Author Archives: Ariana Licea

Syrian Proverb

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Syrian
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/10/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Arabic

حيث لايوجد الناس هناك الجحيم

Transliteration: heith layoujd alnas hnak aljehm

Translation: Where there is no people, there is hell.

Context of proverb: This proverb presents the Syrian fear of solitude, thus demonstrating the importance of relational ties to others. In this sense, you are meant to treat others kindly so that you gain their company while avoiding an empty, hellish wasteland


The interlocutor recalled this proverb due to extent to which older family members have said it, hoping to instill or impart some knowledge on the younger members of his family, including himself. Through his faith, he has always felt a genuine fear of hell and damnation, explaining why he recalled this proverb so quickly with so much clarity.

Because one must enact their vernacular authority in order to grant another person with a bit of wisdom, the giver of the proverb is usually an older person with much more life experience and their own fair share of wisdom to give. One grows into the social role in which they are allowed and even expected to give advice to family members and the community in general. In the case of this specific proverb, the supposed elder is imparting the message that solitude is hell, pushing people to be amiable and compassionate to avoid the hell of loneliness.

Italian Witch Story

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Italian
Age: 18
Occupation: Student
Residence: New York
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/31/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Italian

A story goes as follows: A young woman is known to have beautiful hair, black, silky, and shiny; it was so beautiful that it was something that every resident in the town knew about and admired. One day an unknown old lady came over to her house and started to stroke her hair, commenting on how gorgeous and rare it was. Her father found out what was happening and ordered that she go away. He was alarmed and struck with a protective fear, claiming that the old lady was a strega, or witch. Solely with the touch of her hands, she was able to curse the young woman and her hair ended up falling out day by day, eventually leaving her with no hair. She had to wear a hat for the rest of her life because of the powers of the witch.


The interlocutor recalled this story because of his personal recollection of the fear that it incited in him as a child. His father would occasionally tell this story, as he had heard it a few times; this was enough to make him wary of the power that strangers’ hands possess. By way of this, the story was usually directed at the interlocutor’s sister because of the value that is placed on particularly a female’s hair. The interlocutor mentioned that she still lives in fear of others touching her hair and is reluctant to even receive haircuts.

This story, while probably used at certain occasions to entertain youth, obtains even stronger undertones of a message of privacy and self-reliance. On the very surface, it seems to underline the value of hair in Italian society, especially hair that is kept in good health naturally, signifying a sort of blessing on people with beautiful hair. Yet, the general fear that this story incites demonstrates the value placed on privacy and reliance on oneself. The hands of a stranger have enough power to cause someone harm, and it is by way of this knowledge that young men and especially young women learn to be wary of the influence and malicious intent of others outside of the family. Their magic is contagious and has the power to infect anyone just by touch.

Fasting before Christmas– Russian Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 18
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/22/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Russian

“There are many interesting events during the Christmastide. Traditionally Russians have kept a 40-day fast before Christmas. On Christmas Eve they’ve prepared a delicious meal known as ‘kutia.’ It’s a porridge made of wheat or barley and mixed with honey. Today, people use rice and dried fruits to cook this dish. On the night of Christmas it was habitual to visit the relatives and neighbors, to eat kutia and sing carols. Young girls would also arrange fortune-telling nights.”


The interlocutor has visited Russia multiple times, and due to her frequent visits, she has become close friends with a particular native Russian. The folklore that she has shared with me is derived from her native Russian friend. The interlocutor has not celebrated a holiday in Russia, but she has heard of the laborious preparation for holidays such as Christmas. Some particularly Christian families participate in the 40 day long fast, while other religious families fast for as little as three days. She also relayed her desire to celebrate Christmas in Russia because of the communal aspects of the holiday, and while she experiences similar communal practices in America, she wishes to eat the kutia and participate in the various Christmas time activities that are unique to Russia.

The fast before Christmas appears relate to the Nativity fast that most Christian and Orthodox people participate in. This serves as preparation, mental, spiritual, and physical, for the birth of Christ, especially as one is meant to revere his birth. The varying amounts of time in which families fast illustrate that religion and adherence to it is not universal. The kutia mentioned also obtains religious significance through its ingredients. The wheat relates to bread, or the body of Christ, and the honey and fruit relate to fertility and the resurgence of life. It is by way of this dessert that religious Russians are able to celebrate their religion during a particularly holy time of the year.

Breadcrumb Blessing: Syrian Birth Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Syrian
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/10/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Arabic

When babies are born and are first brought home after birth, the grandparents of either the mother or the father of the child will take fresh baked bread and break it down over the head of the baby. The breadcrumbs are sprinkled over the head of the baby as well as the rest of the body to act as a blessing. This blessing imparts good fortune and health to the newborn so that they grow in good luck and will experience ease and happiness in their life.


Throughout the collection process for this particular interlocutor, he repeatedly mentioned the blessed nature of bread in his culture and religion. Because of his Arab Christian background, he acknowledges the religious aspects and holiness of bread. The holiness of bread was passed down from the elder members of his family as they played a key role in enforcing the belief in its divine association and powers. This implementation is used through multiple celebratory occasions, ranging from births to weddings to even funerals. The interlocutor mentioned that he now is skeptical of the actual powers of bread, but he still joins his family in utilizing it through various celebrations, especially working with family members in the kitchen to bake it, thus implying that it obtains a social value as well as a sanctified meaning.

Due to the holy nature of bread, this act serves to consecrate the child as soon as they enter an arguably difficult world. This obtains religious undertones, especially as the Christian faith asserts the transformation of bread into the body of Christ. Thus, the child is showered in the most sanctified substance to preserve its innocence and promote its luck in life. The rising of the bread during the baking process may also symbolize the rise of new life and the potential that a few simple components have to create something beyond their own capacity.

Planting a Tree: Russian Birth Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 18
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/22/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Russian

“After a child is born, both the parents and the grandparents on both sides, specifically the men in each relationship, plant a tree on the day of the birth. They do this mainly to promote the growth and strength of the child, but they also name the tree in accordance to the characteristics they want the child to grow up with and adopt. As the tree grows, it marks the health and growth of the child as well.”


 

The interlocutor has visited Russia multiple times, and due to her frequent visits, she has become close friends with a particular native Russian. The folklore that she has shared with me is derived from her native Russian friend. Her account of this familial tradition was a sort of after thought as it was not something that she had experienced first-hand, but rather through casual conversation with a local Russian. Along with the usual plans that go along with child birth, various family members prepare young trees that are ready to plant well in advance, acting as a sort of exciting avenue in which one can channel their impatient anticipation. The type of tree may also vary, depending on what the family wants to impart on their child. For instance, one may plant a lemon tree if they wish to impart a bright disposition on their child.

Trees are a widespread symbol of new life and growth, so it seems fitting to associate arboreal traits with newborn children. The roots of the tree are planted as life is just beginning, and the fact that family members are the ones who ground these roots also symbolizes the safety and reliance that one can find in familial relationships. Tree trunks are weak and willowy during their first years, as children are, yet they are expected to grow to bear the weight of the various limbs and leaves that are to eventually grow. They grow in strength, and their health is measured by their sturdiness. Much like the growth of the trunk, children are expected to grow and develop their own health and sturdiness to bear the weight of life’s various whims and tribulations. Both the tree and the child are able to reach towards the sun, a brighter tomorrow that promises vitality and health, and their eventual ascension upwards signifies a greater purpose.