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
The informant is a 26-year old man who grew up in the suburbs of Long Island, New York
BF: The shopping cart is an ironic dance move, I guess you could say. It’s not any fun, and it doesn’t come from any interesting cultural spots, so it was made as a sort of anti-dance to celebrate the lack of culture in the suburban areas.
How does one do The Shopping Cart?
BF: Sure. To do The Shopping Cart, you just hold your arms out in front of you and lean forward, like you’re shopping at a supermarket. Then every few seconds you pretend to pick an item off the shelf, inspect it, and you know… either put it in the imaginary cart you’re wheeling or throw it back on the shelf. I think it’s pretty funny.
How’d you hear of The Shopping Cart?
BF: I heard of it in high school, at a graduation party. Everyone was doing it. It was weird, like a weird ritual.
So anytime there is a gathering of Syrian-Lebanese people, and um it’s a celebration of any type, there will be music playing, and the music has a very unique rhythm, usually a very strong percussion base, and so that lends itself to a lot of folk dancing, and the folk dancing is when the families, members of all ages, get together and hold hands and do a um a dance, and it’s a repetitive dance of about eight or twelve counts, and you just do it as long as the music is playing. So if you have someone playing, oh and the percussion I mentioned earlier is called a derveke, and uh used to be made of a wooden or metal drum with animal skin stretched on top, and it could make a really loud sound, so as long as the dervake is playing, you can dubke, so whether you have a full band or just a derveke, you can do the dubke. It is significant to me because well that if I don’t carry on the family traditions and teach my children how to do the dubke and the family recipes, it will die out and there will be no heritage.
Informant: The informant is a Catholic mother of five, of Syrian descent. She is from Kinder, Louisiana, where she grew up in a large family.
I believe that this tradition and practice of dance and folk music greatly exemplifies the communal aspect of the Syrian-Lebanese culture. The gathering of Syrian-Lebanese families is usually quite large, as extended families come together to celebrate. The music lends itself as a great example of the history of the culture, as the specific instruments that are used to play music in America are derived from or are the same as those that were originally played in that region. As the rhythm lends itself to folk dancing, the communal aspect of the culture is apparent in the holding of hands during the dance, and the need for each participant to be synchronized with the rhythm. Because it is a line dance, if one person missteps, it can interrupt the synchronization of those around them. It is also interesting how the repetitive nature of the dance movements demonstrate how the dance is learned, as anyone can stand up, hold the hand of the last person in line, and follow their steps that match the rhythm. This once again demonstrates the communal aspect and the importance of celebrating the Lebanese-Syrian community through dance.
I also thought it was interesting about the association of “heritage” with this dance. Because the dance is learned from other people and can vary from place to place and person to person, it is more of a tradition than heritage, especially because it is a mode of activity that represents the past. Heritage, on the other hand, is not an activity, but rather an inherited set of relationships about who you were in the past. So, this practice is a tradition that celebrates the past of Lebanese-Syrian cultures and in doing so, it is a way for the people who partake in it to acknowledge their heritage. I was also able to learn parts of this dance, as I was invited to partake in the tradition. This was a lot of fun for me, because the rhythm is very up-beat and perfect for dancing.
The informant is a new professional in post-secondary administration. He lives in New Zealand, but he is originally from Apple Valley, California and went to university at the University of California, Irvine, where he was involved in student affairs and studied computer science. His background is Italian and Polish, and he has 3 older siblings.
This piece describes a dance that the informant’s family performs at Polish weddings.
“So at Polish weddings, there’s a polka dance called the Flying Dutchman, and so it’s pretty traditional to always do it. And so, basically how it works is you get in groups of three and you all kind of line up and walk around in a circle. So, the groups of three all go in a circle and there’s basically two tempos of the song—one is slow and one is fast. So when it’s slow, you’re just in your group of three with all your arms linked going in a circle, really simple. And then once the tempo picks up, then you start doing kind of a do-si-do thing. So the one person in the middle is always going to be moving around really really quickly because they’ll go to the left and swing around to the person on the right and then go around to the person on the left, so they’re basically doing a figure eight around the two people on the outside.
The reason it’s called the Flying Dutchman is cause if you’re going fast enough, eventually they should start actually flying. So then it’ll go really fast for about, I don’t know, 30 seconds, and then it’ll slow back down again and everyone gets back into their group of three and goes around in the slow circle again. And then it picks up and you do it really really quick, and then it slows down and you slow down, and it picks up, and it slows down. So it’s a very very very fun wedding song. I’ve been to….five weddings now? For my cousins, no—four, because two cousins and my brother and sister, and at all four of them, they did the Flying Dutchman. It was fantastic.”
What does the Flying Dutchman mean to you?
“Mainly it’s fun, but I also think of weddings—Polish weddings. Cause I’ve been to weddings with other people and no one knows what it is, or they haven’t done it, so, like, at every wedding I go to I would want to do the Flying Dutchman, but not everyone does it cause it’s a Polish thing.”
Do you know anything about where this tradition came from? It’s okay if you don’t, I’m just curious.
“I have no idea.”
I find this dance most interesting because of how it requires three people to a group instead of two, especially as it’s performed primarily at weddings. The do-si-do portion of the dance almost seems like a depiction of an inability to choose between the two partners on either side of the dancer. The informant did not describe whether or not the bride and groom performed this dance in any particular way.
The name of the dance is also interesting—as it’s a Polish tradition, it was surprising that the name of the dance is the Flying Dutchman. As the informant did not know the origin of the tradition, he did not know why it has the name it does, or whether or not it also is performed by the Dutch.
Line dance is a dance where a group of people all perform the same steps without any physical contact. The dance is usually choreographed ahead of time, and the steps are common knowledge and easy to perform, so that anyone can learn it on the dance floor and catch on. It’s meant to be a participatory activity for the crowd and open to anyone who wants to dance.
According to Christy Lane*, it is possible to have perform line dance to different types of music. In today’s culture, The Cupid Shuffle is a well known song among young adolescents that people can perform line dancing to. The lyrics dictate the movements of the dance, and the repetition makes it easy to follow along.
I think that the significance of this type of dancing is that it’s a democracy for the dance floor. Anyone and everyone can participate. You don’t need a special skill or training to join this type of dancing. It’s inclusive and opens the activity for everyone to enjoy, and it builds community through its lack of exclusion.
*Christy Lane’s Complete Book of Line Dancing. Christy Lane. 2000, 1995. Human Kinetics. pages 3, 4.
The informant, RD, describes a mongolian dance class she took when she was younger. The dance class took place in Palo Alto, California. RD is of Mongolian and Chinese decent: her father is from Mongolia and her mother is from China.
Where did you learn the dance?
RD: “I was in a mongolian dance class. We had these velvet, red towels with gold chain and coins on them on them and you had to twirl them around your fingers. It was like a big choreographed dance, there was a group of us”
How did you find out about the class?
RD: “My mom found out through her church I think”
Did you ever perform the dance, like at a festival?
RD: “We would perform in an auditorium for our parents. It was pretty much only parents there, not like an outside group of people”
Was everyone who participated Mongolian?
RD: “Mainly Chinese. Everyone was either Mongolian or Chinese. There was definitely no white people, they would definitely get freaked out by the music (laughs)”
What was the music like?
RD: “We danced to traditional Chinese/Mongolian music. It had a mixture of both languages, so parts would be Mongolian and parts would be Chinese. I think the background was traditional Chinese instruments.”
Is Chinese and Mongolian a common mix in Palo Alto?
RD: “No no no, it was just headed by a committee that had some Chinese people and some Mongolian so they kind of fused the two cultures. I don’t think I’ve ever met another person who is mixed Chinese and Mongolian, it’s not common. Everyone was one or the other.”
I thought this was particularly interesting because of the mix of Chinese and Mongolian culture. The fact that the music being used was a mixture of Mongolian and Chinese was very interesting, especially given the fact that RD said she had never met another person who was both Mongolian and Chinese. It seemed very unlikely that everyone there was either separately Chinese or Mongolian when the performance itself was a very balanced mixture of the two. I also thought it was interesting that she thought it was funny that white people, or members of any other ethnicities, would be a part of the dance. When I first heard her describe it I thought it was for the purpose of sharing their cultural heritage but based on the performances it seems like its main purpose was to preserve and pass on their traditions.
And then we have our Midsummer…which is the biggest drinking holiday in the world I would say. It’s the Friday of, that’s the closest to the summer solstice. And the origin is, that way back when we were pagan, we would pray to the gods for a good harvest. So…we would raise a maypole…which is a big penis…directed into the ground, to fertilize the ground to have a good harvest. And we would dance around this penis, you know, it’s a big thing you have to do. And that night, if you’re a woman, you have to pick seven different types of flower, out in the wild, not in the store. You have to go out in the wild and pick them from a field, seven different ones, put em under your pillow, when you sleep that night you’re gonna dream about the person you’re gonna marry. It’s all about fertility! It really is.
So you danced around the maypole?
Oh yeah! We do it every year.
What was that like?
It’s, I mean now it’s more of a fun, family, keeping the tradition…it’s not so much a pagan ritual anymore. But the actual like, you carry the maypole in, all the men in the village or society help raise it. And the women have spent the whole day decorating it with small flowers. And then traditional music is still playing…
And everyone’s drinking during this?
Everyone is drinking all day. So this is the progression. Usually you have lunch, where you eat herring, herring and potatoes, that’s when you start drinking, you have some schnapps. And beer obviously with your lunch. Then you go to the area where the maypole is. And usually it’s organized, your society or village, if you’re a bigger community there are several spots so you can walk there close from your house. And there’s musicians, that play music so that you can dance to… There’s usually games of different sorts… and you know, if you’re too drunk at this point you just enjoy coffee, and you know. So it’s basically sort of desserts, but like thicker desserts, so you have coffee, you have cinnamon rolls, that kinda stuff. And you sit on the ground, on blankets, everyone brings there own blankets around this pole. So everyone dances, and then they’ll take a break, there’s some raffle stuff… And then after that you go home, and if you’re a bigger society you go home and then you have games, like seven or ten different games that you compete in against each other. And usually it’s by teams, and if you’re fewer people it’s individual. So you do that closer to where your home is, and then there’s a barbecue, and you keep drinking. And I mean you keep drinking throughout the whole day, like you start drinking at 11am in the morning, and then you keep drinking. And because it’s in the middle of summer the sun never sets, so you’re up all night. So you have your barbeque, you keep drinking, and then 2am, the sun is still up, you go skinny dipping…and then…you know……and then you pass out. And then you have sex in a bush. Everyone has sex, nine months after Midsummer there’s a lot of babies being born. Because everyone has sex, outside, you just pick a bush and have at it. You would love it. And that’s how you end your night. You easily drink…..probably a liter of schnapps per person. And probably uh….depending on how much of a beer drinker you are but let’s say you’re going with beer…probably drink about 3 gallons of beer? You know. So it’s a fun holiday.
So when specifically does it happen?
End of June. Cause harvest is in the fall for us.
What is the age group of people that are dancing around the pole?
Anything from one year olds that can hardly walk, to 85-year-olds. It’s a whole family thing. Usually what happens is, eventually after the barbeque, if you’re still a young teenager, you celebrate with your family, and then you head out to a party somewhere. But once you get old enough, like if you’re past 18, like you can still do it with your family during the day, you’ll have lunch and the celebration around the maypole with your family, and then you’ll hit the barbeque party, you’ll have dinner with your friends. And then party all night long. And if you’re doing it extra special, if you’re out in archipelago, you might leave…because everyone is off Friday, except like, firemen, policemen, hospital people. Everyone else is getting fucked up. So Friday’s always off, you’ll start Thursday, you’ll fill your car up with alcohol and food, take your boat out to your summer place which is out in the archipelago on an island, and you stay there the whole weekend. And midsummer’s on the Friday, on Saturday you wake up and…start drinking again! And then Sunday, you have a couple of beers just to…mellow out. And then you go home. It’s a lotta fun. And I mean, it’s a pagan ritual. That’s what it’s from. So that’s one of the ones that’s not gonna go away…ever. That one will definitely stay around.
This is a common spring festival throughout Europe, traditionally occurring in Germany, England, and Sweden, according to The Festival Book by Jennette Lincoln. This is a spring fertility festival, both about fertilizing the ground for a good harvest, and also about the young generation reproducing and starting a new generation. There are many rituals with symbolic (phallic) imagery, and games and celebrations in which families come together and also young people from different families. Flowers are a big symbol, as the pole is decorated with flowers, the girls have to collect flowers and put them under their pillows, etc. Girls both ‘come into bloom’ in this liminal pre-adulthood stage in which they become able to bear children, and are also ‘deflowered’, two symbolic meanings in relation to flowers. Alcohol is clearly a big part of the festival, both in celebration of plenty and abundance, and probably also as a way for the young people to loosen up, party, and “interact” – which seems to be expected and even condoned by the adults and families. People copulating outside in nature also has a connotation of fertilizing the earth for a good harvest.
I caught my friend watching her family videos on YouTube so I asked her what was going on, and she explained to me some of her family traditions.
Informant: “Every Christmas eve, everybody gets a stuffed animal in my family and we put on Dolly Parton and Kenny Loggins Christmas CD. And play it around the house. And you select a leader so the leader is doing a dance move, and everybody copies.”
Collector: “Can you tell me more about these artists? Is there a reason why…”
Informant: “Cause ‘I believe in Santa Claus’ is the best Christmas song ever.”
Collector: “Does she sing the best version, or the most popular version? Or why that one specifically, because I’m sure there’s many versions of that song.”
Informant: “Its catchy. Everybody loves Dolly Parton. I don’ know, my mom likes country music, so…”
Collector: “Is this just your family, or do other families in Ukiah…”
Informant: “I think it’s just my family. We have so many stuffed animals. Like, everyone. I think I probably, when I was growing up I probably had like 20 stuffed animals. Maybe people just gave me stuffed animals for like, every holiday”
Collector: “Do you know why?”
Informant: “I don’t know why. It’s probably like an easy gift. When I was a baby. That’s probably why.”
Collector: “So this family tradition… when did it start? Did it start with your parents?”
Informant: “That’s a good question… it started with my parents’ generation for sure… but also, my parents’ parents, my grandma like, had this space where there was a fireplace in the center of the room, and they lived without electricity, so they’d always play the record and dance around… and then like, having no access to like, electronics or whatever… like, their popular culture was record players… or records, not record players.”
What the informant mentions at the end about records is particularly interesting because it points to a cultural shift in the way that family members interact with each other. This Holiday tradition started with my friends’ family at a time with a lot less technology than we have now, and they have maintained their family tradition of doing the Teddy Bear Dance, even though technologically they could engage in other more “modern” forms of entertainment. Although instead of using a record player they probably use a CD player or some sort of speaker system that hooks up to a digital music player, the spirit of the dance is probably kept largely the same. Family traditions like this are fairly common, and can vary widely depending on the family.
My informant has a very interesting story. She is Scottish, but grew up primarily in England, near London. Informant’s parents were both very Scottish and so much of who she is surrounds this Scottish heritage. In this particular piece, she outlines much of her story as she is flipping through an old Scottish book of songs that she is showing me. When I asked her about folklore from her past, what comes to mind the most is folk music — as she is a singer. The book is old and falling apart. We are looking at it together. It was printed in 1884… She is gazing lovingly at the book, gingerly flipping the pages. My informant loves music. Everything in her life has to do with singing. She has been a singer her entire life and even now continues to sing in the church choir. Ever since I was little, we have always sung together; it has always been our special bond. She says that I got my singing skills from her. It makes sense then, that we now sit down and for the next 5 hours, go through this book.
Informant: “It smells old. It’s so Scottish [laughs] I inherited this book from my Aunt Mary, my sister Anne got it and then it was given to me. Aunt Mary was my mother’s oldest sister, she was the singer and she had all of these old music books. She would have gotten it from her parents. I am McCready but this came from the Riddell side of the family. The McCready’s were once O’Gradys, coming from Ireland and wanted to blend in when they went to Scotland.
I was born in London but what happened was, my parents were engaged for seven years. This was during the depression…they had no money. My father was a good electrician and he wanted to have his own shop. And people needed work done because… he couldn’t get paid but he was doing the work for free for the people because he was too kind. He decided he needed to get a job in London. He worked at the Dorchester Hotel in London and saved up and married my mother in Scotland, as soon as they married they went back to London. They had no money to stay in hotels, none of that. They were married in 1936 and had a nice little flat near Clapham Common, buildings that are still there. I was born at the end of 1938 and the war was rumbling around at that point and they decided to go back to Scotland, they put all of their furniture in storage and they got on the train and I was very precocious, verbally, and my mother says I jumped around all night long singing a soldiers war song, “Roll out the barrel” all night long. They were exhausted. My father had a job keeping the lights on while the fighter-bombers went. I lived in Largs, I have fond memories of that. So we lived there.
Then in 1944 we were back in Glasgow and had a little apartment and my father had his first heart attack and things changed. We came back to England after that. I remember him saying when he was young, they didn’t have trade unions and workers never had any rights….[looking through book]…but here! This is called Annie Laurie..This is one of those things that I’ve known forever. My father used to sing it. My father used to sing in choir, you know.” [She reads the lyrics out loud in her Scottish accent]
Maxwellton braes are bonnie,
Where early fa’s the dew,
And it’s there that Annie Laurie,
Gi’ed me her promise true;
Gi’ed me her promise true,
Which ne’er forgot will be,
And for bonnie Annie Laurie,
I’d lay me down and dee.
Her brow is like the snaw-drift,
Her neck is like the swan,
Her face it is the fairest
That e’er the sun shone on;
That e’er the sun shone on,
And dark blue is her e’e;
And for bonnie Annie Laurie
I’d lay me down and dee.
Like dew on the gowan lying,
Is the fa’ o’ her fairy feet;
And like winds in summer sighing,
Her voice is low and sweet.
Her voice is low and sweet,
And she’s a’ the world to me;
And for bonnie Annie Laurie
I’d lay me down and dee.
[Photograph is the inside cover of the book]
My informant is from England. He moved to the United States with my grandmother and my mother when my mother was 2. He grew up near London and still has a thick British accent, despite having now lived in the United States since the 1960s. When I go to his house to ask about folklore that he may have learned in England, anything a part of his history, he says, “Any folklore I know I have learned through listening to folk songs. Mostly, old English folk songs.” Music means everything to my grandmother and my informant. He excitedly takes me to his cabinet of CDs where he has a plethora of English and American folk CDs. This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, because ever since I was little, I cannot remember a time when music wasn’t playing in this house. He wants to play them for me. I ask him to show me some of his favorites.
He takes out the CD of English Folk Songs and puts in an American CD of folk music…The Best of Peter, Paul and Mary.
Informant: “I love American folk tunes. Newer, of course. This is my favorite. We went to a party and the party was to sing folk songs, and someone handed out the words and I loved the songs but I didn’t know any of them because I didn’t grow up here. This was only about five years ago…but I went out and I bought a CD of folk songs! These are more twentieth century. Which for you, of course, is um… I’ll play you some of these. [Sings] A hundred miles, A hundred miles, A hundred miles… you can hear the whistle blow…. A Hundred Miles…. Wonderful folk songs and protest songs. I’ll play this one for you.”
If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles
A Hundred miles, a hundred miles, a hundred miles, a hundred miles
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles
Lord I’m one, Lord I’m two, Lord I’m three, Lord I’m four
Lord I’m 500 miles away from home
Away from home, away from home, away from home, away from home
Lord I’m 500 miles away from home
Not a shirt on my back, not a penny to my name
Lord I can’t go a-home this a-way
This a-away, this a-way, this a-way, this a-way
Lord I can’t go a-home this a-way
If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles
The informant sings along to the CD and moved around the room during this song. My grandmother is doing the same, singing and flowing to the music. Even though these two did not move here until the 1960s, to me, they somehow are the epitome of the “hippie” generation in many ways. They had very little money but spent their time going on road trips around California and camping whenever my informant was not working. They would take their 4 small children with them, taking them everywhere from the Grand Canyon to Oregon. They lived simply, kindly and with a life full of music. For me, their story… their pictures, their way of life…holds a certain mythology all on it’s own.
What I think is so interesting about this is that folk music, especially, can be learned and celebrated by anyone. It’s timeless, or appreciated for being dated. My grandfather didn’t grow up hearing this song, but loved it the moment he heard it and has now shown it to me. This is a song from my heritage in many ways. From their side of the family, I am very much from the UK, but from my father’s side, I am very American. His relatives were some of the first English/French people to settle in Virginia.