Author Archive
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Tamales on Christmas Eve”

            At a tender seven years of age, the informant shared a family tradition of eating tamales on Christmas Eve, which, according to her account, is a shared tradition among most Mexican families. Her mother’s side of the family is Mexican and has practiced the tradition through generations. Indeed, the informant described an annual large family gathering with such an excess of tamales that it feels like “forever” until the leftovers are finished.

            For the informant, it seems the tamales on Christmas Eve is a fun way to spend her vacation―she talks about how delicious the food is, her presents the next day, and the fact that school is on recess.

 

            Every night, uh, I mean before every Christmas night, we go to Nana’s. Actually, we used to go to Nana’s, but then she passed away. But we would go, and lots of people were there and we would make yummy tamales during the night and take them home!

            I don’t make the tamales, I just eat them. I’m not old enough; they don’t let me touch the things in the kitchen yet. Usually it’s just the girls, but sometimes my dad helps, too, and the other people. I don’t know all of them, just some, but there are lots. I didn’t know my family was so big.

            My mama said she did it with Nana when she was a girl, too, and that lots of Mexican families do it. I just know that we make so many tamales, like, so many tamales. Well, there’s rice and beans, too, but even when we bring them home we just keep eating the tamales the next day, and the next day, and the next day. . .it feels like forever. It’s still my favorite dinner though! We eat the tamales, and then the next day we get presents. Plus, there’s no school.

 

            Although some of the finer details may be absent from the informant’s narrative, in sifting through her account we can find some more thematic values embedded in the tradition. Family is clearly an important element in the Mexican Christmas Eve tradition. For one, the women gather together in the kitchen, presumably to “catch up” and bond through the cooking process. The informant mentions how so many family members gather together that she doesn’t even recognize them all. In that vein, her Nana’s recent passing seems to have made a significant impact on her family’s practice of the tradition. The informant did not provide information about where her family would make tamales in the future, but it is quite evident that the familiar setting of her grandmother’s home, a symbol of the stable matriarchy, is no longer accessible to her, further showing how integral family is to this tradition.

            Additionally, the theme of bountiful celebration is quite clear. The family makes so many tamales that guests must take them home, and even then the informant herself must eat tamales for days after Christmas Eve. While the rest of the year she and her family may practice moderation, tamales on Christmas Eve is clearly a happy abandonment of that principle.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“French Children’s Proverb”

            A current professor of French at USC, the informant first learned this proverb from her grandmother when she was in grammar school. Now that she has a daughter of her own, the informant has repeated the proverb to her, and explained that most French parents say the proverb to their children from time to time after the child has had a rough day.

           In fact, the proverb was actually appropriated by the Countess of Ségur, a 19th century French children’s book author, for the title of a novel. Published in 1871, her novel Après la pluie, le beau temps is about the trials that befall a dysfunction French family.

 

            “Après la pluie, le beau temps” is a French proverb that means, literally, “After the rain, better weather.” Of course, as you can imagine, we use it to mean that, after a bad time, there will come a better time. There is a reason that adults say it to kids a lot, you know? Because kids are not used to bad times, they need to learn how to deal with them, really, they do. Maybe, then, the ending of the proverb is too optimistic? I don’t know. But to them, bad times and problems are like mountains, so the proverb gives a little perspective.

 

            The informant concisely unpacked much of the meaning that lies behind the proverb. It is true enough that children are often unsure of how to handle and overcome negative experiences, and so the proverb addresses not only the fact that we must all acknowledge the existence of bad times, but also that better times are waiting on the other side. The proverb does not say “When there is rain, there is better weather,” instead just stating rain as a given fact: “After the rain, better weather.” This way, children know to expect hardships and obstacles in their lives.

            However, the proverb also relies on an analogy to weather, introducing the theme of cyclicality and unpredictability. For one, the proverb suggests that rain will come in waves, time and time again; the bad times are just that―plural. Thus, children understand that, like the weather cycle, difficult times will arise periodically throughout life.

Folk speech

“Malian Folk-Saying: Part Two”

            The informant was born and raised in Bamako, Mali until the age of ten, when she and her family moved to the San Francisco area. Half-French and half-Malian, the informant has lived a diverse life full of unique and varied cultural activities. She visits both Paris and Bamako during vacations and maintains a strong connection with family in both countries. She is fluent in English, French, and Bambara, which is the primary language spoken in Mali and part of the West African Mande language family. Related dialects are spoken in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, similar enough so that the informant felt confident that people living in those countries would understand the saying.

            She learned this Bambara folk-saying from her father, who in turned learned it from his mother. It is used more frequently by older generations than the other folk-saying she shared, “a dgelly mandi.” Her Malian grandmother, who she described as “critical and grumpy, kind of like how you would imagine a village’s token crazy grandma,” uses the saying all the time to describe people she doesn’t approve of, especially in reference to her nephews’ and grandsons’ girlfriends. Within the informant’s family, although the saying is intended for cautionary purposes, her grandmother’s liberal use of it has given it more of a comedic effect; she said most of her family members now groan, laugh, or roll their eyes and say, “Not again!” when her grandmother recites the phrase.

 

            “A ka fanga bê bin kênê djeni” is Bambara, too, which in English means, “She could burn fresh grass,” and, you know, fresh grass doesn’t burn. So, basically, it’s meant to say “She’s too difficult to deal with” or “She’s impossible.”  

 

            Particularly interesting is that both Malian sayings offered by the informant are structured through the feminine pronoun, although it can be used to reference both genders. The most likely hypothesis, then, is that men in the village first used it to describe women, although perhaps the saying was authored by a jealous wife or frustrated mother. Like “A dgelly mandi,” this folk saying, too, could be easily used among town gossips or among close friends and family.

             The emphasis the informant’s father placed on visualizing Malian proverbs is quite interesting in this case; it is nearly impossible to read with translated saying without imagining a woman walking by a plot of green grass and having it immediately burst into flames. This adds a layer of spirituality and mystique because then the saying suggests that this woman, or person, has a sort of (evil) power that others do not possess. Although the saying is not taken literally, it is not difficult to imagine that it may have first arisen from a spiritual or magical belief.

Legends
Narrative

“Madame White Snake”

           An international student at USC, the informant grew up in Ningbo, China, one of the country’s oldest cities and now a seaport city in the northeast of the Zhejiang province. “Madame White Snake,” or “Legend of the White Snake,” (as it is sometimes called) takes place in her hometown region, and thus she grew up with the romantic legend as part of family and regional culture. The informant appreciates the legend for its incorporation of romance and beauty as well as sadness into an altogether inspiring story. She is particularly drawn to Madame White Snake as an example of a strong Chinese female character “who boldly strives for her true love against all oppositions.”

            Additionally, the informant noted that Madame White Snake’s son, who eventually finds success and saves his mother, provides a motivational anecdote for her to perform well in school; she feels that perhaps through being a good student she, too, can one day become an important figure and protect her family.

 

            First off I must say that I heard a couple of different versions of Madame White Snake that now they get jumbled (is that how you say in English? Jumbled?) in my head! (laughs). But, this story begins with Lü Dongbin, one of China’s sacred wise men, who sells a kind of live-forever potion to a young Chinese boy, Xu Xian. Xu Xian does not feel so good after a couple days, and he throw up the potion into the Hangzhou West Lake.

            Now, Madame White Snake―actually right now she is still just, uh, snake, like, spirit―drinks the potion that will make her live forever, and she is so, so happy about this because this is her wish! (Informant claps her hands together) Now the white snake remembers Xu Xian and hopes to repay him someday. But, at the same time, an evil spirit in the lake is jealous of white snake, who now has all this, uh, magic power and life. One day, the white snake transforms into a woman to save a green snake from a beggar by the lake who has trapped it, and they become very close like best friends or sisters.

            Many, many years pass (I think it is something like eighteen or twenty) the two snakes transform into women to travel to Hangzhou. The white snake is Bai Sue Zhuan and the green snake is Xiaoqing. They meet Xu Xian, but now he is all grown-up and handsome! And you know what? They meet at the same spot on the bridge where he threw up all the potion! Xu Xian gives the women his umbrella because it is raining, and that is how he and Madame White Snake, or sorry, Bai Sue Zhuan cross paths again. They fall in love, get married, and move to Zhejiang province (where I live!). They open up a medicine shop there.

            The evil spirit is still jealous about the white snake’s (who is now Bai Sue Zhuan, remember) long life, and he uses strong magical powers to transform into a Buddhist monk. In this, uh, new form of body, gives Xu Xian some wine during the Dragon Boat festival and tells him to give it to his wife. But, the wine is really actually turns Bai Sue Zhuan back into the white snake, and this scares Xu Xian so much that he collapses and dies. Bai Sue Zhuan is very sad, but also determined to bring him back! The two women climb up a very big, cold mountain to pick a herb medicine that will bring her husband back to life.

            Now, the story seems like happy ending because Xu Xian wakes up and still loves Madame White Snake, even though he knows about her animal body. (The informant changes expression to a cunning smile) But. . .evil spirit tries again! He kidnaps Xu Xian and bring him to uh, uh, temple. Madame White Snake and Xiaoqing fight back, and Madame White Snake uses powers to bring a tidal wave and flood to the temple. She and her husband reunite, but she is so weak because she is also pregnant with a son and the fight with the evil spirit took too much energy. She gives birth to the boy, but the evil spirit comes back and she cannot win. So, he takes her to Leifeng Pagoda, do you know it?

            For many, many years, Madame White Snake’s son grows up and becomes very smart and a very good student. Actually, he earns first place in the Imperial examination and is best in his classes. He was away for a long time, but misses home now and wants to come back to his parents. The evil spirit is still alive, but Xiaoqing tracks him down and kills him! The son helps, too, because he offers to sacrifice himself to save his mother. God is so moved that he breaks down Leifeng and so this time, finally, Madame White Snake is freed from Leifeng to join her son. The sad part is that her husband Xu Xian has already died, so the family cannot be reunited, but instead she lives with her son and loyal friend Xiaoqing.

 

            The informant’s enthusiasm for the story was evident; her facial expression mirrored the drama in the plot and she would pause right before each plot twist. Additionally, the informant admires Madame White Snake for her perseverance in the face of adversity, and in fact each of the characters overcome some kind of challenge or another. Xu Xian struggles with the discovery of his wife’s true identity, and Xiaoqing and the son must work together to defeat the evil spirit and destroy the Leifeng Pagoda. The legend revolves around the ideas of perseverance and determination, as well as selflessness―chiefly, the son’s sacrifice, but also we see the two women brave a long and arduous journey to revive Xu Xian. Loyalty is another value emphasized in this legend, as not only does Madame White Snake remember her debt to Xu Xian from their first encounter at the West Lake, but also Xiaoqing remains staunchly loyal to Madame White Snake through thick and thin.

            Also notable is that the division between good and evil is markedly apparent, as it can be in many folktales and legends. Even when Madame White Snake makes the one “mistake” of not revealing her identity to Xu Xian immediately, good coalesces with good and Xu Xian finds it in his heart to forgive and love her. Even with no contact with his mother throughout his childhood and adolescence, the under-developed character of the son displays zero hesitation in his self-sacrifice; in short, the story’s characters appear inherently instilled with good or evil before the story even begins.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

“Nazrudin and the Duck Soup”

            The informant admitted immediately that he was not precisely sure of when or why his family began telling the stories of Nazrudin; he understood them to be largely grounded in Jewish culture and no one is his family identifies as Jewish. However, the informant then explained that tales of Nazrudin had spread throughout the Persian empire as well as geographically across the Middle East, which could explain how the story filtered through his Indian and Iraqi sides of the family.

            He always thought the tales of Nazrudin to have a highly comedic value, but even at a young age he noticed the twists at the end of each tale, when Nazrudin would exact a unique kind of justice on those who had wronged him or had taken advantage of him. He also stated that all of his Jewish friends from childhood had heard at least a few tales of Nazrudin each, although details within the tales would vary from child to child. He followed up his previous story, “Nazrudin at the Bathhouse,” with “Nazrudin and the Duck Soup,” another tale that ends in a humorous twist.

 

            This time Nazrudin is not in Persia. After hearing this story, I imagined Nazrudin farther north, where there are more forests, and this story evolves from an event when Nazrudin and his friend catch a duck. So him and his friend go in the woods and they go trapping, and they catch a duck. They come back to Nazrudin’s house and they ask themselves, “What can we do with this all meat? What can we make that will make it last a long time?” So they make duck soup. Now, they prepare the meat, they throw in all these different vegetables and herbs, and they make this amazing, delicious duck soup that just melts in your mouth―as much as soup can. They both have a great time and really enjoy the soup. Nazrudin shows his friend to the door when the meal’s all done and says goodbye and the friend leaves. Nazrudin is left with this pot of big soup and, what do you do with leftovers? You just keep on eating them. So, he thought that was the end of it.

            The next day, however, there’s a knock on the door and Nazrudin walks to the door, not expecting anyone, opens it, and there’s a stranger standing there. Nazrudin asks, “Can I help you?” And the stranger says, “I’m a friend of the man who helped you kill the duck. Can I have some soup?” Apparently the soup was so good that Nazrudin’s friend told another friend about it and said Nazrudin would be happy to give him some soup. And, acting as the host that he is, Nazrudin says, “Of course.” He brings the man a bowl of the soup, the man eats and leaves.

            The next day there’s a knock on the door. Nazrudin opens it, there’s another stranger, who says, “I’m a friend of a friend of the man who helped you kill the duck. Can I have some soup?” Nazrudin again says, “Of course.” Nazrudin shows him in, serves him some soup, and the man leaves. This continues for many, many days to the point where Nazrudin hears a knock on the door to another stranger, who says, “I’m a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of the man who helped you kill the duck. Can I have some soup?” Nazrudin takes the man into the kitchen and says, “Wait here.” He takes a bowl into the kitchen and fills it with tepid water. He places the bowl of water in front of the man. He looks at it, he smells it, tastes it, and turns to Nazrudin completely unsatisfied and says, “This is not soup!” And Nazrudin says, “No, no, my friend, this is the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the duck!”

 

            This time, the tale of Nazrudin discourages taking advantage of a friend’s hospitality. Although Nazrudin is thankful for his friend’s help in trapping the duck and thus shares his soup with him, but the continual generosity he is expected to give to those who are distant from his friend is no longer reasonable compared to the aid his friend contributed. The core moral teaching in the legend, then, is that individuals should not expect gifts and generosity by relying on associations with others; only when we directly contribute to an outcome do we deserve a portion of the reward.

            Also notable in the legend is Nazrudin’s patience; he does not boil over in fury or chastise his friend, choosing instead to quietly execute his scheme until a guest finally notices. Again, Nazrudin’s cunning and foresight wins out over his mistreatment by his friend.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

“Nazrudin at the Bathhouse”

            The informant admitted immediately that he was not precisely sure of when or why his family began telling the stories of Nazrudin; he understood them to be largely grounded in Jewish culture and no one is his family identifies as Jewish. However, the informant then explained that tales of Nazrudin had spread throughout the Persian empire as well as geographically across the Middle East, which could explain how the story filtered through his Indian and Iraqi sides of the family.

            He always thought the tales of Nazrudin to have a highly comedic value, but even at a young age he noticed the twists at the end of each tale, when Nazrudin would exact a unique kind of justice on those who had wronged him or had taken advantage of him. He also stated that all of his Jewish friends from childhood had heard at least a few tales of Nazrudin each, although details within the tales would vary from child to child.

 

            The stories that I’m telling revolve around this one character, Nazrudin. A lot of times you’ll hear different stories and the hero is someone who is. . .strong, bold and courageous, and goes out and does heroic things. Nazrudin is a character that comes up in Jewish tales but also has to do with tales in the Middle East; he’s kind of a wide-spread character. But, every single those stories are told he’s described in the same way: a forty-year old, slight, pudgy, balding man. Not someone to be feared or intimidated by―basically not a Hercules. So Nazrudin would go around and his role in a lot of these stories is as a trickster. He goes around and he dispenses wisdom to people who otherwise wouldn’t get it kind of by being almost like that, that thorn in the side, you know?

            One story that highlights this is. . . Nazrudin is in Persia and in Persia he gets really hot, and this is a time when there’s no plumbing, there’s no bathtub in your house.  So he’s in Persia and he’s not someone who would make a lot of money, and so he has a small house with no bathtub and no running water. He visits a bathhouse once every week in order to clean himself off. Those were the customs (laughs), hygiene was not a big thing back in the day.

            Nazrudin takes his towel and walks from his house many, many miles to the bathhouse. By this time, he looks almost like a beggar. He looks dirty, his clothes are covered in dust, he’s covered in dust―and he didn’t have very nice things to begin with. So, he walks up to the attendant at the desk and he says, “I’d like to take a bath.” The attendant, standing at the desk (as I’m sure we’ve all had this experience with customer service representatives) looks down his nose at Nazrudin and says in a very snooty voice, “I think we can find a bath for you.” The attendant takes Nazrudin down the hall to the farthest bath away from the entrance. Nazrudin opens it, and it’s a bathroom that has obviously not been cleaned. It’s dirty, it’s unkempt, there are flies, it smells. When he turns on the water to get in the bath, only cold water comes out. He tries to call for the attendant but the attendant doesn’t come. So Nazrudin takes it for what it is, takes the bath, and leaves.

            On his way out, he takes a gold coin (basically the wealthiest piece of currency that they have) and puts it on the attendant’s desk. The attendant’s like, “What this?” And Nazrudin says, “This is for the bath.” And the attendant, still in shock, sits there staring at the gold coin as Nazrudin walks out.

            The next week, Nazrudin comes in. This time, Nazrudin still not looking very good―he’s gone a week without bathing, remember. This time, though, the attendant is all smiles. He remembers that gold coin and thinks that Nazrudin is someone who’s wealthy and has status. He says, “Please sir, come this way! Can I get you anything?” He’s very accommodating this time. He brings Nazrudin to their best bathhouse and Nazrudin takes a long, hot bath. The attendant is on beck and call for anything he needs; he has extra towels, extra silks, things like that. Nazrudin enjoys himself, and on the way out, the attendant comes out, basically there waiting for his tip. Nazrudin reaches into his purse and pulls out a tiny, tiny copper coin and gives it to the attendant. The attendant looks at it, looks at Nazrudin, looks back at the coin, and says, “What’s this?” Nazrudin says, “This. . .was for last week. That. . .was for this week.”

 

            The description of Nazrudin as a nondescript middle-aged man is significant because the tales of Nazrudin shows that Herculean strength or beauty is not required to triumph over others. Cunning and quick wit are just as valuable, and these characteristics are not evident in appearances. Moreover, the attendant’s snootiness and condescendence toward Nazrudin reinforces the old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover;” the attendant could not reconcile his perception of the beggarly Nazrudin with the large gold coin he deposited at the end of the bath. The legend encourages individuals to look beyond superficial divisions like those of appearance and class and to treat everyone fairly.

           Additionally, the fact that tales of Nazrudin have traveled geographically are likely due to migration as well as imperial influence (especially when considering the breadth of the Persian and Ottoman Empires). It is unsurprising that the informant’s childhood friends had learned variants of the same tale because of the high likelihood that varying ociotypes had surfaced from different regions. Clearly, the tales of Nazrudin had a wide appeal if they were adopted by a broad range of cultures.

Myths
Narrative

“The Deity Ganesh”

            The informant first heard the myth of the deity Ganesh on an audio cassette tape when he was seven years old. His mother was born in India, and although he acknowledged that she would likely identify as Indian-American, she also maintains strong ties to her Indian roots, which is why he was exposed to Indian legends and myths as a child. He also explained that the stories, due to his age, had in large part a simply entertainment value to him, but he did state, “As I got older I realized that, underneath them, as with many different stories and folktales, there were moral teachings. . .and they showed how people think.”

            The stories appeared to him again in the form of comic books, which he said was a popular adaptation for many Indian tales; any bookstore in India sells a number of these comics. The informant also explained that, with many Indian stories, the class of the Indian child can dictate whether or not he has access to the story. Because of the strict structure of India’s caste system, the informant shared, most lower class children and their family did not have the time or leisure to prioritize and share folktales. Work and survival take precedence in value, and thus myths about deities that live in excess and wealth are not as appealing nor as relevant to those in the working classes.

 

            Like with the Greek gods, the Indians gods have this, like, realm that they live in. In this realm, there’s the most powerful god who is Shiva. Oh! And also kind of similar to the Greek gods, these gods resemble human beings. Shiva has a wife, whose name is Parvati, and in this story Parvati is taking a bath. Whenever she takes a bath she says that no one can enter the house, and she appoints one of her vassals in charge of the house to guard the entrance and make sure no one enter. This vassal is Nandi, who has the head of a cow and the body of a human. In the comic he’s, like, armed with a trident and wearing very traditional clothing.

            As he’s guarding and standing watch, Shiva (who’s the head of the household and in charge of all the guards) walks up and Nandi lets him go by because he’s kind of intimidated, I think, by Shiva’s power and his own role is obviously a lot lesser. Shiva walks in while Parvati is bathing and she’s embarrassed. Shiva, though, has kind of a sense of humor, he pokes fun at her and laughs at the situation. She then becomes angry that she doesn’t have any vassals that are loyal to her above her husband. So what she does is she takes the sandalwood paste that she’s been bathing in off of her and she puts it into this, this golden dish. And using that paste she molds a figure of a very handsome, very beautiful boy that she names her son, and she gives that statue life.

            And so the next time she bathes―and this is unknown to Shiva―she posts her son outside of the door of the house and Shiva tries again. He comes back home and tries to enter, and this time the son doesn’t let him enter. Shiva doesn’t know who this is, he’s, like, “Why are you stopping me from entering the house? You know who I am. . . obviously you need to let me go.” But, the son, who has a staff, hits him and throws him out on his ass, basically. So, Shiva becomes absolutely furious and he summons all of his army and all of his commanders and has them attack this one child. But, all of his armies could not defeat him, he took out general after general and all of the other soldiers until the armies were completely gone. So Shiva decides to fight with them, and he uses―in a lot of Indian comics you can tell who the person with the highest spiritual rank, I guess, is because they use this chakra. It’s like a spinning disc that you spin around your finger and you send it out and it goes to wherever you want it to go. Shiva uses his disc and it chops the head of the kid right off. . . so maybe these weren’t the best comics to read as a child, but, anyway, Parvati is enraged. She decides she is going to destroy the entire universe unless this slight is made right in her eyes.

            Basically one of the other high ranking gods, Brahma―who is in charge of creation―begs Shiva to bring the child to life. And by this time Shiva has calmed down; he’s taken out his anger (by killing someone). He grants Parvati’s two wishes―one, that the god be worshipped above all other gods, so basically to elevate her son, and that he obviously be brought back to life. So Shiva uses his chakra again and sends it down to Earth and chops of the head of an elephant. He takes the head of the elephant and places it on the headless body of the child, and so the child comes back to life. Shiva proclaims him, and that’s why Ganesh has the head of an elephant and the body of a child. Shiva then declares that Ganesh is his son, too, since he gave him life as well, and this elevates his position to the foremost and front of the gods.

 

            Recognizably a form of myth, the story of Ganesh incorporates divine figures in a sacred realm, which the informant helpfully analogized to the gods of Greek mythology. While the myth contains quite a lot of entertainment, including nudity and war-related violence, the teaching that lies “underneath,” as the informant said, seems to be the conflict of the power dynamic between a man and his wife. Much of the myth’s action is propelled by Parvati’s feeling of slight; her vassal serves her husband over her, Shiva mocks her embarrassment, and her rage is worrisome enough to the other gods to make them appeal to Shiva. The lesson taught at the end of the myth, then, is one of compromise and equality. Shiva recognizes the error of his ways and uses his power to make things right and satisfy his wife; the equality of genders plays an unusual role when compared to, say, Greek mythology, where Hera is often duped by Zeus only to exact petty revenge on his (many) lovers.

Holidays
Life cycle
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Danish Birthday Song”

            The informant’s maternal ancestry hails from Denmark, and although she has never lived in Denmark she has visited the country several times for extended periods and has maintained a strong Danish cultural presence in her lifestyle, especially around the holidays. For example, she strings up miniature Danish flags around her Christmas tree each year and makes æbleskiver, traditional Danish pancakes in the shape of little round balls, Christmas morning. Furthermore, one of her most treasured family heirlooms is a set of silverware engraved with the family crest as well as an ornate “N” for Nielsen, her mother’s maiden name, and a recognizably Danish one at that. She also sings a Danish song when celebrating family birthdays, and she shared the lyrics as well as the role the song has played in her own life. As a child, she remembered learning the song as a birthday song, but as she grew older she learned the song’s first line comes from a Danish drinking song, perhaps one that was sung in celebration. As the informant sang the song, she was sitting in her dining room table drinking coffee out of a china tea set her mother brought from Denmark.

 

            The first part “han skal leve”. . .I’m not positive about what it means but I believe it’s loosely translated as “may he live” or “may he live well.” The “hurra!” is the Danish way to say “hooray!” and I never understood what the ” højt” was for. I just know everyone said “højt quite loudly (she laughs heartily).
When we are celebrating a female’s birthday, the “bravo” verse is changed to “brava” and we say “bravissima” instead of “bravissimo.”

 Han skal leve, han skal leve, han skal leve, højt hurra!
Bravo, bravo, bravo bravissimo
Bravo, bravo, bravissimo
Bravo bravissimo, bravo bravissimo
Bravo, bravo, bravissimo.

 

            The informant’s close ties with her Danish roots are quite evident; Danish traditions and practices have seeped into several different aspects of her life. The confusion as to whether the song was originally sung in birthday celebration or while drinking seems typical for a family practice that has been passed down through generations―it can become increasingly difficult to discern when and why a song was first introduced into the family. In all likelihood, the song served both purposes. After all, it is quite common to pair drinking with a birthday party or celebration, and it was perhaps only because of her young age that she first associated the song exclusively with birthdays.

            The “may he live well” translation bestows good fortune or good health, though perhaps both―the interpretation of “well” is ambiguous―on the celebrating individual, which is not atypical for birthday celebrations across most cultures. However, the informant’s Danish family allows the party guests to seize an opportunity for good luck as well. She and her family prepare a layered Danish cake, inside which are hidden dimes, and anyone who bites or finds a dime while eating their cake is granted good luck for the week. This practice shifts focus from solely the celebrating individual to the party-goers as well; it is a more collectively engaging and participatory experience.

Folk speech

“Hooah!”

             An ROTC student at the University of Southern California, the informant explained the significance behind the army recognition cry, “Hooah!” He called the army cry both an acknowledgement of another serving member as well as “a different way of saying ‘yes’ with motivation and enthusiasm.” The cry is limited to soldiers only, but he has always liked that there are no rank or level associations with the cry―anyone who has been enlisted or who has served in the U.S. army has access to the “Hooah!” cry.

 

            When a soldier in the army responds to an acknowledgement from another member in the army, he or she usually says, “Hooah!” Marines usually say, “Hoorah!”

 

            This traditional response from soldier to soldier is similar in theory and practice to the “Fight On!” chant that USC students exchange with one another. For one, it identifies an “inside” group; an exclusive community can use it as well as understand it because there is a particular university history and tradition attached to the chant.
Additionally, the chant transcends boundaries of seniority and rank, just as the “Hooah!” cry does. Prospective students, alumni, and faculty alike are all welcome to use and exchange the “Fight On!” In the case of “Hooah!,” it marks a solidarity and collectivity between soldiers―a symbol of respect for one another’s service to the country.
            Lastly, the unique sound and zeal behind the “Hooah!” cry boosts soldier morale in the same way a drummer boy behind the ranks or a welcoming parade does. The wildness and loudness of the cry emblemizes an abandon of inhibition that has zero representation in the regulated, disciplined setting of the military.

Folk speech
Initiations

“Soldier’s Creed”

            An ROTC student, the informant recited the “Soldier’s Creed,” a pledge memorized by every member in the U.S. Army. At the University of Southern California, all ROTC students are taught the creed during their first enrolled semester and are required to have the creed memorized by graduation, though the informant stated that typically, those enlisted in the army learn the creed during basic training. Its purpose is to transition the individual from a civilian to a soldier―a representative of the complete psychological and emotional change in identity. The informant explained that the purpose of basic training, and its attachments like the Soldier’s Creed, is to psychologically break down the individual and rebuild him or her into the type of person the army desires.
            More personally, the informant views the creed as a life philosophy outside of purely the military setting, although he acknowledged that people can interpret it differently. He identifies particularly with a stanza referred to as the “Warrior Ethos” (which begins, “I will always place the mission first”) because it underlines the idea of identifying a goal and sticking to it. The informant also shared that, after officially signing his contract with the army in the fall, the creed took on additional significance―as he stated, it became “very real” to him.

 

I am an American Soldier.
I am a warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.

 

            The Soldier’s Creed is highly evocative of folklorist Arnold van Gennep’s ideas surrounding rites of passage, which are typically used to mark the transition from one identity into another. The informant’s description of the “rebuilding” process is particularly relevant to this idea, and the Soldier’s Creed is a clear mechanism for that. It exhibits a pronounced use of the active present tense “am,” as well as the future tense “will,” while making no reference to the past. This shows how the soldier has transformed irrevocably into his new character.

            When examining the language of the Soldier’s Creed, the stress on collectivity is also noticeable: “[I am] a member of a team. . .I will never leave a fallen comrade.” This is quite interesting paired with structure of each sentence beginning with the highly individualistic “I.” The dualist presence of individualism as well as collective action suggests that both are valued in the right situations. Unsurprisingly, nationalism also plays a large role in the Soldier’s Creed, reinforcing the idea of the “other” as the enemy and the idea of the American as in need of protection.

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