Tag Archives: women

坐月子:Postpartum Confinement

Main piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.

Informant: In China, there is a big culture of “坐月子(zuo yue zi)”, literally means “sit on the month “, but just refer to like postpartum confinement, like the month after woman deliver their child. Usually it’s one month, but I think my mom did two month. Anyway it just a really big stage of your life, you know, delivering the baby, and then people in China believe that it’s a big event for the body too, so women need to aware of a lot of things for the month following delivery. For example, they should shower less. I mean if it strict, they should be showering at all, but you know in modern world, who can not shower for so long. Anyway, it’s like showering less, brush you teeth with warm water instead of cold, don’t touch cold water, drink warm water all the time. Rest a lot definitely, like that why it’s “Sit on the month” you know, not like “run on the month”. Avoid wind, if it’s really windy outside then don’t go out side, because they think the wind and the cold is easier to get into the body at that period of time. And also you know food is big part, like they have certain food to eat to one on hand help with milking, and help body get nutrition on the other. They will consider some kind of food has a cold character (寒性- han xing) and some kind of food is hot character(热性-re xing) and something in between. So you need to choose food character according to your body type. Like for example, if you have ulcer in your mouth that means you body is getting too hot, so you will need something that has a colder character like green tea.

Interviewer: How do you define cold or hot for food?

Informant: Ummm…Good questions. I honestly don’t know. You just grew up learning their character from you parents. It’s like if I eat too much mango all at once, my mom would say something like: “your body will be getting too hot.” or something like that I don’t know. So yea, I think older generation definitely have more restriction, but I don’t think younger generation follow it as strict, they kinda do a little modification according to their needs.


My informant was born in Beijing, China. She knows about this tradition because almost everyone practices it in China and her mom does it too. She will definitely practice postpartum confinement by the time she delivers a baby because she thinks that it is such an important phase of woman’s life and she needs to take the time to take care of her body. She always believes that giving birth to a kid in a way is a rebirth of that woman as well. And because the body undergoes such a big incident, the body is recovering itself too. So with proper care, it helps the body to recover better and even takes away some existing illness.


My informant is my roommate. She finished high school in China and came to the States after. I invited her to have a brief interview session with me to talk about Chinese folklore in general because I feel there is lot of interesting folklore in China that is very different from the rest of the world. And this conversation was conducted when we were cooking for dinner, so both of us are pretty relaxed.


“Sitting the month” is definitely a huge culture difference between China and America. I know that a lot of people in the United States go right back to work within ten days after delivering the baby, which sounds crazy to Chinese people. Though there is some debate on whether it is scientific of postpartum confinement, most people still practice it because it is a tradition that has been around for thousands of years. As my informant mentions, the stricter rule in the past is minimal shower times within a month after delivery, and that is because in older time period, the condition is pretty bad, so people are more likely to catch a cold when showering, especially during winter time. Nowadays, with technology getting better and people living on a higher quality life, more rules are bent towards favor, but the cultural of “sitting the month” still applies.

The Ursuline Casket Girls Of New Orleans


“Okay, so there’s this convent and off the top of my head I don’t remember it but if you google like “New Orleans Convent Vampires” you’ll find like a version of it. So that’s when New Orleans was being like built into a new city and there were all these traders and fur trappers or whatever. So women, so they has women brought over from Europe who were essentially going to be mail order brides for these men. So there are crude jokes of it being like early human trafficking and the women were like exposed to the sun on the trip over on the boat so they got like severely sun burned so the men like freaked out when the women got off the boat and rejected them. So they took the women in at the local convent and they like turned the top floor into the places for them to stay. But somehow because it’s New Orleans and this is what happens, people started saying that the women up there can’t be exposed to sunlight, they must be vampires…and it turned into this whole legend about the vampires of the convent. So like if you go on the voodoo tour in New Orleans, you will go to this convent and be told the story.

Me: That is so interesting, wow.

Storyteller: It is crazy! I mean the stuff in New Orleans…like who thought that was true and you know…it’s New Orleans so who knows if it’s true…you never know there.

Background: The storyteller is from New Orleans so she had a couple stories to pick from but decided to share this one. She told me that although she couldn’t remember the exact name of the story (I later looked up the real name and titled this post with it), she knew that because of the weird history of New Orleans, an ancient event turned into a creepy legend.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me a few stories…one is this legend. I drove back home to meet her for some coffee before diving into the interview (along with another storyteller who is interviewed in a different post).

Thoughts: I have come to realize that there are many legends and ghost stories that come from the south. The reason for this is probably because of the south’s horrible history especially with slavery and the general mistreatment of black people and women. I think that whether or not this legend is true and the women actually were vampires (even though it seems unlikely), it is interesting to me how easily skewed a simple story can become in New Orleans. It seems like the city has a rich culture and likes to accumulate as many interesting stories as it can. It makes it unique.

Crows and Witch’s Home Superstition in Mexico

“When somebody’s house has a lot of crows, we say that the woman of the house is a bruja. I know your Mom is not a bruja. *laughs* She has been very kind to me. When I was younger in Mexico, nobody would want crows near their house because they did not want to be a bruja.”

Context: This piece of Mexican superstition was collected in the home of the collector by a woman who has been working for the collectors family for over 12 years. The superstition or warning was brought up due to a crow infestation surrounding the collectors house for a number of weeks. The housekeeper (who will be named RM) speaks English poorly as her second language, and she uses the word “bruja” which is Spanish for witch.

Informant Analysis: She said that she first learned of this superstition growing up in Mexico City, Mexico from her friends and family. She cannot remember when she first learned it or who exactly told it to her, but she says this was a common superstition told around the time she was a teenager. Although she viewed the superstition as not true, she still had some fear of my mother being called a witch.

Collector Analysis: Although I also agree that crows surrounding a person’s home does not signify that the woman of the house is a witch, I do believe that the crux of this folklore is remembered because alienation from neighbors or one’s community is a real fear. This superstition seems to point out the alienation of a woman in particular, which perhaps has something to do with the women tending to take care of the home and family while the men left for work. The crow in itself seems like a common theme for witches in other folklore, and seeing as though the crow can be seen as a predator that eats dead animals, the fact that crows are nearby would signify death of some sort. Put together, my interpretation is that crows announce death, and the location of crows around a home perhaps would signify the woman of the house being evil and closely tied with death.




Humboldt University Proverb

“Humboldt, where the men are men and so are the women.”

Context: The informant and myself were visiting Humboldt to see how the school has changed. The trip was built around the nostalgia of her college years. This proverb was then given while driving from San Fransisco to Arcadia, where Humboldt University is.

Informant Analysis: The informant attended Humboldt University in the 80’s while it was still a relatively small school. She noted that their mascot is a lumberjack, a very manly and strong figure. In part she said this was because Humboldt was a logging town surrounded by giant redwood trees. During her time there, she noted that the only people who went to Humboldt were very “granola” people– meaning that they were the outdoorsy type who enjoyed sustainable living. The few women who chose to attend Humboldt were also notoriously manly. According to the informant, it was a joke that the woman who went to Humboldt had hairier legs than the men.

Collector Analysis: I do agree with much of what the informant said about how the lumberjack figure represents Humboldt University well. I also wonder if this folk slogan was propagated by the men or women who attended the university. To be a woman at a predominantly male school is difficult and does promote for the women to affect a more masculine persona. It may be a way to fit in to the culture of the school or out of basic fear of being a woman in a male culture. While the proverb is a compliment to men, and viewed as a diss to women, I would argue that this piece serves as a strong representation of gender roles during the 80’s in Northern California. Although the culture and politics are very liberal today in Arcata, during that time, there was a strong clash of conservative farmers and liberal college students. This proverb may be a representation of this clash that occurred around the school.

Bears and Menstruation

My mother grew up in rural California. She spent a lot of her time outside and hiking. When she was a Girl Scout, she heard that when you are on your period you should avoid going in the great outdoors.

JE:”I always heard growing up that it wasn’t safe to hike or go camping while you were on your period. Apparently bears and other predatory animals can smell it and are more likely to attack. When I was growing up, two women were killed by a bear and the rumor was that it was because one (or both) of the women were menstruating.”

Me: Who told you this?

JE: My Girl Scout Leader was the most distinct person I can remember. There were some men at my church who wouldn’t let their daughters (my friends) because they thought that women should not hike, camp or even venture into the back county during their periods because it will attract predators who will come and eat them. This cautionary advice goes for women around the world. ”

Analysis: I researched the validity of this superstition, and it holds little scientific evidence. The superstition has a strong hold on people because it’s a pretty visceral- blood, gruesome attacks, young girls, etc. To me, however, it seems like a fear of bears morphed into an unfounded belief. At one point, this was perhaps a good way to keep young girls from exerting themselves in the woods when their families believed women should be at home. The stereotype only reinforces the idea that women are not as suited to survival in the wilderness as men.

For the Yellowstone Bearman’s advice on this folk belief, see:



My friend from Paraguay has a lot of folklore about the seven Guarani monsters and the legends behind them. The Kurupi was the strangest of all the seven that he told me about.

Friend: “There are several Guarani monsters I learned about growing up in Paraguay. One of them is the Kurupi, a weird gremlin-like dude with a really long penis. I think he represents the spirit of fertility or something. ”

Me: Were there any stories about him?

Friend:  “Yes. In ‘the old days’ a lot of people would say (if they had an unwanted pregnancy) that Kurupi had impregnated them without even entering their home. For example, if you were a single woman or if you had cheated on your husband and didn’t want to get into trouble, you would blame it on Kurupi. His penis is so long that he can go through windows and doors in the night. There are also a lot of stories about the Kurupi taking young women and raping them.”

Me: Did you ever believe the stories?

Friend: “No, I never really believed in the Kurupi. Mostly he’s just a funny little demon that we’d laugh about in grade school.” 

Analysis: The Kurupi is certainly the strangest looking creature I’ve ever seen. Besides the initial hilarity of his appearance, the tale of the Kurupi is creative and disturbing. In a place and time where modern medicine cannot explain pregnancies and sex, legends will replace science. This is a clear example where women would become pregnant (by someone other than their intended) and the only way to protect their virtue would be to blame it on the Kurupi. In many ways, belief in a creature like this can settle marital disputes before they even arise. Additionally, however, the Kurupi could have taken the blame for many rape incidents– when a real person was the perpetrator.


Cameroonian Views on Femininity

My informant is the mother of a USC student. She is an immigrant from Cameroon and came to America with her husband and son before giving birth to their daughter.

“In my culture it is believed that a woman who has no children is considered wicked, a man, and worthless. If she is married and childless, she will be divorced and asked to return her dowry to her husband. From what we know today, infertility could be from the man. Yet, yet all the blame goes to the woman, but back then, it was only the woman. The belief is that the wickedness comes in because gods would not bless a bad person and children, children are the most cherished gift to a women. So she would be shown without a child and no man is supposed to love a woman who could produce no heir. Next to a woman without children is one who has only one child—especially if it is a girl child—or has all girls. Women are blamed for not being able to produce an heir since most believe that only the boys should inherit the family s fortune. The irony here, is that, these same people who prefer boys stand to benefit when a girl gets married through the bride price and dowry.”


Analysis: My informant learned these cultural beliefs from relatives and extended family while living in Cameroon. This piece of cultural knowledge gives a very clear picture of the gender lines and distinctions within Cameroonian culture. From even this small amount of verbal exchange the listener gets an immediate and clear understanding that Cameroon is a patriarchal country that places incredible pressure on the women to live up to the standards of men. It is also interesting to note that in many cases after having moved from Cameroon to America these beliefs do not hold as much weight. My informant’s daughter, who is a close friend of mine, acknowledges her cultural beliefs, but does not hold the belief that the importance of women should be placed underneath that of a man. This gives the impression that cultural folklore has a much stronger meaning when the folklore is being spread in an area where the majority of people hold those same beliefs.

Cameroonian Pregnancy Rituals & Beliefs

My informant is the mother of a USC student. She is an immigrant from Cameroon and came to America with her husband and son before giving birth to their daughter.

“A pregnant woman would, should…at all cost avoid seeing what she would consider as ugly until the gives birth. The fear, is that uh, her baby will become ugly if she does. It is also believed that if she eats a cobra before giving birth that it will speed the delivery of the baby. Again, this—cobra—is a delicacy usually reserved for only, for only the men. If you have not realized it yet, my people in every way see women as less than equal to men. A good woman is supposed to be behind her husband. He must have the last word, she must sleep behind him, she must please him at all cost. This is of course…changing with the access to higher education and influence of western culture. Divorce rates are soaring and more women are opting to marry later, not get married, and not have children…husbands are even blamed when their wives are troublesome because they cannot control her!”


Analysis: This belief illuminates the importance of beauty within Cameroonian culture. Especially in the case of the birth being a girl, it would be desired for her to be beautiful so she could marry a wealthy and handsome husband. In addition, the allowance of women to consume cobra during pregnancy demonstrates that women who are bearing children are considered of a higher status than women who are not, because they are allowed to eat foods that are typically reserved only for men (who are looked at with more respect within Cameroonian society). My informant made a point of reiterating that men in their society are more highly valued than women, however also made note that within the western world these beliefs have lost value due to women in the United States being able to attend school and support themselves without a husband. Of course there are communities and families who still adhere strictly to these beliefs even though they live in a western nation such as America.



Más que carretas

“I heard this saying from our uncle who got it from our great-grandmother, Vioto. It says:  ‘Tiran más tetas que carretas.’ She would use it to mean that women had more power, particularly over men than almost any other force. Like ok, go ahead and do what you want but you know I’m going to win in the end.”

Literally, the translations is: boobs pull more than carts. After doing some research I learned that the ‘cart’ is referring to a cart that is pulling oxen. Also, there are various versions of this saying with slightly different wording, but the the idea is the same. Most people have interpreted it to mean that a women’s body is her greatest tool and that is the driving force. However, I believe that the way in which my great-grandmother used it was not explicitly about the breasts or body of a female, but about the power of a woman’s influence overall. The context in which she used it was to show female dominance, something that was not very common in the mid-1900’s.

Here is a site that provides numerous variations of this saying: http://hombrerefranero.blogspot.com/2011/03/tiran-mas-dos-tetas-que-dos-carretas.html


Auntie Cockroach and Mr. Mouse

Once upon a time under the beautiful blue sky there lived a cockroach named Khale Suske. She had become tired of being alone and thought it would be nice to come out of her nest and see the world. She got up and made a pair of red shoes for herself out of garlic skin. She put on clothes made of onion skin. With a glance and a wink she left her nest. She walked and walked and walked until she arrived at the grocer’s shop. The grocer was sitting behind his scale. As soon he saw Khale Suske he asked,
“Khale Suske, where are you going?”
Khale suske replied, “What is Khale Suske? I am better than a flower.”
“Who is Khale Suske? I have such delicate wings.”
Surprised the grocer said,
“Then what should I say?”
Khale Suske said, “Say something nice. Say, ‘Khale Suske: Red Shoes, Onion Clothes.
Where are you going?’”
So the grocer said, “Khale Suske Red Shoes, Onion Clothes. Where are you going?”
Khale Suske said, “I am going to Hamedan, I want to find a husband for Ramezan
I should eat wheat bread and not be a bother to anyone.”
The grocer said, “Khale Suske, Red Shoes. Will you become my wife? Will you become my beautiful bride?”
Khale Suske said, “If I become your wife, If I become your companion. When we argue, what will you hit me with?”
The grocer said, “With this stone weight from my scale!”
Khale Suske said, “No no no! I will not become the grocer’s wife If I do, I will be killed!”
She said this, tightened her scarf and continued on her journey. She walked and walked and walked until she arrived at the door of the quiltmaker. The quiltmaker was stirring cotton with a long wooden stick to bring out dirt and sand from the cotton, and with the clean, soft cotton he would make beautiful quilts. As soon as he saw Khale Suske he said, “Khale Suske, where are you going?”
Khale suske replied,
“What is Khale Suske? I am better than a flower.”
“Who is Khale Suske? I have such delicate wings.”
The quiltmaker said, “Then what should I say?”
Khale Suske said, “Say something nice. Say, ‘Khale Suske Red Shoes, Onion Clothes
Where are you going?’”
So the quiltmaker said, “Khale Suske Red Shoes, Onion Clothes Where are you going?”
Khale Suske said, “I am going to Hamedan, I want to find a husband for Ramezan I should eat wheat bread and not be a bother to anyone.”
The quiltmaker said, “Khale Suske Red Shoes. Will you become my wife? Will you become my beautiful bride?”
Khale Suske said, “If I become your wife, if I become your companion, when we argue, what will you hit me with?”
The quiltmaker said, “with my cotton stirring stick!”
Khale Suske said, “no no no! I will not become the quiltmaker’s wife! If I do, I will be killed!” She said this, tightened her scarf and quickly hurried on her way. She walked and walked and walked until she arrived at the palace where Mr. Mouse lived. He was a clean and tidy mouse that had a small but beautiful nest in the prince’s kitchen. Mr. Mouse’s little ears were white. His tiny eyes sparkled, and he was wagging his soft, little tail. Mr. Mouse was in the middle of taking wheat to his nest so that he would be comfortable during the cold winter. As soon as he saw
Khale Suske he politely moved closer, greeted her and said,
“My my my!
Red Shoes, Onion Clothes
Where are you going?”
Khale Suske was very pleased by the polite and sweet words of Mr. Mouse. She said coyly,
“I am going to Hamedan,
I want to find a husband for Ramezan
I should eat wheat bread and not be a bother to anyone.”
Mr. Mouse said,
“Khale Qeizi
Miss Red Shoes
Will you become my wife?
Will you become my beautiful bride?”
Khale Suske said,
“Why shouldn’t I?
However, If I become your wife,
If I become your companion
When we argue, what will you hit me with?”
Mr. Mouse said,
“But no! Why should we argue?
If you become my wife,
If you become my companion,
I will caress you with my soft little tail!”
Khale Suske, who was very impressed by the little mouse, smiled and said,
“Yes yes yes!
I will become your wife
I will become your companion
I will become the mother of your children
I will become your loyal spouse!”
Khale Suske and Mr. Mouse threw a grand wedding party. They invited all the Cockroaches and Mice of the prince’s castle. Late at night, they all went to the kitchen. All brought delicious food and the mice found several walnut and pistachio shells to use as drums. It was a splendid celebration! The mice played their instruments and the roaches opened their wings and danced. The party went on until sunrise. Afterwards, Mr. Mouse took Khale Suske to his nest and they started their lives together. In the morning, when the cooks came to the kitchen, none of them knew what had gone on the night before. During the day, Mr. Mouse would go to the kitchen and pick-up the rice, beans, chick-peas, and other things that the cooks would drop, and he would bring them back to their nest with his teeth. Khale Suske would clean house, and prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and they would always eat together. One day, Khale Suske went to a riverbank near the palace so she could wash her clothes. Suddenly she
slipped and fell into the water. She screamed and began to splash about so she wouldn’t drown. At the same time, one of the prince’s horsemen was passing by and stopped to give his horse water. As soon as Khale Suske’s eyes fell upon him she yelled,
“Ahoy horseman! Horseman!
Because you are going to the castle
Tell Mr. Mouse,
Khale Suske is in the water
Red Shoes is in the water
If you arrive late she will die!
Your heart will become sad!”
The horseman looked up, he didn’t see anyone. He looked down, he
didn’t see anyone. He listened again and he heard a tiny and quiet
voice say,
“Ahoy horseman!
Because you are going to the castle
Tell Mr. Mouse,
Khale Suske is in the water
Red Shoes is in the water
If you arrive late she will die!
Your heart will become sad!”
The rider quickly mounted his horse and rode away. He arrived out of breath at the kitchen and told the story to the others. Everyone laughed at him. Mr. Mouse was in a corner of the room and heard everything. He turned pale and dropped everything he had in his hands. His little tail was shaking like a willow tree. He threw his hands to his head and cried,
“Ay Vay! The water is taking away my Khale Suske!”
Upset, he ran and ran. He ran fast like the wind! He ran and ran and ran until he arrived next to the stream. As soon as he saw Khale Suske his body shook even more. Very upset he said,
“Give your hand to me!
Come up out of the muck!”

Khale Suske replied,
“No no no!
My delicate crystal hand will break!”
Mr. Mouse said,
“Give your foot to me!
Come up out of the muck!”
Khale Suske replied,
“No no no!
My delicate crystal foot will break!”
Mr. Mouse said,
“Then what should I do?
What can I do?
It’s not possible for me to save you!”
Khale Suske told Mr. Mouse,
“Go to the green grocer. Get a carrot.
Nibble it to make stairs. Then
bring it here and put it in the water so
that, step by step, I can up out
of danger!”
Mr. Mouse ran to the green grocer and said,
“My Khale Suske is in the water!
My little Red Shoes is in the water!
If I arrive late, she will die!
My heart will become sad!”
He then asked for a large carrot so that he could make a ladder. The green grocer was very distressed by Mr. Mouse’s story and right away he separated a long and straight carrot and gave it to the little mouse. Mr. Mouse ran as fast as he could back towards the stream. He ran and ran and ran until he arrived next to the water. He quickly nibbled the carrot to make stairs. He then placed it in the water. Khale Suske struggled and very slowly she walked up the carrot ladder and then fell on the ground. Poor Khale Suske was soaking wet. She was coughing non-stop and shivering. Mr. Mouse dried the water on Khale Suske’s body with his soft tail. Then he took her to his nest and placed her in a warm and
soft bed. He covered her face and said,
“Now that you are not
feeling well, I will
prepare you a hot soup!”
As soon as Khale Suske fell asleep, Mr. Mouse left the nest. He ran and ran and ran until he arrived at the door of the grocer. Mr. Mouse told him what had happened and explained that he wanted to prepare hot soup for Khale Suske. The grocer gave him a spinach leaf, a leek stalk, and a bunch of parsley, a small spoon of olive oil, a spoonful of rice, four lentils, some peas, and a pinch of salt. Mr. Mouse thanked him and returned home. He poured everything into a small pot. He then placed two rocks together to make an oven. He picked up a small, dry branch that had fallen on the ground and with his small, sharp teeth, chopped it and placed it between the rocks. He lit the wood and placed the pot of soup on the oven. A short time had passed and he said to himself, “Now I must stir the
pot”. He picked up a small branch to stir it, but as soon he put his head over the pot, he slipped and fell into the soup. Khale Suske realized a long time
had passed since she had heard from Mr. Mouse. With a trembling voice she said,
“Mr. Mouse, my dear
Come sit next to me”
Mr. Mouse didn’t reply. Again she said,
“Mr. Mouse, my dear
Come sit next to me”
Again there was nothing. She became worried. She got up and slowly walked to the soup. When Khale Suske saw Mr. Mouse splashing about she threw her hands to her head and cried,
“Vay! Look at my Mr. Mouse!
One head, two little ears! Look!
Don’t let him die!
My heart would become sad!”
Then, she quickly poured a small dish of water that was next to the oven on the soup to cool it. Next, she went to the neighbor mice and cockroaches nests for help. The mice and cockroaches came and lifted the pot from the
stove. Then, they pulled Mr. Mouse out of the soup. The neighbors then ran and brought whatever food and remedies they had, and for several days they took care of Khale Suske and Mr. Mouse until they both were well. Mr. Mouse and Khale Suske knew what kind of great friends they had and they lived happily ever after.

This story, like the kids version that Arya heard during his bedtime, exalts the virtues of generosity and compassion, especially in the end when the neighbors (mice and cockroaches) band together to help Mr. Mouse. The grocer also gives Mr. Mouse a carrot and vegetables to make the broth with. However, this version which can be found online as a PDF at http://www.lohrasb.com/images/Khale_Suske.pdf, also brings up the issue of women’s rights and issues. At the beginning, Khale Suske goes around to each suitor and asks them what they will beat her with during arguments, for her, a beating is to be expected from her husband and the only thing she can do to improve her living situation is to choose the husband who would beat her with the least harmful item.

Khale Suske is mentioned in the Oral Literature of Iranian Languages: Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi, Ossetic; Persian and Tajik: Companion Volume II: History of Persian Literature A, Vol XVIII.