Informant: Friend from south India. In India, there is a major difference in cultures of the south and north. The languages are completely different and so are the customs. It is considered that the two parts of the country can act like two different countries. Here a friend talks about south Indian tradition about fingernails and their etiquette.
Performance: (via phone call)
I was thinking about what you told me and I’ve noticed that we have some weird superstitions about nails. Like nails on your fingers and toes. For one, we don’t cut our nails on Thursday because it’s bad luck. And also, you can’t drop your nail clippings on the ground cause that’s bad luck too. Even if your nail accidentally breaks, you can’t be lazy and drop it on the ground – you have to go and properly dispose of it in the bathroom or trash.
I’ve never heard of superstition about nails and don’t know that much about south Indian culture, but when I asked the friend about why that is, they had no idea. Sometimes there are superstitions that make no sense whatsoever and this might be one of them. I can’t help but think that in western culture, when witches make their potions, nails are included in their recipes. It might be because they are a waste item and aren’t useful, hence they are associated with bad luck and witches.
Context/Background: The informant is Indian-American and has family in India who, alongside her family within the U.S., engage in cultural practices, one of which being the belief in not cutting one’s nails at night. It is deemed back luck, so they refrain from doing it at night time and have to wait till the day time.
“Something that um… most people in India always say is not to cut your nails at night… or also, a variation of it is if you cut your nails at night, you’ll lose all your wealth or lose all your money or something like that, but, I don’t specifically know why they say that, but my parents always say that to me and if you’re like… starting to cut your nails at night, they tell me to wait until morning or something.”
Introduction:The informant was introduced by their parents in childhood.
Analysis/Interpretation: I find this piece of lore interesting because it causes me to develop questions regarding the cultural values of nails and growth in general. I’ve heard this from another Indian-American student as well, so it seems very ingrained in the folk belief. There’s definitely an interesting dynamic in terms of looking at the literal version of physical growth (nails), juxtaposed with the idea of wealth and prosperity financially.
It is bad luck to cut your hair or fingernails at night.
My informant first heard this superstition from his father some time during the late fifties in his hometown, the rural city of Daegu in Korea. When he took out nail clippers from his drawer one night, his father ordered him to put it back in the drawer. His father warned him that it was very bad luck to clip your nails at night. Suk-Won’s father had learned from his father that at night crows lurk about and would pick up the discarded nails in their beaks and drop them off into the fields. The nails would keep the seeds from sprouting and suck the nutrients out of the soil. Afterwards there would be seasons without any good harvest. The nails would have been easily accessible to the crows because Koreans who lived on farms during 1950’s and even now have paper doors that slide in their homes. They do not have the hard wooden doors with knobs as we are accustomed to in America.
I do not believe that nails in the soil are detrimental to the growth of crops. However, people in the countryside were sensitive about anything pertaining to their harvest because that was their only means of living. Particularly living in the city nowhere near the action of agriculture, I do not heed this superstition at all since there. Once again the Korean culture has an extremely negative view on the crow. Farmers were superstitious that the crows would not only bring death through merely crowing in front of their homes but indirectly by preventing a successful harvest.