Background: Y.G.M. is a 49-year-old Filipino woman who works at Nye Partners in Women’s Health as the office manager. She was born and raised in Quezon City in the Philippines, and lived there until she was 25 years old. Y.G.M. self-identifies as Filipino, and as a result of her upbringing, Filipino culture is very engrained into her personal beliefs. She attended college at Mirian College, and received a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts. Y.G.M. then immigrated to Chicago, Illinois with her family in 1997, and got her first job working at Citibank in River Forest, Illinois. She now lives with her husband in a suburb of Chicago.
Y.G.M.: So Filipinos also have superstitious beliefs like um a person called Hilot [hee-loht] which is an expert woman who can deliver um deliver a mother in labor so they are supposed to have supernatural powers to just deliver a woman without any problems and they are blessed you know to be in to help women in labor without any problems – kinda like midwives. So it’s like they have supernatural powers to do that instead of taking women to the hospital.
Q: How are the Hilots chosen?
Y.G.M.: They say, like “oh I have that special gift from above to perform such a miracle,” like a special gift from God.
Q: Is it from a specific God or just all the gods?
Y.G.M.: All the gods. And up to this moment, they still believe in that.
Q: So they just self-proclaim themselves as Hilots?
Y.G.M.: Yes yes – uh huh.
Performance Context: Hilots would be used to help women during childbirth in the Philippines.
My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how the Filipinos relate childbirth to a religious and magical process with the use of Hilots’ god-given powers to help women in labor. Instead of using “medicine” in the general sense to help with childbirth, this practice shows that Filipino culture believes more in religion and magic to assist with everyday life.
Background: E.N. is a 58-year-old obstetrician gynecologist who was born in Boston, Massachusetts to two attorney parents. She stumbled upon medicine in college as a psychology major when she took a biology class and became aware that she had an affinity for science. E.N. currently practices full time in the Chicagoland area delivering babies and performing gynecological surgery.
Main piece: So when I deliver a baby and we get towards the end of the labor and she’s about to deliver, sometimes I will have to think about assisting the patient with delivery with an instrument called a vacuum. So if the fetal heart tones are down or the mom can’t push or is running out of steam or something like that, I will take the vacuum out and put it on the side of the delivery table and I will say out loud “I’m putting this here to ward off evil spirits.” Which I suppose is kind of silly but we’re also superstitious that if we feel we can take this out and put it on the side and the patient actually won’t ever need it but we have it just in case she does need it.
Q: Do you say this phrase out loud?
E.N.: Yes – absolutely. Out loud so EVERYONE in the room can hear it.
Performance Context: E.N. would do this when she feels that there is a possible chance that she would have to use the vacuum to help with the delivery of the baby.
My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how medicine and superstitions tie into each other, though in the western world and in western medicine, superstitions are frowned upon as they are not always based in actual fact. Though medicine is not typically based on luck or on the speaking of certain things, I think it is curious that superstition and what you say is believed to help in some western medical scenarios, even by the doctors thoroughly trained in western medicine.
“Okay, so, umm, the guy who created the pill, um, invented it in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. And there, the first factory where, um, they started, like, getting manufactured or whatever is in Shrewsbury. Umm, and now it’s like a thing, I guess, where you like take your significant other on a date to the factory where the pill was first made. So, that’s a thing people do in Shrewsbury. Or, like, not my generation but like, people who are, like, slightly older, that’s what they do.”
It’s an interesting and funny story. You can understand the connection between dates and the pill factory, I guess? It seems odd, but the way I see it, dates lead to love which lead to sex which leads to a need for the pill. Perhaps whoever first started this trend was hoping to have a happy, birth-free relationship. It’s cutely ironic and sounds like something that was meant to be a joke, but perhaps became mainstream after one couple did it.
What’s also interesting, though, is what the source says about this not being part of her generation. It’s something that occurred among an older generation and then died before her generation go to following in their footsteps. Perhaps it’s because the factory was still in use during this older generation’s childhood. They may have seen and known of the factory, probably even heard about it once a week, what with what they were manufacturing. So when it shut down, it was more relevant for that generation to sneak in and see what was going on and, eventually, start going on dates there.
The source’s generation, however, would’ve grown up never knowing about the factory. Had they not researched it or heard about it, they might never have known what was made there. If they don’t know what the factory was for, then it loses the attraction as being a “hot date” spot. The irony and comedy of it is lost.
My informant is the mother of a USC student. She is an immigrant from Cameroon and came to America with her husband and son before giving birth to their daughter.
“A pregnant woman would, should…at all cost avoid seeing what she would consider as ugly until the gives birth. The fear, is that uh, her baby will become ugly if she does. It is also believed that if she eats a cobra before giving birth that it will speed the delivery of the baby. Again, this—cobra—is a delicacy usually reserved for only, for only the men. If you have not realized it yet, my people in every way see women as less than equal to men. A good woman is supposed to be behind her husband. He must have the last word, she must sleep behind him, she must please him at all cost. This is of course…changing with the access to higher education and influence of western culture. Divorce rates are soaring and more women are opting to marry later, not get married, and not have children…husbands are even blamed when their wives are troublesome because they cannot control her!”
Analysis: This belief illuminates the importance of beauty within Cameroonian culture. Especially in the case of the birth being a girl, it would be desired for her to be beautiful so she could marry a wealthy and handsome husband. In addition, the allowance of women to consume cobra during pregnancy demonstrates that women who are bearing children are considered of a higher status than women who are not, because they are allowed to eat foods that are typically reserved only for men (who are looked at with more respect within Cameroonian society). My informant made a point of reiterating that men in their society are more highly valued than women, however also made note that within the western world these beliefs have lost value due to women in the United States being able to attend school and support themselves without a husband. Of course there are communities and families who still adhere strictly to these beliefs even though they live in a western nation such as America.
In Korea, a child’s first birthday is called 돌 (Dol), and is celebrated extravagantly with many guests and festivities. From what I learned from my parents and upperclassmen, this celebration dates back to much older times. The reason that the first birthday is so celebrated is because during the time period, babies did not often live long enough to become one year old meaning that when they did survive, it was almost a miracle. This tradition continued on, celebrated by each family for each of their children. Back when I lived in Korea, I went to my younger cousin’s 1st birthday. Almost the entire family was there, along with friends, neighbors, and loved ones. My cousin was wearing traditional Korean clothes, which is known as a hanbok. The thing I remember most is actually one of the key traditions: the fortune-telling ritual. It is the most memorable part of the celebration, when many items including money, yarn of string, rice cake, books, noodles, etc are laid out in front of the child. The adults urged the child to pick up an object out of the many objects displayed before him. The reason for this was that when the child picks up an object, it is an indicator of what kind of person the child would be when he grew up. Indeed, each item was symbolic for a particular future. For instance, the yarn of string symbolizes longevity while the rice cakes symbolize good fortune and strength. Picking up a pen or book would indicate the child would become a scholar, while picking up money means that the child will become wealthy. Everybody eagerly waited for my baby cousin to choose and cheered when he finally picked something up. After this, the guests went up to play with the baby. They gave gifts to the parents to congratulate them and were very much jubilant and cheerful. The food, too, was very traditional. In front of the baby was set a mountain of rainbow colored rice cakes. This was meant to symbolize prosperity and good fortune for the baby. In addition, there were fruits and seaweed soup as well. Seaweed soup is actually a symbol for birthdays and is traditionally eaten every birthday starting with Dol. It was truly not a quiet, reserved party. Everybody was talking, enjoying themselves, and having fun with the baby or talking to the parents about how much they wished good fortune for the baby’s future. Shortly after, the guests began to leave after having blessed the family and given them gifts to commemorate the special day. This day was ultimately very important to me because in my eyes, these events were a time when many relatives, even very distant relatives, would come together. Regardless of where they were or how much had changed, they decided to come together to celebrate the healthy child and to have time to catch up on each others’ lives. If anything, it also was a symbol of how much the parents treasure their beloved child and the hopes that they have for the child they are raising.
Informant: “At least in the old times, you are having a baby- I mean you had a baby, right? And before the baby is baptized in that period like, nobody is supposed to see that baby because you know like, evil people or evil spirits can kind of be attached and stay with the kid forever. So, like usually if you have the baby on the stroller it would be covered with something. Or just only parents and relatives would be able to look at the baby or play with the baby. But after the baby is baptized it means that the baby is protected.”
I have heard of this superstition before in a pervious class where I researched Russian folklore, though I thought it was interesting that my informant explained that the tradition of covering the baby before it’s baptism is no longer done. The reason why this tradition is no longer done in Russia, except in highly religious families, probably has something to do with the fact that the Soviet Union discouraged the practice of all religions, not just Christianity. The Soviet Union policy on religion comes from Marxism-Leninism ideology which pushes the idea that religion is idealist and bourgeois, which lead the Soviet Union to adopt atheism as the national doctrine of the USSR.
The ritual of not showing the newborn baby to anyone before the baptism to protect the child from evil spirits is also an interesting idea. This is because this shows a blending of Christian and pagan beliefs, which is also known as ‘double belief’. The Christianization of Russia occurred during the mid 10th century, and instead of replacing the Slavic pagan beliefs, the Russian peasants saw this new religion as something to add on to their old religion. Russian superstitions today still feature customs and beliefs that are a mix of the Christian and Slavic pagan beliefs, which can be seen the the Russian baptism ritual.
My informant was born in 1977, Moscow, Soviet Union (now Russia). On completing her undergraduate education in Moscow, she moved to California to earn her graduate degree in theatrical design from Cal State Long Beach. She now works as a faculty member for the USC School for Dramatic Arts. She became a US citizen in 2012.