USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘lebanese’
Folk Beliefs
Myths

Jinn

My informant talked about the world of jinn. In Arab culture, but mostly from Islam there is mention of the jinn. They are kind of like ghosts that live in their own world. They are not necessarily bad. My informant described the jinn as just a spiritual being that existed in another world next to ours.

 

What I found interesting about this being is the definition my friend gave on what a jinn is. It was not what I had heard before. I had heard jinns being synonymous with genies. It was also interesting to see that these superstitions can be found within the pages of the Quran. (For another version of this spiritual being see “jinn de” in the USC Folklore Archives)

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Signs

Blue Eyes = Evil Eyes

“People with blue eyes can give you evil eye.”

My informant heard this from her father. People with colored eyes have the power to do harm to you, even subconsciously. She laughs at this statement because her brothers have colored eyes. My informant is from a Lebanese family.

She is a college student at the California State University Northridge. She is very close with her father, often helping him run the family store. We sat down at a coffee shop to talk about folklore form her family.

What was interesting of this piece was that it sounded familiar to a belief form my culture. In Salvadoran culture we believe that people eyes and eyesight can cause “mal ojo” or evil eye. It reminds me of the notion of how the eyes are the windows of the souls. It would make sense that they would also be the seat of our energy.

Childhood
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Lizard Burial

My informant as a little boy would perform a ritual. The children of the village used to capture and kill a lizard. Then they would  perform a death ceremony. There was about 20 kids involved. They would bury the lizard and start praying.

“Ya hardon eska werka, mertak amya mabti’shd”, which translates to :

All you lizard, please portray good, because your wife is blind and cannot see at times.

They would have sticks and be beating it against the ground while saying the chant. Afterwards they would go home.There was nothing else to do so they created their own rituals.

My informant is an immigrant from Lebanon. He lived in a small town called Yaroun. Hid family was very poor and lived in a rural area. We shared the folklore over some food in his house.

The interesting part of this piece is the creativity children have. They created there own ritual in to keep from boredom. my informant at first did not want to tell this piece of folklore out of embarrassment but eventually gave in.

general
Humor

Lebanese Donkey Joke

My informant heard this joke from her father.

So there is this gypsy that used to go around and buy donkeys. You know the gypsies are seen as kind of tricky. He bought this donkey from this man. He goes… uh… to another village to the bazaar. The gypsy was selling the donkey over there and he sold it. So this man so now he needs a donkey. So he went to the bazaar to buy a new donkey. So he found this donkey and oh my god he liked its color; it was blue and red. He said “I’m gonna buy this donkey.” He bought it for five times more than the donkey he sold. So he bought the donkey and was riding on it home. And you know the donkey knows it’s way to the house. This donkey was going without even directions, without gps. Just going right, left, right, woooo! So this guy came down and find out his pants are all red and blue. So he looked at the back of the donkey. And it was raining when he was riding. So what happened is the gypsy painted the donkey and sold it for more. Hahaha! He bought the same donkey!

My informant is from a Lebanese family. She is a college student at the California State University Northridge. She is very close with her father, often helping him run the family store. We sat down at a coffee shop to talk about folklore from her family.

The Lebanese culture has a lot of donkey jokes. It was interesting to see how the stereotype of gypsy gets passed down into this story. Gypsy are for the most part seen as subhuman. Another interesting thing is the simplicity of the joke.

 

Magic

Born with a Spirit

My informant is the Lebanese father of my best friend. He grew up in the town of Yaroun, Lebanon before migrating to America. This story is a true story of an encounter his sister had in Lebanon.

My sister got married, and every time she delivered a baby they used to sometimes live one week, one month, one of them lived one year one time. And then they get sick, they get really sick. It was like a weird situation. the doctor checks on them and their face turned blue. They’re like suffocating. Like something is suffocating them. It is a true story, my sister. And they used to die. And when they used to take the kid to the hospital. The doctors were amazed. The doctor was one of the best doctors, got so like shocked that he couldn’t, that he didn’t know how diagnose them. He didn’t know what was wrong with them! And the end we found out that it was some bad spirit that was born with my sister. That she choked them to death. And so we didn’t know. There was one year where she had a boy like one year old and she delivered another boy and both of them died in the same week. I was like probably seven eight years old. At that age you remember. We were so sad. The oldest sister was very aware. Because the doctor said its not something medical. So automatically she knew it was something spiritual. So my sister what she did, even though she didn’t have a lot of money, she found money and went, she traveled all the way, we are next to Syrian and Iraq,. She went and she was looking and looking and traveled all through the Middle East. But at the end someone mentioned a lady. She lived closed to us, in the city called Teir.   So my sister wen to there and the lady opened. She gathers the evil spirits … she has the way to gather them. She gathers them and talks to them and after asking my sister what her name and the mother name. Once she knew what her name and the mother name they could locate, they know who she is. They told her exactly that she was born with a bad spirit that kills children, we call it erini, it’s like a partner. This women I don’t what she did, but she wrote part of the Koran to ward of the spirit.

I gathered this piece from my informant in his house while he served me food.

The interesting part of this folklore, is that every so often he would emphasize that this was a true story. It always interesting to hear a person’s personal story with the supernatural. It was also interesting to see that the idea of a supernatural force at work only came after other more “legit” means were exhausted.

Customs
Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dabke

So anytime there is a gathering of Syrian-Lebanese people, and um it’s a celebration of any type, there will be music playing, and the music has a very unique rhythm, usually a very strong percussion base, and so that lends itself to a lot of folk dancing, and the folk dancing is when the families, members of all ages, get together and hold hands and do a um a dance, and it’s a repetitive dance of about eight or twelve counts, and you just do it as long as the music is playing. So if you have someone playing, oh and the percussion I mentioned earlier is called a derveke, and uh used to be made of a wooden or metal drum with animal skin stretched on top, and it could make a really loud sound, so as long as the dervake is playing, you can dubke, so whether you have a full band or just a derveke, you can do the dubke. It is significant to me because well that if I don’t carry on the family traditions and teach my children how to do the dubke and the family recipes, it will die out and there will be no heritage.

Informant: The informant is a Catholic mother of five, of Syrian descent. She is from Kinder, Louisiana, where she grew up in a large family.

Analysis:

I believe that this tradition and practice of dance and folk music greatly exemplifies the communal aspect of the Syrian-Lebanese culture. The gathering of Syrian-Lebanese families is usually quite large, as extended families come together to celebrate. The music lends itself as a great example of the history of the culture, as the specific instruments that are used to play music in America are derived from or are the same as those that were originally played in that region. As the rhythm lends itself to folk dancing, the communal aspect of the culture is apparent in the holding of hands during the dance, and the need for each participant to be synchronized with the rhythm. Because it is a line dance, if one person missteps, it can interrupt the synchronization of those around them. It is also interesting how the repetitive nature of the dance movements demonstrate how the dance is learned, as anyone can stand up, hold the hand of the last person in line, and follow their steps that match the rhythm. This once again demonstrates the communal aspect and the importance of celebrating the Lebanese-Syrian community through dance.

I also thought it was interesting about the association of “heritage” with this dance. Because the dance is learned from other people and can vary from place to place and person to person, it is more of a tradition than heritage, especially because it is a mode of activity that represents the past. Heritage, on the other hand, is not an activity, but rather an inherited set of relationships about who you were in the past. So, this practice is a tradition that celebrates the past of Lebanese-Syrian cultures and in doing so, it is a way for the people who partake in it to acknowledge their heritage. I was also able to learn parts of this dance, as I was invited to partake in the tradition. This was a lot of fun for me, because the rhythm is very up-beat and perfect for dancing.

Annotation:

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

Proverb-Lebanese/Syrian

“So my grandmother used to have a saying, “if you spit in the wind, you’ll get it back in the face,” um because she never wanted us to speak poorly of other people or say anything disrespectful or rude, so that was her saying.”

Informant: The informant is a Catholic mother of five, of Syrian descent. She is from Kinder, Louisiana, where she grew up in a large family.

Analysis:

This saying highlights the Catholic traditions of the informant and her family. In a stringently Catholic family, the way in which one treats another is especially important, as they are taught to love everyone as themselves. This saying exemplifies this Christian teaching, but also seems to have the influence of the Hindu tradition of karma. Although to the informant, the meaning is simplistic in that they shouldn’t speak poorly of others, the aspect of karma comes from “you’ll get it back in the face.” To me, this means that not only should I not speak poorly of others, but if I were to do so, I would feel the repercussions from my actions.

The proverb is also interesting in its literal interpretation. As this saying may also have originated from a region in which the weather conditions allowed for strong winds. If this were the case, then the saying in that context would have a sensible literal interpretation. If one were to actually spit into the wind, the spit would most likely return and strike them in the face. Therefore, the context and the literal sense of this proverb convey the message of not being rude so that one might avoid embarrassing or harsh repercussions because of the things that one says. This saying, as the informant learned it from her mother, could have been passed down through generations even if the weather conditions are not the same, and may continue, due to the fact that the underlying message is apparent.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Signs

Lebanese Dream Superstition

According to Lebanese folklore, my informant said, bad dreams should be interpreted as signs of good fortune.  (This would be reassuring to me, as I have had my share of them!).  The superstition says that once a scenario is played out in a dream, it will not be repeated in reality.  Thus, it is also reflexive: a pleasant dream should not be received as a sign of good fortune to come.
My informant was not aware of the origin of this sign-superstition.  He learned it from his family, none of whom he says actually believe it.  I would most likely postulate monogenesis as a model for the origin of this superstition, as it is unique and counterintuitive.
This is indeed a unique perspective on dreams, one I have never encountered before hearing the superstition from my informant.  As with many superstitions, odds are that there is some element of belief somewhere back in my informant’s family.  Otherwise, it would be unlikely that the superstition would have been passed down and remembered by succeeding generations.

folk simile
Folk speech
Proverbs

“Eat garlic and see it rise, Eat onions and forget what happened.”

My informant heard this proverb in Lebanon, his home country.  He did not recall the first time he heard it or who he heard it from.  He said it is simply an Arabic folk saying that he picked up from friends and family.
This is not the first proverb I have heard that speaks of onions and garlic as aphrodisiacs.  Unfortunately, my informant was uncertain of the exact meaning of the second line of the saying.  It could mean that eating onions causes one to lose his erection, or that onions cause poor memory.  My reaction was to interpret “forget it” as something like “it won’t be going away for days.”  In effect, “garlic works, but onions work better,” was my immediate interpretation.  On the other hand, it could be a mnemonic (much like our “yellow on black, venom lack; black on yellow, kill a fellow”) for remembering which of the two related herbs is the one that does the trick.  As it rhymes in Arabic (Toum, bikoum, Basal, hasal), the proverb incorporates an element of appropriateness, one of the features of most any joke; and obviously, the proverb is for humor and entertainment rather than any kind of edification or instruction.

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