USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘iranian’
Customs
general
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian Wedding Custom

Background: Lauren was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Her parents are both Persian Jews, and Lauren considers herself Persian as well. She has lots of extended family in the area that she grew up in, so her family often has family events that she attends, including bar and bat mitzvahs as well as weddings.

Context: Lauren was telling me about a pre-wedding party that she recently attended for her first cousin. I called Lauren on the phone since she attends university in Florida and recorded our conversation. I have transcribed what she said over the phone below.

“So there’s two names for this wedding tradition. Goleh baleh* or shironim khanom**. Goleh means flower and baleh means yes. Shironim means sweet. It’s a party it’s one of the first parties that happens when a couple gets engaged. It’s thrown by the bride’s family. At this party there’s a table full of sweets, sterling silver, flowers and a crystal that’s called leelac. That chrystal is supposed to be very expensive. It’s basically bringing in the sweetness of course of a marriage and the combining of two families and it’s usually a very big party. It’s the first time the couple is there together. I learned this tradition from  my family because last April my cousin Natalie got exchanged and her parents threw a shironim khanom. I just remember the entire party there was just fresh pastries, crepes, flowers… people send hundreds of flowers. My aunt’s house, everywhere there was flowers it was just beautiful. Everywhere there were silver plates…just gorgeous. Since I’m so close to her I didn’t really get to enjoy the food because I was dancing the whole night. One thing that we do that I really love that we do at most of the parties is we get fresh flowers and there’s a song that is sung and during that song, during the chorus everyone throws the flowers up at the bride and the groom, and the bride and groom are supposed to kiss at that time. It was my first time really seeing all that happen and it was really pretty and magical. I don’t know the song of the song… I know the melody but I’m gonna botch the words. The flowers are normally light colored flowers, typically white roses. Always light colors, never a dark color. White or light pink. At my cousin’s shironim, there was some jewelry given to her like close family came early and jeweled her up I guess? She wore no jewelry at the beginning and before the party started each of the grandmas gave her a piece of jewelry and then her parent, and then the grooms side of the family. They put the jewelry on her and then she wears it for the party and the rest of the night. Usually it’s not during the party, it’s before, just for close family and friends because… I don’t know my dad doesn’t really like it, it’s not very humble. Usually it’s just close family and friends. She wears the jewelry for the rest of the night though. Jewelry is given to the bride and the groom, usually the parents of the bride and groom, the grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and if there’s even more jewelry then cousins, first cousins. No specific type of jewelry, usually just anything. Persians have this thing where you give married people emeralds, and older women will wear emeralds to the party if they are close to the bride. My mom wore emeralds to this party and the wedding, like emerald necklaces, earrings, rings. The groom’s mom wore emeralds. Something that has emeralds in it- once you’re married you’re given a lot of emeralds for some reason.”

 

*goleh baleh

How it’s pronounced: goh-leh bah-leh

**shironim khanom

How it’s pronounced: sheer-oo-neem khah-nohm

Folk speech
general

Farsi Curse #3

Background: Lauren was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Her parents are both Persian Jews, and Lauren considers herself Persian as well. Lauren does not know how to write the curse in the original Farsi. The pronunciation is based on how Lauren said the phrase during our interview, keeping in mind that she is not a native Farsi speaker. Her first language was English and she also learned Hebrew growing up, and while she understands Farsi her speaking capabilities are, in her own words, limited.

Context: I called Lauren on the phone since she attends university in Florida and recorded our conversation. I have transcribed what she said over the phone below. She was sharing with me her favorite Persian curse words and phrases. She had just shared her favorite, which is published under the title “Farsi Curse #1” as well as a more offensive curse that is published as “Farsi Curse #2”.

The phrase: khag tu sar

How it is pronounced: kh-oh-g too sahr

“Our final curse word is khag tu sar. It basically means throw dirt on your head. I don’t know the correct grammatical terms for it but I’m pretty sure you can use it universally, not sure if its a gender related term. I learned this word from my parents when I was very young but I never used it until I was a sophomore in high school. Now its just a part of my language. People use it in many ways, but I use it almost like “kill me now” or “oh no”. I think its supposed to be said to put people down if they’re being annoying. Most people use it in the sense of “kill me” or “oh god”, like khag tu sar!”

 

Folk speech
general

Farsi Curse #2

Background: Lauren was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Her parents are both Persian Jews, and Lauren considers herself Persian as well. Lauren does not know how to write the curse in the original Farsi. The pronunciation is based on how Lauren said the phrase during our interview, keeping in mind that she is not a native Farsi speaker. Her first language was English and she also learned Hebrew growing up, and while she understands Farsi her speaking capabilities are, in her own words, limited.

Context: I called Lauren on the phone since she attends university in Florida and recorded our conversation. I have transcribed what she said over the phone below. She was sharing with me her favorite Persian curse words and phrases. She had just shared her favorite, which is published under the title “Farsi Curse #1”.

The phrase: modar genda

How it is pronounced: moh-dar jen-deh

“Another word is modar genda which means your mom is a whore or prostitute if you want to be polite. I learned this word in elementary school and I never really knew what it meant until elementary school when I asked my parents and they gave me a full definition of it. This is definitely more offensive than pedar sag (Farsi Curse #1). People use it for fun, but mostly as an insult to someone if they are bothering you. It’s not really used like just as an expletive that people might say “oh fuck” but more directed at a specific person as an insult.”

 

Folk speech
general

Farsi Curse #1

Background: Lauren was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Her parents are both Persian Jews, and Lauren considers herself Persian as well.

Context: I called Lauren on the phone since she attends university in Florida and recorded our conversation. I have transcribed what she said over the phone below. She was sharing with me her favorite Persian curse words and phrases.

Lauren does not know how to write the curse in the original Farsi. The pronunciation is based on how Lauren said the phrase during our interview, keeping in mind that she is not a native Farsi speaker. Her first language was English and she also learned Hebrew growing up, and while she understands Farsi her speaking capabilities are, in her own words, limited.

The phrase: “pedar sag”

How to pronounce it: ped-ah-r sag

“It means your dad is a dog. My friend’s mother used to just blurt out this word all the time when I was at their house. Matin is from Iran, and she knows this word because its a common word that Persians use when they want to cuss, but it was never really used in my house because my parents did not really say cuss words. Matin had no problem. You would say this word towards someone when they’re being annoying. She would use this word towards her dog, which is more appropriate, but normally people would say it to someone who’s bothering them.”

 

Folk speech
Tales /märchen

“Yeki bood, yeki nabood”

My friend Panteha is of Iranian descent on her dad’s side. She recalls a phrase in Farsi that her dad would always use to begin stories or fairy tales he told her as a kid.

The phrase is, in the original Farsi:
یکی بود یکی نبود

It is transliterated as “Yeki bood yeki nabood,” which roughly translates to “once there was one and once there wasn’t one.” This phrase is used in essentially the same manner in which many english speakers use “once upon a time” to begin folk narratives, particularly tales. Although these phrases have different literal translations, they serve the same purpose: to establish the fantastical or fictional nature of a folk narrative.

Childhood
Customs
Folk speech
Musical
Tales /märchen

The Following Home

My informant provided the following story/rhyme as something his grandmother would recite to him before school, which she drew from her Iranian heritage and knowledge of Persian folklore:

Alright so “The Following Home” is one that my mom’s mom, my grandma, told me in childhood. Growing up both of my parents worked and my grandma took care of me a lot, so I would spend the night often, and every morning before I went to school (I think it was either pre-school or kindergarten) uh, I, she and I would say this poem together, and the poem is kind of like, it describes a morning ritual that a child does before he goes to school, and in Farsi it goes like this:

Mamani mamani mamani joon. Chai ra bezar
ro fenjoon. Vakhti ke chai ra nooshidam,
mamani ra boosidam, miram koodakeshan
Shadam o khamdan, shadam o khamdan

what the poem is saying is, it says: “grandmother, grandmother, grandmother, dear. put the tea to steep, when I drink the tea and kiss my grandma I go to preschool with laughter and joy, with laughter and joy.” So it’s a very positive way I guess to get your children to go to school and drink their morning tea, and that’s basically it.

As it is a children’s rhyme, it makes sense that it is uplifting, and is a happy admonition to behave and go to pre-school obediently. It is likely designed to make the sometimes unpleasant activity of going to school more appealing, and my informant mentioned how he felt happier and willing to start his day cheerfully after reciting it with his grandmother. Indeed, he thinks one of the reasons he remembers it is that reciting it sticks out in his memory as an especially happy time with his grandmother and brings back pleasent familial memories.

general

“After a lot of laughing always comes some crying.”

A Persian saying described verbatim by informant:

“I can’t remember the Persian translation of it but in English its becomes like ‘After a lot of laughing always comes crying.’ They would say that to me when I was a kid. Say I was like laughing a lot at a joke cuz in the culture you’re supposed to be like very modest conservative, like kids are supposed to be quiet I had a really loud personality so if a kid was every misbehaving and being really hyper and laughing they’re like ‘Okay your laughing your laughing your laughing’ but soon like you’re gonna get smacked in the face and you’ll start crying cuz you’re being obnoxious. And that’s a thing they always say to little kids. My parents definitely said that to me, all the time. I would definitely say it to my cousins, I would say it to my cousins, but I would joke I wouldn’t actually like smack them but its like after a lot of laughing be prepared to experience the opposite of that.”

I find it interesting that my informant has turned this oppressive proverb into a joke she can share between her cousins, who are also first generation Iranian-American. The Persian culture from her description basically suppresses joy in the name of obedience and conservatism, which in her personal experience has been one of the biggest points of contention with her Iranian parents. The fact that this is a commonly said to children points to subjugation and authority which is core to the clan and family dominated culture. By turning the proverb on its head and saying it to her grown cousins in a joking manner she can softly criticize the strictness she struggles with.

Customs
general
Protection

Protection Ritual for Travel using the Qur’an

Protection custom for travel using the Qur’an described verbatim by informant:

“So every time I go on a trip, you have to walk outside someone has to bring a Qur’an and someone brings a glass of water and they say a certain prayer and they rush the Qur’an over you head in circles saying this prayer and then when you get in your car as your pulling out of your driveway to like go to the airport they throw that glass of water behind your car. It’s like protection, yeah. My parents do that every time, even though they’re not that religious. It’s like a religious thing. It’s like praying to Allah, it’s just like it’s a certain line of the Qur’an that my dad knows in Arabic and he just like does that around my head and I go. And every time I go on a trip, cuz my parents never travel, so it’s me that has to do it.”

My informant couldn’t remember the prayer since she cannot speak or read Arabic. She knows it to be a religious practice in terms of Islam, so the use of their holy book the Qur’an and a glass of water, which is often viewed as a purifying substance is not surprising. I am unfamiliar with Islamic practices, but the circling of the Qur’an around her head seems like a familiar ritual movement, like it’s a spotlight, calling upon Allah to watch over her, especially since the prayer is recited as this is done. I suppose the water may be purifying or may be like a sacrificial thing since it is thrown. This could make sense too because water is a precious substance all over the world. I’m the first to admit my knowledge of the Qur’an and Islam is limited, but I do believe there is some mention of Allah’s throne being over water in the Islam’s story of creation.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Persian Tale of The Chick and the Kitten

The tale of the chick and the kitten told verbatim by informant:

“My mother and my grandfather told me this as a child and still remind me of it sometimes in Farsi, but I don’t know how exactly how to tell it. It’s a story about this baby chick and its mother hen and the baby chick always asks, ‘Why can’t I go play with that baby kitten over there?’ and the mom always tells it, ‘Don’t go playing with that kitten, don’t go play with the cats,’ doesn’t really explain why but she’s lecturing her chick and the chick goes against her wishes and plays with the cat and gets eaten. So the moral of the story is don’t go and associate with people or mix with people who are your opposites… because they can change you they can get you in a vulnerable environment, like you’re not familiar with, like they can destroy you and they can be bad influences on you and take advantage of you and basically corrupt you as a person.”

I think this märchen is another instance where the authoritative nature of parents towards their children come into play within the Persian culture. There is question from the chick without explanation from mother hen, which is no uncommon to parenting, but since the chick still doesn’t listen and gets eaten (fairly scary for a child) there’s the implication that you shouldn’t every question your parents but simply obey—for your own good. That at 22 years old my informant is still reminded of the lesson from this tale is fascinating because she is first generation American. Since she is in the melting pot of America, surrounding by people who are different in her in so many ways, she needs to be that much more careful with who she surrounds herself with. Though I don’t believe the chick and the kitten are opposed in any formal way, the cat can be understood as a natural predator in most respects. The chick is not just killed, but eaten, which is a whole other level of destruction, or corruption as my informant suggests. Either way the notion of the Other is clearly established and made out to be something to be cautious with, but seemingly avoided all together (if taken more literally).

Customs
general
Homeopathic

Esfand and Sage Burning: Persian Cleansing

Esfand and sage burning practices in Persian culture cleanse houses, bodies, and objects that may be occupied by evil spirits, spirits of the dead, or may be afflicted by the evil eye.

Described verbatim by informant:

“Esfand is basically these dried herbs that, every Persian household has them. And say um a lot of bad things have been happening like your car broke down, you got a bad grade, your boyfriend broke up with you, someone died, you know, so people feel like it’s obviously like it’s evil spirits literally are around your house and around your car and they’re around you so when you burn the esfand you walk around and its smells horrible and you walk around and you just you do it over everyone’s head you do it over even like around your pets head you do it around your car um everything you um walk through the room cuz you’re killing things by burning the esfand cuz it smells so bad and that like gives it’s like a cleansing to get rid of the bad spirits that are causing the bad things. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be evil spirits it can just be like people evil eyeing you and wanting bad things to happen to you. Negative Vibes.

Sage is kind of a similar process it’s just to clean whatever was in the house previously to be gone, it’s a fresh start, cuz you don’t know what happened someone could’ve died in that house, you know? Crazy things. So if you want a fresh start in a new home you can do that.”

Esfand to my knowledge is unique to Persian culture and this cleansing ritual. Ritual burning of herbs is common to many cultures, especially burning with sage. The idea of smoking out spaces and people for purification is something I know to be relevant to a lot of Native American tribes, Mesoamerican cultures, Aboriginal tribes, and countless others around the world. Though smoke is considered polluting and dangerous to many people, burning and beginning anew is a process found in nature, ie wildfires. This has since been observed by humans and emulated in swidden or slash-and-burn agriculture across the globe. Perhaps there is some root to the notion of burning and cleansing there, though that connection seems unlikely in the context of the Middle East, unless the practice of burning herbs was learned or brought in by some other influence (perhaps by trade ie along the Silk Road). This theory is purely speculative, though, as ritual burning could have begun in the Middle East or spontaneously come about for all I know.

I later got an email from my informant saying she wasn’t sure if she explained esfand and it’s relation to the evil eye well enough so she sent me a link to a website that she felt explained it well:

http://mypersiankitchen.com/esfand-the-evil-eye/

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