USC Digital Folklore Archives / Life cycle
Adulthood
Festival
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

West Bengal Wedding Traditions

Context:

The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore, particularly about wedding traditions.

 

Piece:

Indian weddings vary from state to state. In my state, the wedding traditions are different from in our neighboring state. I was just at an Indian wedding. Our wedding is typically a four-day affair. What happens is, the day before the wedding, the groom’s family invites their own friends and family – no one from the bride’s side – because, apparently, that is the last bachelor meal the groom is going to have. So it’s a big deal. When I went, they had invited over 100 people, there was catered lunch… The groom was served on silver platters with all kinds of silver bowls… everything! It was like a big, big, deal: all the groom’s favorite foods. It was almost as if you were taking him for his last meal before you kill him or something. We give gifts to the groom… anyway, that is the day before the wedding.

The morning of the wedding, the groom’s family sends all kinds of gifts to the bride’s family. Clothes, jewelry, anything… It depends how rich you are and how much you want to spend.

The morning of the wedding, there are some rituals from the bride’s side. One ritual is turmeric. It is considered very auspicious and anti-inflammatory. In the olden days, there was no makeup or anything, so I think that’s how it started. That, what they do is put a little bit of oil and turmeric on the bride and groom’s face, then take a shower, so you glow on your wedding. I think that’s how it started because it’s all organic. And they put fresh turmeric, sandalwood, and oil into paint, and you put it on each other.

That evening is when the groom goes to the bride’s house and the wedding ceremony takes place. The groom does not come back that night. In our culture, the bride and the groom spend the night at the bride’s house, because the wedding takes place all night long. There is music and dancing, everybody stays up all night long.

The next morning, the groom brings the bride home to his family. So when he brings the bride home, it’s like a big welcoming ceremony, because the groom’s side of the family invites all their friends and family to meet the bride, and they welcome the bride to the house. They shower her with gifts – usually lots of jewelry. Gold is considered as an asset for the women, because women were not allowed to inherit property, so during the wedding, the father of the bride gives whatever value they would give to the son, equal amount value in gold to their daughter. So that’s how the ritual started. But now, not so much, since women are allowed to inherit property, and are now very independent and professional, so they don’t need that.

Then, again, there is a big lunch where they invite friends and family to meet the bride. The following day, typically, there is a reception. There is no ritual that goes on; typically you just invite five, six, seven hundred people… it is a huge affair, with catered food, but there is no alcohol served: never on the wedding or reception day. This is just for your friends and family to meet the new bride.

 

Analysis:

It is interesting to hear how much bigger an affair weddings in India are than they are here. It seems as though Hindus really value large social gatherings, and will throw huge social celebrations for holidays and occasions, like weddings. In fact, it seems that the point of many religious occasions is much more social than it is religious. I was shocked to hear that a typical Indian wedding consists of 500-1,000 guests. I feel that this is likely the result of a seemingly much more inclusive and accepting religion, that values socializing and lifestyle over religious and social boundaries.

 

Childhood
Game
Humor
Magic

Childrens Magic Trick: The Disappearing Bracelet Knot

Background: The performance is a magic trick, a form of slight of hand that uses a hair scrunchie or similarly elastic bracelet, the informant (RW) learned it on the playground from one of her friends.
RW: It’s so cool!
MW: What do you like about it?
RW: When you do it right everyone gets really excited!
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Context: Informant(RW) is a 12 year old student who’s interests include spending time with family, and riding bicycles. RW shared this particular magic trick with multiple members of her family during their annual Passover Seder, in this case RW, her sister, and I were getting paper from the garage so that RW’s father could teach us to make paper airplanes when she asked to show me a magic trick.

Performance:
RW: Ok, ok, so first you twist the rope like an 8 on your wrist
RW: You do that and you see this part? [RW points to the loop formed by her bracelet]
RW: The under part [she gestures to the under side of the bracelet], and you pull that part into the little circle but not too tight.
RW: If you flick it really fast the knot disappears!

Steps to reproduce:
1)Twist a section of the bracelet into a loop
2)Take the underside of the bracelet a pinky length away from the loop and pull it through to make a knot, loosely
3) Flick the end of the bracelet that sticks out of the knot and it disappears
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Analysis:
The trick is a way to “get one over” on one’s peers and even adults. Thus the child demonstrates “magic” that they know to be a reflection of their own knowledge. The informant’s pride is the key marker here, this piece of folklore is a performance passed from person to person for the benefit of the people around them. Likewise this is a display of trickery, the goal is to fool, and thus in harmless deception traverse the social taboo of lying. This gives the performer the space to engage in a behavior that is generally seen as wrong in a way that will actually net them praise.

Childhood
Festival
Foodways
Game
general
Holidays
Material
Myths
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Afikoman: Jewish Holiday Folk Game

Context: AW sits with her daughter preparing for the second night of her Passover Seder, the room is bustling with activity as people get food prepared for AW’s many relatives. AW’s Daughter chimes in every so often to ask questions
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Performance:
MW: So what do you know about the Afikoman?
AW: The Matzah, the bread we eat during Passover, because it represents the fact that when the jews had to flee Egypt and slavery. They left in such haste that the bread did not have a chance to rise, that’s why we have matzah.
AW: So, we eat the matzah all week so that we remember what happened to us, and during the seder…the person that leads the seder
[AW flips through her Passover Haggadah]
AW: explains to everyone…REMINDS not explains, what the bread means to us as a people
AW: they break it in half, one half to be eaten, and the other to be set aside for later. Traditionally that half is hidden by the oldest person at the seder for the children to find after the festival meal.

MW: Do you have any, like, special house rules?
AW: So we make rules, first the Afikoman has to be hidden in the house. Depending on the age of the children, if they’re very young it has to be in one specific room in the house to make it easier for them to find it. If they’re older it’s anywhere downstairs. It’s usually hidden by the person who led the seder.

MW: Ok
AW: Someone says “on your mark get set, go” and the kids race to find it, if there are young kids we hide it again so all the kids get a chance to find it.

Meaning
MW: So what does the Afikoman mean to you?
AW: It’s just part of the festival, it’s nice, you know what it’s nice because I remember the nights where we were all to grown up to do it. So it’s comforting to see the next generation carrying on our traditions.
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Analysis:
The Afikoman is wrapped which serves the practical purpose of keeping it, a dessert item, separated from the rest of the food. But the wrapping also serves a symbolic role as mimicking the way Ancient Jews would have wrapped their matzah as they fled Egypt. This mimicking is key to the overarching theme of Passover, that all Jews see themselves as having been liberated from Egypt, not just their ancestors. So in repeating the wrapping behavior modern Jews inhabit the role of their ancestors. The Talmud, a commentary on the Torah states that “We snatch matzahs on the night of Passover in order that the children should not fall asleep.” Thus, Afikomen hunting becomes a way to engage children with short attention spans during what is a fairly long religious event.
Likewise, the matzah is split in half during the seder. This might represent the delayed nature of Jewish salvation, the matzah eaten during the Seder representing the exodus itself, while the Afikomen matzah, hidden away and eaten only after the Seder ends, represents either the Mosciach, or Messiah’s final redemption of the Jewish people, or perhaps their eventual return to their homeland Israel after 40 years in the desert. For alternate uses of the Afikoman in Jewish households as a pendant for blessing see What Makes a Jewish Home Jewish

Ochs, Vennessa. “What Makes A Jewish Home Jewish?” What Makes a Jewish Home Jewish?, an Article by Vanessa Ochs, in Cross Currents, the Quarterly Journal of Opinion Covering Religion and the World., www.crosscurrents.org/ochsv.htm.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Life cycle
Magic
Signs

Moroccan: Tino Moths and Rebirth

Informant (AH) Is a 22 Year old USC Narrative Studies student interested in user research for games, we traded stories over a podcast we record together.
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Interviewer(MW): You said you had folklore from your grandmother?
AH: Yeah, so my grandma is from morocco, there’s a lot of folklore culturey stuff and I didn’t realize it was like that until I moved away from her and was like “oh you guys don’t do that here?”
AH: But like one thing in particular is you know Tino Moths
MW: Like the plant? (Interviewer thinks AH has said Tino Moss)
AH: No the bug
MW: OHhhh Moths
AH: yeah, some people when they get into their house you think “Oh I gotta kill it or take it out of the house” but at my grandma’s house you don’t touch the moth you just admire it…because in her culture moths are kind of like ghosts when one of your family members dies they come back to you as a moth, so that was yeah.
MW: We don’t have that in my religion, but that rules
AH: Yeah, it’s sort of comforting you know, to think that the people you love are still around and stuff
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Analysis
Insect rebirth symbolism allows the departed agency and a fleeting return to the lives of their loved ones, this is reflected in the chance, almost random nature by which the moth ends up in your home. This belief offers a comfort in the wake of loss and serves to temporarily sate the low-level pain that comes with the loss of a loved one, that stays for the rest of your life. Likewise the respect for the moth constitutes a respect for the dead, because those two beings are intertwined. Likewise this piece of folklore serves to connect AH to his grandmother, so that every time he sees a moth he sees her, allowing her to transcend death and remain with him, a part of his life, as her loved ones did when the story lived with her.Thus here, the moth becomes a symbol for death, it’s ephemeral nature makes contact with it fleeting and therefore more valuable, as it carries the soul of the departed onward to wherever it goes next.

Childhood
Folk speech
general
Humor
Narrative

Alouette: French Nursery Rhyme

Context CW, with a mug of hot tea sits, on my couch after an afternoon of doing homework and recounts stories from their childhood CW was raised French and attended a French immersion school. The atmosphere is calm, the air is calm and the room is mostly quiet in between stories.
———————————————————————————————————————Background: CW learned Alouette in preschool, from their teachers. It’s meaning is rooted in a nostalgic warmth for their youth, also they think the song is “pretty cute I guess, but it’s kinda fucked up”. CW doesn’t necessarily like it so much as believes it is very deeply ingrained in their person.

Performance:

CW: Alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais la tête/ je te plumerais la tête/ et la tête et la tête/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais le bec/ je te plumerais le bec/ et le bec et la tête/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais le cou/ je te plumerais le cou/ et le cou et le bec/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais les ailes/ je te plumerais les ailes/ et les ailes et le cou/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais le dos/ je te plumerais le dos/ et le dos et les ailes/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais
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Translation

Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your head/ let me pluck your head/ and your head and your head/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your beak/ let me pluck your beak/ and your beak and your head/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your neck/ let me pluck your neck/ and your neck and your beak/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your wings/ let me pluck your wings/ and your wings and your neck/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your back/ let me pluck your back/ and your back and your wing/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/

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Analysis: The song is something of a memory game, that used to teach children in France new words like neck, back, beak, and head. Much like the hokey pokey, this song serves the dual purpose of keeping children occupied and teaching them the language to express the parts of their own body. The song appears in lists across the internet like “5 Magical Songs For Teaching French To Preschoolers” indicating that as globalization has spread the ability to teach and learn language so too has this element of folklore spread into countries where French isn’t the dominant language to serve as a teaching tool. The way the song burrows its way into the mind of the performer too allows for its performance to gain meaning as a cultural object, the knowing of Alouette, a marker of exposure to French culture and a way to connect with other people

Childhood
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Korean Goblin Tale

Korean Goblin Tale

The following informant is a 21 year-old musician from Seoul, Korea, currently residing in Los Angeles. Here, they are describing a standard Korean tale that has been passed down; they will be identified as M.

M: It’s like Korean version of genie. So instead of genie, goblin. Instead of a lamp, it’s a, like, bat. A goblin bat. I don’t know the exact story of it, but there was a guy, he was very good at singing, but he got a very big tumor on his face, and he was singing at the night, and suddenly out of nowhere, two goblins came, and they loved his singing, and they asked, “what’s the secret of your voice and the singing,” and he was so scared, but he noticed that they loved his singing, and he was very poor before that and then he just lied to them. “oh it’s all from the tumor, this one.”

The face tumor — it was a big one. The goblin trusted that, and said, “do you want to sell it to me, or trade it? Lets trade.” He said, “oh, why not?” For a bunch of gold, and then the goblin swing the bat, and a bunch of gold appeared. and they give it to him, and the goblin touched the tumor, and it just cut it. He become rich, and there was another guy, he was already rich but a very greedy person and got a similar tumor. There was two goblins, so only one got the tumor, and believed “now i’m good at singing,” but the other go to that rich person, but the first goblin told the other that it was a lie, “I figured it out,” but this goblin went to the rich person, they asked him about the secret of singing, but he heard about the previous guy, so he tried to lie and did the same thing.

The goblin figured it out, and was very angry, so they swung the bat at him, so the previous guy’s tumor was on his face, so he had two tumors. And he was already rich, but they took all the money from him and ran away. The greedy guy lost everything. So, the moral is “don’t get greedy.”

Context

This interaction occurred on campus in a dining facility. I was sitting with informant M, as well as other Korean students from both USC and UCLA, whom provided additional contributions. During M’s performance, other individuals provided verbal and gestural affirmation, while one was not too familiar with the tale.

My Thoughts

There is a lot to unpack here. For one, this Korean tale, most likely told to children, is alike to many Western tales that we tell our youth; the root is fear, whereby children will refrain from lying or becoming greedy out of fear of goblin-inflicted punishment. This differs from, say, Native American cultures, where humor is often used instead of fear. It is also interesting how they compared goblins to genies — this, perhaps, demonstrates a cognate relationship between the figures.

For further relevant information, I read and recommend:

Jong-dae, Kim. “Dokkaebi: The Goblins of Korean Myth.” Korean Literature Now, vol. 35, 5 Apr. 2017, koreanliteraturenow.com/essay/musings/dokkaebi-goblins-korean-myth.

In this, Jong-dae shows relationships to Japanese folklore figures; this is interesting, as part of a conversation that occured this day between the informant, their friends, and myself pertained to Chinese linguistic and cultural influence over Asian countries and cultures, and how these “stories” may be related.

 

Childhood
Musical

Lakdi Ki Kathi

Text: RB: Okay, so it goes like this. It’s in Hindi by the way. Okay, so it goes,

“lakadi ki kaathi kaathi pe ghoda

ghode ki dum pe jo maara hathauda

dauda dauda dauda ghoda dum utha ke dauda”

AT: What does that translate to?

RB: So what it means is that there’s a cart made of sticks, yeah, the cart is made of sticks. The cart is attached to a horse and someone hits the horse’s behind. And the horse runs. And he just runs with a lot of might. Like very fast, that’s it.

AT: Okay, is that supposed to have a special meaning or something? Who taught it to you?

RB: (laughing) I don’t know. I don’t think so, I think it’s a children’s rhyme literally just because everything rhymes.

Context: RB is an Indian-American who lived in India during her pre-school years. She practices Jainism, one of the lesser-known religions of India. She frequently visits returns to India to visit relatives and continues to practice her faith and India’s festivals with other Indian-Americans in Texas. She learned the children’s rhyme above from her parents, and it frequently gets stuck in her head. This interaction took place in a living room while we were both home for spring break.

Interpretation: This children’s rhyme, according to RB, has little in terms of a moral lesson. Other than teaching cause and effect, the rhyme doesn’t seem to go beyond the surface level of singing about a horse riding around and around and around. However, RB bright up the fact that everything happens to rhyme perfectly in this song, suggesting that the song may be the way that it is simply because of its rhyming characteristics. This is not unlike some rhymes in english whose structure and word choice are what makes it beneficial to children, not it’s storyline. For example, “Sally sells seashells by the sea shore” isn’t meant to teach people about the dedication of small businesses. Rather, it exists to help children navigate the difficult world of language, achieving a level of mastery with the help of a friendly rhyme.

Most folklore specifically associated with children has to do with teaching some sort of lesson. In this way, the rhyming function is used to help engage children in confusing syntax and diction to help them better understand their language, still teaching them something, just not a message of morality derived from a tale.

general
Life cycle
Narrative

A Friendly Ghost

Context: While sitting with my family for our weekly Shabbat dinner, I decided to ask my family members if they’d ever had experiences with the supernatural. My mother shared a rather lovable encounter that had stuck with her for the last 29 years.

 

Background: The story takes place in 1989, about one year after my sister – her first child – was born. Her younger brother had suddenly passed away in 1985, one year before her wedding.

 

Main Piece: “She was almost 2 I think. Dad was always leaving really early in the morning and would work until late at night, so it was always just the two of us alone together in our old apartment. I was always so nervous around that time, I was scared to be alone with the baby because I had no idea what I was doing. That night I finally got her to go to bed after she was crying and crying for hours. Right after I put her down I was sitting in the rocking chair in her room and I was just thinking about [her brother], and I just thought to myself, I wonder what it would be like if he was here, I wonder if he would think I was a good mom. I kept thinking of what it would have been like if he had met her and seen me as a mommy. I remember I started dozing off and started imagining him standing with me and holding her in his arms, and at that exact moment, [my sister] started saying ‘agha, agha’, which is man in Farsi, and started pointing to the corner of the room. She only knew how to say a few words at the time, and I just remember I had goosebumps all over my body. It was as if she and I saw the same picture that I was imagining in my head. Or maybe he came to visit the both of us. I can’t tell you what happened that night, all I know is that there was no one else in that room, but it didn’t feel like it was just the two of us.”

 

Analysis: While this was not a typical “ghost story”, it definitely qualifies as some supernatural encounter. My mother has always been a very spiritual person, but always tried not to talk about death or the afterlife, and usually deflects when talking about her brother who had passed. It’s interesting to hear that individuals can still feel a supernatural presence. 

Childhood
Holidays
Legends
Narrative

The Witch’s House

Context: A friend and I were taking a walk through the residential area Beverly Hills. We passed by a landmark often referred to as “The Witch’s House”. We then began discussing the history of this house to the surrounding community, one that my friend was born and raised in. In the piece, my informant is identified as D.P., and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: The Witch’s House sits in the middle of the Beverly Hills flats on Walden Drive. It looks as if it were straight out of a storybook. It was originally built in 1920 and was intended for a studio film, never for a resident. It’s stood on the corner of the street, untouched since then. However, the house has a different history for the surrounding community.

 

Main Piece:

DP: “This is honestly a defining characteristic of Beverly Hills for me. I love it. The first house I lived in was 2 houses down from it”

DS: “Were you not scared to go around it? It looks so spooky, I’d be so scared as a little kid”

DP: “It was definitely very spooky, but it’s just the greatest. Every Halloween night all the kids from the neighborhood would just know to meet on Walden by the Witch’s House at like 8. Everyone would bring shaving cream and all the kids would have a huge shaving cream fight on the street. All the parents would come out and hose off the kids afterwards because we were all covered.”

DS: “Does someone live in there?”

DP: “I’m pretty sure someone bought it at some point and remodeled the inside but made it a point to never touch the outside. I’m not sure if he actually lives out of the house but either way it’s the staple of this street for sure. It’s been in the background of so many movies too. I know it was in a scene of the movie Clueless”

DS: “Are there any scary stories or legends about it?”

DP: “As kids we all used to think that witches actually lived in there or that it was haunted, we were honestly scared to go around it, especially at night.”

 

Analysis: This point in Beverly Hills is one that brought a community together and remains the defining characteristic of the neighborhood and city as a whole. It’s a landmark that connects the locals to Hollywood while also ties together the surrounding neighborhood.

Initiations
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Wedding Ritual

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, and goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: N.D. explained that she was going home to Miami in the coming week to celebrate her eldest sister’s wedding. She and her other four sisters planned to perform a traditional Greek bachelorette ritual, that had been done in her family for years. It’s a generations-old ritual that my informant’s family, relatives, and friends, all perform, and it is deeply rooted in Greek culture.

 

Main Piece: “The night before the couple’s wedding, all of the single friends of the bride usually do this thing where we come together and decorate the couple’s future marriage bed. A few of my sister’s friends will be there, but it’s me and my sisters that are going to be doing most of the work. Basically you put a bunch of flowers all over, and put rice all around the room and on the bed, and also leave out coins and money. The idea is that it promotes prosperity, fertility, and love for that couple. My family is very into these little traditions and it’s a fun way for all of us to get together before the wedding and celebrate the bride. Rice is used in a lot of ceremonies like this in Greek culture, and Peruvian culture too actually. Even though it’s such an old tradition, it still has a lot to do with the typical American bachelorette party activities. We’re planning on doing that too, but this is a different way of celebrating that also takes us back to our roots a little bit.”

 

Analysis: I found it interesting how the idea of rice is intertwined in such a large number of cultural customs, especially in regards to weddings. In other cultures, the throwing of the rice at the end of the wedding ceremony symbolizes rain, which is thought to be a sign of good fortune and prosperity. In the case of Greek culture, the rice is placed in the most intimate part of the couple’s life.

 

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