important role in Qingdao people’s life, language used by Qingdao people is heavily influenced by imageries and characters associated with the sea. In both insults, water or “moist” is directly linked with the geographical character of the city. “Moist” or having water in one’s head both signify a loss of control, a form of imbalance between humans and the ocean. This shows that Qingdao’s connection with the ocean is more complicated than people’s dependence on the sea. There might be an implicit fear as well in not being able to control the ocean and maintain a balance between human life and natural forces.

Naming your children with things like water for good personalities

HK: Chinese people are really superstitious about how you name your child––so all the Chinese children have like, names that are made up of Chinese characters, right? And within those characters, there are characters that mean certain things.

MW: What’s your name?

HK: Well, let’s just say that basically my name has a lot of fire character in it. Too much probably, that’s probably why I’m such a bitch.

MW: Haha. So then what did you name your kids?

HK: All my kids, we decided, had to have water in their names. In Chinese you know it as the part of the character, the “radical,” known as san dian shui. It’s basically three dots at the edge of some characters that denotate that the character is related to water. We did that so they would balance me out. Cause now I’m such a bitch, by my kids are pretty cool. Keeps the family balanced.

MW: And how does this make you feel?

HK: Well, again, it’s that superstition feeling where you feel like you should just do it because if you don’t you worry about what might happen, and then otherwise your mother in law can blame everything bad that happens on you because you didn’t name your kids water or whatever. But they all have nice names. I like them.

Background:

The informant, HK, was born in New York but has parents who are from China. She married and has three children. 

Context

HK now lives in Texas––I collected this story over a Zoom call. She has been one of my mother’s closest friends since college, and often, they would commiserate together with all of my other Chinese aunties about certain things their Chinese parents would make them do, or general annoyance over Chinese tradition. This was one of those calls.

Thoughts:

With a lot of other superstitions from any culture, you do it to avoid a consequence; but with names, it’s more fun, especially if you’re born in America. American names generally don’t have any meaning, or at least any meaning that everyone knows. In Chinese, every name means something, and generally, everyone knows that meaning. So of course there will be superstitions surrounding names because the meanings are so clear, but it adds a lot of beauty to the literal title of your identity. It’s something that I feel like a lot of Americans might miss out on.

Oka Falalla

Main Piece: 

Informant: The Choctaw of old tell the story of Oka Famalla, “the returning waters.” This story has been told among the Choctaw for as long as we know.

Interviewer: What is the “returning waters?”

Informant: Long ago, the Choctaw began to be influenced in a bad way by other people. And they began to lose traditional Choctaw values, like taking care of each other. The Creator, Hashtala, had warned the people that they needed to return to our ways, or something bad would happen to them. One man, though, was a good man. He tried to keep our traditional ways. So Hashtala told him to make a large raft out of limbs from the sassaphrass trees, a tree common to the Choctaw lands. He made this large raft, and then it began to rain. It rained for many days, no one really knows how long. Then it stopped. The man floated on the raft for many days after the rain stopped. Then he saw a small blue bird. This bird’s name translates into the English phrase of “turtle dove.” This small bird stayed with the man and as it would fly, the man paddled his raft in the direction the bird flew. Then they came upon land. The bird became a female and she and the man stayed together, had children, and began to populate the earth.

Interviewer: That story sounds a lot like the Bible story of Noah and the ark.

Informant: Yes. When the Choctaw heard the Bible story, they wondered how the writers of the Bible knew the story of Oka Famalla. But we also knew that many tribes had similar stories, so it was not a complete surprise when the white man had a story like theirs also.

Background:

The informant is a Choctaw man in his early 50’s. He was born in Texas and grew up in Oklahoma. He currently resides in Tennessee with his wife and children.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my father. My dad and I decided to have cigars in the back yard and I asked if he could share a few stories regarding our Native culture. I’ve grown up learning about these many traditions but asked him to explain them as if sharing with someone unfamiliar with the culture.

Thoughts: 

From Deucalion and Pyrrha of Greek Mythology to the story of Noah and the Ark in Judeo-Christian culture, flood stories have been a central theme in cultures all around the world. The Great Flood has pre-biblical origins, the oldest known account featuring Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh of ancient Mesopotamia. After hearing the story of Oka Famalla, it was interesting to see the commonalties between these stories. They usually involve humanity becoming corrupt and a deity sending a flood to destroy the world as a result, a sort of a global baptism if you will. A morally righteous person is set apart and tasked to build a large boat to preserve his species. I thought it was interesting how the bird is featured in all of these stories, specifically the dove. This particular story stood out in that it has the bird transforming into a woman but other than that the similarities are quite note-worthy