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

El Imbunche

I interviewed a good family friend, and she is a middle aged woman from Chiloé, Chile, who now lives with her family in California. My dad was also present at the time, and he helped me translate some of the things she said in Spanish that I didn’t understand. This performance occurred after dinner, while we were still sitting at the table.


 

Original Script

Informant: “El Imbunche es un ser mitológico… en Chiloé… que… es muy feo.”

Dad: “Feo.”

Informant: “Y chico. Baja estatura. Y tiene una de las piernas dobladas atrás.”

Dad: “Ah, ¡Eso está muy interesante!”

Me: “Is this… What is this about? An object? Or is it a story?”

Informant: “It’s a story.

Me: “Ok. And it’s called El Imbun…?”

Informant: “El Imbunche.”

Dad: “Es un enano. Expliquale. Es un enano?”

Informant: “Es un enano. ¡No, no! No es un enano. Es… de baja estatura pero no es enano.”

Dad: “Ah, he is not a dwarf, but is… you know, not too tall.”

Me: “A short guy.”

Informant: “It’s a short guy. It’s a petite guy. And he has long hair, not really dark, but long hair. And, one of his leg, the right one, is… is-”

Dad: “Crook?”

Informant: “I don’t know if it’s-”

Dad: “Bended?”

Informant: “Bending. So it go on the back.”

Me: “Oh, it like bends all the way up his back?”

Informant: “Yeah, yeah, no yeah. Pero he just walk with one… foot.”

Me: “He just hops along?”

Informant: “He jump! So he is this way, like in the yoga class, and he… one of he’s… so he is, the legs… that was some… I don’t know who told me that. Maybe my mom did. So the legs, you can see his leg in the shoulder.”

Dad: “Touching his neck?”

Informant: “Yeah.”

Me: “He’s disfigured?”

Informant: “Someth-…Yeah. He is definitely disfigured, and… and he jump. And you have to be, be careful because every time umm… I don’t know if was my mom but one of my… the ancestors said, you know, have to be careful because… they like the beautiful girls. And the younger ones.

Me: “There’s not many. There’s just one right?”

Informant: “Who?”

Me: “Just one guy?

Informant: “Yes, is one guy. And… they like beautiful girls. And you have to be careful, because if he got you… you get… pregnant.

Me: “Ohh…”

Informant: “And he like just pretty, young girls. And he doesn’t go for the… for the old ladies or some other.”

Dad: “The old ones! (laughs) Sin vergüenzas!”

Me: “And who told you this story? Your mom?”

Informant: “I don’t know. I heard something-”

Me: “You just heard it from friends?”

Informant: “No, people working, and you know, in the party when they get together they was working, it was always, it was something here. I was so terrified, I remember… I was so terrified, I’m glad I have brothers, because it was always goes next to me. There was stayed next to me, because for this guy.”

Me: “But how do you think this story came about? Like, it’s kind of like a warning? Not to walk alone at night?”

Informant: “Yeah, probably. You know, also you know, it’s a… they, they made those story, you know why? Because… they have to make something because maybe it was the neighbor… who abused the girl… or one of the family abused the girl… You know, so they made the whole thing… to scare the girl…you know… Or just, you know…”

Me: “Was this supposed to be someone in your neighborhood?”

Informant: “Yeah. It could be any in your neighborhood.”

Me: “Oh, ok. But this is a very widespread story?”

Informant: “Yeah, it’s all Chiloé. It’s all Chiloé, always… talking about… this.”

Me: “Is that where you’re from?”

Informant: “Yes, mhmm.”

We talk about the location of Chiloé for a bit.

Me: “And uh, you never saw him though?”

Informant: “No. Of course not.”

Dad: “In your dreams maybe.”

Informant: “I was a good girl.”

Me: “But you’ve heard of people who saw him, maybe?”

Informant: “Yeah. People saw him… They say, ‘Oh my God!’, you know, ‘Oh, I saw Imbunche jumping, you know on… from the window of my girls, you know.'”

Me: “It just perpetuates this story.”

Informant: “But it’s not… I don’t think it never exists, it’s not real. People made it up.”

Dad: “Like a myth. Un mito.”

Informant: “Yeah, made it up. It’s a mito. Yeah, made it up because, you know, to cover… to cover those seen, and you see… young girls, and then she’s pregnant, and the girl can’t talk because, you know, they say you can’t talk, because you have to say it was el Imbunche.

Me: “Oh, so do people sometimes when they don’t… Do some people use this name when they don’t want to say who the father is?”

Informant: “Exactly.”

Me: “Ahhh, ok.”

Informant: “It was that. It was them.”

Me: “So there is a story behind this. Ah ok, that’s interesting.”

Informant: “Yeah, it could be, even though it could be even-”

Me: “And no one questions it? Or they know, ‘Oh, someone…'”

Informant: “The same father, or the older brothers.”

Dad: “Incest. Yeah, incest sometimes.”

Me: “Oh, so if it’s like taboo…”

Informant: “It is.”

Me: “Then that’s when…”

Informant: “It was. It was. Not right now, but the thing is… Yeah, because now, you know, they don’t believe in that story. But… they used to use at that time for… to cover… family… or whatever it was there… involved.”

Translated Summary

The informant described the Imbunche as a mythological being in Chiloé, that is very ugly and disfigured, with one of his legs bent up behind his back. He’s also short and petite, but not a dwarf, and he has long, black hair. He is known to hop around the streets, preying on young, beautiful women, and his victims end up pregnant. Although the moral of this legend can be interpreted as a warning of what might happen if young women wander the streets alone at night, the informant also explained how the name “El Imbunche” is often used as an explanation for how a young girl ends up pregnant when she doesn’t want to say who the father is. This is especially the case if the father of the baby is a deadbeat, or a family member such as a brother or the girl’s own father.

Analysis

I found this particular legend very fascinating, since not only does it come from this village on an island off the coast of Chile, but that it holds such complex social implications. I have observed that legends often reflect the fears of the people who tell them, and therefore stand as a sort of warning not to behave a certain way or do a certain thing, lest the events of the legend actually happen. While the legend of El Imbunche in Chiloé may have started out this way, it has now become co-opted to describe any kind of taboo relationship that results in an unplanned pregnancy.

 

*For another version of this legend, see <http://wwenico96.blogspot.com/2009/05/el-imbunche.html> or <http://www.agenciaelvigia.com.ar/imbunche.htm>

Customs
Game
Humor
Musical

“The Bagel Song” at Camp

The informant is a 20-year old college sophomore at University of Michigan majoring in industrial and systems engineering. She went to sleep-away camp for several years and was excited to share some of her fond memories of it with me. One such memory is “the Bagel Song.”

 

“Bagels, doo doo doo

Bagels, doo doo doo

 

Bagels on Mars, Bagels on Venus

I got bagels in my…..

NOSE!

 

Bagels, doo doo doo

Bagels, doo doo doo

 

Bagels on the pier, bagels on the dock

I got bagels on my….

NOSE!

 

Bagels, doo doo doo

Bagels, doo doo doo

(The next person makes up a stanza similar to the first two, with provocative lyrics that make the listener think of something dirty, but that ends in NOSE

 

Interviewer: “Where did you learn the Bagel Song?”

Informant: “I remember my counselor one year teaching it to me and a few other campers. We thought it was totally hilarious. When I was a counselor a few years ago, I taught it to my campers too.”

Interviewer: “Where would you guys sing the song?”

Informant: “Oh gosh, all the time. Um, we would sing it when camp songs were song. Like at bonfires and before mealtimes when everyone was together waiting to eat. We would tease the cute male counselors with it too…”

Interviewer: “Did your counselor who taught you the song say where she learned it?”

Informant: “No. We never asked. But I do have a friend who went to an all-boys camp in Wisconsin who told me they had a variation of the song they would sing.

Interviewer: “Do you remember how the variation went?”

Informant: “Hmm. I think it was the same general principle. I think what was different was that the boys said “Bacon” instead of “bagel”? I’m not entirely sure though; it was a long time ago that I talked to my friend about it!”

 

Thoughts:

I see the Bagel song as a humorous song dealing with taboos of sex and sexuality. The song is especially funny because it makes the listener the one with the “dirty mind”, not the singer, as it is the listener who thinks the singer is going to make an obscene reference.

Oring talks about Children’s folklore (I would consider “The Bagel Song” fitting into this category) a good deal in Folk Groups and Folklore Genres. Ideas of childhood have been purified for a long time in American society, and the oppressiveness of the controlled environment in which children reside in can partially explain their dealing with the sexuality taboo, along with other taboos.

general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Shot of Akvavit and Swedish Song

Informant “J” is a 19 year male old college student at the University of Southern California, he is studying Neuroscience and is a Sophomore at the time of this interview. He was born in Danville, California to a Jewish father and as a result J has regular exposure to Jewish traditions and customs. Though he does involve himself with Jewish traditions, he does not practice Judaism and considers himself non-religious.

 

“J: So my… during Hanukkah dinners we’d always go over to my cousin’s house and during this time at the end of the dinner during desert, my… uh… my aunt’s dad, was… uh… Swedish, he was from Sweden and he had this drink over there called Akvavit. It was this type of hard liquor, um, it was a yellowish kinda, it was a yellowish hard liquor, it was a little sweet. But basically at um… after every single meal that he had during Hanukkah at desert time we’d all have a shot, even the little kids, even my cousin who are like 10 and 8 would have a shot of this.

Me: Uh huh.

J: Beacuse it was kind of this tradition that they had afterwards, you would sing a song, we’d try to sing a long as well but it was… it.. uh… we didn’t really understand what he was saying and after that we’d all take a shot and basically what he said was just kind of this old song that meant .. like.. good tiding, like long live the next night and the holidays and meet with your family.

Me: Is this a Swedish or a Jewish song?

J: Uh, that was actually a Swedish song so it was um, it was, he sung it in Swedish because although we were all Jewish he kinda just brought his own little culture into it and it was kind of a way to celebrate it but also do it during a sort of special Jewish holiday. ”

 

Analysis: The partaking of drinking of the whole family during a holiday is very common as a sort of relaxing of cultural customs during holidays, as is seen with things like the New Year’s Kiss or kissing under the mistletoe during Christmas. The fusion of Swedish tradition with a Jewish context, as well as a partaking of the whole family, shows an overall acceptance of J’s aunt’s father’s Swedish traditions, and an acceptance of this fusion as a sign of mutual respect.

The drink of choice, Akvavit, was explain by J as being fairly popular in Sweden. It appears that Sweden is the largest producer of the drink and the name is latin for ‘water of life’. It is made from distilled potato or grains (“aquavit”, Encyclopædia Britannica ).

The song sung afterwards is a classic example of a drinking song, which usually following directly after or before a drink. The song itself is unknown.

Work Cited

“aquavit”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2015
<http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/31128/aquavit>.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Tattoos are defiling your body

“So what’s common in Jewish culture is that you’re not allowed to get tattoos, because should you get a tattoo, you’re defiling your body, and you can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery. My grandfather had this idea that all his children would be buried with him in a Jewish cemetery. And then my father got a tattoo and I got a tattoo, and my grandpa actually ended up getting a tattoo because he got heart surgery, and now he jokes about it and talks about how he can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery.”

 

My informant comes from a culturally Jewish household, but neither she nor her father practices the religion. The ban on tattoos can be found in Leviticus, but many modern-day Jews choose to ignore it, even though it means that they can’t be buried in consecrated ground. I was surprised that her grandfather, who she describes as religious, was willing to break the taboo in order to get a tattoo. It is an interesting dichotomy between what people see as an inarguable point of their faith and the way they actually behave.

(This belief comes from Leviticus: “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:28))

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

That Scottish Play

According to my informant, there is a long-running superstition in theatre surrounding the name “MacBeth.”  If you are in a theatre or involved in a theatrical production, you are not supposed to say the name “MacBeth” or quote lines from the play.  Instead of saying “MacBeth” you are supposed to say “That Scottish Show” or something along those lines.  It is akin to stepping on a crack or spilling salt; it is bad luck all around.  She says that if you say “MacBeth” around a theatre or while you are working on a play, then the theatre will burn down or someone will die on stage.  It’s just something you are not supposed to do.  My informant learned this from her high school theatre teacher.  Someone in rehearsal had said “MacBeth” and the teacher went pale and screamed at this offending student to leave the room and wash out her tongue or something.

After researching on Wikipedia and other websites, I have discovered that the taboo against saying “MacBeth” has many supposed origins.  Some believe it is because the original globe theatre burned down after a production of MacBeth, others believe it is because a real sword was accidentally used instead of a prop sword, and someone was killed during a performance.  Others still think it comes from the fact that the witchcraft lines used in the play are real magic, thus cursing each and every performance.  Some believe that Shakespeare stole these lines from an actual witching coven, and these witches cursed the play.  Some say that Shakespeare himself cursed the play so that no one but he would be able to put on a performance of the play.  Others still say that King James, for whom Shakespeare had written the play to impress, did not like the play very much.  Ashamed, Shakespeare would not talk about MacBeth openly, instead calling it “That Scottish Play.”  Speaking the name of the play, the names of the characters, and in some places directly quoting lines from the play, are all considered bad luck.

According to the site, productions of MacBeth are often accompanied by accidents and death.  Other theatres that put on the production will sometimes go out of business soon after.  MacBeth is, however, a more expensive production than most, and has more stage combat and special effects (old timey theatrical effects) than most plays, leading to the business failures and accidents, respectively.

If someone does speak the name “MacBeth” or quotes lines from the play, they are to exit the theatre immediately.  The offender must then spin around three times and then knock on the door.  The offender may not re-enter the theatre until someone lets them in.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scottish_Play

Folk speech
Humor
Musical

Miss Suzie’s Steamboat

Miss Suzie had a steamboat
The steamboat had a bell (toot toot) 
Miss Suzie went to heaven 
The steamboat went to 
Hello operator, please give me number 9
If you disconnect me, I’ll chop off your 
Behind the refrigerator laid a piece of glass 
Miss Suzie sat upon it and broke her little
Ask me no more questions, please give me no more lies 
The boys are in bathroom pulling down their 
Flies are in the meadow, the bees are in the park 
Miss Suzie and her boyfriend are kissing in the DARK DARK DARK! 
Is like a movie, a movie’s like a show, a show is on TV 
And that’s all I know know know!

This is one of the many chants that is recited with a certain clapping pattern that I learned in elementary school.  Back then, many girls would say these chants during recess as a way of spending their free time.  I remember learning it from my best friend, who had learned it from other girls in her class.  Once we both knew it, we would frequently play this clapping game, whether we were at school or at each other’s houses.  It was a way of passing time when we were bored.
Looking back at my elementary school days, chanting this rhyme was extremely enjoyable.  Not only did it help ease my boredom, but it also provided me with fun.  Chanting the words with my friends made me laugh because of the words in the chant.  It implies inappropriate words without actually being inappropriate.
Remembering the chant reminds me of how much fun I had as a kid.  When I hear other kids recite these chants and play clapping games, I remember more specific memories that I had as a child.  This chant gives me a connection to my past.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget this chant because it has been implanted in my brain from reciting it so much.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Material
Myths
Narrative
Protection
Tales /märchen

It is bad luck for tourists to remove Hawaiian lava rocks from the islands

My informant has lived on the island of Hawaii his whole life.  He currently works at the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.  He first heard of the superstition when his parents would complain about the increasing amount of tourism to the island.  They would justify their discontent by acknowledging that all of the tourists who would return home with volcanic rock would be stricken with bad luck.

At the national park, my informant has been taught, and is expected to know, the details of the superstition.  Apparently, the volcanic goddess, Pele, curses visitors who return to their homelands with a lava rock.  At the national park, they frequently receive packages which contain lava rocks that people have taken and wish to return because of their bad luck.  They expect that by returning the rocks, their luck will change for the better.  The worst instance he has heard of was a man who was laid off of work and broke his leg in the same month.  He believes the superstition was created by native Hawaiians trying to discourage tourists from disturbing the landscape.  He has never left the island with a volcanic rock before, so he doesn’t have any firsthand experience with the curse.

In my opinion, the lava operates as an item the tourists can blame their misfortunes on.  Then, whenever something goes wrong, they think of the lava rock instead of brushing it off.  Then the tourists feel like they have to free themselves of the burden the rock has put them in.  Also, I have heard of how much the native Hawaiians hate tourists, so it’s likely this superstition was started to discourage tourist activity.  Also, this makes sense because tourism to Hawaii has only become popular in the last century.  To tie an ancient figure like Pele to a more modern practice makes it evident that the curse is not genuine and the native Hawaiians just don’t like tourists taking pieces of Hawaii home with them.

Folk speech
Proverbs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Don’t crap where you eat

My informant first heard this proverb in his dormitory at the beginning of his freshman year of college.  His residential advisor recommended that no one on the coed floor date each other, regardless of how good looking they may appear to each other.  Then, the residential advisor reinforced her point with this proverb.  However, the majority of the residents had no idea what she had said.  She laughed and explained the proverb.

My informant understands the proverb to mean not to get involved in situations that will inevitably come back to haunt you.  My informant explained that, with respect to the aforementioned situation, the resident advisor was suggesting that if anyone were to get romantically involved with anyone else who lived down the hall, it would work out fine until the couple realizes the relationship was a mistake.  At this point, there are always hard feelings, and if you have no choice but to live right next to someone you don’t want to see again, you’re in for a bad time.  The couple would have to share elevators, dining areas, and common space, even after their fallout.  My informant then mentioned that all of the residents of the dorm understood this and adhered to the proverb, except for a few drunken nights.

For this example to make sense, the proverb needs to be broken down.  If you, say, crap anywhere you want to, it’ll be worthwhile until you have to return to an area where you’ve already crapped.  This is especially problematic if you took a dump where you eat, because, while enjoyable at the time, the odor and mess is going to make you miserable whenever you dine thereafter. Similarly, being with a girl has its benefits, but the breakup will make you miserable if she’s still going to be everywhere you are.

I have been told this proverb at work several times with the intent to keep me from dating female coworkers.  This makes sense because I’d be forced to work with that coworker after a breakup and would be expected to perform and interact like nothing had happened. In my opinion, I believe this proverb is just a warning to consider the consequences of your choices.

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