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BYUH students say their country’s stories and superstitions teach principles like unity, safety, and respect

A graphic of a women holding arrows in her hands while wearing a green and orange dress.

BYU–Hawaii students said legends and cultural customs have a part in shaping who they are. Students raised on their country’s stories and superstitions said they will pass them on to their own children as they teach important moral principles.

Buyanbat Dagvadorj, a junior from Mongolia majoring in psychology, said Mongolia has many legends, but one of the most popular legends is about the wise queen, Alungoo, who united her five sons.

According to the legend, Dagvadorj said the queen had two sons with her first husband before he died, and three sons afterwards with the light spirit.

Dagvadorj explained, “One day, one of the older son’s asked how she gave birth to the three other sons after their father died. She told them that the brightly shining spirit man came to her and touched her belly which made her pregnant.”

When the sons were young, they often fought, so their wise mother taught them about unity. She gave them each a singular arrow and asked them to break it in half. Each son broke the arrow easily. Then, the queen collected five arrows, bound them together and asked them to break the set of arrows, according to Dagvadorj.

He continued saying each son tried to break the bundle, but failed. The queen explained if they are united, they won’t be defeated easily, like the bundle of arrows. Dagvadorj said this legend is written in “the Secret History of the Mongols,” the oldest surviving literary work in the Mongolian language, which tells the history of Genghis Khan’s life, his ancestors and descendants.

“At the time, Mongols were not united into one empire yet, so there were so many wars and conflicts happening among the different tribes. Therefore, being united [as] a family and tribe was vital for their survival,” Dagvadorj explained.

He continued, “That is why the mother taught the importance of unity and working together. … Her youngest son is one of the forefathers of Genghis Khan, so this is a legend from true history.”

Sugarmaa Bataa, a sophomore from Mongolia majoring in marketing and graphic design, said this legend inspires Mongolians to be united as a nation, as organizations, teams and as individual families.

Bataa shared, “Many Mongolian mothers used this legend to teach their children about unity for hundreds of years. My mom would always tell this story to us because me and my siblings used to fight a lot. It showed me to be more patient and work with them, rather than fight.”

As a mother of three, Bataa said she will teach her children this legend. She explained the Secret History of the Mongols has thousands of history-based legends teach moral principles in simple and easy to understand ways. Bataa added historical legends taught them about their ancestors and gave them a better understanding of their identity.

Hiromi Ogata, a freshman from Japan majoring in education, said some legends in Japan could be considered superstitions in the United States. She shared Japanese people hide their thumbs in their palms when they see a hearse to protect their fathers. The thumb symbolizes the father, and when you hide it in your palm, it shows respect for him, she explained.

Ogata clarified, saying each finger symbolizes a different part of your family, and the thumb is the only finger they hide when they see a hearse. She said, “It is a custom of Japanese people, so everyone knows what it is, similar to the peace sign in America.” She said the custom started in the 19th century when the Japanese government began using hearses to bring the deceased to their graves.

Yoshihiro Ogata, a freshman from Japan majoring in accounting, said another common custom is to hide your stomach with your hands during a thunderstorm. He said it is believed the god of thunder, Raijin, would take the person’s soul if they didn’t cover their stomachs.

He added people were scared they would die, so to protect their children, they would instruct them to cover their stomachs from a young age. Ogata said many people in Japan still follow this custom to protect themselves and their families from the god of thunder. He said, growing up, he was told by his parents to follow this custom as well in order to ensure his safety.