Tag Archives: trees

The Balete Trees

Intv: “I was hoping I could ask you a little bit about some of your folklore from when you lived in the Philippines.” 

X: “Yeah definitely, have you heard about balete trees?”

Intv: “No I can’t say that I have.”

X: “Oh! Well where I’m from, and I think throughout the Philippines there’s one where, when you enter a place where there may be a spirit or deity or a forest with balete trees you should say ‘tabi tabi po’ (“excuse/pardon me or like move to the side, please”) or else they might hit u with an illness or misfortune”

Intv: “Oh interesting, so are balete trees specifically capable of holding spirits? Or could it be any forest?” 

X: “It can be in any forest, but I believe it has to be a balete tree specifically.” 

Analysis: I think the message of saying “tabi tabi po” can be viewed in two different ways. First as a sign of paying respect to the dead, or as a sign of respect to nature. Perhaps it could be both as it involves a communion of spirits and nature that’s combined to a sort of humble reverence. The Aswang Project, a web service dedicated to preserving Filipino folklore, has this to say in relation to the balete trees. 

“Regardless of physical appearance, trees are quiet noticeably mentioned throughout our own mythology and lore. Some are associated with engkantos and other nature spirits while others play a vital role in the shamanistic/animistic culture of our Babaylan. Perhaps more than just a source of physical materials such as wood, paper and even medicine, trees can also provide impalpable treasures that we must learn to conserve and protect.”

Guzman, Daniel De. “Down the Roots of Mystical and Sacred Trees in Philippine Lore • the Aswang Project.” THE ASWANG PROJECT, 2 Feb. 2022, https://www.aswangproject.com/mystical-sacred-trees-philippines/. 

Aspen Panty/ Underwear Tree

I: Informant, M: Me

M: So the first one I wanted to ask you about which I’ll ask {name blanked for privacy} about too when I have my interview with her is about the Aspen Panty tree because we saw it when we were going and I thought that would be really fun because I didn’t see anything about it in the archives.

I:Well that that was a. Long ago well I wouldn’t say long ago. It started theoretically in Aspen that’s the reputed legend. It was a tradition that was started by some woman who had gone to a party and decided she was going to have some fun with one of the other party goers and the guy that she met, I guess they got together and had some fun {referring to sexual relations}. Next day, to commemorate the experience with her he took the bra that she was wearing that night and as a skiier going up the mountain the next day, threw it into a tree as a goof.

M: Yeah

I: And so that everybody else, his friends going up the mountain that day would know that he had met this girl and that they had had some fun.

M: Yeah

I: So that turned into a thing, a tradition in Aspen and other people saw it and thought it was funny and started doing the same thing except it wasn’t restricted to just to bras, there were other things thrown out there, things that would get a little more risqué, and then

M: Like what?

I: landing in the trees. So you’d get bras, panties, and you know in Mardi Gras

M: Did you say ties too?

I: Ties, they are throwing all kinds of things in the tree. Hats.

M: Now is it only the people who um only the people who get laid sort to say and it has to be the opposite sex {or partner} to throw it or can you throw your own?

I: As I’ve learned it is as you go up the mountain you are supposed to take this off while you are on the lift.

M: Oh

I: You are not supposed to…literally if you are a woman you are supposed to reach under all your layers of clothing, pull you bra off and throw it over onto the tree. Now the funny thing is, the people in Aspen are a very, let’s just say not risqué community. They you know like to have fun and ski, maybe drink a little too much.

M: yeah

I: But they don’t allow things in town. Like they don’t like vaping. Vaping is banned.

M: Yeah

I: They consider it to be inappropriate because of the damage it does, particularly to the kids.

M: Yeah

I: So when they saw that this was going on, the ski patrol everyday would go up and take all of the stuff out of the tree.

M: uh-huh (Yeah)

I: Which was a pain because they had to climb up the tree. They actually developed a rig that would hang off of the lift, they stopped the lift and hang off the lift and pull the stuff out of the tree.

M: Yeah

I: And that’s a big nuisance. Well by the end of the day, people were already throwing stuff back at the tree. SO they eventually just cut the tree down.

M: *laughing because I know how this ended up working out according to the legend*

I: and instead of it stopping there, they just went to the next tree another 50ft up the hill and made that the panty tree. So they realized after a while that they weren’t going to win this war and it has held ever since. It’s been going on for 3 or 4 decades 

M: Is it on a specific ski route?

I: Yes, it is on Bell Mountain.

M: Uh-huh (agreeing)

I: What happened afterwards, it kind of fell out of vogue because when you got on the gondola, they built a beautiful enclosed gondola, there was no way for you to reliably wad up your panties or your bra and throw it out the window and actually make it to the tree. It was almost an impossible throw. It’s too far away so nobody did it anymore {correction: less people did it}. So they only way you could do it was if you took the outdoor, very old, kinda scary to ride Bell mountain chair lift specifically to go over that tree, which I do, but I do it to ski- I’ve never thrown anything in the tree beside Mardi Gras beads and uh it kind of a thing. You have to be kind of wanting to do it and wanting to go through a little bit of pain because you are outside and it is cold, the wind is blowing, to do that. Whereas most people are in the gondola enjoying a nice warm ride up the hill that goes a lot faster.

M: Yeah

I: So you gotta be motivated.

M: mkay

I: You gotta want to do it.

Context: The informant learned about this underwear tree by seeing it in person in Aspen and asking the locals about it about 6 years ago. We both see this tree every time we go skiing in Aspen and take that particular ski lift. It’s mainly been covered in bra the last few times I went.

Analysis: This Underwear tree is a perfect example of monogenesis with diffusion as this very specific custom, started specifically in Aspen and then spread to Vail and from there, spread to other ski mountain. The underwear tree has now become a staple in many ski mountains. Additionally, this piece of folklore shows how folklore can have multiplicity and variation and different meanings to different people because while I have been told about this legend twice with similar details, when I researched it, I found out that initially started as a protest of the hiring of the 1st woman ski patrol (more competition for the job openings). To the patrols and mountain management, the underwear tree had a different story and meaning entirely than it did for the party crowd of Aspen. Nonetheless, both parties participated. This folklore also shows how folklore can evolve to be inclusive of the times, as we progress in time, women have been taking much more pride and ownership of their sexuality and gender equality has become much more prevalent. Thus, as this developed, the underwear tree needed to progress as well. So there is now also a tie tree right next to the underwear tree- the tie symbolizing the men in the sexual encounters.

Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht

“Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht.”

“You do not see the forest for the trees.”

Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany, and spent the majority of her childhood there. She heard this proverb from her friend when she was upset. She continues to think of this proverb in stressful situations.

Interpretation: This proverb is meant to help people when they are wrapped up in small problems. It teaches the audience to see things from a broader perspective rather than focusing on specific issues that will not matter in the greater scheme of things. It also works to soothe people who are upset or overwhelmed.This proverb also tells the audience about Germany’s environment. One-third of Germany is covered in forestry, so it is fitting that a well-known German proverb utilizes the forest as a symbol.

 

Nature and Garden Spirits

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as AD.

BD: So tell me about the spirits that live in nature.

AD: So, my mother, in her house’s yard, there’s a swing outside and some grass. They say that there’s something that lives underneath the ground. Every time you have to be careful and not step on the roots, or you have to say “excuse me,” which in Tagalog is “tabi tabi po.”
Anyway, spirits that live there, outside and underground, and if you accidentally step on them and you don’t say excuse me, bad things happen.

BD: Like what?

AD: People get sick. And doctors don’t know why. Bad things like that. But when this happens, and it’s unexplainable by regular medicine, they call a man from the community and he does “tawas.” I don’t know what the term is in English. But only certain people can do it. This person who knows how to get the sickness out of your system. They use a bowl with water, and they use a candle. What they do is put the bowl in front of them and the person who is sick, the bowl between the two people. They light the candle, and pour the wax into the bowl of water. And it forms a shape. Whatever shape it forms—sometimes it’s in the shape of an animal—that’s the spirit that is harming the person.


 

Analysis: Growing up, I heard this belief often, because I am Filipino, and my grandmother’s yard was rumored to have some of the spirits in it—all nature does. Even now, when I step on tree roots, I whisper under my breath “tabi tabi po,” in hopes I will not be cursed. A more personal, in-depth look at the process of tawas can be found at: www.lifestyle.inquirer.net/177916/diagnostic-rituals/. The informant personally knows four people capable of tawas, proving it is not an uncommon practice, and many Filipinos still believe in both ideas—the initial superstition and the folk medicine that can cure transgressions by the superstition.

Proverb – Irish

The informant learned the following proverb from his father:

“Most wind happens around the trees.”

According to him, the proverb refers to the tendency of people to gossip when they gather in small groups. It is generally performed when the speaker wants to warn the listener not to talk too much, such as when the listener is about to leave to socialize with friends. The informant seldom uses the proverb because he disagrees with it—he thinks that there is nothing wrong with a little gossip among friends.

Ireland has very few trees now that its residents have cleared so many to make way for farms, but the nation is very windy regardless, so clearly the proverb is not literal. It seems likely to me that the proverb was brought to Ireland from another nation-state where there are more trees.

Collector’s Information:

Name: Claire Nickerson

Age: 20

Address: 920 W 37th Place #1303A, Los Angeles, CA 90089