Author Archives: Miel Krauss

El Imbunche

I interviewed a good family friend, and she is a middle aged woman from Chiloé, Chile, who now lives with her family in California. My dad was also present at the time, and he helped me translate some of the things she said in Spanish that I didn’t understand. This performance occurred after dinner, while we were still sitting at the table.


 

Original Script

Informant: “El Imbunche es un ser mitológico… en Chiloé… que… es muy feo.”

Dad: “Feo.”

Informant: “Y chico. Baja estatura. Y tiene una de las piernas dobladas atrás.”

Dad: “Ah, ¡Eso está muy interesante!”

Me: “Is this… What is this about? An object? Or is it a story?”

Informant: “It’s a story.

Me: “Ok. And it’s called El Imbun…?”

Informant: “El Imbunche.”

Dad: “Es un enano. Expliquale. Es un enano?”

Informant: “Es un enano. ¡No, no! No es un enano. Es… de baja estatura pero no es enano.”

Dad: “Ah, he is not a dwarf, but is… you know, not too tall.”

Me: “A short guy.”

Informant: “It’s a short guy. It’s a petite guy. And he has long hair, not really dark, but long hair. And, one of his leg, the right one, is… is-”

Dad: “Crook?”

Informant: “I don’t know if it’s-”

Dad: “Bended?”

Informant: “Bending. So it go on the back.”

Me: “Oh, it like bends all the way up his back?”

Informant: “Yeah, yeah, no yeah. Pero he just walk with one… foot.”

Me: “He just hops along?”

Informant: “He jump! So he is this way, like in the yoga class, and he… one of he’s… so he is, the legs… that was some… I don’t know who told me that. Maybe my mom did. So the legs, you can see his leg in the shoulder.”

Dad: “Touching his neck?”

Informant: “Yeah.”

Me: “He’s disfigured?”

Informant: “Someth-…Yeah. He is definitely disfigured, and… and he jump. And you have to be, be careful because every time umm… I don’t know if was my mom but one of my… the ancestors said, you know, have to be careful because… they like the beautiful girls. And the younger ones.

Me: “There’s not many. There’s just one right?”

Informant: “Who?”

Me: “Just one guy?

Informant: “Yes, is one guy. And… they like beautiful girls. And you have to be careful, because if he got you… you get… pregnant.

Me: “Ohh…”

Informant: “And he like just pretty, young girls. And he doesn’t go for the… for the old ladies or some other.”

Dad: “The old ones! (laughs) Sin vergüenzas!”

Me: “And who told you this story? Your mom?”

Informant: “I don’t know. I heard something-”

Me: “You just heard it from friends?”

Informant: “No, people working, and you know, in the party when they get together they was working, it was always, it was something here. I was so terrified, I remember… I was so terrified, I’m glad I have brothers, because it was always goes next to me. There was stayed next to me, because for this guy.”

Me: “But how do you think this story came about? Like, it’s kind of like a warning? Not to walk alone at night?”

Informant: “Yeah, probably. You know, also you know, it’s a… they, they made those story, you know why? Because… they have to make something because maybe it was the neighbor… who abused the girl… or one of the family abused the girl… You know, so they made the whole thing… to scare the girl…you know… Or just, you know…”

Me: “Was this supposed to be someone in your neighborhood?”

Informant: “Yeah. It could be any in your neighborhood.”

Me: “Oh, ok. But this is a very widespread story?”

Informant: “Yeah, it’s all Chiloé. It’s all Chiloé, always… talking about… this.”

Me: “Is that where you’re from?”

Informant: “Yes, mhmm.”

We talk about the location of Chiloé for a bit.

Me: “And uh, you never saw him though?”

Informant: “No. Of course not.”

Dad: “In your dreams maybe.”

Informant: “I was a good girl.”

Me: “But you’ve heard of people who saw him, maybe?”

Informant: “Yeah. People saw him… They say, ‘Oh my God!’, you know, ‘Oh, I saw Imbunche jumping, you know on… from the window of my girls, you know.'”

Me: “It just perpetuates this story.”

Informant: “But it’s not… I don’t think it never exists, it’s not real. People made it up.”

Dad: “Like a myth. Un mito.”

Informant: “Yeah, made it up. It’s a mito. Yeah, made it up because, you know, to cover… to cover those seen, and you see… young girls, and then she’s pregnant, and the girl can’t talk because, you know, they say you can’t talk, because you have to say it was el Imbunche.

Me: “Oh, so do people sometimes when they don’t… Do some people use this name when they don’t want to say who the father is?”

Informant: “Exactly.”

Me: “Ahhh, ok.”

Informant: “It was that. It was them.”

Me: “So there is a story behind this. Ah ok, that’s interesting.”

Informant: “Yeah, it could be, even though it could be even-”

Me: “And no one questions it? Or they know, ‘Oh, someone…'”

Informant: “The same father, or the older brothers.”

Dad: “Incest. Yeah, incest sometimes.”

Me: “Oh, so if it’s like taboo…”

Informant: “It is.”

Me: “Then that’s when…”

Informant: “It was. It was. Not right now, but the thing is… Yeah, because now, you know, they don’t believe in that story. But… they used to use at that time for… to cover… family… or whatever it was there… involved.”

Translated Summary

The informant described the Imbunche as a mythological being in Chiloé, that is very ugly and disfigured, with one of his legs bent up behind his back. He’s also short and petite, but not a dwarf, and he has long, black hair. He is known to hop around the streets, preying on young, beautiful women, and his victims end up pregnant. Although the moral of this legend can be interpreted as a warning of what might happen if young women wander the streets alone at night, the informant also explained how the name “El Imbunche” is often used as an explanation for how a young girl ends up pregnant when she doesn’t want to say who the father is. This is especially the case if the father of the baby is a deadbeat, or a family member such as a brother or the girl’s own father.

Analysis

I found this particular legend very fascinating, since not only does it come from this village on an island off the coast of Chile, but that it holds such complex social implications. I have observed that legends often reflect the fears of the people who tell them, and therefore stand as a sort of warning not to behave a certain way or do a certain thing, lest the events of the legend actually happen. While the legend of El Imbunche in Chiloé may have started out this way, it has now become co-opted to describe any kind of taboo relationship that results in an unplanned pregnancy.

 

*For another version of this legend, see <http://wwenico96.blogspot.com/2009/05/el-imbunche.html> or <http://www.agenciaelvigia.com.ar/imbunche.htm>

Ethiopian Food Etiquette

The informant is a good friend from one of my clubs. We had met up for lunch and she shared many of her Ethiopian traditions and customs with me, as well as some superstitions of her people.


In Ethiopia, no one uses utensils to eat, they just use their hands. While there are forks people can use, most choose not to. However, because cleanliness and hygiene were a problem in the past, only one hand that is designated for eating touches the food on the plate, while the other can be used for any other task, such as using the bathroom. The informant said that even though cleanliness is no longer a problem, the custom still remains. In fact, there is even a hand-washing ceremony before every meal, where the host will bring around a special tea pot and a bowl, and the guests will wash just their eating hand. Traditionally it is the right hand, but nowadays, if you are left-handed and prefer to eat with the left, it is acceptable.

I also asked whether people eat by taking turns, and the informant said that they all can eat at the same time, just not before everyone has been seated. She also explained to me the tradition of “gursha”, where you would feed a family member or a lover to show the close relationship you both share.

Background & Analysis

The informant is a student here at USC as well, and although her mother is from Ethiopia, she was born and raised here in California. However, she often goes back to Ethiopia with her mom to visit friends and family.

I think the one-hand eating rule is super clever, especially since soap used to be an issue in Ethiopia. The tradition of gursha is also very similar how people in east Asian cultures will, for example, cut a piece of meat and feed it to a friend, family, or lover as a way to acknowledge the close relationship and comfort towards the other.

Ethiopian Greeting Customs

The informant is a good friend from one of my clubs. We had met up for lunch and she shared many of her Ethiopian traditions and customs with me, as well as some superstitions of her people.


Original Script

Informant: “When you say hi to people… It’s a mess! You have to do it in a line, right? Okay so what happens is… If I was meeting another family and I showed up with just me and my mom, she would meet the most important person in that group first. Like,  she would say hi to them, I’m standing behind my mom.”

Me: “Like the head of the family?”

Informant: “She says hi to the head of the other family first, then to the second person, then to the third person. And then when she’s done, I go do it. So like if… Say we came to someone else’s house, so if we’re the visitors, she would say hi to the most important person, and I can’t say hi to people. I say to people after she has done it, because she outranks me.” (laughs)

Me: “So you just stand back and just watch?”

Informant: “Yeah, I stand behind her while she greets the most important person, then when she moves on to the second most important person, I can go on to the first important person. And then my little brother is still waiting, and then when I’ve moved on to the second person, he can talk to that first person.”

Me: “Oh, so you don’t have to wait to go through the whole family?”

Informant: “Yeah, but you got to go through the thing in that order.”

Me: “And what’s like the type of greeting?”

Informant: “Well what we do is, we do the… um… it’s either a handshake and a hug, and then it’s three kisses on the cheek.”

Me: “Is there a specific cheek?”

Informant: “It’s um… Well from my perspective it’s that cheek, then that cheek, then that cheek (She points to my right, then left, then right cheek).”

Me: “Oh, so switching back and forth.”

Informant: “Yeah. And then you say the stuff.”

Me: “Wait, wait. If you’re the visitor, you have to kiss the person? Or they… it’s kind of mutual?”

Informant: “If you’re the visitor, you walk up to the person who’s just let you into their house. It’s very rare where you’re both randomly meeting each other. It’s usually because you are going to someone’s house, or to an event, like there will be a hostess or, like, a person to go say hi to.”

Me: “Is there a different custom when you;re both strangers? Like, your not in someone’s home?”

Informant: “If you’re both strangers, you don’t actually kiss. You kind of just… touch cheeks!”

Me: “Or if you’re like friends, meeting up in a  neutral place? Where no one’s, you know..,”

Informant: “Unless, they’re not really… I mean you can kind of tell when you’re looking at people, if they are traditional. Like, if I was meeting another seventeen year-old, I would say ‘Sup.”

Me: (laughs)

Informant: “I’m not, you know, going to go through the whole thing. But if I was meeting, like, a stranger who was maybe like thrity-five, I would say the greeting in Amharic, but I wouldn’t necessarily, like, kiss them, but I would definitely go for the hug, because the hug is like the first step. But if I was meeting some who was like older, who was like really traditional, who was like dressed the way, I know for sure that I have to be nice, and I have to do it. It ‘s usually, the older the person is, the more you kinda have to bow when you go in for it. When you say hi you kind of nod tot the person. So if it’s like someone your age, you might just go like that, (head nod). But if it’s someone who’s maybe seventy, you give a little more effort because you’re sort of recognizing that they’re older than you.”

Me: “So what’s the order again?”

The informant shows me the Ethiopian greeting, starting with the bow, then the hug, and lastly the kisses.

Me: “I thought it was very more like, BOW. (laugh)

Informant: (laugh) “Yes your majesty! No, it’s kind of more organic than that, ’cause you’re both doing it at the same time to each other, so it’s more… relaxed. It’s really relaxed, and it’s not nearly as formal. Even if it is a formal event, it’s just saying hi. That’s how we say hi, so it’s very… ’cause it happens so often, it’s not something that is really ceremonious every single time, ’cause it’s just like… Over the quantity it gets really relaxed, because you just do it so much.”

Me: “Would you do this with family members too?”

Informant: “Yeah, but not if I said hi to my mom in the morning, I’d just giver her a hug. But if I was seeing like my uncle for like a really long time, that’s how I would say hi to him.”

Me: “That’s awesome!”

Informant: “But not to my littler brother. If he came home from college, he would be like, ‘Sup.” You know, it’s kind of… and age thing.”

Background & Analysis

The informant is a student here at USC as well, and although her mother is from Ethiopia, she was born and raised here in California. However, she often goes back to Ethiopia with her mom to visit friends and family.

The greeting customs in Ethiopia are much more complex than I thought! It appears to be a combination of greetings from other areas around the world, like the bowing from asian cultures, the the hug from most latin cultures, and the cheek kisses from Europe. Whereas in America, a simple handshake will suffice, Ethiopans make a clear destinction between hierarchies just through a short gesture such as a greeting.

Black Crows and Traffic Jams

The informant is a good friend from one of my clubs. We had met up for lunch and she shared many of her Ethiopian traditions and customs with me, as well as some superstitions of her people.


 Original Script

Informant: “If a black crow has crossed the street, don’t. You have to wait until someone else does, ’cause… then you’ll die. So like if you see, umm-”

Me: “Well then what if they see it too? Then you’re never going to cross the street!”

Informant: “Literally in Ethiopia, people will stop driving. Like no one would go. If you come to a road where no one has crossed yet, that means something suspicious has gone down, and they’ll just wait for a foreigner to cross, so that everyone else can continue about their business. It’s like an actual thing, if a… like a a black, I think it’s just crows, yeah. They hate crows. If a black crow is in the middle of the road, then no one should walk on that road, ’cause the next person to walk on that road, something terrible is going to happen to them. It’s going to be awful.”

Me: “Wait. So let’s say you saw a crow and you stopped, and I was like driving up and I didn’t see the crow-”

Informant: “If  you didn’t see the crow, you’re good. But if I know there’s a crow there…”

Me: “Oh, so like other people, if they see you stopped, if they didn’t see the crow they’ll keep going?”

Informant: “If  you’re really, really superstitious, if people are stopped, you’ll wait too! You know, just in case.”

Me: “I can imagine lot of traffic jams because of one bird!”

Informant: “Oh yeah! Those stupid birds, they stop a lot of things!”

Me: “What does the crow represent?”

Informant: “Death.” (laughs)

Me: “Death?”

Informant: “But I don’t know what else it represents!”

Me: “Yeah it’s interesting! ‘Cause with Native Americans, it’s like a trickster.”

Informant: “Yeah… My mom is not down for the black crows. My grandpa will literally stop the car. He’ll just not go. He’s like ‘I can’t! I can’t!’ Like anywhere he was he would just stop. I don’t know what the-”

Me: “Do you stop?”

Informant: “No!” (laughs)

Me: “Like what about here? There’s crows, like, everywhere!”

Informant: “I mean, it’s not often here that crows stop on the middle of the highway, like before I go.”

Me: “What if it just flies over then?”

Informant: “No, if a crow has landed… That’s a big deal. You see a crow land, don’t walk in that direction, like just leave that crow alone! Like, that whole area is off limits. Like I don’t know what it is, but they don’t like crows.”

Me: “But, so you have a thing against them too now? Because of this culture thing?”

Informant: “No I’m… I don’t care about crows. But my mom, like, will not-”

Me: “Are there ravens whee you are?”

Informant: “Probably. I don’t know. But there are definitely crows.”

Me: “So like, would it be ravens too? Because they’re black birds.”

Informant: “I mean, I’m sure no one is real, like, specific about it if you see a strange black bird stopped. I’m sure that’s just enough, but I’ve only heard it with crows.”

Background & Analysis

The informant learned this omen from both her mom and her grandpa. Her grandpa lived in Ethiopia all his life, and when she would visit him, every time he saw a crow while driving, he would stop.

The informant is a student here at USC as well, and although her mother is from Ethiopia, she was born and raised here in California. However, she often goes back to Ethiopia with her mom to visit friends and family.

As I listened to this superstition, I could definitely see why people would think it a bad omen if a crow, which is the color of death, landed in the middle of a road out of nowhere. This type of superstition can also be easily perpetuated, if one were to just link some bad or unfortunate event with the crossing of a road that a crow had just landed on. It’s interesting to see this flip side belief about the crow, since for Native Americans, the crow is often seen as good luck, or at the very least, a trickster along with the raven.

Evil Menehune

The informant was a high school classmate that graduated the same year as me and also is studying at USC. We met up for a snack at one of the cafes on campus and, then sat outside to catch up and exchange news and stories.


Informant

If you see a Menehune or hear their drums, you’re supposed to take off all your clothes and lie on the ground without making eye contact, or else they will kill you. To show even more deference, you have to further humiliate yourself in front of them.

The informant learned of this superstitious ritual from K (informant’s friend). He had said that his Aunt and Uncle had gone camping once, and they realized they were actually on a Menehune trail when they saw eyes watching them while they were sitting around the campfire. They then had to get naked and pee on themselves and bow down on their stomachs, in order to show that they were lesser beings than the Menehune, and to show respect.

Background & Analysis

The informant was born and raised in Waimea town on the Big Island of Hawaii. K is a good friend who is native Hawaiian, and his family follows traditional Hawaiian customs and practices. Supposedly if you heed the superstition, you will be okay.  K has told the informant many other scary stories about Hawaii as well, and also ones about good spirits.

This superstition was fascinating to me, because I know a different version. In all my life living in Hawaii, I have always perceived the Menehune as mischievous tricksters, yet relatively benign. Also, I have always heard they bring good luck if you come across one. In a way, they have always been the Hawaiian leprechauns to me. The ritual the informant described to me is very similar to the ritual you are supposed to perform if you come across Night Marchers on a Night Marcher trail. Night Marchers were the warriors of the ancient Hawaiian Kings, that continue protect the Kings in spirit form. If you come across them, you are supposed to bow on the ground and avoid eye contact, and hope that the warriors spare your life. It appears that as this ritual spread across Hawaii and over time, the exact spirit or mystical creature it centers around has become confused and interchangeable.