Tag Archives: customs

Sweeping Good Luck Away– Filipino custom

Piece:

Informant: If, ah– let’s say you’re sweeping at night, and you have your, y’know.. So if you sweep at night, don’t sweep the dirt, the– y’know, the dirt out on the door. It’s, ah, bad, bad luck.

Collector: If you sweep it out the door?

Informant: Out the door. So it has to be–you can sweep, but y’know– the door is closed, and you just sweep and get all the, y’know, 

Collector: Get all the dust out?

Informant: But not to sweep–yeah.

Collector: So you’re supposed to sweep it into a pan and then take it outside?

Informant:Yeah, oh no, well, you just sweep–just not the door.

Collector: Do you know why?

Informant: Yeah, y’know, it’s same thing, it’s– no good [laughs].

Context: The informant is the mother of a close friend of mine, and is an immigrant from the Philippines, specifically Cavite City, which is about an hour away from Manila. She has lived in Southern California for roughly 40 years, while still maintaining close connections with her home country. 

Analysis: By sweeping the dust out of the door, one might inadvertently sweep the good luck out of the house. When asked, she reported that she had heard about the custom from other housewives in the Philippines. I have heard similar sayings in Jewish culture, though I cannot recall anything specific. As I did with my previous piece, I looked up “sweeping dirt out door” online, to better gauge who participated in this belief. This time, the results were varied; Though there were still many posts that labeled it a strictly Filipino custom (i.e. “You know you’re Filipino When..”), many seemed to consider it a general housewife belief. In this case, it seems as if this particular ritual can be seen in many different cultures.

Filipino Utensil Superstition

Piece:

Informant: So what I remember is, like, y’know, like that one, if you drop a utensil, either like, a fork– if you drop a fork on the floor, then they were saying that you’re gonna have a visitor, it’s gonna be a male. And if it’s, ah, a spoon, then it’s gonna be female.

Collector: Do you know why, like, the fork and the spoon have genders?

Informant: Yeah, it’s kinda like, the fork kinda like, represents the male, y’know, and then– if it’s like the little spoon, then the young, young, yeah, young girl. And then if it’s the little fork, it’s like young boy. Y’know, something like that, so it doesn’t have an age or anything.

Collector: Right, right, where did you pick this up, just like–?

Informant: Yeah, I heard it from the people, y’know, like, my relatives, and folks in the Philippines, y’know–

Collector: Where in the Philippines are you from?

Informant: Um, I’m from Cavite City. Yeah, it’s like an hour away from Manila.

Context: The informant is the mother of a close friend of mine, and is an immigrant from the Philippines. She has lived in Southern California for roughly 40 years, while still maintaining close connections with her home country. After the interview, the informant then recalled a past incident in which she had dropped a fork minutes before her daughter’s boyfriend came for a surprise visit. 

Analysis: This particular omen, as she mentioned, she had picked up from not only her relatives, but the general folk as well, suggesting that it is a household belief. While transcribing the interview, I searched the internet for more information of who participates in this belief. One thing I noticed is that when I searched up the phrase “dropping spoon company,” the only sites I found that mentioned it were at least ten years old, the latest being posted in 2010. However, when I searched up “dropping spoon Philippines,” there were far more results, most of them posted much more recently. Nearly all of them involved lists of Filipino superstitions, which were then posted on Filipino websites. One could reasonably assume that many of these lists were written by younger people, and from there, infer that this belief is still very much alive. 

Overall, this omen, though a minor thing, seems now to be a point of pride for many Filipino people. This pride could be an enactment of “cultural intimacy,” which Michael Herzfeld describes as “the recognition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered as a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with the assurance of common sociality”. Though perhaps not too embarrassing, this belief is certainly not a proven fact by any means, and so could be seen as superstitious or outdated. Despite this, many Filipino people seem to regard it as an identity marker, given its inclusion in many lists entitled “You know you’re Filipino when..” 

Herzfeld, M. (2005). Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State. New York: Routledge.


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.

Gaded Zafè

The Caribbean folk custom of seeking guidance with a “Gaded Zafe” has been alive for centuries. The literal translation of the creole term is the “see-er of affairs”. In other words, a clairvoyant. Clairvoyants can see into the lives of their subjects. They are very popular in French Caribes like Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Guyane. It is believed that they can see everything that has happened to you or will happen. During their session, they tend to read cards for their subjects. This is sometimes done with either Tarot cards or playing cards like the ones used in poker.

H: “Gaded zafe tells you about your life. All kinds of life. Love life, future, common life, and past life. You sit in front of them and they get in communication with the spirit world. ”

They are believed to be contacting a Saint. This aligns with catholic religion.

H: “Depending on what is going on, they give you what baths, chapels, and prayers to say and candles to light. These are common people who can be often found at Church.”

The informant mentioned during our interview that most of the time, Clairvoyants are seen by those they know from church. The French Caribbean community is heavily rooted in religion. More specifically, Catholicism. Clairvoyants are believed to have a connection with celestial beings of the spirit world which allows them to have access to greater knowledge. Catholics naturally flock to them in times of need because when they are presented with new information, their guide also gives them a solution whether it be to pray or take a special bath to protect themselves from negativity. This gives the people a sense of security because it reminds them to turn to God when they are presented with situations beyond their control. If we look at the big picture here, sometimes all people need is someone to talk to that they know will actively listen.

Greek Easter Bread

The informant was sharing an important Greek Easter tradition within her family:

*Names are reduced to initials

Me: Can you tell me about the Easter bread you make?

Informant: Tsoureki is a traditional Greek Easter bread that’s prepared during Greek Easter week. It’s usually braided and the red eggs go into it. It’s all we served on Easter Sunday. And um…it’s a sweet bread and again, the egg symbolizes resurrection.

Me: Yum!

Informant: Sometime’s It’s braided and sometimes it’s braided in a round loaf with a cross on the top,

Support: which is our family tradition

Informant: Lots of Greeks do it though. The cross is a byzantine cross so it’s this shape

*She shows me her necklace*

Support: The curled edge is how I make it. Our family recipe came from my great-aunt that’s Aunt G. That’s where we get the recipe from.

Context: 

The Informant is a Greek woman who was born in the United States. She currently lives in Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA. Though she was not born in Greece, her parents immigrated to the US and she was born into a very Greek community in Phoenix, AZ. The performance was held during an Easter party, in front of her younger sister.While the informant does not usually make the bread, her younger sister always does and she provided supporting information.

Analysis:
It’s very interesting how humans can adapt easily but also stick to tradition as we see with the bread. The recipe has been passed down through generations and while there are so many different recipes this one stuck and has meaning. The way the bread is formed has also stuck as the sister describe, as she always makes it in a curled manner. Finally, the younger sister is always the one who makes the bread for the family, which shows her role in maintaining the family tradition. It is very interesting that people are so adaptable, but also find ways to maintain systems that work.

Seal Beach “Rubies” Tradition

Main Piece: “Me and my friends, 8 of them, they were really close, and I didn’t become a part of their friend group until late middle school. But after I joined the group we all became super close and did everything together. One tradition that we had.. I don’t know it’s kind of hard to describe but, I grew up in Seal Beach. It’s a small town on PCH between Long Beach and Huntington Beach. It’s super low-key, no tourists, and no sketchy people. It’s a very small community and everybody knows everybody in the town and everyone feels really close to the town. At the heart of the town is a Main Street and a pier that extends out past the sand on the beach. At the end of the pier, there was a rubies that was there that we used to always go to and spend time and eat lunch or dinner. But then one day it closed down and everybody in the community was super sad and my group of friends especially was really bummed out about it, because it was one of our favorite places. They gated off the section of the pier where the Rubies was. The Rubies was closed down and nothing replaced it for about 10 years, and then one day the Rubies caught on fire (probably because of an arsonist or something) and the Rubies burned down to the ground. Because this fire was pretty drastic, they removed that part of the pier, but the fence that would section off the pier to where the rubies was is still there. And because this was such a huge part of our childhood, no matter where we were, if we were out on the town we would always walk to the end of the pier and touch the fence. We literally did it every time, and no matter what you had to walk all the way to the end and touch the fence. Even when I go back home for breaks and for the weekend, my friends and I still do this.”

 

Background: KS and his friends hold the town of Seal Beach very dear to your hearts. He mentions that it is a very big community based town, and it is very normal for people to never leave the town. In fact, he said that it was very common for families to raise children and then once those children grew up and finished school and such, they would come back to Seal Beach and raise a family of their own. KS said it was very normal for people to live and die in Seal Beach, because the community is so important to everyone there. KS also mentioned that the pier is a huge part of Seal Beach, and the Rubies was a great communal meeting point so the feeling of touching a very iconic part of Seal Beach, solidifies the love and appreciation for the town.

 

Context of the Performance: KS told me this tradition that he and his friends have while we were discussing some of our favorite traditions in our friend groups. His tradition is very community based and it is so unique to one specific place, that he really felt emotional telling this story of how much he loves his towns and his friends.

 

Analysis: This tradition is very heartwarming and is a fantastic snapshot of how important traditions are in the realm of community and friendship. Unlike many communities in America, Seal Beach is very clearly a tight knit community that puts an immense value on community, friendship, and togetherness. The weight that this one restaurant has in this friend group and to the community as a whole, further accentuates that great emphasis on loving the community and each other. And while there are certainly some communities in the country that fit this mold, it certainly does go against the general American values of individualism. For me, the town I grew up in did not have this great of an emphasis on community, and it was still very much a community that favored individual success over being tight knit. So I find it fascinating that there are towns throughout the country that go against these American norms, and in turn create a very real and communal atmosphere for the population that lives there.

 

Horse Riding Tradition: “Never let a fall be the end of your ride”

Main Performance: “So at the ranch I ride at, there is this unspoken rule that everybody has to follow, it’s a tradition of sorts as everyone practices this at the barn. But basically, the custom is that if you fall off your horse, whether it be during an event, or while practicing, or even just riding out in the country, you have to get back on your horse afterwards. It is something that I have always been taught while growing up, and it was something that I saw every other rider doing at the barn. It was just expected that you never let a fall be the end of your ride.”

 

Background: GR grew up with a long history of horse riding, and that is one of her most favorite things to do when she has the free time and is able to make it to the barn. GR mentions that a big part of the tradition also is trying to earn the respect of the other riders at the barn who generally are either watching or riding horses themselves. Because this is a community built around the nature of never giving up as GR told me, making sure to get back up on the horse is huge to earning that respect form the more veteran riders. Additionally GR mentions that at the barn she was raised at, it was never okay to simply do things half way. It was expected that when you do something at the barn, you do it at 100% no matter whether or not you succeed, it is far more important that your effort is there. And GR also says that on the barn, while it was okay to not succeed every time, it was always preached that if you are going to practice something, you need to make sure you practice it right. Falling off the horse is the last thing the horse remembers, and GR said that its so important that you don’t end a session of a failure for the horse. GR said that undoubtedly this mindset of resilience and challenging yourself is a staple of her horse riding community.

 

Context of the Performance: GR told me this custom, while we were talking about the things we would do in our free time, and what types of hobbies we like to do. Since GR is from an area where horse riding is far more popular than in California, GR was able to inform me about some of the expectancies that come with riding horses.

 

Analysis: This custom is such an interesting tradition as I this idea of “you gotta get back on the horse” has definitely circulated in other parts of the country as a metaphor for never giving up. It is fascinating to see this saying and custom being used in a place where it is quite literal, and that getting back on the horse is so important not only for gaining respect and being a good rider, but also it is to help the horse not end the ride on a failure. In America, there is a huge cultural emphasis on never giving up and putting in 100% effort in the things that you do. This custom in the horse riding community is a perfect microcosm, and operates as a literal iteration of the belief that you must always keep trying even when you fail. Failure is a part of life, and seeing the fact that failure is accepted in this community as long as you get back up and learn from it, greatly represents the major American value of never giving up.

Jewish-American Thanksgiving

D.F. – “Every year, my family and I go to my Grandfather’s house in Oceanside CA for thanksgiving.  And during the beginning of that week, my Aunt and her family fly in from MN to start cooking.  That’s usually a Monday or a Tuesday.  They start preparing that early.  Sometimes we come Wednesday night before thanksgiving, but usually most of us come on the Thursday morning.  My family usually says that we’re gonna leave by 8:30, but we always leave like a half hour later.    And then we get to oceanside, an hour and a half away, and my Mom is always in charge of the appetizers, and she usually has too many appetizers, all from Costco, and they all have to be KOSHER.  And then, the other families get there.  And then, we all bet what time my uncle and his family are gonna get there because they’re always late.  So then everyone puts down bets for what time he’ll get there, minute by minute, I’ve won a few times.  Once they get there, that’s the pause in the day when we have to figure out what we’re going to do because that’s when everyone’s cooking and they don’t like it when everyone is in the kitchen.  So my cousins and I go play pool at my Grandpa’s senior living house thing.  I didn’t get to start doing that until I was 14 because that was the minimum age; I was really excited.  We play pool for a little while, are forced to come home, everyone sits down at the dinner table (about 25 of us).”

“There are a few people who are assigned to bring in food from the table, and it’s very important that if you did not get asked to do this, that you sit down.  We start with appetizers; now, don’t forget that we already had appetizers, but now we have these sweet&sour meat-balls that my grandma used to make for dinner appetizers.  Sometimes we have matzah ball soup sometimes, if my aunt is up for it.  My other aunt always makes small challahs for everyone.”

“Everyone goes in a circle throughout the meal, saying what they’re thankful for, that year, in front of everyone.  Eating ends.  My brother and I get s**t every year for not helping clean up enough.”

“. . . My other aunt is always in charge of the deserts.  They’re never very good.  After desert, we all take our family photo every year on my grandfather’s couch.”

 

Such structure.  This is in many ways similar to my own Thanksgiving memories, but this seems to have a lot more structure.  My family is pretty tightly wound, but every year, thanksgiving is a very laid-back holiday.  It seems that this is not the case in this household.  Thanksgiving festivities are among the most prominent folkloric experiences in the United States, as most people who live in the country choose to celebrate with loved ones and friends.  It’s interesting not only to see how similar everyone’s Thanksgivings are, but also to examine how the days often differ. Also, it’s fascinating that this person’s religion intertwines here with their nationality.  Even on a holiday such as Thanksgiving, when one’s religion is largely unimportant, her food must remain kosher.

Turkish Superstition: the Evil Eye

evil eye

What is the Evil Eye?

P.N. – “So, the evil eye protects you, your family, your household, from evil.  And this is a myth, and also a glass object.  Every [Turkish] family has an evil eye in their house . . . My family thinks that if you tell somebody something good that’s happened to you, there’s gonna be envy there.  And they’re gonna somehow will nature to get rid of that opportunity for you.  The evil eye is meant to protect you from that.  So we have evil eye’s in different parts; like, for instance, we have one in our car to prevent a car crash.”

“We have an evil eye in front of our house.  You’re supposed to have an evil eye on top of the doorway to prevent bad things from entering.  One day, during the time when I was applying for colleges, it BROKE.  I remember, because my mom thought that that was a good thing.  “It’s done it’s job,” she said.  And so she put a new one up, and I got accepted into USC!”

“Another example was this: I was wearing my first ‘sexy dress’ in high school to this New Years ball.  I had a hair piece, everything. I looked good.  I was showing some cleavage.  My aunt put an evil eye in my jacket, and said it would protect me from the boys.  I still have it there in my pocket.”

What does the Evil Eye mean to you?

“The Evil Eye reminds me of my parents, because I have always considered them to be the most superstitious people.  And I guess when I think about other types of ‘evil eyes’ in other cultures, it feels like it brings me closer to those people as well.  There’s definitely a sense of identity with everything I’ve said here.”

Immediately, this made me think of the Jewish Mezuzah, which is a similar concept to the Turkish Evil Eye.  The Mezuzah, a small piece of parchment scribbled with specific verses from the Torah, is put on a family’s doorway to prevent any bad luck from entering the home.  When I brought up the Mezuzah to this person, she smiled, and informed me that she knew of the Mezuzah already.  The evil eye is definitely something that reflects one’s culture, one’s traditions, and one’s superstitions.  It’s for this reason that I am such a fan of the Mezuzah, as well as the evil eye now; it’s because I, as well as countless other people from a number of different cultures, can relate very strongly to it.  How different can two peoples really be, when they’re unified by so many aspects of life? 

Mao Zedong’s Birthday

  1. The main piece: Mao Zedong’s Birthday

“Okay, so Mao Zedong’s birthday is December 26th, and on that day, we eat long noodles. It’s because if you cut the noodle, you’re cutting his life. Which doesn’t really make sense because he’s dead.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

“Mao Zedong is the communist leader of China, and he’s very important because he led the communist revolution and changed China forever, for both better and worse.

“Oh yeah, everyone loves Mao. Mao’s on all the money. It’s either Mao or flowers. It’s the day after Christmas and the day before my mom’s birthday.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This tradition of eating long noodles on Mao Zedong’s birthday symbolizes a long life for him, and, accordingly, for the communist nation and ideals that he created. I think that this is a key example of the usage of folklore to build nationalistic sentiment and to increase feelings of personal connection and importance to central sociopolitical powers. Even though the informant is from a later generation from the one in which Mao Zedong was active and alive, the fact that this tradition continues years after, even after his death, shows the lasting impact of using folklore as a nation-state building device.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is an 18-year old female of Japanese and Chinese descent. She grew up in Oahu, Hawaii in a family that had moved there five generations earlier, and explained how none of her parents or grandparents knew any Japanese or Chinese. Celebrating Japanese and Chinese cultural traditions helped her feel more connected to her heritage growing up, because she felt that her parents and grandparents were very disconnected from the culture other than with these traditions.