Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Folk Medicine, Pneumonia

UB: I think as a person who helped to heal in my community, um, she also seemed to know something about um, and I, I don’t want to call it acupuncture, but she knew that, that uh, there were certain that went on with the foot, um, that if you, if you, did certain things with the foot you would also cure other things. And this was before acupuncture and before mapping of the foot and all this other kind of stuff that went on.

N: mhm

UB: and what had happened was that when I was almost 2 years old, I had pneumonia, and, uh, my mother managed to get me to the hospital, which sent me home because they wouldn’t give me penicillin. There was none available and the prognosis was that I was gonna die. And my mother was very upset about that, and so when Mom Mae came, Mom Mae said that, to my mother, my mother told me about this many times, Mom Mae said you should turn his feet to the fire. This was her way of, of, addressing the congestion in the lungs and the nasal and everything else because I was barely breathing, that’s what my mother said and so, that’s what she did. They opened the stove, the gas stove, and my mother said that Mom Mea sat with her all night, of course prayed, and held my feet to the fire even though I tried to resist it, and she said the fever broke I started coughing all of this phlem and everything and cleared my lungs and everything and so then I survived this.

N: interesting

UB: So in my neighborhood, um when people became ill, um they would always call for Mom Mae, her name was Mae Springfield, was her full name

 

Folk medicine is a staple in culture, ancient and modern, and is a basis of much modern medicine. Thus use of folk medicine is seen by some to be a source of magic, often being practiced by a select chosen few such as shaman, witch doctors and medicine men, for example. This bit of folklore was given to me by an informant, now in his late 70s, who experienced it first hand, and was then retold it as he grew up. He remembers it because of all the help this woman, Mom Mae, brought to his community. Mom Mae was not a trained doctor, but someone who was able to learn these things, probably through oral tradition, a show of her West African heritage that had survived through the atrocities of slavery. While I would be skeptical in the beginning, it would be because of a general lack of understanding and the societal idea that folk medicine is to be considered not “real medicine”, though, these recalls seem to say otherwise. The retelling of these stories also turns Mom Mae into a sort of a local legend, giving her status while she was alive, and mystifying her among the generations afterwards.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Legends
Narrative

Folk Medicine, Copper Penny

UB: Ok, well I’ll tell you the story about Mom Mae

N: Mom Mae?

UB: Um, her her name, Mae, was her name

N: ok

UB: and, um,  we called her Mom Mae, cause, she was a mother, a mother to a lot of people growing up. And Mom Mae was born into slavery

N: mhm

UB: um, around 1857 or something like that. When I, (clears throat) when she first came to the community where I was born, which was public housing,

N: mhm

UB: in Chester, um, she was already in her 80s and that was, uh, that was around 1942, right at the, uh, after we had entered into, the United States had entered into the World War 2

N: mhm

UB: um Mom Mae, um we often referred to her as a witch doctor

N: mhm

UB: Um, but that was because we didn’t know what else to call her. But she was a, uh, a person who practiced folk medicine

N: mhm

UB: and where she got all of this knowledge, um, I really don’t know but I believe, um, much of it came from West Africa

N: mhm

UB: um, her mother was also born into slavery, um, and during that time, uh, in the early 40s, I was born in 41, 1941, um, doctors were not available for the most part to black people

N: mhm

UB: and it was a time, uh, that, uh, that penicillin had been discovered but all that was being produced was being used by the military.

N: Mhm.

UB: and I, I, and it just wasn’t available to people, uh, who were seriously ill, and I was one of those people, with pneumonia

N: mhm

UB: um so, in my neighborhood, when people got sick they called Mom Mae

N: mhm

UB: to come and, and to uh, and to help out. Now She understood a lot of things, about medicine and curing people

N: mhm

UB: but she couldn’t explain, she couldn’t explain how she knew it

N: mhm

UB: uh, for example, she knew that um, uh that garlic had an antibiotic properties, she also knew that honey had antibiotic properties. And so she used garlic and she used honey, in a number of cases, cuts, infections, stuff like that.

N: mhm

UB: um, she, she also knew, and and this was very interesting to me, many of the households in my community, uh, would keep, there were no refrigerators, there were ice boxes with blocks of ice in them, but in the icebox, you would find a, uh, a small cup with, uh, vinegar in it

N: mhm

UB: and a penny, a copper penny

N: mhm

UB: and, I don’t know whether you’ve had any chemistry or not, or if you would understand what would happen-

N: Not since 15 (says with a chuckle)

UB: Not since you were 15, ok so the penny, the copper penny and the vinegar interact, uh, form the chemical reaction

N: mhm

UB: and it produced, uh, copper acetate. Now Mom Mae knew nothing about copper acetate or chemistry she just knew that when the penny turned blue, blue-green, that you could rub that penny on sores and it would cure fungal infections

N: interesting

UB: Copper acetate is a, is a fungicide

N: mhm

UB: and when I was growing up, it was really common for ring worms to be spread around from one child to another and ring worms are caused by a fungus infection and there’s lots of skin infections, um um, that are caused by fungus, getting into scratches. So you take the penny after it turned green and rub it on the, on the sore, and it would cure it.

N: interesting

UB: and, and, we all, we all knew that that’s what was going on but we didn’t understand it, not until I was an adult and looked back on this that I see what she knew and how she did it

 

Folk medicine is a staple in culture, ancient and modern, and is a basis of much modern medicine. Thus use of folk medicine is seen by some to be a source of magic, often being practiced by a select chosen few such as shaman, witch doctors and medicine men, for example. This bit of folklore was given to me by an informant, now in his late 70s, who experienced it first hand, and was then retold it as he grew up. He remembers it because of all the help this woman, Mom Mae, brought to his community. Mom Mae was not a trained doctor, but someone who was able to learn these things, probably through oral tradition, a show of her West African heritage that had survived through the atrocities of slavery. It is interesting to see how other can survive without the use of modern medicine. I interpret this as proof that the idea of “modern science” is not so modern, but acts as an example of the concept of colonizing what is often the culture of people of color and calling it new and innovative. My informant sees it as extraordinary that this woman came into his community and was able to help so many people, seeing the circumstances of the story, I agree, given her age, background, the year, etc, this woman was a god sent to a community in need. She, to me, represents those who dedicate themselves to helping others out of care, sharing their knowledge for good.

Folk speech
Humor
Riddle

I met a man going to St. Ives

Na: I met a man as I was going to St. Ives and every, and every, oh! I met a man who had, um, cats, he, oh gosh, anyway (Ni: *laughing*) at St. Ives, and he met this man with cats and kits and whatever. So the whole term is: How many people were going to St. Ives?

Ni: I, I don’t know, 2??

Na: One, (Ni: one??) me! (*chuckles*)

Ni: Oh! Ok (*chuckles*)

 

I received this folklore while talking to my Grandmom, an elderly lady of almost 80, with a lively personality and jovial spirit. She often likes to tell jokes and poke fun, especially and my brother and I, her grandkids. As I was interviewing her for folklore, she decided to tell me a riddle which I had never known before, but apparently both she and her husband, my grandad, definitely knew. Why she remembers this specific riddle is unclear, and as to where she know it from, at this point she doesn’t even remember, but she still remembered the main gist of it, and in the end, both of us were laughing even though I got tripped up when asked to answer the ending question. Riddles across cultures have been used as a way to bring people together and to decide who is and is not a part of the gang, fortunately, my grandmom did not kick me out for not properly answering the riddle. In instances like these, the riddle is all in good fun, a bonding element between and grandma and her granddaughter, everyone was able to have a laugh and the light fun spirits continued. In one variant of the riddle, there are two men, one with I believe cats, and the other with wives, despite this divergence, it always ends the same, with only one person going to St. Ives, me!

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