The Red Ribbon

“When I was a younger, my grandmother would be the one to dress my hair up in the morning. My mother had absolutely no patience to do this, because she had many chores to do and breakfasts to make for me and my five other sisters. It’s funny…Unlike my mother, my grandmother had the patience to tenderly brush my hair? (Laughs). She would put my hair up like this in either braids or pigtails, but always tied with a red ribbon.

I think it’s common in Guatemala to put red ribbons in the hair of young girls. My grandmother would always tell me that the color red was a sign of good luck, to protect me from any sort of evil or people with bad energy…like bad voodoo?…Does that make sense?…If someone wants to pass on an evil to a child, the red ribbon will protect them… Also, mothers who are pregnant tend to wear red ribbons tied to their underwear. This will protect them and the baby.”

Context and Analysis: The informant grew up in a very isolated town in Guatemala where the common belief was not in westernized medicinal practices, but in witchcraft and curandería. The informant later told me a little more about Curandería over the phone: it is the use of religious rituals and natural remedies to cure or protect people with ailments. Natural remedies are made with plants native to the highlands of Guatemala. The red ribbon is used as a form of protection from bad energy, spirits, or the evil eye. Though the informant does not wear a red ribbon anymore, the ribbon is most commonly used for women because they are believed to be more vulnerable to evils. Ultimately, this folk belief is a variation of the idea that the color red is supposed to ward of evils. In other cultures, such as in certain Asian cultures, red is also used as a lucky color to protect from evils.

When the informant first heard about the ritual, she was a young child of 6 or 7. Because it was the first piece of folklore she performed in front of me, it holds much significance because it reminds her of her deceased grandmother. During the informant’s performance, she spoke of the memory very tenderly suggesting that she remembers that folk belief very dearly. She informed me she still believes in the folk belief, but has changed it to suit her age. She no longer wears a red ribbon, but instead wears a red ring.