Folklore & Oral Tradition

Description, Focus, and Format

This course is
an introduction to key concepts in folklore studies and to the translation of traditional
narratives across languages, cultures, places, and media. “Folklore” is
understood to include creation myths, jokes, ghost stories, folktales, charms,
children’s games, and proverbs—and I have only listed a few of its diverse
narratives, forms of knowledge, and traditions. 
While the etymology of the word points to knowledge (which may be sacred,
or so ordinary we hardly recognize it as ‘ike),
“folklore” is often associated today with flights of fantasy. In this course,
we will consider folklore as living culture that is pervasive, valuable, and
expressive. Across a continuum of cultural experiences and their power
relations, folklore and oral traditions have specific historical trajectories
and serve varied purposes: they educate and entertain; they reinforce
stereotypes and imagine alternative ways of being in the world; they help
groups to bond just as they contribute to exclude others; they re-member; and
they inspire. There is an art to the telling that does not simply coincide with
the art of print literatures and that is not based on a universal genre system
or aesthetic.


specifically, the course will focus on the analysis of three genres, and I
refer to them here using Western genre categories from the discipline of
folklore studies: the folktale, the legend, and (less in depth) the folk or
traditional song. We will read/hear/view folktales, legends, and songs as well
as Spoken Word performances produced in and/or adapted in ancient and
contemporary Oceania, Europe, North America, and Asia. We will also discuss traditional
narratives from different communities and cultural perspectives, and do some
comparative and place-based research, striving in our endeavor to be mindful of
our location in Hawai‘i and to reflect on how Asian, Pacific Island, and US
cultural traditions intersect with Native Hawaiian culture.


The knowledge
that you bring to the class will be
an essential component to our exploration of various traditions, their
similarities and differences.


H Focus

The course
fulfills Hallmark A (the intersection of Asian and/or Pacific Island cultures
with Native Hawaiian culture in the legend assignment), Hallmark B (comparative
and cross-cultural perspectives), and Hallmark C (specific focus of legendary
traditions in Hawai‘i with a historicizing approach).



  • Doing
    the reading, coming to class regularly, and actively participating
  • Completing
    several informal assignments, including a reaction paper to the event Mai Poina; questions for discussion, and
    a reaction paper
  • Conducting
    two research-based comparative and/or place based projects
  • Writing
    an analysis of a song, comparing text and performance(s)



Print texts

  • Moses
    Manu’s Keaomelemele (translated by
    Mary Kawena Pukui)
  • Folk & Fairy Tales, edited by Martin Hallett and Barbara
    Karasek (The Concise Edition)
  • Michiko
    Iwasaka’s and Barre Toelken’s Ghosts and
    the Japanese. Cultural Experience in Japanese Death Legends



  • They
    include The Land Has Eyes and/or Drua, Holo mai Pele; Ashpet: An
    American Cinderella,
    and The Year of the Fish; Big Fish and Boy.


Selections from volumes of Hawaiian legends edited by Emma Nakuina,
King Kalākaua, Thomas G. Thrum, and W. D. Westervelt as well as critical essays
on mo‘olelo, mele, and wonder tales will be available as pdfs on laulima.