USC Digital Folklore Archives / Gestation, birth, and infancy
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Magic

Hilots in Filipino Culture

Background: Y.G.M. is a 49-year-old Filipino woman who works at Nye Partners in Women’s Health as the office manager. She was born and raised in Quezon City in the Philippines, and lived there until she was 25 years old. Y.G.M. self-identifies as Filipino, and as a result of her upbringing, Filipino culture is very engrained into her personal beliefs. She attended college at Mirian College, and received a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts. Y.G.M. then immigrated to Chicago, Illinois with her family in 1997, and got her first job working at Citibank in River Forest, Illinois. She now lives with her husband in a suburb of Chicago.

 

Main piece:

Y.G.M.: So Filipinos also have superstitious beliefs like um a person called Hilot [hee-loht] which is an expert woman who can deliver um deliver a mother in labor so they are supposed to have supernatural powers to just deliver a woman without any problems and they are blessed you know to be in to help women in labor without any problems – kinda like midwives.  So it’s like they have supernatural powers to do that instead of taking women to the hospital.

 

Q: How are the Hilots chosen?

 

Y.G.M.: They say, like “oh I have that special gift from above to perform such a miracle,” like a special gift from God.

 

Q: Is it from a specific God or just all the gods?

 

Y.G.M.: All the gods. And up to this moment, they still believe in that.

 

Q: So they just self-proclaim themselves as Hilots?

 

Y.G.M.: Yes yes – uh huh.

 

Performance Context: Hilots would be used to help women during childbirth in the Philippines.

 

My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how the Filipinos relate childbirth to a religious and magical process with the use of Hilots’ god-given powers to help women in labor. Instead of using “medicine” in the general sense to help with childbirth, this practice shows that Filipino culture believes more in religion and magic to assist with everyday life.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Delivering a Baby Using a Vacuum

Background: E.N. is a 58-year-old obstetrician gynecologist who was born in Boston, Massachusetts to two attorney parents. She stumbled upon medicine in college as a psychology major when she took a biology class and became aware that she had an affinity for science. E.N. currently practices full time in the Chicagoland area delivering babies and performing gynecological surgery.

 

Main piece: So when I deliver a baby and we get towards the end of the labor and she’s about to deliver, sometimes I will have to think about assisting the patient with delivery with an instrument called a vacuum. So if the fetal heart tones are down or the mom can’t push or is running out of steam or something like that, I will take the vacuum out and put it on the side of the delivery table and I will say out loud “I’m putting this here to ward off evil spirits.” Which I suppose is kind of silly but we’re also superstitious that if we feel we can take this out and put it on the side and the patient actually won’t ever need it but we have it just in case she does need it.

 

Q: Do you say this phrase out loud?

 

E.N.: Yes – absolutely. Out loud so EVERYONE in the room can hear it.

 

Performance Context: E.N. would do this when she feels that there is a possible chance that she would have to use the vacuum to help with the delivery of the baby.

 

My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how medicine and superstitions tie into each other, though in the western world and in western medicine, superstitions are frowned upon as they are not always based in actual fact. Though medicine is not typically based on luck or on the speaking of certain things, I think it is curious that superstition and what you say is believed to help in some western medical scenarios, even by the doctors thoroughly trained in western medicine.

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Pine-needle in the Rice Cake

Main piece:

On Korean thanksgiving, it’s called Chuseok, and this is the holiday where families will meet up at the oldest relative’s house- like oldest one alive. And one of the most important dishes served at Chuseok are called songpyeon, which are rice cakes. They’re filled with pine nuts, and some brown sugar, they’re like dessert rice cakes, and really good. You can generally get rice cakes any time, but these rice cakes are special for this time. It’s kind of like a yule log, you wouldn’t make a yule log in the middle of the summer. When you make these rice cakes, you will get a pine needle- oh, by the way, when you’re making these rice cakes, they’re steamed on a bed of pine needles- so you’ll put a pine needle in one or a couple of the rice cakes and if you pick a rice cake and eat it and find a pine needle in it, it means you’re either going to get pregnant or married. Like, soon.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

A long time ago, my mom made these with me and she told me about it. But I was also taught about it in Korean school, when the holiday came around. They made us make them too. I think it’s every Korean child’s rite of passage to learn how to make rice cakes. That and dumplings. I’ve gotten the needle but it’s because I wanted a needle. I made my mom find one for me, which meant she ripped some open until she found one. But like not enough that like the whole thing is ripped apart. Just enough so that she could peek inside it… and I could have the pleasure of ripping it open!

The rice cakes are so good, they’re so yummy. Korean’s love predicting things, and like family values. The faster you get married, the faster you have grandchildren, the better. I didn’t get pregnant. I know it’s a pine needle- if I had chosen it on my own, I wouldn’t be scared of getting pregnant. What, the pine needle is going to impregnate me? (I wish.)

 

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

You’d only eat the rice cakes on Korean thanksgiving. I don’t actually celebrate it as much as I used to, but i think it’s in september or november. Oh— just kidding, it’s august on the lunar calendar, which means it’s in september! The day changes depending on the lunar new year.

 

Personal Analysis:

This piece reflects the importance the Korean culture places on family. The pine needle is representative of two predictions, marriage and pregnancy. After the interview, the informant revealed that men who chose a rice cake with a needle in it would only retain the prediction for marriage, while women held both predictions. Besides the obvious, men cannot get pregnant, the prediction does not extend to the man in the sense that he will get someone pregnant. If a woman chooses a needle and is single, her prediction would be marriage before pregnancy. This comments on the taboo of children out of wedlock in the Korean culture, as well.

Customs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Korean Birthday Count

Main piece:

In Korean, the new year counts as a year. So I’m technically nineteen or twenty in Korea.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

My mom- when I was younger, I would ask my mom’s age. This was when I was really young. And my answer would always change. And when I realized they were always changing… I asked why. She explained that she gets mixed up about her age because America doesn’t count new years as a birthyear. It’s almost like a communal birthday for everyone. It has to do with renewal, and rebirth, um… like a new year. New year is one of the biggest holidays in Korea. It’s like Christmas and thanksgiving combined. And I think since it follows the lunar calendar, It follows the idea that we change on the same day as well. Like against our will. I don’t identify as twenty years old. To me, it doesn’t make sense, and I guess that’s my american side. I feel 18, if not younger. So, it’s not very particularly special to me other than the fact that it represents how much Korea loves new year. My mom is technically 50, but I think in Korea she’s 53 or 54, I don’t even know. I think Korean’s just love being older than people. It’s so hierarchy based. Even if you’re months older, the younger one has to respect you. If an older person hits you on the train, no one can save you. They’re allowed to because they’re old.

 

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

This is performed every new year. When you’re born, you know how in america you’re 0 years old? You’re already a year old in Korea, they count in the womb. And you get another birthday on New years, and then another on your actual birthday. So you’re always one or two years older than your biological age. So my mom would be like “I’m forty!” “I’m forty two!” “I’m forty one!” and I’d be like mom what are you…?

Personal Analysis:

This piece was especially hard to follow- I needed the informant to explain to me time and time again how exactly the years were counted. It reflects an innate belief among Koreans that the elderly should be respected. The older a person is, the more prestige and immediate respect they receive. In American society, women strive to be younger, even going so far as to lie about their age. In Korea, there are traditions put in place to extend the age of a person meanwhile their biological age remains the same. The piece also touches upon the importance placed on the lunar New Year. It is so important that Koreans count it as a year on their own age, and everyone in the country celebrates their birthday with the moon.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Initiations
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

The Choice of a Lifetime

Main piece:

In Korea we have this thing where on the baby’s first birthday, it’s called Dol, what we do is we put various items in front of the baby. Classic items include yarn, pencil, money- and people put other stuff, they cater it so like they’ll put fruit or something, they’ll generally cater it. And you put them in front of the baby, and whatever the baby chooses, it predicts their future. So, each item represents a different future. The yarn represents longevity. The pencil represents academic prowess. Money represents wealth. Sometimes food can represent always being food, or like fulfillment.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

My family. I have siblings, so for my siblings’ first birthday, we did that. I wasn’t alive for my sister’s, but… we did that and we have photos. It’s a huge thing. I’m pretty sure it was the biggest birthday party of my life and I don’t even remember it. I like it the same way that people like horoscopes. I think that having some sort of prophecy is really intimate especially if it’s about yourself. Personally, it feels like our family’s results were pretty correct in the sense that my sister got yarn, and she’s very dedicated to being healthy. She’s the health nut in our family. My brother picked money, mostly because my dad like pushed it towards him, but he’s very frugal. And i picked the pencil, and I really like writing, so I like it because to me, it’s something I share with all my siblings and it’s something that korea has been doing for a very long time. It originates from when korea was really poor, so baby’s wouldn’t make it to their first birthday. So when they did, the whole village came together and everyone provided a dish of some sort. Having a lot of dishes and food is integral to Dol, and for me, growing up, when I look at the photos, there’s not a lot of food, but there’s still a lot in comparison to what I usually had. So it was a very special occasion because it represented a day where i guess my family could go all out. It’s something I want to do with my kids, definitely. It’s a tradition that resonates with my country’s history, my family’s history, and possibly future. It’s a cute celebration of life, and possibility.

 

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

The ritual is done in a home, or now a lot of rich families rent out venues for it. If you know any rich korean families who have a child that is about to turn one, you should know they’re going to have a party and kind of invite yourself to one. Family, really close family, or friends who are as close as family are invited. But oftentimes, some rich families will invite a lot more people, expecting gifts. Some families, they might put something down that represents marriage, and it would be sort of great if a girl picks that one because it means she won’t be a widow or an old maid. I don’t know anyone that’s done that, I think it’s a pretty old one.

 

Personal Analysis:

Korean culture is very much centered around family, both the making of a family and the upkeep of the reputation of the family. From the start, knowing what your baby will become or what interests they may have would readily equip the parents for the future. Parents then could plan around the choice, giving their child a lifestyle catered to the object they chose. I believe it’s rather soon to decide the fate and future of a child, but since I am an outsider to the culture, my values are not aligned to the Korean family dynamic.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Foodways
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Gestures
Homeopathic
Kinesthetic
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sunken head remedy

Iliana Cuellar

“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.

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Foodways
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Musical
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mother’s Holiday

Mother’s Birthday Celebration

“My mother passed away of old age four years ago. In her life she accomplished many things, and touched many people. She had a huge family, ten grandchildren, and, being the matriarch of the family, left a big hole when she passed away. To commemorate her life, I decided to hold her birthday celebration as usual the year after she died. We had always celebrated hers in style, with up to a hundred guests, all on the veranda of our dacha (summerhouse) on the outskirts of Moscow. There was always a lot of food- Russian traditional dishes- people recited poetry in her honor, and we put on charades. She helped many invalids as a philanthropist in her life, and at least five came every single year from wherever they lived, some traveling over two hundred kilometers. Her peers from life dwindled every year, but the number of those attending always managed to stay the same. The year after she died, I decided to keep on the tradition. I invited all the guests, only this time we were celebrating her memory without her. The first time, there were more people than had ever been. Yet the celebration stayed the same- we ate the same food, sang the same songs, people recited poetry in her honor, shared memories of her, and in the end we played charades. It felt like she was still with us. Since then, for the past four years, we have had the same birthday celebration in her honor without her present, and the numbers have so far not dwindled at all. All her close family, friends, and those she helped in her eighty four years of life try their best to come and remember her by celebrating.”

 

Background: This is performed by a 54 year old Russian Woman, in Moscow, Russia, and her family and the friends of her mother.

Analysis: This is a version of a holiday in the name of a person: the only difference, here this person was not famous or a political leader, but was simply very influential in her community. This is not uncommon in Russia, as communities are often very close together, and people value their ties very much. Birthday celebrations in general, at least for older people, are rather formal occasions: many guests might be invited, there will be presents and singing and games. Ekatherina’s mother was from the intelligentsia class, as well, which often has ties to the upper class at least in the ways in which it acts and celebrates. This holiday is also an excuse for a big group of people to get together and reminisce about a common group they used to belong to, and perhaps still do. It is also an excuse for the older generation, in their seventies and eighties, to get together and impart stories and recollections of the past.

Customs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Korean Baby Rings

  1. So I have a friend, who like, told me that Korean babies when they turn 1 are given a golden ring to keep for the rest of their lives. I think she said the ring is supposed to represent consistency and give them good luck. Also, the grandparents are supposed to give you the ring as like their official gift to the baby. It’s like their grandparently duty I guess you could call it.
  • She knows it because a friend of hers was helping her out with a project she was completing
  • She learned it from the friend in just a regular conversational setting
  • It’s just a Korean tradition that happens with babies. Apparently there are many of those
  • The context of the performance is we were just exchanging folklore that we had both heard of over the last several weeks.
  • I think it’s really interesting that she mentioned this to me because I actually, as a Korean, have heard of this before. My mother has a ring and my sister has a ring, I just can’t remember if I do or not. If I do, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it. But I agree, there are a lot of little traditions that we Koreans have especially centered around infancy that are supposed to promote health and well being for the remainder of the child’s life. And it usually is a family affair, where generations will all try to contribute to the baby.
Customs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

100 Day Party for South Korean Babies

The informant, my friend, is a 20-year-old college student. All of the informant’s grandparents immigrated to the United States from South Korea, but both of her parents have lived in the United States their whole lives.

While we were in line to order at a local Chipotle restaurant, I asked the informant if any specific traditions or customs related to her South Korean heritage have stood out to her the most throughout her life. She hesitated for a moment, and at first failed to answer my question. A few minutes later, she began to describe a coming-of-age ceremony that was held for her as a baby.

“Traditionally in South Korea, when a baby makes it to 100 days it means that they’re going to live a long life. So at 100 days the baby’s family holds a ‘100 Day Party.’ The babies wear a traditional South Korean outfit and there is a whole feast for the family. During the ceremony there are a lot of different bowls, and each one contains something different like a dollar bill, different types of food, some thread, or a pencil. The baby is set in front of the bowls and whichever ones it puts its hands in are supposed to represent what type of life it will have. So if you choose the pencil you’re supposed to be intelligent, the dollar means you’ll be rich, and the thread means you’ll have a long life.”

This ceremony marks the point at which a South Korean family truly celebrates the life of their new child without hesitation or worries of health complications leading to a premature death. It seems to be a remnant of the lack of healthcare and prevalence of childhood mortality that existed across the globe several centuries ago, since in recent years child mortality rates in developed nations like South Korea and the United States have fallen drastically as a result of increasing knowledge in the health sciences as well as greater availability of medicine and healthcare services. I asked the informant if she remembered what was in the bowl that she picked on her 100 Day Party, but she did not. For the informant’s family, then, the party served more as a celebratory event than a true predictor of their child’s life trajectory, since her lack of knowledge with regards to the object that she picked had no bearing on the personal and career choices she has been allowed to make throughout her life. I also asked the informant if she plans to hold a 100 Day Party for her children, if she has any, and she responded that she does. It is realistic to say that this folk tradition will continue to exist for future generations, as it is a fun and exciting event that many would have no moral hesitation holding for their child.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Magic
Protection

Keyn eyn-hore and Wearing Blue

According to the informant, it is traditional for young newborns to wear clothing and accessories that have the color blue on them for about the first two years of their lives. The idea is that by wearing blue, the weak and helpless infants would be protected from the evil eye, which in Yiddish is known as keyn eyn-hore. This blue protection can come in many forms, including blue clothing and blue jewelry.

The informant, Reyna Babani, is a 71-year-old Mexican Jew who lives in Mexico City. Because she grew up in such a close-knit community, Reyna considers herself an expert on Jewish culture. Although she does not remember who taught this idea to her or when it was learned, she claims that it is a staple of Yiddish culture because everyone she know participated in it. She enjoys this tradition because it helps her feel that the newborn children are safe, especially since they are at such a vulnerable stage in their lives. She also acknowledges that other colors, like red, have been known to work in the past.

What is strange about this tradition is that the color blue has been chosen out of all of the colors that humans can see. Why was blue chosen to protect these children? Why is red not used universally? What other colors are used around the world for a similar purpose? These are questions that would be quite interesting to research.

For more research on the evil eye and Judaism, look here: Brav, Aaron. “The evil eye among the Hebrews.” The Evil Eye: A Casebook 2 (1981): 44-54.

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