USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘taboo’
Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The White Foul Line

Baseball is rife with superstitions, my informant is a long-time player and as a pitcher he describes to me the longest-stranding baseball taboo.

“You don’t step on the white foul line when taking the field, ever, not just pitchers, but all players, but especially pitchers. When I go out to the mound I jump over it with my right foot, and always my right foot. It’s bad juju if you step on the line, nobody steps on the line, it just isn’t done. It’s bad luck. It’s always been that way. I don’t know who I learned it from, it’s just always been done as long as I can remember.”

Analysis:

Baseball superstitions, rituals, charms, and taboos usually are surrounding those circumstances which are not totally in the player’s control, that is pitching and hitting usually. This particular superstition is not stepping on the foul line when taking the field. It is quite an old superstition that has no particular origin with a certain player, but one players of all caliber pay attention to. It is supposed to prevent bad luck in a game when one play can change the entire game. Because it is so old and established as a taboo, players simply adhere because all those players before them have done so, so it must work, and the players will do anything that works. One bad pitch or one great hit and the game could turn for the worse. A pitcher can do all he can to play perfectly, but he cannot control the batter’s actions, therefore this leaves a lot of room for superstitions. It is human nature to want to control one’s surroundings and this is just a little taboo that allows a player in his mind to control the outcome however small.

 

general

Taboo Against the Big Stall?

The informant says he’s had very little experience with taboos but that one experience in particular stands out to him:

When he was at the Mexico City airport, waiting for a connecting flight, he stepped into a mostly empty bathroom and went for the big stall because he likes the extra space.

Someone in the bathroom, a random stranger, stepped in his way and accosted him in Spanish, shaking his head in regards to the big bathroom. The informant was a bit surprised by the reaction and didn’t respond, choosing another stall entirely.

The respondent doesn’t know whether to attribute the taboo of using the big stall to the individual of that particular incident or to Mexican culture as a whole. In any case, since he’s spent such a short time in Mexico, he has nonetheless attributed that taboo to the whole of Mexican culture. He concedes that the big stall is important and necessary for those with disabilities, but affirms that in his experience it is the most popular stall.

Analysis:

This one is an interesting and minor piece of folklore. Because we don’t know whether it does describe Mexican culture or not, I won’t make any projections. I do think it is very important that we leave the large stalls alone if other ones are available, and leave them for those whom they’ve been designed.

Folk Beliefs
general

Hawaiian Folk Belief on Whistling

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 mother’s mother’s mother and even from before her are from Hawaii but some England roots are interjected into the bloodline as well. My mother’s father’s father’s father hails half from Hawaii and the other half from China and Portugal. But what is funny about most Hawaiians, is that they are not only Hawaiian. They are also Caucasian, Portuguese, Chinese, Filipino, Samoan, Japanese, Korean, e.t.c…….Plantation workers were brought in to work the sugar and pineapple fields and they brought their culture with them.

Piece:

In Hawaiian we call it (taboo) Kapu, which means sacred, don’t touch or you die, just don’t do it. Hawaiians of ancient Hawaii had many taboo, thank goodness which no longer exist, as most kapu broken would end with death. When I was little, my Tutu, my mother’s mother forbid us to whistle after sunset. Whistling after sunset was kapu because whistling at night would summons evil spirits. To this day 35 years later, I don’t dare whistle after sunset……

Piece Background Information:

Informant already mentioned within their piece that they learned about this taboo through her grandmother.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Context of Performance:

Via email.

Thoughts on Piece: 
If you google “whistling at night”, there are plenty of accounts, mostly from Japanese, Native American, and Hawaiian cultures, of how whistling at night can invite evil. And in relation to the legend of the Night Marchers, shared with me by the same informant, apparently there are Hawaiian accounts that whistling at night will summon these legendary figures. While there can be no scientific or evidential basis for how whistling at night could summon spirits, perhaps this is also a method for parents to get their children to behave as whistling, or making noise, at night can be disturbing.
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Signs

Gift of Shoes Taboo

Barbara is a Chinese-American who graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside. Her parents are from Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States, before giving birth to her in Baldwin Park, Los Angeles. She recently received her Master’s in Clinical Psychology and is currently working at a clinic in downtown Los Angeles. Her hobbies are baking, exploring hipster cafes or restaurants, and reading thriller novels.

Original Script

Ok so you don’t want to give your significant other a pair of shoes for their birthdays or Christmas or as a present because it means that they’re going to run away with the shoes you got for them.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant first heard of this superstition when she was shopping for shoes with her mom. She remembers this superstition because she especially enjoys buying or receiving shoes as presents.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in my house.

This ancient Chinese superstition has endured time because of its meaning and its sound. The character for “shoes” is 鞋 (xié), which sounds like “syeah.” The pronunciation is similar to that of the character for “bad luck,” which is 邪 (xié). Besides the sound, shoes are also tools used to step on or run away from something. Thus, the Chinese have always generally considered shoes as taboo gifts.

My Thoughts about the Performance

I have never considered shoes as gifts of bad luck or ulterior motives. When I heard about this Chinese superstition I was surprised, because I have both given and received shoes as presents. I find this superstition somewhat funny, because the source of this belief is based on sounds and metaphors.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Signs

Gift of Time Taboo

Barbara is a Chinese-American who graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside. Her parents are from Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States, before giving birth to her in Baldwin Park, Los Angeles. She recently received her Master’s in Clinical Psychology and is currently working at a clinic in downtown Los Angeles. Her hobbies are baking, exploring hipster cafes or restaurants, and reading thriller novels.

Original Script

Ok, and you don’t want to give your significant other a watch or a clock or anything that tells time ‘cause it kind of means that you’re telling them it’s time for them to go, like they’re gonna to either leave you or they’re gonna die or something.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant first heard of this superstition from a friend she was eating with in high school. They were discussing what to give to a friend for her birthday, and the topic of a watch as a potential present came up in the conversation.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in my house.

This ancient Chinese superstition has endured time because of its meaning and its sound. The phrase for “giving a clock” is 送钟 (sòng zhōng), which sounds like “song jong.” The pronunciation is similar to that of the phrase for “attending a funeral ritual,” which is 送终 (song zhōng). Besides the sound, clocks and watches also represent running out of time. Thus, the Chinese have always generally considered shoes as taboo gifts.

My Thoughts about the Performance

I have never considered watches or any other objects that tell time as gifts that imply death or abandonment. When I heard about this Chinese superstition I was surprised, because I have both given and received watches as presents. I find this superstition somewhat funny, because the source of this belief is based on sounds and metaphors. I have also never had any near-death experiences or had the person leave me after giving me the present.

Folk Beliefs

Popular Belief in Ghosts in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico

Do you maybe have, like, a ghost story that you were taught?

 

“Actually, yeah, it’s uhh… they, they always said that there was, there were two nights every single year, don’t remember when or how, but there were certain specific time of the year, the, you were forbidden to leave your house between, after 11:00 p.m. on those two nights of the year, otherwise you would encounter, uhh… not really ancestors there, but some other people, especially those who wanted to do, like… like… you know, just, you know, bad stuff. And uhh… people who could not rest in peace, and they would come those specific nights. Of course nobody every left their houses, you know, during those two nights, ever, you know cuz you were so respectful of that tradition. And as far as I remember, nobody saw anything, although it’s maybe because nobody went out. [laughs]

 

Uhh, but, uhh, I dunno why, I don’t know why those things came, uhh… I don’t remember when that thing was like, like, followed, but uhh, there were two specific nights one right after the other, those two nights, you just were totally grounded.

 

Do you remember who told you that story? Or was it something that just everybody knew?

 

“Everybody in the community knew that one. Oh! Also related to that same thing is that they said that, uhh, you were lucky enough to, to, to be… uhh… outdoors between like 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., not after 11:00 p.m. because everybody else was so afraid of encountering something unnatural, they, ummm… they said between 10:00 and 11:00 was okay but you were lucky enough, you would see flames on the ground. Appearing like, just like, magic, and uh, you, uhh, you have to make sure, you have to make certain of where that flame was coming from, or where was the specific spot, because uhh, the next night, you wouldn’t come out, like I said, but on the third night, you were supposed to go there with some friends, dig, and supposedly you were going to find gold there.

 

I never knew anybody just, you know, striking rich by doing that, but that was part of the legend as well.
Where did it come from? It came from our grandparents, actually. And my dad tolds me that his dad swears that he saw some of those flames, but he was so afraid to go and dig because he would find something else instead of money, so… [laughs]

 

Not sure that was an old tale, you know, from some drunk people or something like that, very convincing, but, it became part of the community there, yeah.”

 

And what was the name of this community, again?

 

“This is Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico.”

 

Analysis: Like many ghost stories, the informant expresses disbelief in the ghost elements in the story in abstract, but seems to believe at least partially in the reality of the experience that he relates. The story seems to imply that there is a certain time of the year where social function is not permissible because people are remembering the dead who cannot rest. This motif of restless spirits is incredibly common in ghost stories around the world, despite the very Catholic culture of Mexico. What is unique to this story, however, is the promise of gold if one happens to find oneself outside and getting very close to the forbidden hour, which would suggest that a degree of risk-taking is honorable and respected in this rural Mexican culture.

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Sex Taboo in Rural Mexico

“I have some… some things about my culture and my village, and umm… we were a 9 girls at home. So… sex was umm… nobody can talk about sex. And then, uhh… My mom… how mothers protect their daughters, not to be pregnant and not to be with boys before marriage, she always said to us, ‘don’t touch your body. Because if you touch your breasts, it will damage. So just be careful not to touch it, and also when you take a shower, don’t wash your private parts, because they can get sick.’

 

So that way, we don’t touch our private parts. So… It was a taboo, nobody wants to speak about that.”

 

And was that a common thing, did everybody tell their daughters that?

 

“I think so, I think so. I think it was like that. So no girls got pregnant. No girls got uhh… got a sex before after marriage. So, sometimes, we think if you give a kiss to a boy, to your boyfriend, you will get pregnant. So not even wants to kiss a boys. It… It was kind of a… umm… we grow up, all the girls in our village, and nobody talk about sex. We all just tried to avoid that, and if somebody wants to tell us about sex, our parents, my mother and our parents, said, ‘Run from there! Because this is no good, God doesn’t wants that.’

 

So… Everybody behaved really well with that! [laughs]”

 

Analysis: Taboos are very interesting folk beliefs, and that is very much the case even here. What is interesting to note, however, is the notion of value applied to the body of a woman and its ties to physical purity. In other words, the less a woman had experienced in the realm of sexuality, the more valuable she was assumedly perceived to be. Given the parent-to-child transmission of the norm and the reliance on God, this taboo on sex and understanding the female body could very well be a cultural norm and rudimentary form of birth control passed down from generation to generation in order to preserve the honor and finances of families. It is also worth noting that, using the informant’s family as a hypothetical typical family, the size of the family after marriage is much larger than most families in the United States, implying that more effective birth control may not be available, thus necessitating the narrative.

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

The Dog at the Gate

“It came to my mind, one of those legends, It was more, more like, kind of warning from our parents not to do something. But, uhh, in a way, the kind of worked out. The, the way they did it is the following.

 

They told us that curfew time for us was between 10:00 and 10:30 p.m. every day. No exceptions. Uhh… When you were under 16 years old, that was an uhh, unwritten rule. So… uhh… They said that, uhh, instead of punishing us for not coming on time home from wherever we were, they came up with this little legend.

 

It was told to their parents, it was told to them by their parents also, so they scared the heck out of us. They said, when you were walking on these little trails next to the trees, next to the river, invariably you had to cross one of these stone fences. That’s the properties, that was always a little gate. Or sometimes it was just open there, the, the, the rocks were removed from that stone gate, that stone fence, and uhh… people had to walk through those, uhh, those openings no matter what.

 

They said, you were coming after 10:30, between 10:30 and 12:00, it was going to be really dangerous because there was going to be a big, ferocious black dog with red eyes guarding that, uhh, specific opening on the fence. And you wouldn’t be able to cross. And the only way would be to just go back to where you came from, you have to gather at least another 3 people to go with you, otherwise you would find the dog every single time there.

 

Of course we never saw the dog! [laughs] But we got home on time every single time! We were never late, because we never wanted to see that dog! [laughs]

 

So, that was a thing that scared the heck out of us for years and years. Now, when we became adults, you know, we knew it was just a little hoax, it was a little old saying, you know, but… but it worked!”

 

Analysis: Like many tales, this one seemed to be told with the purpose of instilling obedience in children. The informant made it clear that the telling of the story was so scary that it inspired him, even as a young adult, to never break curfew out of fear of consequences – not from his parents, but from the uncontrollable force of the guard dog. It should also be noted that the guard dog would not attack if the individual was in a large enough group, implying that social functions were acceptable late-night activities, but lonesome wandering (or, possibly, philandering) were not.

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.

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