My informant is a student who was originally from China but came to study in US since high school.
“In China we are not allowed to place our chopsticks perpendicularly into rice bowl while eating. It is very inappropriate to do that there, because it would look like you are worshiping dead people.”
This is a common habit that parents always forbid their kids to do on the dining table since their very young age from decades to decades. My informant says that she still keeps that rule in mind every time she eats with chopsticks now, even though she no longer thinks about the reason behind it anymore.
It is quite interesting to me that there are many homeopathic folk beliefs like this in Chinese customs, which I think more or less relates to their hieroglyphic language that allows them to randomly connect two things that share similar features together.
My informant is a student who was originally from China but came to study in US since high school.
“You know, red pocket money is one of the biggest tradition during Spring Festival in China. But in my family, not only we get red pocket money from people much older than us, we also put them under our pillow at night. It’s like really coordinating with the word “压”(push down) in “压(push down)岁(age)钱(money)” (red pocket money). And my grandparents would also put ivy leaves inside there, just for good luck.”
“I know they are many superstitions from Chinese family, especially my family haha. But we still do that, I don’t think the truth matters that much in this case, I like these traditions.”
I think it’s really interesting that in both asian and western culture we have this kind of gift thing for kids during important festivals. Hoping for good luck with ivy leaves inside red pocket money that placed under their pillow to Chinese children, waiting for christmas gift to be put inside the christmas sock for western children, they both serve as a good method to give them hope and believes; as well as for better sleeping quality since they all happen during bed time.
Background: C.M. is a 58-year-old woman living in Franklin Park, IL. She was born in Chicago, and has lived in the Chicagoland area for all of her life. She works as a nurse practitioner at Nye Partners in Women’s Health, and has been working there for 7 years. Before that, she worked at Loyola University Medical Center as a labor and delivery nurse. She is married and has two grown children.
C.M.: I heard this story from my dad. He told me that before he was born, and he was born in 1932, that his mother’s brother, his name was Georgie, but his name was actually just George. His last name was Wilming, W-I-L-M-I… I think? N-G.
Anyway, they lived out in Iowa on a farm, I think in Elizabeth, and they were using dynamite sticks to blow out the tree stumps out of the ground, ya know, to clear the land. One of them blew up and – he was there, he was too close – Georgie, and he got injured. He had wounds, terrible open wounds from the explosion. And in order to heal these wounds, they smeared cow manure on him, and they healed! They used home remedies because there were no doctors at that time, and this one worked.
Q: And how did your dad learn this story?
C.M.: My grandma told my dad, my dad told me, and now I’m telling you!
Q: Did the wounds heal completely?
C.M.: Yup! There apparently was no scarring or anything.
Performance Context: I interviewed the informant over the phone, as I am in California and she lives in Chicago. This remedy would be used out on the farm, especially in the early 1900’s, when someone got terrible wounds and there were no doctors around to prescribe any Western medical treatments.
My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how, without access to a doctor, people were able to come up with easy home remedies, coming from easily accessible material, to take care of the problem. However, I am curious how someone figured out that cow manure could be used as a healing salve in the first place! Folk medicines are not always superstitions, they can also be founded in fact. Many folk remedies eventually end up being validated in the scientific community, so it is possible that this one might, as well!
My informant is Natalie. Natalie is a 21-year-old female who attends Chapman University. Natalie grew up in Sacramento but her mother was born in El Salvador; because of this she speaks fluent Spanish and has a Hispanic influence in her life.
Natalie: “Ok so on someone’s birthday, my mom passed down to me that you’re supposed to take the ring you’re wearing and place it over the candle and everyone present is supposed to do it and you want as many rings around the candle as possible and I guess it’s supposed to be good luck and the person making the wish it will more likely come true with more good luck”
When did you start doing this?
Natalie: “My mom probably taught me when I was like…6 or 7”
Where did she learn that?
Natalie: “She learned it from her mom”
Where are they from?
Natalie: “My mom and her mom are from El Salvador so I guess it comes from there”
Is there any meaning to you with this?
Natalie: “It is important to me I do it every birthday and always try and get as many rings as possible, cuz if I don’t do it…I don’t want bad luck”
Natalie learned this tradition of placing rings over her birthday candles as good luck. I feel like there could be more to that story and a reason for a ring but if there was it got lost over time. This tradition has been passed down mother to daughter to granddaughter and they all practice it in belief it brings them good luck. Birthdays carry a lot of folklore and making a wish while blowing out your candle is common but the addition of the rings adds an interesting factor and maybe additional luck.
“When I was a baby, the soft spot on my head caved which I guess just means dehydration. But my mom is very spiritual and she thought that she could take me to a “curandero” which is a spiritual healer (kind of like a witch) who then held me upside down by my ankles, poured honey on my soles, and smacked my feet which is said to be the cure for the sunken head.”
Background: This happened in El Salvador, and as many people cannot afford doctors and hospitals, folk remedies and spiritual healing are the most common forms of treating illness.
Analysis: This is a ritual combined with folk remedy. It is not so much mixing ingredients together for homeopathic remedies that might work physically, but more a ritualistic healing. Holding the baby upside down might have been a somewhat logical response to a caving of the head- sending more blood to that extremity. However, pouring honey on soles does not seems to have much meaning beyond ritualistic and spiritual, and smacking feet also the same in that respect. Lack of access to formal doctors and medicine drive parents with sick children to witch healers.
Horsemint is purple plant that grows in Texas. PL identifies it on nature walks, and often tells about how it was used as an insect repellant, which is how it got called horsemint.
PL: “One time a man was there whose dad used it often. His dad had horses, and would bundle up the horsemint, tie to rafters in barn, and shoe horses where the plant would rub on their backs. It worked as an insect repellent to keep flies off horses, that way they wouldn’t more or become too agitated for the farrier.”
Horsemint actually contains citronellol, a natural insect repellent, so it turns out the folk practice in this case is actually very functional. Bug sprays and other commercial products use the same type of ingredients.
Informant is a Korean born immigrant who went to primary school in Korea and college in Hawaii lives in Los Angeles
Folk belief as told by informant: On Jan 15th ‘Full Moon Day’ – if you go to sleep early on this date, your eyebrow will turn into to a grey color. So we used to stay up and play believing that don’t happen.
I believe this was one belief that wasn’t upheld once my mom moved to the United States. It was more prominent when she lived in Korea. After doing some more research there a few other things Koreans practice on this day. Some people crack nuts with their teeth because they believe doing so will strengthen their teeth and give them good healthy teeth. People who live on the countryside climb the highest mountain to see the full moon. Apparently whoever is the first to see the full moon is granted good luck for the entire year.
“The tangerines are supposed to have at least one leaf attached to them … Back story about the tangerines, tangerines are supposed to be picked freshly from a tree and placed in each room of the household during Spring Cleaning. To Chinese culture, it is supposed to ward off negativity and bring in positivity with its citrus scents and the life that it brings to your home because it is a living fruit.”
When did you first hear about this tradition?
“My entire life I have done this. My parents and I would always grab tangerines from my … tangerines from our tangerine tree. When the fruit eventually dried up from not being watered or attached to the tree, that signified that Spring Cleaning was over and it was time to start anew.”
“Chinese Spring Cleaning is a component of Chinese New Year. As opposed to American calendar years, the Chinese use the lunar calendar. So Chinese New Years usually falls at the end of January or the beginning of February. And each year signifies a new animal. For this year is the year of the monkey 2016. And so the festivities in each house hold is to clean and get ride of all of the hold and negativity that you have been harboring for the past year and start fresh. A lot of traditional China Chinese people pray to their ancestors and Buddha in a mental cleaning sense but also seep out all of the dirt of their house and dust and literal dirt out of their living space.”
What do you see as the significance of this tradition?
“For us it is a great way to start a new. As I said, it usually takes place in January or February so it is right before westernized Spring Cleaning so it ties in with that as well.”
The tangerines represent a refreshing start to the year and the cleansing of the mental and physical home. I think that the tangerines also represent the new wave of crops, so the fruit physically represents the new taking place of the old. I think the theme of reds and oranges in Chinese culture symbolizing good fortune or good luck is an interesting trend.
Informant (A.G.) is an 18 year old student from Los Angeles.
A.G.: “My mom is really religious and my grandma is really religious. I was raised Catholic and I used to go to church and stuff”
While his “dad is Italian” and his “mom is Colombian,” they “both grew up in Columbia” to come here when they were “18 or 19.” Alex’s mom is a “stay at home mom,” and his dad does “construction” and owns some local “properties.” We grew up in the same area of Los Angeles, and started to hang out in high school. He was telling some ghost stories at a party one weekend, so I set up an interview for the following Saturday afternoon. I picked him up and brought him to our mutual friend’s house to conduct the collection.
“My history teacher, I’m 100% sure he was serious about it. He’s from Mexico… he has a lot of family there. His family lives in this pretty small village, and his grandma was one of those witch doctors. There was this lady in the village who was this really big girl. I don’t know what was going on with her but she was doing really bad, I think she was homeless, like not doing well. My teacher said they were at their grandma’s house one day. His aunts were also there and he was young at the time, but him and his siblings snuck out into the back yard, they weren’t supposed, they were supposed to stay in at night. When they went back there they saw his grandma completely passed out on a chair. And in front of her was the other lady on the chair, and the four of his aunts were lifting the chair up on a finger, like really high up. He asked her about it and they were doing some healing thing.”
The patient was not healthy, and to lift her would either suggest that the aunts had extreme strength for the moment, or she became extremely light for the moment. The latter suggests the aunts were using homeopathic magic to making her lose weight. A.G. thought his teacher’s story was genuine, and shows some belief in the supernatural.
“We have this tradition were if you are planning something that involves the outdoors and you don’t want it to rain (if you are having a birthday party outside for example), you fill a cup with water and put a knife in it with the sharp part facing down. The idea is that you are cutting and stopping the water (cutting the rain cycle), making it so that it doesn’t rain outside. The more you think its gonna rain, the more knives you put in the cup. We’ve had up to three knives in a cup in my house.”
The informant explains that placing knives in glasses filled with water is a method that traditional Panamanians use to try to stop incoming rain. Placing the knives in the water symbolizes cutting the rain. This is done with the intention of causing the rest of the day to be filled completely with sunshine. One does not have to acquire absolute evidence that it will rain in order to be able to participate in this activity. One only has to believe that it will rain.
The informant, Jonathan Castro, is a 21-year-old student from Panama. Because until recently, he had spent his entrie life in Panama, he believes that he is well informed in Panamanian folklore. His maid, whose family has strongroots in Panama, was the one who showed him this tradition. She knew that Jonathan’s mother always looked forward to having his older brothers over for their weekly family dinners and that they would not arrive if it was raining outside. With this in mind, she would put knives into a glass before every scheduled family meal to keep everyone together and happy. Although Jonathan and his family did appreciate the gesture, he did admit that most upper-class Panamanians simply believed the act was innefective witchcraft.
This tradition seems to demonstrate the differences in relationsihp to traditional folklore between the upper and lower classes in Panama. Jonathan’s maid, who comes from the lower class, clearly believes in the power of the knives and actively attempts to help others by using their magic. On the other hand, while Jonathan’s upper class family did enjoy the symbolism behind the tradition, they were not as eager to accept it as a viable tool to prevent bad weather. Innterestingly, both parties were able to respect each other’s beliefs, even if they did not line up very well.