Tag Archives: sleep

Old Woman Scratching the Tipi Walls

Main Piece:

Informant: We wouldn’t go to sleep and it was getting really, really late. And the younger kids were still awake. My older cousins and my older sisters would tell us that if we didn’t go to bed there is an old woman with really long nails that would scrape her nails along the outside of the tipi. She said that every time you talked or were loud, even laughed or anything, she would come closer and closer. And you knew she was about to take you when you start hearing her nails on the tipi, on the tipi canvas. It would start on the opposite side of the tipi and get closer and closer until it went passed you to the door. Then she would grab you and take you to the coulees. 


The informant is a fourteen-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in eighth grade.


During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. Admittedly, I may or may not have told her this story long ago. We were cleaning the kitchen and I asked if she remembered any old stories she heard while growing up.


There is a story about the lost children who get separated from their camp. Lost in the woods, they stumble across the home of an old woman. She takes them in and is later revealed conspiring to eat them. The villainous hag is a common trope in stories worldwide. In folklore, a crone is an old woman who may be disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in nature. She often has magical or supernatural abilities which can make her either helpful or obstructing. It is also a reversal of the nurturing and protective role a women traditionally plays in a child’s life, though historically, the most power person in a child’s life is the mother, so perhaps it is just a pendulum dynamic. The part shared above is a bit of a tag on, a tail end used to make sure children kept in line. It also shows the use of spirits as a disciplinary measure, serving as a warning when you edge too close to certain bounds.

Chinese Sleeping Superstitions


Informant: Chinese people say that you can’t sleep with the fan on or else it will suck up the air out of the room. Then you’ll die of suffocation. You can’t sleep with your stomach showing or else you’ll wake up with a stomach ache. You can’t watch a baby sleep because it’s bad for the baby. It will make it so they don’t grow up correctly. They’re crazy, but I learned them from my parents.


I asked a group of friends about any superstitions they were raised with. This was one of their responses. The informant is of Chinese descent.

Thoughts: I am not of East Asian descent and have never hear of any superstitions regarding sleep, but the other people present when the informant shared these with me were and had heard all of these. This may reflect a greater importance of sleep in East Asian societies.

Never Eat Bananas Before Bed: Folk Medicine

Context: I met with the student in his dorm room at around noon. A few students were milling around the room, waiting until their afternoon classes began. I started to chat with the group, all of which are freshman at USC, and I realized it would be the perfect context to record. I began by asking the informant about “Punch Buggy,” a popular childhood game to play in the car. Next, I asked the informant if his parents had ever shared some strange medical advice with him during his childhood. He replied with, “Never eat bananas before bed.” Somewhat confused, I asked him to elaborate and recorded his response.


WD: What did your parents used to tell you about eating bananas before bed?

SN: They told me to never eat bananas before bed ‘cuz you’ll wake up with a cough. Now, because of that, I won’t eat bananas before I go to sleep.

WD: Hunh, interesting. Where are your parents from again?

SN: My dad is from Burma and my mom is from Madagascar.

WD: So they won’t eat them before going to bed either, I bet?

SN: Yeah, they never do, so now I don’t either I guess.

Informant: The informant is a 19 year old male student at the University of Southern California. He was raised in Santa Monica, California, and his father is Burmese and his mother is Madagascan. The informant attended Santa Monica High School before arriving to USC. His parents informed him of the folk medicine, and he chooses to not eat bananas before going to sleep as a result.

Analysis: This piece of folk medicine could be derived from either of the informant’s parents, but is most likely tied to his mother. The Madagascan people were some of the first to ever cultivate bananas, however, they are contemporarily considered inedible, due to their high amount of seeds. It is possible that, since the bananas were so tough to eat, that swallowing the seeds before sleeping could cause a sore throat, in turn leading to a cough in the morning. However, this has no scientific evidence. While, it’s true that congestion can be worsened by bananas for some people, the body is also more prone to infection at night. Since the body takes roughly 2-3 hours to digest a banana, one’s immune system is weakened further by eating a banana before sleeping. Yet, at the same time, bananas are quite useful in protecting and strengthening one’s immune system. Possibly, the cough had been developing slowly, and sleeping worsened the preexisting affliction. It seems that, although  there is no guarantee of whether or not this particular piece of folk medicine is accurate, bananas could be a cause for a morning cough.

Chinoisms: Sleep

Context & Analysis

The subject often mentions her mother’s “Chinoisms”, or unique sayings that her mother learned when growing up in Chino, CA. Below is the subject’s direct quote on the origin of her mother’s proverbs:

            “So my mom comes from Chino [California], and so she has a plethora of sayings that I didn’t even know what they meant earlier, I just said them until I got older and I was like “Oh! That actually makes sense!”

The subject’s mother’s response is cheeky and plays upon the pun created in the phrasing “How did you sleep?”. The question is rather contextual; if the question is taken literally (like how the subject’s mother does) it is results in a humorous answer.his reminded me a lot of classic “dad jokes”, or jokes that give literal responses to questions often with the purpose of irritating their children for a humorous result. The subject’s re-enactment of her mother’s gesture is also an important part of re-creating the joke, as the punchline of the joke is delivered physically rather than verbally.

Main Piece

“Almost religiously whenever my mom is asked “How did you sleep?’ she says “Like this!” and then she puts her hands next to her face, and, um, tilts to the side like she’s sleeping. [The subject put her hands in a prayer pose on the left side of her face like she’s sleeping on a pillow and tilts her head slightly].



Informant: What about dance parties?

Interviewer: What about dance parties?

Informant: We used to have them, as a kid. When I was younger. Would they count as folklore?

Interviewer: What do you mean?

Informant: Well it was like this thing. Like whenever it was late and it was bedtime, but we couldn’t go to sleep, we would have dance parties.

Interviewer: Who?

Informant: Well it would be like when we had been staying up talking to my mom, and then she would tell us to go to bed. But we weren’t tired. So she would throw a mini-dance party for my brothers and me.

Interviewer: Was there a specific song you would listen to?

Informant: Yeah! What was it? I know it. If you heard it, you would know it. (After Googling something) “Moondance” by Van Morrison. My aunt gave her like a mix CD from her high school reunion and that was on it. We would always listen to that song.

Interviewer: And dance?

Informant: Yeah. Until we got tired, then we would crash out and go to sleep.


I feel like every parent must have a trick to get their kids to go to sleep, and this one sounds like a fun one that will easily tire the kids out. Kids, generally speaking, do not like to miss out on time with the adults and do not feel like they are missing out, so it makes sense that this informant’s mother would initiate the dance parties often when the informant and her siblings were up talking to the mother. When she said it was time to go to sleep, they probably groaned. So she made a game out of it.

I like the addition that it was one particular song, “Moondance”. That to me made it a ritual. That when they heard the words dance party, they knew exactly what music would played. It is also interesting that the music was passed along by another family member. That does not necessarily mean anything, but it is very folkloric to have all the elements passed down or along by other people. Her mother did not pick “Moondance” arbitrarily, it was on a CD her sister gave her. That just feels more special for the entire process and dance party.