USC Digital Folklore Archives / Gestation, birth, and infancy
Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Signs

Korean Childbirth Dreams

Context:

The following informant is a 21-year-old Korean American student. I was having a conversation about dreams when this topic came up. The informant stated that she heard the story from her parents who are Korean immigrants. In this I will be denoted as C and the informant will be denoted as S

S: So there this like thing I don’t know if it’s only for Korean women but apparently you get like a pregnancy dream when you’re pregnant. So like my mom’s pregnancy dream when she was with me was by a river or a swimming pool or something and then like a giant shiny black fish jumps out of the water and she catches it, and that’s kind of the dream she has. And then for my sister she had a dream of a shiny beautiful pearl. So my mom had a dream that I was a beautiful shiny black fish that she caught.

C: And what does it mean?

S: Apparently, I was talking to my photography teacher who is also Korean, what she’s heard about Korean pregnancy mother dreams is that if you dream of something really really small then it means girls, wait no, if you dream of something really small it’s a boy but if you dream of something big it’s a girl. So the big fish, me girl. So that’s it.

Analysis: This is an interesting folk belief and I have heard similar folk beliefs that are said to indicate the gender of the baby.

Adulthood
Childhood
Customs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jewish Baby Shower Custom

Text

The following piece is a Jewish custom collected from a twenty-two year old girl in a library with a group of other girls, all studying. The girls were discussing an upcoming family pregnancy. The “Informant” shared the following information with the table. I will be referred to as the “Collector”.

Informant: “Apparently, in Jewish culture, Jewish women aren’t allowed, or like supposed to have baby showers. Apparently it’s bad luck.”

Collector: “What does that mean?”

Informant: “Well, Jewish women are not supposed to prepare for the baby before it is born. It’s bad luck to receive presents for the baby before it’s born. So, like the mother or friends can accept the presents but she can’t give them to the mother. Also, you’re allowed to paint the baby’s room but you can’t bring in the crib. So when the mother finally goes into labor, whoever had the presents or other baby stuff goes to the house and sets up the crib and baby’s room with all the presents. So that it’s ready by the time the mom and baby come home.”

Context

            The Informant learned of this custom from her friend who is Jewish. When questioned, the Informant said that her friend’s mother was the one who told her and was very strict about the tradition. Her mother did it and all the women of the family still uphold the tradition. The Informant remembers learning of the tradition very clearly because she remembers her friends’ anger at the tradition overall.

Interpretation

I had previously never heard of this Jewish custom. I was surprised to hear that it was still very much a part of Jewish women’s practices and belief system. I understand how some of the preparation for a baby coming might lead to superstitious beliefs, or the thought of jinxing the pregnancy, but the idea that the baby shower in particular is bad luck was surprising to me. I’ve always thought that the purpose of a baby shower was to welcome bother the woman to motherhood and the baby to life. It has always seemed to me to be a celebration of life. It’s interesting to me to know to understand the other perspective that it might be an unlucky aspect of the pregnancy.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Magic
Narrative
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Haunted Babies

The informant was telling me of a belief that there are different kinds of babies. She explains how some babies are possessed by spirits when they are born below:

There is one kind of baby that only cries at night and it cries really loud. We have a specific phrase for them yia cu long which means those babies are haunted by some kind of ghosts, because like when a baby is first born they seem very vulnerable to ghosts, so they can easily see ghosts since they’re just born. If a baby is always crying at night it means yi cu long, meaning they are kind of haunted by ghosts, and so that’s why the baby is terrified and he always cry during the night. So in some of the culture what they will do is they will actually have like a person to do some ceremony in order to get the ghost out of their body or stop them from haunting the baby, so it’s like a witch but not really, and then after that the babies are not supposed to cry anymore during the night.

 

So like one of my mom’s friends, his grandson actually all of a sudden started crying at night everyday and he finds someone to produce the ceremony or whatever, and the baby actually stopped crying.

 

Context:

One day when we were talking she told me she had some interesting pieces of her culture that she could share with me, so a few weeks later we met a little café on campus at USC. We sat outdoors while she shared this tradition with me.

Background:

My informant was raised in China until middle school. When she was sixteen years old she moved to the US where she attended a boarding school in Maryland for high school. My informant transferred to USC for her sophomore year of college.  She was telling me about a superstition in Chinese culture that is practiced when babies are crying. A family friend of her mother had a grandson who was crying and ‘haunted’ by a spirit, and when this ritual was performed, the baby stopped crying at night, meaning the spirit was gone.

Analysis:

I found it intriguing that babies can be ‘possessed’ by spirits because they are weaker and new to the world. Even more so, I think it’s incredibly that my informants family friend’s grandson stopped crying after the ritual was performed, which gives the ritual more credibility.

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

Breadcrumb Blessing: Syrian Birth Tradition

When babies are born and are first brought home after birth, the grandparents of either the mother or the father of the child will take fresh baked bread and break it down over the head of the baby. The breadcrumbs are sprinkled over the head of the baby as well as the rest of the body to act as a blessing. This blessing imparts good fortune and health to the newborn so that they grow in good luck and will experience ease and happiness in their life.


Throughout the collection process for this particular interlocutor, he repeatedly mentioned the blessed nature of bread in his culture and religion. Because of his Arab Christian background, he acknowledges the religious aspects and holiness of bread. The holiness of bread was passed down from the elder members of his family as they played a key role in enforcing the belief in its divine association and powers. This implementation is used through multiple celebratory occasions, ranging from births to weddings to even funerals. The interlocutor mentioned that he now is skeptical of the actual powers of bread, but he still joins his family in utilizing it through various celebrations, especially working with family members in the kitchen to bake it, thus implying that it obtains a social value as well as a sanctified meaning.

Due to the holy nature of bread, this act serves to consecrate the child as soon as they enter an arguably difficult world. This obtains religious undertones, especially as the Christian faith asserts the transformation of bread into the body of Christ. Thus, the child is showered in the most sanctified substance to preserve its innocence and promote its luck in life. The rising of the bread during the baking process may also symbolize the rise of new life and the potential that a few simple components have to create something beyond their own capacity.

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

Planting a Tree: Russian Birth Tradition

“After a child is born, both the parents and the grandparents on both sides, specifically the men in each relationship, plant a tree on the day of the birth. They do this mainly to promote the growth and strength of the child, but they also name the tree in accordance to the characteristics they want the child to grow up with and adopt. As the tree grows, it marks the health and growth of the child as well.”


 

The interlocutor has visited Russia multiple times, and due to her frequent visits, she has become close friends with a particular native Russian. The folklore that she has shared with me is derived from her native Russian friend. Her account of this familial tradition was a sort of after thought as it was not something that she had experienced first-hand, but rather through casual conversation with a local Russian. Along with the usual plans that go along with child birth, various family members prepare young trees that are ready to plant well in advance, acting as a sort of exciting avenue in which one can channel their impatient anticipation. The type of tree may also vary, depending on what the family wants to impart on their child. For instance, one may plant a lemon tree if they wish to impart a bright disposition on their child.

Trees are a widespread symbol of new life and growth, so it seems fitting to associate arboreal traits with newborn children. The roots of the tree are planted as life is just beginning, and the fact that family members are the ones who ground these roots also symbolizes the safety and reliance that one can find in familial relationships. Tree trunks are weak and willowy during their first years, as children are, yet they are expected to grow to bear the weight of the various limbs and leaves that are to eventually grow. They grow in strength, and their health is measured by their sturdiness. Much like the growth of the trunk, children are expected to grow and develop their own health and sturdiness to bear the weight of life’s various whims and tribulations. Both the tree and the child are able to reach towards the sun, a brighter tomorrow that promises vitality and health, and their eventual ascension upwards signifies a greater purpose.

Folk medicine
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Narrative

Chuita

Main Piece: The informant’s grandmother, whom many call Chuita, was a midwife and hero in the small town of Caazapa, Paraguay. Chuita only went to school up 1st grade (a very baseline education) and, instead of becoming a nun and living in a convent, she asked her aunt about how she could help the town. Learning under her aunt and looking at her own vagina in the mirror, Chuita learned female anatomy and became the town’s resident midwife, as the nearest hospital was miles and miles away. Using herbal medicine, she delivered over 600 babies without fail in her lifetime, never accepting any form of payment from the poor mothers she helped. “She literally delivered a whole town.” Later, Chuita received an honorary degree from National Health Ministry of Paraguay for having safely delivered more than 300 children during here life in Caazapa, but these were cases that were traced and recorded. “Chuita knows that she delivered well over 600 babies, never losing one. She had an extraordinary faith that her purpose was to serve others through God.” By the end of her lifetime, she was the town’s carpenter, farmer, engineer, civil advocate, emergency first responder, policeman, welfare service provider, tailor, chef, and household organizer. Her and her husband were often considered to be the local king and queen of their town.

Context: The informant (OC) is half Paraguayan and half American, and she speaks both Spanish and English. Her mother immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, so the informant is first generation, but the rest of her mother’s side of the family resides in their home city – Caazapa, Paraguay – and are very well-known in their community. Her father’s side of the family are “classically Jewish” people from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Although she is not religious herself, her upbringing was culturally Jewish and Catholic. Our discussion took place in her home in Orlando, Florida while her mom made us tea and lunch in the background. The informant cites the following legend as the basis for her family’s legacy today, with her larger-than-life grandmother being their small Paraguayan town’s hero. This story was recounted to OC at her high school graduation party from her cousin, who believed that the informant was of age to learn of her roots and the lore that has kept their family devout in their values of hard work and faith. This legend is the basis of the matriarchal power that has been passed down through each generation in OC’s family. In fact, this story served as the inspiration of OC’s tattoo over her ribs, which depicts the mountains bordering Caazapa to honor her roots and larger-than-life abuela.

Personal thoughts: While it’s clear that not all of the astounding facets of this iconic grandma cannot be proven to be true (i.e. the 300 recorded vs. 600 theoretical babies delivered), this legend is rooted in the firm truth of her widely-known feats. The way OC tells this story is reminiscent of ancient legends with a heroic character conquering the impossible; one woman with barely any education becomes her town’s jack-of-all-trades through learning from the little resources she had access to (her aunt, who was her mentor, and her own mirror).Even the way OC phrases her grandmother as the town’s “queen” demonstrates her hero status among her people. Chuita, in typical hero fashion, overcomes her circumstances without complaint and rises to the occasion, setting a legacy of matriarchy and the power of perseverance for her family and town.

Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Old age

Haitian Reincarnation

Context/Background: The informant’s parents are from Haiti which holds positive beliefs towards reincarnation. One particular encounter sticks with them within this belief.

Informant:

[Face-to-Face conversation]

“So, my family- or I think Haitian people in general just believe that if someone is born the day someone dies, the person who dies- their spirit goes inside the new baby. So like, I think my Dad had a friend who died the day my sister was born, so he’s like, I think his spirit is like, in my sister. So, that’s a nice thing we believe. Yeah.”

Introduction: Personal exposure and informed through Haitian father.

Analysis/Interpretation: This belief is seen across cultures and religions, so I find that intriguing and would love to explore further similarities around the globe with similar ideas. I remember watching different documentaries and being introduced to the idea of reincarnation from different cultures and societies which was interesting to observe and compare that to the belief systems of others. I think the ability to find peace of mind in the informant’s specific circumstance by having faith in the transfer of a soul to another body as comforting, in a way.

 

For reference to reincarnation in other cultures, reference

(2019). Basics of Hinduism: Karma and Reincarnation. Retrieved from https://www.himalayanacademy.com/readlearn/basics/karma-reincarnation

Tsuji, T. (1996-2019). BuddhaNet Basic Buddhism Guide on Reincarnation. Retrieved from https://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/reincarnation.htm

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

Egg for Protection (against El Ojo)

Context/Background: The informant is Salvadoran and Mexican-American and had grown up surrounded with the use of eggs to absorb bad energy. It had common connections to “el ojo,” something that is given to someone through magic, typically young, with the intent of inflicting harm.

[Face-to-face conversation]

“There’s something that any Hispanic person that you talk to will tell you this. Um, if something bad happens, you take an egg and you like… put the egg over your body. I don’t know if you’ve seen the video- they do it to a dog. But, you put it all over your body, and that egg is supposed to take out all the badness in you. So supposedly when people cast… um like spells on you… like, these wizards- these people that do bad things- and when… but one of the big things that happens to you is El Ojo. So El Ojo happens when like… let’s say I have a child, right? And a woman… or like anyone can come up to me and be like… ‘Hey can I hold your kid, right?’ And then if I say no, I run the risk of them giving my child El Ojo, and if my child is given El Ojo, he will die. Like, they will die. It happens. And the only way to cure that is to do like… the egg thing, or to give the person the child. And any Latinx new mother will be told like… ‘Be careful. Your kid can get El Ojo.’ That’s really common- not just Mexico; El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras. Very common.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced to this through her mother.

Analysis: I’ve vaguely heard of using an egg to collect bad energy; however, I’ve recently become more familiar with “the evil eye,” something coinciding with “el ojo” in different Latino cultures. To my understanding, the evil eye refers to what can be given to someone, typically without their knowledge. Oftentimes, many people wear something (typically a necklace or perhaps a piece of clothing) which is to ward off anyone giving them this eye. El ojo, as described to me, means “the eye” in Spanish and is given to people, typically young babies. I find this interesting because in the context of what I’ve been exposed to it, it’s been more socialized with adults rather than newborns.

El Ojo is essentially similar to the Evil Eye, except it is performed by wizards and Santeria practitioners in Latin American regions.

 

For more information on another rendition of el ojo, “the evil eye,” refer to

Heaphy, L. (2017, May 2). The Evil Eye Powerful Protective Talisman. Retrieved from https://kashgar.com.au/blogs/ritual-objects/the-evil-eye-and-the-hamsa

Adulthood
Childhood
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mince and Tatties

Context:

I conducted this interview over the phone, the subject was born and raised in Scotland before moving to England, Canada, the United States, then to Northern Ireland, and, finally, back to the United States. I knew she continued to practice certain traditions which were heavily present in her childhood and wanted to ask her more about them.

 

Piece:

Subject: Every birthday in our house we always make mince and potatoes, or mince and tatties like we called them when I was a kid.

Interviewer: What does that consist of?

Subject: Well the way we do it is we ground beef, you know, mince beef, and then mashed potatoes and there you go! [Laughs] Sometimes we add vegetables like carrots or peas to go with it which really adds to the flavor.

Interviewer: And why has it become a birthday celebration?

Subject: I’m not sure, I mean we had it all the time growing up, but when we came to America we had it less and it became more of a birthday thing, so that’s just what we do every year now.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that there is no set recipe or form of cooking this dish, it consists in many variations. There are concerns that British people are no longer eating traditional dishes, but mince and tatties remains the exception as it is extremely popular in Scotland. A survey done in 2009 found that it was the most popular Scottish dish, with a third of respondents saying that they eat it once a week.

In 2006 the European Union introduced new regulations on how meat could be processed, threatening the existence of mince and tatties, resulting in the Scottish National Party leader announcing, “They can take our lives but they will never take our freedom to make mince and tatties!”

It seems that it became a popular dish due to its ability to be canned and fed to a large number of school children.

Source:

Lewis, Susan. “Recipes for Reconnection: Older People’s Perspectives on the Mediating Role of Food in Contemporary Urban Society.” ANTHROPOLOGICAL NOTEBOOKS 12, 2006.

Contagious
Game
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Baby Blue

Context: I was teaching a class of sixth graders for the Joint Education Project (JEP) in a middle school near USC.

Discussion

Instructor: So, after learning the differences between myths, tales and legends, can anyone give me an example of a legend that they have heard of? (A number of different students interjected to corroborate to the first student’s story, they have been given aliases to protect their identities)

Angel: Baby Blue! (Announced loudly)

Instructor: What or who is Baby Blue?

Angel: It’s like uhm you go into the bathroom and look into the mirror and uh fold your arms, and if you feel a weight in your arms its Baby Blue and you gotta drop it!

Maria (interjecting): No no no, you gotta go into the bathroom by yourself and turn the lights off and cradle your arms like you’re holding a baby and say ‘Baby Blue’ in the mirror three times. If you feel a weight in your arms like you were holding a baby, you gotta pretend to drop it in the toilet and flush it before it gets too heavy.

Instructor: Or else what happens?

Maria: The baby will haunt your family.

Daisy (interjecting): No if you don’t flush the baby, her mom will turn up behind you and scream at you to give it back and kill you if you don’t. (Other students nodded along or exclaimed ‘yeh’ as if her version was the most well-known)

Instructor: So, who is baby blue?

Maria: Its like a evil baby that will haunt you if you don’t get rid of it I think.

Instructor: And who is the women?

Daisy: Some kinda evil spirit I guess.

Instructor: Have any of you done this?

Daisy: I tried it once with my big sister.

Instructor: And did the woman show up?

Daisy: No but I felt a weight in my arms and through it in the toilet so maybe I did it before the baby grew too big.

Instructor: Was it a scary experience.

Daisy: Yeh I guess, me and my sister ran outta the bathroom straight after flushing the toilet.

Analysis

This is a very interesting legend. It is very much like Bloody Mary accept with a baby involved. After some research I discovered that some people think that the mother who appears is Bloody Mary and that Baby Blue is her child that she murdered. The legend seemed fairly well-known throughout the classroom of thirty students but some new it better than others. It is clear that Angel was more of a passive barer of the legend and had not participated in the legend quest. Those that did had a better knowledge of the backstory to the legend, which was usually learned from older relatives. The students did not seem to be overly scared of this legend and approached it as more of a game. They were adamant that there was a right way and a wrong way to do this pseudo-ritual.

There are theories that the Bloody Mary legend is related to young girls’ oncoming period cycle. The legend is most common with girls aged 8 to 14 and takes place alone in a bathroom where you see a bloody woman appear behind you. This could be some kind of folk ritual, beyond the knowledge of the participants, to prepare girls for the oncoming changes to their bodies’ which takes place near this age range and usually alone in a bathroom. This intense bodily change might be more easy cope with when compared with the extreme of seeing a creepy woman covered in blood behind you. I think that the Baby Blue legend is a continuation of this theory. It is in someway ingratiating girls to the idea that if you feel a baby growing heavy in your arms (which are cradled at your stomach) that you should somehow get rid of it, or else it might haunt you for the rest of your life. This seems to be suggesting to the girls that take part in this pseudo-ritual, on a deeply subconscious level, that if you get pregnant at a young age (as pregnancy tests usually take place in the bathroom alone) that you should somehow get rid of the baby before it stays with you forever. If this is the case, this legend has an extremely dark aspect to it. Obviously because of the fact that this deeper meaning operates on a subconscious level, boys take part in the legend too. This is for the surface reason that it is scary and thrilling which is probably why the girls do it too but it may be communicating a deeper message to them specifically.

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