USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Folk Belief’
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Homeopathic

fresh lemon juice as eye drops

Another Colombian beauty folk belief is that if you have been out late partying the night before and have bloodshot eyes the next day, then squeezing fresh cut lemon juice into the eyes will take out the red and make them seem well rested. My mom confirms that this folk belief is absolutely false after seeing her cousin, Monica, try this home remedy  at home. My mom thought Monica was kidding about using actual lemon juice in her eyes and became horrified when Monica did it. Not only did Monica run out into the hallway screaming and she also smashed into a wall, almost breaking her nose, blood flying everywhere resulting in further trauma, causing her to get two black eyes. The next day everyone was calling Monica “Mapachecito” which mean “little raccoon” My mom stills cries laughing when telling this story, calling them “lemon tears”.

Analysis: It appears that among Colombians there is no folk belief that will not be tested or tried if it relates to beauty. Even if they had heard stories that it did not work, people will still try it, blaming the user for “not doing it right”. Considering the vast amounts of money Colombians spend on plastic surgery and placenta creams (another folk belief) it is not surprising that these folk beliefs are the most enduring ones in the culture even when presented with empirical evidence to the contrary.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Homeopathic
Magic
Musical
Protection

“Sana que sana” song

The folk song/chant: “Sana que sana, colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana.” (Magic healing song repeated at least three time or more if child is hysterical) The literal translation means “Heal, heal with the tail of a toad, if it does not heal today, it will heal tomorrow.” Obviously they are talking about a tadpoles tail or are being funny because a toad/frog does not have a tail, intonating something magical is about to occur. It works as a great distraction when your child gets injured and to stop him from crying because they are being imbued with the belief that the chant will actually make it hurt less especially if they say it in unison. Although my Grandfather tells me that the Chibcha Indians of Colombia, which he is a ¼, use dried out frog/toads all the time for healing and good luck and would even wear them around their neck (whole died out toad) for protection. He tells me that my mom went to Colombia at age 16 and she was given a necklace made out of small stones, which had a small, carved frog in the middle and was told to wear it for good luck and protection.

Analysis: Many frogs in Colombia have a variety of toxins, some medicinal, some deadly so there is more than simple folk belief there might be some factual basis for the song. Growing up my mother would always do the magical healing song “Sana que Sana” that her dad taught her whenever my brother or I got hurt and sprayed the area with Neosporin. She told me that when she was young, her grandmother (my great grandmother) who was a “botanica healer” would always sing the song while rubbing the injured area with some kind of balm. I do find the song soothing and silly at the same time, which is why it was probably so effective as a distraction. In terms of healing, the balm or Neosporin was probably what made it stop hurting and heal faster but rubbing an injury does stimulate endorphins to alleviate pain but the distraction is extremely helpful in stopping the blubbering and crying.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic

For straight hair, shave your head

My grandmother tells the story of the head shaving folk belief. Apparently even though my Grandmother received her cosmetology license in the U.S., and throughout her training they never told her it was true and she never saw any evidence that it was true but she firmly believed in the Colombian folk belief that if you shave a person’s head who has curly hair at a young age then the hair will grow back straight especially if they are very young. So my Grandmother, who hated my mom’s curly hair because it was too hard to style, tried many times to sneak up on my mom while she was sleeping and shave her head when she was a young child (4-8) but always failed because my mom would always wake up screaming. To this day my mom is an extraordinary light sleeper.

Analysis: Even with empirical evidence some folk belief is so strongly ingrained that people will act when it seems against someone else’s best interest. The concept of shaving a five year old girl’s head seems to border on abusive, but the folk belief was so ingrained that even to a highly trained professional the folk belief still remains plausible. Perhaps this is why, even among highly trained brain surgeons like Ben Carson, belief in creation myths remains so strong.

Folk Beliefs
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Stereotype Encounter

Informant SM is a sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. He is 20 years old and originally from India. He is very passionate about philanthropy, specifically helping poorer parts of India and aspires to one day become a doctor.

The informant tells me(AK) about a moment in which he felt like he was racially profiled. This incident took place around 9:00 pm on a weekday night as he was coming back to his apartment complex after studying at the library.

SM: I was walking back to my apartment complex at night, and as me and my friend were entering the gate, this couple came out of the gate and refused to hold the gate open for us. They came out and said they had to close the gate because they were afraid that we actually didn’t live there. So they caused us some mild inconvenience because I had to open the gate myself. It felt like a form of racial profiling because my friend is African American, and I also have a dark complexion.

AK: What do you think caused the couple to act in this way?

SM: They were probably conditioned to respond this way because it was late at night and they felt protective over their children.

AK: How did this incident affect you emotionally, were you angry or upset?

SM: I was a little disappointed because there was no way I could have posed a threat to anyone. I was carrying a backpack, so I was clearly a student. I felt like they were being immature.

AK: Have you ever experienced anything like this before or since?

SM: No, this was the first time.

After hearing this piece, I was really shocked to have heard my informant get racially profiled. My thoughts went directly to the Trump presidency, and I felt anger for how his administration was letting incidents far worse than this one go by without even a statement. But then, I realized that this couple likely held these stereotypes about darker skinned people well before the Trump administration. It is very likely that they grew up surrounded by these stereotypes and were conditioned to feel danger. Either way, it represented a sad reality for me, and it was hard to hear the informant have to go through this.

Folk Beliefs
general
Signs

Chinese Folk Belief on Big Noses

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

My parents and I are from Central China, but I grew up in Kentucky.

Piece:

So my parents would tell me another thing… compared to my mom and dad, I have the biggest nose in my family. My parents would make me feel good about it by telling me that people with big noses tend to be more fortunate in the future.

Piece Background Information:

I guess that’s like a superstition they have, but it made me feel good about myself. They would just point out my big nose and tell me I would be successful in the future, because that’s how it goes. I think it’s a Chinese culture thing.

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Context of Performance: 

In person, during the day at Ground Zero, a milkshake shop and cafe on USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

While I did not find any specific accounts of Chinese folk beliefs associating a large nose with success, there are many accounts observing that Jewish people tend to have large noses and also tend to be successful. While I do not quite know where this belief that a big nose could symbolize good fortune came from, it is safe to assume that the informant’s parents probably were trying to make him or perhaps even themselves feel good about what they believed was a big nose. For the record, I do not think the informant’s nose is large.

Folk Beliefs
general
Signs

Folk Belief on Red Ears

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

My parents and I are from Central China, but I grew up in Kentucky.

Piece:

My mom would say… sometimes my ears would get really hot and red and uncomfortable. I think that’s a normal thing for people for whatever reason. When I would tell my mom, she’d tell me that it just meant somebody was missing me.

Piece Background Information:

I think it was just a way of making me feel good in an uncomfortable situation. I think her mom told her that, and she passed it down to me. I don’t know if it’s like a Chinese culture thing or something passed down within my family, but that’s just something she would tell me.

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day at Ground Zero, a milkshake shop and cafe on USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

The folk belief that itching, ringing, or burning (red) ears means someone is talking about you or thinking about you dates back very, very far and is definitely not limited to Chinese folk belief. Some further variations claim that ringing in your right ear means someone is thinking or saying something good about you, while ringing in your left ear means someone is thinking or saying something bad about you. While this of course is not based in scientific fact, it is most likely a sentiment that parents pass along to their children in order to explain an unknown phenomena of ear pain (and possibly even tinnitus) or feelings of embarrassment or overheating.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

The Bad Eye and Arab Folk Beliefs on Protection Against It

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting.

Informant’s Background: 

Piece and Full Translation Scheme of Folk Speech:

Original Script:

ما شاء الله

Transliteration: masha’allah

Translation: whatever the will of Allah (or god)

Piece Background Information:

The evil eye, or the bad eye- it’s like f you’re bragging or saying something like “ Oh I won something or did something good”, then there’s another person looking at or listening to you. They would give you the bad eye, in envy I guess like they want to take this away from you. You would get into trouble, or lose your money, or something terrible would happen to you cause you talked about it or showed it to people. So sometimes, ’til this day, for example if I get a really good grade, or high GPA, and were to take a picture and post it to Snapchat or something, my mom would come to me and say “don’t do that” or “take that away” because she doesn’t want something bad to happen to me. It’s very true, and a lot of people believe it.

In our culture, it’s very connected to religion and there are certain religious ways you can fight that and treat it or deal with it. In our culture, in school we are taught that you shouldn’t believe in like wearing a bracelet or something physical that will protect you from evil. It’s all very spiritual and it’s all in your head. You have to say certain things and believe in certain things, and that will protect you better than wearing something. There are particular phrases you should say if you feel you have the bad eye, in Arabic such as “masha’allah” which if I already gave you the bad eye, and then I say this, it’s kind of like taking the bad eye away and reversing it in a way. Also, you guys have the bible, we have the Quran, which is the holy book for us. You would read certain pages of the Quran on the person who feels they have the bad eye, and that is supposed to cure them or take the bad eye away.

We would learn this from my parents,you know, from home, and also from school. Thinking about it, I probably believe most of the things I just told you. I live my life believing that. I adopt all these beliefs until this day. 

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in the informant’s apartment adjacent to USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece:

The informant believes in the evil eye strongly and thus takes the three word phrase for curing the evil eye seriously noting that it is especially useful when said by the person who is the source of the evil eye. The informant shared his beliefs on the evil eye, which was heavily enforced by not only his parents, but by school and religion too. I found it very interesting that there is a disparity between protections against the evil or “bad” eye as he preferred to call it in his culture and in others where physical objects or charms are not thought to be protective against it. It fits with the informant’s overarching theme in the pieces he shared with me (see: Arabic Folk Speech to Handle Fear/Bless and see: Ramadan and the Ritual Celebration of Eid Alfutr) that emphasizes the Muslim ideal of strengthening their connection with Allah through exercising self control, thereby cleansing their minds, bodies, and spirits.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic

Folk Belief on Gifting Purses

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

I’m from Jupiter, but grew up in Chicago. My dad was born in Indiana or Illinois, somewhere in the Mid-West. My mom is from Singapore.

Piece:

One time, I lost my purse at the mall and my mom was really mad at me. I don’t think I’ve ever lost my purse after that. But there were a couple of different scenarios that could have resulted in her telling me this, I don’t quite remember.

My mom told me once… you know what I think maybe I was giving her a purse, or I was giving a purse to someone else, or maybe she was giving a purse to someone and yeah, she made me put a coin in it. She said it’s bad luck to give anyone a purse or a wallet without some sort of money in it.

Piece Background Information:

I definitely think about it when I gift or hand down purses, but I don’t always practice it. I do practice it with my mom though by usually just putting a penny in the purse.

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in the informant’s retail shop in Echo Park, Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

This idea that giving a coin or some form of monetary fortune with the gift of a purse falls under contagious magic in a sense, as the object that was once in contact with the gift-giver has the ability to influence the gift-giver and the receiver bad fortune. This folk belief is shared across many different cultures, and can be supported by the fact that my Hawaiian half-sister also shared this with me too, lending itself to Dundes’ definition of folklore that it must show multiplicity and variation. Variations include similar accounts with giving knives or scissors as gifts. I find it particularly interesting that while the informant, who is a retail shop owner and manager, claims that she always has the thought when gifting or handing down a purse that she must put a coin in it, but only truly practices it with her mother, who instilled this belief within her. This could perhaps be reflective of the fact that her occupation and the world we live in today sees clothing and accessory items as disposable.

Folk Beliefs
general
Homeopathic
Magic

Chinese Folk Belief on Leg Shaking

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

My mom was born in Hong Kong and lived there up until she was 19 before moving here, and I was born here (in America).

Piece:

My mom would not let me or my brother shake our legs. You know how some people have that nervous tick where they shake their legs? Well she thought that it symbolized shaking money off a tree, so if we did it we wouldn’t be rich in the future. So she would tell us “we were shaking the money off the trees” so now me and my brother don’t shake our legs anymore, although we used to a lot when we were kids. 

Piece Background Information:

She probably got that from her parents as well.

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in the informant’s apartment adjacent to USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

This is clearly an instance of homeopathic magic, where the mimicking of shaking a sort of trunk (legs seen as the foundation for which the body depends) has affects in reality and in this case negative effects of losing money or fortune. I could not find other similar accounts so it is pretty likely that the informant’s mother, and possibly the informant’s mother’s parents (and so on), have shared this with their children in order to stop them from shaking their legs and groom them into proper adults. Leg shakers are the worst.

Folk Beliefs
general
Homeopathic
Magic

Chinese Folk Belief on White Headdress

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

My mom was born in Hong Kong and lived there up until she was 19 before moving here, and I was born here (in America).

Piece:

So my mom would not let me wear anything white on my head because she said that it meant like death in Chinese, or in China. So when I would try to wear like a white headband (I used to wear headbands) or put anything like a white hat on my head, she told me not to because it was death basically. 

Piece Background Information: 

Maybe when they bury someone, they put a white sash around their heads or something. It’s probably something her mom told her.

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in the informant’s apartment adjacent to USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

Although the informant was not too sure on the origins behind this practice, the informant still holds to it to this day.Although I could not find anything supporting the informant’s belief that a white sash is placed upon the heads of the deceased when being buried, which would have been in a sense homeopathic magic (magic of similarity), there are clear associations between white and death, and it comes to no surprise that the informant’s mother would choose to see a white headdress as symbolizing death. Upon further research, apparently white is typically symbolic of the dead in Chinese funeral rituals – it is common in practice to place a white banner over the door of a household to signify that a death has occurred.

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