USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘custom’
Customs

La Mongonada, Panama

This custom was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Panama City, Panama and is 20 years old. It is about a party that construction promotors throw for their employees after a project is completed.

 

It was her uncle who told her about it, since he works in the construction business. When a project is over, promotors throw a party called la monongada, where the promotors provide food and entertainment to thank their employees for all their hard work. It is named after the mondongo, a Panamanian stew served with rice and beans (while in other countries it is commonly eaten as soup). He told my friend that it was the only time the promotors and construction workers really interacted outside work, and that it was always a beautiful experience. My friend was so interested in seeing what that looked like that she asked her uncle to take her to one a couple of years back. There were popular Panamanian singers, delicious food, and hundreds of people. She said it was one of the best parties she had ever been to, and everyone was having a great time.

 

I think this is a very beautiful tradition. My mom is also in the construction business, and she throws these parties as well. I’ve never been to one, but she’s showed me a lot of pictures and it is clear that everyone really enjoys themselves. I think this speaks to Panamanians’ classism to an extent, but it is still a nice way for these promotors to acknowledge the hard work put in by their employees.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holi, India

This story was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in New Delhi, India and is 20 years old. She told me about a family tradition surrounding Holi, the festival of colors celebrated in India.

 

The festival is usually celebrated it in the beginning of march. The night before the big day of Holi, there is a smaller festival called Holika Dahan. There was a kind in Hindu mythology character, Hiranyakashyap, who was so arrogant and self-centered that he wanted to be the only one worshiped by his kingdom, but his son, Prahlad, continued to worship lord Vishnu (one of the 3 gods in Hindu triumvirate) who is believed to be responsible for the upkeep of the universe. To teach the son a lesson, the king’s sister, Holika, tricks him into sitting on a pyre with her. Holika wore a fire resistant dress and hoped that Prahlad would die while she survived but as fate had it, the opposite happened. So for this festival, all the neighbors go to the common temple and they have and get a piece of the bonfire to put in their temples at home to commemorate the victory of evil over good no matter what the odds are.

 

She always looked forward to this because her mother, grandmother, grandfather, little brother and her would always go to the temple together to bring this piece of burning wood and she would get to pick it out of the fire. As a kid, that was really a rush, and it became one of her favorite family traditions.

 

I had heard about Holi before, and even been to Holi-themed events, but I had never heard about the story behind it or the temple ritual my friend described. I think it is a very nice way to bring families together and remind them of their religious backgrounds.

Customs

Sunday family dinners, El Salvador

This custom was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in San Salvador, El Salvador and is 21 years old.

 

She told me that every Sunday night, it is a tradition for all families across the country regardless of their social status to sit together and eat pupusas, a thick stuffed corn tortilla from El Salvador. She told me that her own family doesn’t really follow this tradition often, since her parents did not grow up in El Salvador, but that every time it does happen it is great quality time and she enjoys it very much.

 

I think this is a very beautiful tradition that speaks to Latin Americans’ importance on family time. It reminds me of the weekly lunches that my parents made me and my siblings go to every Sunday as an excuse to spend more time together.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

August vacation, El Salvador

This custom was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in San Salvador, El Salvador and is 21 years old.

 

She told me that during the first week of August, all companies, schools, and pretty much every single business is closed to commemorate Jesus Christ’s transfiguration. She says that about 90% of the country is Catholic, and everyone does it even if they are not religious. She says a lot of people go to the lake during does days, including her, and she gets to spend time with family and friends.

 

I think this is really interesting; we don’t have anything like that where I grew up, probably because there is a lot more of a variety in terms of religion.

general

Hand Gesture – Korea

My informant was born in South Korean, but moved to America when she was 16 years old. She explained to me how when she first moved, she was very confused by some of the cultural differences including hand gestures.

In America, we wave people over with our palms facing up. A similar motion that is common in western culture to beckon someone over is curling the index finger. However, in Korea both of these are considered extremely rude and degrading. They typically use the same hand motions to gesture over dogs.

Respect is a huge attribute in Asian culture. It is deeply rooted in family and demonstrated formally through gestures and language. Therefore, using the “American wave” on a human is equivalent to treating or calling them an animal. Koreans will signal people over by having their palm face down, and using a little “digging” or small swimming motion with their hand. Another way to describe it would be having your palm face down and waving it up and down vertically. If you tried calling a cab in Korea using the Western style wave, you would undeniably be rejected and ignored.

At first, my informant thought that Americans were “kind of arrogant and snobby.” She didn’t realize that there would be a significantly different meaning in something as trivial as gesturing someone over. She eventually caught on that people were not intentionally trying to be rude, and that it was just part of western culture to call people over using the palm facing up.

This made me really think about how important it is to be culturally aware, especially while traveling. There are so many little differences that may seem insignificant, but is actually really important to recognize. It helps us better understand our global peers and can prevent us from accidentally offending others.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Wearing white after labor day

Informant is a student at the Penn State University who grew up in upper NJ.

She told me about a certain rule in the fashion world which requires people to refrain from wearing white after Labor Day:

 

“So the rule is, you can’t wear white after Labor Day… until Memorial Day when you can again.” she says.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because… that’s just the rule.” she tells me. “That’s what my mom told me and we do it,  and everybody else I know does it too.”

 

She couldn’t tell me why, other than that it’s just something people do. I’m not really sure I have a great guess either.

After some research I learned that in the early 1900s, wealthy socialites would create secret “fashion rules” to tell new and old money apart. Eventually it just trickled down to the masses in 1950.

Interesting that despite the information widely available, these traditions continue.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Gujarati Protection Against Evil Eye

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

I’m from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.

Piece:

So my grandma always did this thing, where she had this belief where if people see success too much, they give you the stink or evil eye, trying to wish you bad luck. So what she would do and say to do is to make a black mark somewhere you cannot see it- so take a little bit of like eyeliner, or mascara, and put it like right behind the ear or something to ward off evil spirits, and people’s bad visions. It’s the same way either way for males and females, but females do it generally.

Piece Background Information:

Informant already mentioned within piece that their grandmother taught them this folk belief on protection against the evil or bad eye.

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in Ronald Tutor Campus Center on USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

Upon further research, it is commonly believed in India that the main source (i.e. givers) of the evil eye are women, which is why they generally use this protection against the evil eye.  The black mark is meant to cast or ward off negative energy and evil spirits. I could not find significant meaning as to why it is a black mark, or behind the ear, but I found this protection against the evil eye very interesting.

Customs
Earth cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ramadan and the Ritual Celebration of Eid Alfutr

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

I’m from Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia.

Piece:

Ramadan is like a whole month where everyone just, they fast from like very early in the morning ‘til like early in the evening. So from, from the sunrise to sunset basically. And they fast from like eating – they don’t eat anything, they don’t drink anything. And it’s a very like spiritual month where you just have like a lot of like, you know, religious tv shows and songs and stuff like that.

And then, after the month is over- the first day of the following month- it’s like Christmas in Christianity, So it’s like a big event where everybody is celebrating the end of the month and uh, I think it’s very interesting because every family basically like… wait you’re a vegetarian right? So this is not happiness for you. Every family has to kill a sheep, just like one sheep, and it has a spiritual meaning and it’s like a sacrifice you do to God to show that you’re grateful that the month is over, that you’re alive and doing well, and just thankful for that month.

And your family particularly partake in this?

All families do, and what they do is that they take the, okay it’s like one animal that’s killed. Most people do it at home, you bring the animal alive and kill it. Which is kind of… as kids, you would see that and were just kind of shocked (ha ha). It happens every year. Sometimes you’re allowed to buy the animal and take it to a butcher shop or something like that and they would of the you know, the rest of the work. Then the meat is divided into three portions- one third goes to family itself, another third to neighbors and relatives, and you know other people around the neighborhood, and the third portion goes to poor people, you know people who can’t buy an animal or can’t do that. So… yeah I think that’s the biggest celebration maybe.

When you guys take the meat, how do you package it? And do you have a physical hand in distributing the meat to poor people? 

It’s cut and put into bags, and like freezers and stuff like that. And I remember when I was a kid, my mom would give me like a bunch of bags and she would say “go to that neighbor” or “that house and knock on the door and give them this meat.” And then my dad would take the rest and he would go to like poor neighborhoods and distribute the meat to the poor people there. Nowadays, even butcher shops will do that- they will give the family their portion and do the rest of it- distribute it to the poor people so that you have a more convenient ways of doing it.

Piece Background Information:

Informant already mentioned within their piece that they learned and practice Ramadan, as well as the ritual celebration of Eid Alfutr, due to the influence of his culture, parents, family, and school.

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in the informant’s apartment adjacent to USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

Ramadan is celebrated in the ninth month of Islamic calendar, which sees each month’s beginning at the sighting of the full moon, thus making it an Earth cycle ritual. By fasting everyday from sunrise to sunset, Muslims and those partaking in this tradition are reminded of the suffering of the less fortunate in the world. This fasting emphasizes the Muslim ideal of strengthening their connection with Allah through exercising self control, thereby cleansing their minds, bodies, and spirits and also lends itself to this informant’s other accounts such as not believing in wearing a physical/tangible object for protection against the evil eye and instead focusing on the mind (see: The Evil/Bad Eye and Arab Folk Beliefs on Protection Against It).

I also found it interesting that the informant noted how the whole process of butchering the sacrifice and splitting up the portions of the meat has become a lot easier- butchers will handle not only the butchering, but the distribution as well. On the one hand, this probably gives more incentive to partake in the tradition each year, as it makes the ritual much simpler, but it is also important to note that it is as a result of modernity.

Customs
general
Material

Homemade Russian Scarf

Russian Scarf

The informant’s parents are both from Russia, having grown up in a small town outside of Stalingrad. Though Rachel was born here, the recentness to which her parents moved has caused them to enrich her life with lots of Russian culture. In going to her house one weekend, I noticed several of the scarves like the one above laying around and inquired as to what they were. She explained that they were head scarfs her mother made that women often wore in the countryside of Russia. When I asked her why, she explained that the Orthodox Church is a very big part of Russian culture and women were required to wear them to Church. She also said that they symbolize that a woman is married.

She then showed me other scarves that her mother made. I thought this was really cool, as in America there are very few things that people make besides the occasional knitted item a mother or grandma might create. The informant told me that her mom would go out and buy special fabrics then knit the fray on the edges of it to give it a more decorated look. She further explained that her mother learned this from her grandma, and that girls in Russia would always learn from their grandmas and mothers how to make scarves and clothing items such as these. The scarf is still a big part of Russian culture in the countryside, and its very common to see woman wearing them when at work on a farm. I asked if the informant knew how to make these, but she explained that her mother has yet to teach her, though she’d like to learn at some point in her life. I really liked my friend showing me this part of her culture and thought the designs of many of the scarves were beautiful.

 

Customs
general
Protection

Don’t Wear Silver in Water

The informant’s family comes from the Bahamas. She was born in the Bahamas and is a talented Bahamian woman. Her mother and she were extremely close and she learned a lot of the folklore that she shared with me from either her mother or from being with her mother. Eventually her family moved to Florida where they learned American cultures and were able to compare and contrast the two. 

Informant…

“I’m not really sure if this is considered folklore or a proverb, but one tradition, or superstition, or maybe it could be considered water etiquette in most island cultures is that you absolutely never wear your silver jewelry or anything shiny into the waters. I don’t mean like swimming pools, I mean the water with fish and other things in it. We do this because we believe that a barracuda will attack you if you do. I think its because silver or any other flashy types of jewelry or anything will confuse a barracuda and it’ll mistake you for the little critters it preys on and will attack any human wearing it.”

When she was asked why this is a superstition she said, “Well a barracuda will attack you.”

Then I asked, “Have you ever seen it happen or heard it happen to someone close to you?”

She said, “well… no, My mom just told me and here mom told her and I’m sure her dad told her as well. I don’t know where they got it from, I just know not to do it.”

Analysis…

Superstitions play an important role in the way that people may act, what they will do, what they will say, what they will wear, or when they will do things. Usually superstitions are practiced because of good luck or bad luck and doing something one way will prevent bad luck from happening, and give you good luck. In the case of the informant this is a superstition of something you don’t do or there will be bad consequences. Maybe this originated by an older sibling trying to fool his younger siblings into doing something he wanted so he made up a story about barracudas attacking, or maybe someone was actually attacked by a barracuda because of the jewelry the person was wearing. Regardless of where it came from it is a heavily practiced superstition and is not ever broken in fear of being attacked.

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