USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘folk practice’
Foodways
Material

Finland Lunch Cookout Setup

The following is a recorded observation centering on a local guide’s preparation of a lunch area/cooking of said lunch while on a weeklong dog sledding excursion in the northern Finnish wilderness, an area known as Lapland.

 

To provide context, in the late winter months of Lapland, the snow can reach depths of up to five feet, unable to melt and having compiled for many months before. It is not uncommon anywhere in this area that one can take a single step off of a packed, stable path and immediately sink waist deep into the snow.

 

After anchoring our dog sleds and unboxing containers of food, the guide took four sizable branches from a nearby shrub and sharpened a single end of each branch to a point with his knife.

 

These four branches were left to the side as the guide then stepped into the deep snow and began to dig an eating area with his hands. This proceeded for the better part of twenty minutes. When finished, the hole was about eight feet across and four feet deep. Considerably flat on the bottom as to allow for a fire, the sloped sides of the hole allowed for comfortable seating at a safe distance from any burning wood.

 

Firewood kindling was then gathered from the adjacent birch forest from whatever available wood could be found. Primary logs, previously cut at the cabin we had left that morning, were then assembled into a square, three-tiered stack. Using the kindling to help foster the ignition of the larger logs, the guide sparked the blunt metallic end of his knife against a flint and subsequently lit the fire.

 

The two of us then took the sharpened sticks and skewered sausages onto the pointed ends, roasting them over the fire until ready to eat.

 

After the course of eating, the heat of the fire had allowed the wood to sink considerably into the snow, allowing any remaining burning logs to be covered with ease with only a kick of snow.

 

What stood out in this entire situation to me is the inherent making use of one’s surroundings for the sake of providing supplemental comforts alongside necessary functions, such as eating. While it would have been easy enough to simply start the fire on the tightly packed dog sled path, the seating would not be nearly as comfortable as a padded slope against which to lean, made possible by digging the hole. It is also important to note that following 20-30km of captaining a dog sled team over rough terrain make any such indulgences worthwhile expenditures of energy. The cooking of the sausages goes the same way in terms of making use of one’s environment, turning a simple tree branch into a useful tool without which roasting a sausage would not be practically possible. The rooting in practicality and makings of any available comfort reflected to me an overall Lappish spirit of a similar nature.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bible Study Prayer

Each Wednesday, I meet with a small group of fellow university students for a peer-led Bible study at the USC Catholic Center. Each week has a similar layout in terms of procedure, although in this particular meeting, the primary topic was centered and prayer for the recent passing of a close friend and classmate. Because her death greatly affected many of my fellow classmates (and needless to say, her family, who I also knew), much of the prayers given were subsequently aimed in consideration of these others.

 

The following frames the course of a typical Bible-study meeting procedure, although in the case of an exceptional incident:

 

The same eight members of the study meet in the same room, a quiet second-floor conference area, each week beginning at 6:50 p.m., and lasting for around 45 minutes to an hour. Our study’s leader, Javier, had brought me into the group the preceding year. He starts the session having already brought a dealing of snack foods (Oreos, chips & dip, etc.), seating the members around a circular table.

 

The meeting is formally started with the members bowing their heads, crossing their hearts, and reciting in unison the ‘Hail Mary’ traditional catholic prayer, which goes as follows:

 

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

 

Each member then goes one-by-one relaying their personal ‘highs and lows’ since the last meeting, followed by an ‘coming to God moment,’ meant to illustrate an incidence or realization of spirituality and faith.

 

At this point in the meeting, the leader then transitions to a pre-selected lesson, involving the reading of a particular passage of scripture that exemplifies the day’s lesson, followed by a group discussion of what in the passage stood out during the reading, what conclusions they have drawn, or otherwise. This day’s topic involved a passage from the book of Philippians (2: 5-8),  that highlights the humbled passage of Jesus through the realm of man by taking on the form of a man himself.

 

Two smaller, supplementary readings are typically held that reinforce the day’s lesson. However, the leader took the opportunity to discuss the topic of my passed friend, which I had disclosed to him earlier. The group then held a loose discussion of life and death from their various points of view.

 

Each meeting is subsequently closed with an extended prayer from the leader himself. He took the opportunity to center it exclusively on the topic of the passed friend.

 

While the circumstances did not figure appropriate to record the prayer in its entirety, the leader’s points of acknowledgment and hearkening to God included my own emotional health, that of the deceased parents and her friends/classmates at school, as well as for potential victims of suicide (given that these were the circumstances under which she passed).

 

Perhaps the most important aspect of this particular meeting to analyze is the adaptation of a group’s normal schedule to briefly accommodate and address a member’s trying circumstances. In this case, it was to provide a sense of comfort and counsel by means of spirituality, along with the personalization of holding it among people familiar with each other.

 

The leader’s extended prayer stood out to me the most, for unlike the established prayer recited at the start of each meeting, this prayer was devised entirely in the moment, lasting for a total of five uninterrupted minutes devoid of ‘ums’ or silences in thought.

 

A small, but important point that can also be acknowledged in the general scheme of the meetings is the inclusion of snacks as an attracting factor. By providing food, the study leader is able to provide an incentive for members to arrive and enjoy treats, but also to keep hands and minds from wandering or growing idle during/in between each topic of study.

Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Magic
Protection
Signs

Pickled Grudges

Pickle a food item, and keep it for 40 days because that’s how long a grudge should last. On the 40th day, you have to throw it away to remove the grudge.

The belief is that the pickle withers and dies in place of the relationship between the people involved, so that the grudge would not poison their connection.

LB mentioned this as an extreme of grudge-holding among her people when she jokingly told me she would hold a grudge toward me and strike when my guard was down. While she was joking about her grudge, she used this story as an example of how I should beware around her, because her people (Armenians) are supposedly infamous for holding out grudges for extreme measures of time.

LB first heard this from a friend of hers who was carrying out this practice at the time, over a perceived snub from a close friend. Because she could not act out toward the friend as they saw the wronging unevenly, and their long-term relationship is more important to her than the perceived wrong. She placed a cucumber in a jar of vinegar for 40 days, and on the 40th, the jar should be broken to release the resentment. The cucumber is used as a sacrifice in place of an important relationship.

LB’s friend’s jar actually never made it to day 40, as it broke on its own on day 35. While it was a mess to clean up, LB’s friend took it as a sign that the grudge had run its course before the time was even up.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Salt Cross

Form of Folklore:  Folk Belief

Informant Bio:  The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, where she attended a Russian school.  At the age of fourteen she and her family moved to America, where she was formally introduce to the English language and had to continue going to a school where the primary language was English.  She has had exposure to both Armenian (from her youth and family) and American folklore (by living and studying in America).

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of the informant’s house.

Item:    Armenian Transliteration – “Yerp vor andzreve galis, aghov khach petke arvi getinu vor kuturvi”

English Translation – “When it is raining, you need to make a cross on the floor with salt so that it will stop”

Informant Comments:  As a child, growing up in Armenia, the informant believed that making a cross on the floor in salt actually was the reason why the rain would stop.  Now, she no longer believes this and has not passed this folklore on to any of her children.  She does not think making the cross would be a bad thing, but simply thinks it is not a necessary act to stop the rain.

Analysis:  Making a cross on the floor may have some connection with the fact that most Armenians in Armenia are Christian.  Since rain is sometimes considered to be the “tears of God”, perhaps making a cross on the ground that the rain falls on is a way of making the tears/rain stop.  The roots of this folk belief could be numerous; this is merely one possibility.  I do not think that it is in anyway required to stop the rain.  However, if children would like to feel that they are in some way in control of the weather (even when they are not) I see no harm in telling them about this folk belief.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Nightmares to the Water

Form of Folklore: Folk Belief (Protection)

Informant Bio: The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, moved to Moscow, Russia at six months, then to Detroit Michigan at age three. Since she was five years old, she was raised in Glendale, California. Most of the folklore she knows is from her mother (passing down traditions she learned) and from peers at school. Her mother remains as her main source of cultural folklore (Armenian) whereas her friends in school exposed her to the folklore of American culture.

Context: The interview was conducted on the porch of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item: Since I was young, my mom told me that if I ever had a nightmare at night, to wake up the following morning and go to the bathroom, turn on the sink, let the water run, and tell my bad dreams to the water… as a way of letting them be washed away and not come true. And I did this for a very long time and often, if my dreams are bad enough, I still follow through with it just to give myself the reassurance.

Informant Comments: The informant does not truly believe that telling her nightmares to the running water in the sink really protects her from having her dream come true. Doing it does, however, offer her some comfort when she has had a horrible dream. Since there is no harm in telling the water about what she had seen in her dreams, the informant continues to do so just as a part of her morning routine after a bad dream.

Analysis: In this and many other folk beliefs for protection, water seems to be used as a method of purification or cleansing. Somehow having the water running as the bad dream is being told, removes the danger of having the evils in the nightmare come true. Since water is physically used to clean, it makes sense that it is also used as a metaphorical cleaning agent for bad dreams. Like the informant, I do not see any harm in using this folk protection but would not consider it to be a necessary action; if one forgets to tell their nightmare to the running water in the sink, they should not panic (if they do, they could always find another source of running water).

general
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Gloria III

It began when we had our party I really don’t remember the beginning – it was the Genderfuck party, yeah –  because I was on this thing called DOC. And I was tripping and kind of like in my own little world. I do know that around 2am, people started taking off their clothes and were showing their boobies everywhere and they were just dancing and I was like, “What!? What’s going on, this is amazing.”

So we kicked everyone out and we all went to the back yard and we were lying on this really old twin mattress and I don’t know how people fit, but like you had like 18 people up in there and I was like uh-uh, I am not getting up in all of that. And so from there, the bonfire was really nice, then we went to Rachel’s room and there it was kind of like…I don’t know…we were all kind of like on top of each other and I was still kinda tripping, so I was just like, “everybody just touch hands!”(laughs). And we were all touching hands and then like I would make jokes like, you know let’s play a game called who’s in my mouth. (laughs) So then like, we were all touching each other and we took it to my room and then we were on G’s bed and S came in with ice cream and we started passing the ice cream to each other via mouth, and then I took off my pants and I was in my Andrew Christian underwear and you know how that makes my package look – humongous! And so then we decided to watch a video and then me and G got on the couch on the two couches or whatever and were dancing naked – oh no, we weren’t naked, we had underwear.

And R was like, “we should all take a shower,” and nobody said anything, so I was like, “yeah, let’s do it.” And so then like, nobody moved, so I got up and people started finally moving, at least that’s how I remember it. And so then we decided to go take a shower up in the cave bathroom, which is huge. And we put on Lady Gaga, The Fame album, and we all just took a shower with each other – I kept my underwear on, mostly because I was like, “I’m tripping, I don’t know what could happen, if I drop the soap, I’ll be like, ‘oops.’” (laughs) – You know what I’m saying? It was great times. That’s a pretty quick run-through for Gloria III.

 

At this point, ‘Gloria’ is a tradition, or at least a practice within this group. I heard variations on this story as well. My informant as well as others, described the requirements for ‘Gloria’ to basically be some kind of group bonding where people felt comfortable with their bodies and the bodies of others and comfortable with sharing space. Basically, it was intimate, but not necessarily sexual. ‘Gloria’ was also supposed to be fun. Also, they tended to define events as ‘Glorias’ after the fact, not during. These events explore human intimacy, for which we all yearn deeply, but fear at the same time, namely because we are afraid of how others may perceive us, we feel uncomfortable with ourselves, and we feel vulnerable when we share too much. As non-serious as this event was, it is an example of a group of people beginning to overcoming hesitation, fear of intimacy, etc.

 

Adulthood
Childhood
general

Hispanic Mating/Dating Practice “Ir a Caminar”

My informant says this about his background:

“My parents are both um…from Mexico… and then they moved to the uh…Sacramento, California in uh ’88 and had my sister and I was born shortly after that in ’91…um…we lived in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood until the time I was in third grade at which point my Dad’s career brought us to a point where we could move into a high income neighborhood elsewhere in Sacramento and I lived there since until I moved to Los Angeles this year for college.”

He was also raised in a Catholic family.

He provided the following exchange about this Hispanic dating practice “Ir a Cominar”, which means, “to go walking”. It’s a specific way of socializing with teenagers of the other sex in a specific environment:

Informant: I guess the only way to put this is that it’s a sort of mating practice, in the sense, that uh, in the vil–small town where my parents grew up, La Pidad, there was a very specific way you would, uh, teenagers would, go around meeting each other–with the other sex. Um… in the plaza, they would always call it ‘Ir a Caminar’, to go walking, and basically, people would just go walking around in the park and the plaza and um…all the girls would walk around in the middle, talking to each other and would wait for the guys, who would sit on the outside and approach them and ask them to go walking. Um, I thought this was weird, because when my parents first talked to me about it, they, uh, they, treated it like a totally normal thing um, but this was [snicker] a specific environment where boy girl interactions would happen, in fact, that’s where my parents met.

Collector: Is this like going out?

Informant: No, no, it’s not going out, but just walking. It’s a very, a, this was a very odd way they,um, you know, every relationship starts like that! No matter where it goes, every relationship starts like that where they grew up. I haven’t heard about it elsewhere, outside of their town.

Collector: Why do you think they do this?

Informant: Um, to me, uhh..obviously you have no control what teenagers might do later in their relationship, but considering they grew up in a very very Catholic community, this seems like a very innocent, um, way of meeting people. But, there’s a certain level of tradition about it, with me, it always seemed old fashioned, um, it seemed like uh, because it’s so public–it’s out in the park–you want to display that modesty before the relationship is starting, um, and then uh, people experience a sort of private life from there.”

While there are many interesting dating practices existent in the folklore of other cultures, this one is specially interesting in how regulated the practice is and there’s a certain protective quality about this sort of regulation. The women are protected by each other in the inner circle and the guys have their guy friends, or what some might call “wing men”, around them. Each sex is supported by their friends as they mingle with the opposite sex and the practice becomes quite protective and innocent in nature.

The fact that my informant feels this practice is old fashioned might call into question the norm of dating in the United States as of now. While I may be over-generalizing, modern teen culture and dating practices seem to place an emphasis on sexual relations, or hookups/one night stands, instead of devoting effort to developing a nurturing relationship, losing or skipping the sort of modesty and innocence that my informant describes in the folk practice he observed. So, ultimately, perhaps this difference between dating practices suggests that teenagers these days are exposed to sexual relations way too early from the media and even propagated by their own folk circles–like a sort of leftover or lasting effect from the Free Love Revolutions of the 1980s.

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