USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘birth’
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Seaweed Soup on Birthdays -A Korean Tradition

Main Text:

HK: “On somebody’s birthday it is tradition to have seaweed soup”

Collector: “Can it be any kind of seaweed soup?”

HK: “I don’t think it really matters, but there are a lot of traditional recipes for seaweed soup out there”

Context: 

HK moved to the Unites States from South Korea when she was in kindergarten. After being raised in different parts of Asia an coming to the United States HK has acquired many traditions, customs and folk beliefs that have been passed down from her family. The ritualistic act of eating seaweed soup at someone’s birthday is just one example of a ritual that HK told me during my collection helps to keep her culture alive. She said that at least for her family specifically, having rituals and customs like these allow for people living in the Unites States to still connect with their family and homeland in Korea. This connection that HK feels to her culture and family is one reason that she says that she will continue to educate and pass down this seaweed-eating ritual. Another reason that she says that she remembers such a ritual is that it has happened on every one of her birthday’s so that if she evert had a birthday without it, it would not actually feel like a special moment anymore to her.

Analysis:

According to HK when asked why the meal of choice for a birthday is seaweed soup she said that it is related to another ritualistic act what they give to the mother after giving birth because it helps to nourish the body. One obvious interpretation of why it is a Korean tradition to eat seaweed soup at the birth of a child and at a child’s birthday party is the nutritional value of seaweed. Seaweed has high quantities of calcium, magnesium, iron and other important nutrients.  It makes sense for a mother to eat this after brith for this reason because magnesium and iron will aid in a quick recovery of the energy and bloodlust that naturally occurs at birth. The second reason for why this tradition may have occurred in the first place and is still being passed down is the accessibility to seaweed. Most of Korea is bordered by Ocean where seaweed is highly accessible. This accessibility could lead one to believe that seaweed has been eaten as this tradition for centuries because it is cheap and easily accessible to even the common folk. This ease in retrieving and eating the seaweed has led to South Korea pressing about 90 percent of the country’s seaweed crop and to cultivate it they just let it grow on ropes that float near the surface of the water by tethered boeys.

To summarize, in addition to the explanation that HK provided of feeling close to one’s family and culture, there are two other explanations that help understand the reasons that it is traditional to eat seaweed at birth and on somebody’s birthday: The first reason is its obvious nutrient values that help growth and recovery of one’s body and the second reason its Korea’s ease in accessing such a food and its large farming industry that has been built around this access.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Watermelon Seeds Make You Pregnant

Text:

Informant (C): Remember at Walton’s when we used to have watermelon and I refused to eat it and said I was allergic?

Collector (J): Yeah

C: I was never actually allergic and I actually really liked watermelon, but when I was at school some other dumbass kid told me that people got pregnant from eating watermelon seeds so I was crazy paranoid about like, being a child mother, and so I just avoided it like the plague because I didn’t want a kid.

J: Really?

C: Yeah, because, like, my mom was pregnant like my sister and the kid said “oh she probably ate watermelon” and I was like “what?” and they were like “well, like, she has a watermelon in her tummy” or whatever and my dumbass just fell for it. I thought that, like, if you swallowed the seed, you would grow a watermelon in your stomach and then the baby would form in the watermelon. Like now I know that’s ridiculous, but like it was believable as a kid because I didn’t know about sex. I guess that kid’s parents or someone told them that because they didn’t want to explain the whole “your mom and dad had sex” thing. But yeah, after I learned about sex I started eating watermelon again.

Context: C and J met at a summer camp (Walton’s). At the end of each camp session, there was a camp-wide barbeque where watermelon was served.

Analysis: Like the informant said, this belief likely started as a way to wholesomely tell kids how their mothers got pregnant. Instead of explaining puberty and sex, the narrative of having a woman swallow a watermelon seed is easier to explain to a child. It also makes physical sense, because a pregnancy belly does approximate the size of a small watermelon. The inside flesh of the watermelon also arguably could resemble human flesh, which is why it is so believable that a baby can be formed in it. There is also something to be said about the association of fruits and fertility, with the human and plant lifecycle often being associated with each other. The cyclical nature of life as both human and watermelon allow a further association to be made with the human gestation period. Overall, the idea that pregnant women are carrying watermelons and are pregnant because of watermelon seeds isn’t that far-fetched from the eyes of a child who has no knowledge of sex.

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.

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.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Homeopathic
Material
Protection

Naciemento de JesusChristo

During Christmas time, the whole family gets together right before eating dinner. In this family ceremony, everybody gets a Jesus looking treat, usually something the mom of the family makes, and everybody then kisses Jesus on the forehead and then eats the head. It’s to symbolize Jesus and the Holy Spirit being in you. This always happens between the hours of 2am-3am after Christmas Eve. The time is important, because that is the time in which it connects to the “witch hour” where Evil is supposedly the strongest.

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Eloisa is a Michoacan born lady who has lived in Arkansas since she has been a little girl. She used to be really religious, but after being opened up to human rights, and mostly women rights, she has taken a step back and tried to analyze everything to decide on what she can really identify as part of her.

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy

The Golden Dragon

Interviewer: What is being performed?

Informant: Folk belief by Crystal Soojung Choi

When a Korean mother becomes pregnant with a son, she has a dream that a golden dragon appears to her.

 

Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

Informant: My dad told me this story because my grandmother (his mom) had that dream when she was pregnant with my dad. I really like this story because of the mystical qualities surrounding it.

 

Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?

 

Informant: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but my dad was born and raised in the Boseon area of South Korea.

 

Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

 

Informant: It’s a dream that Korean mothers have when pregnant with a son so I suppose it is prevalent in Korean families.

 

Interviewer:  Where did you first hear the story?

 

Informant: From my father before I went to sleep one night.

 

Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?

 

Informant: It could be part of the values of royal families in older generations that a son was desired for offspring and thus, they were welcomed as a precious treasure before and after birth.

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: With the appearance of the golden dragon, it could show how precious a child is in a family and that they are treasured and loved.

 

Context of the performance- conversation with a classmate

 

Thoughts about the piece- Other portents of sons include dreaming of cows, tigers, snakes and pigs but dragons are the luckiest. Daughters are symbolized in dreams by flowers, jewelry and other delicate objects. More Korean dream interpretation here: koreancultureblog.com/2015/03/17/try-the-korean-way-of-dream-interpretation/

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Magic

Hilots in Filipino Culture

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.

 

Main piece:

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.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Delivering a Baby Using a Vacuum

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.

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