USC Digital Folklore Archives / Customs
Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The White Foul Line

Baseball is rife with superstitions, my informant is a long-time player and as a pitcher he describes to me the longest-stranding baseball taboo.

“You don’t step on the white foul line when taking the field, ever, not just pitchers, but all players, but especially pitchers. When I go out to the mound I jump over it with my right foot, and always my right foot. It’s bad juju if you step on the line, nobody steps on the line, it just isn’t done. It’s bad luck. It’s always been that way. I don’t know who I learned it from, it’s just always been done as long as I can remember.”

Analysis:

Baseball superstitions, rituals, charms, and taboos usually are surrounding those circumstances which are not totally in the player’s control, that is pitching and hitting usually. This particular superstition is not stepping on the foul line when taking the field. It is quite an old superstition that has no particular origin with a certain player, but one players of all caliber pay attention to. It is supposed to prevent bad luck in a game when one play can change the entire game. Because it is so old and established as a taboo, players simply adhere because all those players before them have done so, so it must work, and the players will do anything that works. One bad pitch or one great hit and the game could turn for the worse. A pitcher can do all he can to play perfectly, but he cannot control the batter’s actions, therefore this leaves a lot of room for superstitions. It is human nature to want to control one’s surroundings and this is just a little taboo that allows a player in his mind to control the outcome however small.

 

Customs
general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Throwing Pennies

At summer camp—there’s a horn solo in Liszt Les Prelude. People in the orchestra supposed to throw pennies at the horn player. Camp has been around since the 1800s. Heard about it from other people in the orchestra, but I never saw it happen.

This took place at the informant’s high school, Interlochen.

This seems like a really bizarre tradition, and it’s kind of strange that it was talked about and passed along by students, but never followed through during my informant’s time there.

Customs
general

Lil B NBA Curse

The informant DP is a 19-year-old male studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. He has recently become a huge fan of the NBA and he describes something that the casual NBA fan would not know much about. In this piece, he talks about the “The BasedGod’s” curse to me (AK) which was popularized over five years ago by a rapper by the name of Lil B.

For some context, Lil B became a viral sensation with many provocative rap videos and tweets. He refers to himself as the “Based God” and he has drawn a very loyal fan following due to the hilarity of his tweets and rap videos. He is also known for the “Based God” curse which he has given to star athletes who have disrespected his rapping ability.

DP: So I don’t know the entire story, but I do know that Lil B and Kevin Durant (famous basketball player) had beef a few years ago.

AK: What exactly caused the beef?

DP: Well … KD basically said that Lil B is a wack rapper and that his music sucks. Lil B responded to this by dropping a video titled F*** KD and giving him the “Based God” curse.

AK: What does this curse entail? Is there any way to become uncursed?

DP: In this context, he meant that KD would never win a championship. Also, KD was recently lifted of the curse because he decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors and Lil B is a huge Warriors fan.

I found this entire piece to be hilarious. After some further research, I found Lil B to be very outspoken on twitter and most of his fans simply quote him out of the absurdity and comedy of some of his proclamations. Most of his songs have a comedic element to them and in his F*** KD song he states that he could beat Kevin Durant in a one on one game of basketball. For some NBA fans, however, the curse does hold some merit as Kevin Durant is perennially one of the best players in the league, yet he has never won a championship. While most rational fans scoff at the claim that the curse is the reason why, a small but significant subset of fans contend that the curse is the sole reason why. I’m not sure which side of the argument I’m on, but I do find humor in the fact that Lil B has gained so much fame over a simple tweet and video.

Customs
Life cycle

Filipino Birthday Tradition

Informant:

June is from Chicago, Illinois and is a current junior in college.

Piece:

So a family tradition that we have is for all of our birthday’s um instead of baking a cake, my mom would cook a traditional filipino dish called pancit. It’s basically like noodles with like vegetables, chicken meats. All the things you would want. It’s a very healthy dish and it’s supposed to be that instead of a cake which is very fattening and sugary um something that’s healthy so you can live a longer life. There are various i guess different noodles you can use, but my parents always use i guess these same very thing ones.

Collector’s thoughts:

The idea of eating healthy food at one’s birthday in order to guarantee another year of good health is an interesting idea that makes a lot of sense. Not only does the yearly meal work as a good luck charm for good health, but also connects the informant back to his filipino heritage.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

US Navy Shellbacks

Informant: My dad was in the US Navy for 4  years

Original Script: To become a shellback in the US Navy you have to cross the equator. Legend has it that King Neptune lives on the equator and if you cross it you become a shellback. When you become a shellback there is a ceremony were a someone dresses up as King Neptune and gives you a shellback card.

Background: A shellback is a sort of fraternity in the Navy, Navy men give respect to shellback backs because you have to sail for a long time to be able to cross the equator, some Navy men that spent 20 years in the Navy has never crossed the equator.

Thoughts: I thought the ceremony was comical, the idea that someone dresses up as King Neptune show dedication to their tradition. The shellbacks get really into it and show respect to those who made an accomplishment that goes unnoticed to a civilian.

Customs
Festival

‘Silleteros’ – Flower Carrying in Colombia

In Medellin, Colombia, our biggest festival and celebration is the Festival of Flowers, a yearly festival that celebrates our beautiful variety of flowers. We come together as a people and witness the flower growing families parading their latest designs as they carry them on their backs through the streets. It’s a breathtaking sight and something I’ll never quite forget.

The silleteros have been come a folk symbol for our region of Colombia. Diego Rivera famously painted a silletero during a visit to our region. And even outside of the festival, one often finds flower growers with heavy displays on their back, ready to sell flowers. I asked my grandmother about the history of these flower carriers. Below the verbatim Spanish text, one will find an english translation.

Por qué tienen las flores en su espalda?

“Preciso por que pesan tanto, las flores. las más lindas y lo más grande el silleto, el premio vallé más. Al principio no les daban premios, sólo los aplaudían y los sacaban el el periódico por que antes no había televisión. Decían cuales eran las más lindas y quien había ganado, quien las había cultivado, pero no habían premios en efectivo. Pero ya las producen, las industrian, la gente muy rica patrocinan la feria de las flores. Dan premios muy grandes. Un premio que se puede ganar un silletero es que lo mandan a estudiar las flores al exterior, vez? Entonces les interesa mucho, si? Antes en las ferias eran muy chiquitas las silletas, pero fueron creciendo tanto que ya son kilos y kilos. Para qué la espalda del silletero pueda resistir ay unas medidas para que no se vayan deformando las espaldas de ellos. Entonces por eso la parte que necesita la más fuerza para resistir es la espalda, y por eso las silletas generalmente se ponen en la espalda, son casi como sillas. Es como una silla que ellos asen y la cuelgan en la espalda. Esas silletas las hacen con figuras hermosas. Ya hasta son con historias completas, caracteres grandes. Son de las mismas flores que ellos cultivan. Es algo que se aprende generación en generación. Ósea, los hijos de los silleteros aprended del cultivo, del diseño de la silleta, como cargarla. Ya es una tradición. Ya ay familias con diez, quince premios porque cada año lo hacen mejor.”

ENGLISH:

Why do the silleteros carry the flowers on their backs?

Precisely because those huge displays of flowers weigh so much. The bigger and more beautiful the display, the bigger a prize the flower grower can get. Before, there were no prizes, they were just applauded and they came out on the newspaper, because before there was no television. They would write about who had had the most beautiful flower displays, who had cultivated the flowers, but there were no real prizes. But now they really cultivate those flowers very scientifically. The very richest in Medellin provide patronage the Festival now and they give incredible prizes. For example, a prize a flower grower might get is to study flowers and cultivation techniques around the world, you see? You see they’re very interested in that. Before the flower displays were very small but year on year they grew and now they’re massive and weight very many kilos. So that the spine of the flower grower doesn’t get deformed during the long festival, they’ve designed a certain device to carry that many flowers without injury. So of course the portion that needs the most reinforcement is the brunt of the back, so the device they use is called a silletera, they are designed almost like a chair that they make themselves and then hang on the back. Those flower holders, they spend so much meticulous time coming up with clever designs for them. They make beautiful art on them with flowers. Now they even have stories, figurative works, symbols for towns. They’re all made with the same flowers that that family cultivates themselves. It’s something that’s learned generation to generation. That is to say, the sons and daughters of the flower growers grow up learning how to cultivate those flowers, how to design the flower displays, how to make the flower holders, how to carry it. It has very much become its own tradition. There are families now that have won the big prizes ten, fifteen times. Every year they are looking for ways to improve, every year they are getting better.

Analysis: This has always been a big question for me before going to the festival and before witnessing it firsthand. This image of the flower carriers is all over our country, in paintings, on murals, in our songs. It’s interesting that this has become such a strong cultural tradition in such a short amount of time, and that it is carried forward by families of flower growers.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The “Caganer” in Catalonian Nativity Scenes

The informant is a 20 year old student at the Roski art school. She’s originally from Los Angeles but her mother is from Spain. She goes back to visit every year. Below, she shares an interesting Christmas tradition.

“So compared to Americans, Catalonians are known for being fond of scatological humor, so like they love bathroom humor. So even during Christmas traditions those jokes come out. Most families in Catalonia for Christmas set out a nativity scene and its customary to hide two special figurines in the nativity scene, one is the “Caganer” and the other is the “Pissener,” which literally translate to shitter and pee-er. And you’re supposed to hide them very strategically for little kids to find them. And it’s just like a cool Easter egg in there, you’re looking at the baby Jesus and all of a sudden you see a guy taking a shit in the woods. They’re little store bought figurines, I feel like everyone has the same ones. They literally have their pants down, and there’s even a little turd for the “Caganer.” I visit my family every year, usually during Christmas, so I was given the task of hiding the figurines and looking for them.”

 

Analysis: Nativity scenes are of course very important in various cultures during Christmas, but the inclusion of the Caganer, or shitting person, is a phenomenon mostly isolated to Catalan, but widespread throughout the region. The Caganer humanizes an otherwise perfect scene, even if his activity is grotesque. In my research I found a contemporary analysis by ethnographer Joan Amades that posits that the act of defecating fertilizes the ground of the nativity scene, ensuring fertility and good fortune for the coming year.

 

 

Customs
Game
Holidays
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cagatió – The Shitting Log in Catalonian Culture

The informant is a good friend and has family in Catalan. Below, she describes an incredibly unique Christmas tradition:

“There’s another Catalonian tradition that most kids partake in, which is the Cagatió, or the Tió de Nadal. Which is a log with a face painted on the front and two little legs, which wears a little traditional Catalan hat called a Barretina. And it’s kind of like, the set up is somewhat like leaving Christmas cookies out for Santa. So for a few days leading up to Christmas Eve, you leave cookies out to make it fat and so for a week before you’re feeding it constantly every night. The parents, after the kids go to bed, they eat the cookies. And of course they tell the kids ‘Oh no, the Cagatió ate your cookies and he’s really happy and thankful and he’s going to get very fat. And so for discretion, of course you put a blanket over the back of the Cagatió. And to not hurt the Cagatió you take wood spoons from the kitchen and all the kids go to the sink and run the wood spoons under the warm water to soften them. While the kids are doing that, the parents hide little gifts under the blanket of the Cagatió, so like stocking stuffers but in the butt of the Cagatió, and so they tell them to come back out and so they take the wooden spoons, which are now soft, and you proceed to like whack it while singing the traditional Cagatió song, which is basically, in translation ‘Poop log, poop. If you don’t poop gifts for me, I’ll keep hitting you with this stick’. When you finish the song you take the blanket off the back of the Cagatió. And so basically you keep going back to the sink, you do this four or five times until he stops giving you presents. The parents put fewer and fewer gifts under the blanket each time to simulate the Cagatió running out of poop.”

So what is it again?

“It’s a log. It’s literally a log with a face painted on it. That was a favorite tradition of mine. My family has multiple sizes of Cagatió (laughs). We have a big one for the living room and also a travel sized one.”

Below is a translation of the traditional song:

 

“Caga tió,

caga torró,

avellanes i mató,

si no cagues bé

et daré un cop de bastó.

caga tió!”

ENGLISH:

 

“shit, log,

shit nougats (turrón),

hazelnuts and mató cheese,

if you don’t shit well,

I’ll hit you with a stick,

shit, log!”

 

Analysis: This is a very ancient tradition in Catalan and I’ve never heard of anything quite like it. The use of an actual shit log is very fascinating. The gifts that come out of the log are usually communal and small gifts, such as candies or small toys. The log almost takes on a personified character and specifically signifies a Catalonian person.

Customs
Folk speech
general

Folk Traditions and Sayings from Monterrey Mexico

The informant is a pediatrician, originally from Monterrey, married to a radiologist also from Monterrey. I met her at a family barbeque where we discussed her own cultural traditions and forms of folklore. As I caught her while we were eating, she couldn’t help but think immediately of meals from back home, in Monterrey:

“Everything in Monterrey is celebrated with Carne Asada, like we are having here. Meat is central to every family gathering, celebration or get-together. Frequently, on Sundays, family visits grandparents and the central attraction is watching the soccer games, the “clásicos” where the Tigres and the Rallados are perpetual rivals. People from Monterrey are called Regios, and they were jeans for everything, all year long. “Guey” used to be a word only men used to call each other, but now even females use it to address their friends, and it such a common word, that is has made it to the dictionary, I still consider it vulgar, but it is widely used.

We love everything spicy, from fruit to meat to drinks. Whenever I go to Monterrey, I have to get street tacos and then go have a Chamoyada, which is shaved ice with chamoy, a fruit that has a strong taste, and lime. I also love Granielotes (which Jesús called Esquite), roasted corn kernels with mayonnaise, chili powder and limejuice; the spicier the better. My children don’t like them as much as we do, but they do love spice on their food. We also can pack Itacates, left-overs for our guests, and if we get a compliment, we would say, “Te bañaste, Guey”, you outdid yourself, pal! (Notice the different verbs in the identical expression)

The large family gatherings so prominent in Mexican culture are of course very famous. Across all of Mexico, the experience of watching the clásicos offers an important opportunity for one to catch up with the family. Monterrey is in some ways Mexico’s most urban and wealthy city. Regio means royalty or the quality of being awesome, so the implication is that being from Monterrey is an honor. Guey is an interesting and incredibly common saying that either means dude or bro, or can mean fool or ass if used with someone unfamiliar and in a harsh tone. Moslty the Mexican youth use the word, and adults (particularly those above her age) are still jarred by its use. Lastly, I want to call attention to the regional differences. Whereas my informant from Mexico City, Jesús, called the roasted corn esquite, She knows it as granielotes, which calls specific attention to the fact the corn is off the cob. Also, whereas another informant’s friendly saying involved “Te rayaste” (you scratched yourself), this informant’s regional saying is “Te bañaste,” or “you showered yourself”. Fascinating that although the two rhyme, they have incredibly different particular meanings, but as a saying mean the same thing.

Childhood
Customs
general

Growing up in Homs, Syria

The informant is from Homs, Syria, living in the U.S. for twelve years now. She came from Saudi Arabia. She was interviewed at my family’s home.

“I miss everything about Syria. Nothing here tastes as good as it did there, where everything was natural, made with real butter, real animal fat, with fruits and vegetables grown organically, the food was so good you can not even imagine it. We had thriving, bustling cities, where community was vibrant. I loved that as I was growing up, we had neighbors and they would just jokingly show up, spooking me and my Mom, but that was normal, traditional and expected.”

What do you mean by that?

“You could come visit a neighbor, uninvited, anytime. Here, you have to call, make plans, call before and make sure you are still invited. I feel lonely here even though I do have friends. In Homs, when I was bored or lonesome, just walking the city was entertaining, seeing the people selling things, talking, stopping to eat something, to buy crafts, everything was handmade, and everything of exquisite quality, the craftsmanship was excellent, the result of years of practice and work. The textiles, the weaving, the beading, the pottery, our crafts were art! On fridays people do not work, so we visit relatives. The people were very family oriented, our values are community, sharing, helping and being in solidarity. What is happening now in my country is an unimaginable tragedy, what humanity has lost cannot be described in words.”

Here the informant is obviously very nostalgic about growing up in Syria, in what is now lost to endless war and aggression. She described to me that the marketplace of goods and cuisine in Syria was far more limited than anywhere else she has been, but that although restricted, everything was local and home cooked or home made. Particularly interesting is her emphasis on collective community. She described her living situation as a collection of one-story brick houses and that neighbors one often hop among houses, visiting neighbors and chatting casually. This is quite different than the private and individualized neighborhood lives that we live, although of course, we have different needs. I hope Roola gets to visit a peaceful Syria someday. She was very distraught discussing it.

 

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