USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘supersition’
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

The Legend of El cucuy

Background

Informant: A.G.  22 years old current senior in undergrad at USC, third generation from Honduras/Mexico

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Context

A.G.’s family is originally from South America, namely Mexico and Honduras. His family immigrated to the US when his mother was a child and have strong ties to their heritage, tradition and culture back in their homeland. Many of the stories and traditions that A.G. knows have been passed down from generation to generation, and instill a cultural and familial understanding in the younger generations. The Legend of El cucuy is one such piece of folklore, that is told to young children to scare them into behaving appropriately and being obedient. The story itself has many parallels to ones like La Llorona, or other similar ghost stories that are based around children. A.G. initially heard this story from his uncle, who learned it from his mother, whom would tell him this legend at night when he was a young boy. I have transcribed his telling below:

Main Piece

“My uncle told me that his mother, my abuela, would tell him to behave or the cucuy would get him. Cucuy is like a small, bat eared, hair monster that has huge red eyes and it would kidnap you if you did something bad or misbehaved. He said this his mom would always tell him to go to sleep on time, to behave, never doing anything bad by anybody else and to listen and respect her, which was the most important. If he didn’t behave properly, the cucuy would come and take him into the night. Some of his friends would tell him that when they were up past their bedtime or sneaking something, they would hear screeching or suddenly see red eyes in the bushes. Whenever that happened, someone would be missing the next day. To this day he says he’s still scared of it, especially if he goes back to Mexico”

Thoughts

El cucuy from Mexico that has long been known by the Mexican people and a lot of latin americans. It has traveled to the United States and spread at a tremendous rate. The legend is reminiscent of La Llorona or the American boogeyman due to the similar roles that the stories play; to scare kids into staying in their beds and not misbehaving. When asked about whether this story was relevant when he was a child, A.G. noted that while he was aware of it, it wasn’t told to him in the same way that it was told to his uncle. For A.G. he learned it more as a reference to his culture, and less as a cautionary tale used to make children behave. He also noted that in his uncle’s telling of the story, he naturally began acting out the legend, and made it sound ominous as if he was reciting it to some unruly children and really trying to convince them of El cucuy’s existence. Apparently, there is still superstition and belief in this creature, much the same way that there is belief in Ll Llorona.

It was interesting to me to hear how similar this legend is to other and the role that these legends play specifically when related to children. In the folklore course with Tok Thompson, there has been discussions about the way that folklore is used to teach children about social and cultural norms, and how to behave. It seems that in this case, the myth of El cucuy’s purpose is directly related to scaring children into acting appropriately, in the same way that Cinderella informs them of gender norms. Belief in the legend also prompts real changes in behavior and of perception, for example when a child does act out of turn and “sees” El cucuy in the bush, someone goes missing. This then strengthens in the “validity” of the legend and further impacts the cultural behavior around it.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Material
Protection

Coffee Enema Can Clear You of Worms

Background

Informant: K.M. – 21 year old female, born and raised in Los Angeles

Context

When talking about health remedies and ways to eat better, K.M. presented this wives tale that has gained more attention due to the internet and the claims about this “healing treatment.” Told to the informant by a friend, she then researched and found multiple variations of the treatment and the benefits, even expressing that she herself would like to try it. I have transcribed her telling below:

Main Piece

“So I’ve heard that humans have a lot of toxins in their bodies and that due to all of the processed food we eat, most of us actually have parasites living in our intestines. So then I asked my super health freak friend about it and she showed me this thing called a coffee enema. I was super skeptical at first but then she showed me all this stuff about how it’s an ancient technique used to clear the body of the toxins. And then I started watching all of these videos of people who did it and got rid of their worms, so now I’m not sure if I should do it.”

Thoughts

This is an example of a homeopathic remedy, which are quite common both in folklore and in a number of cultural communities. Using natural techniques to clean the body and rid it of toxins and outside invaders is a common folk belief that has recently surged again due to overall consciousness of our health and the things that we put into our body. However, most science actually states the opposite, that there is no method humans can use to clear the body of these “toxins” and that the liver and kidneys actually physiologically do this already, as long as they are healthy. However, this specific belief  and others like it may be a call back to the times of widespread spiritual cleansing. Many believe in the power of burning sage to clear bad energies and spirits, perhaps the coffee enema is an extension of that desire to create a pure state for ourselves. An enema quite literally forces the body to expel waste, and this could be seen as a parallel to a spiritual cleansing ritual. However, what was interesting to me was the spread of this belief among our group of friends after she shared this folk belief, with most of us in the group initially believing the claims and then sharing it with others in our community.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Filipino Funeral Rituals & Superstitions

Context:

The informant is a 26-year-old male of Filipino descent. He will be referred to as DY. DY and his family lived in Hawaii for a time, and he currently resides in California. His piece of folklore comes from a memory he had in Hawaii and is described in the main piece in his own words:

Main Piece:

With my family, growing up I had a few family members pass away and I realized as a kid that our grieving process was different. Prior to the funeral we would go through a 9 day prayer process but what stood out to me after all of that is that we would do this ritual where my family would boil guava leaves, water, and vinegar together and the person closest to the deceased would rub this mixture on every member of the family’s face. I asked my mom why we would do that, and my mom told me that it’s because It’s one of the final steps that we need to do in order to help the dead move on or else they will still linger onto this world and attach themselves to anyone who didn’t partake in the ritual. If anyone starts to feel some sort of sickness around the time of these prayers, they would do this thing we called “Ano ano” where my aunt would knock on the forehead of the person feeling sick because it was a sign of the dead trying to hold onto that person. My mom never believed in it because she never felt any kind of dizziness or sickness, but a good chunk of my aunties is superstitious in that way so if you felt any sort of dizziness you had to have it happen to you.

Background:

DY heard the folklore from his mother, but it appears that the folklore is common knowledge among the elders in the family. It’s something passed down to the children to continue the tradition.  DY believes that through spiritual experiences he’s had with the passing of his grandmother, that he believes the rituals have magical properties but that he doesn’t really participate in them so he might not continue the tradition with his own children.

Notes:

The act of these rituals seems to be more than just the action of doing them. These rituals and traditions are important in keeping the family united. It is a social experience that of course, serves a purpose, but it also brings the family closer together. The use of guava leaves in a basin can also be used as a wash when people leave the funeral or cemetery, they rinse their hands in the basin to remove the spirits that may have attached themselves to the living.

 

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