Context: The informant is my aunt and will be referred to as L.I. She is originally from Hawaii and is of Filipino descent. She grew up in Hawaii but she now lives in San Diego with her husband (my uncle) and their two children.
Main Text: “A well-known myth in Hawaii is Pele’s Curse. Pele is the Goddess fo volcanoes, fire, lightning, and wind. Pele’s curse says that any visitor who takes rock or sand away from the Hawaiian islands will suffer bad luck until they are returned.”
Analysis: Nature is very important to the people of Hawaii and they take great pride in the natural beauty of their homeland. Hawaii is a very popular tourist destination and it is possible this superstition developed to prevent visitors from altering the original landscape. There are many accounts of people mailing back volcanic rocks because they were met with misfortunes like divorce, debt, and death.
The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and the interviewer.
Informant: So, I grew up in Thailand but my family’s actually from Shanghai, China. There are lots of Chinese people living in Thailand, but even with Thai people there are plenty of cultures that we share. For example, we both don’t write our names with a red ink. Or anyone’s names, people tend to not write any names in color red. I though this was a strictly a Chinese tradition, but it was pretty common in Thailand too.
Interviewer: My Korean family also believes in that myth.
Informant: I guess it’s pretty common amongst all Asian cultures. I just thought it was Chinese exclusive because the color red is so heavily used in China. Chinese people love the color red. We think it can bring good luck and good energy, but it’s also heavily associated with death at the same time. So when you write someone’s name in red, it’s as if you’re welcoming death.
Interviewer: What would you do if you had to write your name and you only had a red pen?
Informant: (laughs) I guess I’ll have to write my name and hope I don’t die suddenly.
My informant heard about this piece when she was very little from her Auntie. While she doesn’t recall the exact whereabouts of how that was brought up, but she describes it as a common tradition that one acquires simply by being around other Chinese people.
My informant and I were discussing traditions that we share in common, as we come from two different cultures – Chinese and Korean, respectively. One thing we found was that both our cultures avoid writing a person’s name in color red. This conversation took place at her house, she currently resides in Los Angeles.
This was an interesting piece of folklore to learn about as it’s common in multiple cultures. I think the reason why it’s so heavily spread in Asia is because how deeply Asian cultures are unified, especially East Asian regions where Buddhist ideologies of linking death and good luck as coinciding factors are common.
G: You can’t say Macbeth during any rehearsals or theater-related entourage. I think this has something to do with the play being a huge tragedy. When my high school teacher explained this to me he said: “well it’s because by the end of the play everyone is dead.” And you have to run 5 laps around the entire theatre if you or someone else says it to get rid of the bad energy. One time my theatre teacher said it during rehearsal and then he fell through the stage.
According to the informant, saying “Macbeth” puts a curse on the entire production and cast. It seems that so many people believe this because there have been true accounts of accidents or unfortunate events after saying it. Some are even lethal as the informant explained that their teacher fell through the stage and hurt himself almost immediately after saying it. There also seems to be damage control measures put in place to protect theatrical productions against the curse as the informant mentioned taking 5 laps around the theater. It’s possible that the violent nature of the play is what has caused the superstitions and concerns. Macbeth is all about death and destruction so it’s understandable why this play is now seen as a dark symbol. I have personally experienced bad luck during a show after a cast member said the words. As a result, a number of things went wrong on opening night. People forgot their lines, made the wrong entrances, forgot their props, costumes broke, etc… It was disastrous. In conclusion, whether the superstition is true or not, it is best to not refer to the Scottish play.
“This happens when a person has a very strong stare. If they stare at a newborn with their glare the child will get a really high fever, convulse, and die. The only cure is to have the person with the evil eye carry the baby. That is the only way to reverse the evil done. I know babies who have died from this curse.”
The informant is a 77-year-old Spanish speaking woman, born in Mexico. She believes this to be true. She does not think those with the evil eye necessarily know that they have that power.
It seems that this belief is a way to explain sudden deaths of infants. It is a way to explain the unexplainable.
Informant – “You know the story of Macbeth. There are a lot of witches in that play. Legend has it that the curses that they say are real. If you say the name of the Scottish Play in a theater needlessly, that theater is cursed. The name summons the witches and curses. To reverse it, you have to run around three times in a circle and spit, or say your favorite curse word. You also get shunned by your cast, which is not fun.”
Informant – “I heard it from my freshman theater teacher. He was crazy. I said Macbeth in class once and he yelled at me ‘YOU NEVER SAY THE SCOTTISH PLAY’S NAME.’ He almost threw a chair at me.”
I can’t think of any practical application for this superstition, so I believe it exists to create a more complex theater subculture. If you know about it then you are more of an theater person than those who don’t.
I asked the informant if she remembered what she told me would happen to me if I stared at dogs having sex… She laughed and then: “Yeah, I told you you would get a perrilla on your eye.” I asked her to describe what that was, because to this day I have no idea what it is. “Well, I am not completely sure of what it is. When I was young my mother, in El Salvador, would tell me not to stare at dogs when they…you know…because a perilla would appear in your eye. I think it is a kind of wart, or something similar to a wart. I am not sure. I just knew it was not something I wanted to grow out of my eye!”
Context: The informant is a middle-aged woman, born in El Salvador. She learned this myth from her mother. She believes that this was a way to maintain a child’s innocence, and to stop them from learning about sex too early.
Analysis: I agree with the informant; I think this myth was created to stop kids from growing up too fast and raising questions about what sex is.
Informant: You know those groups of musicians that die before the age of 24?
Informant: I think there’s like one person who died with like the story of using a white lighter so there’s always that curse… you know, don’t use that white lighter. It’s cursed. Something bad is going to happen, it’s bad luck. Literally, like, smoking with my friends, one of them, we were smoking at his house – he thought his parents weren’t going to be there for a while. We were like “oh man, only lighter we have is this white lighter, let’s use that” We use it and his parents come back wayy earlier than expected and were like “oh we left something here” and saw us in the middle of our smoke session outside.
Interviewer: Any others?
Informant: One of my friends was looking in his car for a lighter and the only one in his car was a white one in the glovebox or whatever. I guess this house or parking lot he was at called the cops and they came up and arrested him. Pretty sure he ended up with a possession charge.
Interviewer: Oh wow…
Informant: Yeah man stay away from those white lighters.
Context: My informant is a twenty one year old from a midwestern town bordering a legal marijuana state and an illegal marijuana state. This story was told while sitting around a table in a college dorm common room – my informant sat across from me and told me his story in person.
Background: My informant knows this story because it’s been passed between nearly everyone he knows who smokes – white lighters are never good luck. To him, it simply means to never use a white lighter – he admitted after our interview that he still makes a point of avoiding white lighters.
Analysis: The Story of the White Lighter is a classic example of an urban legend. Though my informant cannot necessarily verify its authenticity, his story nonetheless takes place in recent history. Interestingly, we can see here the actual evolution of the story. Not only does the interviewee sum up the general origin of the story and the gist of it, he also adds his own experience to it – one in which he himself was also cursed by the white lighter, thus adding further legitimacy to the story. Anyone who has a bad experience with a white lighter can add their own run-in with its curse to the story relatively easily, thus allowing the legend to more easily spread.
Collection: Indian wedding substance – folk object
After a prior discussion about Indian weddings, the informant continued to describe the second day of the celebration. In the morning of the second day, the couple is physically painted with haldi by the families. Haldi is also known as turmeric which contains cleansing qualities and produces a glowing effect on the skin.
Context/Interpretation: The couple’s cleansing is both literal and symbolic. According to the informant, it is important for the couple to be cleansed by their families prior to the unification. The yellow haldi represents blessings, purification, and it is supposed to ward of evil beings.
Background: Lauren was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Her parents are both Persian Jews, and Lauren considers herself Persian as well. Lauren does not know how to write the curse in the original Farsi. The pronunciation is based on how Lauren said the phrase during our interview, keeping in mind that she is not a native Farsi speaker. Her first language was English and she also learned Hebrew growing up, and while she understands Farsi her speaking capabilities are, in her own words, limited.
Context: I called Lauren on the phone since she attends university in Florida and recorded our conversation. I have transcribed what she said over the phone below. She was sharing with me her favorite Persian curse words and phrases. She had just shared her favorite, which is published under the title “Farsi Curse #1”.
The phrase: modar genda
How it is pronounced: moh-dar jen-deh
“Another word is modar genda which means your mom is a whore or prostitute if you want to be polite. I learned this word in elementary school and I never really knew what it meant until elementary school when I asked my parents and they gave me a full definition of it. This is definitely more offensive than pedar sag (Farsi Curse #1). People use it for fun, but mostly as an insult to someone if they are bothering you. It’s not really used like just as an expletive that people might say “oh fuck” but more directed at a specific person as an insult.”
Background: Lauren was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Her parents are both Persian Jews, and Lauren considers herself Persian as well.
Context: I called Lauren on the phone since she attends university in Florida and recorded our conversation. I have transcribed what she said over the phone below. She was sharing with me her favorite Persian curse words and phrases.
Lauren does not know how to write the curse in the original Farsi. The pronunciation is based on how Lauren said the phrase during our interview, keeping in mind that she is not a native Farsi speaker. Her first language was English and she also learned Hebrew growing up, and while she understands Farsi her speaking capabilities are, in her own words, limited.
The phrase: “pedar sag”
How to pronounce it: ped-ah-r sag
“It means your dad is a dog. My friend’s mother used to just blurt out this word all the time when I was at their house. Matin is from Iran, and she knows this word because its a common word that Persians use when they want to cuss, but it was never really used in my house because my parents did not really say cuss words. Matin had no problem. You would say this word towards someone when they’re being annoying. She would use this word towards her dog, which is more appropriate, but normally people would say it to someone who’s bothering them.”