“Ivan Kupala, which is celebrated on a midsummer night, celebrates the young women of the community. The girls wear flower wreaths on their heads, though at the end of the night they let them float down the river. Everyone, especially the girls, sing happy and innocent songs all day, and they do not sleep for fear of demons or witches that arrive in the night. A bonfire is lit to symbolize purity and renewal as well. Eventually, everyone goes through the forests in search of a fern flower. When you find it, you make a wish and the flower has the power to grant your wish.”
The interlocutor has visited Russia multiple times, and due to her frequent visits, she has become close friends with a particular native Russian. The folklore that she has shared with me is derived from her native Russian friend. The interlocutor stated that of all the holidays unique to Russia, she enjoyed the concept of Ivan Kupala the most because of its positive imagery and perspective on femininity. She laments that she does not know of any event that celebrates femininity in the way the Ivan Kupala does, and she hopes to receive a flowered wreath or herb wreath on her next visit to Russia during the summer. However, she does not know if she could last through such a long event, especially as it lasts through the night.
A prominent theme throughout this holiday is the celebratory sentiment regarding the budding fertility of women. The flowers represent their nascent ability to bear fruit of their own, yet it is not a shameful or ascetic acknowledgement, but one of commemoration and joy. This goes for the fern flower that is sought after as well; its special capacity to grant wishes also symbolizing the power that women have through their fertility.
My informant is the mother of a USC student. She is an immigrant from Cameroon and came to America with her husband and son before giving birth to their daughter.
“In my culture it is believed that a woman who has no children is considered wicked, a man, and worthless. If she is married and childless, she will be divorced and asked to return her dowry to her husband. From what we know today, infertility could be from the man. Yet, yet all the blame goes to the woman, but back then, it was only the woman. The belief is that the wickedness comes in because gods would not bless a bad person and children, children are the most cherished gift to a women. So she would be shown without a child and no man is supposed to love a woman who could produce no heir. Next to a woman without children is one who has only one child—especially if it is a girl child—or has all girls. Women are blamed for not being able to produce an heir since most believe that only the boys should inherit the family s fortune. The irony here, is that, these same people who prefer boys stand to benefit when a girl gets married through the bride price and dowry.”
Analysis: My informant learned these cultural beliefs from relatives and extended family while living in Cameroon. This piece of cultural knowledge gives a very clear picture of the gender lines and distinctions within Cameroonian culture. From even this small amount of verbal exchange the listener gets an immediate and clear understanding that Cameroon is a patriarchal country that places incredible pressure on the women to live up to the standards of men. It is also interesting to note that in many cases after having moved from Cameroon to America these beliefs do not hold as much weight. My informant’s daughter, who is a close friend of mine, acknowledges her cultural beliefs, but does not hold the belief that the importance of women should be placed underneath that of a man. This gives the impression that cultural folklore has a much stronger meaning when the folklore is being spread in an area where the majority of people hold those same beliefs.