Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Look at Southern Italian Life in the 19th Century - Part IV

Some time ago, I began to post exerpts from the guidebook by Phyliss H. Williams, a research assistant in Sociology at the Institute of Human Relations at Yale University, South Italian Folkways in Europe and America: A Handbook for Social Workers, Visiting Nurses, School Teachers, and Physicians.

This handbook is a fascinating glimpse into the world of Southern Italians, in Italy as well as in America after immigration.

"...the months between conception and delivery were full of carefully prescribed rules for the mother.  The marriage bed, in some villages, was shrewn with salt in order to ward off the Evil Eye.  One of the commonest taboos in the province of Naples forbade a pregnant woman or her husband...to do any work on December 14, the feast of San Aniello, the "wicked brother of Santa Lucia"...These people believed that there are two possible full terms for pregnancy: seven or nine months.  If the child was delivered at the end of seven months, there was no anxiety; if not, every precaution was taken to make sure that parturition was delayed for another two months...Fear of the evil eye made pregnant woman hide their condition until after the seventh month.  Since by that time the child was fully formed, it was then thought beyond the possibility of harm for the time being.  The expectant mother thus remained indoors or near her house during the day and took exercise only at night.  South Italian women, however, who worked in the fields, did not observe this taboo for a very long period of time; they could not afford to."