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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Click here for video. “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.
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.