Tag Archives: Baby

Indian Custom: Hair Cutting on First Birthday

Background: 

My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance). 

Performance:

NS: Indian people will shave the head of their baby when they turn 1, on their first birthday, because it’s believed that that means that their hair will come back stronger. My mom didn’t do it to me, but almost all my cousins and my dad did. 

SW: So is there greater significance to that or it’s more aesthetic? 

NS: It’s tradition. Thicker hair makes you beautiful, especially like, long, thick hair on girls. There are hair rituals, like before you go to bed your mom will oil your hair.  It’s like the longer your hair is, the more beautiful you are because it’s associated with wealth. So like if you have super long well-kept hair that’s a sign that you can afford it. I remember when I cut my hair short my grandpa was like devastated and I didn’t understand why until my dad told me about it.

Thoughts:

I think it’s super interesting how we as humans can come to associate different things with beauty for reasons other than pure aesthetics. Sure, long and thick hair looks nice, but the fact that it can be associated with wealth and status as a subconscious trait of beauty or attractiveness is interesting. It reminds of the way that the “ideal” body shape for women has changed over time. Centuries ago, it was not trendy to be thin, as thinner bodies were associated with not being able to afford food. Consequently, people who were a bit more curvy were considered more desirable, such a body type implied a certain level of wealth and status that could afford more than the bare minimum amount of food required to stay alive. 

Infant Looking at its Reflection

Main Piece

The following is transcribed from dialogue between myself, GK, and the informant, MB. 

MB: One superstition I know of and believe in is to never show a baby that is younger than 1 year old its reflection in the mirror. If you do, it supposedly brings bad luck to your kid. 

GK: Where did you hear this from?

MB: My mother told me.

Background: The informant is a 26 year old women who is currently raising a baby. She says she was told about this superstition from her mother recently, who followed the superstition as well while raising the informant. This piece of folklore is very important to the informant due to the fact that she is a mother and she will always want what’s best for her kid. 

Context: The informant and I discussed this superstition face to face

My Thoughts: In my opinion, this superstition is not true. I believe kids at that age cry when they see their reflections because they are not smart enough to know what’s going on yet. Plus babies just cry a lot in general. I also think this way because while looking online, I was not able to find anything on this superstition, which makes me wonder where it originally came from. It could be something that is just spread amongst her family. That’s what makes small forms of folklore like this interesting. They are so small, that you just wonder what event must’ve happened to spark it and thus engage its spread. The closest thing I could think of, is the “Bloody Mary” Myth, which originated in England. It makes me wonder if this lore maybe originated as its own version of Bloody Mary. It’s interesting to think of.

Solly, Meilan. “The Myth of ‘Bloody Mary’.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Mar. 2020, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/myth-bloody-mary-180974221/.

Using Yerba Buena to ail colicky babies

Main Piece

Informant: That was my situation, I got married at 18 and at 19 I had my first daughter. That is when all of the wives tales emerged. All of my family members shared with me their tips and tricks. My first daughter was very colicky so the first one I remember was feeding her Yerba Buena. It was very hard because Doctors told me not to give her anything, but my family was telling me to. From a science perspective I knew that was ridiculous, but at the end of the day I did it because what harm could be done? 

Interviewer: Can you guide me through what they told you to do? 

Informant: First of all every woman in the family had Yerba Buena, so my Mom called me and told me to come over when I told her my daughter was colicky. She gave me my own little sprout, and a pot to plant my own because she told me that I was gonna need it. First you wash them really really good because they’ve been out in the dirt. And then you put 2-3 leaves and boil it and it’ll turn a light brown, but don’t let that scare you. You have to cool it before you put it in the bottle. I tasted it, it tastes like mint and water. No sugar. You don’t put sugar, you just let the leaves lose in the water. 

Interviewer: How much would you feed her? 

Informant: No more than an ounce, I would give her more as she grew up but usually just an ounce. 

Interviewer: Did you see it work? 

Informant: Yes, I saw it work. You have to burp the baby after they drink. When they have colic they are tense and crying– usually that’s how you know. You will see the relief in them, they will start relaxing- at least she did. She was able to calm herself. 

Interviewer: What does this practice mean to you?

I think this is where the conflict between Americanized medicine and, I’m forgetting the word, what do they call it now? Alternative medicine. We used to call it home medicine, back in the day that is how we had to go about treating it when medicine was new. People knew this stuff, and even today some of it is true. 

Any other comments? 

No. I just think when you are a young mother you just want your baby to be happy. I was skeptical when my family told me about this, but I saw the proof in my own eyes. So, I guess I started to, um, trust the remedies more.

Background

The informant is my mother, a Mexican woman who is first-generation and the oldest of 3, who was born and raised in San Ysidro,CA  a border town just north of Tijuana, Mexico. Influenced by memories and conversations with her great great grandmother, many of her practices, customs, and beliefs were passed down from her maternal side of Mexican customs. Fluent in both English and Spanish, the informant has always felt conflicted about her culture as she wanted to fit in with American customs but wanted to preserve her Mexican heritage and traditions. The informant had her first child when she was 18, and worked her way as a single mother with two kids to attain her Master’s Degree and is now the Executive Vice President at a non-profit health clinic that serves the community she was raised in.

Context

My Mother and I often joke about how horrible babies we were, and she often tells us the stories of the different practices that my Nana would teach her to calm us down. My grandmother lives in our house in San Diego and still practices many forms of folk medicine and plants her Yerba Buena in our garden to this day. Over the phone I asked my Mom about the different practices we would talk about to understand the context better. 

Analysis

As the informant points out, this is a perfect example of folk medicine as it can not be proven with “science” but has passed down in our family for generations. Since the informant has worked in the healthcare industry for most of her professional life, she is often conflicted with following these home remedies even though they work because she is around medical professionals on a daily basis. However, I believe that she still practiced many of them and tells my sister’s who now have children of their own to practice them not only because they work, but to preserve our Mexican culture and roots. 

Using a string and piece of string to predict the gender of a baby

Main Piece

Informant: So you put a ring on a string. You loop it and then you hang it in front of the pregnant woman by her stomach-but don’t let it touch the stomach. If it motions sideways then it means it is a girl, but if it motions front and back it is supposed to be a boy. They say the energy of the baby swings the ring, that is kind of what they say causes it.

Interviewer: Was it ever done on you? 

Informant: It was never done on myself, but I saw it done on others. It was really popular at baby showers if the Mother was dying to know, and it was almost like a game. I guess before sonograms that is how they did it, haha. I just think the unknown of wanting to know the gender before the technology caused it. Is there any scientific proof that will cause the ring to sway a different way, I don’t know. 

Background

The informant is my mother, a Mexican woman who is first-generation and the oldest of 3, who was born and raised in San Ysidro,CA  a border town just north of Tijuana, Mexico. Influenced by memories and conversations with her great great grandmother, many of her practices, customs, and beliefs were passed down from her maternal side of Mexican customs. Fluent in both English and Spanish, the informant has always felt conflicted about her culture as she wanted to fit in with American customs but wanted to preserve her Mexican heritage and traditions. The informant had her first child when she was 18, and worked her way as a single mother with two kids to attain her Master’s Degree and is now the Executive Vice President at a non-profit health clinic that serves the community she was raised in.

Context

I remember seeing this practice done at one of my older cousin’s baby showers, and I asked the informant more about it. From what I remember, the ring accurately predicted the gender of the baby as it was before they revealed or found out the gender of the baby.

Analysis

This folk belief is a perfect example of signs, and using material objects in order to predict the future. I think it is interesting that this practice is usually done at baby showers almost as a game, as it continues to foster the belief that magic and witchcraft are associated with the female gender. This practice is still used in our family and in baby showers as a fun game, and it is one usually passed down in Mexican families as well.

Rubbing the belly of a pregnant woman to absolve it of “El mal de ojo” or bad energy

Main Piece

Informant: This one is weird because strangers can just come up to you and ask to rub your belly. It happened to me. If a woman has an impure thought or is envious when they see a pregnant woman, usually it is about them not being able to have a child, they ask the pregnant woman if they can rub their stomach so that their child doesn’t have “Mal de Ojo” or any bad energy. The Mal De Ojo is between the woman to woman, but the baby is caught in the middle, so they rub the stomach to absolve the baby if that makes sense. I have never seen a man do it, that would be kind of..weird. Oh! And the woman rarely discloses why she rubbed the belly, it is more about absolving their conscience so when it happens you just kind of let them rub it so your baby can get cleansed. It is very odd, it is kind of scary because you find out these women are having bad thoughts about you. It is even scarier to think about the ones who don’t rub the stomachs and just let the bad energy impact the baby.  

Interviewer: Did this ever happen to you?

Informant: One time. The person didn’t even know I was pregnant because I wasn’t showing. I just think she was talking ill of me and found out I was pregnant and rubbed my stomach. She probably thought I was just getting fat haha haha. She was an acquaintance of my ex-husband’s family, so that explains a lot haha. 

Interviewer: Can you explain more about El Mal de Ojo?

Informant: It is interpreted as an evil eye. In the sense of pregnancy the evil is are the ill thoughts of the woman, only she knows why. To try and remedy their conscience they rub the stomach, and disclose if they may “ay no lo quiero dar el mal de ojo, me permites?” (“I don’t want to give the baby the evil eye, may I?”) You do it in an apologetic way, to secure the baby and to get forgiveness for having those bad thoughts. I think its humanity. I think it is an immediate remedy to perhaps absolve an ll thought. People have ill thoughts all of the time- jealousy, comparison. So they do it to apologize in a way, and to save the baby from these ill thoughts, because they don’t deserve that. 

Background:

The informant is my mother, a Mexican woman who is first-generation and the oldest of 3, who was born and raised in San Ysidro,CA  a border town just north of Tijuana, Mexico. Influenced by memories and conversations with her great great grandmother, many of her practices, customs, and beliefs were passed down from her maternal side of Mexican customs. Fluent in both English and Spanish, the informant has always felt conflicted about her culture as she wanted to fit in with American customs but wanted to preserve her Mexican heritage and traditions. The informant had her first child when she was 18, and worked her way as a single mother with two kids to attain her Master’s Degree and is now the Executive Vice President at a non-profit health clinic that serves the community she was raised in.

Context

My whole life I have heard of this premonition, and saw it for the first time when my sister was pregnant and a stranger at a store came up to her and asked to rub her stomach. With that story in mind, I asked the informant more about it and she explained. 

Analysis

This is a very interesting form of folk magic, superstition, and protection. At the end of the day, this practice stems from a belief of magic harming the baby just from a glance. However, I think it is interesting that the act of this practice requires someone to admit that they were sending bad energy in the first place. However, as the informant describes it is more to protect the baby who doesn’t deserve to be impacted by that bad energy. This demonstrates the link of witchcraft to women, and is also a form of superstition present in Mexican communities.

Red Yarn to Cure Hiccups and Colic in Babies

Main Piece

Interviewer: Where did you learn it from?

Informant: My first daughter was super sensitive to colic and hiccups and really her digestive system. She got hiccups all the time, and I didn’t know what to do with it, you can’t have a baby hold your breath they’re a baby. So I called my mom and she let me know what to do. 

Interviewer: What are the steps for this practice?

Informant: When your baby has hiccups or colic you wad a little bit of red yarn and you wet it with your saliva and you pinch it in your fingers to make it round. And then you put in on the forehead, kinda like where the Third Eye would be. And then they’re fine. I don’t know the science how why but it worked. Once the baby stopped you took the yarn off and there you go. Sometimes it took a few minutes, but you take the red dot off after it is done doing what it is supposed to do.

Interviewer: Do you know where your mom learned it from?

Informant: She learned it from her mom who learned it from her mom. Everything she told me was done on me. 

Interviewer: Does the practice have a name?

Informant: No, not that I know of. 

Background

The informant is my mother, a Mexican woman who is first-generation and the oldest of 3, who was born and raised in San Ysidro,CA  a border town just north of Tijuana, Mexico. Influenced by memories and conversations with her great great grandmother, many of her practices, customs, and beliefs were passed down from her maternal side of Mexican customs. Fluent in both English and Spanish, the informant has always felt conflicted about her culture as she wanted to fit in with American customs but wanted to preserve her Mexican heritage and traditions. The informant had her first child when she was 18, and worked her way as a single mother with two kids to attain her Master’s Degree and is now the Executive Vice President at a non-profit health clinic that serves the community she was raised in.

Context

My Mother and I often joke about how horrible babies we were, and she often tells us the stories of the different practices that my Nana would teach her to calm us down. One of the ones I remember vividly was this one, with the red yarn. Over the phone I asked my Mom about the different practices we would talk about to understand the context better. 

Analysis

I think that this example of folk medicine is a great indicator of Mexican heritage and identity. It has been passed down in the informant’s family for multiple generations and had a reputation of working, prompting the informant to use it herself. The use of a red yard is interesting, as it is a very inexpensive material that most women would have at their disposal in their home. The placement of the dot on the forehead and the reference to the third eye also indicate a sense of magic as well. 

Agra Hadik

I interviewed my informant, Vanessa, in the band office lounge. She is of Armenian descent on her mother’s side. Because of this, she was able to provide me with Armenian traditions around important celebrations. This includes the Armenian tradition of Agra Hadik:

 

Vanessa: “Agra Hadik is the baby’s first bath after baptism. It’s a big deal, and the family usually hosts a party at their house where people get together and eat stuff. Oh! And sometimes, a priest comes to bless the baby if there’s one nearby.”

 

Me: “Can you provide me with more details of the bath or the party?”

 

Vanessa: “On the bath?… um… they use special oils to wash the baby. That’s about it. And after the bath, they lay out a quilt or towel or blanket of some sort with items — like a book, money, a calculator, a stethoscope, a thimble… what else? [I told her this was enough if she couldn’t think of more examples] But, yeah, they are, like, representatives of career paths in the baby’s life. You place the baby on the quilt, and let them pick an item that they are drawn to. It’s representative of their future and what they’ll become.”

 

Me: “I’m guessing you did this?”

 

Vanessa: “Yeah! I picked a stethoscope which, I mean — [she gestures to herself] Gerontology major… going to med school. [She smiles] My brother picked money.”

 

My informant told me that she learned this tradition from her grandparents and her great aunts and uncles. She has also seen this celebration performed for her cousins.

 

She also suggested I do a little research to make sure she got the facts straight. I have attached a source I found that describes the same folk tradition, just with a few alternate details from what I documented from my informant.

Link: https://holidappy.com/party-planning/agra-hadeeg

 

Analysis

I have learned of this tradition from class and from readings. It’s fascinating knowing that I know someone linked to the very tradition we talked about in class! I also think it’s amusing my informant picked an item that ultimately did reflect her chosen career path.

 

Mexican Pregnancy and Menstruation Beliefs

LP’s (the informant) family is originally from Mexico. She learned this superstition from her mother who advised her not to eat certain foods when she was menstruating. I remember when I was roommates with LP my freshman year, and her mom would bring her certain foods that she believed would help reduce the pain of menstrual cramps. For the pregnancy part, she said her entire family believed in the tradition and that her mother used this method to determine the sex of a baby, and has never been wrong.

Both of these things apply to women, either pregnant or menstruating women specifically. Therefore, the following needle test is used on a pregnant woman, usually within the home.

“During your period, don’t eat spicy stuff because those make cramps worse. Don’t eat watermelon because that makes it worse too, or any watery fruit will hurt you. It’s bad to eat these when you’re menstruating. Also, when you’re pregnant don’t eat watery foods because they’re afraid the baby will slip out. Ha, it’s so strange….Oh also! When you’re pregnant there’s a test to see if you will have a boy or girl baby. Someone will put a needle on a red string and dangle it over the mother’s stomach when she’s lying down. If the needle starts swinging back and forth it means it’s a boy, and if it goes in a circle, it’s a girl. My mom has done this and has always gotten it right. Also if your pregnant stomach is bulging out, it’s a boy, if it’s round and droopy it’s a girl.”

I’m very curious as to how this needle test came about. Is there some sort of reasoning behind it? LP did not know how it came about, so she wasn’t able to answer me. I’d like to know where they got the idea about the direction of the needle swinging indicating the sex of the baby.  Additionally, LP tried to explain the reasoning behind eating certain foods during menstruation and while it seemed plausible, I don’t think it’s scientifically accurate. 

Trot Trot to Boston

Folklore Piece

‘This is a song my mom would always sing to me and my siblings when we were little. She’d place us on her lap and move them up and down while she sang “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Lynn / Look out little [T.R.] / You might fall in!” and then pretend to drop us between her legs. The second first was “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Town / Look out little [T.R]/  you might fall down!” Then repeat the dropping motion. Finally, “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Dover / Look out little [T.R]/  you might fall Over!”

 

Background information

“Yeah, I learned it from my Mom. I mean, I don’t really remember learning it, and I certainly don’t really remember her performing it, but I’ve seen her do it with some of my younger cousins, and I have too. Uh, I don’t know, I just, I like the piece because it’s catchy, and it makes me nostalgic about Boston and my Mom and stuff, you know? You’ve probably heard it too, right?” ( I have)

Context

He certainly did not bounce me on his lap, however he did say that he “would definitely do this with his kids when he’s older, no matter where he lives. I just like the way I hold on to something from my home town, you know? Being 3,000 miles away, like, you lose a lot of that. I think I wanna move back eventually, but who knows?”

Analysis

My mom also performed this song for me when I was younger. I, too, perform it with my younger cousins and babies from the Boston area. I’ve always found it so interesting, because growing up in a town north of Boston where most people move to from all over the country, we don’t have too many unique traditions or pieces of folklore that bring us together as a town. But this song, even though it’s about Boston, is shared amongst almost all of us in the metropolitan Boston area. I tried to find the origin of this story, and was unable to locate a direct source. However, the book Trot Trot to Boston, published in 1987 is referenced as saying that it is a Mother Goose poem. Additionally, there are a number of variations of the poem I found. An online forum found here has at least 8 variations of the song.

The informant said that it reminds him of his mother, too. It’s funny how songs that are performed to us when we are children – often before we can even remember – make us so nostalgic. Certainly we can’t remember the circumstances under which these songs were performed. However, we know that our mothers took care of us at a time that they sang this song, and it’s so embedded within us, associated with childcare and motherly love, that it’s hard not to look at it so fondly.

 

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.