USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘european’
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Casa Matusita A

This house situated in Downtown Lima, Peru is the most famous haunted structure in the entire country. It is famous throughout, you can ask anyone in Lima, and they will all know of it whether they believe in paranormal phenomena or not. The house was first brought to my attention when I moved to Peru by one of my maids, she told me all about it and then my mother confirmed the stories circulated, but said they were all made up. During her last visit, I had her recount a couple of versions of the story of the Matusita which she knew (there are dozens):
At the turn of the twentieth century, there lived in the house a cruel man with two servants (cook and butler). During dinner with friends, the servants decided to get their revenge and poison their master and his friends with hallucinogenic substances. They served the tampered dinner and locked the door of the dining room. A few minutes later, the servants heard  a horrible scuffle. They waited until the noises ceased and then when they opened the door, they saw that the diners were torn to pieces, there was blood spread everywhere. The servants felt terribly guilty and took their lives right there. This version is said to explain the loud voices, conversation and laughter followed by blood curling cries and sepulchral silence that neighbors and passerbyers have attributed to the house.  It is said that if they get close to the house or look in, they will go mad at the sights of gore and debauchery inside.
This version shows the rift between the master and his servants which can be extended to the sentiments that the indigenous and African workers feel towards their European (and later on Asian) masters. This tension is found to this very day since in Peru there is a very strong, but passive racist undercurrent that is perpetuated from generation to generation and never confronted. The race of the master is left unsaid in some versions of the story like this one (it is implied he was white); however , there are also versions that connect this version to version b which I also discuss. In those versions, the master is Asian and a descendent of the Chinese family who lived in the house in the 19th century.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Foodways
Material

German Fermented Vegetables

An interesting tradition my mother recalls from growing up is that when she and her family visited the (paternal) grandparents, the Rahenkamps, her grandmother would always serve some kind of relish or pickled item along with the evening meal.  Since the Rahenkamp family is of German descent, this is not surprising – one can hardly imagine German food without thinking of sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers.  However, Germany is only one of many countries where these types of foods exist.  In fact, most if not all cultures prepared and ate at least one of these items at one time or another.  Unlike the prosperous free world today where we think of these items as condiments that we add to our food because they are tasty, past cultures kept these foods, which were originally fermented, out of necessity.  Fermentation was a way to preserve foods for months without refrigeration, and to make foods that are hard on the bowels (like raw cabbage) more digestible.  Adding salt to vegetables to prevent mold growth, and allowing the bacteria and yeast in the local environment to take over, our ancestors could preserve items for long trips and cold winters.  The friendly microbes in the vegetables (or fruits or milk or other foods) break down the sugars and convert them to acids as a defense mechanism, producing a complex, sour flavor.  Eating such foods fortifies the immune system and gastrointestinal tract with beneficial bacteria, and the acid and enzymes released during fermentation aid in the digestion of the rest of the meal.  My informant, my mother, believes that her grandmother served these relishes as part of the tradition of using them for good digestion.  Unfortunately, most pickled items seen today are not fermented, but merely canned in vinegar (including those my great grandmother used).  They carry none of the health benefits and are sterile instead of crawling with friendly microbes.  The real fermentation process actually increases nutrients – sauerkraut, in fact, was used to prevent scurvy on long voyages across the Atlantic, due to its high vitamin C content and its ability to keep for months without spoiling.

Annotation
  The Great Physician’s Rx for Health and Wellness, by Jordan S. Rubin, page 10, concurs that “Every sauce and condiment has its beginnings as a fermented food and throughout history has always been healthy.”  Several fermented foods are mentioned, including ketchup, which is credited to the Chinese, who began it as a fermented fish brine.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Catholic/Italian Headache Remedy

My paternal grandmother, who is of Italian heritage and a second-generation American, described a folk remedy against headaches that was practiced before her day.  She said “When a person had a headache, a friend would obtain a basin of water and sprinkle a few drops of olive oil on it, make the sign of the cross and recite a prayer.  That was to chase the evil spirits away.”  This was also used to make a person stop gossiping.  Obviously, this would have been practiced before her family emigrated and assimilated into American culture.  It is closely tied to the Catholic church and Catholicism’s deep roots in the nation of Italy.  My informant, while still a devout Catholic (as is most of her extended family), did refer to this practice as a superstition, and is far more likely to resort to Tylenol or Advil to relieve a headache than to attempt to cure it through any spiritual means.
The tradition itself seems to reflect elements of both Catholicism (sign of the cross, prayer) and more obscure or pagan religions (chasing away evil spirits), though perhaps my informant uses “evil spirits” synonymously with “demons.”  My informant’s description also seems somewhat vague and incomplete, as though it has been transformed through much telling and retelling over time.  My conjecture is that the tradition originated many centuries ago, well before the advent of modern medicine, out of the idea that demons or evil spirits are responsible for physical distress.  Certainly “magic superstitions,” under which classification this ritual falls, for curing ailments have existed well before even the Roman Catholic Church, and this one was likely Catholicized like many other pagan beliefs, superstitions, and even holidays.  As today’s society (at least in America) tends to favor scientific progress as the solution to medical problems (and a host of other problems), beliefs imported from worldwide have tended to fade out in this forward-looking culture.

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