USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘curse’
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Cursed Rock

The informant, T, is 19 years old. He was born and raised on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. His parents were also born and raised on Oahu. His grandparents on his mom’s side came from Japan and from his dad’s side were raised on Oahu. He is majoring as an Industrial and Systems Engineer. He considers himself American and is full Japanese.

T-“ Pele is the goddess of volcanoes so like currently the big island, which is the furthest right island in the Hawaii chain, is like active like a volcano erupting and it is said that Pele lives there so you can’t take lava rocks from the big island or its said that Pele will curse you or something”

Is it only from the big island? Can you take it from the other islands?

T-“Well you’re not supposed to take it from the others, but it is well known you’re not supposed to take it from the big island. That one I think everyone knows that”

Did you hear this since you were little?

T-“Yea since I was little”

Do you know if there are any laws behind it?

T-“I don’t think there is any laws but there’s like Hawaiian laws which like you can’t enforce them”

Do share this story?

T-“Yea. This is one of the ones that I mainly tell other people when we’re talking or having in depth conversations about my culture”

Analysis- While there are no official laws, the story of the curse could be a way of the natives to protect their land. By scaring tourists into believing in the curse, they can ensure that the land will not be disturbed and/or damaged. The fact that most, if not all, of the people know it and tell it can be seen as possible proof of this. Since the locals do not have the power to enforce this law, the curse story could have been made up. Overtime, however, it appears that the legend has been canonized and is becoming more known and accepted by the people to be true.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Myths
Narrative

Duende’s Curse

Informant (J.B.) is a 19 year old Los Angeles native. J.B.’s mother is an immigrant from Thailand, and his father is an immigrant from Guatemala. J.B. speaks English, Thai, Korean, Japanese, some Spanish. J.B. and I grew up in the same neighborhood, with mutual friends. One afternoon while overhearing another collection I was conducting, J.B. offered to share a story about his late uncle.

J.B.: “My dad, when he was 8 years old, he was living in Guatemala, and his older brother was about 16. He had this job as a dude who delivers to the construction workers up in the mountains. There’s a folk story that in the forest there were spirits that would ask you to bring them a child as a sacrifice to eat, and they’ll reward you with fame, money, and whatever. If you decline than you’ll die or get sickness, your life is screwed over somewhere. My dad’s brother was walking one day, at night, to do a delivery, and a tree was talking to him, and he thought he was tripping out. And the tree asked him to bring a child and he said no. And the tree said I’ll give you a chance, if you don’t bring it in a week you’re going to get sick and die. So obviously he didn’t go back, and in a week he actually did get really sick, like on the verge of death. They had doctors there, and I don’t know exactly what it was, but he had an illness that couldn’t be cured for the rest of his life. He lived out the rest of his life pretty normal, but would have episodes from his sickness. A few years ago he died from one of the episodes from that sickness. I don’t know what he had, I’m trying to remember but I have no idea.”

Upon conducting further research, I discovered a mythological creature, present mostly in Latin American culture, called the ‘duende.’ Europe’s goblins, fairies, and leprechauns all fit into the same category as the duendes of Latin America and the Philippines. While the duende has many different oikotypes throughout the Latin world, they are broadly defined as magical sprites known to cause mischief, especially in areas surrounding forests. I am not acquainted with J.B’s family, however J.B. was happy to share a piece of their heritage with me this afternoon. As J.B. lost an immediate family member to an unknown illness, his father’s account of the duende’s curse carries sentimental value to J.B., and will forever be entwined with the folklore of his father’s distant homeland.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Protection

The Devil’s Curse in Guam

Original Script: “Okay so this is crazy…but basically my friends dad is in the marines, and he is usually based in Guam or San Diego like at the Marine base. So, she was born in San Diego and lived their the majority of her life, when her dad would be deported she would stay with her grandparents. Anyway, while in Guam, her dad would go to bars with his friends when they had some time off… Well one night they were bored…or something, so they all went to someone’s house and there was a Ouija board and they started playing with it. And they were all drunk too so that made it worse. So, they asked a couple of questions and actually did work, so they got freaked out and wanted to get rid of it and they ended up throwing it away. But the friend had gotten the board from someone that lived there. Like the Island is still an old world nation so they still have a lot of old cultural things and they believe in demons attaching themselves to a living person. A couple days later he found it under his bed and thought, ‘who the hell is playing tricks on me it must of been one of my friends or whatever.’ So he went to throw it in a dumpster far away from where he lived because it still freaked him out a little bit and so nobody could find it and put it under his bead again. However, a couple of days later he found it under his AGAIN, and he was like, “No this is bullshit,” so he burned the Ouija board because he didn’t want to mess with it anymore. A couple days later, he found it under the bed, AGAIN. It literally unburned, like how the hell does that happen? And he got so freaked out he went to priest, the priest had to keep in the church because the Ouija board was possessed and had to close the portal that created the bridge between the spirit world and the living—so spirits and demons couldn’t come into where they were living. The priest had to go to all of the people who participated in the Ouija board and had to bless where they were all living. However, I don’t know if it worked because at her house she was possessed, like I’m not friends with her anymore because she acted that way…like her family is haunted, cursed! I would never mess with a Ouija board, that stuff brings in bad shit.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Kamilah and her mother have always been spiritual people. The belief in witches, demons, and angels is strong to Kamilah’s mother however, it is even more so in her home country—Nicaragua. Kamilah has always believed that spirits and demons haunt Ouija board and had repeated multiple times that she would never participate in the practice of the Ouija board in fear of letting a devil haunt her and her family.

Context of the Performance: Ouija board usage in Guam

Thoughts about the piece: As a firm believer in never using a Ouija board, I have to say this story chilled me to the core. The legend of the demons in Guam is an interesting one. In this account of a Ouija board, the unexplainable—like the board ending up under the father’s bed and the board being mysteriously unburned—becomes prominent. This legend shows the prominent cultural influence of Guam and their old-world mindset. It also shows their belief in the demons and spirits not only attaching themselves to a Ouija board but also these entities attaching themselves to the living.

However, what fascinated me the most was the extent of the curse of the Ouija board. This curse of the girl’s father, travelled over seas to San Diego, where inevitably the whole family ended up being affected. Even though Kamilah was not a first account of the story happening in Guam, she was the first account of how the curse had affected the entire family, to the extend where it terrified her so badly that she had to cut ties with them. I believe this example of the legend of the Ouija board is relative to not only the Guam culture, but also the American culture. Even though, the people of Guam were terrified of the Ouija board, for example the priest having to lock it up in the church so that he could seal it properly, it also shows how an American, Kamilah, even I, were chilled by the story of the board. Perhaps, it is because of the unknown that scares us, but the aftermath experienced by Kamilah was what led her to believe that the family was cursed. Nevertheless, I do wonder who gave the father’s friend the board, for if the people of Guam were so afraid of them, was it considered an act of revenge to give the board to someone else? Nonetheless, this story demonstrates how legends can transcend upon different cultures, affecting them the same way—instilling a feeling so powerful that it influences people—in this case the feeling was fear.

Humor
Magic
Narrative
Signs

Lesson from the Spirits

Uncle Albert was insensitive. I had just gotten a real Tag Heuer. We had just gotten there and I lost my watch. And I asked him if he had seen my watch and he did not know. This was in Phuket resort island. And so I was rooming with my brother, and your mom and dad were rooming together. This was our vacation, our return to Thailand, seventeen years since we left Thailand to move to Los Angeles. We vacationed in Phuket. And I was enjoying this day very much… my brother Albert was my roommate, and at this time Albert was 15 years old. He was very insensitive about the fact that I had misplaced my watch. As I prepared myself for a morning jog, I was searching for my watch, my expensive Tag Heuer watch which I purchased recently. I couldn’t find it, I kind of just nudged Albert who was asleep at the time and asked if he had seen the watch and if he could help me look for it. And I went outside running anyways for my morning exercise ritual. As I was enjoying my jog along the beach I was still a little bit upset about my missing watch. And how insensitive my brother was. Let’s see. As I ran past the spirit house in the hotel I just had a thought that maybe my brother should be taught a lesson of humility, empathy, and sensitivity. And then I continued on with my jog, returned to my hotel room and found my brother Albert startled because he had just had a horrible experience. He had pressing of his chest and he could not move. He claims it was sleep paralysis but I believed the spirit was teaching him a lesson just as I had thought earlier as I passed the hotel’s spirit house.

 

Background: I conducted this interview in person, live at my uncle’s house. This story is something my aunt experienced herself when she went back to Thailand for the first time after moving to the United States 17 years earlier. She was angry about her brother’s lack of sensitivity and wished that he would be punished for such, and she really believed that she inflicted some sort of lesson upon him from the spirits. I think this piece is actually very humorous, as it sounds like something I would wish upon my brother or sister if they were being insensitive – I would do the same thing probably out of anger and not expect anything to come of it, just like my aunt. I thought this piece was really interesting and also creepy, which makes for a great story.

Folk Beliefs
Magic

The Snake’s Curse

The informant, LF, is a medievalist from Panama. She comes from an agricultural family that largely lived in the countryside. LF recounts a family story involving a curse transmitted by a snakebite:

 

“So in my family- in the part of my family that lived in the countryside- my relatives earned their livelihood through the raising of animals and crops. Everyone participated. Even in our home closer to the city we had a chicken coop and a little bit of corns and tomatoes. We have a deeply-rooted agricultural tradition in our family.

So my great-great aunt had her own farm in the country. She was working on the farm and there was this snake. She didn’t see the snake and it bit her on the hand, and she had to be taken to the doctor- she was very close to dying but miraculously she recovered. When she went back to her farm, it was after the harvest and it was time to plant again. But when she planted the seeds, the plants never came up. So she went to tend to the trees that had been growing on the farm for generations, but according to the family story, the trees withered and died after she tried to prune them.

No one in the family knew how to explain it. The only thing they could come up with was that after the snakebite, she couldn’t touch plants because she had been damned. It was like something from the garden of Eden- if you get bitten by a snake, you cannot have a beautiful garden. You cannot touch a plant, because you will kill it. Upon contact, you kill the plants because you have been cursed by the snake’s poison.”

Was this a common belief, or was it exclusively told within your family?

“No, I think it was something my family came up with because they couldn’t explain what had happened to their relative. It was like a family superstition.”

Who did you learn this story from?

“I think I learned it from my mother. It supposedly happened to her great aunt. I never met this person and I don’t even know if it’s true. I heard it when I was a little kid. It came up actually when we were all watching a documentary about snakes, my mom suddenly goes- “Do you know what happened to your  great aunt?”- It was just a casual thing.

It means that people come up with explanations for things that are unexplainable. It could have been that it didn’t rain that year, or that it rained too much, and the plants died naturally. But it was such a drastic change- this farm had been in the family for generations and it had always been successful until that year.”

 

My thoughts: I agree with the informant when she says that folk beliefs often arise when people want to explain strange events. It’s a way of rationalizing things we can’t explain otherwise, like a sudden lack of crops. I think it’s interesting that the informant makes a connection with Christian religion when she mentions the Garden of Eden- perhaps folk beliefs sometimes subconsciously reflect aspects of organized religion.

Folk speech

Urdu slang insult/swearing

Context: The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both from Pakistan originally. He was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. He currently lives in Southern California in a joint family and has also visited Pakistan multiple times since he was very young. He recalls a curse his father would say “when he got really angry”:

___ ko goli maar/ ___ ko maro goli

which means literally “Shoot ___ (with a bullet)” or something close to the English profane phrases “F*ck ___” or “Screw ___”.

Analysis: As a swearword, this phrase is relatively straightforward: the speaker is expressing how little they care about something; so little that if the other person were to shoot it, it wouldn’t bother them. The fact that the informant is male and he learned from an older male family member suggests that it is a phrase that is most commonly used by the adult males of the group in the company of other adult (or sub-adult) males. This suggests a certain respect for the opposite sex, or at least a divide between them. And the fact that the word is a violent one instead of a sexual one (like f*ck or screw) may imply that there are certain taboos around sex that are not present for when dealing with or discussing violence.

Gestures
Magic

Childhood Gesture Curse

Item:

“Hahah in retrospect it sounds ridiculous — yelling ‘Whammy whammy whammy’ while wiggling our fingers. But man we took it so seriously, you didn’t just do that shit light-heartedly, that was a big deal.”

When the informant was in 2nd grade, there was a gesture children at school could perform to curse another person. It involved placing one hand over the other with palms down, interlocking the fingers, extending the arms to point at the “target”, and saying “Whammy” three times in a row. It would supposedly give that person terrible luck. It was only performed in serious cases of disliking someone, not to be taken lightly. There was no way to break the curse.

 

Context:

This friend of mine said he learned the gesture from his older brother, who claimed it was something passed down for many years. The curse was taken most seriously by his own friend group but not ignored by others. The nature of the “bad luck” or the curse isn’t clear, but the implications were severe. They wouldn’t do it to eachother but to people outside of their friend group. They performed it for only about a year before they stopped doing it. He claims they simply outgrew the concept of it.

 

Analysis:

“Cursing” or “hexing” other kids on the playground definitely seems like a widespread thing, especially around the age of 2nd graders. In part it seems to be a way to cope non-violently with someone you dislike, but also has a lot of tones of exclusivity associated with it. In this particular case it was performed primarily by one group (my friend and his group) but recognized by people outside of the group. Around that age, a lot more aggression crops up and kids get in fights, form exclusive groups, and deal with new confrontational issues. With schools and parents obviously trying to diminish this resulting in physical altercations or anything beyond children disagreeing with eachother, it seems fitting that kids would find indirectly harmful ways to affect someone, e.g. casting a curse that gives a target bad luck. Then, the things that happen to the person aren’t the fault of the curse-caster, but rather the curse itself.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

That Scottish Play

According to my informant, there is a long-running superstition in theatre surrounding the name “MacBeth.”  If you are in a theatre or involved in a theatrical production, you are not supposed to say the name “MacBeth” or quote lines from the play.  Instead of saying “MacBeth” you are supposed to say “That Scottish Show” or something along those lines.  It is akin to stepping on a crack or spilling salt; it is bad luck all around.  She says that if you say “MacBeth” around a theatre or while you are working on a play, then the theatre will burn down or someone will die on stage.  It’s just something you are not supposed to do.  My informant learned this from her high school theatre teacher.  Someone in rehearsal had said “MacBeth” and the teacher went pale and screamed at this offending student to leave the room and wash out her tongue or something.

After researching on Wikipedia and other websites, I have discovered that the taboo against saying “MacBeth” has many supposed origins.  Some believe it is because the original globe theatre burned down after a production of MacBeth, others believe it is because a real sword was accidentally used instead of a prop sword, and someone was killed during a performance.  Others still think it comes from the fact that the witchcraft lines used in the play are real magic, thus cursing each and every performance.  Some believe that Shakespeare stole these lines from an actual witching coven, and these witches cursed the play.  Some say that Shakespeare himself cursed the play so that no one but he would be able to put on a performance of the play.  Others still say that King James, for whom Shakespeare had written the play to impress, did not like the play very much.  Ashamed, Shakespeare would not talk about MacBeth openly, instead calling it “That Scottish Play.”  Speaking the name of the play, the names of the characters, and in some places directly quoting lines from the play, are all considered bad luck.

According to the site, productions of MacBeth are often accompanied by accidents and death.  Other theatres that put on the production will sometimes go out of business soon after.  MacBeth is, however, a more expensive production than most, and has more stage combat and special effects (old timey theatrical effects) than most plays, leading to the business failures and accidents, respectively.

If someone does speak the name “MacBeth” or quotes lines from the play, they are to exit the theatre immediately.  The offender must then spin around three times and then knock on the door.  The offender may not re-enter the theatre until someone lets them in.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scottish_Play

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Magic

The Lollipop Tree

Growing up there were a lot of hills all around our home and neighborhood wherever you looked. You could also see hills way out in the distance on the bus to and from elementary school. There was this one tree on one of the hills that was way, way the farthest away. It came up straight and narrow with no branches until you got to the top of the tree, which was a perfect circle. It was basically a lollipop-looking tree. I don’t know how we knew it was a tree or how we could only see that tree from far away, but it seemed to be the only tree on the hill, and it sat perfectly at the top center of the hill.
Anyway, what some of the kids would say was that it was the “lollipop tree,” and if you somehow got passed all the hills and made your way up close to it, if you said something true you would get a fistful of lollipops. But if you lied near the tree, or touching it, something terrible would happen. Like maybe you or a loved one would die.
Some people said if you lied just while looking at it, even from so far away on the bus, you could get into some serious trouble.
That tree must have been a big deal, because sometimes a bus driver would even yell, “There’s the lollipop tree!” And they’d point at it out the windshield.

The story of the lollipop tree is a cautionary tale meant to teach good behavior to the children of the rural community. While sometimes the legend served as a right of initiation, as adults or older children who no longer believed in the magic would tell younger children to encourage honesty or to frighten them, it also served as a myth for why there was such a strange, distinctive tree on the town skyline. The tree was visible enough that it aroused curiosity, but so far away that not many people seemed to know the truth of why it was there alone, or if it was even a tree.

Legends
Narrative

Pele’s Curse – Hawaii

Growing up in Hawaii, I was told never to take any natural objects from the islands.  I’m not sure when I was first told that, I just remember always being told to leave everything where it was, and to make sure what belonged on the islands stayed on the islands.  I’m pretty sure tourists are told this legend, especially because when they want to bring back a cool souvenir from Hawaii they usually go for a lava rock or sand or something of that nature.

The legend goes that if you take a lava rock – I was also told not to take sand or Pele’s hair, a plant that grows on the islands – from Hawaii, Pele will curse you and you will experience bad luck until you return the rock to Hawaii.  Pele is the goddess of volcanoes, and is a very jealous and bitter goddess who holds grudges.   I’ve heard many stories of people who experience bad luck after taking a lava rock from the islands, and in order to break the curse and streak of bad luck they must personally take the rock back to Hawaii.  There are some companies that will take shipments and return the lava rocks for people, but according to the legend the person who took it has to return it themselves or else the curse will not be broken.

This legend taught me from a young age to respect Hawaii’s natural habitat, as well as nature everywhere.  People in Hawaii in general tend to have a lot of respect for nature, and I think this legend greatly contributes to that mindset.

Tasia knows quite a few Hawaiian legends, but she said that her sister is much more tied to the land than she is.  They aren’t native Hawaiians, but living in Hawaii immerses you fairly wholly into Hawaiian culture (regardless of if you are a native).  I go to Hawaii about 3 times a year, and have heard this legend before.  I too have known from a young age not to take anything from Hawaii’s habitat.  I have never experienced the curse as I have never taken anything from Hawaii, but when I used to go to the kids camps in the hotels, the people in charge would tell us stories of people who were cursed with very bad luck after stealing a lava rock from the island.  I too respect Hawaii’s natural habitat, probably even more so than the environment here, which is kind of sad.

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