Tag Archives: folk beliefs

Ghost Parties in Thailand

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 Leprechauns

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

Tao Po– Filipino Superstition

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

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

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.