Informant: In Barbados, all the women wear hats—the black women—because they think that if their hair gets wet, it will turn into snakes. Yes, so they always wear hats—it’s the funniest thing! They aren’t, you know, uh, fashionable, they’ll just wear anything they can plop on their heads. They don’t learn to swim either—which is horrible, really; it’s such an important thing to know, living on an island. Oh! They also don’t like to be out after dark.
The informant (my grandmother) was born and raised in Texas. She spent many years moving from place to place across the world with her husband, a banker, before settling in Connecticut long enough to work as an English teacher at the Greenwich Country Day School. She currently lives in San Francisco, CA.
It is important to note that the informant is a wealthy white American woman who had no prior knowledge of Barbadian culture or customs before she lived on the island for a few years. She does not remember exactly who told her about this belief, but she maintains that it was “common knowledge” in Barbados. The belief that wet hair will turn to snakes is not documented online, but it’s existence may be plausible. Snakes are not common in Barbados, but the island is home to the Barbados thread snake—the smallest known species of snake (circa 2008). Sightings of this small, typically dark snake (which is spaghetti-thin) may have led a woman to believe that a piece of her hair had transformed into a snake.
Citation: Dunham, Will. “World’s Smallest Snake Is as Thin as Spaghetti.” Reuters UK. N.p., 03 Aug. 2008. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.
The informant learned from his father, who learned from his mother, not to comb your hair when wet, as doing so would make you more susceptible to being struck and killed by lightning.
This belief is likely rooted in the observation of static electricity, a phenomenon which immediately evokes images of lightning.
The informant’s grandmother, who received no formal education, was born, lived, and died in Irapuarto, Mexico. The informant is generally mistrusting of all things he has learned from his grandmother, as he refers to most folk belief as “batshit.” Such beliefs hold no weight to him and serve only to be laughed at.
Informant Background: The informant is originally from Hong Kong. She now lives permanently in the United States but travels back once a year to visit her relatives in Hong Kong. She speaks both Cantonese and English. Her family practices many of the Chinese traditions, folk-beliefs, and superstitions. She celebrates many of the Chinese holidays through cooking of special “holiday food.”
On the wedding day, before the wedding, the bride’s mother will comb the bride’s hair three times… I think the first time is so that the couple will love each other forever. Then second is so the bride can have one child per year… And third is that the bride and groom will grow old together.
The informant learned about this through her aunt and observations of the weddings she attended in Hong Kong. According to the informant this is a common Chinese wedding ritual. She said it is usually a time shared privately by mother and daughter only.
I think this tradition clearly reflects how wedding is more than about the bride and the groom coming together but also their relative and other people in their lives. In this case it is the ties between the mother and the daughter. This is similar to Western traditions where the mother would help the bride get ready for the ceremony in a separate room hidden from the crowd.
The bride’s mother is passing down the knowledge and wisdom. The first blessing is so that the bride and groom will have the unconditional love as her family. The second reflects how the older generation wants the next generation to keep continuing the bloodline through children. It also reflects how marriage is about celebrating reproduction through different metaphors. The third is for the bride and groom to grow old with grey hair together. I think the combing of the hair reflects this idea of beauty since women tends to grow their hair longer than men. Hair color also reflects a person’s age through color. This tradition has the element of the number three which occurs in many cultures through different rituals.
Wedding ritual is a way to always strengthen the ties between the older and younger generation, and younger generation to the next generation. This tradition then keep the mother involve before losing her daughter to the other family. The combing of the hair is also an act a mother would perform when the daughter was younger; this is a way of bringing closure before they say their goodbyes.
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“When I was playing basketball and we had a winning streak going my coach wore the same sweater vest and even had the same slicked back hairstyle until we lost.”
My informant told me that his coach had a repertoire of sweater vests and hairstyles that he cycled through over the course of a season. Apparently, the thinking is that if things are going well and everything stays the same, then things should continue to go well. The coach would also refuse to wash his sweater vests until the end of the season, treating luck as something tangible that clung to his sweater vests and could be easily washed off.
This belief ties closely with a Chinese belief. On Chinese New Year, parents tell their children not to wash their hair because it will wash away the good luck for the coming year.
People enjoy correlating a spurt of good luck with common items such as clothing because it implies that luck is a force that can be controlled and called upon when needed.
The origin of such beliefs may be centered on the fact that with repetition, people tend to improve at a task. So when a favorite shirt is worn often, a person may believe that it is the article of clothing that improves his “luck.” In actuality, it may be the extra practice that accounts for his improvement.
(I didn’t hear this, but my friend did, so even though it was directed to me it was technically my friend serving as the informant:)
A guy approached me at a concert (I have dreadlocks) and said, “I hate to stereotype, but do you have a pipe?”
A lot of people stereotype someone with dreadlocked hair to be a dirty hippie stoner bum, which is not always the case, but why this guy prefaced his question with “I hate to stereotype”…
My informant told me about the customs of italian women in relation to their hair length:
“Native women tend to avoid cutting their hair. This is a female concern men do not seem to give a damn. I recalled your great grandmother (Santa’s) friends, how slowly they got used to American ways and cut their hair. Your grandmother and I used to laugh how they all found an excuse for shortening their hair usually lamenting that arthritis made it impossible to comb it long. Long hair was part of their system of belief. And they felt the necessity to find an excuse for their sin.”
My informant told me that his wife kept her hair long, just like her family would have liked back in Italy.
Again, the connection between Italian customs/superstitions and religion shows through in my informant’s use of the word “sin” in relation for women cutting their hair. Even little customs like hair length is tied back to belief.
It is bad luck to cut your hair or fingernails at night.
My informant first heard this superstition from his father some time during the late fifties in his hometown, the rural city of Daegu in Korea. When he took out nail clippers from his drawer one night, his father ordered him to put it back in the drawer. His father warned him that it was very bad luck to clip your nails at night. Suk-Won’s father had learned from his father that at night crows lurk about and would pick up the discarded nails in their beaks and drop them off into the fields. The nails would keep the seeds from sprouting and suck the nutrients out of the soil. Afterwards there would be seasons without any good harvest. The nails would have been easily accessible to the crows because Koreans who lived on farms during 1950’s and even now have paper doors that slide in their homes. They do not have the hard wooden doors with knobs as we are accustomed to in America.
I do not believe that nails in the soil are detrimental to the growth of crops. However, people in the countryside were sensitive about anything pertaining to their harvest because that was their only means of living. Particularly living in the city nowhere near the action of agriculture, I do not heed this superstition at all since there. Once again the Korean culture has an extremely negative view on the crow. Farmers were superstitious that the crows would not only bring death through merely crowing in front of their homes but indirectly by preventing a successful harvest.
If a woman cuts her hair on a full moon, then it will grow back very quickly
Joe is a friend of mine who works in my dads office. He is 20-years-old and was born and continues to live in Los Angeles. His mom, who was raised in the Tongan Islands, raised him with many superstitions, which he still follows today. Joe knows many superstitions, most of which I have never heard before. This one, about haircuts on full moons only applies to women. Joe and I had discussed that this is probably because the moon and all lunar activity are closely associated with women. Joe shared this superstition with me at my dads office and consequently other employees overheard our conversation. Not one other employee had heard of anything like this superstition, and neither had I. Joe takes these generational superstitions very seriously. Joe and his siblings were taught by his mother, who was taught by her mother, and so on. He wasnt sure how many generations back this tradition went, but he was sure it was ancient.
Joe chose to share this superstition because it was something that he grew-up with, his grandmother, mother, aunts, and sisters all based their hair cuts on the moons cycle. Though it doesnt apply to him, this superstition has affected him his whole life.
This superstition is significant because it shows a long tradition of women being associated and affected by the moon. Joe explained that in the Tongan Islands, there are dances and songs dedicated to the moon usually performed by women. Sometimes the moon is negatively associated with madness, which is where we get the word lunatic from, but in this case, this superstition simply shows a correlation between the moons cycle and women. As the stages in the moon change, the length of hair changes.