Tuesday, December 29, 2009
What I like most about folk stories is that they tell us something important about other people. They create specific examples of universal themes that exist in all cultures; they express the uniqueness of a particular time and a particular people that enlightens us all about our own humanity.
This is what I recently experienced after reading Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults, a collection of contemporary stories for young adults collected and edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard. The 257-page book published by PALH (Philippine American Literary House) was first brought to my attention by fellow writer Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor. A bright writer herself who lives in Washington, she was able to share with me not only the beauty of her own literary work but also the richness of her cultural heritage.
Thanks to her I was allowed into the post 9/11 world of Filipino and Filipino American youth. Through this I was introduced to a culture that admittedly I knew very little about.
I learned through the stories that many Filipino children are raised in a very strong patriarchal system that often over rules the individual child’s needs to ‘fit in’ with the dominant American culture. For example, in ‘Double Dutch’ (Leslieann Hobayan) when young Maria Elizabeth comes home one day with her hair braided by her African American school friend her family responds by telling her the braids are ugly and she is no longer allowed to play with her friend. I could feel the poignancy of Maria Elizabeth’s dilemma as she withdrew from the schoolyard community she enjoyed so much.
Other stories also reveal the hard facts of immigrant life. Alma (‘Here in the States’ by Rashaan Alexis Meneses) struggles to understand how hard her mother must work as a nanny to make ends meet. Shame and sadness mingle when she questions the discrepancy between her mother’s role as a respected professional back home and her new role as a domestic helper. Adolescent resentment and rebellion about having to help care for younger siblings (something the maid back home did) further complicate Alma’s efforts to make sense of this new world. It is in her mother’s quiet strength and acceptance of life’s uncertainties that Alma finds her greatest comfort and connection.
While the book is designed to reflect the issues young adults face, it does much more than that. It reaches out to the rest of us in a way that invites deeper understanding and awareness of how our Filipino and Filipino American brothers and sisters experience life in America. Fraught with the angst of adolescence that exists everywhere and grounded in an abiding sense of strong Filipino family/cultural values, the authors of these stories have something valuable to tell us about our own desires and struggles to belong in whatever world we live in.
We are fortunate to have access to such a formidable anthology. It is certainly a must read for anyone who wants to celebrate our multicultural society.
Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults will be released March, 2010. For more information, visit their website.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
What a perfect time to start asking questions about the lives of the people you will share the holidays with. Get your uncle to talk about his hobby. How did he get started on it. What about your cousin's artistic talent; did he or she ever display any art? Or maybe your friend became a warrior when she challenged a health care company's decision to not cover the cost of her medical care.
All of these examples are the perfect material for family folktales. You can either take notes or write down later what you recall about the stories people told. In most cases you can probably ask questions at a later date if there's something you need to clarify.
The fun is in capturing stories that have not yet been preserved and then sharing them with others.
The beauty in writing these folktales which are based upon any one of hundreds of folktale motifs (artist, chef, scientist, wizard, first Christmas, funny Christmas, etc.) is that they will last forever. Unlike electronic recording devices that are dependent upon equipment working properly, the written information won't be lost if your computer or camcorder crashes.
Just to be on the safe side, though, make sure you print out any stories you have typed into your computer and/or store on removable flash drives.
So with that in mind, be thinking about the people you are with this holiday season and don't be surprised to find out that almost everyone has a folktale to tell!
Friday, December 11, 2009
Folklore and Mythology is a compilation of electronic texts that reveal the specific cultural way in which universal motifs (themes) are conveyed. This ethno-centric application also reflects the creativity that people bring to the beliefs and ideas they pass on to each other.
Originally oral in nature, these stories have taken on a more fixed expression in the electronic texts. The texts themselves gathered together as they are in groups also suggests that all cultures have some things in common; particularly, folkloric and mythological images.
For example here is only a portion of what is listed under the category of Air Castles:
The Broken Pot (India, The Panchatantra).
The Poor Man and the Flask of Oil (India, Bidpai).
The Daydreamer (India, Cecil Henry Bompas).
The Barber's Tale of His Fifth Brother (1001 Nights).
A Wise Lesson; or, The Dervish and the Honey Jar (Jewish).
The Milkmaid and Her Pail (Aesop).
Lazy Heinz (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).
Here's what's been compiled for "end of the world":
The Timid Hare and the Flight of the Beasts (India, The Jataka Tales).
The Flight of the Beasts (Tibet, Anton Schiefner).
The Story of Chicken-Licken (England, James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps).
Henny-Penny and Her Fellow Travelers (Scotland, Robert Chambers).
The Cock and the Hen That Went to Dovrefjell (Norway, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe).
The Little Chicken Kluk and His Companions (Denmark, Benjamin Thorpe).
The End of the World (Flanders, Jean de Bosschère).
Brother Rabbit Takes Some Exercise (African-American, Joel Chandler Harris).
This collection which covers everything from Animal Brides to the End of the World to Weather and Climate and beyond is a real treasure. Be sure to check it out. You'' be surprised at how many common themes we share with one another!
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Oban the Knowledge Keeper at Planet Ozkids is devoted to telling tales to children.
The site's creator who created the Oban character writes:
Explore our collection of myths and legends, read postcards and stories from the animals we have met and have fun playing our games and puzzles.
Learn about endangered animals and environments, Biomes and read amazing animal facts.
Oban has added some more Native American legends and Aesop fables to his collection of myths and legends.
The tales, drawn largely from Native American Indians, the Aboriginal Dreamtime, Korea, India and many other countries the creator has visited. These tales include Pelican Girl, How Kangaroo Got His Tail, Big Turtle, and How Coyote Got Fire. These tales are definite keepers!
The idea behind Planet Ozkids is a Word Design Interactive venture creating original learning products using the principles of Integrated Themes and Active Learning.
Planet Ozkid's mission is provide children age 8 to 14 years, their educators, teachers and parents with:
* Products that inform, involve, increase creativity and are fun to use.
* A broader, richer learning experience, integrating new technologies and media for a new century of education.
* A safe environment where children can satisfy their natural curiosity and sense of adventure.
I think Planet Ozkids is onto something. Take a look for yourself!
Monday, November 16, 2009
Workbook Captures Treasured Memories
124 Pages, $11.95
Family heroes, prized heirlooms, and memorable gatherings are among the many folktale motifs presented in the newly revised Family Folktales: Write Your Own Family Stories workbook ($11.95) released this fall by Folkheart Press.
The 124-page workbook was written by Karen Pierce Gonzalez. This award winning writer and writing workshop facilitator introduces writers of all levels to the world of folktale motifs and offers easy to follow writing instructions for anyone interested in preserving family stories.
“The workbook is laid out in a very simple, easy to follow and easy to understand manner, and gives the reader the confidence needed to write,” said Nancy Reid, Big Blend Magazine editor. “I can see this bringing families together and helping anyone interesting in writing, getting a good start.”
A member of the Western States Folklore Society, the author has also added a sampling of contemporary, original folktales written and information about folktale podcasts and scrapbooking techniques as well as other resources for those interested in other creative approaches.
Folkheart Press was established in 2007 to celebrate the art of folktales. Publishing credits include several e-books, including Family Folktales: What Are Yours? by Karen Pierce Gonzalez and Spanish Cuisine One Region at a Time: Catalonia by Barcelona chef Eduardo Balaguer. 2010 releases include Folktales You Can Eat and a collection of Original Jewish Folktales.
The workbook will be available December 10 on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. To place an advance order visit http://www.folkheartpress.com.
Monday, November 2, 2009
The ancient God Lono is honored on November 7 with a Makahiki Festival.
The word "Makahiki" in Hawaiian means "year." In ancient Hawaii the year was calculated by the rising of the seven stars we know as the Pleiades. The Makahiki period started on the night of the first new moon after the Pleiades appeared on the eastern horizon while the sun was setting in the west. This took place around mid-November and lasted about four months. Throughout the islands it was a time of peace, thanksgiving, sharing and preparation for the new year. It was a time filled with games and contests, dancing and feasting.
Many religious ceremonies happened during this period. The people stopped work, made offerings to the chief or aliʻi, and then spent their time practicing sports, feasting, dancing and having a good time. War during those four months was kapu (forbidden).
In Hawaiian mythology, Lono is a fertility and music god who descended to Earth on a rainbow to marry Laka. In agricultural and planting traditions, Lono was identified with rain and food plants. He was one of the four gods (with Kū, Kāne, and his twin brother Kanaloa) who existed before the world was created. Lono was also the god of peace. In his honor, the great annual festival of the Makahiki was held.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Louise Ferrari, owner and the Sweet Lollipop Shop is so fond of Halloween folk art that she's created a line of tasty lollipops that are perfectly suited to the season.
Here's what this folk artist has to say about her folk art confections:
I've always had a love of Halloween and a passion for handmade, so what better combination than applying both in the creation of sweet crystal barley hard candy lollipops, themed perfectly for this spooky time of year. I have a tendency to go with the flow when it comes to deciding what shapes and flavors I want to introduce and I'm very visual in nature so for me tasting good simply isn't good enough, they have to look fabulous. With this in mind I especially enjoyed making the wicked witch lollipops this year, adding just that little bit of extra green to give her that evil feel of Dorothy's nemesis in the Wizard Of Oz. The large size adds to her appeal as do her wickedly chiseled features that include the hooked nose and pointy chin and just for that added realism, water really will make her melt!
Of course there are lots of fun shapes this year, the haunted house with it's intricate detailing is particularly interesting and more unusual than the more regular choices of ghosts and skulls. Of course there is nothing wrong with a regular choice, the opaque ivory skulls in delicious vanilla bean flavoring have a great look to them that is more unique due to the fact that it doesn't have the translucent look of the regular lollipops, a look a little more difficult to create but definitely worth it.
As a big fan of haunted houses, horror movies and anything Halloween related, creating scary lollipops is one of my favorite things to do. Quality and flavor is also very important, everyone has different tastes and I enjoy to be able to cater to as many varied ones as possible. I never use any preservatives and can custom make any order with entirely natural ingredients. With over 50 available flavors, more than 20 being introduced that are entirely natural including my most popular flavor strawberry and more than 20 Halloween shapes currently in stock, there are at least 1000 possible choices you can make for a deliciously sweet Halloween.
Be sure to stop by her cyperspace sweet shop to check out the variety of lollipops - there is something for every holiday season and reason!
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Back in the early days, when plants and animals were first made, they were told to fast and stay awake for seven days to gain spirit power. All were anxious to gain power so they tried to do as instructed and most were able to stay awake through the first night. The next night some started to fall asleep, and by the third night many of them were asleep. By the seventh night, only a few of the animals were awake. The panther, the owl and one or two others managed to stay awake and as their reward they were given the power to see and go about in the dark. Many of the plants also fell asleep and of the trees, only the cedar, the spruce, the pine, the holly, and the laurel were able to stay awake. As their reward, these were allowed to be always green, while the others must lose their leaves in the fall.
Recorded by Anthropologist James Mooney in History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee,this explanation addresses beliefs about why certain animals and plants are able to survive the darker, colder times of year.
Weather lore reflects creative and purposeful interpretations of the world in which we live. In some cases it is believed that human beings are closely connected to their environment and in other cases they are not. Regardless of that, all cultures and communities have reasons and explanations for the weather.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Once an old-world emblem and tool for entire farming communities, today’s scarecrow stands against a backdrop of asphalt roads, concrete sidewalks, and eight-lane freeways that have reshaped America’s landscape, as a more personal crop-tending method with roots that span centuries and continents.
The Atlanta tradition which runs from Oct. 1 through October 31 features wild and wacky scarecrows created by individuals, designers, organizations and businesses in Atlanta.
Fun family activities, including “pumpkin bowling’ and scarecrow crafts will be available from 10-4 on the weekends. Free with garden admission.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Along with harvest festivals that celebrate agricultural bounty, there are also other festive remembrances. Sukkot is one such festival. This seven day commemoration is held on the 15th day of the lunar Hebrew month Tishrei (this year it begins at sunset on Oct. 2) and marks the pilgrimage of Jews to the Temple in Jerusalem. It lasts seven days.
Those who celebrate this holiday create booths that resemble the type of thatched huts in which the ancient Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Egyptian Exodus. During the holiday meals are eat in the booths and in some cases families also sleep in them.
In fact, many families build their own booth then decorate it with gourds, colorful squash, and dried flower wreaths.
More details for building a Sukkah (Sukkot booth) visit http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm
Thursday, September 24, 2009
This month’s guest blogger Tricia-Rennea is an illustrator whose eye for folk art is at the heart of a select series of Halloween paper she has designed.
The paper is perfect for many of the season’s homemade craft projects.
A paper artist, she also includes Origami in her handbag of tricks.
Little squares of elegant origami paper can be the perfect addition to your Halloween Décor!
Small pieces of perfectly practical paper can be used to create little bats or cranes you can hang in your window, from the ceiling or a light fixture. Origami cubes can be placed over white string lights (small whites Christmas lights) to cast a lovely glow in the room.
With the use of contact-paper to laminate, you can make coasters and even “patch-work” them together to created a table runner or place mats. Want to add more creative flair? Here is a template for a whirly-gig, string many together to create a garland, use them as gift bows, or attach them to straws for your party guests!
Of course we will need a coordinating party invite, right? Print them out on cards stock and write the location, date and other important information on the back. Invitations can be hand-delivered with a Halloween themed sugar cookie or small bag of Halloween Candy, you can find a do it yourself matching mini gift bags on my blog.
Be creative and enjoy these little treasures, using them to help set a fun and creative mood at your Halloween soiree!
Monday, September 21, 2009
Because the Harvest Moon rises about 30 minutes after sunset, it has been said that it helped farmers working to bring in their crops. They could continue being productive by moonlight even after the sun had set. Hence, it’s name Harvest Moon.
It seems to be bigger and brighter than other moons. This has to do with the seasonal tilt of the earth. The moon’s warm color is an optical illusion. Because the moon is low in the sky, it is seen through a greater amount of atmospheric particles than when it is overhead.
The Harvest Moon is also known as the Wine Moon, the Singing Moon and the Elk Call Moon.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Much can be learned about a folk culture by the names it ascribes to its days, weeks, months, and seasons. They are often based upon the weather conditions, beliefs or activities of community life that take place.
September, for example, is known as the month of abundance. Originally it was the seventh month of the Roman Calendar (Romulus Calendar) which started in March (spring) and in time was converted to the Julian Calendar. According to HyperDictionary, September’s Latin name was Septem (seven).
Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and orchards, was its patroness.
The French Republican calendar referred to September as Fructidor (fruit month) which lasted from August 18 through September 21. No doubt this was in recognition of the time of year that a majority of available fruits ripened.
Martin P. Nilsson, author of Primitive-Time Reckoning (Oxford University Press, 1920) collected other names of interest from Europe for this time of year. Here are a few examples. Notice how the month names chronicle food cultivation activities:
Bulgarian: Sowing month, gathering month.
Slovakian: Time when the goats rut or gadfly mouth.
Swedish: Harvest Month.
They suggest how important food cultivation was to everyone’s survival; important enough to be the basis of how the days, weeks, and seasons were measured.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Hosted by the West Tennessee Agricultural Museum and University of Tennessee Research and Education Center at Milan, it takes place on Saturday, October 17.
This well-attended event draws many visitors from across the mid-south who want to spend the day learning about and celebrating past traditions. Highlights include bluegrass music, old-fashioned foods, and more than 130 friendly folk artists who will share remarkable skills and crafts such as blacksmithing, wood carving, and knitting and weaving.
Museum officials say that during the Jamboree, visitors are free to tour the museum to learn more about the agrarian lifestyle of the past, including horse plowing and logging, and a working grist mill.
What's especially exciting is that the event focuses in upon fall folklore; what people used to do to end one agricultural season (harvest) and prepare for the next (spring).
If anyone knows of other fall folklore events, please let me know.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
She is so committed, she is willing to go to jail for her belief that women have the right to dress themselves as they see fit.
In case you've not been following this news story: Lubna Hussein challenged Sudanese law when she went out in public in trousers. According to Sudanese Shirah Law this is a crime and she was charged accordingly.
Today's story by Guardian Reporter Nesrine Malik, Hussein chose to go to jail rather than pay the imposed $100 fine. Wanting to avoid global disapproval, the judges decided to withdraw the 40 lashings that are supposed to have accompanied the fine. (Note: other women who were also charged did receive the lashings).
Malik described the tensions that existed during today's hearing and noted that already Hussein has made a heroic impact upon the women of her community:
More disturbingly, the end of the case has flushed out hardline elements allied with the government who appear to be relishing the opportunity to villify the women who have been protesting. The irony is that on the way back from court I witnessed several women in trousers freely walking the streets of Khartoum proving that it was never about modesty but about Hussein's refusal to capitulate to the authorities' temperamental and arbitrary invocation of public order laws.
Hussein has opened a door for others. For this she deserves to be remembered as a folk heroine.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Take for example Gretchen Rubin's recent Huffington Post blog about Happiness. The blog, 5 Tips For Happiness Reinforced By My Recent Family Vacation, is a list Rubin credits her family with creating.
This post is part a special project. Rubin is a writer working on The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving every conceivable principle about how to be happy, from the wisdom of the ages to current scientific studies, from Aristotle to Ben Franklin to Martin Seligman. On her Happiness Project blog, she reports her daily adventures on her way to becoming happier.
The principles she references are, in fact, elements of folklore; societal interpretations about what happiness is and how it can be both achieved and experienced.
Happiness is subjective. It means something different to different cultures. So what does it mean to Rubin and the American society within which she lives?
Before we begin with Tip #1, notice here the American approach to happiness: vacation - the need to get out of the daily grind; to take a break from what is routine, etc.
So here's her first tip. What's yours?
Being on vacation reminded me of several things about happiness - the first being, remember to take a vacation! Especially given the technology these days, it's tempting to have a change of scenery and call it a vacation. But a vacation really means taking a break from work.
I was reminded of several other happiness principles, as well:1. Fun is important to happiness. Is there such a thing as "fun for the whole family"? I think so, but I've learned that on vacation I need to make sure I make time for the things that I find fun - which in my case means reading. Sometimes I think, "Why am I just lying here, reading, on such a beautiful day? I should be going for a run/playing in the ocean/learning to play tennis." But it's a Secret of Adulthood - Just because something is fun for someone else doesn't mean it's fun for me. I love to read, and now I let myself read as much as I can get away with, given the realities of a family vacation. After all, I still do plenty of other things.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Folktales On The Wings of the Tibetan Wind Horse
In Tibetan folklore, the wind horse travels to all four corners of the world. In its travels it is able to deliver blessings and prayers intended to increase the world’s sense of peace, wisdom, strength, and compassion. According to tradition these qualities ultimately lead to enlightenment which recognizes human suffering as a temporary condition.
Historically the flags, rooted first in Indian religion, were used as a means to carry forth prayers. Today, Tibetans believe that these prayers and blessings are carried by the Wind Horse (blown by the wind) to spread good will and compassion everywhere. In this way the flags benefit everyone.
So what makes them prayer flags? The people who create them pray over the flags upon which they have written prayers and drawn sacred images. According to Tibetan tradition, the flags are generally flown in sets of five, one in each of five colors. The five colors represent the natural elements of the world and are arranged from left to right in a specific order. The colors and corresponding elements are:
• Blue (sky/space)
• White (air/wind)
• Red (fire)
• Green (water)
• Yellow (earth)
Because Tibetans, like so many other indigenous cultures, such as Native American tribes, use organic bio-degradable materials, the flags in time will fade and then dissolve.
I once wrote a news story about Virginia Ray, an artist who grew the materials she used to make her prayer flags for cancer centers in San Francisco as well as Atlanta. In those intimate workshop settings the flags provided cancer patients, cancer survivors and their families opportunities to write well wishes for the entire world community of cancer patients. Her paper came from garden greens and she also used vegetation as decoration. For example, a leaf dipped in beet juice and then placed on a flag would work like a stamp and stamp pad on paper. In the end a finely outlined leaf would appear.
It’s a good thing that papers made from plant materials and inks created from ground rocks and minerals, do not last forever. How else can the Wind Horse take the messages they hold and deliver them to the far reaches of the earth?
Prayer flags can now be found in many places. Considered to be art forms as well as visual and tangible blessing tools, they not only exist in healing centers and cancer wards, they can also be seen waving in the wind at school yards, farmers markets and elsewhere.
I once facilitated a writing workshop in which the members wrote short family folktales onto paper flags that were on display during a community-wide literary project. In this way they let the world know about select treasured memories.
Families can make their own family folktale flags. The flags can be written or painted upon. They can be created at a family reunion and then laced through the branches of a tree in someone’s yard. Installed on the back porch during an anniversary they could “announce” to the Wind Horse special moments in the celebrated couples’ lives. No matter the occasion, making of the flags themselves can become the source of another family folktale.
It is important to note that while the family folktale flags are temporary in nature because they would dissolve, the folktales themselves would not be lost. Make sure the flags can carry a copy of the folktale. The original can be preserved in a book or on a computer disc.
Perhaps with family folktale flags it will be as the Tibetans believe it is for prayer flags: that blessings which ride upon the Wind Horse will become a permanent part of the universe.
Be sure to read Flying Family Folktales I about the world of family folktales and kites
The most blustery months of the year occur in early spring. March and April are rife with wind-blown possibilities, especially because these sun gladdened, blossom-filled months lure everyone outdoors.
We all know that this is kite season, complete with large spools of thread and dazzling colored kites swirling in the sky overhead.
Just last night while walking my dog in the neighborhood park, I saw a kite stuck in the branches of a mulberry tree and was reminded of how when my nephew Steven was nine-years-old he flew kites at the beach. Kite in hand he would run off towards the waves of the protected Bodega Bay alcove. Lifting the brightly colored kite up in the air, he always knew exactly when to let it go; the spool of white thread quickly unwinding as the wind whisked the nearly weightless paper kite out to sea.
Kites can become the center of a family folktale as mentioned above. They can also become a family folktale messenger. Here is one such example:
Paper Kites carry Family Folktales on their tails
When I was writing for the Marin Independent Journal, I interviewed members of the Hispanic community about their Dia De Los Muertos traditions. This community of immigrants whose homelands included Mexico, San Salvador and Guatemala held an annual Day of the Dead multi-media fall extravaganza that always included altars, skeleton cookies and a community procession of at least one hundred people; many of them in costume. The grassroots parade was always led by the local Aztecan dancers and drummers in full regalia.
During the interview, I spoke with Eduardo Galatia, a young man from Columbia who had only recently become part of the festival’s organizing committee. This family man had come to the San Francisco Bay Area as so many immigrants do in search of a better life for his family.
However, unlike other residents who baked and decorated sugar skulls upon which they wrote the names of deceased children or who built lavish altars displaying pictures, momentos and favorite foods just in case the ancestors were hungry, he explained that kites were an important part of how his countrymen remembered loved ones who had passed on.
Resourceful, his Columbian community took advantage of their mountainous geography. Exposed to sea winds not punctuated by trees, the terrain was perfect, he said, for kite flying. And because kites could virtually reach the heavens where ancestors resided, they became ideal vehicles for transmitting family messages.
Each family made at least one kite of paper that was colorful painted with designs the ancestors would recognize. The kites also had thickly woven tails that had handwritten messages on strips of paper or cloth tucked into them.
The kites were released during the afternoon when the winds were their strongest. In that way, Eduardo said, well wishes and reminders of love could better reach the other world.
Now It's Your Turn
So maybe the next time you want to remember someone (living or not), you can make a kite upon which you can either write a brief folktale about that person or you can weave the story (on a scroll of paper) into the kite’s tail.
This could also be done for special occasions such as birthday party celebrations. Everyone could write a brief folktale about the birthday boy or girl and then take turns flying the kite for a while before letting it go, sending it on its way to another place. Who knows? Much like a message in a bottle, it may be found by someone else!
Don’t forget that even the act of making and flying a kite with special messages can also become a family folktale to tell others about at a later date.
Flying Folktales II will explore Family Folktales on the Wings of the Tibetan Wind Horse