As a person raised in a Myanmar home, I’ve heard my fair share of superstitions. Although I was shocked by them when I was young, they sound crappy as I grew older.
Most of the times older people want children to stop doing something they find dangerous or unpleasant through a little scare. When the scare is passed on for generations, it becomes superstition.
I explore more common superstitions of Myanmar and the reasons behind. Still, a belief may vary from place to place. Feel free to share popular superstitions in your areas in the comments.
“Don’t whistle in the house or face bad luck.”
The explanation behind this claim is the guardian spirit of the house hates the sound of whistle. Myanmar people traditionally believe in Nat (spirits) and animism and that each household is protected by a guardian spirit. The family is in trouble when their guardian frowns upon them.
“Don’t play with scissors or your parents will get in a fight.”
In retrospect, I believe this means more good than plain superstitious. Older people perhaps don’t want the children to get cut playing with scissors, so they use the children’s biggest fear — seeing their parents fight — as a way to protect them.
“Don’t be disrespectful to elders or Dae Wore will catch you.”
Dae Wore is a boogieman in Myanmar and comes with thunderstorms. Another attempt to teach children manners.
“Get up early. You don’t wanna disappoint your guardian spirit.”
It is believed that our guardian spirits got to attend the meeting with fellow spirits early mornings. They can’t get up unless you do so. It’s a method parents use to get their children rise early. Still, I’m not a morning person. (Sorry, guardian spirit!)
“Don’t cut your nails at nighttime or you will go poor.”
I still don’t understand the root or reason behind this one.
“When you offer water to Buddha, the number of cups should be five.”
The number five plays a significant role in Buddhism. Five Precepts form the basic doctrine of a Buddhist. Five Infinite Venerables (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, parents and teachers) are the leading lights in a Buddhist’s life. So, when Buddhists offer the water to Buddha images, the number of cups should be five.
“You shouldn’t yell ‘Let’s have a meal!’ at dusk or wandering spirits will join your feast.”
Myanmar people believe spirits begin to roam the streets as the sun sets. When you yell like that, they think you’re also inviting them.
“You shouldn’t play hide and seek at dusk or spirits will conceal you.”
This is supposed to forbid children from playing hide and seek because the faint-hearted ones could die of a heart attack.
At the table
“Don’t sing or hum at the table. Only beggars do it.”
Perhaps they mean people who ask for money by singing by the roadsides. Superstitious or not, it’s a good idea not to sing during a meal if you don’t wanna choke on food.
“Don’t cross or stick your chopsticks in the food.”
People of Chinese descent might already know chopstick taboos. Crossing the chopsticks is a symbol of death while sticking them in the food especially rice bowl is a resemblance to incense at the alter in funerals.
“Before asking for extra helping, make sure to leave a spoonful of food in your plate.”
Some people posit that only the poor wipe-clean the plate.
“I don’t eat beef.”
You might have noticed many Myanmar people abstain from eating beef. In most cases, the reason is humanitarian rather than religious. In paddy growing regions like Ayeyarwaddy, the farmers spend most of their lives working with cattle. They rely on them to plow the fields and pull the carts. So, they treat the cattle as family members. Even when they die, they don’t eat them but buy them. This tradition is widespread throughout the country. In some households, it’s become a generational taboo to eat beef.
“Did you hear the lizard chirp?”
Because it brings good luck!
“When a crow caws in front of your home, you should expect guests.”
One explanation suggests that crows can predict the future and know they’re going to feast on leftover food as the family will surely treat the guests to lunch. So, they caw in excitement! In olden times, it was a custom for the hosts to feed the guests.
“Black dogs represent spectral entities, especially at night.”
People from the country believe that evil spirits take the form of black dogs and it’s a bad omen to see one. This belief is fading though.
“If dogs howl at night, perhaps your street is visited by spirits.”
It’s believed that the canine can see ghosts.
In broader culture
“Can’t conceive a child? You better wish for one at the tree spirit.”
Traditionally, tree spirits are believed to grant wishes, and they are more powerful, the older the trees they live are. So, desperate couples used to wish for children before them. But as many other superstitions, this one also begins to fade.
“Late rain? Let’s play tug of war!”
In the dry regions, the residents play tug of war if the rain is unusually late. This belief stems from the Nat worship. There is one particularly deity called Moe Khaung Kyaw Swar who can bring the rain if he is entertained by a game of tug of war.
What superstitions did you grow up with?