The Main Piece
It is common especially in Korean households for people to turn their fans off before they sleep. Despite incredibly high temperatures, there are some superstitious people who refuse to leave their fan on. Elizabeth is one of those people. She refuses to leave her fan on because she is afraid that the air circulation will cause her to die from lack of oxygen. Although she does not believe that will literally happen, she does acknowledge the supernatural world and believes “magical things could be at work and you never really know, so it’s best to be safe.” She was told from a young age that there is a chance that when one leaves the fan on, the carbon dioxide one exhales is trapped in the spinning of the fan. It is because of the accumulation of carbon dioxide Although this belief has never been scientifically proven, many people such as Elizabeth abide by this belief.
My informant was my close friend Elizabeth Kim. She is a Korean undergraduate student, born and raised in California. Her father told her this story at an early age, and her father was told it by his parents. Although she suspects this story of simply being a way of them attempting to save electricity, she was extremely scared of not being able to breathe as a child. This childhood fear stuck with her until this present day.
I first learned about Elizabeth’s hidden fear when I slept over at her house. It was extremely hot because it was during the summer, but luckily we had the fan on. When she turned it off as we were about to go to sleep I was confused as to how she could be possibly cold in this kind of heat. When I asked her to turn it back on she replied “no.” When I asked for an explanation she went on to explain the superstition and why she would rather simply just leave it off.
When I first heard Elizabeth’s superstition I thought it would make a superb ghost story, but nothing more. At first I was upset because I was dying in the summer’s heat, but what could I do but abide by her rules. Looking back at it, I find it intriguing that a scientifically unsupported superstition such as that could have that much of an influence on my friend. For more superstitions having to do with fans and death, one can read: Why every Korean kid knows not to keep the fan on over night.
Lee, Kyung Jin. “Why Every Korean Kid Knows Not to Keep the Fan on over Night.” Public
Radio International. N.p., 4 Nov. 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.
So my grandma moved from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn when she was six years old with her mom, like Brooklyn in New York, the city with her mom and 5 siblings, and the rest of her family stayed in Puerto Rico with the dad, and they were gonna move out later after the dad finished his Navy term. She moved into an apartment and her mom, like so my great grandma, really believes in ghost stories, so she had little plants, little cacti with the long leaves, and she believed those fended off ghosts for some reason. So she kept those around the apartment because when she purchased the apartment she got creepy vibes, as my grandma says. My grandma lived in a closet sized room with her sister and they didn’t really have all their stuff with them, so my grandma just brought books with her. She brought books, and there was a little shelf above her bed so my grandma put her books up there and her mom put a plant up there. So supposedly the apartment was protected from ghosts because of the plants. So then one day though they got new neighbors next to them; it was a wife, husband and dog, they had a dog. They had recently moved into building, and landlord came by my grandma’s apartment to tell them they would have new neighbors. The landlord came by and gave my grandma’s family a doll, and it was the first time they had met the landlord, as it was a friend of my grandma’s dad. My grandma thought the doll was a threat to her ghost-protected house, so she put it on top of the fridge away from everything. The landlord, when she gave it to them said it was supposed to protect from death, but then one night, like I don’t know, this is why I always get so confused, I think its my grandma’s exaggerations. My grandma said one night my great-grandma was out of the house, and so grandma had to watch over all the siblings. She was putting everyone to bed and turned off all the lights and all of a sudden the power went out in whole building. Everything was pitch black. The refrigerator stopped working, there were no phones, and my grandma didn’t know how to reach her mom. There was one circular window that shined directly on the top of the fridge exactly where the doll was sitting. So my grandma is looking around making sure everyone is ok in the house. So my grandma turns around and sees the light of the full moon shining on the top of the fridge and the doll missing. So then the landlord comes by, knocks on the door, and says very very creepily three deaths will occur. Because the doll is missing. She basically told them at the beginning that they couldn’t lose the doll because death would occur. And then…so then, and the landlord knew that my great-grandma put it on top of the fridge. And she checked to see that it wasn’t there and that’s why she told us that three deaths would occur. My grandma did not believe the landlord, and she was trying to be protective because her younger siblings were really scared, so then the landlord left. The next morning everyone woke up and my great-grandma was back, but then they were told everyone had to leave the building for some reason, and like everyone was being evacuated and no one knew why. The police was there. They were all standing out in the middle of the street, and they saw that there were three body bags in the middle of the street. The police told them that the people next door had been killed last night. The wife, husband and dog who lived in the apartment next to them had gone to get groceries from the store beneath the apartments, and there was an armed robbery. The robber shot the wife, husband and dog. And ever since then, my grandma has always believed in ghost stories and she gave my family a plant that is supposed to fend off ghosts.
Background information: Sarah is my best friend from home, Manhattan Beach. She knows this piece because her grandma has told it to her a few times and that is the reason Sarah has a demon/ghost-protecting plant in her own house from her grandma because her grandma is now very superstitious about ghosts ever since this happened to her. Sarah really likes this piece because it happened to someone who is very close to her, and although it sounds like something out of a movie—three deaths predicted solely because of this doll—it really happened to her and is pretty freaky, not something she can forget easily, especially since it happened to her grandma. Her grandma is from Puerto Rico, and to Sarah, as she mentioned above, she believes it may just be her grandma’s exaggerations, but she still remembers the story very clearly. The story was collected via FaceTime because Sarah goes to college at Middlebury in Vermont.
“If go swimming after you eat, you’ll drown.”
The informant doesn’t remember where he heard this rumor, but he thinks it was probably from a friend’s mother during his childhood. He doesn’t think it’s true now, though. In my opinion, I think this is a popular statement told to children by their parents so that they let their food digest before they get back in the water to swim. Another popular belief is that you’ll get cramps if you swim right after eating, so maybe the parents who say this more extreme belief are just trying to protect their children from painful cramps.
The ritual: “My high school’s cross-country team…our sectionals which was like the last meet of the year, cause we always lose sectionals…it’s always at the same place, it’s at this elementary school in Noblesville. And we would go there and there’s like this random path into the woods, and all the guys on the team would go there together, and we would take one lollipop and everyone had to kiss the lollipop and it was super weird.”
The informant carried out this ritual for his high school cross-country team. He said that one guy on the team never did it because he thought it was too weird, probably because he thought it was too close to kissing other guys. This ritual was probably more ironic than for good luck, since the informant himself said that the team lost sectionals every year. Going in knowing that they’ll lose, the ritual for “good luck” was probably just a parody, since the ritual itself is kind of weird to begin with.
The superstition: “If you step on a book or piece of paper, then you have to touch it to your forehead because otherwise it’s disrespectful. It’s because books are like instruments of learning which is next to God and practically sacred so to put it to your feet shows disrespect so you put it to your forehead, which is a sign of respect, to counteract that.”
The informant is Indian American. Her parents are both from India, but she was born in California. She’s not very religious, but she considers herself culturally Indian. She grew up hearing this superstition from her parents, so she has always followed it.The gesture of putting to your forehead to negate it seems similar to another Indian superstition, that people can’t step over you, and they have to reverse their step to negate it. Although the informant isn’t religious, she still follows this religious superstition, since she is still rooted in Indian culture. I imagine education is very important in India and in Hinduism, since learning instruments can be likened to God, and sacred. Both of the informant’s parents are doctors, and she herself is studying engineering and computer science, does a lot of research, and tutors children; so I think it’s fair to say that she takes education very seriously herself. This may also be another reason she follows this superstition.
Informant: I spent the first five years of my life in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Venezuela, and we were—you know, fortunate enough to have some of the locals provide my mom with household help. Our housekeeper, she sort of functioned as my babysitter, and in order to keep me in line, she’d tell me about “El Mono.” El Mono, in the stories she told me, was this monkey who lived on the rooftops of houses where children lived, and if you misbehaved as a child—so the legend went—El Mono would come into your house in the middle of the night and steal you away. Our housekeeper clearly never shared this with my mother, so she didn’t know about the stories until one night I woke up in screaming about “El Mono” after a horrible nightmare. So, after firing the housekeeper—my mother was distraught over how upset the story made me, so she shared the story with her sister, who then took it upon herself to draw these beautiful pictures for me of “El Mono” every week, which she would mail to me from the US along with letters in Spanish from El Mono to me, telling me what a good girl I was, how proud he was of me, and how much he loved and cared for me. So, needless to say, I never had nightmares about El Mono again. And to this day, I still have my aunt’s drawings and letters.
The informant (my mom) was born in Texas but spent most of her childhood travelling from country to country, specifically in South America and regions of southeast Asia, due to her father’s work as a banker. Her first language was Spanish, and today she is fluent in both Spanish and English.
El Mono’s purpose as a legend seems quite obvious, especially given the context the informant shared with me; parents and guardians can use tales about the monster to scare children into behaving. When I began researching El Mono to see if the creature was widespread in Latin America, I found a very legend that seems more common. “El Cuco,” derived from a Portuguese monster with a pumpkin for a head, is a “dark, shapeless monster” (Bastidas) who kidnaps and consumes children who aren’t obedient. I think it’s safe to say that El Mono is a variation of El Cuco.
Citation: Bastidas, Grace. “Scary Latino Myths: Read This or El Cuco Will Get You.”Latina 26 Oct. 2011: n. pag. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.
Informant: In Barbados, all the women wear hats—the black women—because they think that if their hair gets wet, it will turn into snakes. Yes, so they always wear hats—it’s the funniest thing! They aren’t, you know, uh, fashionable, they’ll just wear anything they can plop on their heads. They don’t learn to swim either—which is horrible, really; it’s such an important thing to know, living on an island. Oh! They also don’t like to be out after dark.
The informant (my grandmother) was born and raised in Texas. She spent many years moving from place to place across the world with her husband, a banker, before settling in Connecticut long enough to work as an English teacher at the Greenwich Country Day School. She currently lives in San Francisco, CA.
It is important to note that the informant is a wealthy white American woman who had no prior knowledge of Barbadian culture or customs before she lived on the island for a few years. She does not remember exactly who told her about this belief, but she maintains that it was “common knowledge” in Barbados. The belief that wet hair will turn to snakes is not documented online, but it’s existence may be plausible. Snakes are not common in Barbados, but the island is home to the Barbados thread snake—the smallest known species of snake (circa 2008). Sightings of this small, typically dark snake (which is spaghetti-thin) may have led a woman to believe that a piece of her hair had transformed into a snake.
Citation: Dunham, Will. “World’s Smallest Snake Is as Thin as Spaghetti.” Reuters UK. N.p., 03 Aug. 2008. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.
The informant’s family comes from the Bahamas. She was born in the Bahamas and is a talented Bahamian woman. Her mother and she were extremely close and she learned a lot of the folklore that she shared with me from either her mother or from being with her mother. Eventually her family moved to Florida where they learned American cultures and were able to compare and contrast the two.
…is performed if a woman is pregnant at her baby shower. A ring is paced on a string and she holds one end of the string in one hand and the other end of the string in the other and pulls the string so that the ring will move. If the ring swings back and forward the baby is predicted to be a boy, and if the ring stays in the middle of the string the baby is predicted to be a girl.
The informant born in the Bahamas and raised in Florida, learned this custom as a young girl. Her mom would take her to baby showers of her mother’s friends. “It was so exciting” the informant said, “to go and experience the pregnant ladies as they would celebrate the new life they were creating”. At these baby showers, very similar to the ones we in American are use to, they perform different customs or rituals to either predict the baby’s gender, when it will be born, and just as a well to celebrate the almost to be mother and the new life she would carry inside of her. To explain it to me (a Wyoming resident with no exotic traditional background) the informant said, “You know like the old wives tales? That is kind of what this is. I know you’ve heard of the saying If the belly is high the baby is a girl and if the belly is low the baby will be a boy, it is really similar to that I guess. My culture just does it [the string and ring custom] for fun, but we actually believe in it [its results]“.
When asked how this tradition started, the informant replied, “I’m not sure, I’ve never asked where they got it from, I just remember it being performed at almost every Bahamian women’s baby showers I’ve went to. I am sure the ones where it wasn’t performed, probably the woman pregnant wanted the gender [of the baby] to be a surprise”. If mothers don’t perform this when they want the gender of their baby to be a surprise, I suspect that usually the custom has correct answers which is really neat.
I think that this custom, ritual, or tradition is sort of similar to the “belief” that Americans have about pregnancy from old wives tales. I was extremely happy when the informant connected her custom to a belief that I was familiar with to help me understand why they do it. Similar to here, I think that the custom is sort of for fun, but when it boils down to it, whatever the results of either how a person is carrying their child or what the string and ring test shows, is a legitimate prediction of the gender of their child until it is born and they are able to learn the truth.
About the Interviewed: Jakob is a senior at Calabasas High School. His family is half Isreali-Jewish, and half French-Canadian. He’s about 18 years old.
My subject, Jakob, told me about a superstition that was passed down in his family.
Jakob: “My family believes that the different sides of the pillow you sleep on determine your luck. It’s like, a really old superstition that my grandma passed down onto my mom.”
I ask him if he personally believes in it.
Jakob: “Not really, but my brothers do. My mom believes that our family can’t sleep on the left side of a pillow because it brings bad luck. It only works if you intentionally try to sleep that way. If it’s by accident the universe doesn’t care. (laughs) If you sleep on the right side of a pillow, it’s good luck. If you keep doing it, good things happen. I used to think my mom wasn’t that into, but I remember this one time that she woke up on the wrong side of the pillow, and she was furious.”
I ask him which side of his family does he think that the belief came from?
Jakob: “Well my mom is from Israel, so she might get it from there. Other than that, I don’t know. I think personally that it’s like a placebo thing, like if you think about something happening really hard, and then it happens. That’s what I think it’s like.”
My friend Jakob reported that the members of his innermost family share a folk belief pertaining the sides of the pillow you sleep on at night. Sleeping on the left brings bad luck, sleeping on the right brings good.
One thing that’s unique about this story is that it’s reflective of the old wives tales that were so prominent a long time ago. Beliefs about luck, ideas that seeing a black cat or walking under a ladder would be detrimental to your future well-being, show that superstition and belief are still prominent in some cultures.
In Indian weddings in general, Henna is very very important. And it is said that the darker it is, the more your husband loves you.
This belief, while known to be a mere superstition, is still venerated and guarded as paramount to the success of a marriage. So much so, that there are articles and tips in Indian wedding magazines and blogs as to how to obtain a darker stained Mehndi. Some brides, Mayuri mentioned, go so far as to bleach the skin around their upper and nether limbs in order to have the henna stand out more from their skin and appear darker.