Category Archives: Old age

Retirement, seniority, death, funerals, remembrances

Polish Funeral Custom — Cannot Dance

Text

The following piece is a Polish funeral custom that I learned of through my family’s babysitter whose father had recently passed away. The woman is a forty-eight year old Polish native who lives in Chicago now. I had been dancing around and in my attempt to get the Informant to join me, she explained why she was unable to.

Informant: “No, no…Can’t dance, no.”

Collector: “Come on! Why not?”

Informant: “No, no…My father die. I no dance for six months.”

Collector: “You can’t dance for six months because your dad died?”

Informant: “No dance for six months for father and mother. Four months for brother, sister.”

Context

The Informant has understood this Polish funeral custom for as long as she can remember. She remembers not dancing for a while after her grandfather had passed away, and has always understood it to be something she must also partake in. When her father passed, her entire family made the unspoken vow not to dance as a sign of respect to the dead.

Interpretation

While surprised at first, after hearing the Informant’s absolute belief in this funeral custom, I was beginning to also see it as a reasonable practice of mourning. I believe that the reason the Informant and her family undergo such a long process of morning, with such a specific time period, is out of respect for the ones they loved who have passed away. By vowing to not dance for six months, the participants must make a conscious effort everyday to not partake in overly joyful actions, excluding dancing altogether. I believe that commitment to this vow displays a respectful process of mourning, a way of honoring the dead by not moving on quickly after they are gone.

Mexican Novenario

The majority of Mexico follows the Catholic religion, and in doing so, the rosary is an integral part of every day life, bringing about the goodness that only Divinity is able to bring. When someone feels that their death is near, family members and friends go to their home every day and say the rosary, praying together for some sort of miracle. If it is perceived that the person is bound to pass, they pray for their peaceful passing. Once a person has actually passed, they participate in what is called the Novenario. Through the Novenario, family and friends bring their rosaries to pray for nine days, as it remains a crucial aspect of that person’s ascension to Heaven. At the end of the nine days, it is customary to eat a final grand meal to thank the life of that particular person and all those who participated in the prayers. Traditional dishes include tamales and mole. Once this is complete, the person is expected to be in the hands of God.


 

The interlocutor has taken part in many Novenarios because of her relationship with her Mexican family members who have passed, mainly extended family members that she was connected to but did not have an intimate relationship with. She mentioned that the most excruciating Novenario she witnessed was the one that was in service of her own mother. The Novenario transpired as usual, but the interlocutor mentioned that this was an especially unique Novenario because the entire house was filled with many more people than it was designed for. Many women cried as they clutched their rosaries, muttering prayers amid the clamor of food preparation. In this aspect, the interlocutor felt immense comfort despite her sorrow. She mentioned that the Novenario, while integral to person who has passed, serves to comfort the living in their sadness.

The myriad religious connotations through the Novenario illustrate the reliance on religion during a time of loss and reflection. It is the backbone in which the Novenario is based, proving that many pious Mexicans rely on religion for comfort and peace of mind through their unwavering faith. The nine days spent praying acts as a sort of watch for the spirit, keeping the person company on their difficult journey from the physical to the divine. They protect and help guide the spirit that would otherwise get lost, utilizing prayer and presence to aid their passing.

Indian Funeral and Cremation

Indian funerals generally last 13 days where everyone is expected to wear white to celebrate their sadness over losing their loved one. As they commemorate the life of that person they are also beginning to release them. It is the duty of the man of the house to burn the body because of the Hindu belief in cremation. Once the cremation of the body is complete, the ashes are thrown into the ocean to dissolve the Pancha Maha-Bhoota, or the five elements. Through the dissolution of the elements of earth, water, fire, air, and aether, the spirit and soul of that person is liberated from their physical confines.


 

Though the interlocutor has witnessed various funeral occasions, she has only actively taken part in a funeral celebration a handful of times; because of her residence in India, she has been exposed to the traditions tied to funerals. She mentioned that the idea that celebrating sadness seems like a counter-intuitive sentiment, but in Indian culture it allows the passage of humans beyond earth easier, and those that are left behind are able to embrace their emptiness. As for her own plans regarding her time to pass, she stated that she plans to be cremated as well, and she finds the idea of the Pancha Maha-Bhoota dissolving to be reassuring.

Indian funerals are known to be quite visually striking, especially to those who are accustomed to the tradition of black clothing and solemnity. The white worn by participants and loved ones is pious and peaceful with an established sense of purity. Thus, the meaning of death is revealed as something that is to be rejoiced, simply a time in which one ascends beyond their physical body; this is quite a positive view on death. The number 13 appears quite often with calendrical measures of time, and because the funeral event lasts 13 days it ties one’s death to merely a measure of time. The cremation of the body at the hands of the male in the house also places power in the hands of the men while commemorating the renewing properties of fire as it allows disintegration and regeneration. The involvement of the Pancha Maha-Bhoota and the ocean also tie the funeral to the elements of life and nature, grounding the celebration among the living with the earth, the forces that we all will eventually return to at the time of our own demise.

Call a Wambulance

Main Piece:

“You better call a Wambulance”

Translation: Don’t complain about pain unless you want to go to the hospital

Background: The informant is a senior here at USC. He is my next door neighbor and we conducted this interview in person at his apartment. He is from Manhattan Beach and has lived there for his entire life.

Context: I asked the informant if he knew of any “Dadisms”. Dadisms are usually puns, combining word play with a common saying to covey a new meaning. The informant learned of the saying through his own father saying it and has said this to me multiple times in casual conversation. The informant stated that he likes to use the phrase as it reminds him of his father. The informant said his father will make this joke in response to someone (usually within the family) complaining about getting a minor physical injury, such as stubbing one’s toe. The joke is meant to mean that the person injured should fight through the pain and not let it bother, per the informant.

Analysis: It seems Dads have their own folklore, as does every other social community. I found this piece intriguing because this is actually stated by my own father as well. My Dad will use the exact phrase in the same situation as the informant’s. I asked my father where he learned this phrase and he said he learned it from his own father. Clearly, these “isms” are trans-generational. Like the informant, I also use this joke in passing. And, like the informant, I also learned of and associate this saying with my father. For the more recent generation, I believe this phrase is repeatedly used as a way to continually tie us to our fathers. For the the older generation, I believe the continued use of this joke serves to solidify their own identity as fathers.

Biking Grandpa of Kaohsiung

Background: This legend was commonly told in the area around Kaohsiung. The informant did not live in Kaohsiung, but nearby on the mainland.

Context: This story was performed in an Architecture studio, for an audience of two, in order to pass time while working on projects.

“There is a little island adjacent to my hometown called Kaohsiung. There are two ways to get to the island. The first is by ship, and the other is through a tunnel that we built under the sea. Usually the travel time using the tunnel is about half an hour, but for some people it will take up to two hours to get there. During that tunnel traveling people have found that the common thing is they have always met this grandpa biking. When they see that grandpa, it takes a longer time to travel. For some reason when you drive, you may be going 50 miles per hour, but the Grandpa is still biking fast enough to pass you. “

Car rides can be very boring, and in order to pass the time it is common to tell exciting stories. Providing a supernatural explanation to why your trip was is taking so long could be a welcome relief from that same monotonous travel.

Rice Ball/ Human Heart.

Background: The Informant was enlisted in Taiwan’s Military for two years, where he heard this story from his fellow soldiers.

Context: This story was performed in an Architecture studio, for an audience of two, in order to pass time while working on projects.

Body: “I learned this in the military in Taiwan. When you are a scout especially at night there are not many residential areas around the base. There are mostly old people around the base, who make money by selling food to the military people. Sometimes when you are scouting you will see a granny with a little cart selling rice balls. When a scout asks to buy a rice ball, the grandma says “OK” and takes out a human heart. ”

This was likely a scary legend told amongst soldiers in order to create a sense of solidarity regarding the eeriness of their situation, considering that many of them relocated from more populous areas.

Italian Proverb: “Old Age is Trouble”

Is there something of a proverb that comes to mind from home?

J.A. – “La vecchia e una rogne; ma si non l’arrive, e una veregogna.” (Italian)

Translates to: Old age is trouble; but if you don’t get there, it’s a shame.

J.A. – “My parents’ people were farmers in Italy.  This saying has a fatalistic humor that resonates with me.  I feel closer to people I never knew hearing the clever play on words in the original Italian.”

 

This being a dark proverb, it brings to my mind the mortality of those I’m close with.  I got stuck for a few minutes on the first half of that sentence; “old age is trouble.”  What does that mean?  Are you going to die?  Is disease coming for you?  It’s interesting – this person thought of the proverb as an example of “fatalistic humor.”  I’d disagree with that, actually.  I’d argue that it’s a blatantly depressing proverb, explaining that any life is better than death.  The inevitability of what’s coming for you may be frightening, but – hey, at least you’re alive.

Haitian Reincarnation

Context/Background: The informant’s parents are from Haiti which holds positive beliefs towards reincarnation. One particular encounter sticks with them within this belief.

Informant:

[Face-to-Face conversation]

“So, my family- or I think Haitian people in general just believe that if someone is born the day someone dies, the person who dies- their spirit goes inside the new baby. So like, I think my Dad had a friend who died the day my sister was born, so he’s like, I think his spirit is like, in my sister. So, that’s a nice thing we believe. Yeah.”

Introduction: Personal exposure and informed through Haitian father.

Analysis/Interpretation: This belief is seen across cultures and religions, so I find that intriguing and would love to explore further similarities around the globe with similar ideas. I remember watching different documentaries and being introduced to the idea of reincarnation from different cultures and societies which was interesting to observe and compare that to the belief systems of others. I think the ability to find peace of mind in the informant’s specific circumstance by having faith in the transfer of a soul to another body as comforting, in a way.

 

For reference to reincarnation in other cultures, reference

(2019). Basics of Hinduism: Karma and Reincarnation. Retrieved from https://www.himalayanacademy.com/readlearn/basics/karma-reincarnation

Tsuji, T. (1996-2019). BuddhaNet Basic Buddhism Guide on Reincarnation. Retrieved from https://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/reincarnation.htm

Long Noodles, Long Life

Context/Background: The informant is a first-gen Filipino-American whose family has engaged in a wide range of customs throughout her life. One specifically pertains to food and one’s lifespan which she learned from her family.

“Yeah, so a Filipino… maybe Asian… tradition is to eat long noodles on your birthday for long life. So Even if you go out to dinner for your birthday, you HAVE to eat long noodles in order to have a long and fulfilling life.” (Informant)

 Analysis/Interpretation: When I first heard of this tradition I thought it seemed like a nice practice where one could find a clear state of mind when consuming their bowl representing a long life on a birthday. I looked into this more after speaking directly to the informant and found a large presence of this tradition in Chinese culture where participants eat yi mein, known as “longevity noodles.” I found it interesting that these noodles were being compared to cakes in some aspects because these noodles are such an integral aspect of birthdays in Chinese culture. Seeing how these specific aspects of birthdays in varying cultures are so integrated, caused me to wonder how other cultures perceive American birthday traditions such as cake and blowing out candles.

 

For further information on other forms of food for with significance, refer to

China Highlights. (1998-2019). The Symbolism of Chinese Foods. Retrieved from https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-food/chinese-food-symbolism.htm

 

Visiting Spirits and Dead Babies

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. She’d speak fondly of their unusual ceremonies and traditions, and how, by the end of it, her host families said she was so in tune with the culture, that if they closed their eyes, they couldn’t tell she was a foreigner.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

“In Japan, it’s a uh … a worshipping of dead ancestors day in August, Oh-Bon. They put out the dead people’s – the dead grandpa, the dead grandma, they put out their favorite food, and they put out chopsticks, and they will, you know, burn their favorite incense and they do all this so the dead can come and visit. They do this in their home. Every year, in August. It’s always in August. So it’s like Halloween, except it’s got a religious significance. It’s when the dead come back. They have festivals in town too, Oh-Bon-Matsi.

“It was a festival for dead children. And there was a river running through the town. Not dead babies but dead children. And, they… But. You know lanterns with lights in them? They’d float these lanterns with lights in them down the river and it was just gorgeous. Each lantern represented a dead child and they had this beautiful eerie music, just vocalizations for the occasion. Traditional Japanese instruments too. And incense burning. It was a very volcanic, sort of lunarscape in the far north. I can’t remember the name of the… the far north of Honshu. So you can look up ‘dead baby festival Honshu’ and figure it out.”

This is a very comforting view of the afterlife. It’s as if death is not the end, but merely a move to a different city. Growing up, she imparted this same sense of the dead on me. She’d always tell me not to fear death or the presence of ghosts, but to welcome them, as they were once in our shoes and only wanted to visit. The dead baby festival further illustrates their benevolent view of death. In America, when a child dies, we mourn and often times never speak of it. In Japan, it is tragic, however they still take time to celebrate their lives. No matter if that life was only for an instant.