Author Archives: Juliette Kaplan


Superstitious Ritual

Nojor, loosely translated, “the Devils eye”

This is an act performed by elder women of the family to the children.  The woman will simply take the hand of the child, and firmly bite the smallest finger to prevent Nojor.

The informant explained to me that the idea here is that someone will look at the perfect, angelic child and will therefore become resentful and jealous.  Consequently, to protect the child from this curse, the mother or grandmother or other women of the family will bite the child’s finger, cause the child to cry or somehow distort their face.  The noise and facial distortion elicited from the child now make it imperfect, thus protecting it from the devil’s eye.

It is interesting how this is a demonstration of such a deep, ingrained superstition has actually become very ritualistic.  While most superstitions are nothing more than a verbal warning, the mother, in this case, skips the warning all together and simply takes it upon herself to prevent the curse that is surely approaching.

This act may be performed on any occasion, but in particular, according to the informant, on occasions that would warrant jealousy of the child.  For example, before the child is to perform or appear in front of a crowd in a any public display of talent or beauty.  The informant recalled one instance, quite late in his life, when his mother bit his finger before he went to his highs school prom.  “ You know, I can remember when my mom stopped doing it to me… yeah, there is a direct correlation between the time I stopped parting my hair on the side and the time she stopped biting me.”  Apparently for the informant’s mother, un-parted hair was enough imperfection so as to ward off evil on its own.

The cultural reflections of this act are dichotomous.  On one hand  there is a great deal of pride, I would indeed say arrogance that is shown by the older woman acknowledging that the child is worthy of jealousy; on the other hand it as if she is preventing the consequences of hubris in her own child.  With her older wisdom, she indeed can recognize the angelic qualities of her child, but sill forbid them naively over-displaying them.  Additionally, because this is such a common practice, from serfs to royal upper class, there is a cultural assumption that generally all children need protection from evil.  Thus we see the sacredness of children in this culture.

Proverb – Bengali, India

“I slept, and I dreamt that life was all joy. I woke, and saw that life was but service. I served, and discovered that service was joy.”

Rabindranath Tagore

When I sat down with my informant and began to describe folklore, and to encourage him in the right direction I asked if there was any game, riddle, or saying that was repeated to him as a child.  Without hesitation he began to translate this short poem.  The informant described the prevalence of this item among the folk group of the Bengali people, by emphasizing that “every child learns this poem.  Every Adult tells it at some point to every child they know.  You have it in school, in your home… everywhere.”  He went on to tell me that it can be found, as in his own home, written and framed in his bathroom,  on refrigerators, scratched into public benches.

Upon further discussion surrounding this poem, the informant was praising it as a perfect demonstration of Bengali socio-cultural values. “In Bengali, we don’t have a word for funny.  My mother has no concept of a punch line.  I couldn’t think of a Bengali joke if I tried.  But it doesn’t mean we are unhappy.  We are taught that we must find and work for our own joy ourselves, we don’t have the quick, escapist kind of humor that Americans sometimes rely on too much to bring them joy.”  And thus, in a culture that produces a twenty one year old who can readily admit to an inability to tell a joke, this fantastic alternative finding joy and is repeated and put into action by the Bengali people.

So ingrained in the cultural and so integral are the values in describes, I believe this is the absolute statue of artistic communication among Bengali people, it so precisely articulates values which the entire culture shares, it is the answer to the search for happiness.  The mere fact that it is values and pieces of wisdom like this which ultimately replace typical humor and ephemeral joy we see in American and other cultures.

Folk Song/Game

“Quack diddly o-so quack quack quack,

sing it, sam-a  rico, rico rico rico

fa-lor-a fa-lor-a, fa-lor fa-lor fa-lor


One! Two! Three! Four!”

Everyone sits in a circle with their hands held out two their sides, with their right had atop the left palm of the person sitting to their right. One person in the circle starts, and with their right had, claps the open palm of the person to their left.  The claps continue to go around the circle until the song is over.  On “Four!” the object is to avoid being clapped.  The person who is about to be clapped must aniticipate this and move their palm away, while the person who is doing the clapping will try and be as fast as possible to hit their hand before they move it away.  Whoever fails, moves into the center of the circle—this is called “going into the pot”—where they simply start up another mini circle and play simultaneously with the larger circle.

With two people, each person faces each other, each curling their right had into that of the other to make a joint fist.  Each person holds there free left hand about eight inches away from their joint fist, and together alternate clapping the fist against each of their free hands.  The escaping on the last count still applies.

This is a hand game played with anywhere between two or more people.  The informant learned and played this game most frequently when she was a girl scout, but being so catchy it quickly transcended her elementary school

Folk Dance

Bamboo Dance—Tinikling

This is done both as a dance and as a game.  Two people hold each end of two bamboo poles and beat the pole on the ground in repetitions of three.  The first two beats are done with the poles apart, and on the third the poles are brought together.  The dancer does series of foot movements to compliment the rhythmic beating of the poles.  The most basic foot movement are as follows:

First beat: One hop on one foot in between the poles

Second beat: One hop, bring the second foot in to meet the first

Third beat: Jump back on to one foot, jumping back to the outside of the poles as they have now been brought together

The informant described this as quite a prevalent practice.  It can be done as elaborately as possible, with women in costume balancing glasses with candles in them in their hands and on their head.  Or one can find young girls and boys playing this at any given time of the day, more to resemble an American tradition of “double dutch” jump-roping.  It can be played with one dancer, partners, or as many dancers as will fit across the poles.

The informant did not know the history of the dance, or was aware of any details as to its origin.  With a bit of internet research, I found many versions of stories and places of origins, ranging from imitations by peasants of birds, to something involving field workers during Spanish colonization.  I think that this discrepancy in itself emphasizes the significance of the practice itself, in isolation from whatever history it may have.  Additionally, because this is such a widely practiced activity among all ages, regions and social groups, its accessibility lessens the necessity of an explanation.  This is not a tradition that comes out only on special days or to commemorate some historically significant occurance, it does not require special training or practice (although there are obvious different degrees of complexity), it is something anyone on any day.  It is a national game of the Philippines not because of historical significance, but is truly national  because of  ongoing popularity and accessibility by all.

Annotation:  There is an encyclopedia Brittanica entry on Tinikling that can be found with the following link:

tinikling.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 26 Apr. 2007  <>.

Game – Bengali


This is a traditional , Bengali singing game which challenges teams of players to alter a popular song by either scale, rhythm or tone (depending on which music quality assigned to the team).  The teams will take turns singing the variation they have quickly come up with, while the other teams try desperately to guess the original song.

In the experience of the informant, this game is played after celebrations.  After the meal is finished, everyone will retire to a space more conducive to action,  break up into three teams and the game will proceed.  This takes place at any celebration, the most recent case the informant described was a one year old birthday party.  There is no winner in this game, the point is not the competition, but simply to enjoy the musical challenge.  Any popular Bengali song is fair game, the informant mentioned in particular a wealth of songs that have put the poems of Rabindranath Tagore to standard, popularly known melodies.  The players of the game will then manipulate the melody, while still singing the same lyrics, the challenge for the “guessers” is then to identify original song by the lyrics disguised by an altered tune.

The informant described the significance of this game as a demonstration of the Bengali cultural obsession with music.  The game assumes an incredible amount of musical skill, one must be able to identify and manipulate these separate qualities of music, and as a listener one must also have an incredible knowledge of Bengali music so as to be able to identify lyrics in isolation from their melodies.  And because this game is so prevalent, it does indeed show an impeccable dedication by a very large group of people.

I believe such detailed interaction with music on such a large scale is very unique for a group of people.  The expectation is more than just being able to play an instrument, to play from a sheet of notes, it is more that the music is internalized, personalized and improvised.  Only a culture with the utmost respect and value would have such sacred personal involvement that would produce the playing of a game among so many people.

For another version that is more commonly played in other parts of India and Asia, Please visit this website: