Tag Archives: old wive’s tale

Confinement for New Mothers


Confinement is still a common practice in Singapore. It is when a woman who had just given birth must do nothing but rest for at least a month. My grandmother often brings up the lack of her confinement period to reference her now unhealthy state. The interview takes place as I get my grandmother to recount my mother’s confinement period.



The following is translated and transcribed from a conversation between me, (M), and my grandmother, the interviewee (I).

M: What did you do when my Ma was pregnant with me?

I: Your mother had to stay at home. She couldn’t leave the house and must stay in bed.

M: Why did she have to do that?

I: After you give birth. A lot of your energy is taken away from you. And you lose a lot of important nutrients. So, you must stay at home and drink herbal drink. It is called zuo yue zi. Your mother had to be at home and lie on the bed for one month.

Translation: Zuo Ye Zi literally means Sitting The Moon, or sitting on the moon. Referring to how mothers who had just given birth must do nothing but sit and rest.

M: Did you also have to do confinement when you gave birth to my mom?

I: At that time I was too poor to afford a confinement lady. And I’m not lucky like your mother, my mother has passed away already so I couldn’t do confinement properly. I only did about ten days for each child then I had to go back to work. That’s why I’m so sick now,  I have very bad immune system. So when your mother gave birth, I made sure that she did at least one month, I wanted her to do more but she didn’t want to. I was already quite lenient with her.

M: What would have been a stricter confinement period?

I: I wouldn’t have let her shower if I could. When you shower you take away all the energy that is helping to rebuild your body. But she insisted on getting to shower, so I let her shower with warm water. And she only drank half of the tea I made for her, she didn’t finish it all. She won’t be very healthy when she is older. But I tried my best.



This is an old wives tale of why women must be pampered and taken care of after they had just given birth. This belief comes from Ancient China where women of rich families had the luxury to stay in bed and care for their health, and in many ways flaunt that they did not need to do any work after they had given birth. Today, many Chinese people in Singapore still believe in confinement, though not to the same extreme extend of the woman never being able to leave the bed, but rather that the woman should be able to just rest at home for a month without doing anything. I think that on a personal level for my grandmother, she uses this belief to explain her sickness right now. Though there are many medical explanations such as her old age, and just generally her immune system perhaps is not as strong as other people her age, she uses the fact that she wasn’t given the proper care when she was a young mother for her illness now. I think this gives her a sense of comfort because she can put the blame on something else, and pinpoint a reason for her illness rather than just accept that in a world of chaos, perhaps she was just unlucky in health. I believe that it is also a way in which she shows care for her daughters. Due to traditional beliefs, a lot of the love and care went to my grandmother’s two sons, and not much to her daughters. And it is perhaps through taking care of her daughters through confinement that she is able to show them that she loves and cares for them deeply.

Old Wives Tale on Homosexuality

My informant is the mother of a USC student. She is an immigrant from Cameroon and came to America with her husband and son before giving birth to their daughter.


“As a child I knew nothing about homosexuality…but there was an old wives tale I was told that, if a woman was raped by another woman, it would render the victim barren. The victim would usually dream about the encounter and the perpetrator would be confronted by village elders and be chastised.”


Analysis: Cameroon is a country that has deeply rooted beliefs and traditions, among these is the belief that people should not engage in relations with someone of the same sex. The importance that is placed on women to be child bearers and bring about heirs is part of the reason that there is so much stigma placed upon same-sex relations. Barrenness would be an ultimate punishment for a woman because her utmost purpose within that society is to give birth to a male heir. This belief further sets the societal framework for Cameroon and Cameroonian culture by making it very clear that homosexuality is not tolerated in society or by nature (as the female victim would mysteriously become barren after the rape).


Farrier Lore: White hooves v. Black Hooves

Informant: “There is an old saying about horses with white feet that a white footed horse is not as good as a black footed horse. They only come in two colors – black and white. But its only pigment so it doesn’t really matter what the color of the foot is. But the saying goes that… uh … if you have a horse with one white foot buy a horse, two white feet try a horse, three white feet look well about him, four white feet do without him.”

* When talking about foot color the informant is referring to the color of the horses hoof. A horse can have a lighter colored hoof which is more of a cream color (like a human fingernail), but the hoof is considered white. A black hoof is true to its name and basically black in color.*


The informant is a sweet, older, “cowboy” who has been working with horses and farm animals for his entire life. He is a Certified Journeyman Farrier (the highest level of certification by the American Farrier’s Association) and is very well respected in the Farrier community. He was born in Wichita, Kansas to a family that has been farmers for generations. In fact, the informant said that some of his family is still farming in “places like Oklahoma.” He learned of this lore as a child when he was about ten years old from his father and grandfather while working on the family farm, which included horses and mules. He shod his first horse when he was 13, and has been shoeing horses for about 51 years. *To “shoe” or to shod a horse is to put horse shoes on the horse’s hooves. Horses need to be shod about once every six weeks, so quality farriers are highly sought after in the equine community. A Farrier is a very specialized and difficult profession because if a horse is shod improperly the horse could become crippled.*

In regards to this saying, the white horse was assumed to be tenderfooted, which means the horse would not be able to walk on rough terrain. So, the saying implies that when buying a horse if a horse had one white hoof then the horse should be fine and the person interested in buying should go ahead. If the horse had two white hooves then the potential buyer should “try” the horse, meaning that they should ride the horse and see how the horse moves. If the horse had three white hooves than the buyer should be very cautious and thoroughly check to see how the horse’s legs were shaped, the way the horse lands, etc; factors which could affect how prone the horse would be to injury. If the horse had four white hooves, then the buyer should “do without him” and not purchase the horse.

The informant remembers this tale in particular because he found it to be completely ridiculous and untrue. The informant stated, “No, no its not true at all. The color of the foot is simply pigment. It it has nothing to do with the quality of the foot. In other words, you can find horses with white feet running out there across the lava rock out there in the desert and black footed horses that can’t even begin to move out there.”

The informant told me this tale while he was shodding one of the horses in a horse barn. According to the informant, this tale was spread through ignorance and lack of information of horse anatomy. I feel that such an appraisal from a man with this much experience probably indicates that this belief may be false.

Flour to Stop Bleeding

According to my informant who grew up on a farm in a poor family, in the old days mothers used to put baking flour on cuts as a folk remedy to stop bleeding. He heard this from one of his brothers, who actually told him that the remedy was a false one. This brother of his had cut his foot when he was younger, and his sister had put flour on it in an attempt to staunch the bleeding. The blood didn’t stop flowing.

Essentially, it was a poor person’s remedy. It may have gotten its reputation as a cure for bleeding due to its absorbency, but would never be very effective on anything larger than a paper cut as it doesn’t really have anything to do with blood coagulation.

“If You Step on a Crack, Then You’ll Break Your Mother’s Back!” (Annotation)

My informant first heard the American expression when she was in elementary school.  The saying is pretty popular and is easily recognized by most Americans.  She says that she commonly used the expression on the playground at school or while playing with friends.  Also, it is not something that you merely say, but “is a rhyme that you kind of sing.”  She remembers saying the phrase while hopping over cracks.

When she was younger, my informant explained that it was not something that she necessarily believed.  She had stepped on plenty of cracks and nothing bad ever happened to her mom.  However, she did say that it was considered bad luck.  However, my informant was and is not very superstitious.  So although she knew the saying, she personally did not think it was bad luck, “especially since there were so many cracks on the ground at [her] school!”  My informant, now an elementary school teacher, also said that she has overheard her students using the expression as well.  The American proverb seems to still exist and remains a traditional “playground” proverb.

The famous adage has been used and continually reinforced in film.  The 1988 children’s movie The Land Before Time shows a variation of the expression with the character “Ducky” saying: “Don’t step on a crack, or you’ll fall and break your back.”  Nevertheless, the scene shows how it is used in child’s play.  The characters Ducky, Cera and Littlefoot hop over cracks as they rhythmically say the line.  The movie, made almost twenty-five years ago, is still popular among kids today, especially for those who become interested in dinosaurs.  The Land Before Time’s popularity helps perpetuate the continuation of the well-known American adage.


The Land Before Time. Dir. Don Bluth. Perf. Pat Hingle, Gabriel Damon and Judith Barsi. Universal, 1988.