Author Archives: Antona Yost

Trash re-purposed into purses

The informant is a 23 year old female, originally from Salt Lake City, who recently was a Peace Corps volunteer in the city of Guayaquil in Ecuador. While in Ecuador she lived with a host family and observed and participated in many Ecuadorian customs.  One custom she was taught and picked up was the custom of re-purposing old chip, ice cream and other wrappers to make colorful pouches and purses.  She describes her experiences and this folk craft below.

“There’s a strong tradition in Ecuador at least, and I’ve been told in many South American cultures, of doing what is known as “Microempresas” which is a small business – like a cottage industry essentially.  Women especially will make things in their home out of every day objects or easily obtainable objects and resell them within their communities in order to make extra money.  One such activity that I was taught was in making purses and coinpurses up to the size of handbags out of recycled plastic – durable plastic bags such as chip bags or a thicker plastic wrapping that’s easily tearable.  And it’s appealing because you know people eat chips and have ice creams, things like that on a regular basis and it’s [the wrapper] something that would typically be discarded, and yet you can arrange the colors in different patterns.  Because it’s individual folds that are then folded together in a chain it’s variable in its patterns and colors. And then  sown together with wire or a fishing line or something that is also potentially a discarded object in order to make a pouch – and waterproof.  I guess the cool thing about that too is that it also gives an opportunity for people to pass that down within their communities as well as to other people. An easily translatable skill that people tend to get together and do as a community rather than something more self producing. ”

When queried, the informant gave more information about what kind of environment she made pouches in when she was living in Ecuador:

“I would make them solitarily just because it’s something that you can do with your hands while you’re watching TV or something – like knitting.  But people also would get together and you know trade bags and do it as a community effort.”

Information on process:

The first step of the process is cutting or tearing your plastic into usable rectangles.  The size of the rectangles is different depending on how big you want each individual stitch of the ‘weave’ to be.

The steps to transform this rectangle into a usable rectangle that can be hooked with other rectangles created as shown below:

Drawn by collector with input from informant

Drawn by collector with input from informant

You then connect these rectangles together in a line to create loops one rectangle wide.  You then sew all of these loops together, maybe add a zipper, to get you purse, pouch or coin purse


Created by informantt, photo by collector

Created by informant, photo by collector



This folk object definitely serves a useful function.  It is waterproof, looks interesting and the folk method used can produce a variety of different sizes and styles of objects.  The making of a these folk objects seems to build community and unity in two ways.  Firstly, the producers often gather together as a community to make these pouches.  Secondly, it fosters a care for the place they live in a it uses trash that otherwise might have been put into the dump or littered on the streets.  They are both building personal community while protecting/keeping clean their surroundings and environment.

The creation of this folk object is similar in many ways to a type of bracelet it was popular to make when I was young.  I used the same folding method when I was a kid to make bracelets out of Starburst wrappers.  I never sewed any of them together, but both folk objects are similar in their use of bright candy wrappers and the way they are folded.  I had never made or seen a pouch made from this method until shown this folk object.

Suitcase for the New Year

The informant is a 23 year old female, originally from Salt Lake City, who recently was a Peace Corps volunteer in the city of Guayaquil in Ecuador. While in Ecuador she lived with a host family and observed and participated in many Ecuadorian customs and traditions.  One tradition she was exposed to was a New Year’s which she describes below.

“A New Year’s tradition was if you hoped to travel in the new year, around the cusp of new year, preferably on the last day of the old year, you were supposed to take an empty suitcase or an empty traveling bag and have it be completely empty but carry it or roll it around the block.  And to do so would symbolize that that empty parcel would be filled with memories and adventures.”

When asked whether this tradition was used to symbolize hopes for both physical travel and metaphorical ‘life journey’ travel (such as getting married, getting a new job, anything that is a major step in the journey of your life), the informant said that she only saw it used to symbolize hopes for physical travels.  She also said that it was not restricted to ages and that both the old and the young participated.



You see a pretty clear direct symbolism in this custom between the empty suitcase and the hope that it will become filled with travel memories.  New Years is a time of beginnings were disappointments in the old year are moved past and hopes are expressed for the year to come.

One interesting aspect of this custom is that the suitcase is rolled around the block.  This could symbolize both that, even though they hope to travel, home will still be with them and, similarly, that they will return home after their travels (their journey around the block both encompasses their home as well as starts and ends at their home).

Ecuadorian Monigotes

The informant is a 23 year old female, originally from Salt Lake City, who recently was a Peace Corps volunteer in the city of Guayaquil in Ecuador. While in Ecuador she lived with a host family and observed and participated in many Ecuadorian customs and traditions.  One tradition she was exposed to and participated in was the tradition of burning ‘monigotes’ on New Year’s Eve.  She describes her experiences and this folk ritual below.

“One period of the year when there are a lot of traditions was at the close of the year, so New Year’s Eve.  The tradition that I enjoyed the most was a tradition of immolating the monigotes. Monigote*, uh muñeca means doll, so monigote is a “large doll”. So they are paper-mached objects that came in a variety of forms.  You could typically, especially in bigger cities, you could buy them for popular cultural figures whether that’s like famous soccer players or a lot of just recent movies from that year or famous cartoons, historical figures from like comic books or the history of the country, all just this huge variety.

“And they came in all different sizes from the size of a normal doll more or less all the way to like a story high – you would have to strap it onto the top of your car.  You wouldn’t be able to fit it into your vehicle or carry it.  And so everyone bought what they wanted or you also had the option of making a monigote.

“So you could make one of either – it worked both ways – it could either be someone you liked or someone you disliked or you could do it for yourself, if you wanted good luck in the New Year, if you wanted to destroy and turn into ash the memories from the past year if things had not gone well.  People would often make them for their friends or people in their community.  People would do them of the president.

“So this all accumulated – they would be prepared for often months in advance, starting in October or September, and some of them were incredibly detailed, the paper mache was painted elaborately, and others were more crude and some were just the heads of figures or yourself or your friends, your enemies.

“However, on the 31st of December, all of them are collected together and set into the cross-centers, the cross section of the streets in large piles and filled with fireworks. Then, as the year turned over, you would set them ablaze and they would of course explode and catch everything that wasn’t protected on fire in a kind of glorious sort of heralding in of the New Year”

*Pronounced, using IPA [mu’njegotas]

The informant noted that she was fully welcomed to participate in this festival as a foreigner.  She even contributed two monigotes of her own, a minion and a giant giraffe.  She also mentioned that people of every age participated in this tradition.

“Everyone was welcome into it. It brings the community together.  I lived in a fairly large city and everyone, even if you weren’t close with your neighbors or with people who lived in the apartment you would all get together and it was a unifying activity.”

When discussing her interpretation of the tradition:

“I think there is a lot of symbolism in burning things, in immolating things.  We use them both in the US culture and in Ecuadorian culture to symbolize celebration as well as destruction and purification. It is encompassing of many different emotions.



There are many elements to this custom/festival.  The most obvious one, whose meaning the informant summed up pretty well, is the burning away of the past while simultaneously lighting fires of hope for the future.  In the West, some of our earliest tales involving fire and burning things have they element that fire should be used to burn offerings of good will and hope.  Thus, burning large dolls at a calendrically significant point is an offering of hope for the year to come.

Another interesting aspect of this tradition is its possible connection to harvest rituals, such as those documented by Mannhardt.  The informant says that preparation for these dolls begins in September/October which is a common time around the world for harvest festivals and their accompanying rituals.

Another interesting element of this ritual is the significance of the the fact that the dolls are piled up in the middle of a cross roads, or cross section.  Cross roads often symbolize decisions or the intersection between two significant forces.  New Year’s Eve is the cross section between the old year and the new year.  The association between cross roads and decisions could mean signify either that you are hoping that the burning of these dolls will bless your decisions for the coming year or it be a nod to the fact that it is not all about luck and that your decisions play a role in how the next year will turn out.



Ecuadorian Monigotes - photo by Alexandra Yost

Ecuadorian Monigotes – photo by informant

Burning monigotes - photo by Alexandra Yost

Burning monigotes – photo by informant

Haircut good luck rub

Informant is a 23 year old woman from Salt Lake City, Utah.  

“My family has a tradition that, especially when the men in the family get haircuts, or, I suppose those with shorter hair, there is a space in the back of the neck – at the nape of the neck – with freshly shorn or buzzed hair that you rub it and it not only gives a delightful tickling sensation but its said to give good luck if it is done before the close of the day in which someone got the haircut.  But its not only applicable to men.  The only rule is that the hair had to be cut the same day.”

She does not remember who initiated this tradition, and says that it has been ‘ever present’ in her life.  She supposes that it probably came from her mother initially.


This custom could be seen as a form of Contagious folk magic. The luck of the person with the hair cut travels via the nape of their neck to anyone who rubs it that day.

This folk item could be interpreted that the person whose hair was just cut has been lucky (they have been ‘beautified’), and by rubbing their neck, the family member could hope for future luck, in looks or otherwise, for themselves.  A more likely interpretation however is that this folk item is used as an aid to a social interaction that can sometimes become awkward.  Whenever someone changes their appearance, especially if it is only a slight change, socially awkward or tricky situations can occur.  If the change is slight enough (ex. a man with already short hair gets a trim) there is the chance that people will not notice.  Having a situation where someone offers you the nape of their neck to rub lessens the potential for a faux pas by making it clear that they recently got a haircut.  It also, significantly, creates a socially acceptable scenario for a the hair-cutee to seek for and receive compliments on their new look without seeming vain, all under the guise that they are innocently offering their family member good luck through post-haircut neck rubbing.

When asked how she feels about this tradition and how she interprets it, she said:

“I think no one is laboring under the delusion that your luck would actually change one way or the other but it brings some sort of celebration of change and marking of moving forward, and your upkeep of your appearance as well as marking a period of time until your next haircut. It’s a good unifier, it’s a good tradition to have.”

Persian bean sprouts – Nowruz tradition

The informant is a 19 year old student studying Vocal Arts at the University of Southern California.  Her heritage is Jewish and Persian and she speaks Hebrew and Farsi.  Her family maintains many of their Persian traditions from various regional cultures in Iran.  The informant is Kashi (from Iran’s Kashan region) from her Dad’s side, while her mother’s side is from Tehran (maternal grandfather) and Komijan (maternal grandmother).  The informant herself mainly identifies with the Kashi culture.

“Something that my family does is when we’re like driving on Nowruz which is like New Year, we put a plate of like [bean] sprouts on our car.  And then they just fall off whenever.  We just drive the car to wherever we’re going and when they fall of they fall off.”

“I’m not sure what it symbolizes, its just a thing we do. I think it has to do with horse carriages at some point; they would do it and then the sprouts would fall and that would symbolize joy and New Year and rebirth or something.”