USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Food Traditions’
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

French Food Traditions for The Epiphany

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:

My name is Keveen. I grew in the South Western part of France, a little town called Brive located between Toulouse and the coastal city of Bordeaux.

Piece:

The last one I remember was the epiphany, early January. It celebrates the Three Wise men visiting Jesus. In France we eat the “galette des rois”, a pastry cake, made with almond paste, with a “fève” placed inside. With all the family around the table, you split the cake in as many shares as there are people plus one representing the “share of the poor” that will be offered to someone later on (a friend or a homeless person). Whoever has the share with the “fève” becomes the king of the day (or queen) and can pick his mate (queen or king) ; you also get to wear a paper crown that is sold with the cake.

Piece Background Information: 

Growing up atheist but with a catholic Grand mother from Paris who ended up raising me while my parents were working, I took part of a few religious traditions specific to the French culture, each region having their own interpretation of them.

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Context of Piece Performance: 

In person, during the day at informant’s house in Highland Park, Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

The concept behind the galette des rois, that is – a cake with a prize (typically a baby trinket) inside that allows the recipient of the slice with the prize to have special privileges shows up in many different cultures. Other variations include King’s cake eaten in New Orleans during Carnival season and rosca de reyes in Spanish speaking countries and lends this tradition to Dundes’ definition of folklore that it must exhibit multiplicity and variation. As a result, I have also participated in this similar tradition and actually have a plastic baby on my desk. It is definitely interesting and cool that a tradition like this can bridge such different cultures together.

Customs
Festival
Foodways

The Significance of Yams in Nigeria

new_yam_festival2

My friend grew up in Nigeria before coming to the US for college. He says yams are life in Nigeria.

Friend:“The yam is the staple food and therefore a measure of masculinity and wealth. If a family has a lot of yams, you’re rich because you can feed your family. This makes you a strong man. Yams are equated to life in Igbo culture. Nigeria is the leading producer of yams in the world, so of course they are a big deal to us.”

Me: Do you still have family who farm yams?

Friend: “My father does not farm yams, but my grandfather did, and his father before him. When my grandfather got married, he had to present his yams to my grandmother’s family to prove he could provide for her, which is a fairly typical custom in Nigeria.”

Me: Is there anything specific about how yams are farmed that makes them special?

Friend: “On some farms in Nigeria, the women aren’t allowed to go to the farm until harvest time. Then the women do all of the harvest work. It’s superstition I guess. There are many people today who still grow yams. Yams are featured at any big gathering or at any holiday meal.”

 

Analysis: Many cultures have some form of staple food. For the Irish, potatoes are an important part of sustenance, and therefore are a large part of how people live. Because of this, a simple food like a potato, or yam, can come to have symbolic meaning.  What a family produces in terms of yams, and how it relates to masculinity is extremely interesting, given that yams are an unpredictable measure of success. One year, the harvest could be plentiful and the weather perfect. The next year, however, bad luck could lead to very few yams. Another aspect of this folklore worth noting is that while the men do the initial farming, the women do the harvesting. Perhaps this relates to the hunter/gatherer trope, but a man’s worth relies on work which is half done by women.

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