USC Digital Folklore Archives / April, 2014
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Petting a wet dog = death by car accident

“I don’t understand this one at all: my grandmother always used to say that if you pet a wet dog, you’d get hit by a car. I genuinely do not understand where she got an idea that stupid. But she told it to my dad and all of her children.”

The informant’s grandmother, who received no formal education, was born, lived, and died in Irapuarto, Mexico. The informant is generally mistrusting of all things he has learned from his grandmother, as he refers to most folk belief as “batshit.” Such beliefs hold no weight to him and serve only to be laughed at.

Folk Beliefs
Magic

Don’t Comb Wet Hair

The informant learned from his father, who learned from his mother, not to comb your hair when wet, as doing so would make you more susceptible to being struck and killed by lightning.

This belief is likely rooted in the observation of static electricity, a phenomenon which immediately evokes images of lightning.

The informant’s grandmother, who received no formal education, was born, lived, and died in Irapuarto, Mexico. The informant is generally mistrusting of all things he has learned from his grandmother, as he refers to most folk belief as “batshit.” Such beliefs hold no weight to him and serve only to be laughed at.

Customs
Folk speech
Musical

The Little Piccolo Player

“Prišel je tsiganček

sajast kako vranček;

Igral je na piščalko

Milo in pelo

Kakor malo kdo.”

Translation:

“There came a little gypsy boy

Black with soot/dirtlike a crow; [Dark as a crow]

He played on the piccolo

gently and beautifully

like very few could.”

This  is a traditional Slovenian nursery rhyme, one that I was raised listening to as my mother sang it to me as a child. She said that it was a song generally sung with many children who held hands and danced in circles. The rhyme itself imbibes a deeply racist sentiment towards the Romani people, who are widely refered to across Europe as “tsiganci” or “gypsies. ” The second line, “sajast kako vranček,” works two fold: 1) “sajast” means sooty or dirty, implying that the boy is unclean or uninterested in being washed. 2) the line likens the boy’s skin color to that of a dark crow, calling special attention to his non-aryan complexion.

However, the informant and I both have affectionate relationships with this rhyme, as it is sung with a gleeful, youthful tone, thereby removing much of the willful malice of its inherent bigotry. In fact, it was only when the informant and I revisited the rhyme did she and I truly grasp how deeply the racial sentiment was pronounced. The informant is unclear as to where in particular it originated, though when she was growing up in the late 60s, it was a very popular children’s rhyme in the Slovenske Konjice, a region of northeastern Slovenia.

Customs
general
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pre-Show Chant

The Informant is a 22 year old male, a senior at USC, and was born and raised in Manhattan Beach, CA.

Me: So, you’re on a comedy troupe, are there any rituals you guys like to do before shows?

Him: We like to make sure that we’re all connected, on the same page, and in a good, fun, mind-set so that we can do well in the show together and support each other. So we do a pre-show chant. We pick one person a school-year who is in charge of it and it’s their job to come up with a chant, on the spot, before every show, to match the specific rhythm that we always use for it. And it has to relate to the theme of our show that week.

Me: For example, if you’re doing a show about Shakespeare that week, the chant has to be Shakespeare themed and fit into the rhythm?

Him: Yes. Exactly.

Me: And they have to make it up on the spot?

Him: Yeah, they can’t plan it during the day.

Me: But what if they do?

Him: Well, we just kinda go by the honor code. And you can tell if they’ve pre-planned it. It’s not as good if they’ve thought about it in advance. You can just tell. So, yeah, they make up a 3-line chant on the spot that can fit in the rhythm we always use and our show theme.

Me: How do you perform it?

Him: We all crouch down in a circle with one hand in the middle, and first, only whisper the chant. Then we keep repeating it, and repeating it, slowly getting louder and louder, until we’re jumping up like crazy people and screaming the chant at the top of our lungs, and we kind of all decide together when it’s going to end. It’s spontaneous. We just feel it out and it’s great. Super fun. Gets us super amped before the show.

Me: How long have you been doing this as a troupe?

Him: It’s been passed down for like 6 years now, since spring of 2008 when the troupe got started. And depending on the person whose job it is to create the chant, it’s been different every year.

Me: How so?

Him: So, last year my friend A***** was the pre-show chant guy, and his chants were always witty and had a twist at the end. This year I have another friend doing it and hers are really good at tying themes in, and they tend to be cute little diddies. My friend E*** did it my first year on the troupe and he always managed to use the word “queef” in all of his chants.

Analysis:

I think this practice is similar to many other rituals in theatre and performance arts in general. There seems to be a definite concentration on achieving a specific mindset in order to be successful onstage, where unity of the performers is the ultimate goal. I think the significance of improvising the chant on the spot emphasizes the importance of the present moment, which is a large part of many acting/performance curriculums. Being in the present in the current moment. Improvising and “jumping up like crazy people” also seem to become liberating tasks that allows the actors to let go of embarrassment and self-consciousness, and therefore could possibly quell any levels of stage fright.

[geolocation]