USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘hair’
Customs
Holidays
Homeopathic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cutting Hair for Chinese New Year

[The subject is MW. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

ME: Can you tell me about a Chinese New Year tradition?

MW: Chinese New Year, or Chinese New Year eve, we will put the whole table. Mother cook, or have the servant cook, all kinds of goodies, but we cannot eat first. But they still put the wine and the chopstick, and the whole table, but that’s let the ancestor come, ancestor, I mean we don’t see them- the people already pass away like my grandma, or grandma, you know? My mother always, we cannot- the kids eat later, just have to let them, still, put the best food, all warm, but we cannot touch the chair. It’s grand-grandpa, and grand-grandma, let them eat first. And after the time, bring the food back to the kitchen, and then bring it back and then we can eat.

And then also, in Chinese New Year, we have to go to have a haircut, the kids all have to go have a haircut.

ME: Why is that?

MW: It’s like for a new year, then you have to clean up the whole thing. And the next day, we have to go to, for our auntie, and grandma, those kowtow. And then they give us a red envelope.

Context: MW is my grandmother, who was born in Shanghai and then lived in Hong Kong later on in her youth. She moved to San Francisco as a young adult and has lived in the Bay Area for the last six decades. She is a native Mandarin speaker, but is also fluent in English. I sat down with her and asked her to talk about some traditions and stories she remembers from living in China.

Thoughts: I am half-Chinese and have lived in the United States for my entire life, so while the tradition of eating a big dinner on Chinese New Year is familiar to me, but the less common tradition of getting a haircut for the new year was not. I believe that this tradition could be associated with Frazer’s concept of homeopathic magic, because the chopping of the hair seems to represent chopping off what you no longer want to hold onto from the last year, and creates good luck going forward.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Humor
Signs

Signs of Drug Addicts Among Hairdressers

” *whispering* You can totally tell if someone does hard drugs just by bleaching their hair. Like your hair is processing normally and if I leave it in long enough, all the color will come out and you will have this fabulous platinum. But, like for example, I had this one client who clearly seemed out of it– like could not make eye contact and was slurring his words. Ok, first, I was worried and we got him some cookies. We only have sugar-free cookies here so I’m not sure it helped much. *laughs* But his hair, and this is true for anyone who takes hard drugs, not like marijuana, but like real drugs, just would not bleach out. It gets to this highlighter yellow color and no matter how long the bleach is in there, it stays this horrible color. Like, I’m not saying he was using drugs, but like… It can also happen on certain types of strong antibiotics.”

Context: This piece of folk science was collected at a hair salon in Studio City during the collector’s experience bleaching their hair with their regular hairdresser. This information was brought up while the hairdresser, who identifies as gay and has been living in Los Angeles his whole life, looked at the processing of the bleach in the hair to note how much longer the bleach had to stay on. After hearing the folk science from the informant, the piece was then asked to be recorded.

 

Informant Analysis: He said that this is common knowledge among any hairdresser who has dyed hair for sometime, noting that he had experienced a handful of clients who were upset with the final bleached color when the brassy highlighter yellow color was the lightest color they could achieve. The hairdresser did not know the science behind why the color would not lift from the hair, only that it is hairdresser’s gossip about their clients if the color does not lift.

Collector Analysis: Although I cannot speak to the science behind hard drugs or antibiotics effecting the bleaching process of hair, I can say that there are two main reasons I can think of that may be the reason for this piece of folk science to be carried on between hairdressers. The first reason is the perhaps unacknowledged botched up hair dying job of a hairdresser. It seems possible, and I have seen in other hairdressers, that when the client becomes enraged with the end product of the hairdresser’s work, the blame will often go on the client instead of the hairdresser. Since these stories are often shared to different clients as entertaining gossip, it seems as though hairdresser’s would be more likely to tell new clients that it was not their fault, but perhaps some chemical problem in the other client’s hair. Another reason for this piece to be shared is in part do to the environment of a hair salon. Much of the talk at hair salons is gossip or hearsay that can either be racy or somehow make someone else look bad. A client will often hear their hairdresser gossip about the other hairdressers they work with, but the client will not usually hear the gossip the hairdressers speak to each other about the client.

 

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Italian Witch Story

A story goes as follows: A young woman is known to have beautiful hair, black, silky, and shiny; it was so beautiful that it was something that every resident in the town knew about and admired. One day an unknown old lady came over to her house and started to stroke her hair, commenting on how gorgeous and rare it was. Her father found out what was happening and ordered that she go away. He was alarmed and struck with a protective fear, claiming that the old lady was a strega, or witch. Solely with the touch of her hands, she was able to curse the young woman and her hair ended up falling out day by day, eventually leaving her with no hair. She had to wear a hat for the rest of her life because of the powers of the witch.


The interlocutor recalled this story because of his personal recollection of the fear that it incited in him as a child. His father would occasionally tell this story, as he had heard it a few times; this was enough to make him wary of the power that strangers’ hands possess. By way of this, the story was usually directed at the interlocutor’s sister because of the value that is placed on particularly a female’s hair. The interlocutor mentioned that she still lives in fear of others touching her hair and is reluctant to even receive haircuts.

This story, while probably used at certain occasions to entertain youth, obtains even stronger undertones of a message of privacy and self-reliance. On the very surface, it seems to underline the value of hair in Italian society, especially hair that is kept in good health naturally, signifying a sort of blessing on people with beautiful hair. Yet, the general fear that this story incites demonstrates the value placed on privacy and reliance on oneself. The hands of a stranger have enough power to cause someone harm, and it is by way of this knowledge that young men and especially young women learn to be wary of the influence and malicious intent of others outside of the family. Their magic is contagious and has the power to infect anyone just by touch.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

“Worms in Your Stomach”

Context & Analysis

The subject used to swim competitively in high school and often had to deal with having wet hair. Her mother used to tell her the belief below to frighten her into keeping her hair down. Even though she recognizes that it is a folk belief, the thought of getting worms in her stomach was a deterrent to tying up her hair (and potentially damaging it). The subject stated that her mother most likely learned the saying from her grandmother, and she is uncertain if it is a belief that is shared by anyone outside of her family. I find it interesting that she continues to heed her mother’s warning despite not believing it herself.

Main Piece

“So my mom tells us that we’re going to get worms in our stomach if we tie our wet hair—not joking. Not joking. Yea. So when I was younger and started swimming I used to see all of the older girls in the locker room tie up their hair in really tight buns after swimming because obviously you don’t like the feeling of wet dripping hair on your back cuz it’s really gross. So I started doing it and my mom was like ‘[Subject’s Name] not only is this going to damage your hair, ‘cuz you’re going to rip it out—’cuz wet hair is weak hair or whatever— but you’re also going to get worms in your stomach’ and I didn’t believe her. But when my grandma was in town she started saying the same thing, and I thought ‘If this old lady is saying something, chances are she knows even more than my mom, so I probably shouldn’t tie it up anymore’ and I’ve never tied it up when it was wet since.

general

German Raver Cyborg Mohawks

Background: I interviewed Professor Nye to talk about his raving experiences. He discovered electronic music as an exchange student in 1995-96 in Germany. Clubs at this time in Germany were playing a lot of techno pop music, and he heard from friends about “underground” or unsanctioned dance events. He attended events like this his senior year of high school in the Bay area of California.

Context: This interview took place the Thornton School of Music faculty building at the University of Southern California during his office hours on a Tuesday afternoon. There was a flute playing in the background throughout the whole interview. As Professor Nye is describing the styles he saw in European dance events, he remembered a specific hairstyle he saw in Germany. 

“My favorite was probably in Germany these kind of very cyberpunk outfits with just full you know like everything plastic, full plastic cyborg dress. There was this style that ravers had back in the day, especially in Germany, was like shaved on all the side, neon hair, and then like cyberpunk spikes going down the side like this. Does that make sense? That was kind of more sci-fi imagery.”

 

As he is speaking he is gesturing to the center of his head where you would typically expect to see a mohawk and then gestured to both sides of the mohawk in a straight line to describe where the “spikes” would be.

 

 

folk metaphor
Folk speech

“Get your hair on straight.”

My friend and classmate Pauline shared the following explanation of a piece of folk speech that, as far as she knows, exists only within her extended family.

“…According to my parents, like, my uncle was the first one who started saying it, but I know my parents say it too. But when we’re like, trying to leave the house–and my mom is like, famous for being terrible at leaving the house like, when we need to leave the house she’s like, ‘oh but let’s do the dishes right now’ or whatever like, always makes a big fuss about not being ready to leave–so whenever we’re about to leave the house like, my dad usually says ‘alright, get your hair on straight!’ And like that’s the, it’s not a–it’s like an idiomatic phrase. So like, it’s not like a proverb ’cause it has no greater meaning. But apparently it’s like, my uncle started saying it, and I don’t know why my uncle started saying it–he’s not like a funny guy or anything–but um, my dad says it to like make fun of the fact that like, any reason we’re not leaving the house is like, pointless. Like you don’t need to get your hair on straight ’cause that’s impossible. So it’s like, there’s literally nothing left to do, like let’s please leave the house right now.”

This piece of folk speech, although minor in size and in greater significance, is significant to Pauline because it is unique to her family and evocative of the humor she shares with her parents.

I find this phrase funny, and I think its meaning could be divined by people outside of Pauline’s family, so I wonder whether a variant of it has emerged and been used in any other contexts.

Customs

No Hair on Foreheads

“It’s a common superstition in India, and it used to be taken especially serious in my house, that people shouldn’t keep their hair on their forehead, like it should be kept combed back because if your hair covers your forehead it will bring you illness in the future.  My mom used to make me do it but when I started growing out my hair and refusing to cut it she let me just go with it even though I knew it was bothering her.  It isn’t a hardcore religious superstition, but it is followed more strictly than a lot of other superstitions.”

ANALYSIS:

There seems to be a sliding scale when it comes to how seriously certain Hindu customs are taken, and I find it extremely fascinating which ones land where they land on the scale.  From and outsider’s perspective, it seems a little arbitrary which ones are taken seriously and which ones aren’t, but I’d be extremely interested to find out if there’s anything connecting which customs are taken seriously and which customs are treated a little less seriously.

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.

Legends

Hairy Man Road

 

Main piece:

Hairy man road is an actual road in Round Rock, Texas. There is a story that is circulated in the town that goes like this: “There was a little boy and his family was moving to Texas but he got separated from them somehow– maybe fell out of wagon– and he ends up living in woods but as he grows up he grows out of his clothes so because of adaptation he was just covered in hair from head to toe even his face was hairy. He was known as the hairy man of hairy man road and he didn’t know how to interact with people so he harassed everyone who came his way. One day he got run over by a car and his ghost lives there. People say they still see the ghost when they pass Hairy Man Road.”

There’s a Hairy Man Road festival in October and the hairiest men have a contest to see who’s the hairiest. The participants take off their shirts and there’s judges too. It’s held in the park across from the informant’s house and all ages show up for the event.

 

Informant also says she remembers being told that someone got hanged on the same road and you see his ghost too, which is a different story from the Hairy Man. There’s a lot of stories told to and from the residents about Hairy Man Road.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Informant grew up in Round Rock, Texas. She says she first heard the story in elementary school at a afterschool day care. A friend told her when everyone was sharing spooky stories. The road is actually spooky. She said it didn’t come to her mind that the festival remembering Hairy Man was weird to everyone else until she shared this with me.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It is a common stories told when sharing scary stories in Round Rock. Kids enjoy circulating the story to each other to scare each other. Because of the festival, the locals typically know the story already. When people drive by Hairy Man Road, a local might share to others if they are together in the car. It’s not really shared outside of the locals unless asked about. It’s not a secret, but it’s not common knowledge.

Personal Analysis:

I was surprised to hear about the legend of this road. I’ve never heard of it before, and I wouldn’t have if I didn’t ask a Round Rock local about their traditions. It’s interesting to hear and know about new small U.S. legends. I’m most shocked to find that a story that sounds fictional can become an annual festival. I’ve never experienced such a ridiculous and funny event before.

For another version of this proverb, see “The Legend of Hairy Man Road.” Weird Texas. Weirdus, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2017. http://weirdus.com/states/texas/bizarre_beasts/hairy_man_road/index.php

Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Barbados Hair Covering

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.

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