USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Armenian’
Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Breaking a Plate at a Wedding

Item:

After a wedding ceremony, the groom breaks a plate by stomping it with his heel. The number of pieces that it breaks into is supposed to signify the number of happy years that the married couple will have together.

Background Information:

The informant learned this saying from his wife’s family, who insisted that he perform the tradition at his wedding. He suspects that the tradition is originally Russian-Armenian, but he isn’t sure.

He doesn’t believe that the number of pieces the plate breaks into has any meaning, and he doesn’t seem to hold the tradition in very high regard, probably due to the memory of hurting his foot by stomping too hard when he performed it.

Contextual Information:

The tradition is performed at a wedding, after the ceremony. In the informant’s case, the tradition was performed during the wedding reception.

Analysis:

Wedding traditions and accompanying beliefs are very common in all cultures.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection

Ach’k (Evil Eye)

Item:

Western Armenian: աչք

Phonetic (IPA): ɑt͡ʃʰkʰ

Transliteration: ach’k

Translation: eye

A blue bead representing an eye can be used to ward off evil. The bead is simply called the “ach’k,” meaning “eye.” For example, the ach’k could be hung from the rear view mirror of a car, worn as a necklace, or kept somewhere in a house. There is a particular color of blue needed for a bead to be an ach’k.

In particular, it is supposed to protect its owner from others’ covetous eyes. There is a particular saying associated with this belief:

Western Armenian: աչք կպնէ

Phonetic (IPA): ɑt͡ʃʰkʰ kpnɛ

Transliteration: ach’k gbné

Translation: the eye touches

The phrase literally translates to “the eye touches,” but the informant translates it as “the eye will touch you,” meaning that other people’s covetous eyes could touch you with some negative magic, unless you have an ach’k protecting you.

Background Information:

The informant learned this folk belief from his mother, who believes in it passionately. She keeps several in her house and gave him one to put in his car. The informant is skeptical of the belief but doesn’t deny it outright. For a while, the informant kept his ach’k hanging from his rear view mirror, until he became embarrassed by its perceived superstitious-ness and took it down. He still keeps it in his car, though—now out of sight in the glove compartment.

The informant believes that the ach’k is a very common belief among Armenians.

Contextual Information:

The ach’k belief is accompanied by the particular saying and object associated with it. These items are usually performed and displayed in public, though the informant has made his more private due to embarrassment.

Analysis:

The ach’k belief is clearly a variant on the very widespread “evil eye” folk belief. Unlike the more common variants, in this version of the belief, the eye is not particularly associated with growth, but rather with envy. It still shares the general spirit that there is a danger in prosperity and wealth—whether it is grown, purchased, or otherwise obtained.

Using a bead representing an eye to protect from others’ eyes is an example of homeopathic magic.

For other versions of the evil eye folk belief, see “The Evil Eye: A Folklore Casebook” (1981) by Alan Dundes.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Holidays
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Anoushabour

I interviewed my informant, Vanessa, in the band office lounge. As I prompted her to think of the folklore/folk traditions/folk beliefs she knew, she was reminded of a New Year’s celebration in her family:

 

Vanessa: “We have this rice pudding we eat on New Year. It’s called ‘anoushabour.’”

 

Me: “What is anoushabour? What’s in it?”

 

Vanessa: “It’s, like, a rice pudding with shredded almonds… and grapes and walnuts. And you put cinnamon on top so it spells out the year.”

 

Me: “You said it’s eaten on New Year?”

 

Vanessa: “Yes. It’s eaten at midnight. Everyone gets a bowl and eats together. And it’s bad luck to eat it after the week of New Year.”

 

Me: “Is this tradition accompanied by any other rituals?”

 

Vanessa: “Well, we give kisses — like on the cheek — right at midnight before eating the pudding.”

 

Me: “What does it mean to you? What’s the significance of this tradition?”

 

Vanessa: “It’s, like — you are gathering with family, and celebrating another year that you are blessed with. It gives good luck for the year.”

 

My informant also told me that her great grandmother taught her the tradition, and that her grandmother carries on the tradition today. The eating of the anoushabour happens in someone’s home where the family has been invited to celebrate.

Analysis

The eating of the anoushabour is similar to many other New Year’s traditions that are meant to bring good luck and unite the family in good health. I am also aware of other families (of varying heritage) that eat special dishes on New Year because it brings good luck. It’s a fun tradition that carries on Armenian folk belief.

 

Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Agra Hadik

I interviewed my informant, Vanessa, in the band office lounge. She is of Armenian descent on her mother’s side. Because of this, she was able to provide me with Armenian traditions around important celebrations. This includes the Armenian tradition of Agra Hadik:

 

Vanessa: “Agra Hadik is the baby’s first bath after baptism. It’s a big deal, and the family usually hosts a party at their house where people get together and eat stuff. Oh! And sometimes, a priest comes to bless the baby if there’s one nearby.”

 

Me: “Can you provide me with more details of the bath or the party?”

 

Vanessa: “On the bath?… um… they use special oils to wash the baby. That’s about it. And after the bath, they lay out a quilt or towel or blanket of some sort with items — like a book, money, a calculator, a stethoscope, a thimble… what else? [I told her this was enough if she couldn’t think of more examples] But, yeah, they are, like, representatives of career paths in the baby’s life. You place the baby on the quilt, and let them pick an item that they are drawn to. It’s representative of their future and what they’ll become.”

 

Me: “I’m guessing you did this?”

 

Vanessa: “Yeah! I picked a stethoscope which, I mean — [she gestures to herself] Gerontology major… going to med school. [She smiles] My brother picked money.”

 

My informant told me that she learned this tradition from her grandparents and her great aunts and uncles. She has also seen this celebration performed for her cousins.

 

She also suggested I do a little research to make sure she got the facts straight. I have attached a source I found that describes the same folk tradition, just with a few alternate details from what I documented from my informant.

Link: https://holidappy.com/party-planning/agra-hadeeg

 

Analysis

I have learned of this tradition from class and from readings. It’s fascinating knowing that I know someone linked to the very tradition we talked about in class! I also think it’s amusing my informant picked an item that ultimately did reflect her chosen career path.

 

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Armenian Christmas – El Día de Los Reyes Magos

I interviewed my informant, Vanessa, in the band office lounge. She is of Armenian descent on her mother’s side and Spanish descent on her father’s side. Because of this, she was able to provide me with a shared Armenian-Spanish Christmas tradition.

 

She called it ‘Armenian Christmas,’ but also acknowledged that it is also celebrated in Spanish cultures in which they call it ‘El Día de Los Reyes Magos’ (Day of the Three Kings).

 

This tradition is celebrated on January 6th (twelve days after Christmas). It symbolises the day the three kings arrived to deliver the frankincense, myrrh, and gold to baby Jesus.

 

My informant celebrates this day by putting out her shoes near an entryway — usually an inside door. The shoes are then filled with candy and small gifts Her family then usually gets together and has a dinner celebration.

 

She also noted that schools in her area also tend to get the day off so the families can celebrate this holiday.

 

Analysis

I’m aware of a similar German tradition of putting out the shoes for gifts, but I didn’t know about the Armenian or Spanish Version. It’s interesting because Spain and Germany are somewhat close together, but Armenia is part of the Middle East. I’m unsure how this tradition could have traveled across cultures. Nevertheless, this is another fun way for children to receive gifts and candy. I’m sure many children, my informant included, have fond memories of this folk tradition.  

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The End of the Evil

Title: The End of the Evil

Interviewee: Taleen Mahseredjian

Ethnicity: Armenian

Age: 20

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?):

In her room in her house in Los Angeles. She is a sophomore at USC, studying neuroscience. She gets some papers ready for her essay that she will write soon. She looks up and realized that she promised to tell the interviewer a folktale. She lets out a sign of exhaustion, then go and sits on a colorful couch. The interviewee and the interviewer are close friends, brought together through the USC organizations of Helens and Trojan Knights. She is finally ready to tell the folktale.

Piece of Folklore:

 Taleen – “Once upon a time, this isn’t going to go well. Once upon a time there was hill. On the hill, there was a tree. In the tree, there was a hole in a tree. In the hole in the tree, there was a nest. In the nest there were three eggs. On the three eggs there was a Cuckoo. So one day a fox comes to the tree and says, ‘This hill is mine, this tree is mine, there is a hole in the tree.’ He calls up to the bird, ‘What do you have up there?’ The bird says, ‘It’s just me and my three baby birds, living peacefully.’ And the fox says, ‘Nope, that is too many birds. Throw one down or I am going to go get my axe and cut down the tree.’ And the bird says, ‘I found this hill, on this hill I found this tree, in this tree I made a nest, and laid three eggs. I’ll give you one if you let the rest of us be.’ So she threw down a baby bird and the fox left. A few seasons later, the fox returns. The fox comes to the tree and says, ‘This hill is mine, this tree is mine, there is a hole in the tree.’ He calls up to the bird, ‘What do you have up there?’ The bird says, ‘It’s just me and my two baby birds, living peacefully.’ And the fox says, ‘Nope, that is too many birds. Throw one down or I am going to go get my axe and cut down the tree.’ And the bird says, ‘I found this hill, on this hill I found this tree, in this tree I made a nest, and laid three eggs. I’ll give you one if you let the rest of us be.’ So she threw down a baby bird and the fox left. The mother bird starts crying and a crow hears and flies to the tree. The crow asks the mother bird why she is crying and she recounts the story. And the crow goes, ‘Don’t be naïve, this hill is everyone’s, it does not belong to a single person. Besides, where would a fox get an axe?’ The next time he comes back, don’t listen to him and he will go away. So the mother bird thanks the crow and the crow flies away. A few seasons later the fox returns. The fox comes to the tree and says, ‘This hill is mine, this tree is mine, there is a hole in the tree.’ He calls up to the bird, ‘Throw down a bird or I will cut the tree down.’ The mother bird sticks her head out and says, ‘No this is everybody’s hill, it does not belong to you. And you don’t even have an axe.’ And the fox goes, ‘Is that so? Who told you that?’ And the mother bird says, ‘The crow told me that. Go away you’re not getting anything.’ And the fox goes away and walks around for a bit thinking. He decides to get back at the crow for what he did, so he goes and he plays dead in a field. The crow flies overhead and sees the seemingly dead fox in the field. The crow swoops down to harvest his eyes. Right as the crow reaches the fox, the fox jumps up and bites the crow’s neck, trapping it. He asks, ‘Why did you tell the mother bird that I don’t have an axe, what’s it to you?’ And the crow says, ‘I’m sorry, but if you let me go I’ll make it up to you by giving you my hidden stash of treasure, if you want it it’s all yours. So the fox lets the crow go, and the crow goes to show the fox where the treasure is hidden. From above he notices that there is a farmer’s dog taking a nap under a bush. He tells the fox that my treasure is in the bush. The fox dives into the bush looking for treasure, and the dog wakes up delighted in the fact that he now has lunch. The fox then laments about his life and his past evils. The fox gets eaten by the dog. Everyone else lived happily ever after. The end.”

Analyzation:

This tale is very unique. And yet, at the same time, there are many things that are recognizable and that carry past the Armenian culture itself and into more global and mixed cultures, such as that of the United States. For example, within the story, the mother Cuckoo has their chicks. That is no coincidence. Within folklore, some cultures tend to favor the number three, while other cultures favor the number four and so on. With western countries, it appears to be the number three. That is not the only time three appears in the folktale. Within the tale, the wolf comes to the tree three times, and as in modern western jokes, the change happens the third time around. That is when the mother Cuckoo tells the fox to go away, and finally stands up for herself. Also, this story has a huge overarching sense of freeing yourself from people telling you what to do, and from people claiming that things are theirs.

Tags: Armenian, Folktale, Evil

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Coffee Fortune

Original Script: “Basically he Armenian culture has this thing where they can get the fortune read through coffee…it has to be…they have a specific coffee powder that they use…usually a group of woman gather at a table and the coffee is poured. It is usually the oldest woman who reads everyone’s fortune at the table, you know ‘the wise woman.’ Who my cousin mentioned was kind of scary…Anyways, after they drink the coffee the head lady reads the fortune…it is kind of like Harry Potter at that part where the lay was reading tea leaves…kind of like that. Basically my cousin fortune was true that she got from the coffee reader. The wise woman told her she was going to get married soon…and she did! It was really cool”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Kamilah and her mother have always been spiritual people. The belief in witches, demons, and angels is strong to Kamilah’s mother however, it is even more so in her home country—Nicaragua. While Kamilah did not particularly believe in witches as her roots from Nicaragua do, the case with Rosario Murillo, really made Kamilah a strong believer in them. However, while Kamilah is not technically Armenian, her closest friends, who are like her family, are. Thus, she is very familiar with the nationality and practices of the Armenian folk.

Context of the Performance: Getting a fortune read

Thoughts about the piece: When Kamilah had told me this story about the coffee reading, my mind automatically went to the pop culture Harry Potter series before she had made the comparison herself. I knew that there were cultures that believed in the drinking of an herb (in this case coffee) could tell one’s fortune, however, hearing the process from Kamilah was a very fascinating experience. As mentioned, the connection with the pop culture phenomenon of Harry Potter, was an interesting parallel to this Armenian practice, for both have an elderly woman communicating the fortune to the individual out of a herb like substance. Additionally, I thought it was very interesting how they have a “wise woman” at the head of the table. It reminded me of the previous story I had interviewed Kamilah about (one that was about witches in Nicaragua) and that being personified as a witch is attributed to people fearing a person. In this setting, to me, it seems a that this fortune telling can be attributed to witchcraft because of the group not only being compiled of woman—and only woman—but also for the fact that there is a head “wise” witch, a woman which all the woman look up to as a leader and also fear her—personifying the woman as a witch.

Moreover, it is also interesting how it has to be a specific kind of coffee for the fortune telling to take place. With the group of woman, and the specific type of coffee, the coming together of a fortune seems almost ritualistic. Especially, the going around of the table to tell one another’s fortune as well as the wise woman being the head of the table, and also the only one to tell the fortunes—seems like it is all part of a ritual. This also brings in an interesting question, and opposition to the common American belief, in respecting elders. While America separates themselves entirely from the elderly—having specific designated homes for the elderly and having one of most developed retirement programs in the world, most foreign countries have a great respect for their elders, specifically their wisdom which is shown in this display of fortune telling among the Armenian women.

Furthermore, I think it is interesting that even though Kamilah is not Armenian, she does believe in some of the customs of the Armenian people because of her closeness to her friends. This adds the notion of culture being learned and not being something one is born with. Thus, her cousin—whom she is also close to—going to one of these fortune telling rituals, even though not Armenian, and the fortune actually becoming true, initiating the belief in both Kamilah and her cousin tells us that culture can be learned. Hence, this ritual can also be seen as an inanition to a kin group.

Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Magic
Protection
Signs

Pickled Grudges

Pickle a food item, and keep it for 40 days because that’s how long a grudge should last. On the 40th day, you have to throw it away to remove the grudge.

The belief is that the pickle withers and dies in place of the relationship between the people involved, so that the grudge would not poison their connection.

LB mentioned this as an extreme of grudge-holding among her people when she jokingly told me she would hold a grudge toward me and strike when my guard was down. While she was joking about her grudge, she used this story as an example of how I should beware around her, because her people (Armenians) are supposedly infamous for holding out grudges for extreme measures of time.

LB first heard this from a friend of hers who was carrying out this practice at the time, over a perceived snub from a close friend. Because she could not act out toward the friend as they saw the wronging unevenly, and their long-term relationship is more important to her than the perceived wrong. She placed a cucumber in a jar of vinegar for 40 days, and on the 40th, the jar should be broken to release the resentment. The cucumber is used as a sacrifice in place of an important relationship.

LB’s friend’s jar actually never made it to day 40, as it broke on its own on day 35. While it was a mess to clean up, LB’s friend took it as a sign that the grudge had run its course before the time was even up.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Folk Remedy: Iodine

Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this Armenian folk remedy which makes use of staining skin with iodine with me during this conversation.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: The most ridiculous, like some of the Armenian remedies, like I can see them working, but this one makes… no sense. Like, and it’s been done to me since I was a child. Any ailment you have, whether it be a fever, whether you have a lump on your nose, whether you have warts… For some reason, they truly believe… this… does something for you. Like it chemically does something for you, even though it makes no sense. They take pure iodine, the liquid form. They stain your skin, on your chest and your back, in a hashtag. And… you leave it on you. And they keep redoing it on a twenty four hour basis. And supposedly, after you do that a number of times, your ailment is supposed to completely go away. Disclaimer: it has never worked for me.

Me: What’s the rationale behind it?

Informant: There’s none. I don’t know what it is. They just, they truly believe… I think it’s actually a remnant of a time when Armenians were Pagans. When they believed that there were, you know, demons and um… spirits and all those things. And so I think they believed that the hatch-mark in iodine would… I’m sure back then they had a different chemical, but the hatch-mark is supposed to ward away the evil things. So if there was something lingering in your body, or if there was some… ailment or problem in you, the hatch-mark would deflect it, and it would leave your body.

Me: So it’s more about the shape and not the iodine itself?

Informant: Yeah… I think the iodine is just an instrument because it stains. Iodine stains your skin really well, and it’ll stain it for a while. And that’s the point. Um… because I’m sure they… I mean, I’m sure they could have used henna just as easily. It’s just the fact that it stains your skin, and it has to be the hatch-mark shape on your front, and on your back.

Me: So then like… who would do that to you?

Informant: Um… just whoever’s taking care of you. A mother would do it. A mother… Fathers never touch their kids. You know, a father doesn’t really pay attention to the child’s upbringing, until they’re of a certain age where they can do an internship or start pursuing jobs or they’re in highschool and need life advice or whatever. But the mother’s the primary caretaker… of a child.

Me: So that holds true in Armenia?

Informant: Yeah. That’s… ’til this day. It has not changed.

Analysis:

This remedy is an example of a piece of folk medicine that has been passed down through families for generations. My informant does not believe the remedy works for her, though her parents continue to practice it. The remedy is used to treat a variety of ailments and is not specific to one illness.

Folk speech
Humor

Armenian Days of the Week Rhyme

Armenian: Ուրբաթ, Շաբաթ, Կիրակի, արջը գնաց մարզանկի, ուսթա Սակոն կրակեց, արջի փորա դրակեց.

Phonetic Translation: Urbat’, Shabat’, Kiraki, arjy gnats’ marzanki, ust’a Sakon krakets’, arji p’vora drakets’.

English Translation: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. A bear went to the gym. A hunter saw the bear. The hunter shot the bear, and the bear’s stomach exploded.

Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this rhyme, which is used to teach children the days of the week, with me during this conversation.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: The way that… So, in Armenia the way that parents will teach their children the days of the week is we have this rhyme. So, you say the days of the week, Monday through Friday. Armenians start with Mondays, we don’t start with Sundays. And it goes: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. A bear went the gym. A hunter saw the bear. The hunter shot the bear, and the bear’s stomach exploded.

[Laughter]

Me: Wow…

Informant: And it’s… it is really violent, but it rhymes really well, and so it’s caught on a lot to Armenian kids.

Me: Where do children usually learn this from?

Informant: Hmm… Armenian education systems are different than in America. For example, a child is expected to go to elementary school with… sort of the basics already down… Like the mother is expected to be a very good mother in that sense, if you think that a mother teaching you, you know, education at such a young age is a quality of a good mother. Um, they were supposed to come in with like a working knowledge, and the rhyme was generally taught by the mothers. So it was just a fun way for the kids to like, learn it and, you know, it was funny. Like, the violence in it, in Armenian stories in general. Just like in Grimms’ fairy tales. They’re very violent, and it’s just what makes them funny.

Analysis:

This rhyme is an example of violent children’s humor. Children’s media, such as the Warner Bros. television show Looney Tunes, often contain violence and, specifically, violent humor, despite the association of children with innocence. This rhyme also provides children with an easy way to remember the days of the week, as the rhyme associates memorization of them with something funny.

[geolocation]