Tag Archives: whistling

Whistling at Night

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Native American
Age: 42
Occupation: President of The Red Road
Residence: Franklin, Tennessee
Date of Performance/Collection: 04-27-2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Blackfoot, Lakota

Main Piece:

Informant: Throughout my childhood, I’ve been told you’re not supposed to whistle at night. So of course, I didn’t believe them and would whistle at night. One day I was at my grandparents house and my cousin and I were at the window and it was night time. We were bored because there’s not much to do out there. It’s a small community called Stand Off. (Laughs) My cousin and I, we heard someone whistling in the distance. So, they whistled at us (whistling sound), so we whistled right back. Then they did it back again, so we did it back again. Then we started making patterns with our whistling and the other person started making patterns with their whistling. And the person began coming closer and closer and the still kept laughing. And then we got busy, the person was so close, but we got bored and something happened in the kitchen, but we left the window open. As we were in the kitchen, all of a sudden we began hearing banging in the bedroom we were just in. And we went walking towards the bedroom. And the door began swinging BACK and FORTH, BACK and FORTH, BACK and FORTH (emphasis on her voice as she said these words). My cousins began to get freaked out and started screaming. So I grabbed a broom and was like “Wait, stop. NO.” And I went running into the bedroom and the door just stopped. Our window was still wide open, but our cat was standing on the window seal looking down. And that was it. So, to this day, I don’t whistle at night, because I’m told it calls the spirits.

Background:

The informant is a Native American woman in her early forties. She is part of the Blackfoot and Lakota Nations and grew up on the Blood Reserve up in Canada. She currently resides in Tennessee with her husband and children.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my mother. We were in the kitchen preparing supper when I asked her why she doesn’t whistle at night. She recalled an old incident that had happened.

Thoughts:

In many cultures it it thought that whistling or making whistle noises at night will attract bad luck, bad things, or bad spirits. In the UK there is the belief of the “Seven Whistlers” who are seven mysterious spirits or birds who can foretell tragedy or death. Some believe that if you whistle indoors it will bring poverty or bad luck. In any case, I have been warned many times of the danger of whistling at night. It is something I heard quite often growing up. It is interesting how this plays into the larger idea of being spirited away or being kidnapped by the little people; that whistling is a way of communicating with the supernatural.

Whistling and Snakes

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 18
Occupation: Student
Residence: Reseda
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Korean

Context:

The informant is a student currently attending Pierce Community College. He recounts a Korean story told to him by his parents when he was younger and giving his parents a tough time.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

continuing from another conversation about superstitions

S: Also, there’s another one that goes: If you whistle at night, snakes will appear.

 

C: That’s interesting. Can you give some reasons why people might believe that?

 

S: The whistling is more about not to disturbing others and to keep to yourself during the night.

 

Analysis:

Superstitions have a long-standing place in folklore around the world. Each culture imparts their own belief about what they deem important. This superstition about whistling at night draws on the idea that doing so will summon snakes – a symbol often associated with evil or bad. It is interesting to see how many areas share a commonality in symbols.

Whistling Indoors

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 56
Occupation: Writer/Poet
Residence: Santa Monica, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/23/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context

I asked the informant (my mother) to think of any family superstitions other than the most common ones — opening an umbrella indoors, etc. She responded with one I had never encountered before.

Main Piece

Okay, there was a rule: no whistling allowed inside the house. It was bad luck. And that was passed on from Grandpa S—-’s family, so — so no whistling was allowed in my house, because no whistling was allowed in their house, in the G—- house, of Papa U— and Grandma G— and their four kids, because… whistling in the house meant you were gonna have bad luck.

Notes

I had absolutely never heard of such a superstition, as my mother did not continue to practice the rule of her parents and grandparents, but a Google search revealed that this superstition is common in Russia. My family did have Russian roots, and given the proximity of Russia and Romania, it is possible that my great-grandparents, referred to here as Papa U—- and Grandma G—-, learned this superstition in their native Romania. More on this superstition can be found here and here. According to these sources, the superstition is linked to money: whistling in the house will supposedly cause financial misfortune. As immigrants in a new country, my great-grandparents clearly did not want to take any chances on losing money, and neither did their son, my maternal grandfather (Grandpa S—-).

Whistling at Night

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Half Japanese and half White
Age: 22
Occupation: College Senior
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/10/17
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

 

Interviewer: What is being performed?

 

Informant: Whistling at Night by Rayna Koishikawa

 

Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

 

Informant: My Kumu (hula teacher) told us whistling at night summons night maschess (ghosts of Hawaiian warriors)

 

Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?

 

Informant: Maui, HI

 

Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

 

Informant: I don’t belong to this group but it is a Hawaiian superstition.

 

Interviewer: Where did you first hear the story?

 

Informant: My Kumu

 

Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?

 

Informant: Hawaiian legend

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: Childhood superstition

 

Context of the performance– Talking with a classmate before class

 

Thoughts about the piece– Whistling is thought to bring bad luck in Russian, Japanese and many other cultures. I’ve heard warnings not to whistle in kitchens (French Revolution origins) or while sailing (New England- whistle up a storm). Here is another version of the Night Marchers of Hawaii: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/10/hawaiian-legends_n_3898664.html

More Hawaiian superstitions at: http://www.hawaiimagazine.com/content/your-must-know-list-hawaii%E2%80%99s-diverse-local-superstitions

 

Hawaiian Folk Belief on Whistling

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Hawaiian
Age: 43
Occupation: Mother
Residence: Maui
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23, 2017
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hawaiian

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

My mother’s mother’s mother and even from before her are from Hawaii but some England roots are interjected into the bloodline as well. My mother’s father’s father’s father hails half from Hawaii and the other half from China and Portugal. But what is funny about most Hawaiians, is that they are not only Hawaiian. They are also Caucasian, Portuguese, Chinese, Filipino, Samoan, Japanese, Korean, e.t.c…….Plantation workers were brought in to work the sugar and pineapple fields and they brought their culture with them.

Piece:

In Hawaiian we call it (taboo) Kapu, which means sacred, don’t touch or you die, just don’t do it. Hawaiians of ancient Hawaii had many taboo, thank goodness which no longer exist, as most kapu broken would end with death. When I was little, my Tutu, my mother’s mother forbid us to whistle after sunset. Whistling after sunset was kapu because whistling at night would summons evil spirits. To this day 35 years later, I don’t dare whistle after sunset……

Piece Background Information:

Informant already mentioned within their piece that they learned about this taboo through her grandmother.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Context of Performance:

Via email.

Thoughts on Piece: 
If you google “whistling at night”, there are plenty of accounts, mostly from Japanese, Native American, and Hawaiian cultures, of how whistling at night can invite evil. And in relation to the legend of the Night Marchers, shared with me by the same informant, apparently there are Hawaiian accounts that whistling at night will summon these legendary figures. While there can be no scientific or evidential basis for how whistling at night could summon spirits, perhaps this is also a method for parents to get their children to behave as whistling, or making noise, at night can be disturbing.

Theater Occupational Superstition: Don’t Whistle in the Theater!

--Informant Info--
Nationality:
Age:
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language:
Other Language(s):

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “Ok, so you want to hear the story about why you don’t whistle in the theatre? One reason is that supposedly the first riggers* in the theatre were sailors. And sailors received their orders via whistles, which supposedly carried better than voices in the wind. And so you didn’t want to be backstage randomly whistling ‘Two Gentlemen from Veronia’ and have the scenery come crashing down on your head because you were whistling the cue* for the sailors who were doing the rigging.

The other supposed origin of that superstition is, in the days of gas lit theatre there were a couple of stage hands who’s job it was to wander around and relight any gas jets that had gone out because other whys you would get sort of a large pocket of unburned gas that would eventually get to another gas jet and you would have a big fireball and the theatre would blow up and… that was bad. So they were listening for a particular whistling sound that supposedly this gas jet that wasn’t lit would make and you didn’t want to distract them from their fairly important work.”

Analysis:

This superstition was not one that I was aware of prior to my informant mentioning this belief in one of his class lectures.  The belief is that it is bad luck to whistle in the theater, and doing so will doom the production you are working on.  There are no known ways to cut the curse.  The superstition of whistling in the theater is similar to the superstition that walking under a ladder is bad luck.  Both superstitions serve as a way to teach safety, because if someone were to break those beliefs they would get hurt.  Something could fall off a ladder and hit them on the head or a piece of scenery could fall on top of them.  You are more likely to get told to stop whistling in the theater because you are distracting the production crew than you are to be told to stop whistling because it is bad luck.  Working in theater can be very dangerous if you are not aware of your surroundings because crew members are constantly moving heavy equipment.  Distracting people from their job not only serves as a danger to yourself, but to others as well.  In that sense, whistling in the theater becomes homeopathic magic because it really will bring your production bad luck due to the destruction and distraction it can cause.

However it is unclear which one of the two stories is the true origin of the superstition.  There is a possibility that the true origin of the whistling superstition came from the first story my informant mentioned, because that theory is more well known to people in the theater than the gas-jet theory.

My informant was born in 1961, Connecticut.  He has more than 30 years of experience in theater and has worked on over hundreds of productions.  He continues to work on theater productions today, and serves as the associate professor of theater practice and technical direction at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

*Riggers: is term that describes someone in charge of moving or lifting heavy objects using a pulley system.  The term comes from sailing speech, in which a rigger is someone who uses ropes to hoist the sails on a ship.  This is exactly what a rigger in theater does, but instead of hoisting sails they are hoisting scenic pieces.

*Cue: is a term used in theater that means a signal to do something.  A signal or cue indicates that it is time to move a part of the set or play a certain song for the production.