USC Digital Folklore Archives / Gestation, birth, and infancy
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.

Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Tales /märchen

Nang Nak

Nang Nak (Nang meaning Mrs. in Thai) was married to her husband when he was sent off and had to go away to war. she was pregnant and she died they say when the woman died with baby inside the spirit is very strong and she loved her husband very much. She died and no one told her husband that she had died and when her husband came home she was there to welcome him, but it was actually her spirit. The Asian houses are very tall, and one day she was making curry and pounding the chicken and she dropped the tool all the way down. The husband offered to get the pounder but instead she extended her arm unnaturally and got it. The husband ran away and she cried and cried but at the end he ran away. Everytime you say it in Thailand people will know what you’re talking about. People make it into a movie and people like to go see the movies.

 

Background: This is a fairly well-know story in Thailand, according to my great-aunt. There have been several movies made about it. She said she used to get really scared as a child because people would circulate this story. She knows it just from hearing it from many different people as a young child. I conducted this interview live at my uncle’s house, so I heard these stories in person, but it was still sometimes fairly hard to understand because my aunt has a very thick Thai accent which is sometimes hard for me to hear, so I have to ask her to repeat certain things. I think this story is a great piece of folklore, especially as it is well known in Thailand and there are a few different versions of the story – regarding what she is cooking specifically and what she drops and picks up with her extended arm, and what happens after the husband runs away. I really enjoyed this piece even though it was kind of freaky.

Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Gestures
Magic
Myths
Protection
Signs

Spitting on Babies and Crossing your Heart; Protection from the Evil Eye

A is an 18-year-old woman. She is currently studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. She considers her nationality to be American, but more specifically she is one quarter Greek Cypriote, one quarter German and half Argentinian. that being said, she strongly identifies with her Greek roots. She is fluent in both English and Greek, and is currently learning Mandarin.

A: Oh, you have to do the cross every time you pass a church or God will be angry. It’s a good one. Like my Grandmother will be driving and she’ll do the [sign of] the cross.

Me: God will be angry?Are there reprecussions if you don’t do it?

A: I’m unaware. Oh my God, the Evil Eye! Katherine Dupas still wears hers.

Me; Oh yeah we talked about that in class!

A: There’s an idea that if someone sends negative energy towards you and thinks ill will of you then something bad will happen to you. That’s kind of what it is. If you don’t cross yourself it’s not that you necessarily have something negative towards you it’s that you won’t be as protected by God against the negative energy and stuff from the Evil Eye.

Me: So the Evil Eye is…?

A: Other people being malicious towards you.

Me: So the Evil Eye is the symbol of that? And the cross in front of the church protects you from that?

A: Yeah.

Me: So why do people wear the Evil Eye?

A: Cause then it also protects you from the Evil Eye.

Me: By wearing it?

A: Yeah, cause the Eye looks at the other eye instead of at you.

Me: Ok, I get it now.

A: This is also why old ladies, old Greek ladies spit on babies and small children. When they’re like “ptou-ptou” it’s because there an idea that people who are attractive will incur the Evil Eye because of their beauty people will envy them, so you’re supposed to spit on them for good luck and also make them less enviable.

Me: So you do that to babies because you don’t know or because they’re young?

A: Cause they’re young and adorable, and you don’t want someone to be envious of their adorableness and send them bad vibes.

Me: Aw, who would wish terrible things upon a baby?

A: The Evil Eye works in weird ways.

A talks about

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Magic
Protection

Babies and Voodoo dolls cure- Egypt

informant: ” babies get sick often right .. cause obviously their immune system isn’t developed fully.. but for people of ancient times and for less educated people.. they don’t know that.. they don’t know how the immune systems developed and what not. So when a baby gets sick its obviously not a medical reason.. so they have like a sort of voodoo doll a paper voodoo doll. and instead of ..in this culture instead of the voodoo doll being something that you use to inflict harm on someone the voodoo doll is used to ward off evil .. so what they get is they get the paper voodoo doll and the doll is supposed to be the baby and you get a needle and you poke the eyes of the voodoo doll over and over and you say something to the effect of from this eye to the other eye i brake this jinx or i brake this curse and you keep doing it for a while i don’t know how long i missed that part.. cause anyone could have jinxed it right..  and so your just kinda like from this eye of this person i’m breaking the jinx on my baby  .. i don’t know it gets kinda dark.. but you get the doll and you burn it so that spirit is burnt while you do that . and then while it’s burning you take the baby and you pass it over the burning voodoo doll back and forth and then once the burning turns into black ashes. you take the ashes .. you take the ashes and put a black cross on the forehead.. both palms and both feet. and you let the baby sleep it off and the baby is supposed to be good in the morning but obviously you didn’t do anything to make it heel. that one is really interesting its really dark my mom told me to pray afterwards .. God let not these stories actually curse us..

Collector: what do you guys call the voodoo dolls

informant: i don’t know

Collector: do they practice voodoo in Egypt?

Informant: No not really anymore

Collector: did they used to?

Informant: Like way back in the day

Africa…

Informant: You fully appreciate how much literacy plays a part in your life like people back then couldn’t read even the bible so they didn’t know it was contradicting their beliefs

what percentage of Egypt is christian

like 20 i think.

 

This story comes from sam’s family, his mother specifically. He was born in Cairo and his  family is from Cairo but his parents parents are from the south of Egypt which is the “hicks ” of Egypt. he claims that the south is where more traditional folklore and superstitions come from. His family are Coptic Christians. Sam believes that these superstitions are neither christian nor Muslim but actually developed in ancient Egypt. He moved at a young age to Bakersfield and now attends the University of Southern California.

 

I found this story interesting because of many reasons, one thing to point out is that this voodoo in Egypt is somewhat like Santeria because it shows traces of syncretism with christianity. Although the ritual involves a doll and fire and non christian practices, the ash is then used to draw a cross over the forehead which is a christian practice during ash Wednesday. Santeria is usually associated with a Spanish conquered culture but in Egypt i don not know what we would call it, because the syncretism is with Coptic Christianity, and the routes of Voudon are much more direct since Egypt resides in Africa. I also found it interesting that voodoo dolls are meant to cure not harm, maybe my informant was lacking information, or maybe it reveals what it’s syncretism with christianity has meant for the rituals particularly making them more pacifist in magical nature rather that dark in magical nature because it would be considered a sin.

Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Teeth-Japan

Informant: If you lose your upper teeth you have to throw it.. bury on the ground.. in the ground.. and if you lose your lower teeth you have to throw it on the roof and this is because.. its a wish for growing your next teeth.. growing straight up.. that’s it.

Collector: did you do this as a kid?

Informant: Yes.

 

My friend Junsuke who was born and raised in Himeji Japan, told me this story one night that we had been drinking a tad. In comparison to many cultures i have noticed that there are many things that come with teeth. a ritual of sorts and a wish or treat. this may be universal or just widely spread because all humans lose their teeth as kids.

Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle

teeth- Venezuela

Informant My parents told me this story and I practiced it as a kid..So.. In the US the tooth Fairy is what picks up children’s teeth when they fall out… but.. in south american culture we change the tooth fairy for the “Mouse Perez” or  in Spanish its  the…”El Raton Perez”  and… the practice is the same … as the .. um … american.. where the child puts the tooth.. under the um.. pillow .. but it’s a mouse.. instead of a ferry.

I recorded this From my friends Girlfriend, Sara Segura, they both gave me an account of teeth customs, and i think together both accounts can be analyzed not as variants but similiar rituals. While this specific account can be analyzed as oichtype of the tooth fairy. She was raised in the United states but both of her Parents are immigrants from Venezuela.

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