Author Archive
Musical

Persian Lullaby

Informant Description/ Context of performance: This is a lullaby that was sung to my friend every night when she was a child. Her mom and dad sang it to her and her little sister; her grandma sang it to her mother.

 

Transliteration:

Gonjeeshkakeh ashi mashee

Labebooyeh mah nashee

Baroon meyad tam meeshee

Barf meeyad gooleh meeshee

Meeyoftee too hoseh nagashee

 

Daret meeyareh

Havash bashee

Booset mekoneh va looset meekoneh, va paret meedeh ashi mashee

 

Translation:

Little sparrow, little sparrow

Don’t land on my rooftop edge

It’s going to rain and you’ll get wet

It’s going to snow and you’ll turn into a snow ball

And you’ll slip into the painted piscine

 

The groundskeeper will pull you out

The doctor will cuddle you

The mediator will kiss you and spoil you and let you FLY!

 

Conclusion (written by Interviewer):

I found this lullaby very interesting and different from most other lullabies. For example, most well-known lullabies like “Go to Sleep Little Baby” have lyrics about going to sleep or falling asleep. This lullaby is very soothing and light in its tone and performance; however, its literal translation has nothing to do with falling asleep. The song is about comforting the listener, which begs the question – did it actually originate with the intention of being a lullaby? It seems like it could be a child’s song, not necessarily a lullaby.

general

Nazar

Informant Description/ Context of performance: I asked my friend if she had any traditions or superstitions, and she told me about one her dance teacher had passed down to her.

Original Script:

Interviewee: So this is kind of a mix between a saying and just like… something you’re supposed to do. My dance teacher told me that if you have a lot of good luck, you don’t want to jinx it with the evil eye, “Nazar,” so to remove the evil eye, you should take salt and throw it over your shoulder and then walk in the opposite direction. You CANNOT look back otherwise that’s bad luck.

Me: So when did she tell you? And have you ever actually done that?

Interviewee: Oh yeah, she’s superstitious. We’d do it before all our dance performances just to cast away any like, negative energy.

Me: Have you ever done it in any other context like before a test or something?

Interviewee: Umm… I think I’ve done it a couple times before like college decisions came out and at like weddings or graduations.

Me: Oh is that like customary within your culture or just something you do that you got from your dance teacher?

Interviewee: I mean I know it’s in our culture to put a little black spot at the top of your cheek to cast away Nazar, but I pretty much got the salt thing from my dance teacher. I’m sure other people do it though, because like where did she get it from? Like I’ve seen her kids do it too, and all my friends who danced with me did it too.

Conclusion: Being from the same culture, I have heard of “Nazar” before. I have never heard of this custom before, but I had learned about the evil eye many times before. I find it interesting that each culture develops its own way to cast away the evil eye, and each subcategory within a culture has its own unique method.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Yiddish Phrase

Informant Description/ Context of performance: My friend’s grandma always used to tell her this proverb while growing up.

Transliteration:

Mit eyn tokhes ken nit tantsn af tsvey khasenes.

Translation: You can’t dance at two weddings with one behind.

Meaning: You can’t do everything at once.

Conclusion: It is rather a simple and direct saying. This Yiddish proverb is seen throughout various cultures. For example, my grandpa used to always say “one thing done well is a very good thing, as anyone can tell.” It encompasses the same idea of taking on the appropriate workload and doing it to the best of one’s ability.

general

Tanzanian Poem

Informant Description/ Context of performance: My friend’s aunt recited this poem to me over the phone to give me an example of African folklore. Her father passed it down to her, who heard it from his grandmother.

Original Script:

Interviewee: I’ll recite a poem my father told me when I was very young. Can I say it in my language?

Me: Of course!

Interviewee: Mkulima mwenye shamba alipana viazi,

Akachimba chimba chimba akaona almaasi

Lololo bahahati lolo bahaato ya mtu menye shamba

Akatupa jembe upande akaenda mjini,

Kununua motokari sasa ni tajiri,

Lolo bhaato lololo bahati ya mtu menye shamba.

Me: It sounds a little bit like a song; is there a particular time or place you traditionally say this poem?

Interviewee: It’s more of a story really, like a fable for children.

Me: What does it mean?

Interviewee: The translation is roughly: There was a farmer, who had a potato farm. One day as he was plowing, he saw a diamond. He threw away his plow and ran to town. How lucky, how lucky, how lucky was the farmer? He went to buy a new car and house, oh how lucky the farmer was.

Me: So what lesson or moral does this children’s poem teach?

Interviewee: Everyone wants to be rich, but luck does not come when you are just sleeping in or stay home. In order to get rich, you still have to get up and work hard! It takes strength and courage to be poor and still work hard… but one day, you could be lucky!

Conclusion (written by Interviewer): I really enjoyed this story because it was an interesting twist on the usual “work hard, you will attain success” moral. I like that they incorporated luck into the fable; it may be reflective of the class constraints in their culture. For example, in America, it’s usually more viable to say you can become successful through hard work and dedication. Perhaps in their culture, it takes hard work and luck which is why this could be a popular fable to tell children. It encourages them to work hard in hope of some luck, which could lead them to success.

Folk Beliefs

Japanese Dinner Etiquette

Informant Description/ Context of performance: My friend and I were having dinner with her mom in our living room. We were having a traditional Japanese dish called shabu shabu. We were sitting on the ground around this small table with dinner served family style when my mom’s friend looked at her lovingly annoyed.

Original Script:

Me: Is everything okay, Mrs. Mizuno?

Interviewee: Yes, yes. It’s just she knows she should not sit like that at the dinner table.

Me: Huh?

Interviewee: In Japanese culture, it is very rude to sit with your knees popping about the table. It is a form of disrespect to others you are dining with, so put your knees down!


Conclusion (written by Interviewer): Every culture I know has unique food etiquette. I had never heard this one before, so I found it particularly striking. Apparently having your knee above the table in Japanese culture is disrespectful to the people you are dining with, so maybe it shows laziness or a lack of interest by sitting like that.

Myths
Narrative

Desert Spirit

Informant Description/ Context of performance: I shared an uber with this man on the way to Santa Monica. He was telling me and our driver about a time he experienced a supernatural phenomena; a spirit had spoken to him.

Original Script:

Interviewee: So I was driving through some part of Arizona the other day. In the fucking desert man. And I remember just thinking like shit, this place is so fucking empty. I could be lost and melting away in the sun, and who the fuck would know?! Who the fuck would know. I just started fucking crying man.

Me: Were you… sober?

Interviewee: Yeah dude. Something came over me. Or like some spirit just floated into my body and just moved me, ya know?

Me: So the spirit made you cry?

Interviewee: The spirit just made me feel like I was a part of the desert. Like I didn’t matter, but I was a part of something bigger.

Me: Did that make you happy or sad?

Interviewee: I don’t know. I was definitely crying, but it wasn’t sad. The spirit just like released this fountain in me. It was like I was there to bring water to the desert. That’s what my tears were for. That’s why there’s that spirit there. It’s to bring water to the desert. Spooky right?

Me: So you really think there’s a spirit there?

Interviewee: Yeah….

Me: And if you went back, it’d be there? You’d cry again?

Interview: Oh fuck yeah dude. Too bad it was in the middle of buttfuck nowehere Arizona, so how do I find it again?

Conclusion: Honestly, I’m not sure I believe Mago was sober in the story or the retelling of it in the uber. The story was mystical and poetic in its own way, so either he’s a super creative story teller or he really believes in this spirit.

Customs
Folk Beliefs

March Madness Mania

Informant Description: My friend grew up watching March Madness religiously. By the age of 7, he was creating his own brackets and knew every player on every team. Even now he never misses a game, and he has some pretty funny ways of making sure his team wins. (He has never won the bracket).

Interviewee: So this is pretty simple. Every time someone from the team I want to win makes a shot, I have to switch to the other side of the couch. I think it helps the “fung shui.”

Me: How did this start?

Interviewee: It started so long ago, when I was 6 maybe? It was a Duke game, can’t remember who they were playing. But basically, I had to get up to pee a lot or go get food, and every time I got up and moved around, they would score! So my mom made this joke. “Guess you have to move every time if you want them to win!” And ever since… it’s just been a thing.

Me: Have you passed this on to other people or is it just you?

Interviewee: Funny actually I have all my friends do it too. It was rough during the playoffs when there were 7 of us to one couch/. It was like playing fucking musical chairs!

Conclusion: I think there are a bunch of sports traditions and superstitions that people have, and I always wonder how it gets started. A personal example is my dad and I refuse to watch football unless my mom is upstairs in her bedroom. That started this one time when every time my mom came in the living room with the TV, my team would fumble or lose possession.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Drink Water

Informant Description/ Context of Performance: One time I got the hiccups, and my friend told me an unconventional way to get rid of them.

Interviewee: Just drink water but make sure you’re upside down when you’re drinking it.

Conclusion: I had never heard of this way to get rid of hiccups before. Everyone goes with a few main methods: drink water, surprise you/ scare you, have a spoonful of sugar, etc.. This way, much like the others, absolutely did not work but it was interesting to add to the collection of folk remedies for hiccups.

general

Wedding Bangle

Informant Description: My mom was telling me about some differences between Bengali weddings (my culture) versus other Indian cultures.

Interviewee: Bengalis have a bunch of silly traditions, just like any other culture. There are a bunch of games they make us play in the wedding that intend to bring the couple closer, but most of the time it’s just everyone trying to embarrass us a lot.

Me: What’s one thing that’s really different you’d say?

Interviewee: I feel like it’s pretty common across the board to have little games like that throughout the wedding. One thing that’s different for us is we don’t wear a mangalsutra like most other Indian cultures. That’s that necklace you see a lot of women wear; the black beads with a gold locket?

Me: Yeah I know what it is. What do we wear then?

Interviewee: Well, obviously we have a ring. But I actually think that’s a more western tradition that we’ve adopted, because some people don’t really wear rings at all even after they get married. All Bengalis wear this bangle, and it’s got to be fancy. It has to have a bunch of different metals in it. See like mine- it’s copper, silver, and iron. The top is gold.

Me: So you have to wear that every day for the rest of your life?

Interviewee: It’s the same as wearing a ring every day for the rest of your life.

Me: Why do you think we wear a bangle instead? What’s special about the bangle?

Interviewee: I don’t know if this is true, or if this is just the explanation I made up for myself, but I like to think of the bangle as the infusion of all these different metals, paralleling the joining of two different families in a marriage. The gold lock at the top keeps them together, symbolizing the beauty and strength of marriage. I mean… that’s just what I think.

Conclusion: I always wondered why my mom never took off that bangle; I always assumed it was religious. I had no idea my culture symbolizes weddings through a bangle rather than a ring.

general

Tarof (ing)

Informant Description/ Context of performance: My friend tells me about a common practice/ behavior in Persian culture. 

Interviewee: Tarof is the way that like two people will interact in a social situation that involves some kind of… like gathering. For example, let’s say we’re all at dinner and it’s like a huge Persian family. When the check comes, it becomes like the struggle to pay. It becomes this whole thing.

Me: Oh, we have that in Indian culture too.

Interviewee: Yeah, but we have like a word for it. So like another example is if you’re a guest at somebody’s house and they offer you food, and you say “no thank you, I’m good,” they’ll come back again and say “no no no.. you need to have some of this.. I don’t know, pineapple.” Then you’ll say “no really, it’s okay.” This exchange is like tarof-ing; it’s like this back and forth where both people won’t give in. It’s like intense.

Me: Is it like a form of hospitality in your culture?

Interviewee: It’s like a hospitality thing, but it’s also understood that you will do this even if you’re not into like… do you know what I mean? It’s like an expected thing. You would be a fucking bad Persian if you didn’t like partake in that back-and-forth.

Me: Do you know where this cultural philosophy came from? Like where did you learn this from?

Interviewee: Literally every Persian family I’ve ever interacted with. Please look up videos on it, it’s so funny.

Conclusion (written by Interviewer): It’s interesting to see the same concept in a different culture. In Indian culture, it is customary to fight over paying for the bill, insisting on your guests eating something when they come to your house, putting your guests first, etc.. However, I have never known that exchange to have a formal word as it does in Persian culture. It is a behavior that I have seen practiced throughout many cultures; however, it does seem more intense in Persian culture as there is a very well-known established word for it. An interesting video my friend showed me to exemplify the extent of “tarof” is included in a link below. This link obviously exaggerates the practice and was created as more of a joke; however, she did assure me that it is based off of a very honest, sometimes ridiculous reality.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAvzW1WZsN4

 

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