Author Archives: Briana Downs

Ghanian Wedding

Context: The informant attended their cousin’s wedding last year which was a three day celebration that included a traditional Ghanian wedding ceremony. The wedding took place in the Unites States, not Ghana.


Informant: “So when you get married in Ghana we call it a traditional wedding so the way my cousin did it is that they did it on Friday. Everyone has to wear all white except the bridal party. The groom has to bring gifts to the bride so it’s usually wrapped up. Sometimes it’s like wine or towels that you would give to the bride. Sometimes there is like a bride prize in which you pay the bride which usually goes toward funding the wedding and stuff. That’s usually how it goes when you’re back home but I don’t know if they still do that here. The groom and his men walk in and put the gifts on the bride side and how it’s set up is that the bride’s family is on one side and the groom’s family is one side and the parents and grandparents are in the front and the couple is in the front. So they ask the bride do you accept to take this man, like do you actually wanna marry him and usually back home they like meet each other’s families and they like introduce each other and then do like their background research on the family and make sure they come from a good home. And then they spend the time asking the bride questions like “why do you wanna marry?” and “how did yall meet?” stuff like that. The families introduce each other and then at the very end if the bride says yes the parents shake hands and it’s kind of like the official engagement. It’s not like an engagement as opposed in like America where the man asks the bride; it has to include the family because Ghana is big on family culture. So then after that it’s usually like a celebration so everyone eats food and like you dance, hangout, talk, mingle with family. And then on Saturday that’s where you have the American wedding with like the white dress. For the traditional wedding they wear Kente cloth and Ghanaian clothing, but then on Saturday they do the white dress and they go to like a church or certain venue and then you have the reception. And then on Sunday, everyone goes to the couple’s church and you say thank you to everyone who came basically because the wedding on Saturday was called End of Church. You thank everybody for letting you use their church and those from the church who came to the wedding. And then people usually go back to the parent’s house and celebrate.”

Collector: “Are there any specific thing done at the traditional wedding that is not in the American one? Is there anything different or just like a fun thing to do?”

Informant: “There probably things that they have to do. I am not familiar with that because I’ve only been to my cousin’s. So, it’s mandatory you have to wear white as the guest. Most of it is usually done in the cultural language which is also something because I don’t speak the language, so I had to have my cousin translate for me. So there’s probably certain things they do that is mandatory. But it is definitely mandatory to bring gifts to the bride and to have the parents there to officiate it and to make sure that you ask the bride if this is who she wants to take and marry. The traditional one is usually longer than the American one but i’m not sure what they ask and what it consists of since it’s in the native language.”


This shows how the process of marriage, finding your partner, and joining families is very important and taken very seriously in Ghana. Since the families have to meet and all be there when the couple gets engaged, it shows that not only is this a matter of love but also the dynamics of the families and how they get along. In other words, not only is the couple getting married, the two families are getting married. I think this also reveals how important religion and community must be as well since they take a whole day to thank everyone who came and the church. Lastly, I think the fact that another day with a typical American wedding was included in the whole celebration goes to show the merging of cultures and identities and wanting to stay true to both. Also, because the celebration was three days in full, I think you could also argue that Ghanians really enjoy their celebrations and that since getting married is a big deal they want to have a really big and long celebration filled with gifts, music, and dancing.

Ghanian Funerals

Context: The informant’s grandmother passed away and so the informant and their family went back to Ghana for her funeral and celebration of life.


Collector: “Do you happen to have any other traditional ceremonies or celebrations that you do?”

Informant: “So my grandma passed away and there was a certain way we did everything. So the first thing was that when we got there, where she used to stay, they had like a celebration of life for her. So i don’t know the days and order but one day you go to the church and like you view her and they have people speak, her children, her grandchildren, like you know how [American] funerals normally go. But like the second part is the celebration of life part where as the grandchildren we have to wear black and white and we all had to wear kente cloth that was black and white and we all have to wear the same pattern. Her children also had to wear just all white or black but they had to wear the same pattern. So, we were all uniform but a little different between the children and the grandchildren, and then usually, if they go back home, they invite the chief of that area. My grandma was really known in her community so they brought the chief that was kind of in the area where they lived and they came and everybody was speaking about their memories of her and stuff like that. Then it’s like we had a celebration of life for her; we played music and her favorite songs kind of like remembering her because it was something very sad and devastating that happened to everyone, but, and I guess it’s a part of the culture that I am familiar with, she didn’t want us to be sad and mourning; she would want us to be celebrating her life and that she lived a great life. And then there’s a separate day where we went to the house and this was before so they come to the house, kind of like the wedding, but they also bring gifts but these gifts are ones that are going to be used when they bury her so like the cloth that she wore. Since she was back home, the chief’s wife had like a tiara or crown so like royalty, certain colors that she liked, jewelry, so certain gifts that would be brought to bury her with and then people would go around and talk about it and what they remember about her and we had to wear black that day. What’s also common in both of them is that we always get white hankercheifs and then depending on the song everyone forms a circle and you dance as you mvoe around the circle and you wave the white handkerchief.”


I think this example of a traditional Ghanian funeral ceremony reveals two things: (1) how Ghanas view death and life more positively and (2) that community and family are really important and that community is family in itself. For the first point, I think that since there was two separate days, one for mourning and the other for celebrating, it goes to show that they are less fearful of death and more accepting of it as opposed to an American funeral where it’s a dark and sad event. Ghanaians want to celebrate the life of those who passed and the legacy the left behind and the lives they have touched. The celebration happens because even though people are sad that they are gone it was a gone and prosperous life that was lived and one that should be celebrated and embraced. For the second point, the inclusion of the community and having them bring gifts for the person to be buried in shows how important it must be to be involved with your community in Ghana. The informant’s grandmother was very active in the community and well connected with many in that when she died, the whole community came out to celebrate her and then also support the family. In this way, the community is family.

Chinese New Year

Context: This is the story behind the Chinese New Year and the traditions that surround it. This story was taught to the informant in an academic setting, but it’s a story that everyone grows up hearing and gives context to why they do what they do on New Years.


Informant: “So basically this is one of those stories to do with Chinese New Year and it kind of explains why we do some of the traditions that we do. So, this was the one I remember the most. There’s a monster who lives in the mountains all year round called Nian, which is also the same letter as year actually, and so the supposed story is that Nian would come and terrorize the villagers every year during Chinese New Year and this is when they would escape to the mountains to hide, which is funny considering he was from the mountains. And then years and years like always the same thing terrorizes a village and then they I guess regroup and rebuild until one year there was like a strange old man like silver hair that they welcomed into the village and basically he looked sus[pcious] is the main thing he was supposed to like almost look like a beggar with like a walking stick and stuff and no one like really cared about him. But he was actually the one who found a way to keep the monster away which is what translated into nowadays traditions. These traditions included setting off firecrackers because a loud cracking noise would like scare the monster away which is why we set off firecrackers every year during Chinese New Year. And then there were other smaller traditions linked to it: for example, painting fortune, the letter, and putting it on doors and then I think they would put it upside down as a way of being like there’s nothing that you want here, if it even got to the doors. But the main one was the firecracker and it was the red light and the loud booming noises that scared the monster away and that is one of the main stories of Chinese New Year.”

Collector: “Who told you this story and when and where? Is this a story that typically parents tell their children?”

Informant: “I actually learned about these stories at school but I do know that some of my friends learned about them at home but it’s not like a we sit together on Chinese New Year to learn about it. It’s more just a story that we grew up with and i think because of asian culture being quite realist in a way, the storytelling culture is not as strong as it is say with Santa Claus and American families like kids don’t believe that Nian existed. We definitely have folklore that exists and we honor the tales but it’s more of like we are very much aware that it is folklore.”

Collector: “Then why would you say the story keeps getting passed down and re-told even though many do not believe it happened and acknowledges it as folklore?”

Informant: “I think because a lot of these stories explain why we do certain things on these festive days so i think it is necessary for it to be passed down even though we probably have come to the realization that it probably wasn’t fully real and i think it’s an interactive way of keeping the culture alive and it makes festivals fun too because for kids it’s like when these festivals come around there are so many instructions like you have to eat this or that and you can’t do this or that and it’s like well why so it makes it a lot more digestible with the story and it makes it a lot more interesting so i think it’s a good way of preserving culture.”


I think the informant’s own perspective on the importance of the story and it being passed down is very insightful. Because this story is one that focuses on the creation of an event and some traditions, it’s important that everyone is given some sort of explanation or backstory of why they do the things they do today. Also, the idea of it is preserving culture is very good one in my opinion and to add to it, I think re-telling that story and passing it down only strengthens a shared Chinese identity and builds a nation in which they know and take pride from where they come from and the stories that have led them to where they are now. One last thought I had was that since these folklore stories are taught in schools, it only shows how fundamental the folklore is to Chinese culture in general and how it can be used as a basis of education and identity and influences much of society today and even people’s beliefs and actions.

Testudo Sacrifices

Context: Before and during finals week, students at the University of Maryland will offer up sacrifices to give to the the mascot, Testudo, in exchange for good luck and good grades.


Collector: “Do you have any traditions on campus? Like maybe there could be a general one for everybody or a specific club or organization?”

Informant: “Yeah actually so on campus, one of the main traditions that happens every semester is sacrificing items to our campus mascot statue that is in the center of campus infant of the main library. Basically, students during finals season will sacrifice special items and leave it for him as a good luck or good omen to do well on their finals. And then it’s bad luck if you see something you like and steal it from Testudo”

Collector: “Are there specific types of items that they have to sacrifice?”

Informant: “Originally the sacrifices are suppose to be something special to you and they don’t have to be expensive or anything as long as they are personal to you. But how it is now it’s kind of turned into a much bigger event on campus and students will find like anything they can to sacrifice like many might try to find things they find funny and some with literally put up anything and are more worried about the sacrificing part then what they are actually giving.”

Collector: “Like what type of items?”

Informant: “So what I’ve seen this year has been a lot of empty alcohol bottles. Ooh, there was this girl would made a sculpture that was in the shape of a little tent to protect Testudo and that was her sacriface. They also will sacrifice campus signs, leis, school worksheets. They’ll usually also get the electric scooters and bikes and will but them there. There is also a lot of construction on campus and so they’ll but a lot of those materials near him. Balloons, stuffed animals, old projects, flowers, and yeah a lot. Also, the campus throws out all the stuff each night so there’s also a new pile every day.”

Collector: “Have you sacrificed anything?”

Informant: “No I haven’t. Every final season I always put a lot of pressure on the tradition and I want to find something super meaningful to sacrifice and I end up taking my finals before I can make a decision and so I end up not doing it. I feel like personally if I sacrifice something I don’t find special then it would be bad luck on me.”


I think this goes to show the types of traditions students will create on campus to receive stress and also receive good luck on finals. I think this is a super fun one that can be a way of strengthening school pride as it’s a big tradition a bunch of people take a part of. I think it also more deeply shows how much students worry about academics and finals and that they would give up anything to do well for them, even participating in this sort of ritual. I think the way it gets out of hand also shows how some people will just continue the tradition for the fun of it without putting much thought behind it or carrying about how it started which arguably shows a diminished value in the tradition.

pictures for reference:

The Dirty Boy

Context: This is a story that the informant’s grandmother would tell them all the time. The informant grew up in Myanmar.


Collector: “Do you have any stories that were passed down to you like maybe a bedtime story, tales, legends, anything?”

Informant: “My grandmother told me this story quite often like when I was younger it’s more a bit of like a lesson kind of thing so it’s a bit long. It’s about a boy; he was really really lazy and his grandfather told him to brush his teeth and he wouldn’t brush his teeth and instead of brushing his teeth he went and ate like a really powdery snack and he was really dirty. The grandfather told him to shower and he didn’t shower. He like went into the river and just played in the mud and he just got even dirtier and really nasty and then the grandfather was like “get out of my house like you’re so nasty you’re so lazy and nothing can fix you.” So, the boy left and he was like “oh my God I don’t know where to live” and he was just wondering around and he found a hole in which — oh wait, sorry. So, the grandfather was like “come back when you’re clean” and he was like f*** you Grandpa like I’m not going to come back; he’s just going to be dirty. The boy went around and he found a hole where a ghost, like the local Town Village ghost, was living and he was like “oh I’ll just go live with the ghost” and he went in and the ghost like kind of (thinking) yeah the ghost lives in a tunnel and it kind of eats boys or eats children and the boy went into the tunnel and knocks on the door and is like ‘Oh my God ghost just eat me I don’t want live anymore” and the ghost opens the door and the ghost is like “oh my god you’re so stinky i don’t want to eat you” and so the boy took a shower brushed his teeth and went back to his grandfather. I’m not really sure what the point of that story was but my grandmother told me that story like a million times.”


The lessons of this story I would say are definitely catered to children. As the grandmother told it a lot to the informant, I’m assuming it must have been passed down to the grandmother and she heard it a lot growing up to and maybe even used it on her own children. I think this story reveals that a child should listen to their parents/grandparents because they know what’s best for them. Also, more importantly, that every kid should not be lazy and take care of their appearance and personal hygiene or else nobody may want or like them. I’m not sure on whether this is a family specific story but there is a high value of hygiene and health.