USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘head’
Folk Beliefs
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Homeopathic
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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.

Folk Beliefs

Never Sleep With Your Feet Facing North

My roommate’s parents were both born in Indian (she was born in the United States) so she sat down with me in my apartment and explained some folklore that she learned from her parents. Her relationship to the folklore isn’t necessarily that she truly believes in it, but that it’s an important part of her culture and something she thinks about from time to time.

“Never sleep with your feet facing north, always sleep with you head facing the north, because that is where God is. Putting your feet in that direction is disrespectful”

Q: So, sleeping with your head and feet in a certain direction is part of religion?

“It’s religious-based, because our main god, Ganapati, he…long story short, they needed to find a head for him. That’s why he has an elephant head. And they had to go find…like, get the head of the first animal that was facing north. And it was an elephant, so he has an elephant head. North is where God…everything good is in the north”

Q: So is the south considered bad?

“I don’t think it’s considered bad, it’s just that North is where the gods live. West, East, South… no gods live there, so we don’t even particularly care.”

Q: Does your family all follow this direction?

“It’s one of those things that’s always in the back of your head, like ‘never put your feet facing the north’ In my house at home I actually sleep facing south, but when I came to college I was like ‘oh this is north, I will sleep this way.’ I don’t believe that I will be curse or that I’m going to die because I slept in the wrong direction, but it’s something you think about”

Q: Do other people take it more seriously?

“I think so. I know when I would go home and visit my grandparents, they’re in flats, so there’s not a lot of space, so we’d have to combine beds and it was really inconvenient the ways the two beds combined, but it was like ‘you have to face sleeping north so this is how the beds will be arranged’ But that was one thing, at home. I only have experience at home. My grandparents didn’t care when we went to a hotel, they were like, yeah whatever. It’s more like your primary bed is a big deal”

 

This folk belief has a basis in religion, but it doesn’t seem that there a large consequences for not following the belief. Unlike some folk beliefs, there is not really a set punishment for disobeying; instead, what is important is conveying respect to the gods.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Thai Culture: Head and Feet

Transcribed Text:

“In Thai culture, the head is the most important part of your body, and the feet are considered dirty, cuz that’s on the ground all the time. So it’s very disrespectful if you point your feet at somebody’s head, or if you point your feet at somebody in general. And also, if you step over books, or like, put your feet on books, or put books on the ground, because books are considered knowledge from your head.”

This is a Thai folk belief about knowledge and dirt. The informant says that she learned this belief from her mom when she was a child. She says that she remembers pointing her feet towards the prayer room at Buddha in her house and she remembers her mom reprimanding her for doing so and explaining why it was wrong to do so. It makes sense that the feet are associated with dirt and the head is associated with knowledge, so this is a folk belief that is tied a lot with logic. Furthermore, books are also associated with the brain in Thai culture, because books contain the knowledge that people have in their heads. Therefore, stepping on books, or even stepping over books is considered offensive, as it is considered to be stepping on somebody’s knowledge. This also branches out to temples and houses as well. A person is not allowed to enter a temple or a house with shoes that one would wear in the outside world, because they are entering an area of holiness and family.

This folk belief is also an oicotype of the folk belief in India. In India, people are not allowed to wear their shoes into a temple or a home. Often times, it is even encouraged for people to wash their feet before they enter, to cleanse the dirt that they may have. Both Thai and Indian culture have such a similar folk belief because there was a lot of interaction between the two cultures over the past hundreds, if not thousands of years. It is extremely plausible that many pieces of folklore exchanged between the two countries and developed along in similar fashions.

 

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