USC Digital Folklore Archives / Kinesthetic
Festival
Folk Dance
Holidays

May Day

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in England and currently lives in Los Angeles. She lives in my hall, and I interviewed her.

Informant: There’s this festival that we have in England called May Day, and it’s the first of May. I don’t really know where it came from. We always have a holiday on the day so I always get a day off school. We do it to welcome spring, in a way. I’ve also heard that it’s to celebrate workers. But it’s not a workers’ day, per say. And I have seen people doing the Maypole dancing.

Collector: Pole dancing?

Informant: It’s not pole dancing as in pole dancing, like kids do it. I learned it at school, it’s taught at schools. At least it was when I was in primary school. Basically, it’s like a big wooden stick and it has like ribbons attached to it and people like dance around it.

Collector: Have you ever experienced that?

Informant: Yeah at like fairs I guess, on May day. There’s always a pole. I don’t really know the purpose of circling a pole to celebrate spring, but people do it. It’s very common. And there’s good food at the fairs too. Oh, and we crown a May Queen. That’s like a girl who does a bunch of things for May Day. Like she’s part of the parades and stuff. I’m not really involved in it, but I’ve heard about it. I also heard this story that in the past they used to kill the May Queen at the end, but like, I don’t know if that’s true or not.

The first thing I thought about this particular piece of folklore was how funny it was that a big tradition in England was called May Pole Dancing, but then my friend explained that it wasn’t really pole dancing, and that it is meant to celebrate spring. I think that’s really interesting, because it reminds me of my Swedish friend’s Midsummer ritual. I think it’s really cool how in both of the festivals there are wooden sticks (a cross in the Swedish culture and a pole in English culture) that little kids dance around to celebrate the arrival of a new season. It make some wonder what the origin of these traditions are, and if they all come from the same place.

Folk Dance
Kinesthetic

Dabbing (Dance)

My informant is Grant, a 19-year-old male student at USC. Grant was born and raised in Los Angeles, however his father is from Iran and his mother is from Japan. Both of these cultures influence his life in different ways. This piece of folklore is a tradition performed on a holiday.

Do you know any folkdance or a form of dance you’ve learned from others?

Grant: “Does dabbing count? (laughing)”

Yeah you can talk about dabbing! So explain it what is “dabbing”?

Grant: “Yeah dabbing, its like popular now in hip-hop and rap that made it famous. You just kind of bend your arm like a chicken wing and drop your head to your elbow”

That’s a dance move?

Grant: “Yeah a lot of rappers do it but celebrities really made it famous and you see it all over twitter and other social media”

Was there anyone specific that started this dance move or do you know the origins?

Grant: “I don’t know exactly but I know it became popular because of Cam Newton. He would dab during all his football games when he scored or even when he had a good play he would just celebrate. I also know the move comes from taking a “dab” which is like smoking but harsher so you have to cough afterwards. The dab is like a cough but as a dance move”

Do you think people know it originated from smoking?

Grant: “I don’t think so, I think it started out that way but once celebrities made it common and little kids and parents started doing it and I definitely don’t think they know it came from smoking”

So would you say all age groups do it?

Grant: “Yeah you see little kids doing it all the time on tv and twitter and even grandparents but I don’t think they know what they’re doing”

 

I like this piece of folklore because it began as a dance started by popular culture about smoking drugs but through the mass use of the dance move by celebrities and then by their followers it turned into an innocent dance move almost known by everyone.

Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Folk Dance

Dia del Indio

Traditional Dance

 

Primary Language- English

Secondary Language- Spanish

Occupation- Student at LA Cal State

Residence- Los Angeles

Date of Performance- 4/19/16

My dad is from Salvador and has a dance tradition his people do every year. It is called Dia del Indio where a bunch of people get together and dance. It basically the same thing as a festival because they have a lot of food, games, and dances. Everybody dresses up as an indian, the girls wear big colorful dresses that reach their feet, men wear shirts with shapes as a design, their shoes are made out of thick rubber, and they have straw hats. The point of the festival is to coronate the new queen of the region in Salvador. She represents the state and has to show her people that she is more than just a pretty face. The tradition is repeated every year and ends with the queen dancing with the king.

Anderson’s father told him about this dance when his father was looking at videos of the dance. He was intrigued and wanted to know what it was about. His father told him about the tradition and that he used to go to many festivals while he was in Salvador. Anderson has never been to Salvador but he has learned quite a bit from his parents. He likes hearing about the traditional dance because it is strange and interesting to hear since his father and mother have lived through it while has lived through something completely different.

When performing the dance or attending the festival, you have to be wearing the correct attire which consist of big dresses for girls and straw hats and rubber shoes for men. If you do not wear the correct clothes, people will think you are weird or disrespecting the day.

I always find these types of traditions immensely interesting because it’s fascinating to see how a dance or ritual can cement something sacred. Although the salvadorians dress up as Indians, according to some of my high school peers, they also have a similar dance but it is used to increase their chances of having rain for their agriculture. While one dance is used to ask a god for rain for their plants, another is used to coronate the next queen of a region. Anderson has no idea how to actually perform the dance and has never seen it in person but still knows the meaning behind it and can recognize it if he ever saw it. Chances are he will not pass it on to his children because he might never see the need or want to, his parents might end up educating them about it since almost anyone who is from Salvador knows about Dia del Indio.

 

Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Folk Dance
Holidays
Legends

Lono

Myth

 

Primary Language- English

Occupation- USC Student

Residence- Kansas City, Missouri

Date of Performance- 4/25/16

When I visited Hawaii, I learned of a god they worshipped named Lono. He was the god of agriculture, fertility, rainfall, music, and peace to the Hawaiians. I saw a lot of statues, dolls, and pictures of him when I visited a hotel there. Lono and a lot of other gods have huge statues in Hawaii. It is said that Lono came to earth on  a rainbow but that he was around before earth even existed. Lono came to marry a god named Laka. He was known as a god of peace and had a festival in his honor that we wanted to attend. I do not know much about it but I do know that it is a New Year’s celebration covering four lunar periods. The people dress up with traditional clothes and dance. It seemed pretty cool online but we weren’t there during the time they celebrated it.

Quinn and his father like to visit Hawaii during the semesters spring break or summer. It gives him a time to unwind and relax. He also takes the time to learn some folklore in his travels. Some of the folklore consist of traditions he may partake in like in Hawaii or Mexico, at least in terms of the foods they eat and celebrations they may witness. He likes to remember the folklore he learns because it serves as a memory of the amazing time he has had during his trips around the world.

Lono has been commemorated in Hawaii for a very long time and has given the Hawaiian people something to look forward to on New Year’s as well. A few hundred years ago, the people who were natives to Hawaii believed that Lono was the reason for the bountiful agriculture and times of peace. Thier culture and celebrations are sometimes seen as exotic and beautiful by tourist which has created a source of income by many who reside in Hawaii.

This tradition Hawaii has held and celebrated is very interesting and makes me want to go and visit. It is folklore like this that spreads to many people and causes interest because they want to go see it themselves and experience a new culture. Quinn not only visited a new location with a different environment, but also a place that has almost a completely different culture than his own and loved it. The shows, lights, and festivities put on by Hawaiians causes a surge in tourism and no longer makes them a small country but a huge center for new experiences.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Foodways
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Gestures
Homeopathic
Kinesthetic
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sunken head remedy

Iliana Cuellar

“When I was a baby, the soft spot on my head caved which I guess just means dehydration. But my mom is very spiritual and she thought that she could take me to a “curandero” which is a spiritual healer (kind of like a witch) who then held me upside down by my ankles, poured honey on my soles, and smacked my feet which is said to be the cure for the sunken head.”

 

Background: This happened in El Salvador, and as many people cannot afford doctors and hospitals, folk remedies and spiritual healing are the most common forms of treating illness.

 

Analysis: This is a ritual combined with folk remedy. It is not so much mixing ingredients together for homeopathic remedies that might work physically, but more a ritualistic healing. Holding the baby upside down might have been a somewhat logical response to a caving of the head- sending more blood to that extremity. However, pouring honey on soles does not seems to have much meaning beyond ritualistic and spiritual, and smacking feet also the same in that respect. Lack of access to formal doctors and medicine drive parents with sick children to witch healers.

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Foodways
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Musical
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mother’s Holiday

Mother’s Birthday Celebration

“My mother passed away of old age four years ago. In her life she accomplished many things, and touched many people. She had a huge family, ten grandchildren, and, being the matriarch of the family, left a big hole when she passed away. To commemorate her life, I decided to hold her birthday celebration as usual the year after she died. We had always celebrated hers in style, with up to a hundred guests, all on the veranda of our dacha (summerhouse) on the outskirts of Moscow. There was always a lot of food- Russian traditional dishes- people recited poetry in her honor, and we put on charades. She helped many invalids as a philanthropist in her life, and at least five came every single year from wherever they lived, some traveling over two hundred kilometers. Her peers from life dwindled every year, but the number of those attending always managed to stay the same. The year after she died, I decided to keep on the tradition. I invited all the guests, only this time we were celebrating her memory without her. The first time, there were more people than had ever been. Yet the celebration stayed the same- we ate the same food, sang the same songs, people recited poetry in her honor, shared memories of her, and in the end we played charades. It felt like she was still with us. Since then, for the past four years, we have had the same birthday celebration in her honor without her present, and the numbers have so far not dwindled at all. All her close family, friends, and those she helped in her eighty four years of life try their best to come and remember her by celebrating.”

 

Background: This is performed by a 54 year old Russian Woman, in Moscow, Russia, and her family and the friends of her mother.

Analysis: This is a version of a holiday in the name of a person: the only difference, here this person was not famous or a political leader, but was simply very influential in her community. This is not uncommon in Russia, as communities are often very close together, and people value their ties very much. Birthday celebrations in general, at least for older people, are rather formal occasions: many guests might be invited, there will be presents and singing and games. Ekatherina’s mother was from the intelligentsia class, as well, which often has ties to the upper class at least in the ways in which it acts and celebrates. This holiday is also an excuse for a big group of people to get together and reminisce about a common group they used to belong to, and perhaps still do. It is also an excuse for the older generation, in their seventies and eighties, to get together and impart stories and recollections of the past.

Adulthood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Game
general
Initiations
Kinesthetic
Life cycle
Magic
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Fountain Run at USC

Informant: USC alumni

“The USC fountain run is a tradition for graduating seniors. They are not allowed to go into the water of any of the fountains at USC or else it is said they won’t graduate. But on the last week of class, they all get together, drink, strip down to their underwear or swimwear, and run through every single fountain at USC. It is this big celebration of achievement and a right that only graduating seniors have. Usually some people get too drunk, but it’s all about celebrating freedom and no more rules. It’s something you do with your friends, and something people reminisce about years later when they meet other USC alumni.”

 

Analysis: This is a ritualized tradition for separating a ‘privileged’ group of students from the rest. Only seniors are allowed to do this, because it is a right of passage- you cannot participate if you have not completed all the obstacles and challenges that the last four years brought. It entails formally breaking taboos, such as going inside the fountain before you graduate. This superstition also underscores that its a privilege that only people who have completed USC can partake in. After the formalized, restrictive education process at University where rules must be obeyed or else expulsion, students celebrate on the brink of freedom while they are still technically bound to the student body.

Folk Beliefs
Gestures

Show Choir Ritual

AA is an 18 year old high school senior. She is a member of her school’s show choir group, a performance ensemble that incorporates elements of musical theater and choir. She often goes to competitions with her team. Here she describes a pre-show practice for good luck that is deeply significant to her:

“So for show choir- our team is not very good. We’re not known as the high school that wins every competition or has elaborate dance routines or great costumes. A lot of it is because we’re so underfunded. But one thing we are really good at is teamwork.

So, before every show, the whole group will gather backstage, including the choir director and the choreographer. We all get together in a big circle and we hold each other’s hands, and then we pass a squeeze around the group to each person. Basically it symbolizes that everyone is involved, everyone’s talents are appreciated, and we’re all in this together. There’s this great sense of unity, and whatever happens, happens, that’s fine- we’re here for each other.”

I think it started as a way of calming everyone’s nerves before a big competition, but we always make sure to do it for good luck too. We never go onstage without doing this first because otherwise we might not perform as well as we could.”

Do you know who started this, or how long ago?

“I think it’s been around in our school’s show choir for a very long time. I know our choir president has been doing it all four years, and that the previous president- before any of us were even freshmen- did it too. So it’s been around for a while.”

Do you know about any other teams or schools that do this?

“I think it’s just us, at least in show choir. Only people in our show choir, in this group, know about this. When we go to competitions, we notice that each team has their own thing that they do- we notice it too. Like we saw one group put their heads together and go “caw caw!” and flap their arms or something like that- there are some weird ones! They’re all very different. But no matter how weird it may look to us, it’s special to them. It’s comforting. It’s kind of a way to relieve your stage fright and whether or not it actually gives us good luck, it’s good to have some peace of mind when you’re going onstage.”

My thoughts: Pre-show rituals for good luck are often a great way to make a group feel closer to one another- they denote you as an official member of that group. The informant mentions that each team has their own unique ritual that brands them as belonging to a specific school. I think this ritual also ties into the anxieties many high schoolers feel regarding their identities- they are often looking for a group to belong to. Also, the ritual helps to dispell any stage fright the performers might have, so it doesn’t matter as much whether it actually grants good luck or not because it’s a reassuring gesture either way.

Folk Beliefs
Folk Dance
Holidays
Magic
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nigerian Masquerades

Description: “In Nigeria a masquerade is basically, so here we have masquerades but they’re lie people in suits to represent what the masquerade looks like. And So like there’s these spirits that embody this certain emotion or spiritual energy or whatever. When you look at the mask it’ll be a mask and a bunch of colored rafia and like pieces of wooden jewelry. Depending on the different mask they may carry a fan or a machete or something. But like in Nigeria all of your parents would tell us stories about masquerades but that were like legitimate spirits not like a dude in a suit but people who would be around the masquerade when it was coming through villages dancing were people who believe in the masquerade’s power like and culturally you could not get close to a masquerade you’re not allowed to but nobody really wants to unless you’re like following the masquerade. Cause that’s some scary shit. My mom told me about this one that she saw when she was a little girl. First of all, you’re only supposed to watch from a distance like you can’t get close or anything like that unless you’re like a man who’s authorized to be next to the masquerade or something like that. I wouldn’t say it’s like a priest. It’s just like men dancing and chanting. It’s just a patron of that spiritual culture. Somebody who’s like apart of it. But you have to be a man and you have to be old enough. You can’t just be like a teen boy or a woman. And so what she was telling me about this one and all these men were dancing around the masquerade you know like shouting and dancing or whatever. And the masquerade was like, it looked like it was a person under a white sheet. Just walking and dancing along, Doing these weird like movements. And then instantaneously it would fall flat like a sheet. And then continue moving. And then reform. And then fall flat. And this is the thing like this is rural Nigeria like it’s like a rural town in America so just like low tech. They don’t have the technology of special effects to make this construct like inflate and deflate. Exactly they just can’t do that. So, like the fact of the matter is – well I can’t even say fact because I haven’t seen it but it’s something that our parents do not mess around with. It’s like a serious thing. So when she saw this thing it like blew her mind because like oh my god this is real. You know? And like that’s Masquerades.  They’re not all like they’ll be one form and then they’ll lose form the next . Some are just like beast or whatever. But always there’s like a chant or a dance that’s like associated with each masquerade.”

2. This piece was very personal to my friend. He’s spoken several times about how his mom doesn’t joke around with this stuff. He said that his family talks about festivals like these all the time. That’s how he found out about it.

3. I went into his dorm room and asked him to tell me some Nigerian folklore. He got really excited and then told me this one. His eyes got really big and he started talking fast.

4. There’s so much content to digest with this one. First of all, he has the first hand account of his mother that’s really fascinating. Not only does he have a cultural idea that he can take with him everywhere he goes, but he has a first hand account from one of the  most trusted people in his life to believe in. This post give great insight into the Nigerian value and fear of spirits as well. They consider it a great honor to be able

Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Holidays

Jump for the New Year

The informant is a freshman at USC. She’s from the Philippines, where she was born and raised. She talks about how her grandmother told her about a New year’s superstition she used to take part in visiting with her grandmother in the Philippines.

Chelsea: “My grandma told me and my cousin when we were young that when the clock strikes 12 on New year, we have to jump our age. And we’d grow taller by, like, an inch or two inches. Because it’s a New year and a new us.”

 

Me: “So in a metaphorical sense, you’re jumping your age by physically jumping?”

 

Chelsea: “Yeah, but physically jumping because we want to grow taller.”

 

Me: “Are there any rules to how many jumps or like..?”

 

Chelsea: “No, it’s like, just jump your age.”

 

Me: “So what’s the purpose of wanting to grow an inch or two?”

 

Chelsea: “I think it’s just a superstition that if you , like, jump, you’ll grow taller.”

The informant didn’t seem to know much about the reason behind growing taller, but  the idea of becoming taller and ‘jumping your age’ seems to be indicative of good connotations, whether for her family, her Filipino culture, or both. I’ve never heard of this superstition before but it seems harmless and helpful in the sense that it creates hope for Chelsea and all her family members who participate in the superstition to grow taller. It also seems like a way her grandmother used to connect with the children.

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