Tag Archives: tradition

“Onitsha ji azu awu”-Onitsha Proverb

Context: This is a proverb that is native to my dad’s village and he learned it as a child growing up in Onitsha. Proverbs like this were a prominent means of giving advice and life lessons especially to the children of the tight-knit community.

  • “Onitsha ji azu awu”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Onitsha: Onitsha
      • Ji: uses
      • Azu: the back
      • Awu: urine
    • Full Translation: Instead of confronting troublesome people, you avoid conflict by making an excuse to leave[i.e. use the restroom] and leave that environment through the back door.
      • Explanation: According to my dad, this is a pinnacle saying among men in the village of Onitsha, where he grew up. This saying serves to represent the ability of an Onitsha man to assess a situation and leave when it is appropriate for him to do so, avoiding conflict and maintaining his dignity and pride as a man. My dad learned the village elders of Onitsha and it stands as a saying to exercise heightened awareness in regards to the safety of your environment and or surroundings.

Thoughts: While this appears to be a proverb directed towards men within my dad’s village, I believe that this proverb can be taken as a message for both men and women.  Growing up my parents would always tell me and my brother to always be aware of our surroundings and be observant so as to prevent walking into danger. When I left for college, the premise of the saying became very real for me because I heard a lot of tragic events and or stories in regard to people finding themselves in situations that they did not understand how to escape. Now as a young adult, I exercise the message of this proverb almost every time I leave the safety of my apartment or dorm room. There have been situations where I have had disagreements or conflict with people that I know and a lot of times I always ended up leaving the situation and returning later when things have cooled down. While I agree that some situations can prompt one to leave and never return, I do believe that this caution can still be exercised by staying in a risky but manageable situation. There is always a level of conflict associated with working with others, so I think it’s important to exercise caution but also do it in a way that is solution-oriented and non-escalating. In this context I wouldn’t just leave an instance of conflict unresolved, instead, I would try to deescalate the situation and find a solution but if the situation gets out of hand then I will figure out a way to leave.

“Isi buka ora ka Okpu”-Onitsha Proverb

Context: This is a proverb that is native to my dad’s village and he learned it as a child growing up in Onitsha. Proverbs like this were a prominent means of giving advice and life lessons especially to the children of the tight-knit community. 

  • “Isi buka ora ka Okpu”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Isi: head
      • Buka: big
      • Ora ka: struggle
      • Okpu: cap
    • Full Translation: No matter how big a man’s head is, we can find an alternative cap, meaning that we can always find a solution or alternative to any issue or problem.
      • Explanation: This proverb comes from my dad and he learned about this when he was a child growing up in Nigeria. This was supposed to be a saying that illustrated that no matter how big a problem was that a solution could always be found. When my dad told me about this proverb, he emphasized it as a teaching rather than a saying. He experienced a lot of hardships and adversities growing up, but he always remembered the words of his father in that there was no problem that he could not solve and to keep pushing forward.

Thoughts: Growing up this was not a saying that I would hear often here from my parents, but I recognize a lot of variations in English that they would tell us. It is interesting to think about how this one proverb could summarize the experiences of my dad as a child and his journey from Nigeria to the U.S. to start a better life for himself. Life in itself is riddled with challenges, but this proverb provides a simple and almost cheesy solution. If we think of problems as being impossible and that they can never be solved, then they will continue to plague and affect us throughout our life. However, if we address a problem with possible solutions from the beginning and speak into existence that a solution is near then no problem will be too great and we’ll always find a solution. The proverb is speaking clearly on the value of being solution-orientated and I agree with this message entirely. Given my dad as an example of what happens when you choose a path of solutions rather than problems, I hope to carry on the message of this proverb and apply it to the challenges I know I will face.

Hell week

Transcribed straight from my informant:

Main piece:

So hell week is a time in the summer, like one of the last weeks before school starts. It’s when the fall sports teams basically have an intense week of working out and preparation for the upcoming season. In my experience, it was water polo, but people usually think of football.

Usually, its multiple hours–up to 5 or 6– of working out, in the pool for me or weight training. It’s just really intense, and they’re just testing out our skills, meaning there was nothing to lose if we were sore because there was no season yet. They have always been doing that, and it’s terrible and scary. It’s an entire week of five hours every day, I hate it.

Background/context:

My little brother told this to me as we sat together casually after I asked him about his folklore. He has been playing club water polo competitively for at least 4 years now, and he takes the sport very seriously. He is a jock. He is in an all-boy’s high school that is known nationwide for its excellence in sports.

Thoughts/analysis:

My school also had hell week, and I think it’s a pretty common concept for athletes, at least in American culture. I think the better you are at a sport, the more intense this becomes as it is also intended to pressure the athletes psychologically, bad as it sounds.

Corning of The Beef and St. Patrick’s Day – Irish American Tradition

Context: The following piece was collected during a casual interview in the informant’s home. 

Background: The informant is my mother, who is a third generation Irish immigrant. She learned the tradition from her parents, who partook in it with numerous other Irish-American families who also lived in Bridgeport, CT. 

Piece: 

Collector: So who corns the beef?

Informant:Whoever’s house it was got the meat and they put it in the pot and then somebody else poured in the water and then somebody else put in, like a couple of people would put in the different spices. So it was a group activity if you will, they kind of all … um joined in. Obviously there weren’t jobs for every adult but everybody was there.

Collector: Where do you put it after you season it?

Informant: Okay, you take the meat and you have this huge pot looking thing in a wooden box almost with these long handles so that the men could carry it because it was very heavy. And you would put it either in your basement, um or somewhere cool and dark because it was in Connecticut so at that time of the year it would be cool enough. So one year when we had it at our house we put it in the garage and covered it um because we didn’t have windows on our garage doors. 

Collector: What day would you put it in there?

Informant: Always on um Ash Wednesday. And then on Saint Patrick’s Day whoever had the meat at their house, they held the party. And they always like set these incredible tables up with all sorts of decorations and party favors.

Collector: Like what, for example?

Informant: Party favors could be the candy coins. They would make pots of gold to put on the table and use the candy coins. Sometimes they made little leprechauns out of um pipe cleaners and sticks and stuff. 

Analysis: I really enjoyed hearing this piece from my mother, as she reminisced about her childhood and the strong tradition that was upheld by her family and numerous Irish-American families in her neighborhood. Irish immigrants, like many other immigrant groups, were subject to negative stereotypes upon arrival to the States. In ritualizing the preparation and consumption of corned beef, a distinctly Irish-American dish, the participants forge pride in their community. The fact that the process begins on Ash Wednesday, a holy day observed in multiple Christian traditions, highlights the shared religious identity of this group as well. All of the families who participated in the tradition were Catholic, a religious identity that is often understood in Ireland as a nationalist political identity as well. The “party favors” on the table suggest touristic representations of Ireland, an idealized and even romanticized conception of the Motherland. Ultimately, the tradition represents the generation of a hybrid, even liminal culture that is neither wholly Irish nor wholly American.

Spring Cleaning and Shopping: A Nowruz Tradition

Background: The informant is a sophomore film student at USC. He learned the tradition from practicing it with his mother’s side of the family during his childhood in San Ramon, CA. His mother was born in the US to Iranian parents and moved back to Iran for a brief period of time before moving back to the US. It is worth noting that the informant prefers the term Persian rather than Iranian when discussing his cultural background.  

Context: The following is transcribed from an over-the-phone interview with the informant. The informant and I are well acquainted so the discussion was casual.

Piece:

Informant: “Nowruz begins on the spring equinox. I think usually it’s the first day of the month, there’s an Iranian month, Farvardin. But like it’s not only the beginning of spring it’s also the first day of this new month sort of how like January 1st is our new year. And so some of the ways that it’s celebrated..the big thing that I remember about it. I know there’s spring cleaning and there’s shopping. That’s actually, that’s literally a part of the culture. You clean the whole house and you go shopping.”

Collector: Do you shop for clothes or a specific item?

Informant: “It’s like everything. It’s sort of like… It’s like ‘out with the old, in with the new,’ you know. Which is kind of funny because it’s like super commercial but it’s also at the core of the holiday.”

Analysis: To me, deep cleaning and then shopping seems like an intuitive way to start anew, and yet it has never been a facet of my New Year’s tradition. Cleaning the entire house and then replacing old objects with new ones symbolizes rebirth, a new start, a new year. The holiday takes place in spring, a season associated with regeneration from winter and new life. By incorporating this tradition into the holiday, the participants regenerate from the past year and materially begin anew. I thought it was interesting that he noted the commercial aspect of the holiday as “funny,” indicating that he views holidays existing in a realm somewhat separate from consumerism despite most American holidays revolving around commercial products.

Lacrosse Prayer

“Dear lord. The battles we go through life, we ask for a chance that’s fair. A chance to equal our stride, a chance to do or dare. If we should win, let it be by the code, with faith and honor held high. If we should lose, we’ll stand by the road, and cheer as the winners go by. Day by day. We get better and better. Until we can’t be beat. Won’t be beat. Ruthless”

This is a prayer the informant would say before every home lacrosse game with his team. He did not attend a religious school, but it was a tradition passed down from the upperclassman to perform this prayer. One player would say each line and the team would then repeat the line after them. The final portion, “Until we can’t be beat. Won’t be beat. Ruthless,” is screamed at full volume. The point of the prayer is to focus the players’ minds and get them hyped up for the upcoming game. It was only performed in home games and done so in the locker room, removed from any fans or the opposing team.

I did further research into the origins of this prayer. It was initially a prayer used by the University of Nebraska football team, dubbed the Husker prayer after their mascot, the cornhusker. It is unclear when this change originated but it has spread across high schools around the country.

White Rabbit

White Rabbit is the first thing said on the first day of every month. It is meant to bring good luck and prosperity for those who participate. If words have already been spoken on the first, White Rabbit is not said.

The informant learned it from her family, specifically her dad, when she was younger. Her whole family participates. She follows this because she believes that if anything could possibly bring her good luck, it is worth doing. It is meaningful because she knows her family does it and it is something that she can share easily with her friends.

There are other additional forms of this same piece of folklore performed in different manners. Some other words are said instead of White Rabbit. My own family says Rabbit Rabbit on the first of every month. I learned it from my father, who learned it from an old colleague at work.  Possible origins of this tradition could be the concept of the lucky rabbit’s foot, traditionally from a white rabbit. It could be a manifestation of this but in a less brutal manner.

Ebleskivers

Ebleskivers are a folk object and food that originates from Denmark. They are very similar to pancakes and are a breakfast item. They are spherical and cooked with another folk object, an ebleskiver pan. This is a cast iron pan with round holes in it to cook the batter. This pan is used exclusively for this food, so it is a very important folk object to food culture in Denmark. They are typically served with jam or other breakfast condiments, but the informant eats them with butter and powdered sugar. There is yet another folk object used, which is a porcelain bowl filled with butter placed in a rack over a candle. It is similar to an object used to melt butter for shellfish like crab and lobster.

            The informant learned this practice from her mother. The initial recipe goes back to the informant’s great, great grandparents and she still uses the same pan passed down by the family members. The great great grandmother is from Aabenraa, Denmark. The informant only has it with family members and the combination of butter and powdered sugar seems to be a family-specific thing.

            Upon further research, it seems that this food is rarely prepared by restaurants. Instead, it is typically only made in family gatherings and by street vendors in Denmark. Because of this, it seems to me that the food is more authentic and less likely to have a standardized recipe and in doing so, is not found in much-authored literature. The folk objects only add to the culture and lore around it as these are food-specific, something not often found in many cuisines.

Ice Blocking

Main piece:

(The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.)

Interviewer: Tell me about ice blocking, if you don’t mind.

Informant: Okay, ice blockiiiiiiiiiiing, is a thing at – I don’t know uhh… Okay. At UCLA we have like a – not really like the typical college quad, but we have Jan’s Hill which is like – not even a central part of campus but just like – the most grassy open place you can sit, and it’s just, like a hill near Royce which is like, the iconic building of UCLA. That’s where people like sit in-between classes during the day and have picnics and stuff, but at night, a lot of people in like, clubs or just like as a group of friends will go and do something called “ice blocking” which is… people will go to Ralph’s and get like a big block of ice that’s like… a foot long and six inches tall and wide – and then you go to this hill, you start at the top – and you sit on it, and you just slide down the hill on the ice as far as you can. I don’t know who thought of this first or where it started but the first time I did it was like, as a part of my sorority, and then – once you like, have done ice blocking it just seems so obvious to do it and you just ask people if they’ve done it and their like “What? No!” or they’re like “Obviously” and it’s just like shows whether someone has really gotten the like full UCLA experience or not. Cause then if they haven’t done it you can be like, “Oh then we should go sometime!” I’ve only ever done it twice, once with sorority and once with ADPI [Alpha Delta Pi]. But it’s… Oh those are the same things – once with sorority and once with my apartment’s – when we first all moved in together. So it’s just like something silly to do. And… it seems kind of hard to sit on this block of ice but – you have to sit on it so that it’s long-ways down and not wide and then you can use a towel so your butt doesn’t get so wet, but then in the summer it’s better to not because it’s hot and you want to be cooled down anyway. And then you just – have to put your feet up in a little like, ball position and then you just slide as far as you can but you have to stop before you hit the bushes or else… you’d be pretty screwed. And with my roommates one tried to do it standing up like surfing and they did like – literally somersaults down the whole hill. 

Interviewer: …Who was that? (laughing)

Informant: (Laughing) It was [name redacted]!

Interviewer: Oh my god.

Informant: And also [name redacted], I think, maybe.

Interviewer: That’s crazy.

Informant: I don’t know what else to say about it really.

Interviewer: Oh no that’s cool, you can just- is there anything like…

Informant: (sighs) it’s not a competition, really, because you only ever have like – well, i guess – actually I’ve seen-

Interviewer: Is it for like special occasions?

Informant: Yeah. Like for sorority, we did it like, as one of our first bonding activities when we all joined. And then for like, my roommates we did it as the celebration of us all moving in to our new apartment. So a lot of clubs do it as like a bonding activity I feel like.

Interviewer: …Is it allowed?

Informant: It’s not not allowed. No one’s ever been stopped for it. Like people also will have picnics where they drink on that hill and that’s not allowed because it’s a dry campus but they still do that anyway- and often… the two activities will be combined. (laughing)

Interviewer: (laughing)

Background: My informant is Senior in College who grew up in Southern and then Northern Illinois. She comes from a family of middle-class background. She goes to UCLA, and therefore has adopted a mix of midwest and west coast folklore.

Context: The informant is my sister, and she gave me this piece in a more research oriented setting, as she was the first person I collected from and I was determining the best way to go about the process still. She was very loose by this point in our long conversation, and our conversations always include humor.

Thoughts: This is a good example of a piece of folklore (specifically a tradition – maybe even an initiation ritual, though that categorization is a little more of a stretch) that seems absurd from the outside. At least, from my perspective, knowing nothing about the steepness of this hill especially, this activity sounds either rather boring and weird or entirely too dangerous. Apparently though, it is a common activity on any given night at UCLA, and I’m sure if I went there I would be all for it.

Obon

Context:

The informant is a 23 year old Japanese male. He was born in Nagoya, Japan where he spent the first half of his life. When he was 13, he came to the United States to attend high school and has been living in California ever since. The informant currently resides in Inglewood, CA and works in animation. The folklore he shared with me is what he experienced growing up in Japan.

Similarly to the Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, in August, there is an event called Obon. The entire thought behind it is that your ancestors, the people you love who have passed away, will be coming back to the living world to visit you for a month, and then they will return to the land of the dead once it is over. When you put out your incense, they can come back to the mortal realm by following the smoke that rises from the incense. We have cemeteries. In it, you will usually find a nook or crevice that holds a metal tray that holds three cylinders. Two on the side are for incense and the one in the middle is for a candle. So you light the candle first, you put the incense over it, and you place it back into the crevice.You can also bring flowers for people who were unidentified when they died, like during a war. 

Another big thing is food offerings, specifically rice or oranges. Another one is for beer and sake. 

You clap your hands, put them togethers and pray for them, perhaps this is just what my parents do, but they say non non. I don’t know what it means, it’s just something that you say when you pray. 

You also clean the stone or granite of the tombstone. You are given a bucket and a ladle, which you fill up with water and use to clean the stone. My parents always used to say that it’s like you’re washing their backs and washing their heads. So I always used to imagine when I went to the cemetery that I was washing my ancestor’s head and back. 

The cemetery where my family is located also has a large section for unidentified people that do not have loved ones to care for them or to celebrate obon with them. You’re not supposed to pray to them, or they can get attached to you, but you can say something very short like non non. So, you splash water onto them, you give them incense, you give them flowers, just to make sure that they are being cared for.

Analysis:Fascination with death is universal. It is an inevitability that all cultures grapple with and attempt to process in their own ways. In order to feel like they have a better understanding of death, as well as wanting a chance to see their lost loved ones again, some cultures have created festivals for this exact purpose. The time of year in which a festival takes place is rarely coincidental and has significance that correlates to the life cycle, as represented by the seasons. Obon is held mid August which represents a time of transition between summer and autumn. A transition between a season where everything is in bloom and thriving, to one that is more symbolic of death or decay.