Many Peace Corps Volunteers serve as teachers including English as a Second Language, Mathematics, and Science. Teachers become students themselves when they’re thrown into new environments and cultures. Charlotte Daigle Berney taught in Uganda from 1966-1968, where she learned from her students just as much as she taught them.
In early 1968, Berney collected stories of superstitions from her students at Sebei College, in eastern Uganda. While many of the African superstitions resemble similar Western tales, they also reflect the culture they were created in with small twists. For example, Iteso, or the people of Teso believe, “Some superstitions have proof and some don’t–they are mostly being told by the parents when a child starts to learn things.”
The superstitions Berney recorded range from the topic of luck to health to fortune. Many of her students remarked on the validity of each tale, with many dispelling the validity of the wilder stories. Each superstition allows a window into the culture it derives from. As Berney collected these tales, she also garnered a deeper understanding of the culture she served as a PCV.
“I think some of the superstitions were invented just due to ignorance, but also as a way of trying to get the better of everything,” notes the Sebei people of Eastern Uganda, “In our tribe we have many superstitions. According to my mood most of them are completely untrue. But people of my tribe take them to be very important.”
Some of the superstitions and their origins are as follows:
“If you are going for a visit and a black cat or rabbit crosses your path you will probably get trouble there,” Iteso people of Eastern Uganda and Western Kenya.
“Ugly women produce the best children,” Jopadhola or Adhola people of Eastern Uganda.
“When your upper lip shakes, that means you will laugh very much, but when the downer one you will cry,” Acholi people of Northern Uganda.
For more information, please visit the Peace Corps Community Archive website. To use the collections or make a donation, please contact the AU Archives at archives [at] american.edu.