USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Venezuelan’
Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Material

Venezuelan Hallacas

Context: The informant was speaking of Venezuelan foods eaten during Christmas, and she began to expand on this recipe and the history of the food.

 

Piece:

Informant: Ah ok um so one tradition that we Venezuelans try to do every year is hallacas. And hallacas is a dish that originally comes from when we were conquered by the spaniards and it was it is made with, it is like a tamale but it combines um chicken, pork, olive, raisin, and it is said that it is the leftover from the slaves, what they ate. And the tradition is that family gets together and one person prepares the inside and one person cuts the leaves um and it is actually wrapped in plantain leaves and it’s a tradition that goes from family from family, and there is a saying that the best hallaca is always from your mom. And every family has their own way of doing it.

Collector: Is there any specific part that this matters to you

Informant: I actually haven’t done it myself, but in my family I remember my mom would put boiled eggs on it and that is specific to region I am from, Puerto Ordaz. Other people will put other extra ingredients depending on the region or family.

 

Background: The informant, a middle aged Venezuelan woman, currently lives in Boston but lived the majority of her life in Venezuela. She still practices a lot of Venezuelan traditions, especially in her cuisine. The hallacas are an example of a Christmas dish in Venezuela.

Analysis: This recipe is very historically connected to the Venezuelan people. The dish is said to be made of the scraps that the slaves were left to eat during the Spanish reign. This implies that this tradition has been practiced since then and continues to be a major part of the Venezuelan cuisine. It also reflects how history is important to the Venezuelan people, as it is displayed in the recipes of their dishes. The community aspect in the cooking of the dish is also very unique, as it brings together the family to work together during Christmas time– a time that is typically focused on family. It also has multiplicity and variation within the recipe, as it becomes personalized to the family and/or the region they are from.

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Homeopathic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Venezuelan Suitcase Superstition on New Year’s Eve

Context: The informant, a 20-year-old college student who was born in Venezuela and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, described various rituals and superstitions that relate to both her passion for theatre and her Venezuelan nationality. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which the informant recalls a Venezuelan superstition that people take part in during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Text:

Informant: In Venezuela, New Years is a huge holiday. It’s not as big as Christmas or Easter, but it’s still pretty big, and we have a few things that we do that are like really unique to Venezuela. So one thing we do is we grab a suitcase that represents good travels and we run around the block once. This is kind of supposed to represent running around the world and so it’s basically done so that you can travel in the new year. Basically, if you don’t do that, it means that you won’t travel to a different country or somewhere else that’s new. I’ve done it since I can remember, with my family friends. We didn’t have a block when we did it, so we would run up and down their huge driveway. But basically in Venezuela, when it wasn’t… you know… deadly and violent, we would go around the block. We always did it and I always thought that it would come true, and it usually did! I think a lot of people know of it… I don’t know if everyone does it. I definitely believe that there is some truth to it. Because, you know, if you do something then you’ll put it into action. You’ll be like, “Oh, I did that, so now I should probably travel.” But yeah, I think it was definitely a staple part of my New Year’s celebrations growing up.

Informant’s relationship to the item: The superstition is clearly significant to the informant because she started practicing it when she was a young girl growing up in Venezuela. Even after moving to Boston, she continues to practice the superstition at every New Year’s Eve celebration with family and friends. The informant also acknowledges that there is a psychological element to the superstition; she feels that because she practices the ritual, it plants the idea in her head that she should travel and that makes traveling one of her resolutions in the new year.

Interpretation: This Venezuelan New Year’s Eve superstition and ritual serves as a prime example of folklorist Jame George Frazer’s theory of sympathetic magic, particularly homeopathic magic. His theory describes the belief among folk groups that certain practices can be carried out on a smaller scale that then produce major effects on a larger scale, or “like produces like.” An example of a superstition that involves homeopathic magic is the belief that whistling on a fishing boat will encourage the wind to pick up and a storm to start. The act of running around one’s neighborhood with a suitcase in tow in order to have good travels in the new year is very similar. Whether or not the superstitions are valid is a subject of debate, and belief in the ritual’s magic will vary among communities, but there is likely some truth to the informant’s statement about the psychological impact of performing such a specific superstition. Additionally, the country’s current economic crisis has forced more than a tenth of Venezuela’s population to leave the nation in the past few years. Thus, the suitcase ritual now also serves as a reminder of this tragic exodus, demonstrating how the significance of rituals evolves over time.

Works Cited:

To read more about James George Frazer’s theory of Sympathetic Magic, refer to:

Dundes, Alan. “The Principles of Sympathetic Magic.” International Folkloristics, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999, pp. 109-118.

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Venezuelan Yellow Underwear Superstition on New Year’s Eve

Context: The informant, a 20-year-old college student who was born in Venezuela and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, described various rituals and superstitions that relate to both her passion for theatre and her Venezuelan nationality. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which the informant recalls a Venezuelan superstition that people take part in during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Text:

Informant: On Venezuelan New Year’s, we have a tradition that… it’s kind of weird… we have a tradition that you’re supposed to wear yellow underwear on New Year’s Eve. It’s supposed to be good luck, but I don’t really know. My mom always told me it was thing, but she and my dad never did it. Then I was like, “Well, I want good luck!” So, I started doing it. Maybe it’s like yellow and like gold and gold having to do with riches or something… maybe it’s something like that. But we always would talk about it and do it. I purposefully bought a piece of underwear the other day, so that I know I would have it for this year, because my other pair is too old. So yeah, I definitely intentionally do it and it’s another integral part of my New Year’s Eve experience every year.

Informant’s relationship to the item: Though the informant’s parents do not take part in the New Year’s Eve tradition, the informant has taken it upon herself to buy multiple pairs of yellow underwear in order to take part in the Venezuelan tradition. This demonstrates her belief that the practice holds some form of validity, in spite of the fact that no one in her immediate family practices it. Additionally, she expressed some embarrassment while she was describing the superstition to me, due to the nature of the tradition. Yet, she still reaffirmed her belief in the folk ritual.

Interpretation: The Venezuelan New Year’s Eve tradition of wearing yellow underwear is a good example  of a superstition that involves a color that holds symbolic significance to a group of people. Throughout the world, colors are culturally-encoded; sometimes a color’s symbolic meaning is more universal and other times it varies throughout communities. In this case, the yellow underwear seems to represent good luck and good fortune because yellow and gold are often associated with money, wealth, and riches. In more recent years, which has seen Venezuela living through one of the worst economic collapses in the world right now, the New Year’s Eve superstition likely is even more significant to Venezuelans than before. The tradition could also serve as a very tragic reminder of current misfortunes.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Venezuelan New Year’s

What is being performed?
TV: There are actually a lot of folk traditions that go along with New Year’s for Venezuelans
AA: Okay, like what?
TV: Well, for one, you’re supposed to wear yellow underwear on New Year’s for good luck.
AA: Does it bring you good luck for the day, forever, or is it just for the year?
TV: It’s for the year, but I don’t know why. I guess it could be cause yellow is a happy color.
There’s also the tradition of running around the block with a suitcase after dinner. It means that
you will travel during the year and everyone I know does it except for me.
AA: Do you believe in that?
TA: I think running around with a suitcase makes you want to travel and maybe that makes you
more likely to book a flight and actually go. But I don’t know how magical it truly is.
Why do they know or like this piece? where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to
them?
AA: What do you get from this tradition?
TV: I don’t usually partake in it but my family takes it pretty seriously. I guess I see it more as a
symbolic way of hoping for a good year than a magic trick.
AA: Who did you learn it from?
TV: I learned it from my parents and other relatives that wanted to share what color their
underwear was, haha. The suitcase one I just saw happen when I was a kid and still see
happen every New Year’s.

Context of the performance- where do you perform it? History?
AA: When is this performed?
TV: It’s only performed on New Year’s Eve in Venezuelan culture.
AA: And are you going to perform this with your children?
TV: I think I will.

Reflection
I think these are very interesting traditions and have never heard of them. I think of yellow as a
bright color and could see why it could be connected to luck and good fortune. I think what’s
most interesting is that it is associated with New Year’s. As my informant noted, it seems that
there are a lot of folk traditions that revolve around New Year’s and New Year’s Eve. I definitely
want to try running with my suitcase. It seems a little funny but it means well.

Foodways
Material

Pabellón Criollo

What is being performed?
TV: In Venezuela we eat something called Pabellón Criollo or creole. It’s basically just black
beans, white rice, shredded beef, and plantains but it’s symbolic of Venezuelan history and
culture.
AA: What does it symbolize?
TV: The brown and yellow in the dish are for indigenous peoples, the white is for European
people that colonised, and the black is for the black slaves. Each ingredient is separated to pay
tribute to each of the peoples.
AA: Is this eaten at a certain time?
TV: It’s a very regular meal and a staple in the Venezuelan diet, there’s just symbolism that
goes along with it.

Why do they know or like this piece? where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to
them?
AA: When was the first time you heard about the dishes symbolism?
TV: My dad told me when I was very young. It sort of just got ingrained in my food palate.
AA: What does it mean to you?
TV: I enjoy making it, I enjoy eating it. It is a way to appreciate Venezuelan history.
Context of the performance- where do you perform it? History?
Tata makes Pabellón Criollo herself. It is served as lunch or dinner in Venezuelan culture and is
something she will continue to make for her family. It is simple but meaningful and has been
apart of her diet for as long as she can remember.

Reflection
This meal seems both tasty and important. I can’t think of a single meal that I eat that I’m well
aware of it’s cultural relevance and significance. I think it’s cool to have something be so apart
of your diet but also a constant reminder of your ancestry and heritage. I will have my informant
make me this dish one day.

Holidays

The Baby Jesus gave me my presents

Background

The informant spent the early years of her life in Venezuela, but her family moved to the United States when she was 9 years old. She only remembers some of her life in Venezuela.

Context

The informant shared this story while having a lunch break during a leadership retreat. People were discussing when and how they discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real and she laughed and explained that at the age we were finding out that Santa wasn’t real, she was just learning that the idea of Santa even existed.

Text

[I was unable to get a direct transcription of what was said]

The informant said that she had never heard of Santa Claus until she got older when talking to other American children. Instead, on Christmas, her parents told her that her presents were given to her by the Baby Jesus himself (Niño Jesús). She would have to place her shoes in front of the nativity scene, and the next morning her presents would be on top of them.

Thoughts

The informant talked about this tradition as if it was humorous because of how different it is from American tradition, but in a way that celebrated that difference rather than making fun of it. It seemed like she is able to use her Venezuelan Christmas traditions as a way differentiate herself from her purely American peers and connect herself with her Venezuelan upbringing, even though she seems very much American now, having spent over half of her life in the U.S.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Jaguar: bad luck in Venezuela

Okay, so in the Oronoco Delta, which is in the Eastern part of Venezuela that borders Guyana, there’s um, it’s hard to pronounce but it’s the Juaguaro Indians, and they’re this indigenous people that live in basically like stilted houses above the river, and navigate around the channels in canoes, they’re very untouched by what’s going on in the rest of Venezuela and western culture. There’s huge amounts of jungle there. And one of their superstitions is that it’s bad luck to see or to have a jaguar living near them. And they call them tigers, well, “tigres,” but they’re actually jaguars. So as it goes, whenever they see a jaguar they have to kill it, otherwise they’ll have bad luck and bad karma, or there will be sickness and death. So whenever they see a jaguar it’s like part of their culture to kill it. And the way that I heard about this was, there was this Sirian guy that was raised in America after the age of 9, so I guess I’ll just call him American…he moved down there and he had a camp type thing where tourists would come and stay and camp in the jungle. And there weren’t really any other foreigners living there at the time, so people would bring him animals from the jungle, to raise them, if they got separated from their mother or were sick or something. He had all kinds of bizarre animals over the years, like monkeys, and otters, and caiman or crocodile, and when I saw him he had a mountain lion, but before that he had a jaguar. And he got it as a tiny baby kitten, and raised it himself, and his children grew up with it, and it was really tame because it was used to being around people. And he said one day, some indigenous guys came over, and took his jaguar cause they said it was bringing them bad luck. So they killed it, and one guy wore the skin, the bloody skin around for 3 days to clear the area of bad luck. And he went to the officials but it’s this thing that’s so rooted in their culture that even the Venezuelan officials can’t really do anything about it.

 

How long ago was this? When the incident happened?

 

Probably about, I’d say 10 years ago. So it’s still going on.

 

ANALYSIS:

This is a folk belief / superstition / custom that has clearly very established and embedded in this society’s culture, that even the government is aware that it is still practiced but can’t or wont do anything about it. This shows that it is a very strong and seriously considered belief. It seems as though this society is largely isolated from other societies, but clearly clashes with other Venezuelan’s beliefs, especially the subject of the informant’s story. The act of donning the skin of the “enemy” or the threat to their society is a kind of empowerment, or domination, and shows the rest of that community that they can rest assured they are safe from bad luck and that they have triumphed over the enemy. Taking away the enemy’s skin is like taking their identity away, disembodying them from their power.

[geolocation]