USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘African’
Customs
Festival
Foodways

The Significance of Yams in Nigeria

new_yam_festival2

My friend grew up in Nigeria before coming to the US for college. He says yams are life in Nigeria.

Friend:“The yam is the staple food and therefore a measure of masculinity and wealth. If a family has a lot of yams, you’re rich because you can feed your family. This makes you a strong man. Yams are equated to life in Igbo culture. Nigeria is the leading producer of yams in the world, so of course they are a big deal to us.”

Me: Do you still have family who farm yams?

Friend: “My father does not farm yams, but my grandfather did, and his father before him. When my grandfather got married, he had to present his yams to my grandmother’s family to prove he could provide for her, which is a fairly typical custom in Nigeria.”

Me: Is there anything specific about how yams are farmed that makes them special?

Friend: “On some farms in Nigeria, the women aren’t allowed to go to the farm until harvest time. Then the women do all of the harvest work. It’s superstition I guess. There are many people today who still grow yams. Yams are featured at any big gathering or at any holiday meal.”

 

Analysis: Many cultures have some form of staple food. For the Irish, potatoes are an important part of sustenance, and therefore are a large part of how people live. Because of this, a simple food like a potato, or yam, can come to have symbolic meaning.  What a family produces in terms of yams, and how it relates to masculinity is extremely interesting, given that yams are an unpredictable measure of success. One year, the harvest could be plentiful and the weather perfect. The next year, however, bad luck could lead to very few yams. Another aspect of this folklore worth noting is that while the men do the initial farming, the women do the harvesting. Perhaps this relates to the hunter/gatherer trope, but a man’s worth relies on work which is half done by women.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“Every day is for the thief, one day is for the owner.”

Subject: Yoruba (Nigerian Proverb

Phonetic Script: “Kwa ụbọchị bụ maka ohi, otu ụbọchị dị ka onye nwe.”

Translation:” Every day is for the thief, one day is for the owner.”

Interpretation: You can lie, cheat, and steal, but one day, you will be caught.

Analysis: This proverb shows the values of the Igbo people. Virtue is better that self-interest.

 

 

 

Game

Mailman

Main piece:

The mail man one, “Mailman mailman do your duty here comes a lady with an african booty she can do the pom pom she can do the twist most of all she can kiss kiss with her red hot lips k i s s i n g”

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

It was one of the rhymes the kids knew. It wasn’t a favorite but it sticks because it’s the most ridiculous one out of them all. Learned it in 1st grade from some female peer in her class. Informant thinks this one is ridiculous and doesn’t know why little kids sing it because it’s a little inappropriate.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It’s a hand clapping game for little kids to sing together.

Personal Analysis:

The “african booty part” is kind of racist. Even the informant said that it’s a weird song to think about. As a kid, she just went along with what the others were doing. I think it has a lot of strange connotations that kids don’t know about. I don’t think this has anything to do with Africa, but I wonder why American kids sing it. Why is it the mail man’s duty to kiss the lady? It’s actually really uncomfortable to think about. “do the pom pom” isn’t even proper grammar. I wonder who was the first person to start this song.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

African Christmas Festival

Main piece:

On African christmas festival, the kids sing african songs such as “christmas in africa” song. The song is about family gathering in Christmas and slaughtering a cow and chimombe (means cow). Whenever there’s a festival, there’s a slaughtering. All of that was in the informant’s school. She said that maybe in rural places they might still be against white people and avoid white tradition. However, she is from the part of Africa that is urban and the capital city.

On that day, they eat Christmas cookies and cake but if they want a more traditional food they eat sadza or fried worms, which some people like and some don’t.

She recalls performing a play. In the play, she married a guy. Since it’s christmas they’re coming back to their hometown and the family celebrates their return. They’re so excited that their son is bringing wife. In a Zimbabwe wedding, the whole family gathers and in a book it says they are supposed to hide in a rock and come out.

Yulule is the sound that comes up from stomach that the natives make. Even though the informant is not a native, she just copies them. The sound means that you’re happy.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Informant knows about this festival because she participated in it when she lived as a foreigner in Zimbabwe. She was the main character (wife) in the play.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It happens during Christmas. This particular event was at an elementary school.

Personal Analysis:

This festival seems very different from the American traditional Christmas festivities. I don’t think anything is similar except christmas cookies. Americans sing songs too, but I’ve never heard of a “Christmas in Africa” song before. As a non-native in Africa, the informant has a more objective view on this festival because it was new to her at one point too.

Folk speech

“Malian Folk-Saying: Part Two”

            The informant was born and raised in Bamako, Mali until the age of ten, when she and her family moved to the San Francisco area. Half-French and half-Malian, the informant has lived a diverse life full of unique and varied cultural activities. She visits both Paris and Bamako during vacations and maintains a strong connection with family in both countries. She is fluent in English, French, and Bambara, which is the primary language spoken in Mali and part of the West African Mande language family. Related dialects are spoken in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, similar enough so that the informant felt confident that people living in those countries would understand the saying.

            She learned this Bambara folk-saying from her father, who in turned learned it from his mother. It is used more frequently by older generations than the other folk-saying she shared, “a dgelly mandi.” Her Malian grandmother, who she described as “critical and grumpy, kind of like how you would imagine a village’s token crazy grandma,” uses the saying all the time to describe people she doesn’t approve of, especially in reference to her nephews’ and grandsons’ girlfriends. Within the informant’s family, although the saying is intended for cautionary purposes, her grandmother’s liberal use of it has given it more of a comedic effect; she said most of her family members now groan, laugh, or roll their eyes and say, “Not again!” when her grandmother recites the phrase.

 

            “A ka fanga bê bin kênê djeni” is Bambara, too, which in English means, “She could burn fresh grass,” and, you know, fresh grass doesn’t burn. So, basically, it’s meant to say “She’s too difficult to deal with” or “She’s impossible.”  

 

            Particularly interesting is that both Malian sayings offered by the informant are structured through the feminine pronoun, although it can be used to reference both genders. The most likely hypothesis, then, is that men in the village first used it to describe women, although perhaps the saying was authored by a jealous wife or frustrated mother. Like “A dgelly mandi,” this folk saying, too, could be easily used among town gossips or among close friends and family.

             The emphasis the informant’s father placed on visualizing Malian proverbs is quite interesting in this case; it is nearly impossible to read with translated saying without imagining a woman walking by a plot of green grass and having it immediately burst into flames. This adds a layer of spirituality and mystique because then the saying suggests that this woman, or person, has a sort of (evil) power that others do not possess. Although the saying is not taken literally, it is not difficult to imagine that it may have first arisen from a spiritual or magical belief.

Folk speech

“Malian Folk-Saying”

            The informant was born and raised in Bamako, Mali until the age of ten, when she and her family moved to the San Francisco area. Half-French and half-Malian, the informant has lived a diverse life full of unique and varied cultural activities. She visits both Paris and Bamako during vacations and maintains a strong connection with family in both countries. She is fluent in English, French, and Bambara, which is the primary language spoken in Mali and part of the West African Mande language family. Related dialects are spoken in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, similar enough so that the informant felt confident that people living in those countries would understand the saying.

            She heard the folk-saying as she was growing up, and she mentioned her father uses it quite often; it is a common saying both in her family and among Malians collectively. However, she did state that older generations often say it to younger folk as a caution or warning. After speaking more with her father, the informant also learned that African, and especially Malian, proverbs and sayings are typically very visual and as she said, “paint a picture about the person.” Indeed, the detail in imagery is evident in both sayings collected from the informant.

 

            “A dgelly mandi” is an expression in Bambara that literally translates to “her blood is not good,”  but basically it means “there’s something I don’t like about him/her” or “that person rubs me the wrong way.” You know how some people just have faces that aren’t nice-people faces? Not that they can’t be good looking, just that they look shady, or that something doesn’t seem right about them. Well that’s what that means. My dad says it as a warning sometimes when talking to his business partners about people that he’s met with, and, oh my god, you should hear my grandma in Mali. She is one of the biggest gossipers in our hometown and this is definitely a phrase that gossipers use. Most of the time they’re women, sometimes older women say it to younger girls, but even, like, high school girls might say it to each other when they’re ragging on a boy or don’t think he’s a good guy.

 

            It is a struggle to find an English equivalent to “a dgelly mandi” because there is no phrase quite as succinct or punchy. The folk-saying is very much spiritual in nature in the sense that there is an intangible quality―and energy, perhaps―that exudes negativity from the individual. Logic and reason don’t find a place in this folk-saying, as it relies more on intuitive feeling. It seems natural, then to think that perhaps Malians place significant importance on first impressions; looking or coming off negatively may be a difficult hurdle to overcome if Malians have even developed a saying for it. It is interesting to consider whether people who are deemed “a dgelly mandi” have a more difficult time creating friendships or relationships, how subjective the use of the phrase is. For instance, are there certain physical characteristics that are more likely to look “a dgelly mandi” (for instance, unusually dark eyes or upturned, sneer-like lips)? Because the informant stated that the phrase is often thrown around gossip circles, it would be curious to examine whether one person’s use of the phrase affects another’s perception of the individual in question, or whether it is brushed off as merely an opinion. In the case that older folk are saying it to younger generations for cautionary purposes, however, it is likely given much more gravity than amongst similarly-aged gossipers.

             The fact that the literal translation is structured in the feminine form could suggest a link between blood and the female through the menstrual cycle. Perhaps the “not good blood” in the translation originally referred to child-birthing difficulties or miscarriages that had negatively branded women in the neighborhood.  

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