The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.


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Green Jello and Fry Sauce: Utah’s Food Folklore

What is “Utah food?” Many Utah natives grew up eating Jell-O, fry sauce, deep-fried scones, and “funeral” potatoes. BYU folklorist and English professor Eric Eliason is studying these food traditions and what they say about people and cultures. Utah festivals and fairs celebrate these traditions and offer authentic Utah foods all in one place, often introducing new variations like deep fried Jell-O.


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The Sea Turtle and the Megapode

Alanna Gisonodo shares a story told to her by Joshua Eberdong, a sea turtle expert from Ollei, a small village located in the northern end of Ngarchelong state of Palau.

Joshua telling us the legend of the hawksbill turtle and the megalopode

The legend goes that a woman who lived in a small village near Ollei gave birth to a hawksbill sea turtle and a megapode. Every day, while the woman was away from the house tending to her taro patch duties, the turtle would dig holes and the bird would dig large mounds in the yard and every day, the woman would return from a hard day’s work to find a giant mess awaiting her. One day, the turtle and megapode overheard their mother complaining about all the extra work they caused her, and so decided to find their own place in the world. Early the next morning they went down to the beach and as they sat there, the megapode wondered how they would travel out to the sea. The turtle said to his sibling ‘don’t worry, hop on my back and I will do the swimming.’ So they traveled south where they found an island where the megapode decided to settle down. The turtle said he would continue further south to the Rock Islands. Before they parted ways, the megapode said to the turtle ‘make sure that when it is time for you to have your children, put them up on the sand where they have a greater chance of surviving and I will be able to assist them’. And to this day, that is the behavior of the megapode – it makes its nest in the sand close to Hawksbill nests, where it brings leaves down to the shore for turtle hatchlings to take cover under. Thus wherever there are Hawksbill turtle nests, you can find a megapode nest nearby. Continue reading


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Bloody Mary and La Llorona: Folklore of Miami’s Homeless Children

An article titled “Myths Over Miami” publishedby Linda Edwards, in the June 1997 issue of the Miami New Times lay dormant for years until it was posted Tuesday in the “Today I Learned” section on Reddit.  It went viral immediatly. The article chronicles a folklore constructed by children living on the streets and in homeless shelters in Miami, Florida.  The piece is as fascinating as it is heartbreaking:

To homeless children sleeping on the street, neon is as comforting as a night-light. Angels love colored light too. After nightfall in downtown Miami, they nibble on the NationsBankbuilding — always drenched in a green, pink, or golden glow. “They eat light so they can fly,” eight-year-old Andre tells the children sitting on the patio of the Salvation Army‘s emergency shelter on NW 38th Street. Andre explains that the angels hide in the building while they study battle maps. “There’s a lot of killing going on in Miami,” he says. “You want to fight, want to learn how to live, you got to learn the secret stories.” The small group listens intently to these tales told by homeless children in shelters.

Ten-year-old Otius, hands framing her face, with homeless friends who share the secret stories.
Ten-year-old Otius, hands framing her face, with homeless friends who share the secret stories.

Steve Satterwhite
A year ago on Christmas night, the secret stories say, demons conquered Heaven. Deion, age 12, draws God fleeing in a spaceship as his palace burns and humans on Earth (bottom left corner) cry out to Him in vain.
A year ago on Christmas night, the secret stories say, demons conquered Heaven. Deion, age 12, draws God fleeing in a spaceship as his palace burns and humans on Earth (bottom left corner) cry out to Him in vain.

On Christmas night a year ago, God fled Heaven to escape an audacious demon attack — a celestial Tet Offensive. The demons smashed to dust his palace of beautiful blue-moon marble. TV news kept it secret, but homeless children in shelters across the country report being awakened from troubled sleep and alerted by dead relatives. No one knows why God has never reappeared, leaving his stunned angels to defend his earthly estate against assaults from Hell. “Demons found doors to our world,” adds eight-year-old Miguel, who sits before Andre with the other children at the Salvation Army shelter. The demons’ gateways from Hell include abandoned refrigerators, mirrors, Ghost Town (the nickname shelter children have for a cemetery somewhere in Dade County), andJeep Cherokees with “black windows.” The demons are nourished by dark human emotions: jealousy, hate, fear. Continue reading


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Midcentury Map of American Folklore

Folklore Map

This map, by social realist artist William Gropper, was created to showcase the diversity of national myths and folk stories and was distributed abroad through the U.S. Department of State starting in 1946. (You can see it up close by clicking on the image below to arrive at a zoomable version, or by navigating to the map’s page on the website of the Library of Congress.)

The “folklore” on display in this richly illustrated map is a soup of history, music, myth, and literature. Frankie and Johnny are cheek-by-jowl with a wild-eyed John Brown; General Custer coexists with “Git Along Little Dogies.” Utah is simply host to a group of “Mormons,” in which a bearded man holds up stigmata-marked hands to a small group of wives and children, while a figure labeled “New England Witches” flies over New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

Rebecca Onion’s insightful article on William Gropper and the map can be found here.


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Sephardic Folklore – the Spanish Romancero

Dr. Samuel Armistead, who passed away this year, considered his scholarly work on the Spanish Romancero to be his crowning achievement.  The Romancero is a tradition of stories and ballads handed down in Sephardic folklore.  Dr. Armistead’s website Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews provides a wealth of information on the oral literature of Sephardic Jews dating back to medieval times.

Origins of the Sephardic Ballad Tradition

Judeo-Spanish romansas (Spanish romances) are narrative ballads characteristically embodying 16-syllable, usually monorhymed verses, divided into two octosyllabic hemistichs, with assonant rhyme in each second hemistich.[13] The eight-syllable assonant ballad verse ultimately derives from the anisosyllabic assonant verse of the medieval Spanish epic, and a certain number of Judeo-Spanish ballads, together with some ballads from other Hispanic regions, can be shown to be genetically derived, through direct oral tradition, from medieval Spanish heroic poetry.[14] The earliest evidence we have for the existence of ballads among the Hispano-Jewish exiles does not consist of full texts, but involves an extensive corpus of incipits (or, in some cases, of crucial internal verses), used as tune markers in 16th- and 17th-century Hebrew hymnals (piyûtîm collections): A typical heading might read: “Pizmôn leḥan Arbolera tan gentil” (A hymn to the tune ofArbolera etc.), thus giving us the earliest Judeo-Spanish documentation for The Husband’s Return (in  assonance). In Morocco we have no full texts until the late 19th century, but 18th-century hymnals give us similar, though more limited data from an earlier time (Armistead and Silverman 1973; 1981). The earliest extensive text from the East comes to us in the form of a fragmentary Dutch translation of a ballad, sung as a mystical allegory, in Izmir (Turkey), in 1665, by the false Messiah, Shabbatai Zevi (Scholem 1975: 396-401; FLSJ, V, Chap. 14). By the early 18th century, we have a substantial corpus of handwritten ballads from the Sarajevo community and, towards the end of the century, also from the Island of Rhodes (Armistead, Silverman, and Hassán 1978b). Three early Hispano-Portuguese ballads were copied—nostalgically—by Sephardic Jews in Amsterdam in 1683 (Armistead and Silverman 1980a; 1980b). Continue reading


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Writer sought to gather Dumfries and Galloway folklore

From BBC News, South Sotland:

A writer is being sought to gather and retell folklore, myths, legends and tales about Dumfries and Galloway.Keyboard

The initiative is being organised by the Wigtown Book Festival with funding from Fresh Start for the Arts.

It has been loosely inspired by John Mactaggart’s work of 1876, the Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopaedia.

Festival director Adrian Turpin said the region was “rich in stories and legends” and people still enjoyed telling such tales.

“We are working with Fresh Start to find one, or more, authors who can gather up these stories, a little like Mactaggart did in the 19th Century, and retell them for a 21st Century audience,” he said. Continue reading


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Lake of Death With Folklore of Danger

By Joshua Foer and Dylan Thuras

I could not speak. I became unconscious. I could not open my mouth because then I smelled something terrible… I heard my daughter snoring in a terrible way, very abnormal… When crossing to my daughter’s bed… I collapsed and fell… I wanted to speak, my breath would not come out… My daughter was already dead.”

These are the words of Joseph Nkwain, who on August 21, 1986, survived one of the strangest natural disasters in history.

Known locally as “the Bad Lake”, Lake Nyos, located in the northwest region of Cameroon, Africa, carried a folklore of danger, and tales were spoken of an evil spirit which emerged from the lake to kill all those who lived near it. This legend contained the memory of a very real threat. Continue reading


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The Dark Day

From the GazetteLive:

It was a day that has gone down in Teesside folklore, indeed it has taken on legendary status, a day that would forever be remembered as The Dark Day.

Today, July 2, marks the 45th anniversary of this event.

So it is timely that we have a look back at what some of our readers recall of this occurrence.

Tuesday, July 2, 1968, started out as an ordinary summer’s day, not especially sunny but dry with broken cloud and without a hint of what was about to befall Teesside.

At around 11am the clouds began to gather but still nothing was out of the ordinary until around 40 minutes later when the sky started to darken considerably.

By 11.40am Teesside was plunged into darkness, street lights came on automatically, birds began to roost, office building lit up as workers put on the lights, while people in the street looked ominously at the clouds above.

Then the rain and hailstones came and they thundered down over Teesside, quickly causing localised flooding. The storm only lasted a few hours but nevertheless it was a terrifying experience.

Jan Scott emailed to say: “I remember it, I was at St Pats school in Baysdale Road, Thornaby.

“My class were in the library with our class teacher Mr Duffy. We were all scared and thought the windows were going to come in on us.

“The road outside was flooded and it happened that fast, it took everyone by surprise, and I have never seen anything like it since and never want to see anything like it again.”

Carol McDermott added: “I had been to Whitby for the day with my mam and dad and it was glorious weather there.

“It was only when we got back to my nana’s that we found out what had happened. My nana’s neighbour had got on her knees and prayed in the middle of Harford Street as she thought it was the end of the world. I remember reading about it in the Gazette and seeing the picture – I couldn’t believe it!”

What had actually happened was that a freak weather system had caused the clouds to gather on top of each other until they were an estimated seven miles thick, enough to blot out the sunlight.

The rising atmospheric pollution from Teesside industries may also have played a part.

The Dark Day 45 years ago has never been forgotten by those who witnessed it.


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Douens and other folklore

One of the best explanations of folklore can be found in Alan Dunde’s brief essay “What is Folklore?”  He argues that folklore is constantly being created and recreated to suit new situations.

In her article in The Guardian  Angelo Bissessarsingh,  shares how stories of the douen and other characters brought to the islands by the Ibo, Dahomey and Yoruba nations combined with the legends of Dracula, that came to the Caribbean with the French planters, to create a rich local folklore that has been handed down through generations:

The douen, like other characters of local folklore, is almost a direct transfer of the stories of West Africa, from whence hundreds of thousands of hapless captives from the Ibo, Dahomey and Yoruba nations were transported to the West Indies as slaves for the sugar barons. From the Ashanti coast they brought the tradition of the griot (storyteller) and around their fires outside their huts in bondage, the timtim grew and flourished. Brer Anansi, the tricky spiderman and his loveable antics found root in the Caribbean soil alongside other folk spirits of a decidedly more sinister nature. Lost somewhere in our mythical past, the European vampire—Nosferatu, like Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula—came to these islands with the French planters and copulated with the inyanga (witches) of West Africa, who came from the Rada strongholds deep in the Belmont valley, and thus the soucouyant was born. Continue reading