USC Digital Folklore Archives / Customs
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.”

Customs
Foodways
Material

Birthday Traditions

Context & Analysis

The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject’s mother was a stay-at-home mother; she also has four other siblings. The subject’s parents were both the children of Norwegian immigrants and emphasized the value of hard work and wise spending habits. The tradition of giving special foods or sweets as gifts is interesting because it reflects the family’s emphasis on not valuing material goods over kindness. The tradition of wrapping their birthday presents in comics is also a reflection of the family’s income level and how fiscally conservative they were in order to have enough money to send all of their kids to college.

Main Piece

“When we had birthdays we—my mom we didn’t have a lot of money first of all, so my mom would just get stuff that we could share ‘cus she wanted to teach us that we could share our gifts. So they would give us candy like licorice, cashews, Andes mints, or sometimes a box of sugar cereal—like cookie crunch or something like that—‘cus we usually didn’t get sugar cereal so we would get, like, candy or something like that that we could share and we could keep it in our room, but after dinner we would have to bring it out and share and the birthday person would bring it out and, um, it was always wrapped in the comic section from the Sunday paper which was always colorful ‘cus my mom didn’t want to spend money on wrapping paper that would be ripped off and thrown away [laughs] so it was always wrapped in the comics.”

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Thanksgiving Tamales

Subject: Traditional foods at Thanksgiving holiday celebrations. Tamales.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So, you just mentioned that you make Christmas dinner every year?

Interviewee: Yes, I make Christmas dinner and I make Thanksgiving dinner every year… so I started making the turkey on Thanksgiving, so which is why I love Thanksgiving so much now. I always loved it but now it’s like… I have to go every year. I have to go home because I make the fucking turkey. And I also bake all the fu- all the pies. Apple pie and the turkey every year… So, my mom has to make the stuffing. I will not let her like not make the stuffing. My dad, if he’s up to it, up for it, he will make like roasted potatoes with like butter and like herbs, like red potatoes, like particularly. My brother will probably do some sort of vegetable side dish… my sister usually doesn’t help that much, uh, I don’t know why. But my eldest sister, now that she has her own house, she like, like brings mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese.

But… I would like there to be tamales. Tamales are the kind of thing you get like once or twice a year. Um, and once or twice a year, one of those times is going be Thanksgiving and the other one has to be Christmas… So like winter, winter holidays. It’s just like the special occasion of it, you know. They’re not difficult to make…, it takes long, it’s just a process, ya know. We’re just like, it’s Christmas coming up so we’re going to make a lot of tamales, so it’s not like they make them for every meal. They freeze them and then bring them out for this holiday. And they’re just as good frozen…once you’ve reheated them.

Tamales has to be there. There is no way you can’t make more than enough.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: My roommate first mentioned that she enjoys making Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner while speaking about her ethnographic foods course. I asked her to go in depth to her experience preparing and consuming the food on these holidays for my collection.

Analysis: My roommate’s experience with Thanksgiving is especially interesting when placing it within her experiences of growing up in American culture but having parents who grew up in Mexico and did not celebrate Thanksgiving. To her family, Thanksgiving has become a mandatory homecoming, a time to reconnect every year. In this process, the observance of the Thanksgiving holiday has been removed from its American context and has been reworked to be one that defines her parents’ new family and their new life together in a new place. Furthermore, most of the families in the Brownsville area do not celebrate Thanksgiving because it is not part of their national background; in other words, the practice of Thanksgiving is not part of their reinforcement or performance of identity. For the Cantú family, however, the holiday is observed to exert their identity as a family unit that is composed of both Mexican and American heritage.

This is best observed by the food that is literally placed on the Thanksgiving table. There are the foods typically seen at an American family Thanksgiving: turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, for instance. However, the Cantú family modifies their American identity by including tamales at the table. For my roommate, this is a crucial part of the holiday season; the consumption of tamales marking a time of celebration and reunion. Without tamales, the performance of her dual-heritage would be incomplete. Since the food consumed physically represents the diversity of her family, to not include one element would not be fully embodying all parts of herself and her family.

Customs
Kinesthetic

Team Cheer

Subject: A traditional cheer preceding my high school tennis team matches.

 

Collection: On the Dana Hills High School’s tennis team, we had a tradition before every tennis match to say the same cheer to boost our team’s confidence and to also psyche out our opposing team. In the traditional cheer, we first began by creating a small tipi on the court with all of our rackets so they’re standing balanced and bringing us all together. Our team captains lead us through the letters of our school’s mascot: dolphins. They shout “D-D-DOL” followed by the rest of the team’s recitation. Then, the team captains shout “P-P-PHIN”. We move through the spelling of DOLPHINS two more times and end with a loud “Go Dolphins!” and each reach for our own rackets and bring them once more together, held high in the air.

 

Background Info: C. Stuart is a freshman at the University of Southern California and is majoring in Screenwriting. She has played tennis all her life and was a part of Dana Hills High School tennis team all four years of school.

 

Context: A written transcript shared via email after assigned to share a piece of folk practice, belief, or informally passed down tradition with a classmate.

 

Analysis: Cheers, especially those performed by those participating in the sporting event, act as expressions of identity and allow for a sense of unity within a team. In this case, the assertion of one’s own identity depends on the existence of the “other” or the other team that clearly does not know the ritual or cheer. The fact that people in physical proximity are alienated then allow for an increased sense of belonging and essential exclusivity. This sense of belonging when combined with the creation of the “other” would be comforting in the face of an unsure outcome, such as an impending sporting match. Asserting one’s team identity also helps alleviate the pressure off one individual; if one person makes a mistake, the team makes the fall with them with the potential, depending on the sport, of another person picking up the slack or recovering the mistake. Therefore, a cheer is both a way of asserting a sense of belonging and soothing anxieties when facing an unsure result.

Customs
Magic
Material

Pre-Test Ritual

Subject: Tradition. “Dress your best to test your best”.

Collection:

“Interviewer: Can you talk about going out to buy that dress my sophomore year of high school… the first time we ever did dress your best to test your best?

Interviewee: So, when I was growing up my mom would always take- when I was taking tests even through college… and buy me something to make me feel… uh… special. And to put me in the best state of mind for my tests. And then when Emerson was taking her first AP test we went out and got a dress and it’s her- was called her AP dress, from that day on… but like I- you- you started not wanting to- a dress, but like we would buy a shirt or some shorts or something. It was always like just dress up, get yourself in the best state of mind to take your test”.

Background Info: C. Taylor grew up in Southern California. She had a close relationship with her mother and paternal grandmother who first introduced her to this custom. She passed it down to her daughter when the tests being taken became significant. She currently lives in San Clemente, CA with her husband and one daughter.

Context: This tradition was shared over dinner with her daughter and husband when talking about various traditions passed down through the women in our lives.

Analysis: While this custom appears indulgent, the principles behind it are simple and could be easily enacted without much pomp and circumstance. This tradition centers around the individual while simultaneously asserting a sense of belonging and responsibility within the family structure.

First, the specific action being performed, shopping and then wearing new clothes to the test, is designed to make the person taking the test feel good about themselves. By putting on the clothes, there is an attempt to feel in control of the situation, even though they may not be. This evokes a type of sympathetic magic in which the practitioner makes themselves physically appear and feel their best to then trigger the best possible results from the test. Hence, it is all about the success of the individual and an attempt to control an indeterminant outcome. Furthermore, the practitioner is physically changing their appearance to commemorate the event, an outward statement that the test is important and deserving of the highest levels of dedication.

Secondly, the build up to dressing your best to test your best presents an opportunity for mother and daughter to go out and perform a self-serving activity that is out of the normal. By performing a distinct activity and making the day a special occasion, an additional level of bonding is introduced. The positive feelings of the bonding trip are then commemorated by the apparel that is donned to make the tester feel confident and supported going into their test. It also simultaneously produces a sense of duty of child to parent, the parent has made an investment in the success of their child and so the child must perform well.

In this way, this ritual is not unlike wearing a pair of lucky socks before a basketball game. A physical item is applied to the body to produce a desired outcome; only in this case, it is the newness of the item that gives it its special powers.

Customs
Narrative

Family Poetry Tradition

Subject:  Family tradition of Narrative Verse.

Collection:

“Are you ready?

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.

 

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.

Why he left his home in the South to roam ’round the Pole, God only knows.

He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;

Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”

 

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.

Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.

If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;

It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

 

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,

And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,

He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;

And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”

 

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of groan:

“It’s the cursèd cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.

Yet ’tain’t being dead—it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;

So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”

 

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, and I swore I would not fail;

And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.

[at a bird] Oh yeah, there he goes!

He crouched…ah, let’s see…

He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;

And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

 

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,

With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;

It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,

But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate these last remains.”

 

Ah… I’ll just skip a little…

The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;

And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

 

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;

It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a thrice it was called the “Alice May.”

And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;

And “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”

 

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;

Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;

The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;

And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

 

Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so;

And the huskies howled, and the heavens scowled, and the wind began to blow.

It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;

And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

 

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;

But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;

I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.

I guess he’s cooked, it’s time I looked”; … and the door I opened wide.

 

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;

And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close the door.

It’s warm in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm—

Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

 

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.”

Background Info: B. Taylor is a long-time resident of San Clemente, CA where he raised his two sons and now resides with his wife. He holds undergraduate and pharmacy degrees from the University of Southern California.

Context: This video was taken of my grandfather reciting the poem on the banks of an Alaskan river. He frequently recites it at family gatherings and around the campfire on trips to Mexico, so I have personally heard a live telling of the poem multiple times. He learned the poem from his father who learned it from his father, and my father’s elder brother is the last person to have learned the poem purely through hearing it recited. Before my father’s family had tv or radio, their primary activity in the evenings was sharing narratives and poems. This is my grandfather’s favorite.

Analysis: The integration of the poem into our family’s traditions shows the interaction between the ways a piece of copyright material can be adopted and then modified. While members of the family subconsciously recognize the poem is from a book, it is thought of as now belonging to our family’s history. Furthermore, the slight changes in language and the omissions that have occurred over the years, make it distinct to our family’s oral traditions. In this way, the poem carries the weight, intellect, and history of those who came before me. In our family’s history, the Service poems were learned by the males in my family while women learned the biblical and romantic poetries. In this way, the memorization of the correct genre of verse is a rite of passage (since, once you learn the poem and can bear it, you now have authority in these family gatherings) and an assertion of one’s role within the family structure.

Furthermore, sharing the poem around a campfire is one of the key ways that the family bond is establish and then reinforced. One of the ironies of the poem is the setting in which my family shares it, compared to the content of the poem: a quest to find warmth, ending in a cremation. The poem beautifully captures the struggle of survival and human agency against uncontrollable natural elements (with the added element of the macabre). My family’s retention of the poem is contrary to the rapid spread of technology that has occurred since the book was published, it is a reminder of a time without television or cell phones where people connected to each other and the world around them. Especially today, our performance of the poem acts as resistance to the dominant cultural forces that threaten to eliminate the ways of life that the older members of my family hold dear.

Every telling is different, this wiggle room in the structure of the verse allows for the narrator to alter the poem to suit their dramatic vision. Depending on the teller, different characters have different voices, and certain moments become more poignant. It is through these retellings that the poem comes to life, and my family reconnects through actively displaying our ties to one another.

For Further Reading: The complete text of Robert W. Service’s poem can be found online at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45081/the-cremation-of-sam-mcgee. My grandfather owns an original copy of Service’s book The Spell of the Yukon published in 1907 from which the family first learned the poem.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Active Angels

This friend of mine has always mentioned that his family is very Christian, while he himself is more secular. He believes in God, and prays regularly, however he is a bit skeptical in terms of miracles happening here on Earth. Having grown up in San Diego in close proximity to his grandparents, who are even more religious than his parents, he often shares stories from his childhood, many of which involve church or some other religious attribute. Though he attends Mass somewhat regularly here at USC, college has made him even more of a skeptic than before.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Is it okay, if this is like, religious? Alright so, it was like evening. It wasn’t dark, it was almost dark. That time between five and six pm. You know what I’m talking about. So I’m at Torrey Pines Cove. Er, no that’s not a thing. La Jolla Cove. But it’s near Torrey Pines, anyways so. I’m there, and I’m climbing on the cliffs. I started off on just little ones, but then I got to bigger ones, and it was sort of like, more dangerous. My mom was talking to my dad, and like, just, they were walking around and stuff. And they didn’t see that I had moved on to more dangerous areas. And, I am afraid of heights, I don’t know if you know about this. But I don’t like being up high ever. I can’t look down if I’m higher than like a story. A third floor freaks me out. So anyways, I’m at a cliff – I can’t remember how far it was, but when I was a kid it felt like really really really far. You know? Like a giant gap. So I look down and I’m like way high up. And I look down and am like, holy shit? How am I gonna get down? And I didn’t know. My mom saw me at this point, and she couldn’t climb that high up, she was freaking out. She wouldn’t climb that. She was like, ‘oh my God, he’s up there, you know, he’s gotta climb down or something’. I was just frozen, I was there the whole time, and then. This guy was at the top of the cliff, and went and like helped me down. Like, I don’t – he didn’t, okay. This is hard to envision, but he went and like walked down and helped guide me down the rock face. And then, like. And then he was like, ‘there you go’, and then walked away. And then my mom was like, ‘that was an angel. A guardian angel’. Because we didn’t see any guys up there, like – it didn’t look like. She didn’t recall anyone being up there, and he just showed up. And then got me down. And then left. And my mom was like, ‘that’s a guardian angel up there’.

“My grandmother used to tell me stories about what my guardian angels looked like. And it was really like, it was a way for me to bond with my grandmother on a deeper level. Sort of supernatural, like, are there really angels out there that are everyday people? She would make up the stories. She was like – this was like what guardian angels would do. Like if I had a big test coming up, she was like, ‘the guardian angel is watching. He’ll help you with the answers,’ or I don’t know what it was. Help you study – that’s more ethical. So, but yeah. She was a big believer in angels, like active angels. Not ones that were just up there. She was like, ‘nah, they’re out there. They’re helping people’. And I always thought that was just good Samaritans. People that were like, ‘yo, this kid’s on a cliff face. I need to help him out.’ You know? And we just didn’t see him. That’s what I think happened. But my mom has a different take that that was my guardian angel like stepping in. Like, ‘this kid’s about to die’.”

This story fascinates me, as I never really think of angels as walking among us. While I, myself, believe in a higher power with a sort of spiritual-hierarchy of subservient deities (aka God with His angels, a Creation God with Nature Spirits, something along those lines), I’ve never really pictured them as being physical incarnates that interact with us one-on-one. Though my friend claims to have interacted with one face to face, he still is a skeptic that it was, in fact, an angel. It beautifully illustrates the sharp generational divide in beliefs, even if those beliefs share a common root.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Henrietta’s Pacing

I’ve always thought of this friend as an interesting guy, but we’ve only ever joked and traded some silly stories from high school. He’s hinted at coming from a large and established family in Texas, although I’ve never really gotten much more than that. This project was a great opportunity for me to find out a bit more, as I, too, share ancestral lineage from the South, and have always been interested in unique little stories of haunted houses and ancient apparitions.

The following was transcribed from a recording taken in class and shared among three or four other classmates. Though the background buzzed with chatter from other students, the spooky nature of this story made me feel very still inside.

“I come from a big ranching family, and we go back – our family history dates back to like 1853 in Texas. So from the early, early days of the state. And our family is still in-tact and everything, very close together, and the ranch is still there. So um, there’s a lot of history to it in South Texas. So with that there comes a lot of ghost stories and whatnot. Um, so there’s a lot of reports of people seeing ghosts in the main house and stuff like that. The house itself is as old as the ranch, so very, very old. It’s a hundred an- we just celebrated it’s a hundred-and-sixty-fifth anniversary. Well actually, excuse myself. The ranch is a hundred-and-sixty-five years old, and the house just turned a hundred. So, yes. Very, very old. I’m a sixth generation out of seven, in terms of family members, so there’s been that many people that have gone through the house. Four generations lived in the house their entire lives, um. So naturally, the ghosts aren’t always the same. The ghost that I saw is… Let’s see. The ghost that I saw or rather heard or believe I heard at least is – I was going to bed in my room which is on the first floor, and uh, the floors are made of wood on the second floor. So my room is right under this room we call Henrietta’s room which is the room of the matriarch of the original generation, the first generation. So in Henrietta’s room – it’s the biggest one in the house. It’s basically like the original one. And it’s also where most of the ghost sightings and experiences are seen is up, up in hers. So my room is right below. And I haven’t had any encounters like visually. But the one I have had is I was going to sleep one night, and I was trying to go to bed. I was the only one in the house, and um, the thing is the house is very, very big, and it’s kind of a rarity to be the only one in the house. Normally there’s at least 2 or 3 other people staying there. And I was the only one there that night, kind of taking care of the house before I left the next day. I was going to bed and I heard this creaking above me, as if someone was walking around on the wood. Um, on the second floor. AKA, Henrietta’s room. And I didn’t think much of it before I realized I was the only one in the house. And I thought, ‘oh, is there an intruder?’. And I got really, really scared, um, cause those things can happen. But there’s also a lot of security. So then again, nothing so much. But I listened really closely, and the footsteps were going in a circle, as if they were just plodding around the room. And they were just going in an endless circle, and the steps were very, very slow too. Like, a very slow walking pace, basically. And I was listening to these footsteps going in an endless circle. I think eventually I fell asleep, but it was interesting that being my first ghost experience. And basically having to accept the fact that there’s a ghost walking around above me. And I just went to sleep comfortable, knowing that it was a ghost and not an intruder. So that was nice for me.”

It is rare for a ghost to be preferred over another human being. However, if the ghost is a loving relative in a lineage that values family and tradition, then it makes sense to prefer its presence to a possibly violent intruder. This piece breaks the American stereotype of all ghosts being malevolent beings hell-bent on revenge and retribution. Instead, it offers a different outlook on the world of the supernatural – that ghosts come out when they think no one is home and simply go about their business. Perhaps Henrietta craves the nostalgia of her old room, and comes back to enjoy the sights and scents whenever she can. Little did she know her great-great-great-great-great grandson slept soundly below.

Adulthood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Life cycle
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Circumcisions are Cheaper in the Philippines

This friend of mine is one of the sweetest guys I know. He’s quiet, but has a great sense of humor. One day, late at night, he blurted out, “is it normal that I was circumcised in the fifth grade?”. I knew I needed it for my folklore project. Most of the background information is contained in the transcript below.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“What is there to talk about? I guess you guys are my friends… so… eh? I don’t know if it’s like a cultural thing here, but in the Philippines it’s really looked down upon if you’re not circumcised, like you’re just kind of like a dipshit, you know? You get made fun of. So then like it’s kind of like a rite of passage thing – which is really strange – that like somewhere around like, um, I don’t know like end of elementary school to middle school. You, like you should do it, you know? Yeah, so then, um, we had like a Philippines vacation and my dad was like, ‘oh yeah, you should do it’ cause it’s cheaper in the Philippines, so then I was like, ‘okay, I’ll do it dad’. And I was like really scared. It was just, I don’t know. It was really weird. And then, okay. My dad would explain what would happen and I’d get so scared. Because like, ‘oh, there are scissors involved’. Hahahahaha. People in the Philippines can get superstitious that you’d get infected if you did it too young or something, so you wait. Also, because the healthcare system there is really bad, so they’re afraid that like babies will get sick and die if you do it then. Anyways, then. Um, uh, I’ll just jump to when it happened, because it was really scary. I was just really scared and I kind of just let it happen. But, basically when I went there, it was like- it was really strange.

“Like I said, the Philippines healthcare is really bad, so they didn’t knock me out or anything. I was awake when it happened. Um, yeah, hahaha. They put me in the room, and my dad’s just outside. And the doctor – like I’m lying there, and it feels like a really bare room, like probably no bigger than this room, and it was really strange, and it was just a lot of lights and stuff, and it didn’t even really feel like a proper.. like… surgical place. There were just some beds and stuff, and needles and everything. So, like um, the doctor… the doctor dude he gets a towel and is like, ‘oh, I’m gonna put this over your head. Because you’re gonna be traumatized if you see what happens. You know? So they blindfold me pretty much, as it happens, and then he pretty much walks me through in like Tagalog – which is Filipino – what’s gonna happen. I don’t even remember much of it, I know I didn’t pass out. But like, they definitely numbed me in that area, you know? No needles going anywhere. They just, I don’t know, stuck a needle around your … groin? Area? Basically, the entire time, I couldn’t really feel – or like I couldn’t feel any pain, but I could definitely feel … things moving around. And like, being cut off. Just saying, and it was really strange. And it was just a lot of pressure, until like, afterward. Um, and I just remember going, ‘whoa, it’s not that bloody’, when they took the towel off because there wasn’t that much blood. And it was just really strange. And it took like two weeks to heal. And that’s all I remember. There were stitches that like, melted off. Because that’s like medicine. It’s not really a Filipino tradition – I don’t know if they do it so much anymore cause like, the Philippines has been getting a lot better, since back then. This was fourth or fifth grade. It was just kind of interesting. I don’t know how old I was, I don’t want to remember hahahaha.

“You know that Twilight Zone episode? Eye of the Beholder? I was kind of like that. Except there was no pig on the end, yeah. It wasn’t that bad. Just a lot of gauze and pills.”

This piece really sheds some light on the overlap between modern medicine and folk medicine. Circumcision is an ancient tradition, however the advent of modern medicine has propelled it further into the mainstream. This friend of mine describes how even to this day, modern Filipino circumcision are influenced by folk belief in that it is considered bad luck to get it down as a baby. Later, he mentioned to me how the timing of the circumcision (around the age of 9 or 10) was also meant to be a sort of ritual celebration of adulthood, although his family did not really celebrate it. Rather, they viewed it more as something that just happens without imparting a significance related to maturity.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Glasses, Apples, and Parking Spaces – Oh My!

This friend of mine has always been one of the most superstitious people I know. Her childhood was split between two households, each with their own unique beliefs and superstitions. Having been quite close for the past few years, I’ve heard innumerable stories regarding strange folk-beliefs her parents taught her as a little girl.

The following was recorded by hand during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“I think it’s bad luck to wear other people’s glasses because you’re trying to see more of the world than you’re meant to see. Why would you try to see the world through other people’s eyes? It’s the principle of the thing. Why do I have superstitions? Because I don’t have a religion. My dad is really superstitious because he’s really OCD. So like my whole life, we weren’t allowed to eat apples in the house because he thought apples brought a mean energy. He’d always say that they were rude. And we weren’t allowed to park in spaces that were diagonal. He would not park in spaces that had that bar – he’d freak out.”

It’s interesting to view this piece as a sort of cause-and-effect type of deal. Her dad is superstitious because he’s OCD, therefore, he has lots of odd little habits and preferences that was interpreted by my friend as superstition (whether she or her father was the source of this conclusion has been lost to the sands of time). These superstitions bred more superstition – the one about the glasses is an original – which has been passed on to her friends and classmates, and may spread throughout the world. Her father’s condition has created a traceable line of superstitions that have the potential to spread globally. It’s fascinating to witness the overlap and snowballing effect that a few small beliefs can have.

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