USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘witch doctor’
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Homeopathic
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Witch Doctor

Informant (A.G.) is an 18 year old student from Los Angeles.

A.G.: “My mom is really religious and my grandma is really religious. I was raised Catholic and I used to go to church and stuff”

While his “dad is Italian” and his “mom is Colombian,” they “both grew up in Columbia” to come here when they were “18 or 19.” Alex’s mom is a “stay at home mom,” and his dad does “construction” and owns some local “properties.” We grew up in the same area of Los Angeles, and started to hang out in high school. He was telling some ghost stories at a party one weekend, so I set up an interview for the following Saturday afternoon. I picked him up and brought him to our mutual friend’s house to conduct the collection.

“My history teacher, I’m 100% sure he was serious about it. He’s from Mexico… he has a lot of family there. His family lives in this pretty small village, and his grandma was one of those witch doctors. There was this lady in the village who was this really big girl. I don’t know what was going on with her but she was doing really bad, I think she was homeless, like not doing well. My teacher said they were at their grandma’s house one day. His aunts were also there and he was young at the time, but him and his siblings snuck out into the back yard, they weren’t supposed, they were supposed to stay in at night. When they went back there they saw his grandma completely passed out on a chair. And in front of her was the other lady on the chair, and the four of his aunts were lifting the chair up on a finger, like really high up. He asked her about it and they were doing some healing thing.”

The patient was not healthy, and to lift her would either suggest that the aunts had extreme strength for the moment, or she became extremely light for the moment. The latter suggests the aunts were using homeopathic magic to making her lose weight. A.G. thought his teacher’s story was genuine, and shows some belief in the supernatural.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

A Panamanian Exorcism

“One day, my friend was very pale and talking in strange voices/tones. She was claiming that she was not herself and not in control of her body. And so, her friends took her to the hospital and they couldn’t find anything wrong. Then, one of the girls thought that getting a curandero was going to help her. He waived some plants over her and said some prayers. The demons quickly left, and she was fine after that. She doesn’t remember anything from when she was being possessed.”

In Panama, exorcisms are still quite common, as many still believe that they may be possessed by demons or The Devil himself. When someone appears to be possessed, a curandero (translates to healer) is hired to force the invaders out of the victim’s body. Usually, they tend to wave various plants and spices over the possessed in order to free them.

The informant, Jonathan Castro, is a 21-year-old student from Panama. Because until recently, he had spent his entrie life in Panama, he believes that he is well informed in Panamanian folklore. His friend was the one who introduced him to the practice of exorcisms after revealing her personal story to him. Jonathan does not believe that what she claimed is true, but he does know that she becomes genuinely uncomfortable when talking about the subject, as it brings back traumatic memories for her. To him, the whole event is just a remnant of the older and more religious Panamanian beliefs.

The story told by Jonathan is as great look into the folklore that has survived from Panama’s past. While Jonathan and the doctors at the hospital had a hard time believeing her story, Jonathan’s friend was convinced that an evil entity had entered her body and was eventually forced to leave. Evidently, even though certain beliefs may seem outdated, their lack of prevalence does not mean that they are completely gone.

Customs
general
Legends
Narrative

“It’s A Promesa”

The informant’s family originated in Cuba. Her mother was born and raised in Cuba but her father was born and raised in America. Her Cuban culture and background comes from her mother’s side and folklore that her mom picked up over the years and shared with her. The folklore from this informant comes from family stories that are shared amongst the family as lessons or as advice. 

Its a Promesa” 

The informant…

“My Abuela Nina had strange rituals that she would perform. Abuela Nina was involved with the Santeras who have beliefs that if they do different promesas then they would be given something by the Gods. Abuela Nina bagan to pull her eyelashes out at some point in her life and wouldn’t give an explanation to anyone as to why she was doing it except for “it’s a promesa”. She finally revealed that the Santeras taught her that if she never let her eyelashes grow back the Gods would do something in her favor. Abuela Nina also practiced other Santera traditions referred to as promesas as well. As her sons grew, she kept all of their hair, nail clippings, and teeth in jars. She would only give the answer “its a promesa” when asked why, but it is believed among the santeras that is someone were to get a hold of those things they could create voodoo on that person, so it was safer to keep them hidden in a jar.”

When I asked the informant what the Santeras specifically were she described them to me as witch doctors. They have strange voodoo, magic, are connected to the Gods in some way, and other traditions they practice they believe to work. I also asked her what a promesa is. She said that a promesa is translated as a promise, but to the Santeras it is a promise to the Gods or like a thing that you do for the gods. The informant also added that her Abuela Nina is said to be so weird or strange.

Analysis…

When the informant told me this stuff about her abuela Nina, I didn’t know how to respond. It was so different than anything I have heard before. The closest thing to a witch doctor that I have ever seen has been on the discovery channel so to hear about it face to face with someone who’s family knows a lot about it was interesting. Similarly to witch doctors, the closest form of voodoo magic I had ever heard about has been on movies. Hearing about Abuela Nina has expanded my cultural perspective and awareness. I think it is interesting that the informant has that in her culture and I was given the opportunity to be able to hear about it.

Customs
general
Legends
Narrative

Abuela Blanca

The informant’s family originated in Cuba. Her mother was born and raised in Cuba but her father was born and raised in America. Her Cuban culture and background comes from her mother’s side and folklore that her mom picked up over the years and shared with her. The folklore from this informant comes from family stories that are shared amongst the family as lessons or as advice. 

Magic Abuela Blanca

Informant…

“It is a wide spread belief through santeras (witch doctor) is that if you were to catch lice that it was most likely from a dead person. Having lice from a dead person meant that you would carry that dead person’s spirit with you or you were possessed by them leading so you would be shunned from your family and society. My great great great grandma Abuela Blanca was a saint in her community. She was an amazing woman who taught at an elementary school in the country side. For a few days in a row one student, a young girl, wasn’t showing up to school and Abuela Blanca was concerned. She went to the young girl’s house and asked the parents why she hadn’t been to class and they proceeded to tell her what happened. The young girl caught lice from a dead person and the family was in the process of pushing her out of the home so she would be shunned from society. Abuela Blanca cared for the girl and didn’t accept the situation. Being the saint she was Abuela Blanca took the girl home, cleaned her hair and got rid of all the lice and sent her home. From that point on Abuela Blanca was talked about in the community as being a miracle worker or being able to perform magic.”

Analysis…

When I thought about folklore before, I didn’t realize that folklore could be held within and amongst family members. The specific informant gave me folklore that isn’t necessarily known widely by lots of people but rather held in her family and it is significant to her and important to the family because it actually means something to them. It is a story that tells them about their ancestor and the way that she lived her life.

Abuela Blanca sounds like an incredible woman. The way that she saw other people and was caring in her community really is an expression of her character. The informant expressed to me that she was amazing and I could tell by the way she spoke about her. Having a figure like her to look up to and try to live like is probably beneficial in a family. If they all look up to the same person and base their life after the same person there are probably a lot of similarities within the family.

 

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic

Toyol

This is a familiar or an imp type creature. The Toyol is a spirit that is invoked by a bomoh (Malayan witch doctor) from a dead foetus. These people who possess a Toyol  usually use them to do mischief, like steal money and sabotaging people. As these are children spirits, they are not very intelligent and are easily distracted by toys and things they can play with. People who have these creatures usually have an urn in their home with the dead foetus with embalming fluid in their homes. However, it is said that you cannot get rid of a Toyol once you have one and it is passed down from generation to generation. To keep these creatures happy, you have to feed it a few drops of your blood once a day and give it offerings of toys and a lot of attention. Supposedly, these are able to be seen without having the evil/magic eye and look similar to House Elves in Harry Potter.

                  My informant was informed of this when she was growing up in Singapore in the 1990s. This was something that she heard while at Primary five camp at her school at Camp Christine, which was rumored to be haunted. So, as kids are wont to do, they shared scary ghost stories in their beds and one of her classmates told her this story.

There are many variations of this particular creature as well. One of which is that the person can buy these spirits from the bomohs, in others people have to create them. A variation says that people can get rid of them by throwing the urn into the sea, or burying them with the proper rites and respect.  Also, feeding a Toyol in one version, has to be fed from blood from the owners big toe, in another it requires fresh rooster blood.

                  As superstitious beliefs run rampant over most of the countries with people that are mostly uneducated and have strong beliefs in Black Magic and the woods. This was also a convenient excuse for things going missing and bad luck. However, while there is no concrete evidence for anything supernatural, according to my friend, there have been reports of sightings of these creatures.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends

Orang Minyak or “Oily Man”

This is a male creature, commonly shaped as a human. As can be inferred from his name, he is covered from head to toe in black oil. Sometimes, he is described as naked and sometimes he’s wearing a black pair of swimming trunks. In many stories, he plays a significant roles as a rapist that only targets virgins. There is some dispute over his origins though, it is unclear whether or not he is of human origin or is a creature from the spirit world. Some speculate that the Orang Minyak is the result of a spurned lover that has powers due to his solicitation of either a bomoh (Malayan Witch Doctor) or a contract with a creature from the spiritual world. The Orang Minyak is commonly found in Malayan folklore with appearances made in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

This knowledge was imparted to my informant when she was on a school camping trip at the tender age of 16 in Singapore in the late nineteen sixties.  The Orang Minyak is commonly one of the perpetrators and has been blamed for many rapes especially in the 1960s, early nineteen seventies, even though the reports have been few and far between since the 2000s.  According to my informant, the more superstitious Malay students would wear sweaty shirts to give the appearance of someone who had just been with a man.

Strangely enough, while the Orang Minyak has always been part of Malay folklore, there was a surprising amount of hype produced after a series of movies about the Orang Minyak were produced in the 1960s. Before this, there was an occasional sighting and crime committed by the Orang Minyak, however, there was a sudden onslaught of cases and sightings of the Orang Minyak after the movies came out. This prompts many to question if the Orang Minyak became a convenient cover-up for many rapists and rape cases.

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