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

Whistling at Night

 

Interviewer: What is being performed?

 

Informant: Whistling at Night by Rayna Koishikawa

 

Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

 

Informant: My Kumu (hula teacher) told us whistling at night summons night maschess (ghosts of Hawaiian warriors)

 

Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?

 

Informant: Maui, HI

 

Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

 

Informant: I don’t belong to this group but it is a Hawaiian superstition.

 

Interviewer: Where did you first hear the story?

 

Informant: My Kumu

 

Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?

 

Informant: Hawaiian legend

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: Childhood superstition

 

Context of the performance- Talking with a classmate before class

 

Thoughts about the piece- Whistling is thought to bring bad luck in Russian, Japanese and many other cultures. I’ve heard warnings not to whistle in kitchens (French Revolution origins) or while sailing (New England- whistle up a storm). Here is another version of the Night Marchers of Hawaii: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/10/hawaiian-legends_n_3898664.html

More Hawaiian superstitions at: http://www.hawaiimagazine.com/content/your-must-know-list-hawaii%E2%80%99s-diverse-local-superstitions

 

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.

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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
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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