USC Digital Folklore Archives / January, 2011

Poem – South Africa

Gulwe op die Strand

Hulle val oor hul eie voete

Al val hulle terug hou hulle moed

Hulle staan weer op en storm,

Storm in waansin waar voort

Net soos dit lyk of hul die geveg

Wen, kom die wit bal

en trek hul terug waar hul

vandaan kom

Party dae is hulle rof en grof

Ander dae skuif hul rustig voort

maar altyd bly hul genadeloos

In die stilte van die oggend

Dreun jul voort en klap soos ‘n sweep

Hul spoeg dood maar nie verwoesting nie

Selfs die magtige swart kastele

Bly nie staande, nie staan teen hul

Voortdurende aanslag nie

Hul sal voortgaan heel dag, heel nag

Lank na ons en lank voor ons

Sal hule oor hul eie voete breek


Hille fal oor hulle aya foete

Al fal hille terug hoe hille moet

Hille staan veer op en storm

Storm in vaansin veer foort

Net soos dit lake orf hil di gefeg

Ven, korm dee vit bul

En trek hil terug vaar hil

Fandaan kom

Partay dae is hille rof en grof

Anda dae skuyf hil ristig fourt

Mar alteight blay hil genadiloos

In dee stilta fan dee ogind

Dreen hil fourt en clapsoos a swap

Hil spoeg dout mar knee firvosting knee

Selfs dee magtiga swaart kasteala

Blay nee stande,knee staan teun hil

Fourtdurende aanslag knee

Hil sal fourtgaan heal dug,heal nug

Lunk na ons en lunk four ons

Sal hil oor hil eye foete breuk

English translation

Waves on the beach

They tumble over their own legs

Even though they fall back, they are courageous

They go out again and charge

charge forward vehemently again

Just as it appears as if they are winning

the battle, the big white ball comes

and drags them back

to where they came from

Some days they are rough and mean

Other days they move on quietly

but they are always merciless

In the silence of the morning

they rumble forward and hit like a whip

They spit forth death but not total destruction

Even the powerful black castles

do not stand, do not stand

against the constant attacks

They continue on all day and night

Long after us and before us

They will break over their own feet

English and Afrikaans used to be the two official languages of South Africa until Apartheid was ended. My father is fluent in Afrikaans as it is a mandatory subject one had to take from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Literature and poetry were significant parts of the Afrikaans curriculum and this is a poem that my father remembers learning in junior high school.

The poem symbolizes to him the eternity of the sea. People’s lives are transient and whereas the waves on the beach are interminable. However what both have in common are the ups and downs, the tranquil times and the rough times, and the unknowing variation that takes place.

He feels that the poem is very descriptive, however a lot of the impact is lost in translation.

I agree with my father about the juxtaposition of the eternity of waves with the terminable human life. However, I feel that there is more to the poem that can be explored. This poem not only delves into the difference between the sea and humans but also shows the similarities as well. The waves are shown to be unrelenting. Although they are given obstacles (“Even though they fall back, they are courageous”) they continue each day extending effort to defeat the current. However the waves will continue each day regardless of success but that will not stop them from continuing relentless for eternity.

This poem seems to teach a lesson about the human spirit. Similar to the waves being defeated, humans will always have people pushing them back from achieving their goals. Yet this should not stop one from trying to succeed with a goal but instead encourage persistence and dedication. Sometimes one will never reach the desired goal but it essential to continue regardless. The phrase that reads “Some days they are rough and mean, other days they move on quietly” represents the human persona. Some days we are able to continue without complaints and power through even though challenges are constantly placed in our direction. Yet in other circumstances anger is released from the frustration of failure.

I wish I was able to fluently understand Afrikaans as I definitely think a lot of the significance and beauty is lost in translating the poem to English. Many times a word in one language does not have a direct translation into another language. Therefore a lot of the meaning is taken away through translation.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holiday Tradition – Vietnam

New Years is a very important occasion in Vietnam. The date varies every year because it is determined by the Lunar Calendar. Nguyen Thien Nga who grew up in Saigon explained to me how her family used to celebrate and bring in the New Year.

New Years symbolizes getting rid of what has occurred in the past year. Everyone goes to great lengths to make everything spotless and makes the occasion incredibly upbeat and happy. The house is very ornately decorated. There are huge bouquets of flowers, and large bowls of fruit that fill the house and represent a healthy new year. Particularly the flowers tend to be red and this represents the color of royalty and wealth. In addition children are given red envelopes with monetary gifts inside. It is very essential that the money is brand new in order to have a good new year and as a result all the adults go to the bank to get new money. The older the person is, the more money he or she gives.

It is also very important to make amends and settle debts before the New Year comes around. It is bad luck if one does not repay a debt from the past year. If a debt is not repaid before the New Year than the person who is owed money is meant to approach the debtor about the money owed and bad luck will occur as a result of this. Luck is a prominent part in the three day celebration and people follow many specifications and put great consideration and thought into details to try and ensure a good New Year.

A traditional food eaten on the occasion is sticky rice that is placed in banana leaves. It originated from an event that took place many years ago. Back in the day there existed a king who had eighteen sons and before he died, he wanted to decide which one of them was apt to take over his position. He commanded all the boys to prepare a special dish and interpret it. They went out into the mountains for inspiration. One of the boys chose to use banana leaves which he arranged as a square. He filled the interior with sticky rice and meat and then folded it up. He called it Banh Chung. In addition he made a round, sticky steamed cake made of rice powder and sweet beans. It is called Banh Giay. The brothers called him foolish as they felt these creations were too earthy. However, he was selected as the father to be the next in line as his items were very affordable and it was within everyone’s reach to make them. These food items have been passed down since and are even made it today. The round cake represents the sun and the square dish is symbolic of the earth.

Since immigrating to San Diego, for practical purposes, Nguyen Thien Nga celebrates the New Year on the weekend closest to the Lunar date whereas in Vietnam it is a three day celebration where everything closes down for the occasion.

I think it is important to continue the rituals of one’s hometown even at after

immigrating to a new country. Obviously it is more difficult to uphold all the customs as the United States does not give three days off to celebrate the holiday but it still essential to uphold traditions as it sustains one’s background and culture.


Wedding Tradition – Teheran, Iran

Malak went to a city school in Teheran. In the summertime which was three months long, her family went to stay at their country house. The country house was situated in a location called Ajeen Dogeen which is three hours outside of Teheran. Malak is one of several children however two of them died in the revolution. Her extended family which included many cousins came to Ajeen Dogeen for the summertime. This was a time for fun and recreation for her family.

Her most vivid recollection is celebrating a wedding in the village. Everyone who lived there was invited. Weddings started traditionally on a Wednesday night and lasted until Friday afternoon. The weddings were all arranged marriages. The bride and groom did not know each other particularly well.  The groom’s family was to discuss arrangements with the bride’s family in a very businesslike manner. The groom’s family paid Shir Baha. This is translated to mean “milk price” which is money given for security in case the husband dies or if the couple divorces. The more affluent the family, the more generous the Shir Baha. In addition the groom’s family paid for the wedding. The bride’s family contributed towards furniture for the new couple’s house. They were married according to Muslim tradition. The wedding was particularly loud however the only two instruments that were played were the flute and the drum. This celebration was very inclusive of all, and everyone in the community was involved for the three days. Malak herself was approached by a gentleman to marry her but her family declined. She subsequently immigrated to the United States.

It is ironic that the occasion seems so rigid and rule-bound yet it is such a community affair. One would expect such an affair that involved others to be welcoming but by the sounds of the business dealings between the families it sounds like quite the opposite.

It is unique to see that the groom’s family is the one pays for the expenses of the wedding. In the United States it is common for the bride’s family to take care of all the expenses incurred from the wedding.

I know that in many cases people who have arranged marriages learn to love each other. In some instances arranged marriages are successful because the people that are creating the arrangement have the best interests of the two individuals at heart. However personally I feel that marriage is a lifetime commitment and I would like the ability to choose my husband rather than having my husband pre-selected for me. It is not that arranged marriages are bad bur they are just originally based off other qualities with the factor of love absent.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Poem/Folk Holiday – Scotland

Some have meat and canna eat,                                    Some have meat and cannot eat,
And some wad eat that want it;                                  And some would eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,                                But we have meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.                                          So let the Lord be thanked.

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,                     Fair full your honest, jolly face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!                 Great chieftain of the sausage-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,                   Above them all you take your place
Painch, tripe, or thairm:                                               Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace                                     Well are you worthy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.                                            As long as my arm

The groaning trencher there ye fill,                 The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,                                   Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill                  Your pin would help to mend a mill
In time o need,                                                            In time of need,
While thro your pores the dews distil                         While through your pores the dews distill
Like amber bead.                                            Like amber bead

His knife see rustic Labour dight,                   His knife see rustic Labor wipe,
An cut you up wi ready slight,                                   An cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,                      Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;                                               Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,                 And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!                                          Warm steaming, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:     Then spoon for spoon, they stretch and strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,                         Devil take the hindmost, on they drive
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve                         Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by    Are bent like drums;                                                  Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,                         Then old master, most like to burst
‘Bethankit’ hums.                                            “The grace!” hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,              Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,                          Or olio that would sicken a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew                                  Or fricassee would make her throw up
Wi perfect sconner,                                         With perfect disgust,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view                      Looks down with sneering, scornful view
On sic a dinner?                                              On such a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,                 Poor devil! See him over his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,                                    As feeble as a withered rush,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,               His thin legs a good whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:                                                            His fist a nut:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,                Through bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!                                                   O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,                    But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed
The trembling earth resounds his tread,                      The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,                                   Clap in his amble fist a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;                                      He will make it whistle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,              An legs and arms, an heads will crop,
Like taps o thrissle.                                         Like tops of thistle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,       You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,                And dish them out their bill of fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware                    Old Scotland wants no watery ware
That jaups in luggies:                                      That splashes in small wooden dishes:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,                  But is you wish her grateful prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!                                            Give her a Haggis!

In Scotland, there is a day of the year that commemorates the famous poet, Robert Burns. Although it is not a national holiday it is celebrated by all in Scotland and also embodies the traditions of Scotland. I was told of this special celebration through a close family friend, Ann Jurkowski. Having lived most of her life in Scotland this Day of Burns was a common event for her. For Ann, this day represents a day of fun and excitement.

The day begins with the reciting of the poem written by Burns featured at the top of this paper. It represents the idea that some people are given objects in life but do not have the capacity to appreciate them. Juxtaposing this, there are others with wishes and desires for certain things however their desires will never be fulfilled. Therefore by having meat (having the object desired) and the ability to eat it should stimulate gratitude and appreciation for all that one is blessed with.

A main component of this day is the “Address to a Haggis”. As this poem (featured above) is recited, bag pipes are being played, men are dressed in kilts, and lots of drinking and dancing occurs. This particular part of the day has lots of spirit and energy associated with it.

Ann currently lives in the United States but went back to Scotland to visit her mother who resides there in her old age. She ended up being in Scotland for the Day of Burns so celebrated the event with her mother. The old age home was actually a Jewish old age home and as a result they supplied Kosher Haggis in order to adapt to the needs of the residents. Regardless of one’s age, social standing, or religion all the people have the ability to participate in this day. Although they might celebrate in slightly different manners, this day acknowledges Scottish culture and the appreciation of poetry.

I believe that an event like this should be introduced to the United States. Not only does it promote literacy and education through reading of the poems but it also creates a mode for people of all ages to interact. People are often divided into cliques by factors such as age and religion. Yet this celebration allows all to come together for a positive experience that emphasizes education, togetherness, and national pride.



The chairs all are empty

The last guest is gone

The candles burn lower and lower,

And spudder on and on,

And after the last guest has parted,

It’s off to the smoke-laiden air,

There remains a lingering presence,

That goes with a fellowship prayer,

Friends, friends, friends, you and I will be

Whether in fair, dark, stormy weather,

We’ll stand or we’ll fall together

For KAT, you and I will be

Our bonds celebrating, till death separating

Old pals we’ll be (blow out candle)

This after dinner song is one that my neighbor Mackenzie participates in on a weekly basis. Mackenzie and I are members of the same sorority and so both learned this song at the beginning of the school year. Most of the girls in the sorority learned the words and sing the entire song through memorization but have no idea of the meaning of what we are saying. We never contemplate and analyze the words but because we know it is something we are meant to sing we follow without questions.

Additionally at the end of the song we blow out an imaginary candle. I never considered why we would just do this action but when I ponder it now, it makes sense. Blowing out the candle symbolizes the finalization of the evening. Light represents activity, while darkness on the other hand signifies the opposite. When a day comes to an end the transition from light to dark occurs. Therefore it makes sense that although there is not an actual candle present we are signifying this finalization of the night through the “termination of the flame”.

When I questioned Mackenzie as to her thoughts on the after dinner chant she replied that it was a fun and catchy song yet she never really thought beyond it. The part of the song that stood out most prominently to her was the one that had repetition.                 Although the song has been passed down from generations the actual words no longer hold the same significance that they used to. The song is based more off of tradition then meaning.

The tune is very catchy and thus even when we were just learning the song we were able to participate by at least humming along. The words of the song deal with the idea of friendship and the everlasting bonds that come with being sisters in a sorority. It discusses different weather conditions acknowledging that regardless of the situation the friendships that are formed will be not broken. They are everlasting and only death can break the strong bonds that are shared.

This song has been sung since this particular sorority began many years ago. Regardless of what one thinks of the songs, it is sung as it is a tradition that cannot be broken.


Recipe – South Africa

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holiday Tradition – Mexican

On Christmas Eve, Blanca, her sisters and her mom get together to prepare dinner. The menu is standard and always includes masa (batter), husks, chicken, potatoes, meat with red sauce, pineapple, raisins, and cheeses. Her mother always prepares the sauce in advance which she refers to as salsa. The sauce is a particular one her mother’s mother had devised and it is only made once a year. The special sauce is known as “Salsa Michoacana” because this is where the family is from. It was passed on from her grandmother and has stayed as a tradition to eat every Christmas Eve. The fillings are pre-cooked and everything is laid out on a long table. Loud music is put on, everyone puts on their aprons, and all they take a spot around the table forming an assembly line. One person would fill the husks, then pass it on to the next who folds it, and the last person ties it. The assembled husks get placed in different containers and get steamed in different pots depending on the filling used.

While the food is cooking and the kitchen cleaned up, the family relaxes while playing “Loteria” which is equivalent to Bingo except the cards have pictures not numbers. Some common pictures on the cards are of “el boracho” (the drunken man), “la palma” (the palm tree), “la estrella” (the star), “el sol” (the sun), and “el botella” (the bottle). A deck of cards is turned and little stories are made to depict little stories of the card turned over. Beans are used to cover the card and when the card is filled one yells “Loteria”.

This time before Christmas represents a time for family and tradition to Blanca. Regardless of the directions that her family members have taken that year, the Christmas preparation sparks a time for togetherness and family.

Blanca’s family celebration seems to represent a time where not only present family is recognized but also a commemoration of family members who have passed and an acknowledgment of tradition and culture. This is implied through various features of Blanca’s story. Firstly, the special salsa that is made for the event is named in remembrance of the location that the family is from. Secondly, the same exact recipe is repeated each year, with each person assigned a different task. Not only does it reinforce the necessity of each family member in the creation of the Christmas Eve celebration but also emphasizes the presence of tradition within Blanca’s family.

The card game emphasizes the Mexican influence on Blanca’s family. The game “Loteria” is one that is in their native tongue and slightly adapted to reflect the Mexican culture. Playing the card game is useful for the purpose of recreation and fun but also a time for family to rest collectively in addition to all the time that goes into the preparation of the event.

Folk Beliefs

Custom – South Africa

The Zulu population of South Africa used to believe in the Tokolosh. This
”character” used to scare them horribly.

My mother, Robyn, has personal experience in that a lady by the name of Margaret Gama who used to work for her family in Johannesburg was very fearful of the Tokolosh as an evil doer. It was a custom that she followed to raise her bed by inserting bricks underneath her bed. Seemingly she believed this would help keep her out of reach of the Tokolosh.

Robyn, herself thought this to be a myth but the hold that this character had over the Zulu population was so immense that it was a frequent worry for them.

I had not heard of the Tokolosh until recently and I do not believe in the validity of this creature. However with the Zulu population, they are taught from generation to generation that the Tokolosh exists. Therefore it makes sense that they would all believe so strongly in this creature. When one is taught something from such a young age and have it enforced throughout the rest of one’s life there is not reason to think differently. We have certain beliefs that are based off the way our friends, family, and culture think.

Additionally although the name and supposed physical appearance of the creature is unique many groups of people believe in evil or magical creatures. Many people will wear cloves of garlic around their necks or simply have garlic in their rooms as they believe this will shield them from evil spirits or from vampires. The Oracle Education library listed some additional protection methods including using hawthorn and mountain ash (rowan). Additionally they found that “Some believe that the scattering of seeds is also a good defense because the vampire would become so involved in counting every single seed that they would allow its target to escape.” (Oracle Education Foundation) Some of these methods of protection seem absurd but in some cultures these seems like perfect measures in order to instill protection.

“Vampires.” Unseen Creatures: an Introduction to Creatures of Myth and Legend. Thinkquest – Oracle Education Foundation. 27 Apr. 2008 <>.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holiday Tradition – Scotland

Ann Jurkowski, a family friend, described the Scottish New Years in detail as there are many unique aspects to it. A main feature of this event is termed “first footing”. Every person is meant to take a piece of their own coal and at midnight distribute it to other people to use in their houses. Often times people do not know from which neighbor the coal comes from. However it is useful as the weather is miserable and so people use the coal to furnish their fires.

Ann commented that the entire event is just “good fun”. It has no restrictions on who can enjoy the excitement of the holiday and is very social. A nice gesture that many people undertake on this holiday is delivering coal to someone who may not have anyone to celebrate the New Year with. As opposed to the United States where people hold individual celebrations and people have to be invited to attend, in Scotland everyone keeps their door unlocked as there are no limitations in any regard. Therefore the New Year brings in a time of spirit but additionally it brings in a sense of unity for all.

I believe that this holiday represents more of what the New Year should be celebrating. It connects the people of Scotland and allows involvement with all types of people. The New Year should be about making change for the improvement of society and appreciation for the past year. By allowing all to be included it shows that although we may all follow different paths, and have varying levels of prosperity and happiness, we all have hopes for an even better new year. This commonality allows a sense of community for all.


Folk Music – USA

Just a boy

And a girl

And a little canoe

With the moon shinin’ all around

And they talked

And they talked

‘Til the moon was dim

He said, “You better kiss me or get out and swim!”

So what ya gonna do

In a little canoe

With the moon shinin’ all a’

Boats floatin’ all a’

Girls swimming all around?

Oh yeah? Yeah!

Get out and swim!

Sydney told me she learned this song in elementary school from her mother when she participated in Girl Scouts. She learned the song in Houston, Texas, but believes that it was probably derived from a standard Girl Scouts handbook of songs to learn and teach. She said that she has no idea where her mother learned the song herself, but suspects that many other Girl Scouts troops sang similar (if not the same) songs as well. Since her mother was the leader of her Girl Scout troop, everyone in her troop learned it as well.

Sydney said that the song is usually sung in a variety of contexts. For example, the song can be used as a Girl Scouts meeting opener activity and is often sung to create a festive and lively atmosphere. The song can also be sung around a campfire, when all the girls are gathered around and settling down for the night. However, Sydney said that her troop usually sang the song when they were marching. Whether marching down the street or through the woods, the troop would sing this song in conjunction with a collection of other Girl Scouts affiliated songs. She said that the best time to sing it would be in a group with a troop of young girls. It is usually sung to consume time and to conjure up a fun and light-hearted atmosphere.

Sydney does not think the song is very difficult to understand. She feels that the lyrics spell out the meaning of the song. In her opinion, the song is about a boy and a girl, who row out into a body of water. They are having a good time, until night falls and they have to go back. The boy demands that the girl kiss him or else he will not row her back to shore. Instead of falling prey to the boy’s advances, the girl jumps aboard and swims to shore. Sydney says that this is a prime example of a female empowerment song for impressionable young girls. It says that boys like girls, but girls do not necessarily like boys. Also, she says that part of the reasons she still remembers the song is because it also gives young girls a glimpse into the future, especially at an age when they still do not understand male/female relations. She says that now, her reaction would probably be to just kiss the guy instead of swimming to shore.

I agree with Sydney in that this song is relatively simple and straightforward in meaning. But besides being a generally uplifting song, I think it is used most often used in communal settings in order to create a sense of bonding amongst young girls. It is targeted at a young age group because the song draws upon their shared naiveté of boy/girl relations and instills a sense of female independence. The fact that it is being promoted by an organization that stresses female leadership is no coincidence. It teaches the girls to be strong and not be pressured into giving in to male authority. The song also reveals the commonly held belief of males’ desires of female attention and at what lengths they will go to get it. It warns the young girls of these sexual encounters and tells them not to blindly follow male dominance and to stand up for themselves.