Author Archive
Foodways

Sadza Recipe

Subject:

Recipe for sadza

Informant:

Anouchka Giles was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She moved to Durban, South Africa, in her twenties and lived there until immigrating to the United States in 2012.

Original Script:

“okay so um, basically you got to use, well, we call it mealie meal they call it cornmeal here but it’s better if you use the fine ground one, you don’t want one that’s too course. And then basically you put water in a pot and then you add sadza – uhh mealie meal to it with a bit of salt, and then you take a wooden spoon and you stir it till it starts to bubble and get thick, and then you let it cook.. for… I would say that if you want to get rid of the bitter taste you have to let it cook for about an hour, slowly, or at least 40 minutes and then you put a stick of butter right at the end and so it becomes like a stiff kind of creamy texture to it.”

Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:

According to the informant, this recipe is traditionally from Zimbabwe. Originally, she had made phutu, a variant of this recipe that is more common in South Africa. She started making sadza when she learned the recipe from her mother in law, who had lived most of her life in Zimbabwe. According to her, sadza has a much smoother consistency which she prefers, and which her husband and his side of the family was more used to.

Thoughts about the piece:

I grew up eating sadza, and I’ve always enjoyed it. From my own experience I know that corn and cornmeal are staple food products in many regions of southern Africa, and sadza is a recipe that was developed as a means of consuming those products. Of course, this version of the recipe has been refitted: the butter is purely for taste and in poorer areas adding a stick of it would be considered a luxury. Also, these same people would often not have adjustable stoves but would instead heat their pot over an open flame. In these conditions it is easy to burn the sadza, and so it would be a better decision to cook the sadza for a shorter time, which would leave a more bitter taste.

Magic

New Shoes

Subject:

Superstition regarding new shoes.

Informant:

Anouchka Giles was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She moved to Durban, South Africa, in her twenties and lived there until immigrating to the United States in 2012. Lee (mentioned in the script) is a close friend of Anouchka’s from her time living in South Africa.

Original Script:

“So you buy a box of shoes, the worst thing you can do is put them on the table: that’s really bad luck.”

Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:

When asked where she learned about this superstition and why she followed it, Anouchka replied “okay, and then, well I dunno this was Lee’s thing. She told me about it and until she told me about it I was okay with putting shoes on the table, now I’m not. I don’t know, I don’t know where Lee’s got these things from.” The informant did not seem to know of any reason or logic for the superstition, but trusted her friend and followed the rule (of keeping new shoes off the table) just in case there was something to it.

Thoughts About the Piece:

I understand why putting shoes on the table might be considered a bad thing to do, but if anything I would imagine that this would be more the case for used shoes, which might be dirty, as opposed to new shoes.

Legends
Protection

Tokolosh

Subject:

Protection from the Tokolosh

Informant:

Graham Giles grew up in Zimbabwe, and immigrated to South Africa at the age of Sixteen, where he lived for most his life, until immigrating again to the United States in 2012.

Original Script:

“Okay, so they put bricks under their bed, because they believe that the Tokolosh – the Tokolosh is like this evil little spirit right? He’s like this evil little um… you know like the Irish believe in the Leprechaun, he’s like this evil little spirit and that and he… and um obviously he’s under the bed and, and so what you do is you put the bed up on bricks so he can’t reach up and get you, you know what I mean? And that’s why the guys are also from.. you know they come up to the bed and, I don’t want to say they jump onto bed from a bit of a distance but you know what I’m saying to you? So they’re all raised, so you’ll find even well educated people put a couple of bricks under their bed, under the foot of the bed you know what I mean? Just to raise it up off the ground so the Tokolosh can’t grab you. So the idea is that the Tokolosh is this little bad… evil spirit. He’s a little evil guy: causes problems, causes whatever, and he’s evil. So obviously you walk into your bedroom, under your bed is this little dark space – that’s where you’re going to find a tokolosh, you know?”

Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:

When asked where he learned the story, Graham just said that he can’t recall any one single person telling him about the Tokolosh, just that it was widespread, common knowledge in South Africa and Zimbabwe, and that many people fully believe in this Tokolosh, and raise up their beds for safety.

Thoughts About the Piece:

The Tokolosh seems akin to the Boogey Man, who lives under children’s beds and comes out to get them in the dark. However, while the Boogey Man is typically associated with childish fears of the dark, the Tokolosh represents a threat that even adults take seriously. From my own knowledge, I know that the Tokolosh is blamed for a whole host of problems: if something goes missing and the owner is certain that they did not lose it, he might say that it was the Tokolosh sewing trouble.

Legends
Narrative

Nyami Nyami

Subject:

Nyami Nyami

Informant:

Amelia Giles grew up in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe, and lived there for most of her early life. She moved to South Africa in her late thirties and to America in her late sixties, where she lives today.

Original Script:

“The Nyami Nyami is Zimbabwe’s version of the Loch Ness Monster, and he’s a river God who is believed to inhabit the deep waters of the mighty Zambezi and, um, at the foot of Victoria falls and lake Kariba, which obviously was dammed for hydroelectric power, and this mythical god-spirit has the head of a crocodile and the body of a snake, and he was dead against anybody, um, building lake Kariba, because he felt that he was separated from his lady-love who was a similar reptile, and who was believed to have been left on the other side of the river. So, anyway, he just swears that eventually lake Kariba is going to collapse and he’ll be reunited with his love, and um… also the Zambezi river is Africa’s fourth largest river, and even today, um, as a display of solidarity, you can buy the Nyami Nyami necklace at the foot of Victoria falls, and people buy it and they wear it, and hope it will protect them from it’s wrath, and, um it’s said because he’s supposed to control all the fish in the water and whatever happens in the water. And, so that’s the story of Nyami Nyami, and um, it was obviously… the Tonga people believe strongly in the Nyami Nyami, and somehow they’ve managed to get that belief to come through to even the generation of today. When people, when they go to Victoria Falls they seem to believe the story, and that stories been going through at least three generations. And so that’s the story of Nyami Nyami, and whether he ever breaks through lake Kariba and reunites with his lady love, we just wait to see what happens.”

Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:

Amelia remembers hearing this story throughout her childhood, but only paid attention to it and started to believe the legend when she visited Victoria falls for the first time in her late teens. She knows that Nyami Nyami merchandise is commonly sold around Victoria Falls, and that his legend is widely known and believed in across Zimbabwe.

Thoughts About the Piece:

I think it’s interesting that Nyami Nyami is viewed as a wrathful God, who only appeared in the last few generations. I also think it’s interesting that a God is so strongly associated with a modern, man-made structure.

general
Material

Flooring Technique

Subject:

Rural Southern African Flooring Technique

Informant:

Amelia Giles grew up in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe, and lived there for most of her early life. She moved to South Africa in her late thirties and to America in her late sixties, where she lives today.

Original Script:

“The local Africans in Zimbabwe who live in the rural areas obviously cannot get their hands on any cement or any modern day materials, so what they used to do, and what they probably still do today is they collect the manure from cows paddocks, from the cattle paddocks, and they mix it with soil, and they actually use it as a flooring in their little huts that they build with the thatched roof, and they smear it, almost in a plastering motion, and that is, is very very strong, it doesn’t crack, and it’s also an insect repellant. It, it definitely… they believe it stops snakes and insect from coming into their, their little huts, because of obviously the scent that it gives off. It’s not, not a scent that I could smell when I went into the huts unless it had only just been done, but they feel that, you know the snakes and the different animals can smell it. So, they don’t, um, that’s what they do.”

Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:

Amelia learned about this piece in her very young days. She remembers being a seven or eight year old girl when she first walked into a hut using this flooring technique, and has since been in many such homes. The idea of using cow feces interested her because it seemed like a weird, gross idea, but at the same time seemed to have a number of valuable properties, from being a good, hard flooring, to serving as pest repellant.

Thoughts About the Piece:

It makes sense that in rural areas where more conventional materials are hard to come by, people would develop novel ways of flooring their houses. I think it is interesting that feces were chosen as a building material, and I am surprised that they claim it to be an insect repellant: if anything, I would expect this technique to attract pests like flies and dung beetles (which are common in the area) into the house. I would guess that they just learned of some effective ways to mix it with soil and probably some other things to help it set better and change the smell.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Woodsman’s Hatchet

Subject:

Korean Fairy Tale

Informant:

Kyujin Sohn was born in Korea but moved to the United States as a young child. The majority of his family is from Korea, and many of them still live there. Although he has spent most of his life in the US, he has visited Korea often and identifies closely with Korean culture.

Original Script:

Essentially there’s a, there’s a… woodsman, and woodsmen in Korea are for some reason, like very traditionally like characterized as very pious people, like they work hard and like they’ll like, do the most to like get buy and survive, but, like they’ll never steal from people and they won’t do like bad – it’s just like, it’s this characterization that exists. But essentially this man was working, this woodsman was cutting down some tinder because he has to sell the wood so that people can have wood to burn flames with, right? Because it’s going to be winter soon. But anyway, he’s working next to a lake, and he accidentally tosses, like, the hatchet, and it falls into the lake. And this happened, this particular lake is imbued with like a spirit, so the spirit comes up, and he says ‘I think you dropped something.’ And he’s like ‘Yes I dropped my hatchet.’ So the spirit goes down, and comes up with a silver hatchet, and says ‘Is this your hatchet?’ and the woodsman says ‘no that is not my hatchet.’ And so the spirit says ‘Okay’ and so he goes down again, and brings up a gold hatchet, and he says ‘is this your hatchet?’ and so the woodsman says ‘no that’s not my hatchet, my hatchet is just a wood and iron hatchet.’ So the spirit goes down and brings up the actual hatchet and he says ‘Is this your hatchet?’ and the woodsman says ‘yes.’ And the spirit is confused because he’s like ‘I offered you a better hatchet, a more expensive hatchet, that you could have easily sold, and lived the rest of your life happily with.’ Right? Like a golden hatchet, that thing must weigh plenty, right? And so he’s like ‘why did not take the golden hatchet?’ and he was like, ‘because it’s not mine to take.’ And so the spirit, being so impressed with the piety of this man, gives him all three hatchets. Now the woodsman’s brother, who is a farmer, hears about this story, and wants his brother’s success so he goes into the woods, and intentionally drops the hatchet. But he doesn’t realize that, like, the reason that he got all three hatchets is because he chose not to take any of the hatchet. And so when the spirit comes up and provides the same test, he denies the silver one, but he accepts the gold one. And so, the spirit being angry at the greed of the man, curses him, and blinds him.”

Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:

It was the first Korean Story that kyujin ever learned. He learned it as a young boy from his grandmother on a visit to Korea.

Thoughts About the Piece:

Kyujin mentioned in the script that woodsmen are typically seen as very good, honest people in Korean culture. However, Kyujin’s grandma (who he learned it from) was a farmer, so I don’t believe that farmers are perceived as dishonest people. I would imagine that the farmer just represents the Korean average Joe, and so the story holds this moral lesson about how anybody could be tempted by such a trial, and that they could be punished for letting their greed make decisions for them.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Sealing Fate

Subject:

Korean superstition

Informant:

Eumin Lee was born and raised in the United States, although both of her parents spent much of their lives in Korea. As a result, Eumin grew up surrounded by Korean culture and superstitions. She now studies at the University of Southern California.

Original Script:

“She’s also taught me to never ever write my name in red ink, because apparently that’s, if you do, it’ll kind of… seal your fate for… like something bad will happen to you, or worst case scenario you’ll die, or something.”

Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:

Eumin claims to have just been raised with this policy, and although she does not really prescribe to many of the other superstitions her mom taught her, she still will not write her name in red ink, just because she feels that it is easy to avoid, and that there would be no point in tempting fate.

Thoughts About the Piece:

Red is a strong color, which for the purposes of this superstition I would imagine to represent blood. Following this logic, I would guess that signing your name in this color would be akin to sealing your fate in blood.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways

Friends and Spicy Food

Subject:

Social custom regarding spicy food

Informant:

Saran Kaba grew up in Gabon. Her family is mostly from Gabon and Guinea, and strongly identify with Mandingo culture which is prevalent throughout the region. Saran immigrated to the United States in 2014, where she now lives and studies at the University of Southern California.

Original Script:

“We are not allowed to pass, like, directly pepper, to like somebody, because that means that you want to, like you will be in conflict. So like if you like a person, you don’t give pepper at first. You know, like, pepper, like something spicy, because it will lead to some sort of conflict or miscommunication.”

Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:

Saran doesn’t know where she learned this, or the reasoning behind it, only that it is a widespread custom not to give somebody any kind of very spicy food.

Thoughts About the Piece:

Very spicy food can be painful. Perhaps this custom arose from the concern that feeding people food that is more spicy than they can handle might upset them, and hurt the relationship. Spicy food also causes your nose to run and tongue to hurt, which might make it difficult for them to have a conversation or maintain a graceful countenance, which may cause awkward social situations.

Customs

Stealing Gold

Subject:

Custom regarding gold

Informant:

Saran Kaba grew up in Gabon. Her family is mostly from Gabon and Guinea, and strongly identify with Mandingo culture which is prevalent throughout the region. Saran immigrated to the United States in 2014, where she now lives and studies at the University of Southern California.

Original Script:

“Okay, I mean you are not allowed to steal in general, but like, if you steal gold in my culture, like, bad things will happen to you. You become, uhh, unfortunate for the rest of your life. Like, what my mom told me is that gold is, gold is like a metal that comes from the ground and water, and that earth, and everything related to water is related with, like, spirits. So, if you steal gold, that means that you steal something spiritual, and yeah it will just lead to like, everything bad, so that’s that. Whenever I say spirits… it’s a lot of things. It’s like, just umm, it’s just different… first of all like bad energy. But also it’s like people giving bad luck to you. Also what else, like, people from the dead like, ghosts, kind of haunting you.”

Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:

Saran’s mom taught her about this. She seemed reluctant to mention any details, but she did briefly state that somebody in her family had stolen gold, and that that was viewed as very bad. She couldn’t think of any reason for why stealing gold might be seen in such a drastically negative light.

Thoughts About the Piece:

Gold is a precious metal. Somebody’s most valuable item might be a gold item, or perhaps somebody saved some money in gold. Gold items might also be sentimental, such as wedding rings. Perhaps for these reasons, stealing gold is held as a much worse offense than stealing any other item.

Folk Beliefs
Magic

Twins

Subject:

Folk Beliefs regarding twins

Informant:

Saran Kaba grew up in Gabon. Her family is mostly from Gabon and Guinea, and strongly identify with Mandingo culture which is prevalent throughout the region. Saran immigrated to the United States in 2014, where she now lives and studies at the University of Southern California.

Original Script:

“So twins, in my culture, are, like, considered very, very, like they have…  I don’t know like they’re really considered very sacred. You know? And just are seen as being very, like, bringing luck to the family. But, like, they are considered to be very powerful, so like, they bring luck and they have this… you know like they have this, they are gifted in some ways. And the person born after the twins, like after a set of twins is the most powerful. So like he has more gifts than, like, the twins. So like I told you, twins are like gifted, like they have like super powers, and like, they can sometimes feel things, which I guess is n every culture, or like see things. Let’s say, for example, they dream about something – it will usually happen, or if they say something, like they feel, like, together, it will usually like happen. But we were taught that the person born after twins, is more powerful than the twins, so we give that person more respect because it is said that that person is like, maybe a hundred times more powerful than the twins, so that’s that.”

Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:

Saran has cousins who are twins, and though she hasn’t had much interaction with them, knows that they are very respected by the family. She learned these things about twins from her mom.

Thoughts About the Piece:

Mandingo culture praises childrearing and fertility, and perhaps this plays into why two children would be considered special over a single child. I think it is interesting that the younger sibling of twins would be more powerful than the twins themselves: perhaps this simply plays into the same idea of fertility. Twins are also a rare and special phenomenon: two children, who look almost the same and would be raised in a similar environment, yet often display very different personalities. The intrigue of twins as a whole might be a factor contributing to this belief.

[geolocation]