Author Archives: Karie Villanueva

Trndez (or Candlemas Day)

“The tradition says that during the time a couple is engaged, the husband-to-be may not see his future wife except on Candlemas day. The wood to be burned on Candlemas Day is blessed by the priest before being taken to be used for the tradition. The wood is set on fire and let burn until it dies out, and the carbon is then used to cross the doors of the wife-to-be to protect her from evil. The tradition dates back to pagan times as fire is a symbol of pagan traditions, but the Christian Apostolic church still holds true to the tradition and adopted it to their beliefs due to its positive message of love and fertility.”

The informant was born and raised in Armenia and moved to the United States when she was about fifteen years old. It was a time that she was dating a non-Armenian individual and who her parents were somewhat hesitant to accept. However, she was able to lighten the mood by engaging in a discussion about an Armenian wedding tradition, where people gather in the yard of the newly engaged young woman, and set up a fire and take turns to jump over it. The ritual is performed as part of preparation for the future of newly formed couples, as it acts to diminish the evils and misfortunes by bringing to light good fortune and happiness. The wedding ritual is typically taught during the time a daughter was expected to marry.

She informed me about the history. Forty days after Jesus’ birth on the night of February 13th, the ritual of Trndez was usually performed outside of the young bride-to-be’s house. The ritual involves the family of the future bride and groom. What makes it so interesting for the informant is that it plays on tradition coming from thousands of years ago with an unconventional twist (i.e. jumping over fire). Nonetheless, it is a celebration of love and support for newly formed couples and their families.

This ritual reminds me of the African rendition of  “jumping the broom,” where couples are asked to jump over a broomstick after relaying their vows. But it in this case, Trndez is done prior to the wedding. Like the “jumping the broom” tradition, it is indicative of a liminal phase between the engagement and the wedding. I believe it serves, in many ways, to alleviate the fears that come with being officially married. Like jumping over the fire, marriage can be perceived as a challenge, as it indicates one’s status in society and provides one with more responsibilities. Having these unique ethnic rituals is also indicative of how certain cultures form relationships. For example, in traditional Armenian culture, parents often prefer Armenians to marry within their culture. And the fact that they have their own group rituals makes it easier to accept individuals within their culture that are most likely going to understand how and why these rituals are performed, rather than those who have not received such exposure (i.e. non-Armenians). Nonetheless, it can be understood as a way to identify certain ethnic groups.

The Aswang

“In the Philippines, there are three islands in the Philippines, and one of the islands, Luzon, are big believers in the Aswang. The Aswang is half vampire, half man. Man by morning, vampire by night. At night, he turns into his evil half and hunts for victims, especially children and pregnant women. You can see the Aswang if you see a half-body flying; the other half of the body stays on the ground. When it catches pregnant women, it eats the unborn child inside their stomach. This is based on an old Chinese myth. Because in China before, some emperors used to cut the stomach of pregnant women and eat their children so they can become immortal. The Aswang does this to become immortal and fully human. If you eat Filipino dumplings and ballout, it is similar to eating the unborn fetus of pregnant women. People in my province (Ilocos Norte) believe that the Aswang can be driven off from pregnant women and children by surrounding them with burnt animal horns and bagacay (bamboo). There are also ways to avoid them if you shoot a gun, wear garlic necklaces, or wear the cross (crucifix)…. Its funny because I saw it on the news, and they’re still searching for this Aswang thing. People seem to believe that it still exists.”

My informant comes from an island of the Philippines which believes largely in the Aswang myth. He heard it as a child from his parents who sought to instill fear in their children, so that they would not engage in any misconduct, such as going out at night. I recall hearing of the Aswang as a little girl from the informant during Halloween. The informant was dressed in a half vampire suit to resemble the mythological character. I had asked him to recite the piece again, and he was able to provide me the myth with a twist. That is, he told me about how it relates to a Chinese myth, which I have never heard before but found interesting. Even if he does not believe in this myth himself, he believes it serves some importance to the Filipino culture. He mentioned that there are distinct myths that are prevalent in each island of the Philippines. For instance, in Visayas, natives believe in werewolves. People of Mindanao believe in leprechauns. And people of Luzon believe in the Aswang. In a sense, the Aswang could be used to identify people based on the island they inhabit. The informant stated, “Everyone in Luzon will tell you that they know or even that they saw an Aswang.”

I found this myth and the informant’s explanation of the myth particularly compelling. It identifies with a large group of individuals, and it can help distinguish Filipino islanders based on the types of myths they associate with. Moreover, he gave a possible explanation for how the myth originated, which was thought to be from an older Chinese variant. This remarkably displays the idea that pieces of folklore can be represented in variations. The Aswang myth has become such a large part of identifying the people of Luzon as well as the Filipino culture that it has been instituted in popular culture. Movies both local and foreign have the Aswang in many horror and action films, which include Aswang (1994) , which is a foreign horror movie that features the aswang, and Maximo D. Ramos’ The Aswang Complex in Philippine Folklore (Phoenix Publications). Alternatively, having the Aswang appear on public media and forums can be used as a way for tourists who visit the islands to identify themselves with the Filipino culture, that is, by knowing their folklore.



Days of “Mourning” and Night

“There are numerous methods in which diverse cultures mourn for the death of a loved one. In my culture, we have a particular method of dealing with the dead. My family mourns the death of a loved one as a community. After the death of a loved one, my family finds a place to gather and mourn for the death of the person who has passed away, typically a relative’s home. The mourning process can last days to weeks. During each day, there is a praying session followed by a gathering. The mourning process ends on the day of the funeral when everyone says their final good-bye’s.”

My informant is of Mexican descent and finds his culture’s death-related folklore to be the most interesting to him. He learns the lore of his culture primarily by remembering those that have some relation to death. He informed me about a time that he was able to use one of his culture’s folk rituals to mourn for the death of a family member. He found it interesting that his family was able to integrate this ritual into U.S. culture, where apparently, mourning rituals differ greatly. During the mourning process, family members take time off in a day to pay respects to the deceased person. He indicated that there should be no excuses for not coming unless the person was ill; however, they would have to be chronically ill. He joins in performing this type of ritual out of a sign of respect and, interestingly, as a method to cope with his own issues. The death of a family member can be very difficult to overcome. Therefore, spending time with the family provides an alternative way to deal with such tragedies. Moreover, during the time of mourning, prayers are performed to bless the body in the afterlife.

The informant learned this as a child from his mother, who introduced him to this ritual after the death of his cousin. His mother described it as a custom they performed in their hometown of Colima, Mexico. He mentioned that children don’t really understand death in a way that is positive. Rather, they find it to be horrifying. As he grew up and witnessed deaths of his own loved ones, he came to realize that mourning the way his culture did helped him become more comfortable with the event.

My take on this ritual is that I notice these types of mourning rituals to be highly used in cultures that believe in life after death. These rituals may be used to alleviate the fear and irrational emotions that comes with an unfortunate event. It can help maintain sanity for people who have to deal with these outcomes. One can observe a similar rendition of this type of death-related ritual in the Filipino culture, for example. I remember after one of my grandmothers died, we spent exactly a week after her death visiting a particular family members home. Each day of the week, there was a different event scheduled, such as an initial gathering, speaking about the positives about the deceased member, reciting chants and prayers, etc. Together, these rituals have provided a way for people to see death in a different light and as a way to acknowledge this person for the positive things about them. Hence, it can be perceived as a commemoration for that individual rather than as a time for pity.

Tamasha (Maharashtra Folk Dance)

“In Maharashtra, there are two types of Tamasha, first is Dholaki Fadcha Tamasha and the other is Sangeet Baaricha Tamasha. Search on Youtube and you could see examples of how it is performed. Dholaki Fadcha tamasha is a complete art, which includes song, dance, and theater. Now in Maharashtra there are only 18 to 20 full time Tamasha parties. Each Tamasha Manadal performs approximately 210 days in all over Maharashtra and also some border villages of Karnataka and Gujarat. It is original Marathi folk art, but the name Tamasha has some ancient origin from Persian language which means “Fun and Play.”

The informant is the mother of one of my friends, who came to visit her son from her hometown of Dubai, India. She seemed very interested in talking about the lore of her culture, and told me about this type of folk dance the Maharashtra people perform, called Tamasha. She was able to perform it in front of me; however, she did not want me to record it on video. It appears to be a type of free-style dance, in which involves the hips, hands, and feet. She indicated that there are numerous versions of the dance online and was able to provide a description and background about the dance. She found this piece to be interesting to talk about, because it is a traditional form of folk art as part of the Marathi culture, where she is originally from.

It is often performed for entertainment, coupled with singing, and widely performed by local groups within Maharashtra, India. It can also be found in Marathi films. She learned it in grade school from hearing stories and observing stage performances. Later, she saw it in Marathi movies where it played a significant role in forming the plot. It was further integrated in Hindi movies. The informant always found Tamasha to be very interesting to her, because it is influenced by many Indian art forms and draws from diverse traditions of India, such as Kavali culture (location in East India), ghazals (poems), Kathak dance, Dashvatara (10 principle Avatars, an Indian philosophy), Lalit (Indian classical music) and Kirtan (a form of Indian chant).

After looking at both forms of Marathi dance on the internet, the style of dance clearly exhibits the Tamasha art form, which is expected to be some kind of spectacle, show, and commotion that exudes excitement. Because this type of dance seems to be unique to the Marathi culture, it is probably used as a form of identification. According to the informant, everyone in Maharashtra knows about Tamasha and Marathi dance. Therefore, it can serve not only as a source of entertainment but can be indicative of the Marathi people.


“The Ramayana is not just a story: it presents the teachings of ancient Hindu sages, which are Vedas, in narrative allegory, interspersing philosophical and devotional elements. There are tons of books that are part of this one Hindu epic. The characters Rama who is the hero and loved by all people; Sita who is Rama’s wife and is supposed to represent purity; Lakshmana who is Rama’s younger brother and loyal to his brother; Bharata who is Rama’s step-brother; Hanuman is kind of like the advisor to Rama; and Ravana who was the king of Lanka at that time. They are all fundamental to the understanding of culture in India. Originally it is in Sanskrit, then translated all in Indian and even in some other foreign languages. It basically tells the story of Rama, who is an avatar of the Hindu preserver-God Vishnu, whose wife Sita is abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. The Ramayana explores human values and the concept of Dharma. You can tell that it is important, because it is nowadays re-enacted in dance-dramas, village theatre, shadow-puppet shows and the annual Ram-lila, which is the favorite of all festivals in northern India.”

The informant is the mother of one of my friends, who came to visit her son from her hometown of Dubai, India. She seemed very interested in talking about the lore of her culture, and began by telling me about an epic known as Ramayana. As the informant indicated, it is performed and written in numerous Indian dialects. She believed that it would be complicated to provide me with all these translations; therefore, she saved me the expense and performed it in English. She indicated it was an epic and provided me with a brief background and synopsis.

She found this piece to be particularly appealing, because it depicts the roles of relationships, as it characterizes ideal characters, like the ideal father, ideal servant, ideal brother, the ideal wife, and the ideal king. It serves as an ancient Sanskrit epic which is usually performed at the level of a small stage in any Indian village. Interestingly, it became the highest-rated television soap opera in India. It can also be found in movies, like “Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama (1992),” starring Arun Govil, James Earl Jones and Amrish Puri. She was initially exposed to the Ramayana epic as a kid, because it was integrated in the stories she learned and was required to study it in school. As she grew older, she remembers watching it as stage and television drama. Nevertheless, the informant finds importance in sharing the Ramayana piece with her children and with others, because it provides an understanding of the Hindu religion teachings.

From hearing my informant’s rendition of the Ramayana and her responses to my questions, the epic appears to be this significant piece of Indian culture that gives natives and outsiders insight into the social and political condition of ancient India. It provides a social context by demonstrating how important it is to live by these ideal customs and morals. As she indicated, a strive for ideality is a big part of understanding the Ramayana and India. Similarly, it allows people to identify with particular characters and situations. Like each individual’s role in society, each character in the epic performs a specific role and how they perform it may serve as some type of example for how people should act and behave. Alternatively, a political purpose can be seen when we see how this particular epic is integral in school curriculum, television dramas, and national events (e.g. Ram-lila). The ability of the epic to be re-performed and re-told by the Indian population strongly suggests that the Ramayana is a big part of India’s national identity. That is, the Indian people have formed consensus on many of the beliefs, values, morals, and behaviors that are presented within the epic. And they want others to know that it defines a large part of the Indian culture.