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Hairy Hindparts are Fatal to Parrots

I read a lot of folklore, especially Southern folklore, but a persistent and unusual theme that I’ve discovered is the peculiar susceptibility of parrots to a human’s naked hindparts.  That is, if a parrot sees a naked behind, it will die instantly.

Sometimes, the folktale specifies that the hindparts in question must be hairy.  Quite often, it is a woman’s hindparts that do the killing.

This sets one to wonder: what parrot was the first to die, and under what circumstances? Were parrots so common in the 19th century South that a folktale like this was necessary? It would seem simple enough to disprove the phenomenon, but that is never really the point of a folktale…

I finally found an explanation of the phenomenon in Zora Neale Hurston’s Every Tongue Got to Confess, posthumous collection of Gulf-state African-American folktales. This supplied the backstory that was missing in the other folktales and folk beliefs I’d read, which only stated, “A woman’s hairy hindparts will kill a parrot.” In the tale she records, the hindparts are not hairy, but they are still fatal. In the quotation below, I’ve reduced the dialect and omitted sensitive words — the original can be read on Google Books.

During slavery times, they didn’t allow blacks to eat biscuit bread, but Old Miss had a cook that used to steal biscuits and eat them. Old Miss had a parrot that roosted in the kitchen and told her all that went on.

One day, just as she [the cook] had taken some biscuits out of the pan, she heard Old Miss coming in, so she hid the biscuits under the cushion in the chair and made out like she was busy doing something else. The parrot saw her, but she wasn’t paying him any mind. Old Miss started to sit down in the chair and the parrot hollered, ‘Hot biscuits, Old Miss! Burn your behind!’ He kept up that until she looked under the cushion and found the bread. Then she had forty lashes put on the cook’s back.

That made the cook mad with the old parrot, so one day when Old Miss was gone away, she turned her clothes up over her head and backed up to the parrot, and it scared him so bad till he dropped dead. Ever since then, if a parrot sees a naked behind, he’ll drop dead.

So, the parrot’s death is a warning tale against tale-telling and prudishness. The parrot is a tattle-tale, revealing a hidden (and sometimes sexual) secret because it is repeating overheard speech. It appears, then, to be a prude, and it meets with a commensurate fate  — its prudish heart can’t take the shock of a rude gesture and an unkempt behind.

Written by timwestover

August 21st, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Posted in folklore