Author Archives: Allison Avila-Olivares

The Red Ribbon

“When I was a younger, my grandmother would be the one to dress my hair up in the morning. My mother had absolutely no patience to do this, because she had many chores to do and breakfasts to make for me and my five other sisters. It’s funny…Unlike my mother, my grandmother had the patience to tenderly brush my hair? (Laughs). She would put my hair up like this in either braids or pigtails, but always tied with a red ribbon.

I think it’s common in Guatemala to put red ribbons in the hair of young girls. My grandmother would always tell me that the color red was a sign of good luck, to protect me from any sort of evil or people with bad energy…like bad voodoo?…Does that make sense?…If someone wants to pass on an evil to a child, the red ribbon will protect them… Also, mothers who are pregnant tend to wear red ribbons tied to their underwear. This will protect them and the baby.”

Context and Analysis: The informant grew up in a very isolated town in Guatemala where the common belief was not in westernized medicinal practices, but in witchcraft and curandería. The informant later told me a little more about Curandería over the phone: it is the use of religious rituals and natural remedies to cure or protect people with ailments. Natural remedies are made with plants native to the highlands of Guatemala. The red ribbon is used as a form of protection from bad energy, spirits, or the evil eye. Though the informant does not wear a red ribbon anymore, the ribbon is most commonly used for women because they are believed to be more vulnerable to evils. Ultimately, this folk belief is a variation of the idea that the color red is supposed to ward of evils. In other cultures, such as in certain Asian cultures, red is also used as a lucky color to protect from evils.

When the informant first heard about the ritual, she was a young child of 6 or 7. Because it was the first piece of folklore she performed in front of me, it holds much significance because it reminds her of her deceased grandmother. During the informant’s performance, she spoke of the memory very tenderly suggesting that she remembers that folk belief very dearly. She informed me she still believes in the folk belief, but has changed it to suit her age. She no longer wears a red ribbon, but instead wears a red ring.

The “90-Degree Angle” Bow

“I think all Koreans regard humility and respect. They really do, yeah. I remember when I was younger, from just when I was a girl, my mother made me bow to all adults. And the precision of the bow. She made me practice it. My body had to be bent at a 90 degree angle. Always to my elders.”

Context/Analysis: This is a custom that is performed by all Koreans according to the informant. She first heard it when she was extremely young (probably age three). This is when she first began to walk and speak. It is important to bow at 90 degrees because it is the perfect angle of respect. Too deep of a bow is just not customary, and a bow that is not deep enough is considered rude. When you bow, your shoulders must also move with you, it is not enough to just bend your head. This custom is significant to the informant because it gives her a sense of national identity: although she is Korean-American, she enjoys connecting with her “Korean side.” This custom indicates that even though it has been a tradition for years, it is one that people hold on to. It is part of the Korean heritage.


The Dol

“Back in the old country when medicine would be scarce and people would die incredibly young, it was a feat for a baby to live past the age of one. That is why now, the baby’s first birthday is incredibly important in Korean culture. It is…so highly celebrated…On a first birthday, it is traditional to put out objects that can determine the baby’s future. Like, they put out money, a pencil, a microphone…and some other items. I forget. I haven’t been to a Dol in such a long time. Actually they just put out the microphone. Like, since the tradition was available for years, now because the entertainment industry is recent. Basically, the baby will crawl to oneo f the obejcts. If the baby crawls to the pencil, they will become a teaher. If they crawl to the microphone, they will be famous, and if they go to the money they will be rich.”

Context/Analysis: The informant first heard about the Dol tradition during her own Dol, but does not really remember it because she was so young. Later in her life, she went to more Dols and gained more information on how they proceed and are performed. She has been to two other Dols. They are significant to her because they were the Dols of her first cousins. The Dol is a tradition that has been significant/practiced since Ancient times. It is supposed to symbolize a liminal point, in which after your Dol, you have chosen your future.

For another version of this, please see: Sung, Hannah. What a Dol. 29 Vol. Toronto: Rogers Publishing Limited, 2012.

Trading Kandi

“Trading kandi is part of rave culture. I don’t know how it started, but you know those edible candy bracelets? I think that’s how the custom started. I think people started abusing the candy bracelet trend of the 90’s and replaced them with drugs. Because of that, people started recreating these “drug bracelets” with actual beads to make them safer. I think after that, trading kandi became a thing. And candy is spelled k-a-n-d-i. Kandi is the actual bead bracelet just so you know….But yeah, so anyway, the custom evolved as just a way to say ‘thank you’ to a person you’ve met at a rave, like to say ‘hey, you’re cool I like you.’ When you give a bracelet to someone, you’re sort of giving a part of yourself. Some of your happiness. The bracelets kind of represent ‘you’ because you made it…But anyway, what you do is you go up to someone and say ‘hey you wana trade kandi?’ And if the other person is cool with that, then each person makes a peace sign with their fingers. Then you make a heart with the hands of each person…like this…Then you hold hands again as a sign of “unity.” And then you actually lock hands with the other person, say “respect” and the person with the kandi slides off the bracelet from their hand directly onto the other persons. After that, you hug. And that is trading Kandi.”

Context/Analysis: The informant first heard about the rave custom of trading kandi at his first rave. While he was waiting for his friend who was in the bathroom, this girl asked him if he had kandi. He said no, thinking she was looking for ecstasy pills. When he realized that was not the case, the girl showed him the process of how to trade kandi, and he received his first rave bracelet. The informant still has his first piece of kandi, indicating how significant it is to him. He informed that it felt nice to be connected to a complete stranger. He felt welcomed at the rave and has fallen in love with them since then. He has been going to raves for 5 years now. Ultimately, this custom is a ritual of initiation for people who have just been introduced to raving. Once you perform the ritual, the “newbie” raver has crossed a liminal and has been symbolically accepted into the rave culture.


The Legend of Buster Brown and the Queen

“My school is in this this town called Whi-Maia, with lots of hills. The two most prominent hills are Buster Brown and Lailai. People like to hike ‘em…Lailai has a specific story behind it. During our graduation our teacher told us during our hula-practice because our dance had to do with hills. In the past one of the ancient queens lived on Lailai…There’s a bunch of like rocks scattered below…at the base…like there are just these boulders at the bottom. I think the hill was Buster Brown actually. So anyway, the ancient queen lived on top of the hill and every night she would send her warriors to protect around the hill, but then she would turn them back to stone during the day. So when she died, no one could turn the stones into warriors. That is the reason why there are lots of boulders surrounding the hill.

Context/Analysis: The informant first heard this legend when she was practicing her Hula-dance for her graduation. She heard it from her teacher. It is not significant to the informant per se, but it is significant to her teacher since she grew up near the hill and played there as a girl. The informant felt as though her teacher had generously shared the legend with her and her classmates, so she’s never forgotten it. The myth of Buster Brown Hill shows the significant of Hawaiian storytelling in modern Hawaii. The myth relegates on an ancient Hawaiian queen as the explanation for the formation of these rocks at the base of the hill.