Tag Archives: Motherhood

Polish Dragon

Context: Poland has many mythical beasts in its folklore, however, very prominently featured are its dragons. Poland’s dragons are very big beasts, which are fearsome but not very smart. Mostly villainous in nature, the dragon must be defeated by a Polish hero, oftentimes through outwitting the dragon, rather than use of physical force. Wawel is a Polish castle, which is made of stone and stands on an outcrop on the left bank of a Polish river.

Informant: “The Wawel dragon in Poland. So my mom told us this story growing up and she told us the kid friendly version but its this legend about this dragon that was terrorizing this town and eating the livestock and knights tried and tried to kill it but no one could until this young boy, i think his name was Skuba or something, took a dead sheep and stuffed his stomach full of hot hot pepper and when the dragon ate it, it was so spicy that he breathed fire and went to drink from the river and then either died or flew away idk but Skuba saved the day and theres a statue in Krakow of him about that story.”

Background Knowledge: The informant’s mother lived in Poland for most of her life, and only moved to the United States a few years before Informant’s birth. Despite not knowing the language, and being mostly ingrained in American culture, the Informant tries to keep in touch with their Polish heritage. The informant remembers this story from their childhood, as a story their mother told them. It is, I believe, a very old Polish story. The informant does not speak more than basic conversational Polish, and did not hear the story in its original Polish language. However, the informant has visited Poland a few times, and has much Polish influence from their mother. Informant is proud of their Polish heritage, and spoke of this story with fondness.

Thoughts: I wonder if the story of the Wawel dragon came before or after the building of Wawel castle. It’s interesting to see how these Polish stories have come to emigrated to America along with its people. Despite being based on/being the inspiration for the wawel castle, the story of the wawel dragon leaves its castle, and travels to America without it. It’s interesting that the story can outgrow the location which it is originated from, even when the location is so inherent to it.

Cold Wind on a mother’s back

Context:

J is a 23-year-old Salvadorian-american and resides in Southern California. She’s heard various superstitions and stories from her family and friends. She heard this one from her mother after a family reunion.

The context of this piece was over a dinner when J was asked if she had heard of any folk beliefs from her family.

Text:

J: “I know of one that we always make sure to follow no matter how like dumb people think it is. Like my mom told me about this one so that when I have babies I wont get sick or anything like that. She told me stuff like women need to be wrapped up after having a baby. Kanda like a baby themselves. If they didn’t then stuff like the wind would get to them,”

Me: “The wind? What do you mean by it getting to those women?”

J: “Like if a woman left her back exposed after having a baby, then they’d get really bad back pain because of the wind. My mom said that the cold wind was the worst thing a woman could be touched by after giving birth. It’s because wafter having a baby the woman’s body is like weak and its sensitive. So she has to be covered in clothes or blankets so that her and her back stay like warm.”

Me: “So if the wind touches her back, it hurts her?”

J” Yeah so like wind is cold and since the baby took all of her warmth and strength the wind would leave her in pain. We just say the back is the most important part because that’s where they put like the shot thing for the pain so its left more out in the open. So yeah, now you know to always have you back covered up after having a baby”

Analysis:

I think it’s really interesting to hear about this folk belief because something as simple as wind could have a greater affect on someone’s body. I know that the wind is usually avoided as it brings the feelings of coldness but the way it is spoken of in this belief is somewhat animalistic. This belief connotes the wind negatively as it makes it clear that the wind is something that can hurt a woman and should be outright avoided. I think this belief is especially interesting because it revolves around a woman’s body post-birth. I know that in many cultures birth is sacred and the creation of a new life in the world is highly valued, so it was interesting to hear how the birthing process needs the after-care.

“Kes hiljaks jääb, see ilma jääb.” – Estonian Proverb

Informant’s Background:

The informant, in this case, is my mother, M, who was a first generation immigrant born to an Estonian family in the North-East of Canada. Her family had escaped from occupied Estonia, and had settled in Canada before she was born. She moved with my father to Los Angeles, in the United States, to take a job as a university professor. My brother and I were born a few years after.

Context:

I mentioned collecting folklore to my mother, who I regularly call on the phone now that I have moved out of our house, and she told me that she wanted to help. I told her yes, and she emailed me the following.

Translation:

  • Original: “Kes hiljaks jääb, see ilma jääb.”
  • Translation: He who is late, will go without.

Informant’s Context:

M: “My mother used to say it all the time when we were kids and taking our time about coming back inside when she rang the dinner bell to summon us to dinner. She sometimes added an extra line of her own – “ja raua rohtu saab” – which meant “and will get cod liver oil” (a vile-tasting medicine that used to be given to children as a vitamin D supplement).”

Informant’s Thoughts: 

M: “This is harsh, but reasonable in some circumstances. Even though she often said it, I can’t remember my mother ever actually enforcing it. She understood that we were busy playing and that we had often wandered quite far away from home, so it took time to get back.”

Thoughts:

This seems like a pretty standard proverb to me. It gets across a lesson, in this case in the form of a warning, about being punctual, most likely aimed at children, as seen by it’s use in my mother’s example. It also contains a threat, that if one is not punctual one will be denied something, in this case food. Denial of food was a fairly common means of punishment for children throughout history, and even in some stricter households to this day, so this makes sense as well. In this case it seems more like a light warning intended to get the message across without really intending to enforce the punishment.

La cuarentena

Background: Informant, B.B. is a mother of 3, and was around 20 years old when she had her first child. She personally has abided by “la cuarentena” rules but was told about it by her mother.

Main Piece:

Informant: After I had my first kid, my mom tried to be really strict about my healing process, telling me I need to follow “la cuarentena”.

Interviewer: What is “la cuarentena”?

B.B: Basically giving birth takes a huge toll on the body, so according to my Mexican mother, there are certain rules to follow postpartum. Cuarentena translates to quarantine, which describes how we were suppose to stay home in order to take care of ourselves properly.

Interviewer: What rules were suppose to be followed? Was it hard to follow them?

B.B: I was suppose to stay “in quarantine” for about a month. I was also not suppose to lift anything heavy, cook, or even clean because it could be too much for my body. I was also told not to shower, which was one of the hardest rules to follow and I didn’t. The logic behind not showering was that I could get sick from having wet hair. I wasn’t really able to stick to the rules, I only managed it for about a week or two before I tried my best to get back to normal.

Interviewer: Did you try la cuarentena for each of your kids?

B.B: No, I did not really believe in needing a whole month to myself.

Context: The informant is a relative, and we were discussing another family member who had just given birth and was already back at work. She was not too shocked about her not following la cuarentena because of how strict it is.

Thoughts: Thinking about having to quarantine after giving birth seems a bit extreme. Knowing how life being quarantined is because of the corona virus, I do not see myself going though with the full month either. I think it is easy to listen to our bodies and if we feel like it is okay to get back to doing certain things, then we should do so as long as we do not push our limits.

Female Circumcision in Cameroon

Male circumcision is obviously practiced all over the world and is legal. Female circumcision is a little more controversial, and in the village that I am from, females were previously circumcised—but this circumcision is not as bad as the ones that are usually heard about. This one is just cutting of a small tip of the clitoris, similar to the foreskin in a male, and this happens after the birth of your first child—no matter the sex—and why this was made was because proper women are not supposed to make sounds when they pee. It is seen as a very unfitting thing to do, and women feel empowerment because they are circumcised and they are part of a childbearing society, so women who go through the majority of their lives without ever having a child actually get circumcised so they are not looked down upon because it is like a rite of passage—once you have your first child you have really become a woman, meaning you have been circumcised so it is a really big deal. But this practice doesn’t happen anymore.

 

It is interesting to me that she cites this tradition as not very controversial. When I think of female circumcision I think of mutilation. There is no reason why a female needs to go through the process of circumcision. It does not improve hygiene in any way; it only robs them of a source of sexual pleasure. Humans are special creatures in that sex is not just a means of reproduction but also a source of great pleasure that is a large and important part of life. To strip someone of this ability is to reduce them to an animalistic state in which bearing children is their only sexual purpose.

 

This tradition also speaks to the idea of womanhood and the process by which one achieves it. In this village, it seems that having children gives one that stamp of approval. Coco did say that the practice of female circumcision in her village no longer exists, but the emphasis on motherhood still remains—an emphasis that seems very outdated (at least in American society). Gone are the days in in which women are confined to a domestic prison—their only duty to rear children, tend to the hearth and home, and pamper the husband. Women are no longer getting married and having children at 18. They have been emancipated in a sense. However, the women in this African village seem to be stuck in that domesticity.