Sorry for the delay in posting part three of World Superstitions. I’ve been trekking around Europe and surprisingly, I’ve had a lot of Internet trouble. I wonder if this is a string of bad luck…dun, dun, duuuun! A black cat crossed my path before my holiday began, but I’m not superstitious.
Anyway, I’m excited about this post because like Part Two, three of the four superstitions come from countries I have yet to see with own eyes. In Part Two, they were Albania, India, and Italy, and this time, they are Bolivia, Indonesia, and the Ukraine.
Before we trek there, Jess of Expat Getaways is joining us again. 😀 She wrote about Grave Sweeping Day for part one of this series about superstitions around the world, and she’s back sharing another Hong Kong superstition.
1) Hong Kong’s Hungry Ghost Festival
In addition to keeping your ancestors happy, you also need to keep the hungry ghosts at bay. On Hungry Ghost day (usually in August or September), it is said that the barrier between the dead and the living is particularly small.
There are all sorts of things you should avoid, including not hanging your washing outside because ghosts might try on your clothes, not swimming in case the drowned ghosts want some company. Don’t walk too close to walls where ghosts might be hiding, don’t take photos at night in case you capture a spirit, and definitely don’t get married or it will not end in happily ever after!
To keep safe, you can burn joss paper and offerings like those offered to your ancestors for Ching Ming in the street outside your home, leave the lights on, and visit temples to pray for the deceased.
2) Llama Fetus Fires and Early Morning Alcohol in Bolivia
Our experience of superstition in rural Bolivia was unexpected and eye-opening to say the least. We were staying in a salt hotel at the time, in a remote and isolated corner of the Uyuni desert on our way to the famous salt flats. Hosted in a small village by friendly locals, we were expecting an early morning but were surprised to be woken at 6am by our very excited tour guide.
Getting up and heading outside, we found the people living in the village were all up and about and seemed very excited considering the early hour. Turns out, they’d had some great news and a new farming project that they’d been hoping to establish had been approved and was ready to begin. This called for a celebration and thanks to the generosity of our hosts, we were all invited!
In Bolivia, there are many traditions related to Pachamama, or Mother Earth, and the country is unique in the world for the fact that the spiritual figure of Pachamama is protected by law. The law essentially grants nature equal rights alongside humans, and the Andean people in Bolivia are deeply in tune with the importance of the Pachamama as a spiritual representation of nature. This is at the centre of many rituals and superstitions in the country, and as we were to see, Pachamama was to play a great role in this particular celebration.
A fire was set alight, and the villagers began to pour out glasses of beer and local spirits for everyone to drink. The first step on being handed a drink is to pour some onto the ground as an offering to mother earth, before drinking the rest. It’s considered highly rude to refuse a drink at these celebrations so we soon found ourselves far more tipsy than would usually be acceptable at 7am!
The most important part of the ceremony was the sacrifice to Pachamama to give thanks for the good fortune that had brought the project to the village. This was both shocking and fascinating in equal measure, as the sacrifice was to be a llama fetus, which would both give thanks and ensure luck and success with the project. Llama fetuses can even be bought at markets in Bolivia, including at the famous Witch’s Market in La Paz, so ingrained is their importance as symbols of good fortune.
The fetus was burnt on the fire, and the dancing, drinking and music making continued for several hours as the village continued its day of celebration. Whilst the superstition of offering animal sacrifices may be about as alien to western European culture as possible, it was a truly unique experience to be able to witness this and we felt very privileged to have the opportunity to be part of such an important local ceremony.
3) Torajan Funerals
Even before landing in the Torajan country, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, I knew I would learn a lot about the animist customs of the Torajas. They were the reason why I wanted to visit Sulawesi.
Their funerals are particularly impressive and I was always astonished by the mummies, tau tau (wooden effigies of the departure ones), bones caves, and broken coffins.
Toraja practice Aluk Todolo, the way of the Ancestors, and their devotion to their ancestors goes farther than you can imagine…
Here, when someone dies, the family only considers him/her as a sick person. The dead will continue to live in the house, eat, sleep with the family. They will continue to wash the body, brush the hair, sometimes for several years. On the day they will take him/her outside the house, they will suddenly all cry: their parent is not sick anymore and it’s time to leave forever.
But the most beautiful belief is certainly about the dead babies. When a little child dies, its body is put inside a tree. Torajan people think that the baby will continue to grow with the tree.
Isn’t it a beautiful death concept?
4) Whistling in the Ukraine
Back in 2014, I was teaching English in Ukraine and at the end of a course with some teenagers, one of the students gave me some gifts. One was a little Ukraine badge in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag and the other was a little pottery figure of a man in, I guess, traditional Ukrainian dress. The little figure was also a whistle and had a little mouth piece you could blow through.
“Cool!” I thought and returned to the teachers’ room from the classroom happily blowing my whistle to show that I was so popular with the students that they even gave me presents.
After a minute or so of tuneless whistling in the office a Ukrainian teacher politely, but firmly, asked me to stop. I realized it was probably a bit annoying, so apologized. Then she pointed out it wasn’t just the sound that was irritating. She told me that in the Ukraine, whistling inside a building is considered very bad luck and that if I kept on doing it, some kind of misfortune would happen to everyone there. I would have thought she was kidding, but the look on her face told me that she was really serious about this.
I’m not at all superstitious, but ever since I’ve avoided whistling inside buildings in case I offended someone nearby!
Interestingly, just to show how superstitions are location dependent, every time it rained in Ukraine students would leave their open umbrellas to dry on spare tables or in the corners of rooms. My gran back in England would have hated this, as, surely an open umbrella INSIDE a building signals impending doom, right??? At least to the superstitious Brit it does, but clearly not to Ukrainians.
How do various world superstitions differ from what you grew up with?