USC Digital Folklore Archives / Kinesthetic
Customs
Gestures
Kinesthetic

Ethiopian Apologies

Context & Analysis

The subject and I exchanged stories of our family’s traditions while sitting in a class discussion. She mentioned that she and her family were from Ethiopia, so I asked her if she knew of any unique Ethiopian traditions that westerners might not be familiar with. She described to me a traditional form of apology used by Ethiopians to express deep regret. The gesture is interesting because despite having ancient roots, a member of the younger generation is still intimately familiar with the practice.

Main Piece

“Basically, when you’re sorry or when your parent wants you to apologize to them, you have to kiss their knees. You just like bend down and kiss their knees. It goes all the way up to adulthood—it’s kind of more ritualistic when it’s an adult, like when you’re sorry you, like, kiss your parent’s knees. Or if you wronged your friend or something and you’re really, really sorry and you want to express, like, the deepest, deepest regret and like apologeticness? I don’t know if that’s a word, but yea.”

Folk speech
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic

Chinoisms: Sleep

Context & Analysis

The subject often mentions her mother’s “Chinoisms”, or unique sayings that her mother learned when growing up in Chino, CA. Below is the subject’s direct quote on the origin of her mother’s proverbs:

            “So my mom comes from Chino [California], and so she has a plethora of sayings that I didn’t even know what they meant earlier, I just said them until I got older and I was like “Oh! That actually makes sense!”

The subject’s mother’s response is cheeky and plays upon the pun created in the phrasing “How did you sleep?”. The question is rather contextual; if the question is taken literally (like how the subject’s mother does) it is results in a humorous answer.his reminded me a lot of classic “dad jokes”, or jokes that give literal responses to questions often with the purpose of irritating their children for a humorous result. The subject’s re-enactment of her mother’s gesture is also an important part of re-creating the joke, as the punchline of the joke is delivered physically rather than verbally.

Main Piece

“Almost religiously whenever my mom is asked “How did you sleep?’ she says “Like this!” and then she puts her hands next to her face, and, um, tilts to the side like she’s sleeping. [The subject put her hands in a prayer pose on the left side of her face like she’s sleeping on a pillow and tilts her head slightly].

Customs
Kinesthetic

Team Cheer

Subject: A traditional cheer preceding my high school tennis team matches.

 

Collection: On the Dana Hills High School’s tennis team, we had a tradition before every tennis match to say the same cheer to boost our team’s confidence and to also psyche out our opposing team. In the traditional cheer, we first began by creating a small tipi on the court with all of our rackets so they’re standing balanced and bringing us all together. Our team captains lead us through the letters of our school’s mascot: dolphins. They shout “D-D-DOL” followed by the rest of the team’s recitation. Then, the team captains shout “P-P-PHIN”. We move through the spelling of DOLPHINS two more times and end with a loud “Go Dolphins!” and each reach for our own rackets and bring them once more together, held high in the air.

 

Background Info: C. Stuart is a freshman at the University of Southern California and is majoring in Screenwriting. She has played tennis all her life and was a part of Dana Hills High School tennis team all four years of school.

 

Context: A written transcript shared via email after assigned to share a piece of folk practice, belief, or informally passed down tradition with a classmate.

 

Analysis: Cheers, especially those performed by those participating in the sporting event, act as expressions of identity and allow for a sense of unity within a team. In this case, the assertion of one’s own identity depends on the existence of the “other” or the other team that clearly does not know the ritual or cheer. The fact that people in physical proximity are alienated then allow for an increased sense of belonging and essential exclusivity. This sense of belonging when combined with the creation of the “other” would be comforting in the face of an unsure outcome, such as an impending sporting match. Asserting one’s team identity also helps alleviate the pressure off one individual; if one person makes a mistake, the team makes the fall with them with the potential, depending on the sport, of another person picking up the slack or recovering the mistake. Therefore, a cheer is both a way of asserting a sense of belonging and soothing anxieties when facing an unsure result.

Customs
general
Gestures

Dance Team Tradition/Ritual

I asked a fellow classmate if she had any specific traditions that she has been a part of or has passed on to any of her friends or family. When I asked she responded about a particular tradition that she had in high school involving her dance team.

 

Greer said that “In high school I was a member of the dance team which was only 11 or so members each year. We had an annual show that was our main production and what we spent most of our time working towards. As a team, we had a tradition that I learned as a freshmen and apparently had been happening on the team for years before me. Before a show opened we would stand in a line on the stage & hold hands and and walk up to the curtain and kiss it for good luck and for a good show.”

 

Background Info: Greer was on her high school dance team for all four years of high school, and learned this tradition from the previous elders on the same high school dance team. This tradition was a very important part of the culture of this dance team and was a beneficial part of their bond.

 

Context: I learned about this tradition while at coffee with Greer, we both shared stories about certain traditions that we were familiar with or were a part of throughout our lives.

 

Analysis: I thought this was very interesting how this tradition was learned when she was a freshman and carried throughout her four years of high school. Greer shared that she then taught the younger generation of dancers on this same team the same tradition, keeping the legacy of this strong. This reminded me of a tradition that I had with my lacrosse team that we started my freshman year of high school: before exiting the locker room we would all jump up and tap the top of the exit door while we were running out to the field. High school sports are definitely a major theme where many traditions and rituals are found and practiced.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestures
Holidays
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Family dinner tradition/ behavior at Holidays and all family gatherings

I asked a fellow classmate in my Marketing class if he had any family traditions or behaviors that are done at his family gatherings.

He told me that, “At almost all of our family dinners, especially ones during holidays, my whole family will say a huge grace, and every person (after my mom’s dad starts) will say a short piece adding to the grace. It becomes a collaborative grace giving everyone their own opportunity to add to the grace. Also for all of these family gatherings, all of the women in the family cook and prepare the table, and then all of the men clear the table and wash the dishes, put leftovers away, etc. It’s something we have always done in the Riggs family.

 Background Info: Tommy has family from Sicily, Italy, so what his grandparents brought from that area is the theme of respect and equal effort, which is why the women prep the meal and the men then do their part as well—they also brought over the idea of the big family grace Tommy told me.

Context: Tommy told me about this tradition during the end of our Marketing class after he thought about if he had more things to share with me about family traditions.

Analysis: I enjoyed listening to this tradition that Tommy’s family always does. He made me realize how important his family is to him which put a smile on my face. My family doesn’t say grace before meals, but I have been to meals and family gatherings where they do and I have grown to understand how important it is to the people that do it so listening to this tradition from Tommy was very cool to me.

Folk Beliefs
Game
Gestures
Magic
Protection
Signs

Baseball Superstition

  1. The main piece: Baseball Superstition

“It’s kinda a superstition. When we used to play baseball there would be…. Uh… so the rule, um, was that when you walked on to the field at the inning, you don’t step on the chalk line. You step on it, bad luck, you’re gonna lose the game, we’re all gonna die in a miserable hellfire. So a lot of people overemphasized that they weren’t gonna step on the line… like, they jumped as high as they could over the line, made a big show of it, otherwise it’s bad luck.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? The context of the performance?

The informant learned it from the kids in his neighborhood, and the kids in his community and public school. He said that it became increasingly prevalent as he went from middle to high school, and sports became more playful but more intense. There were big consequences for those who stepped on the chalk line.

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This baseball superstition seems similar to the folkloric theories of conversion magic, in which counteracting something that is considered evil or bad luck reverses that bad luck. Since the consequences of stepping on the chalk line were so greatly overexaggerated, making a show of how far from the chalk line players were made them feel as they were going to play even better since they were so far from the chalk line.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a 22 year old American male and grew up in Tiburon, where he spent lots of time with his father and grandfather, as well as the other kids in his tight-knit neighborhood. His primary language is English, and he currently resides in Los Angeles.

Folk Dance
Gestures
Musical
Narrative

Kathak

  1. The main piece: Kathak

“Um… Kathak is a classical North Indian dance form. It’s like… thousands of years old or something like that. And it’s pretty much… it has to do w like storytelling and like… kinda like describing the tales of India and Pakistan and stuff. Um, so, there’s a lot about the sounds that your feet make. Like the sounds your toes, or the soles of your feet make. You kind of stomp a lot. Most of it is like one rhythm, but you change the speeds and you change your hands to portray a story. Like going super fast is like building up tension, like the snakes are about to eat you. Slow is like, you know, nicely walking through a field of flowers, so nice and pleasant. Yeah, that’s literally it.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

“When we finally stopped moving around and settled in Porter Ranch, we didn’t really know anyone. My parents didn’t have any Pakistani or Gujarati friends nearby, and, well, I literally knew nothing about my culture. So they signed me up for kathak classes, which really hurt your feet by the way, and that’s where I met a bunch of my really close family friends and my best friend.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This piece shows the importance that dance has as an artform in folklore. Dance combines the retelling of folk narratives, in this case legends and myths of Hindu gods and Pakistani heroes, with an aesthetically pleasing and dynamic medium of expression. It is different from normal storytelling because it is entirely nonverbal, yet it aims to recapture the emotions and visual aspects of folk narratives, making them more real to all of the community members watching.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is an 18 year old Indian and Pakistani American female who grew up in the United States, but moved a lot as a child. While she didn’t feel close to her parents, she met her childhood best friends through local Pakistani and Indian cultural lessons such as dance classes and singing lessons, and prizes her memories of those classes.

Folk Dance
Initiations
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sangeet Dancing

Collection: Indian wedding dances – bride’s side

The interview began with a broad opening question about Indian weddings. The informant went on to describe the two-day event. The first day is called Sangeet which takes place in a venue where a reception might take place. However, this portion of the event is before the official ceremony. On this first day, there are many different dance performances and skits from both sides of the family. Most of the performances are from the bride’s side to “show the groom what he is getting himself into…what kind of family that he is getting into.” There are dances for the sibling, aunts, children, friends, and more.

Context: Dances are performed by different sides of the family on different days of the wedding.

Interpretation: Folk dancing takes on many meanings, purposes, and forms. In India, the bride’s family dances to symbolize the joining of two families. The Sangeet dancing is almost an introduction to her side of the family.

Adulthood
Folk Dance
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Indian Dancing Ritual

Collection:  Indian wedding dances – groom’s side

During a discussion about Indian weddings, the informant mentioned that the groom is not allowed to see the bride before the ceremony. On the day of the ceremony, the groom and his family travel to the bride in an extravagant dancing parade which symbolizes him claiming her as his wife.

Context/Interpretation: Folk dancing is performed for various reasons, and in this case, the dance portrays a traditional action. Further, dancing at wedding is a pretty universal concept, however this dancing demonstration signifies a deeper meaning which the the initiation into marriage. This dance is rite of passage ritual.

 

Folk Dance
Musical

SAE Fraternity Memorial Celebration

At the University of the South (informally known as Sewanee) in rural Tennessee, I witnessed and participated in a large informal celebration held in memory of my late brother, with the university his alma mater. The celebration was preceded by a more formal memorial charity golf tournament held earlier in the day. The party detailed below followed not long after at the university’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE for short, also my late brother’s fraternity). The fraternity also arranged the golf tournament itself and arranged for a recreational social gathering to follow. The entirety of my late brother’s former fraternity members (known as a pledge class) were present, along with former classmates.

 

Earlier in the evening, a small concert led by popular local musicians was held on the porch, along with barbequed food consisting of brisket, sausage, and potato salad (among others).

 

Following the departure of the band and caterers, the approach of the crowd in the building shifted as higher levels of activity (and intoxication) became acceptable now that the night had progressed, and daylight had passed completely into night.

 

A crowd of around 50 to 75 remaining partygoers congregated completely into a large corner room of the building, an area adjacent to the kitchen where food is typically served for similar events. For such functions, there is a large rectangular table centered in the room bearing the yellow and purple colors of the house along with their coat of arms and titular house letters.

 

With large speakers taking the place of the band and copious amounts of beer taking place of the caterers, the entire crowd then gathered around the center table to the tune of a pre-arranged musical playlist of Harry’s favorite songs, occasionally breaking up any potential melancholy brought about by the playlist with popular dancing songs in order to keep energy levels consistent.

 

In tandem with the music starting, people in pairs or trios came to take turns dancing on the tabletop for a few minutes at a time, usually remaining for the duration of two to three songs before excusing themselves from the center of attention and being helped down, to be quickly followed by another pair or trio hopping up.

 

The entire party lasted until the hours between 12am and 1am, when large activities are legally required to shut down. Given that the gathering in the table-centered area began around 9:30 to 10:00 pm, this particular activity therefore extended for roughly 2 to 2.5 hours in total.

 

Although this congregation of friends and family came about in remembrance of tragic circumstances (ie someone’s untimely death), the resulting proximity of so many at once where they may have otherwise not been brought together in such a way prompts not only a celebration of the life of he who passed, but also a celebration of the many lives that have continued on.

 

Such a situation goes to show how happiness in large groups is capable of wholly overwhelming any notions of sadness, and that such celebrations in the wake of tragedies can be considered appropriate when such an effect is properly achieved and initially intended.

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