World History and the Meaning of Being Human – Myths, Storytelling, and The Moon – by Der Yang. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

World History and the Meaning of Being Human – Myths, Storytelling, and The Moon – by Der Yang. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

[Original art work from Der Yang]

Coming from many regions across South-East Asia, there is one of many myths that haunts my past today. This folktale is about a woman, with a name that I did not initially know of, who lived on the moon. According to an article by A Beginner’s Guide to Hmong Shamanism, it states that the Chinese society calls this woman Chang E, the goddess of the moon. The folklore of this woman dates back to as long as my ancestors can remember. Passed down onto my parents and my generation, I still remember the story today. The moon that everyone sees now at night, is the symbol of this myth. Although very short, I had an unforgettable experience.

Chang E was known as a vengeful spirit because she longed for her husband. When she lived as a human being, her husband was given a magical immortality potion as a reward for saving the world from the ten blazing suns. He took down nine and left one for the world to stay bright. However, as nearby civilians heard the news, they gained greed and selfishness for a long life, causing them to invade Chang E’s home. Without her husband present, her fear and impulsivity caused her to swallow the magic. She was then automatically sent to the sky, choosing the moon as her new home. Since then, Chang E has been known to punish any and everyone who points her way, a sign of attack.

From my experience, my parents have always told me from a very young age to never point at the moon. At the age of four, I never understood the reasons behind their story of the moon. They would tell me that if I looked long and hard enough, a woman sitting on the moon would wave to me. They would say that this woman was bound to cut my ears if I pointed her way. However, I thought to myself, “How could this person possibly come to earth and cut my ears off? How could this woman that mom and dad keep mentioning hurt me if she is so far away?”

A few days right after learning about this mysterious woman on the moon, I shared the cool news with my older cousins at a gathering. Unfortunately, it was right around 8-9 PM in the summer and the moon was starting to appear. Being the “wise and nice” cousins they were, they told me that if I pointed at the moon, then I would be able to go to the playground with them. I directly shot my tiny pointer finger towards the big, round moon. After a two second wait, everyone laughed at me and told me that I only told fibs. No one believed this myth, not even myself.

When I arrived home, I didn’t think much of the actions I completed. I bathed and got ready for bed, as usual. The only unusual thing was the skin area connecting my right earlobe to my head felt a bit sore. It felt as if someone was tugging on my earlobe for a very long time and wanted it off. That may sound exaggerated, but I remember the fine details of this incident.

The next day, I found my earlobe full of scab and discomfort. Tears ran down my eyes while I cluelessly ran to my mother. After I told my mother about my actions the night before, I remember her scolding me, “I told you to listen to me but you did not and this is what you deserve.” She then formed a small ball of spit in her mouth and spat on her fingers. Her hands moving closely to my right ear lobe, I moved in objection to her spit. Nonetheless, she firmly grabbed me by my ear and chanted, “Quav qaib, quav npua, quav nyuj, quav twm.” Which translates in English as chicken poop, pig poop, cow poop, buffalo poop. She chanted this phrase once while rubbing my ear with the spit. Surprisingly, it was soothing. I then asked my mother what she was doing and the reasons behind it. She explained, “It is our ritual to help your ear from getting worse, to heal it faster. However, it would have been preventable if you told me right after you did what you have done. That way, she will not come to get your ear as I have just spread all sorts of poop on your ear [figuratively].”

According to history book Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, by Robert Tignor and other authors, a myth can be found throughout the chapters but specifically on page 179. El Lanzón is an excellent art carving from the Chavín in the Andes. The example of El Lanzón portrays some of the similarities as my myth shared above. It is a large monument demonstrating the aspects of one of their deities. It shows features of snakes, cats, and human parts. Its whole picture conveys a hybrid supernatural figure, possessing powerful strengths. Tignor states, “Carved stone jaguars, serpents, and hawks, baring their large fangs and claws to remind believers and nature’s powers, dominated the spiritual landscape.” [179] Unlike the myth of Chang E, there seems to be no artistic representation in the Hmong culture, the culture that I identify with. Yet, in China or other south Asian countries, there are many drawings and video games based on the goddess of the moon.

Pertaining to class discussions, all human beings are contradictory and complex, multifaceted, and teachable [Professor Liang].  Just like all of the civilizations from the Tignor’s work, people from Ancient Voices, Modern World: The Amazon, and my own society, we are hard to understand, adaptable, and we have a mindset willing to expand. Artifacts have proven the different lives at different times all around the world. We as social creatures live off from traditions, folktales, and skills to survive. An example would be the legend of the Basarana river people, also known as the lost Amazonian. Their culture and belief system is so vastly different from ours, yet somewhat similar. When celebrations happen, there are many rituals to be done, ancestors are involved in one way or another, and cultural preservation is relevant. Such as the making of their bread, stitching of cultural hats, and preparation of hallucinogenic drinks. The bread is passed out at the end of the ceremony to represent completion and blessings. The hats, created from feathers, shells, beads, etc, are worn by mostly men of the river people to signify pride. Created from feathers, shells, beads, etc. Last but not least, their drinks are prepared with a type of drug to lighten their moods and dwell wholly in their ceremony. The Basarana people share sacred locations and activities just as us many Americans do.

Today, many of us as social creatures like to look into the world and search for a supernatural explanation of why things are the way they are. Personally, I think that myths and legends are universal features in the human existence. Their existence makes us human by allowing us to hold a history to our name. With histories, we are able to learn from them and utilize them as a guideline to life. Whether a history is true or false, it is a myth that has power over some individuals more than the others. Not everyone will believe in myths. Nonetheless, these imaginative stories give human beings a sense of energy to continue the human existence. Additionally, just as it has occurred within my life to the Basarana people, fables are meant to be shared through many generations.

[From Professor Liang’s Spring 2017 World History I class]

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Eleni Birhane and Matthew Breeze, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

33 Comments

Filed under History, Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Professor Liang's Classes

33 responses to “World History and the Meaning of Being Human – Myths, Storytelling, and The Moon – by Der Yang. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

    • Greta

      Great article! I think it’s so cool how rituals play a huge part of what makes us human. And it’s so different within all the different cultures. I love how you incorporated all humans are contradictory and complex, multifaceted, and teachable. I think we hear that everyday in class haha. Anyways, its net to see how little things like the moon has been passed down in your family from generation to the next. I totally agree with you when you said that myths and legends are universal features in the human existence because we are able to learn from others and make new history from our experiences. Thanks for sharing!

  1. Thank you for sharing this wonderful article. You brought up many important ideas about understanding (or trying to) human beings and the common threads we all share. I very much enjoyed reading about Chang E and your childhood experience with her myth. You are right about different people around the world having their own myths, legends and superstitions (I thought of a couple from my home while reading this) that are passed down through the generations, sometimes being altered through experience. This things help people make sense of parts of their lives and have a sense of connection and significance among themselves.

  2. Grace Young

    What a unique article! I had never heard of this founding myth before. Like you state here, in our World History class we have been discussing the importance of myths in rituals in a culture. I also believe that these stories and actions make us who we are and are essential to being human. It is a very interesting point you make on the universality of myths. I agree with that although myths are different in various cultures, the importance that we place on them on our cultural structure are similar. It is really cool to read about other people’s myths that are different from my own because it allows me to make connections between my own culture and theres. Although I had never heard of this particular myth and can’t see a direct story relation to one of my own, it made me think of a couple different myths that are a part of my own foundation.

  3. Kalahan Larson

    This article was very interesting! I have never heard of this myth before, and from the start of it, I felt like it was just something parents would say to their children to teach them a lesson (maybe so that they do not point at people). Do you believe in the power of this myth? Do you think that the cut on your ear was just a coincidence or that something actually happened? I believe that myths like these are told to one another create a connection between the different generations and to keep people in check without actually harming them. Storytelling is a big part of being human and defines who we are as individuals.

  4. Caroline Grube

    Thank you for sharing a part of your culture with us! This article was very interesting to read! Learning about different myths from different cultures, in my opinion, is very important. Especially if we are trying to understand the culture in a deeper way. I think it is important to understand what people believe and where they believe they come from to understand them better. For example, I would want someone of a different religion to at least listen and try to understand, not necessarily believe, to my founding myths and what I believe as a Catholic. Likewise, I love listening and trying to understand where others come from and what they believe. This was a very informational and interesting article. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Matthew Breeze

    I think that this is the first article on NSR that I have read the focuses solely on myths. I find it amazing that you actually felt and had ear pain after pointing at the moon! Myth can be powerful and just because something does not always appear real to us does not mean that it isnt real. The stories our groups of people have a spiritual power and influence on individuals and on societies at large. Beliefs are sometimes odd, sometimes seem silly, but yet they have purpose and strength.

  6. Rachel Reicher

    Thank you for sharing your story! What a great way to connect what you have been discussing in your class to a familial myth. I found your myth very interesting and I have never heard it before. It is the belief in myths like those that allows storytelling to occur in a family as well. You will one day be able to tell your kids, if you don’t have some already, your incident with your Hmong myth. Also, there are things you can learn from experiences like those. One that stands out to me the most and seems a bit hysterical, is to listen to your mother. Nothing is worse than telling your mother that she is right. It seems as if this ritual/myth is important to your family and those strong traditions and beliefs can be passed down through many generations. Thank you again for sharing!

  7. Paige Perreira

    This was a great article! I really enjoyed reading the story that you’ve known since you were a child! My parents also told me a story when I was younger that pertained to the moon. We had a swingset in our backyard, and my brother and I would always be on it when the weather allowed. My dad would always warn us that if we swung too high, we would fly off and get stuck onto the moon. I actually had a dream one night, and I remember to this day, that there was a full moon, and I swung too high and my swing disconnected and I flew all the way to the moon. It makes me wonder if a lot of family tradition and stories have a connection to the moon!

  8. Hanna McLevish

    Cool story! In class, we talk a lot about the importance of storytelling, and this is proof of that. It is really important to pass down stories of our lives and of our beliefs to our children. Even though your mom told you this, you went along and did it anyway and learned your consequences.

  9. Joel Scheuerlein

    This article was very well written, and left me in a bit of a trance. I very much enjoy studying the rituals and beliefs of other society’s, so this article was very intriguing to my wondering mind. I do believe and agree that rituals such as the Hmong are a great example of humanity and what makes us human. I believe people need something to believe in or else they would go mad. I do have many Hmong friends, so believe it or not, this was not my first time hearing of this tale, yet it always fascinates me. A humans mind needs to wonder, and I believe that humans make up rituals, true or false, it order to satisfy this human need.

  10. Alexa Lee

    This is one of the most interesting stories I have read in a long time. I think part of it has to do with your storytelling skills, another one of the things that make us human. Personally, I don’t think it matters whether or not your story or the story of the woman on the moon can be proven true, because people believe them, and no matter what, they always will. Especially because these “myths” can’t always be one hundred percent invalidated either. I think it’s so interesting that you had a reaction on your ear, and I think there will always be those negative people that say it was psychological, coincidental, or whatever, but I think if you want it to be true, then it is, and that’s all there is to it. I, wonder, too: if you have kids one day, will you pass this along to them like your family has done for generations?

  11. Emily Bugni

    Thank you for your story. I enjoyed your passage because I believe that many people do not understand that myths can be true and they can be false. Most of us just believe that they are false, which has caused the word myth to be misused and misinterpreted. Your founding myth proved this point. In fact it was not false at all, it was very real. “The woman on the moon will come down and cut your ear”, as you experienced. Even though you may not have believed in this, the cutting on your ear happened to make you believe in it and that is why it will be carried on. Now as you have has this experience, you will be able to share it with others to keep it carrying on.

  12. Francesca Do

    Der, what a fascinating experience! I believe long ago, our ancestors created myths to explain the supernatural and how life came to be. They incorporate lessons and values to the story to give meaning and purpose to life. In my opinion, the concept of myths is what make us humans exist, trying to understand the world around us and developing a story that can be passed down through generations with teachable lessons, creating history through our origins. Although not everyone believes in mythology, the tales has the ability for humans to continue the path of existing in this world. Thank you for giving us a great example of what makes us humans based on your myth story!

  13. Nouqouja Yang

    What a wonderful post Der!! I’m really glad to have read this. I never really knew about the story behind the moon and I’m surprised I never really asked my parents about it. This is such an interesting story and I’ve never really heard about it from any of my elders either. I can relate to you on the part where you didn’t believe the myth and pointed on the moon. I feel like as kids, we tend to not believe until something happens. Which is funny because my mom would always make fun of my siblings and I for it. I love how you related it the story so much to the class topics. They all connected so well and the way you explained it was really interesting to follow. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  14. Amanda Sullivan

    I find it so interesting that you are able to compare another cultures rituals to yours and find many similarities. Fables are meant to be passed from generation to generation. They are filled with life lessons that allow us to see various things in different perspectives. Myths help us better understand our world and it’s history. Your experience after pointing to the moon is a new addition to story to be told for generations to come.

  15. Sarah Plankers

    What a wonderfully written article, you have such deep and thoughtful insights that I can tell come from the heart. As we talked about in class, myths are not fake and often they can be very meaningful and even life-altering to some people. I especially enjoy your comment about the nature of us as social creatures who look for a story. I think that humans have continued and will continue to believe in something because it is what makes us human. Your story about the moon will for sure make me think about the potential spiritual consequences next time I point up at it!

  16. What an amazing post! I absolutely loved it as I am a sucker for astronomay as well as the myths along with them. It is understandable that you are heasitant to believe them. I enjoyed how you brought the story back to things that you are learning in class, it is so fun to see the world coming together when in higher education. Cheers!

  17. Bryce Gadke

    I enjoy this article because it has a good deal of novelty to it. It doesn’t happen very often that an article is centered around myths and the power that a myth can have on a person or a people. The spiritual power and influence on individuals astounds me. The topics you introduced really flowed well together. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Sheila Iteghete

    Thank you Der for sharing this as it has given me more perspective to look from about the idea of rituals because it does help one broaden what being human means to them. This was very satisfying and unnerving because your mom was trying to help you, but it was also to your discomfort. That is another way we can claim to be human because we tend to look out for the best in others, but we forget the best may not be the most soothing in any unwanted situation. It also makes me wonder if believing has an effect the rituals of our people or are we vulnerable to the believes based on our connection to our roots. This is the sense that I was not told this folklore and have looked at the moon without any repercussions, but you did out of curiosity and still didn’t believe until you made the connection. It is also surprising how fast how idea of storytelling can take us because your cousins will hear this story from you then again from their parents.

  19. Ellen Hansen

    What an interesting article! And I can only imagine how you felt experiencing all of this as a child: Myths play a heavy part in our lives, and children tend to get invested even more heavily than adults, constantly looking to test the limits. (When I was a kid, for example, I remember playing “Bloody Mary,” saying her name thrice into a darkened bathroom mirror and hoping she wouldn’t appear to- y’know- murder me.) What I especially love about the myth you described is that I can easily imagine your parents and grandparents and so-on doing the same exact thing when they were little. The beautiful thing about myths like this is that they are a continuing and evolving force, despite the brevity of the individual lives who enjoy them. It is almost like this myth has become a part of you, as a way to attach you to something bigger than yourself. Thank you so much for the lovely post!

  20. Isabella Restrepo-Toro

    More than the myth itself, I am amazed by your connection to it. I love the story about you pointing at the moon and all of your cousins being there and laughing, something I believe happens in most if not all families, especially when you are the youngest one. This story exposes many of the things we have talked about in class as important to being human. The storytelling of the myth, that has been passed on to you from your parents shows us one of the oldest ways of maintaining a culture and a story from our ancestors with us. Also the mention of the ritual, with the spit and the poop chant shows us that we create a certain action to fight the consequences of the unknown, including that of the effects of pointing at the moon and being hunted by the women living in it. I also enjoyed the mention of art, as I believe it is this that has allowed us to pass on various legends, myths, stories and lessons for generations. I must agree with you and say that “a myth that has power over some individuals more than the others. Not everyone will believe in myths. Nonetheless, these imaginative stories give human beings a sense of energy to continue the human existence.”

  21. Mariah Koenig

    This was a very interesting story! I had never heard of this myth before and find it really interesting. I am curious though, why the saying that your mom said with the spit would protect your ear. Is that a known way to counteract the pointing or is it just something that she did for you? You did a really good job explaining the importance of myths and why they are taken so seriously in various cultures. I think the cool thing about myths is that now that you have experienced the truth first hand, that you are much more likely to pass that down to your children and their children as well. Thanks for sharing Der!

  22. Kendra Brunn

    Thank you so much for sharing this! Before taking Professor Liang’s history class, I had never thought about the meaning of being human. When he told us some examples, storytelling was the one that really stuck out to me. It sounded strange at first but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. Some of my best memories from my childhood are when my brothers and I would sit around the campfire with my grandpa and listen to him tell us how the earth was created. I was a little older at this point so I knew that it was just a story, but it was still so fun watching my brothers amused faced. My grandpa has now passed, but those are my fondest memories of him.

  23. Amazing article, thank you for sharing! I know it sounds silly to use a Disney movie as a reference, but I thought of the movie Brave, in which the main character often quotes the words of her own mother “legends are lessons.” The stories that are told in different families, cultures, etc. can inform the values of a community or society. I can tell from the story you learned about the moon, that you learned to listen and gained a better understanding of the significance these stories have on your life and identity. It would be wonderful to hear more about the stories and myths that impact you!

  24. Kalley Friederichs

    Der, thanks for the great post! I enjoyed reading about Chang E and her myth. I find it interesting how different the stories that we hear as a children can vary so much depending on our culture. I do also think that even though our myths differ depending on our culture, they all seem to stress the same morals. I think passing stories down from generation to generation is a big part of every of every culture and is very important.

  25. Andrew Bailey

    Der, I really enjoyed your post! A very interesting example of how the supernatural and natural coexist. I like your point that some people believe in myths and some people do not. And this is neither a good nor bad thing. I believe the reason myths are special is because they may hold great meaning to one group of people, but to another group they have no understanding of the myth. This allows for dialogue between the two groups. Also, the fact that your myth is culturally embedded is fascinating because it ties you to your relatives/ancestors and allows us as humans to share similar experiences and take away the same lessons across generations.

  26. amanda greene

    I really liked this article not only because I understand your examples really well because we are in the same class, but also because of your personal examples you give. Growing up, I think many people all had myths that were told to them. Whether they were religious or just a myth that kids would tell others, I have heard many. It is important to keep these “myths” alive especially if they are important to a culture. I loved how even though I didn’t know anything about this myth before, this well-written article gave me insight to a very interesting way to look at the moon. thank you

  27. William Brennhofer

    I love this founding myth, because i feel like it is so unique. Of course that could just be me, but i think it captures what we have talked about perfectly in class. The love the meaning that this myth has to you and your culture. i like how from your myth you are able to learn lessons. For me with the myths that i was told growing up i didn’t really learn anything from them. So it is cool to hear that there are stories out there that you can learn from.

  28. Elaina Wald

    This is an awesome and unique article! It’s so cool how different phenomena are explained within cultures and within families. I think that some of the most valuable things that are passed down are intangible – like these myths and stories. It’s important that you recognized that not all people believe in these stories and that’s ok. It is a matter of respecting others’ views and having a healthy conversation about views. Thanks for sharing!

  29. Michaela Campbell

    This may have been the most interesting and eye-opening piece I have read so far on this website! I have always been fascinated with myths and legends from cultures that are different from my own, mainly because I enjoy learning about things I have no background on. I am thankful that you shared you story of Chang E and the literal impact she had on you when you were younger. I have never had an experience like that, so I cannot imagine how frightening that may have been. You make an important point at the end of your article about cultures and traditions across the globe. Your comparison of the lost Amazonian tribe to modern cultures is so important because it shows that in a world where we too often put labels on a person based on race, ethnicity, culture, etc., we forget one important aspect, and that is, when you strip away all the labels, we are all human, nothing more, nothing less. Great piece!

  30. McKenna Holman

    Wow, how interesting! I’ve never heard anything about this before! I don’t know much about myths, but I think they have an important role in many cultures and families. I like your idea about myths and legends being universal features in human existence. Myths and legends are thousands of years old, clearly very important to human existence. Great article!

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