USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘whistle’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Myths
Protection

Whistling on a boat

Main piece:

This one is a little interesting just because there’s so much controversy about what it really means. So, there’s something about whistling on a boat. Either it’s bad luck because it insults the wind, or it’s good luck cuz it calls on more wind. Of course, on a sailing ship wind is what decides where you go and how fast you get there.

But good or bad, a lot of folks say that the cook gets a whistling pass! Cuz if the cook’s down in the galley whistling, he can’t be eating all the food!

Context:

Superstition described by Randy Peffer at Boatswayne Yard in San Pedro, CA. Randy is a career seaman, educator, and writer.

Background:

It’s quiet on boats, and many deckhands perform boring and repetitive tasks. Therefore, whistling is fairly common among new sailors. The standing rig (which holds up the mast) naturally whistles in the wind. Therefore, a comparison might be drawn between the two.

We again see the motif of insulting the gods of the Sea – as whistling may be a challenge.

Analysis:

Randy suspects that this tradition served as a way for more senior sailors to prevent younger deckhands from being a nuisance. Most people find others’ whistling irritating, and creating a superstition to curtail unnecessary noise would be very like most sailors.

Folk Beliefs

Whistling at Night in Hawaii

Main Piece: Hawaiian Superstition

 

“It is told that you are not supposed to whistle at night in Hawaii, because it is believed to summon the Menehune who will capture and kill you”

 

Background:

 

My teammate Danny was born and raised in Hawaii, and this is a very common superstition in Hawaii. The Menehune are believed to be dwarf sized people, who live in the hidden valleys and forests in Hawaii, far out of sight of the humans.

Danny told me that he does not remember who specifically told him this superstition, but tells me it is just a generally well known superstition on the islands. He likes this superstition because it is just one of those random things that is known primarily by natives. This is especially interesting because Hawaii is a dominant tourist destination, and this could be one of those facts dropped by tour guides or natives to possibly scare the tourists or add a level of mystery to the island.

 

Context:

 

Like I said earlier, this is most likely a fact told to tourists by tour guides or natives working at a restaurant or something along those lines. It could also be something told by parents to their young kids when they go out to keep them from staying out to late at night, by instilling a little bit of fear in them to keep them out of trouble.

It could also be something found in a tourism book or a history of the islands when speaking of the mythological beings, the Menehune. This also seems to be more of a legend told around a campfire at night or at a luau, because it doesn’t seem like it would be one of those things that you are just walking down the street with your friend and they say “Oh hey by the way, don’t whistle at night or it will summon the Menehune.”

 

My thoughts:

 

I personally think this is sort of a Hawaiian version of the Boogeyman, being one of those things that scares kids into behaving and giving a far out consequence if not followed. Obviously an adult is not going to believe that a dwarf sized human is going to appear solely by the simple act of whistling, but a naïve and imaginative child would most certainly believe it.

I doubt this would come up in any other context aside from the ones told above, but it is an interesting fact that could be thrown around on a vacation with one’s family when visiting the Hawaiian Islands, that could make you seem fairly knowledgeable on the location. I have been to Hawaii many times before hearing this and I had never heard it so I doubt it is used much outside of family superstition.

 

general
Legends

El Tunche and the Tour Guide

Folklore Piece 

“I was told this story when I was probably… a senior in high school. Um, I, uh, for my bio class we got to go to the amazon jungle, um a research trip with my class. There’s a lot of mythology and a lot of like, ancient beliefs, especially in the jungle and the highlands and places that are not as metropolitan as the main city. Um, and there’s this story that I first heard on that tour from our guide, and it’s about this monster called El Tunche. E-L T-U-N-C-H-E. Um, it’s supposed to be this monster that they say lives in the dark areas of the jungle, and he’s like, not good or bad, it depends on the type of person you are. If you’ve sinned, and you go into the jungle, he’ll come find you. But only if you’ve done something bad. The way that you know he’s coming is he’ll actually whistle. You’ll hear a whistle, like lost in the jungle or something. And if you hear a whistle in another town or something it’s supposed to be bad luck. So like, you have to be aware of like, if you ever hear a whistling sound, that the Tunche coming for you. The Jungle is like super serious and like mysterious, so it’s really easy to believe in these sorts of things”

 

Background information

She spoke often about the Jungle and its role in Peruvian folklore. Specifically its separation from the city and the familiarity of everyday life; it held this sort of mysticism that enabled various folk stories, legends, and tall tales to come from it. She said that Peruvians respect and even revere the jungle for this reason. While she learned this story originally from the guide on a school trip, she said that she confirmed with some family and friends about the legend of El Tunche and the its association with whistling.

 

Personal Analysis:

There are a number of key takeaways from this story. The first and most prominent of which is the interaction between the natural, as represented by the jungle, and the industrial, as represented by the city. While the city – which is manmade – signifies comfort, home, and safety, the jungle signifies mystery, malice, and magic. This story is a manifestation of those fears as humans become more and more separated from their natural habitat.

The second takeaway from this story is the context in which she heard it. Hearing it from an official guide that is profiting off of visits to the jungle reminds me of the tourist communities we learned about toward the end of our Folklore class. Similar to the Borneo tribes that would further their branded image of savagery to the outside world, so too are the Peruvians furthering violent and mysterious folklore to garner attraction to their jungles.

Additionally, the main religion in Peru is Roman Catholic, and the story has strong religious undertones. First, the use of the word ‘sin’ implies that the transgressions that would invoke El Tunche are aggressions against an established moral code. The jungle and its foreboding mysticism can be thought of as hell, and El Tunche as the Devil. According to Roman Catholicism, to be free of sin is to be free of the temptations and tortures of the Devil and his Kingdom.

Finally, the tour guide might have said this story so that the kids don’t wander away, thus acting as a warning. He’s probably liable, to a certain extent, for anything that might happen. So while this story can be entertaining, it can also provide a lesson for the kids not to leave the tour.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Theater Occupational Superstition: Don’t Whistle in the Theater!

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “Ok, so you want to hear the story about why you don’t whistle in the theatre? One reason is that supposedly the first riggers* in the theatre were sailors. And sailors received their orders via whistles, which supposedly carried better than voices in the wind. And so you didn’t want to be backstage randomly whistling ‘Two Gentlemen from Veronia’ and have the scenery come crashing down on your head because you were whistling the cue* for the sailors who were doing the rigging.

The other supposed origin of that superstition is, in the days of gas lit theatre there were a couple of stage hands who’s job it was to wander around and relight any gas jets that had gone out because other whys you would get sort of a large pocket of unburned gas that would eventually get to another gas jet and you would have a big fireball and the theatre would blow up and… that was bad. So they were listening for a particular whistling sound that supposedly this gas jet that wasn’t lit would make and you didn’t want to distract them from their fairly important work.”

Analysis:

This superstition was not one that I was aware of prior to my informant mentioning this belief in one of his class lectures.  The belief is that it is bad luck to whistle in the theater, and doing so will doom the production you are working on.  There are no known ways to cut the curse.  The superstition of whistling in the theater is similar to the superstition that walking under a ladder is bad luck.  Both superstitions serve as a way to teach safety, because if someone were to break those beliefs they would get hurt.  Something could fall off a ladder and hit them on the head or a piece of scenery could fall on top of them.  You are more likely to get told to stop whistling in the theater because you are distracting the production crew than you are to be told to stop whistling because it is bad luck.  Working in theater can be very dangerous if you are not aware of your surroundings because crew members are constantly moving heavy equipment.  Distracting people from their job not only serves as a danger to yourself, but to others as well.  In that sense, whistling in the theater becomes homeopathic magic because it really will bring your production bad luck due to the destruction and distraction it can cause.

However it is unclear which one of the two stories is the true origin of the superstition.  There is a possibility that the true origin of the whistling superstition came from the first story my informant mentioned, because that theory is more well known to people in the theater than the gas-jet theory.

My informant was born in 1961, Connecticut.  He has more than 30 years of experience in theater and has worked on over hundreds of productions.  He continues to work on theater productions today, and serves as the associate professor of theater practice and technical direction at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

*Riggers: is term that describes someone in charge of moving or lifting heavy objects using a pulley system.  The term comes from sailing speech, in which a rigger is someone who uses ropes to hoist the sails on a ship.  This is exactly what a rigger in theater does, but instead of hoisting sails they are hoisting scenic pieces.

*Cue: is a term used in theater that means a signal to do something.  A signal or cue indicates that it is time to move a part of the set or play a certain song for the production.

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