USC Digital Folklore Archives / Gestures
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
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.

Customs
Gestures
Kinesthetic

Ancestral Visits

Informant Info: The informant is a 21-year-old male who was born and raised in Chanhassen, Minnesota. His parents both moved to America from India when they were in their twenties. He is currently a student at USC studying Electrical Engineering.

 

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: Do your parents, being first generation immigrants, have any traditions or rituals that they’ve passed down to you?

 

Interviewee: Every time we go to India, we take the train down to my mother’s ancestral village, like where her parents and grandparents grew up. It’s really old and small… only like 20 or 30 people live there I think…so it’s really tiny. And everyone is old, I think the average age is like 80ish, not to be rude.  But it is really, really important to my mom, so we go every time.

 

Analysis:

This story represents the significance of ancestral history. Despite leaving India and coming to America, his mother’s ancestral home is still very important her. It is where she grew up with her parents, spent her childhood, and was taught all of the values and traditions that she still carries with her today. For her, she goes to pay her respects to her ancestors and her hometown, and by doing so, the informant is also learning about its importance.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Magic
Signs

Happily Ever After – Server’s Edition

Informant Info:   The informant is a 26-year-old female who was born in raised in Hickory, North Carolina. For the past 3 years, she has lived in Orlando, Florida and has worked for Walt Disney World as a Status Coordinator.

 

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: You’ve worked for Disney for the past 3 years, almost 4 now. Have you ever encountered any traditions within locations that are outside of the realm of general work operations?

 

Interviewee: Well, I think I have one for you. When I was at Be Our Guest, there was a giant mosaic at the entrance of the restaurant. Every morning when opening, we would follow general opening procedures and then have the normal pre-shift meeting that all locations have… not that you would know since you were always closing at Satu’li (laugther)! Anyways, the mosaic, in case you don’t know, is one of the scenes of the Happily Ever After between Belle and the Beast. After pre-shift, we all had to walk outside to greet guests and drop the rope. But before doing so or starting any shift, every server would walk up to the mosaic and touch it. To them, it was like a good luck charm. In order to have a good shift, they needed to touch it and by doing so they would get lucky and have their own happily ever after by getting good tables and tips. Otherwise, without touching, they would likely have a bad shift. It sounds stupid, but it’s something I always witnessed them doing!

Analysis:

It seems almost natural that workers (or cast members, as they are called) are deriving their own superstitions off popular folklore. The mosaic that she is referring to in the story reflects the ending scene in Disney’s version of The Beauty and the Beast. It is a depiction of the ballroom scene of Belle and the Beast dancing, and the red rose blossoming in the background. This scene in the movie symbolizes the happy ending for the two, as the Belle and the (now) Prince can spend the rest of their lives together after the curse has been lifted. The superstition among the Disney servers just reflects variation on this by, as Kim points out, serving as a lucky charm for their own happily ever after… by the method of good tips!

BeautyBeast

 

Citations: Trousdale, Gary and Kirk Wise, directors. Beauty and the Beast. Walt Disney, 1991.

Photo from Google Images

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Gestures
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Carrying the Virgins

The informant is my friend (referred to as EP) who is from Brooklyn, New York, but lives in Spain for the summer. Her father is from Spain and her mother is from Puerto Rico. Every year when she goes to Spain she lives on her family ranch that is outside of a town called Porto. She described a special religious holiday that entails all the small towns in the area coming together to celebrate.

 

EP: “Every year in May everyone wakes up at like 6 A.M all of the small villages in the area hike up a huge mountain carrying the virgins of the town up to the top of the mountain. So basically it takes the whole village to get to the top of the mountain because they are carrying the virgins.”

 

CI: “The virgins meaning..?”

 

EP: “Oh the villages each carry large statues of Virgin Mary. And then we walk all the way up this huge mountain and then when they get to the top the virgins meet… I mean all the men holding up the statues do kind of like a dance with the Virgin Mary statues, like kind of introducing all of them. It’s like 3 seconds for each village. “

 

And then basically it’s like 8 AM and we just celebrate. So we put Spanish donuts in red wine and drink at like 8:30 and we eat a lot of octopus.

 

No one has ever really told me what it’s for or why we do that in May and what the significance is but it’s just something we’ve been doing forever.”

 

I find this particularly interesting because not only does it seem like a very sacred and difficult day, but it tells a lot about the culture. People start drinking early on in order to celebrate a very sacred religious holiday. I believe the feasting is a way of praising religion and it is also interesting that after all of these years, the informant does not really know what the event is for. Despite this festival returning every year, the significance has never been explained, meaning they probably don’t discuss the holiday’s meeting at the festival. Therefore, this seems more like a passed down tradition rather than a sacred holiday.

 

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Gestures
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

China Temple Fair

The informant is my high school friend (referred to as LM) who is American and lived in China for 4 years (2 during high school and 2 after high school). She lived with a Chinese host family and then lived on her own in Beijing for 2 years. I asked her what one of the favorite experiences she had in China was and she explained this festival.

 

LM: “There was this temple fair that is a festival kind of and definitely a really fun social activity. The temple fair I went to took place when I was living in Beijing and it’s always around Chinese New Year. So basically I went to one called the Ditan Temple Fair.  The temple fairs are all usually on the open ground in or near the temple. Some are held only during the Spring Festival. Although there are a bunch of different fairs, they are all kind of the same thing.

 

Farmers and merchants sell their produce and antiques and stuff. It is almost like a flea market and you can always barter. There is a lot of jade out and there are always fresh flowers. Snacks are made and people sing and dance and there’s even storytelling going on. It’s a lot going on and it’s really fun. Most people are out and buying things or just watching the performances.”

 

Hearing about this festival seems very communal and interactive. In comparison to many other festival events and new years that seem to be less religious or less structured. It is obviously sacred because it is done outside of festivals, but it seems like a very free and relaxed experience.

 

 

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