Tag Archives: creole

Papa Legba

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the interviewer and the informant.

Informant: My grandma showed this to me when I was younger, like 9 or 10. Whenever you feel like you’re stuck, or when there’s no way, you pray to Papa Legba, and he will make the way for you.

Interviewer: Can you describe who Papa Legba is?

Informant: Papa Legba is the lwa of crossroads. Lwa are the spirits that Haitians serve, they’re somewhere between humans and God, but praised higher than angels.

Interviewer: Can you describe the praying process?

Informant: You fill up a mug with water, then you call your spirit guides, like you pray. You then like spin around, start saluting all four directions, like east west north south. Because he’s the lwa of crossroads, he’s gonna listen to you and make the pathway himself.

Interviewer: Do you practice this prayer yourself?

Informant: Not really, because I don’t practice Voodoo. But I don’t think it’s invalid or has no truth to it, like, obviously praying to a higher being when you’re stuck will help you in some way, like it’ll help you clear your mind at least.

Background: My informant, a 20 year old USC student, is of Creole descent and comes from New York, home of a large Haitian community. Even though she doesn’t practice Voodoo, her grandmother was very much connected to the religion and exposed the informant to the culture from a very young age.

Context: The conversation took place at the informant’s apartment in Los Angeles, no other person was present during our talk.

My thoughts: The religion of Voodoo is often misunderstood and misrepresented in the Western media. It’s a practice that I wish to educate myself further on, and learning about this tradition was very helpful. I found particularly interesting how Voodoo has so many various deities and intricate rituals, all different depending on situations. For Papa Legba in particular, the prayer only requires one participant, which is why I think my informant knew a lot about it as it’s pretty easy to learn compared to other prayers.

The True Love’s Heart

Main Piece:

So there’s a famous Creole belief that the truest way to win over someone’s heart is to make them drink your blood. Some version says that it only works if it’s your period blood, but the one my grandma told me says that it works with any kind of blood. You just have to make sure that the other person somehow consumes your blood without them realizing, then that’ll make them fall in love with you without a doubt. In the movie “Midsommar” they had a similar tradition shown in it, so a lot of people just assume that this tradition is like only for Nordic/Norwegian stuff. But from what I know the drinking of blood dates way back in the Creole culture, and maybe this is a shared thing amongst other cultures too. Obviously I’ve never done this myself, nor do I know anyone who’s actually done it. I think at this point, it’s more like a story that elders tell to kids kinda as a fairy tale, I’m not sure if anyone would actually try to pursue this.

Background:

My informant is African American, with her father’s family coming from a Creole/Haitian heritage. She grew up in New York, where a large Haitian community exists. Even though she’s never personally visited Haiti, she was exposed to the culture through her family. She also explained that this story was told to her by her grandmother in French, so there are some mistranslations alongside phrases that couldn’t be remembered correctly.

Context:

I met up with my informant at her apartment in Los Angeles. During our talk about finding love and relationships, the topic eventually lead to her sharing this bit of interesting folklore. No other persons were present during our conversation.

Thoughts:

Drinking or consuming one’s blood is a sacred act that’s been practiced and upheld by various cultures. It’s an act that symbolically and literally unifies two persons, and it only made sense for me that there would be a folklore regarding drinking blood and associating that with attaining one’s love.

Caribbean Wedding Customs

The sacred nature of weddings in the Antilles of the Caribbean is often communicated with indigenous customs that take place before, during, and after the ceremony. “Jumping the Broom” is a right of passage for the newlywed. After vows are said before the church and the bride and groom have been pronounced husband and wife, they take a big fat leap over a wooden broom. Alternatively, this is done using branches or sticks of wood held together.

D: “I had to go out one time because they didn’t have no broom. And I went outside and put together some branches and sticks for them to use.”

Some other customs include throwing a handful of rice on the bride and groom (250)

M: To bring luck you sprinkle grains like rice or beans.

The act of scattering grain or beans ultimately signifies wealth. It’s believed to ensure financial stability for the bride and groom. In addition, sugar is used with water to mop the floors of the church prior to the ceremony. Sugar is used because it ensures there will be no disturbances and everything will be sweet. Salt is sometimes sprinkled at the entrance of the church.

M: Salt is put at the front to keep away negativity. My mom would do that for other people’s weddings.

The informant expressed that these customs are what make them feel far more in tune with their roots. These customs stem from African heritage and are most common in Caribbean weddings because of the lingering history of slavery. Jumping the broom was done amongst slaves centuries ago when marriage, for them, was prohibited so doing this signified union between the couple. If we look at this from another angle, seeing two people jump over a broom is the act of them physically taking a big leap over a big obstacle. They fight through it… together. That is why these wedding customs are so important to the informant’s culture. Every obstacle—whether it be oppression, negativity, or money—can be overcome and Caribbean wedding customs are here to instill hope for those who are making this big change in their lives.

Creole Foodways: Gumbo

Main Piece: “So culturally my family is Creole and… um… both sides of my family, my mom and dad, are all from Louisiana. So a big traditional food that we eat is gumbo, which is kind of like a soup… um… and it’s filled with seafood, sausage, and it’s served over rice. Um… my family eats it every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s the main meal at Thanksgiving versus traditional turkey and stuff. We have both.. but gumbo is like our big thing.”

Background: The informant says that this tradition has been around her entire life. The meals involves her entire family, immediate and extended. For the informant and her family, gumbo is a traditional Creole dish only eaten on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The meal is important to the informant because it involves her grandparents, who speak broken French and English, as well as her parents and brothers, who only speak English. She understands this meal as a unification of different parts of Creole heritage- being black, being white, and/or being French.

Performance Context: I sat across the informant at a table outside.

My Thoughts: It is interesting that the informant describes her family as “culturally Creole”. The informant’s identification with Creole heritage seems to be indicated by her parent’s Louisiana lineage. The informant and her family only eat gumbo on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The context, however, is not religious or patriotic, but rather a special occassion where the entire family eats together. The choice of making and eating this dish on Thanksgiving and Christmas is an interesting time to celebrate a traditional Creole dish. Both holidays seem to be a way to gather the entire family in one setting while incorporating individual tradition and ethnic foodways. The unification of different domains of being Creole (black, white, French) are understandably significant to the informant, whose family has different backgrounds contributing to their identity.

Creole Foodways: Crab Boil

Main Piece: “A big tradition in my family is to have an annual crab boil. So this event is where we all get together and we just celebrate our Creole heritage. And we serve traditional foods like crawfish, shrimp, um crab, corn, and sausage. Um this is another event where my entire family- extended and even family friends- will come to. We have different things that we do that are typical of Creole people, like the second-hand line which is when people will get in a line and sort of dance and walk around like a konga line.”

Background: According to the informant, this event usually happens at the end of July when everyone is more available to come together. The informant notes that the food is “traditional” of Creole dishes- the seafood, vegetables, and meat. She mentions that Louisiana typically has crawfish boils, but her family’s tradition uses more than just crawfish. The second-hand line is a celebration that usually culminates the event. The informant describes it as a type of line dance without real structure. She says people throw and wave handkerchiefs during the second-hand line. Unlike other family-specific gatherings, friends of the family are also invited. She says this event is less exclusive, “like a barbecue.”

Performance Context: I sat across the informant at a table outside.

My Thoughts: The unifying component of the crab boil is the traditional Creole foodways. This gathering seems to be rather fluid, finding meaning in it’s gathering of family and friends unlike an exclusively celebrated holiday. The inclusivity of the event allows for adaptation and interpretation. For the informant, the event is a fun time to see family and friends, while eating, dancing, and socializing. The structure of the event itself is also quite fluid. It is centered around the crab boil and ends with the second-hand line, but seems to be mostly about bringing its guests together. The event’s food is “traditionally Creole,” meaning the dishes use different elements of Creole foodways, specifically the seafood (crawfish, shrimp, scallops). Although other cultures certianly utilize crawfish, shrimp, and scallops, Creole foodways have claimed them as important elements in their recipes.