Author Archives: ahowitt

Ghost Parties in Thailand

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Thai American
Age: 24
Occupation: Student
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 30 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: So, like, my family is kinda, like, the official designated ghost family in my village. And my family is from this very small, um, place, kinda outside of Chiang Mai, like 30 minutes outside of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Um. And so my mom, even though she was adopted– so she doesn’t have this official designation, but it’s my family, they basically take care of all the ghosts in the village. And the ghosts are like the ancestors of all of the families that live there and each generation, they have a special woman that they picked out, that’s like part of the bloodline, and.. it can’t be a man, it has to be a woman, and she’s like the keeper of the ghosts. Um, and so it used to be my grandma, and now it’s, um, its fallen to, like, one of my aunties, and now it’s with my cousin who– lemme tell you about my cousin, her name is {name}, and she has like a very severe, like.. learning disability.. So she’s the new keeper of the ghosts. And its, its, kind of interesting because, like, she can’t work, she can’t have a job, she can’t marry.. She’s very, very frail and very thin, but.. It’s kinda nice, cuz now she’s the one that has this responsibility. 

Collector: Right, right, she doesn’t need to… Does she makes money off this?

Informant: No, no, it’s not– it’s more of like a communal village position. But the village is like one big extended family. Y’know. And all of our ancestors are everyone else’s ancestors. And we have one little temple in the very center, y’know, we go to like, mass– it’s like Buddhist mass, basically, on Sundays. Um, so.. But anyways, every eight years there’s what we call like a ghost party. I missed the last couple cuz I was in school, um, but basically every eight years it’s like throwing a big party for all of the ghosts. Like, all of the ancestors, and you get, like, all the food gets spread out.. Spirits in Thai culture are very hungry.. They’re basically like, the ultimate hedonists, they just wanna consume everything. And so you give them, like, entire spreads of like chicken, and food, and like carnations, flowers, they love cigarettes, you get them a lot of cigarettes, they really like, um, whiskey, so you give them a lot of whiskey. Um, and it’s like, everyone gets drunk and gets together, and the process of getting drunk with your family members and your village, its like the spirits come, and they’re getting drunk, and they’re eating with you. 

Collector: This is all so interesting.. When, when you say taking care of the ghosts, you mean like giving them offerings, and keeping the altars clean? 

Informant: Yeah, so it’s kinda like that, it’s also kinda like, part of the spirit lore is like, they’re ghosts, so its like human ancestors, and another part of it is like, like, a lot of high-elf fantasy stuff, like, kind of speaks true to Thai culture, where like before the humans came, there were spirits in the forest. And these spirits are very old, and they had been there for like millennia. And they owned the forest, that’s their domain, and like, in Thailand, you know, we cut down the forest, we lived there and we farmed, and so we need to like, give back to the spirits. 

Context: The informant is a close friend of mine, and is a Thai-American young woman. She lived in Thailand for several years with her mother, before they both moved to Southern California.

Analysis: This is possibly my most exciting collection, seeing how I have a friend who has thrown a ghost party before. This experience is obviously personal to not only my informant, for also for the entire village. They do not differentiate their own ancestors from the village ancestors, which ties the entire village together, even after death. It is interesting that Thai spirits are considered to be hungry, as I have seen previous examples of hungry ghosts in Korea and Japan, all of which stem from Buddhism. I also find it interesting that only woman can serve the ghosts, as previously mentioned.

Filipino Funeral Etiquette

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino-American
Age: 24
Occupation: Electrical Engineer
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 28 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: Another story is something that happened to my dad when he was at a funeral. I guess the folklore part is that, uh, when you’re at a funeral, you shouldn’t be, ah, like, overly, I guess, happy-looking? Because it’s disrespectful to the dead, um, and, well, the way it goes is if you do that, then the dead person at the funeral will haunt you.

Um, so when my dad was at this funeral, I think it was a funeral– I don’t know if he knew the person, but he was with, ah, his own family members, and they were goofing around, i think they were like gambling in the back, while the funeral was going on. So, ah, that was happening, and then, all of a sudden, the, ah, corpse stood up– or not stood up, sat up in the coffin, and then it stared at my dad and his group, and I can’t remember if he said it screamed or not, but essentially it, after staring at them, it fell back down.

Collector: Do you know why it happened??

Informant: Well, because, ah, they were gambling at this person’s funeral! Because it was possessed by the ghost of the dead person, presumably. 

The worst part of it was that, uh, yeah, basically like a bit of a curse placed on them,, ah, I can’t remember what my dad said for the other people who were there, but he said for like a month, whenever he would, ah, close his eyes and try to sleep, he would get like flashes of the face of the dead person, just like staring at them. 

Context: My informant is a close friend of mine, and is a Filipino American young man. His father is an immigrant from the Philippines, and has extended family still living there.

Analysis: I wish I had had the chance to interview my informant’s father about this experience, as he apparently had personally witnessed it. It is interesting that when I asked my informant why this happened, he answered as if it was obvious– because his father had disrespected the deceased. This piece of folklore seems to act as a warning to never disrespect the dead at their own funeral.

Filipino Leprechauns

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino American
Age: 24
Occupation: Electrical Engineer
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 28 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: Ok so , in the Philippines, ah, the way leprechauns show up, is ah, they’re these, like, really dark-skinned, short people, that–that have really bright, like, teeth, right? So when you see them at night, and when they smile, its kind of like the cheshire cat? Yeah, so, umm, basically, whenever you see one you don’t want to mess with them because, if you, uh, hurt them in any way, they’ll most likely attack you in the middle of the night.

Collector: Will they kill you? Will they eat you?

Informant: They won’t eat you, but if like, you could die from it, so for example, the story that happened to my dad’s relative, he saw a leprechaun, and then he smacked it with a shovel. And then, ah, the very next day, my relative’s back just started hurting out of nowhere, and it basically bedrid him, and then, yeah, he died later. 

Context: My informant is a close friend of mine, and is a Filipino American young man. His father is an immigrant from the Philippines, and has extended family still living there.

Analysis: At first, when my informant named the entity as a “leprechaun,” I was momentarily confused, and could think only of a stereotypical Irish leprechaun, complete with a red beard and green suit. The image I was thinking of is entirely different from what my informant told me, namely the dark skin and bright teeth. My informant recalled that these entities were found largely in more rural areas of the Philippines, and so it was often smaller towns or villages that experienced leprechauns. Though it is unclear what would have happened if the relative had not hit it with a shovel, what is clear is that because of that, the relative was bedridden, and died shortly afterwards. While searching the USC Online Archive, I found another post regarding Filipino dwarves– could this be another version of the leprechaun?

Filipino Dwarves post: http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=36181

Woman in White– A Ghost Story

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Lebanese American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Collector: Please, madam, pray tell us your ghost story.

Informant: Alright. I will tell you now this story of my ghost encounter, encounter with the paranormal. Ok, so, um, it took place in the Netherlands, um, we were going– me and four other girls that were studying abroad in Germany, we were gonna take a trip to Amsterdam, and, um, we took the overnight train, the cheapest option from Germany, which was like, seven different trains and all these transfers throughout the middle of the night, so, we get to, um, the Netherlands, um, to this little town about an hour outside of Amsterdam, where our AirBnb was, it was called [name]

So we get there around like, 11 AM, um, we, um, have a snack and we go check into our Airbnb, it’s like 11:30, 12, and what we didn’t know, but we didn’t mind at all, is that you have to walk through about a mile of forest to get to the airBnB, which it doesn’t say on the website.. [Laughs] Y’know, we’re not thinking anything of it. um, the forest is beautiful, there’s a nice path, the trees are nice and tall, so, we walk through this mile of forest, we don’t think anything of it, and we get to the AirBnB, check in, and we go straight to sleep, since we didn’t sleep all night. And we sleep, all of us, for maybe like 6 or 7 hours, um, and we wake up, and we’re all in great spirits and we all wanna go hit the town in Amsterdam and go party, and we’re all getting ready, listening to music, and by the time we’re ready to leave the airbnb and take the train to Amsterdam, um, it’s about 9pm, i think it was exactly 9 pm. So we have to walk back through that mile of forest to get to the train station to get to Amsterdam.

 So, um, this mile is just one straight shot path, through the trees, the eact one we had come on the way there, just one straight shot path. We set off on the path, and we quickly realize that it is pitch black– and i can’t stress enough that its pitch black, its like your eyes are closed because trees are so tall, they’re covering the moon and the stars, um, so the four of us, we’ve all got our little iphone flashlights, which are only so good, and we’re all spooked, but y’know, we’re big girls, its fine. Um, so, y’know, we’re walking through this very creepy, um, pitch black, literally– and i can’t stress enough how it was pitch black, as though your eyes were closed. It is– i never– Before, I had never seen such darkness in my life.

So, um, we get about halfway through, about a half-mile out, and we come to a crossroads. And, at the same time, all of our flashlights come upon the same thing– a woman, about 15 feet ahead of us, standing completely still, completely straight, she’s wearing a wedding dress, and she’s standing completely still, right in the middle of our path. And we all stop– and, it was about two seconds, all together, or less, that we’re standing there, um, and one of us goes “what’s that?” and we realize we’re all seeing the same time, we take off and run for our lives the way we came back to the airbnb, we are running absolutely for our lives, and we all were looking back, and, um, she didn’t chase us or anything, but when we got back to the airbnb, we were all freaking out, all in tears, crying, it was so scary. And, um, we confirmed that all four of us had seen the same thing, a tall woman in a wedding dress, um, like 15 feet ahead of us, standing completely still. 

Collector: Was she looking at you?

Informant: So the thing is, is that none of us could see a face. So, it’s not like– when I remember, i don’t remember, like, noticing a certain faceless-ness that, like jumped out at you, but looking back, none of us can recall seeing a face. But, my three other friends, they recall seeing, like, a sort of blueish greenish tint to her skin, which i don’t personally remember, but all three of them remember it. Um [laughs], so yeah.

Context: The informant is a good friend of mine, and is a Lebanese-American young woman studying music. In 2019, she studied abroad in Germany, and so had the opportunity to travel around Europe. This is her personal experience.

Analysis: I must admit that I am a little biased when it comes to this story, both because the informant is my friend, and because it is a frankly terrifying story. There were several things that I thought of first after hearing this experience. One was the location, taking place not only in a pitch black forest, but on a crossroads as well, which are considered to be liminal spaces, or places of transition. Traditionally, this is believed to be where many spirits can be found, in areas where ownership is uncertain, and so other entities are free to “cross over”.

Another element of the story is the woman dressed in a white wedding dress. Many cultures have a version of a woman dressed in white, lingering in forests, rivers, or other more rural areas where a scene of disaster supposedly happened. In many stories, these women in white have been scorned, or hurt in some way, and now wander the mortal plane in despair, or for revenge. The story is almost always connected to traditional cultural roles for women; For example, the woman kills herself after losing her husband to another woman, thus “failing” in her duties as a wife, or drowns her children in a river, therefore failing as a mother. I wonder if this story works as a sort of precautionary tale aimed at younger woman– to warn them of the monster they could become if they do not adhere to their roles. Another popular version of this story is La Llorona, an entity in Mexican folklore. For more information of the White Woman, please look at :

La Llorona (2020). Retrieved April 28 2020, 

from  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Llorona.

White Lady (ghost) (2020). Retrieved April 28 2020,

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Lady_(ghost)


Color Code of the Laces of Doc Martens

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino-American
Age: 23
Occupation: Student
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Piece:

Informant: So i just know, like, like, lace codes, like how you wear your laces in a certain– certain colors mean certain things, so, like, obviously white laces mean you’re a white supremacist, I think purple is– I think purple’s skinhead– yeah, white’s white pride, blue is you killed a cop, red’s neo nazi, national front– yellow’s anti racist, oh, i think purple’s gay pride, black is no affiliation. Yeah, I remember that.

Context: The informant is a close friend of mine, and is a Filipino-American young woman. She considers this to be common knowledge among the punk scene, though she acknowledges that each lace color could be interpreted in many different ways.

Analysis: As someone who is not heavily associated with the punk scene, this was not common knowledge for me. After doing some research, I found that an individual color could have many different (and sometimes, completely contradictory) meanings, depending on the region. Furthermore, many different folk groups seem to use this color code. Even the punk scene has numerous subgroups, so it quickly becomes impossible to assign a universal meaning for any color. For example, though my informant told me that blue laces indicate that you have killed a cop, I have found other sources saying that blue laces mean you support the police.

Many of the meanings my informant supplied me with are quite heavily involved in either fascist or anti-fascist groups, which suggests that lace codes are most heavily used by those who consider themselves to be “anti-establishment”. The SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) website confirms that, generally speaking, red or white laces indicate belief in white supremacism.

Racist Skinhead Glossary. (2015). Retrieved 2020, from https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2015/racist-skinhead-glossary

Tao Po– Filipino Superstition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino American
Age: 23
Occupation: Student
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Tagalog

Piece:

Informant: I heard another one, I don’t know if this, like, is a Tagalog thing, but like, um, if you have someone come into your house, and you say, oh, um, you knock on the door and you say, like, tao po, like, oh, I’m a person. So, like, like–

Informant’s mother: Tao Po, Tao Po

Informant: Yeah, cuz it’s like, the whole thing is like, you’re not supposed to let spirits in, so it’s like, “Hey, I’m a person, let me in!” 

Informant’s mother: Yeah, that’s right, so y’know, normally you just knock or doorbell, right, so when you’re entering a house, you will knock and you will say tao po.

Collector: To make sure you’re not letting in a spirit? 

Informant’s mother: Yeah, yeah.

Context: The informant is a close friend of mine, and is a Filipino-American young woman. Though she does not herself speak Tagalog, she can understand much of it. Her mother, a Filipino immigrant who has lived in Southern California for roughly 40 years, also joined the conversation. 

Analysis: This belief assumes that there are other entities wandering about knocking on doors, which makes it necessary to declare your personhood at the front door. Once I did some online research, I found that this is now used as a general greeting, and seems to have left behind its supernatural origin. I believe it speaks volumes about the number of superstitious folk beliefs that still permeate everyday living, despite the Philippines now being primarily Catholic or Muslim. When I asked other Filipino friends about this, many reported back that it was mostly a Tagalog thing, and that Ilocano people generally did not say it.

Sweeping Good Luck Away– Filipino custom

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino American
Age: 57
Occupation: Healthcare Receptionist
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Tagalog

Piece:

Informant: If, ah– let’s say you’re sweeping at night, and you have your, y’know.. So if you sweep at night, don’t sweep the dirt, the– y’know, the dirt out on the door. It’s, ah, bad, bad luck.

Collector: If you sweep it out the door?

Informant: Out the door. So it has to be–you can sweep, but y’know– the door is closed, and you just sweep and get all the, y’know, 

Collector: Get all the dust out?

Informant: But not to sweep–yeah.

Collector: So you’re supposed to sweep it into a pan and then take it outside?

Informant:Yeah, oh no, well, you just sweep–just not the door.

Collector: Do you know why?

Informant: Yeah, y’know, it’s same thing, it’s– no good [laughs].

Context: The informant is the mother of a close friend of mine, and is an immigrant from the Philippines, specifically Cavite City, which is about an hour away from Manila. She has lived in Southern California for roughly 40 years, while still maintaining close connections with her home country. 

Analysis: By sweeping the dust out of the door, one might inadvertently sweep the good luck out of the house. When asked, she reported that she had heard about the custom from other housewives in the Philippines. I have heard similar sayings in Jewish culture, though I cannot recall anything specific. As I did with my previous piece, I looked up “sweeping dirt out door” online, to better gauge who participated in this belief. This time, the results were varied; Though there were still many posts that labeled it a strictly Filipino custom (i.e. “You know you’re Filipino When..”), many seemed to consider it a general housewife belief. In this case, it seems as if this particular ritual can be seen in many different cultures.

Filipino Utensil Superstition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino American
Age: 57
Occupation: Healthcare Receptionist
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Tagalog

Piece:

Informant: So what I remember is, like, y’know, like that one, if you drop a utensil, either like, a fork– if you drop a fork on the floor, then they were saying that you’re gonna have a visitor, it’s gonna be a male. And if it’s, ah, a spoon, then it’s gonna be female.

Collector: Do you know why, like, the fork and the spoon have genders?

Informant: Yeah, it’s kinda like, the fork kinda like, represents the male, y’know, and then– if it’s like the little spoon, then the young, young, yeah, young girl. And then if it’s the little fork, it’s like young boy. Y’know, something like that, so it doesn’t have an age or anything.

Collector: Right, right, where did you pick this up, just like–?

Informant: Yeah, I heard it from the people, y’know, like, my relatives, and folks in the Philippines, y’know–

Collector: Where in the Philippines are you from?

Informant: Um, I’m from Cavite City. Yeah, it’s like an hour away from Manila.

Context: The informant is the mother of a close friend of mine, and is an immigrant from the Philippines. She has lived in Southern California for roughly 40 years, while still maintaining close connections with her home country. After the interview, the informant then recalled a past incident in which she had dropped a fork minutes before her daughter’s boyfriend came for a surprise visit. 

Analysis: This particular omen, as she mentioned, she had picked up from not only her relatives, but the general folk as well, suggesting that it is a household belief. While transcribing the interview, I searched the internet for more information of who participates in this belief. One thing I noticed is that when I searched up the phrase “dropping spoon company,” the only sites I found that mentioned it were at least ten years old, the latest being posted in 2010. However, when I searched up “dropping spoon Philippines,” there were far more results, most of them posted much more recently. Nearly all of them involved lists of Filipino superstitions, which were then posted on Filipino websites. One could reasonably assume that many of these lists were written by younger people, and from there, infer that this belief is still very much alive. 

Overall, this omen, though a minor thing, seems now to be a point of pride for many Filipino people. This pride could be an enactment of “cultural intimacy,” which Michael Herzfeld describes as “the recognition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered as a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with the assurance of common sociality”. Though perhaps not too embarrassing, this belief is certainly not a proven fact by any means, and so could be seen as superstitious or outdated. Despite this, many Filipino people seem to regard it as an identity marker, given its inclusion in many lists entitled “You know you’re Filipino when..” 

Herzfeld, M. (2005). Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State. New York: Routledge.