USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Burma’
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
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Never Eat Bananas Before Bed: Folk Medicine

Context: I met with the student in his dorm room at around noon. A few students were milling around the room, waiting until their afternoon classes began. I started to chat with the group, all of which are freshman at USC, and I realized it would be the perfect context to record. I began by asking the informant about “Punch Buggy,” a popular childhood game to play in the car. Next, I asked the informant if his parents had ever shared some strange medical advice with him during his childhood. He replied with, “Never eat bananas before bed.” Somewhat confused, I asked him to elaborate and recorded his response.

Transcription:

WD: What did your parents used to tell you about eating bananas before bed?

SN: They told me to never eat bananas before bed ‘cuz you’ll wake up with a cough. Now, because of that, I won’t eat bananas before I go to sleep.

WD: Hunh, interesting. Where are your parents from again?

SN: My dad is from Burma and my mom is from Madagascar.

WD: So they won’t eat them before going to bed either, I bet?

SN: Yeah, they never do, so now I don’t either I guess.

Informant: The informant is a 19 year old male student at the University of Southern California. He was raised in Santa Monica, California, and his father is Burmese and his mother is Madagascan. The informant attended Santa Monica High School before arriving to USC. His parents informed him of the folk medicine, and he chooses to not eat bananas before going to sleep as a result.

Analysis: This piece of folk medicine could be derived from either of the informant’s parents, but is most likely tied to his mother. The Madagascan people were some of the first to ever cultivate bananas, however, they are contemporarily considered inedible, due to their high amount of seeds. It is possible that, since the bananas were so tough to eat, that swallowing the seeds before sleeping could cause a sore throat, in turn leading to a cough in the morning. However, this has no scientific evidence. While, it’s true that congestion can be worsened by bananas for some people, the body is also more prone to infection at night. Since the body takes roughly 2-3 hours to digest a banana, one’s immune system is weakened further by eating a banana before sleeping. Yet, at the same time, bananas are quite useful in protecting and strengthening one’s immune system. Possibly, the cough had been developing slowly, and sleeping worsened the preexisting affliction. It seems that, although  there is no guarantee of whether or not this particular piece of folk medicine is accurate, bananas could be a cause for a morning cough.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Hungry Ghost (Preta) in Burma

My room mate, ThawZin, is from Burma. He is a Buddhist, and is very religious. This is the story he told me from his country.

 

ThawZin: “First, some background info! In Buddhism we have different classes for spirituality. There are the demigods at the top, followed by humans, animals, hungry ghosts, then devils. Hungry ghosts are what we call ‘preta’ (pronounced pale-tar). Pretas are people, who, when they were alive, were greedy and malicious. Their death is usually caused by a greedy act they brought upon themselves. You know… pretas are actually pitied by humans, because they have to face suffering, but they deserve it. It’s karma. They are invisible, but they can scare mortals. They like eating the gooey shit coming from meat and other things, haha! That is why, every time I go to the market with my mom, we always have to spit on the floor, so that they won’t follow us. Their appearance: they have big bellies, and small heads. The big bellies symbolize how greedy they are, you know… They want so much, but the little head, little face, little mouth, symbolize that they can’t get anything, can’t get shit, you know? Haha!

 

Anyway so the story… my mother told me this before. In Burma there’s this guy. He was fucking greedy during his life time. One day he was really hungry. He loved eating intestines, so he went to his wife and said, ‘Where the fuck is my food?!” But the wife didn’t have anything prepared. He was so angry, so he went to the barn and, you know, he cut the tongues of the cows there while they were still alive! I mean the cows were still alive, and he just cut them, and so they were bleeding and shit. The cows were like… mooing the whole night, haha!  And they died a slow, painful death. He went to his wife, threw the cow tongues down at the table and told her to cook them for him. So the wife did. As he was eating the cow tongues, suddenly his own tongue started to dissolve. You know, it dissolved all the way to his insides. But karma did not kill him yet, it made him suffer. The cow tongue just dissolved his insides for days, until he died. He died just like the cows… a slow, painful death. When he died, that is when he became a preta. Well, he was reborn as a preta.”

 

Me: “Where in Burma was this? I mean, is there a specific place where he haunts?”

 

ThawZin: “Oh yes! It is in the old first kingdom of Burma, in Bagan.

 

Me: “Do people avoid that place?”

 

ThawZin: “Oh not at all! Actually you know, when he died, his preta was located under the ground. And then one day farmers in Bagan found that one part of… you know, the ground, started becoming fleshy. And that’s when they figured out that there was a preta there. They don’t avoid it. They constantly plow over the land, again and again. The greedy guy has to suffer again and again, getting plowed, but they can’t do anything about him. It’s karma, man. He deserves what came to him, and he has to stay there until he has repaid his debt, his bad karma.”

 

ThawZin’s story shows a lot about the Burmese culture, especially about the strength of the people’s belief in Buddhism. For one, the whole idea of a preta ghost is based on Buddhist beliefs in spiritual hierarchy and rebirth. As well, he says that even though people pity these pretas, when the farmers found out that there was a preta under the ground, they still plowed over him, again and again, even if it made the preta suffer, because they believed in the Buddhist concept of karma: that people deserve what is coming to them, good or bad. In many ways, his story also comes as a story of morality, particularly for the idea that greed and blind rage are unwanted negatives that will get you in trouble, and will follow you even after you die, in your rebirth, or the afterlife.

 

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