Author Archives: Ann Ngo

Eritrean Wedding Day 2: Melsi

Background provided by DG: DG was born and raised in Redlands, California. Both of their parents were born in west Africa, but more specifically Eritrea. Eritrea is located on the Horn of Africa and adjacent to the Red Sea. They belong to a specific tribe of Eritrea, called Blen (spelled Blien). DG also identifies as being part of the Habesha ethnic group, which describes Roman Orthodox Christians in West Africa. After the war broke out, both of their parents migrated to America.

Context: DG was approached about folklore, which they shared in the middle of the day. They were very enthusiastic about sharing parts of their culture because not many people are aware of Eritrean tradition and culture. They explain some general details about Eritrean weddings, which span for a minimum of three days. The first day is known as the Day of Blessings.

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information):
DG: “The second day is … like the actual thing … they go to church. Umm .. cause we’re all Christian (laughs). And then, at the end of mass, they were like a crown … and like … a cape … like bridal cape … and they walk out of church wearing this. It’s like … more religious thing. They wear that thing and … take photos. This is like … the most American part of the wedding … like the bride is wearing like … a typical American gown.  Uhhh … when the bride … groom … walk in … they don’t have .. like a typical announcement. Like … the men … all the men enter … and the women stand in … like a procession and there’s like … a procession into the venue. Like everybody is standing outside and everybody enters … together. The men begin … then its the groomsmen … then the bridesmaids … then the bride and groom come in, together.  All the women are holding flowers as they … like  enter, so … like that procession … it … ALWAYS happens … like in American weddings I’ve seen they say “ Welcome, Mr. and Mrs.”, but … they never do that. It’s … like somebody always has like a … drum … it’s like a big drum and it goes like (rhythmically taps the desk to make a baaa-dumm baaa-dumm noise), then they sing … like … uhhh “Marshala, Marshala” (in sing-song voice). They always sing that song … it kinda means … like … umm welcome … or something. They sing and they dance, then they sit.  Then the bride and groom eat, and everybody eat.  And then everybody dances to Tigrinya music, the WHOLE time. And then … also … typically… they don’t do this so much anymore, but in a lot of weddings it’s called a gorshaw (spelled gorsha) … in a VERY traditional wedding they do gorshaw, where like … the bride and groom eat … the maid of honor … and the like … ummm … best man, they feed the bride and groom. They don’t touch their food, and that’s like called gorshaw … like …when someone else feeds you … is called gorshaw … cause its like a hand food … so like … they feed them. It doesn’t normally happen on the first day … cause like  … its much more traditional for the second day, cause that’s much more traditional. And then …  when there’s like … cake … in a VERY traditional … like when I see wedding videos from Eritrea … the bride and groom stand up after they eat the cake … and feed all their guests, and their guests feed them. Like that’s a very traditional thing, in the Eritrean culture, everybody is always feeding everybody. The second day it’s called a Melsi (proceeds to spell it M-E-L-S-E) … and like on that day … the majority of that day … the women are getting ready … because they have to get their hair … like braided … in traditional braids. And they also get … like henna. Like traditionally, you’re not supposed to get henna until … you’re like married … so he bride gets it all over their hands and feet … but like … the most someone who is not getting married can get is like a little dot right here (uses index finger to point to the center of their palm) … but like … yeah. They get their hair braided, henna, and like everyone wears sooyahs, which are like … cultural dresses. And that’s like the bridesmaids … and the groomsmen. You can also … I went to a wedding … where we were … like chiffon … it was my cousin’s wedding … and we wore like … chiffon. That’s like … much more fancy than … like a Sooyah. It’s kinda … like another party … with the same procession, but like … the bridesmaids at a certain point … do like a boon ceremony (spelled bun), which … is … like … coffee … and like the bridesmaids .. we  do … like a … dance … we’re supposed to do like a dance around the bride. We … uhh … carry  … like all the materials to make coffee. Everybody … like … dances around the table … and the … like older women make coffee, for like … the bridesmaids and the bride, not for the men. ONLY for the women. It’s like very traditional. Then … yeah … they’re married … and people party … Also people drink a lot of … uh soowah (spelled siwa),  Habesha alcohol.  Typically, someone … like … in the family makes it, before time. And they put it in bottles, and the bottles have … like stickers that have … have photos of the bride and groom. Then we eat ingerat (spelled injera), that’s like a traditional Eritrean dish.”

Analysis: Weddings are often big events. DG explains many of the intricacies involved with Eritrean weddings. The second day, Melsi seems to be the focal point of Eritrean traditions. The subtle variations of the traditions DG mentioned demonstrates the dynamic nature of culture as it relates to nuptial ceremonies. It seems like Eritrean weddings are occasions that involve the whole community in an extremely intimate event. The wedding also emphasizes the various stages of maturation, especially with the Bun and henna.

Catholic Baptism

Background provided by BR: BR was raised in Miami, Florida. They are Dominican and have experience with the Hispanic culture in Miami. They were raised in a Catholic household.

Context: BR was approached about folklore, which they shared in the middle of the day. They explain how they were baptized later on in their life. 

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information): 

BR: “ I didn’t get baptized when I was a baby, I got baptized when I wa about 13 years old.  And … umm … that was very interesting because I didn’t think that, that many kids hasn’t gotten baptized yet, there were lots  of  kids, my age that had gotten baptized, yet … there were a lot of people. And I was in a Catholic Church. And we wore … the ritual was, we go to mass. We kinda pray a bit and we are wearing all black robes. You go to get baptized in the water with the priest, and he … like dunks us in the water three times. Takes us out and and we’re officially baptized and we go to change into white robes … and that’s the end of the ceremony, really. The meaning of the dark robes is that  you’re full of sin. You come into the world full of sin cause The Original sin … of Adam and Eve and then once you’re baptized you’re cleansed  of all sin. 

Me: “Did you have to … uhh … do anything … before the actual, baptism, ceremony …  or ritual to … uhh prepare for it?”

BR: “ Umm … not really, no.  It was kinda just a spiel on what we’re gonna … do. And just classes to learn about Catholic religion.” 

Me: “And … just … umm … a … like … a couple questions that you think that your Dominican background …  or …. maybe other influences … that influenced when… or … how you got your baptism … performed” 

BR: “Ummm … I’m not exactly sure about that, I feel like my culture did really have anything to do with it, I feel like it was my parent’s decision not to baptize me early.” 

Analysis: The use of water as a form or baptism can be considered very symbolic because water is considered a fundamental element. The baptism is a literal and figurative representation cleansing ones sins by washing them away with water. This spiritual ceremony has multiple perfomative aspects such as the classes and changing robes. The classes may aid in educating, but may not change spiritual stances. The classes also seem to have less importance than other apsects of this ceremony. The changing robes is another representation of purity. After the baptism BR was cleansed of all sin and allowed to wear the white robe, which is representative of purity.

Lemons for Life … or Death

Background provided by MN: MN is an individual who grew up in the Maharashtra state of India, where they learned 4 languages including Sanskrit. They recently moved to America for further education.

Context: In Maharashtra, where MN is from, it is customary for a meal to be accompanied by a slice of lemon to be used as a condiment. The lemons in India are almost circular (spherical) so the nub is hard to find unless one is paying attention.

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information):

MN: In Indian food, you keep salt and a piece of lemon so that you can put it in anything like a curry or even rice, make it flavorful. And, so whenever you want to cut the lemon you always … you know there’s a nub (gestures to emphasize point) … on the side … you always cut it perpendicular to that. You always keep it flat and cut it like that because when someone dies in the funeral process, that’s when you cut the lemon parallel to the nub. Ummm … that’s because when you prepare a plate for the person who has died the lemon should be cut in that direction. And … like … my mother used to scold me because I didn’t pay attention, but it’s like a bad omen to cut it like this because it’s like you are invoking the dead. There’s just a fun (pause) little (even longer pause) fact that I learned that … always cutting … so like … now, I’m like … I am very like …. Always cutting like this (gestures cutting motion with hands). So on the plates for the dead, that’s when you cut the lemon with the nub.”

Me: “Can I interrupt you for a second? I just want to know, I just want to know, Do you know where your mom learned it? And do you think that’s like …only … to … um where … you’re from?”

MN: This is some item … it’s not like some book, I think. It’s like some, like knowledge that everyone knows this … it’s like. She learned it from … It’s just something that she was taught … and I was taught.

Analysis: MN is very enthusiastic about sharing their culture. I find it quite fascinating that this specific funeral right is extremely detailed. It clearly demonstrates how much thought and effort loved ones dedicate when preparing for their departed loved ones. It is also interesting because this specific ritual is not written down but rather a tradition that is passed down in MN’s culture. The specific focus on the way lemons are cut reflects on MN’s character as well because they are considerate and detail-oriented. Although cutting lemons is commonplace, the symbolism for the Maharashtrian people is extraordinary. Lemons can bring some dishes to life by providing additional flavor and the juxtaposition between zest and the loss of life is also telling of MN’s culture.