The informant is a 20 year old student who is currently studying at Dartmouth. He recounts his experience with this initiation tradition and how it made him already feel a part of something.
- So during homecoming weekend at Dartmouth, there is a Dartmouth tradition that tons of alumni come back to campus and are welcomed back into the frats- and each class builds its own bonfire structure, so my class, being a freshman would be 19, and the number of the year you graduate is placed on the top of the structure ( the structure is made out of wood and it is 50 feet high) I didn’t personally participate in making it but my class did. Then on the night of the bonfire, the entire freshman class starts at one dorm and moves through the campus picking up other freshman from each dorm building and eventually making their way to the green, which is where the bonfire getting ready to be lit. Then the freshman are welcomed into an inner circle around which all the other classes and alumni are standing and chanting. The bonfire is lit by select freshman, those who built it, and the freshman class begins to run around the bonfire the number of laps of their graduating year- meanwhile, all the surrounding upper-classmen heckle the freshman to run across the inner circle and touch the fire (which is completely guarded by Hanover police and security because its technically considered trespassing). Eventually, someone finally breaks free of the lap running and tries to touch the fire instigating others to do the same. Literally the police tackle people. This has been a tradition for a really long time, President William Jewett Tucker introduced the ceremony of Dartmouth Night in 1895
- me: so what is the significance of touching the fire?
- If you are caught then you are brought to the police station and the understanding is that an alumni will bail you out of jail, but if you’re not caught, you are seen as a legend from your fellow classmates and the older kids.
- I first heard about this tradition from a sophomore, who touched the fire himself, and was clearly still prideful of that, it was within the first couple of weeks of school.
- I actually did an interview about this in the school paper, but touching the fire for me provided the best welcome possible into dartmouth and solidified the fact that this is a good place for me.
I think that initiations can be really important for anyone in-group. In my opinion they immediately create a sense of community and a feeling of belonging which is so important for a group to stay strong and connected.
Title: Chaldean Ululation
Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): The interviewee and I are sitting in a coffee shop in San Diego, taking a break from our daily activities to have some coffee midday and talk about some of his and his families traditions.
Piece of Folklore:
Interviewee- “So within my family, and really most Chaldean families, we have this practice of, I think it’s called ululation in English, not sure about that. And so what we do is we make this high pitched noise, and then we use our tongues to make it stutter, and it sounds really cool.”
Interviewer- “When do you make that sound?”
Interviewee- “Special occasions mostly. We don’t go around doing it at Wal-Marts and stuff! I think that would seriously throw most people off and probably even scare some other people. It can get really loud. So once example is we always do them at weddings. Always. And it is usually the women that do it, and they love doing it, especially if they have been drinking a bit. They go, and they get the wife, and they go off and do the thing, and everyone cheers them on. Really it’s more of letting emotion and happiness out, it’s something that we use to show that we are really emotional about something.”
This practice is unique to Middle Eastern countries and peoples, and it is something that has carried on into the United States when those families immigrated here. This cultural practice has not ceased, and if anything, has grown even more predominant in these families because it reminds them who they are, where they are from, and how they should live their lives, according to their culture.
Tags: Chaldean, Ululation, Ceremony
The informant is a 67-year-old Mexican-American woman who is a reverend. She is known for tailoring wedding receptions to couples from different cultural backgrounds, and in her words “taking old traditions and giving them new meaning.” Many consider her to be the “guru of new wedding traditions.”
While out to breakfast while the informant was visiting me in Los Angeles, I asked her to describe any wedding ritual or tradition that has stood out to her throughout her time as a reverend. Her response was as follows,
“Well, there are many traditions drawn from each culture, and the couple always gets to choose which they would most like to incorporate. One in particular that is almost always a part of weddings where the bride or groom is Jewish is the breaking of the glass. I’d say 99% of the time if either of the two is Jewish, they’ll do this. Basically, I bless a wine glass, wrap it up in a linen cloth, and place it at the groom’s feet. He then stomps on it. This represents how fragile life is and dates back to the suffering of the Jews. In some weddings, the breaking of the glass is done under a huppah, a cloth that is held up to create a canopy over the bride and groom. The four ends of the cloth represent the four directions, and the couple standing underneath it means that they will build a life and home together.”
On the surface, the breaking of the glass is a lighthearted wedding ritual that is fun for both the groom and all who watch him perform it. Under normal circumstances it is taboo to purposefully shatter a glass, and the ridiculousness of the groom doing so on purpose serves as a source of laughter for the wedding attendees. The significance of the ritual is actually very heavy, representing the ease at which our lives can be taken and the history of persecution that the Jewish people have endured. It is most likely important for the fragility of life to be highlighted at such an important transition in one’s life as a wedding to serve as a reminder to the bride and groom, along with the audience, not to take one another for granted and to make each day special. I asked the informant the significance of the huppah representing the four cardinal directions, and she responded that she was not entirely sure. Since the couple standing underneath the canopy during the ceremony is symbolic of their future life together, it is possible that the four directions provide a physical representation of the permanent connection forged between the newlyweds—no matter where in the world they may be, they are connected to one another beneath their commitment to marriage.
At camp, we have this thing called the BK Ceremony, for “Blue Kerchief”. It’s on the third day of the term, I think it’s the third day, on a Sunday, and what it is is we come up with this thing called, “The Code of Living”. So for that what we do is we come up with words that we want to live by- words like “genuine”, “compassion”, “brave”, “indelible”. You know how I want to get that tattoo of “indelible”? That’s from camp, it was in our Code.
So, yeah, we decide as a unit what we want the Code to be. So on the first Sunday we all go to the Buddy Ring, which is a nook in between these mountains and we sing all these songs. I think they change every year, they’re not set in stone.
And then the counselors present the BKs to the campers. So it’s when you wear this kerchief, the Blue Kerchief, you’re living by the Code. And if you break the Code, you get your Kerchief taken away.
What happens if you get it taken away?
Well then you don’t get to wear it to Chapel and everyone can see you and knows you broke the code. (She laughs).
So the ceremony is they tie the BKs in this special knot, a friendship knot… (to other friend listening and laughing) Shut up! And yeah, the counselors put them over us and give us a hug. And then as cabins, we got up as cabins and then we all get in a huddle, you know like a sports huddle, and then the counselors pump us up for the term and then we sit down again.
Can you tell me more about the camp?
Yeah, so the BK ceremony is by unit and there are 60 girls or guys per unit, 4 units of boys and 4 units of girls. The units are by age and you can be 8-17 at Camp Cheley. It’s in Colorado. It’s in Estes Park, voted number one small town in America!
When did it start?
I have no idea. Camp was founded in 1921, so probably around then.
Why has it kept going all these years?
Probably because it’s a beautiful ceremony, and the Code of Living is super important, and it’s you know, a physical reminder of it.
Context of the Performance:
The informant told her camp rituals to a table of our friends during Monday night dinner. We knew she had gone to camp, because she has talked about it before, but this is the first time I ever asked her in depth questions, which she was very excited to share. The informant is very passionate about her camp and plans to work there this summer.
My thoughts on the piece:
It was interesting to see how excited the informant was to explain her camp experience, another example of the distinction between being inside the group verses outside of it. She was defensive when another person listening laughed at part of the ritual, which shows how much she believes in the sacredness of these traditions.
It also is interesting how the shame of having your kerchief taken away, which is largely symbolic, is enough to keep these kids living by the code.
Informant E was born in Korea and moved to El Centro California when she was 4. Before she came to USC she found that she was accepted into the school but also enlisted in the military. She put school on hold and deferred for a semester and went to training at the age of 17, and was one of the youngest soldiers to graduate. And after her experience with boot camp she came back to USC and started school and contracted to army ROTC. She has been deployed over the summers to Korea. She studies Psychology and Linguistics as a double major and a Forensics Criminality minor combined with dance as well. She wants to use her schooling and military experience to be in the FBI one day.
So in the military we have a lot of military balls we have a lot of Veterans Day dinners and banquets where everyone comes up in their nice dress uniform. But specifically we had this one Veterans Night/Dinner/Ball put on by USC and it happens every year but it’s a tradition that the very youngest cadet and the very senior oldest cadre member come together to cut the dessert cake together. It’s been an ongoing thing not just within USC Veterans Day dinner but also balls outside of USC. And I think it symbolize the fact that the youngest and the oldest and everyone in between is a part of this ceremony. I have a very late birthday and I joined the military at the age of 17 which is the absolute youngest and so the first couple years it was me that was cutting the cake with this like 5 star general and personally it was such an honor and it made me feel really important. Like I was a part of this ceremony with this amazing phenomenal general who was in several wars, and just to stand beside him and doing this together symbolizes the fact that we are one, an army of one, one fight, one team. I don’t think I’m ever going to forget that and I know that every year we have this and it’s a new younger cadet and a new older senior personnel every time and I know kind of what exactly they feel. It’s a huge honor and its very humbling too. Everyone’s watching you do this and what it signifies. It’s an amazing tradition. This is one night that everyone who has served beside you comes together and everyone comes together out of this stressful environment, everyone just comes together and has a good time. I do find it nostalgic and it makes me proud too because some of these cadets I’ve mentored and taken under my wing growing up and now they’re up there doing this thing and I know the experience they’re having. Its really humbling and it’s a moment of joy and pride and its very nostalgic because I was once up there too.
Honoring those who came before is very important. Before every function we have this table we set for our Prisoner of War and Missing In Action brothers and sisters in arms. It’s very specific. We have this table set and the tablecloth signifies that they’re not here with us, the empty chair signifies that they’re not here with us, there’s a plate set out because were waiting for them to come. There’s a slice of lemon on this plate to symbolize their sour fate and there’s some salt to symbolize all the tears that we’ve cried waiting for them to come home. And after everything we say that we remember and we toast to them in the end. I think it’s another tradition before we start all these functions that we still remember them and we still honor them even when they’re not here with us.
The military places a strong emphasis on community and unity. This tradition with cutting the cake symbolizes that everyone from the oldest to the youngest is a valued member and is honored in this ceremony. This helps unite the military together even more. Even those who are not currently present are honored as well because they are still included in the community. The military also emphasizes honoring and remembering those who have came before. The informant mentions how humbled she was to have the opportunity to cut the cake and how proud she felt to stand next to this celebrated general and to be a part of the military.
“I never became an Eagle Scout, so the whole ceremony of it all was really magical to me. So they get the rank already, but this is the official ceremony where the mom gives the rank to the Eagle Scout. She’s the one who pinned on the thing. Because she’s the one that drove him to the troop meetings and made lunches and everything. So the mom gets the honor of putting it on.
So there’d be a…what is it called. A toast? Kind of like a toast. Because the Eagle Scout wouldn’t actually do much. But then it would be his friend–like his best man–would be the emcee, and call people up to give keynote speeches about what this person did and why they were so great and why they deserved to become an Eagle Scout.
And there would be representatives. Like the governor would come down, and you would get a letter from the president. Saying congratulations. And then there was one ceremony where the governor came in and recognized this Eagle Scout, and then he was like, ‘So I formally declare today ‘Michael’s Day.’’ Like the day becomes the Eagle Scout’s day on the calendar. That’s how great they were. It’s a lot of hooplah.
Because they spent the majority of their childhood working towards this rank. And there’s a community service project they have to plan and coordinate to get there. So, I believe it’s worth it. But not a lot of Eagle Scouts I see…like, “oh, you’re an Eagle Scout.” They should be just…a good citizen. Someone who sticks up for the little guy and also, like, is there to work hard for the betterment of your country. And just. I don’t know, just good people.”
My informant was a Boy Scout for ten years. Although he never achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, he attended many ceremonies and therefore was able to give me this description of a typical Eagle Scout ceremony on Long Island, NY where he grew up.
The mystery and ceremony surrounding the presentation of the Eagle Scout award clearly made a huge impression on him; he spoke of those who had achieved the rank with a certain level of awe, although as he makes clear, many of those he saw receive the rank were not worthy of it in his mind. This level of disillusionment seems only natural in an organization that prides itself on an honor code; not everyone can live up to it.
The ceremony itself seems fairly typical for this sort of organization. The parents, who raised the child and helped nurture the young man, are present, and the mother gets the honor of pinning the award on her son. The amount of “hooplah” likely varies from troop to troop, but it was big enough in my informant’s hometown to leave a lasting impression. It makes sense that we, as a society, would want to honor those who choose to live by a certain moral code and give back to the community, and so the involvement of the governor, while a great honor for the boy involved, is not too surprising.