USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘persian’
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nowruz: Persian New Year Celebrations

Main Piece

“Nowruz happens on the spring equinox, it’s the New Year so it’s celebrating new beginnings and whatnot. So then you set up a table called the halfsin table, and it has…I don’t know how many… and they all start with S in farsi. and it’s stuff like an apple, which represents…something. You spend time with family, jumping over this fire thing…people light a little fire and jump over it, from the old year to the new one.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: Persian–American

Location: Washington D.C.

Language: English

When I asked the informant what the holiday means to them, they responded with the following:

“It’s interesting because I didn’t grow up in a super Iranian household, but this holiday was a way to connect with my Iranian heritage…I don’t speak Farsi or whatever but this is a way for me to connect with the heritage.”

Context

The informant has one Iranian parent and did not grow up in a strongly Iranian community. However, she still thinks very fondly of Nowruz and engages in celebrating it each year with her father, who is her Iranian parent, and her brother.

Notes

The formation of an individual’s identity is an intriguing process, and it is interesting that the informant feels an emotional bond to the holiday despite not having many other cultural ties to Iran. Regardless of identity, holidays such as Nowruz seem to bind families closer together.

 

Tales /märchen

Shirin and Farhad

The following informant is a 22-year-old Persian-American women from Southern California. In this account she is describing a tale her parents and family used to tell her when she was little. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: So, my name, um because it means sweet, there used to be this fairy tale in Iran, that basically every old person, in their entire life, and basically everyone has been told this story.

So basically, there was this princess and her name was Shirin, and there was a King and his name was Farhad. So basically, Shirin lived in this Castle… and… um… and she was just like this princess of like Persia. And he like… well… it’s kind of like a Rapunzel type of situation and basically Farhad came and like saved her and took her outside the castle and like gave her a new life. He was basically… he was just like her prince, but like she was the main focal point of the story as opposed to that guy. But like yeah, the story is not like too-in depth, it’s pretty short. It’s basically… just like… there is a prince and a princess and it’s like bada bing bada boom

S: But umm… yeah, my parents told me that, and basically most people who name their kids Shirin, or Shireen, will tell their children that story. It’s kind of like Rapunzel, because she is just like stuck in the castle and he like comes and saves her, but like the Persian version, haha.

K: Who is told this story?

S: Well like any Persian over the age of 45 knows it cause it’s like a children’s tale, but they always tell it to kids named Shirin

K: Do you like the story?

S: Well, yeah, because there was not a story, like growing up in America, the princesses were not named Shirin, so when I heard about a princess with my name and she was rescued by a knight in shining armor, I was like very there for it… because like yes… it was not Cinderella, aurora, or whatever the fuck and now there was finally a Shirin

K: What does it mean to you?

S: Um, I think when I was like a child, I thought that your name … actually no when I was a child I did not give a shit about that, I just thought it was so cool that I had a princess and other people didn’t. But as an adult it makes me feel better, that my name has meaning and history behind it.

Context:

The informant told this retelling while we were at a café by her school. The conversation was recorded and transcribed.

Thoughts:

First of all I love her retelling of the story, I thought it was great. But I also think that her not knowing the specifics of the story and only knowing the main ideas is okay because her take away from being told this story was that her name means something. It makes me think of the Oral-Formulaic Theory, how if she were to tell her child the story, she will probably keep the plot the same because that is what she knows, but the formulaic speech (little details) she could change up. In addition, which is what I find most interesting, is that she explained that this is a popular fairy tale, that is about a Persian princess, tell young Persian children. After doing some research, this story is actually based on a poem, which was based on a real event, of an Armenian princess named Shirin falling in love with the Kind of Persia. So, in the original story, the princess was not Persian, but to the informant its more about the name of the princess than her origins.

Here are two links to look at the original poetic version and historical version that inspired this tale. (These are not links to the absolute original version, as I don’t understand Farsi, I had difficulty procuring it):

https://www.peopleofar.com/2015/11/08/before-romeo-and-juliet-there-was-khosrow-and-shirin/

http://nazykaviani.blogspot.com/2007/08/story-of-khosrow-and-shirin-i.html

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.”

 

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
Proverbs

Persian Proverb

RN is the informant, PH is myself. Our conversation began as follows:

PH: Do you know any legends, jokes, proverbs that you especially like?

RN: Proverb?

PH: Yeah

RN: Can it be in another language?
PH: Yes

The informant then told me of a Vietnamese proverb which is documented in a different entry. Afterward, the conversation continued:

RN: A Persian one I really like is… My friend taught me how to say it…
[says in persian], [it means that] the walls have mice and the mice have ears.

The proverb in Farsi/Persian is:

دیوار موش داره٬ موش هم گوش داره

The phonetic spelling is:
divār muš dāre, muš ham guš dāre

The informant was taught this proverb, both its pronunciation and its translation, by a friend he went to high school with who immigrated to the U.S. (Irvine, CA) from Iran at age 6.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Proud Eagle

“This is a story about an eagle and the issue of pride that has been, uhh… told generations after generations to caution the young generations about not to be too proud of themselves and be humble. I’ll say this story in Farsi first, and then translate it in English. [Tells story in Farsi]

Now translate in English, the story about a proud, extremely proud eagle. And as he was flying, I… says to himself, ‘I’m so proud of myself, and my power, and how I can see things, and I’m the strongerest, the strongest eagle on Earth, and anything down there, if it moves, I can tell, I can sense it.’

As he was flying, a hunter down below, using bow and arrow, aimed at her… uhh… and sh… sh…, you know, aimed an arrow at her. Uhh… so causes the eagle to start falling. As… he was, uhh… I’m sorry, I changed my pronouns! You know, I went from he and she; can we redo that?”

No, it’s fine, you can keep going!

“[Laughs] Okay. As he was falling down, uhh, he was looking at the arrow that caused him to fall, and noticed that the, uhh, the important thing that was guiding the arrow was a feather of another eagle. That caused his fall. And eventually his demise.

So the story goes to explain that, uhh, most of the things that are happening to us, are as a result of some of the things we’re doing, uhh, due to our neglect, due to our incompetence, that’s happening to us.”

 

Analysis: This story is very similar to tales and proverbs in other parts of the world relating to pride. I am reminded of the English phrase, “Pride comes before the fall,” which is itself derived from the Bible. It seems to be a very common belief that excess pride often results in one’s own misfortune, but it is interesting to note that in this case, the story is told from the perspective of the Eagle. Not only this, but the hunter is not seen as good or evil, he is instead a merely neutral actor. This places all of the responsibility for wrongdoing on the Eagle’s pride, instead of the entity that caused the Eagle direct harm.

Narrative

Mullah Nasreddin and Growing Older

“Okay, umm… I’m gonna tell you about the Mullah Nasreddin. He was a wi- wiseguy, and he was always say things that sound like stupid, but really it had a lot of meaning. Uhh… Mullah Nasreddin, umm… he… one day he was walking in the street, and the guy, friend, came and he says, ‘How old are you, Mullah?’

And Mullah says that, ‘I’m 40 years old.’

‘Oh, okay. I thought you told me that 10 years ago you’re 40 years old. What happened, you’re not getting old… older?’

He says, ‘No, even if you come hundred years from now ask me, I’m still gonna be 40 years old.’

And he says, ‘Why?

He says, ‘Because a man doesn’t change his mind. He is always what he says and what he’s gonna be.’

So, umm… Gonna tell you the Farsi. [Tells story in Farsi].

So, is just telling about how stubborn mens are [laughs].”

Analysis: Mullah Nasreddin stories are very common in Persian culture because they are a humorous way to impart life lessons, especially on children. Mullah was famous for playing the fool, but always having a bit of hidden meaning or wisdom in what he was saying or doing, as is present here. This story comments on how pointlessly stubborn many people can be, to the point of ignoring facts, and how humorously childish it is to do so rather than embrace reality.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative

Djinn and Public Baths

Could you share a story that your father might have told you when you were younger?

“I’m going to tell you about the story, about the ghosts, that my father used to tell us when we were young, and uhh…

We used to have a public bath, which they were underground, a lot of steps to go down there. So, umm…

We always pass from that public bath, and he always afraid of that place. So one time he told me a story about that place that at night…

The, umm… ghosts, they would come over there and have a party! And you can hear the music and everything, you know, and then, he says, one morning, somebody went early in the morning that bath, public bath, and said nobody was there.

So he wanted to be the first one to take shower and go. And he goes in there and sees that there’s a guy sitting there. And he… And then he ask him, ‘What are you doing here?’ You know? And then he says, ‘Well, I just came to wash whoever comes.’

Usually the, the people wash them. And says ‘I just wash him.’

And he says, ‘Okay you can wash my body.’ So he sat there, and he start washing him.

And then he asked him, ‘Oh, I heard there is a ghost in this public bath. And uhh, have you ever seen one?’

And he says, ‘How can you tell that this is a ghost?’

And he says ‘Because my father told me that there is a.. horseshoe on their left foot.’

And he says, ‘Oh! Is that like this?’

And he shows his foot that it has a horseshoe on it, so he just got scared, and run out of public bath, you know nude, in the street-”

Your father did?

“No, no, the guy who was telling the story. Yeah, to my father, yeah. So he just run through the street and he believed there is a ghost in that public bath.”

Do you remember who told your father that story?

“Ehh, probably it was somebody like friend, or someone, because it was everybody they would talk about it. It was something everybody talked about it. It was the neighborhood, the old neighborhood in Tehran… Djinn is something like, like the ghost, it doesn’t really exist, I think it’s mostly in stories, but this one they were saying it’s true.”

Analysis: This ghost story follows a very typical format, down to the acknowledgement that most ghost stories aren’t true, but that this one had certain credibility.
It was shared with Tahereh as a young girl by her father, but she does not know who he heard it from. Nonetheless, she asserts, knowledge of this story was common knowledge in the part of Tehran that she grew up in. Knowing that public baths were not always the safest places, it may well have been that parents told their children stories like this one in order to keep them from wandering into dark places because of something attractive, like music.

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