USC Digital Folklore Archives / Gestation, birth, and infancy
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle

Belly Button Story

“My mom kept me and my sister’s umbilical cord stump and put it together in a box. Apparently this means that we will have a good relationship in the future.”

The informant was born in Taipei, and grew up in Shanghai. The informant’s mother heard this from her mother.

After thoughts:

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

Baby Surrounded by Symbolic Items

“There’s a tradition in China for a baby’s first birthday. The baby is surrounded by items such as a stethoscope, a spatula, a book, money, a tape measure, etc…” The baby is then encouraged to choose one of the items. Whatever item the child picks up would symbolize his/her future. So if the child chooses a spatula, then it means that he/she will be a chef.”

The informant was born in Taipei, and grew up in Shanghai.

After thoughts: Many other cultures have similar traditions. Armenian parents celebrate this ceremony called Agra Hadig. Similarly, Dol is a Korean tradition that celebrate the first birthday of a baby and blesses the child with a prosperous future. In the past, death rates for children were high, so this was an important milestone for the whole family and wishes a long life and fortune for the baby.

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy

The Golden Dragon

Interviewer: What is being performed?

Informant: Folk belief by Crystal Soojung Choi

When a Korean mother becomes pregnant with a son, she has a dream that a golden dragon appears to her.

 

Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

Informant: My dad told me this story because my grandmother (his mom) had that dream when she was pregnant with my dad. I really like this story because of the mystical qualities surrounding it.

 

Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?

 

Informant: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but my dad was born and raised in the Boseon area of South Korea.

 

Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

 

Informant: It’s a dream that Korean mothers have when pregnant with a son so I suppose it is prevalent in Korean families.

 

Interviewer:  Where did you first hear the story?

 

Informant: From my father before I went to sleep one night.

 

Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?

 

Informant: It could be part of the values of royal families in older generations that a son was desired for offspring and thus, they were welcomed as a precious treasure before and after birth.

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: With the appearance of the golden dragon, it could show how precious a child is in a family and that they are treasured and loved.

 

Context of the performance- conversation with a classmate

 

Thoughts about the piece- Other portents of sons include dreaming of cows, tigers, snakes and pigs but dragons are the luckiest. Daughters are symbolized in dreams by flowers, jewelry and other delicate objects. More Korean dream interpretation here: koreancultureblog.com/2015/03/17/try-the-korean-way-of-dream-interpretation/

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Hot Tub Pregnancy

“Friend: When I was in middle school at a Christian private school, there was this rumor that if you kissed in a hot tub you would get pregnant. I had a hot tub at my house and I remember at my birthday party in 8th grade we started playing truth or dare in my hot tub. One of the boys dared one of the girls to kiss another guy and we all freaked out (but not visibly, because you know, eighth grade is when you’re supposed to be cool about everything). She eventually kissed the guy and then people started talking the whole next week at school about how she was pregnant and she was going to have to marry that kid.”

Me: Why do you think that was a rumor?

Friend: “I think parents didn’t want kids to be messing around in the hot tub, you know where it’s hard to see where people’s hands are. Now that I think about it, I have heard that if you have sex in water and let’s say the guy pulls out right away, there’s still a chance that you can get pregnant. Like if the sperm were to travel through the water? It seems ridiculous that just kissing can do that, but kissing leads to other things. If you’re a parent you probably don’t want your kid getting in the hot tub with someone of the opposite sex no matter what.”

Analysis: I hadn’t heard this folklore about kissing in a hot tub, but I definitely heard that you weren’t supposed to go too far when you’re in water with someone. I think the fact that she was at a private Christian school says a lot about this folklore. Chastity is a big part of the culture, and so kissing overall would be a taboo, in the hot tub or otherwise.

Adulthood
Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Narrative

Kurupi

My friend from Paraguay has a lot of folklore about the seven Guarani monsters and the legends behind them. The Kurupi was the strangest of all the seven that he told me about.

Friend: “There are several Guarani monsters I learned about growing up in Paraguay. One of them is the Kurupi, a weird gremlin-like dude with a really long penis. I think he represents the spirit of fertility or something. ”

Me: Were there any stories about him?

Friend:  “Yes. In ‘the old days’ a lot of people would say (if they had an unwanted pregnancy) that Kurupi had impregnated them without even entering their home. For example, if you were a single woman or if you had cheated on your husband and didn’t want to get into trouble, you would blame it on Kurupi. His penis is so long that he can go through windows and doors in the night. There are also a lot of stories about the Kurupi taking young women and raping them.”

Me: Did you ever believe the stories?

Friend: “No, I never really believed in the Kurupi. Mostly he’s just a funny little demon that we’d laugh about in grade school.” 

Analysis: The Kurupi is certainly the strangest looking creature I’ve ever seen. Besides the initial hilarity of his appearance, the tale of the Kurupi is creative and disturbing. In a place and time where modern medicine cannot explain pregnancies and sex, legends will replace science. This is a clear example where women would become pregnant (by someone other than their intended) and the only way to protect their virtue would be to blame it on the Kurupi. In many ways, belief in a creature like this can settle marital disputes before they even arise. Additionally, however, the Kurupi could have taken the blame for many rape incidents– when a real person was the perpetrator.

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Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Magic
Protection

Red Ribbons on Fruit Trees

“My parents used to tie red ribbons on the fruit trees during an eclipse… it was I don’t know…  so that the trees wouldn’t die, supposedly like lunar events like would or an eclipse and stuff would mess with the harvest of that.”

My informant learned this practice from his parents who were practitioners of this themselves. We were discussing the color red and what it had to do with lunar eclipses. There seems to be a connection with lunar eclipses, pregnancy, and fruit. I believe that  fruit may symbolize a women’s fertility and that is why the red ribbon somehow protects the fruit from dying, just as the color red may protect an unborn baby from dying.

Gestation, birth, and infancy
Magic
Protection

Lunar Eclipse and a Red Towel

“During a lunar Eclipse, You’re supposed to put a red towel on your belly to protect the baby”

My informant learned this piece of folklore from his parents who were practitioners of this. My informant himself never tried it on his child and never knew why his parents did it. He shared this with me when the topic of pregnancy superstitions came up. This piece of folklore was very interesting to me and made sense because of all the connections that a lunar eclipse has to women, pregnancy and fertility that we learned in class. I also thought it was weird that the superstition says particularly a red towel. This reminded me of Vaz de Silva’s argument that the color red usually symbolizes women and fertility in folklore.

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

Naming Children

Subject:

West African Rituals Regarding Newborn Children

Informant:

Saran Kaba grew up in Gabon. Her family is mostly from Gabon and Guinea, and strongly identify with Mandingo culture which is prevalent throughout the region. Saran immigrated to the United States in 2014, where she now lives and studies at the University of Southern California.

Original Script:

“Whenever a child is born, we always wait um seven days to name the child and to… yeah to name the child. And um, we shave, like, the complete hair of the child after seven days. Just because, like, we want to remove any kind of, like, bad energy because like, babies are born with hair, so like it’s kind of impurity for us, it’s… a sign of impurity so like by shaving their hair we just remove like any kind of impurity and yeah to make like the child kind of… pure. Umm, and if the born child is like a female, we sacrifice one sheep, and if the child born is a male, we sacrifice two sheeps. I guess just because guys are… more wealthy than girls I don’t know. So that’s something that, like, my mom taught me.”

Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:

Saran learned of these rituals from her mom, and also knows that waiting seven days to name the child is based on a Muslim tradition, which she says is prevalent in in her culture. She doesn’t know any more details than that.

Thoughts About the Piece:

This is similar to some European traditions I have heard of, which involve waiting to name a child in case it does not survive early infancy. However, the head shaving is interesting: I know that many mothers I’ve encountered prize their baby’s hair, and I also know that in Jewish tradition, you are not supposed to cut a child’s hair until after their third birthday. Regarding the sacrifices, it seems like the birth of a baby boy is celebrated much more than that of a baby girl, although I don’t know enough about Mandingo culture to say whether that is an artifact of underlying sexism or if there is some other reasoning.

Childhood
Customs
Festival
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hinamatsuri (Doll Festival)

Aubrey is a Japanese-American currently attending ELAC. She plans to transfer to UCSD to pursue a bachelor’s in Marine Biology because she intends to protect the marine environment with her university education. She enjoys drawing, watching anime, attending sports games with her dad, and playing with her dogs.

Original Script

When I was small, every year on March 3rd, we celebrate this holiday called Hinamatsuri, which is Girls’ Day. And you set up these dolls called hina-ningyō on these 5- to 7-tiered stands called hina-dan and the dolls are supposed to protect the family from evil spirits. And you’re supposed to leave the dolls up for a few days after the holiday because putting them away quickly will be bad luck.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant first performed this ritual during her trip to Japan on New Year’s Day in elementary school. She enjoyed Hinamatsuri because it was a memorable family bonding event and it was fun handling the dolls.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in my house.

Hinamatsuri, also known as Doll Festival or Girls’ Day, is celebrated every year on March 3rd in Japan. On this day, the parents pray for their daughters’ happiness, health, and growth. This festival originated from a thousand years ago in the Heian Period. It is a tradition to display ceremonial dolls, dressed in the attire of the people of the traditional court, on tiered shelves.

My Thoughts about the Performance

I find it endearing that there is a festival purely dedicated to ensuring a daughter’s happiness and wellbeing in Japan. Over time, it seems that the festival’s promotion of one’s health and good luck has also spread to other members of one’s family. However, the placement of the dolls, decreasing in status as one moves down the platforms, remains generally the same. The festival connects the past to the present by having the ancient court from the Heian Period watch over and protect families of today.

Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Narrative
Signs

Marina’s La Llorona

My Grand Aunt Marina, my grandfathers sister, swears the following legend of “La Llorona” is absolutely true. She knows there have been other stories about La LLorona but hers is the “god’s honest truth”, the real story. She told it on Good Friday at a dinner at my grandmother house

When they would go out to the country for a family camping weekend near the Magdalena River, my aunt said “that on nights with a full moon if you went to the river at dusk or dawn you were sure to see a Llorona/The Crying Woman. She tells me that a young woman drowned her own children in the river because her husband did not care for them and had abandoned them for younger woman (Marina rolls her eyes at this point of the story and murmurs “typical”).  Marina continues but more feeling her voice… “no matter how hard she tried to forget her husband, he had left them without any money and had taken all of their meager belongings. She tried to find work but with four young children to take care of, it proved to be impossible and in a moment of desperation after hearing her children cry all night from hunger, she drowned her children at dawn, letting the river take away their bodies downstream and when she saw her child were no longer with her she cried out in grief and after no longer able to bear the pain she kills herself. St. Peter finds her at the gates of heaven and deems her unworthy for purgatory or even hell because of the gravity of her sins and was sent back down to earth and to find her children. For this reason she roams around at dusk and dawn, crying as she looks for them.”  Marina assures me that she had heard La Llorona on many occasions down by the Magdalena River but only saw her once. This is where Marina gets super serious and lowers her voice to almost a whisper… “One early morning she woke up and saw it was only dawn, she tried really hard to hold back her need to go to the bathroom but was unable. She thought if she was quick enough nothing bad would happen but on the way back to the campsite through the misty dawn she saw a woman wearing rags down by the river crying. She says she felt her blood run cold and ran to the campsite arriving in a cold sweat!” Seeing La Llorona is considered a bad omen and Marina says she was inconsolable all day, finally the family headed home that day to find that grandmother Celestina had passed away. She never went camping to the river again. Marina finishes the story with tears in her eyes because she says that she felt some kind of responsibility for Celetistina death. My Abuelo thinks this is absurd mainly because Celestina was very old and lucky to have survived as long as she did. He cannot collaborate his sister’s story because he was already living in the U.S. but Marina swears it is the God’s honest truth “te juro ha dios” and she is very Catholic. My Abuelo said he did have a dream where his grandmother Celestina talked to him at length, telling him all that was to come in his life, the night before she past away.

Analysis: Although there are some aspects of the supernatural and personal loss, overall I found the story very melancholy and haunting. The way she spoke of La Llorona made me believe that she believed what she had experienced was true. She was so upset during the retelling, she had to get up and leave to the restroom, when she came out she was dabbing her eyes and refuse to tell me any more stories. I feel fortunate to have been allowed to have such a personal retelling.

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