Author Archives: Maia Nelson

Love Days

Background: The informant was raised east of Los Angeles by a mother who was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness and was very active in the church. The informant was and is not religious herself, and her father was not a member of the church either. This was told to me in person.

Informant: My mom is very religious, she’s Jehovah’s Witness, and is the most dedicated…so we wouldn’t celebrate holidays when I was a kid. For Mother’s Day we had “love day,” and for Thanksgiving we’d just have a “family dinner,” but we didn’t celebrate any holidays… my dad celebrated our birthday but my mom never celebrated any holidays. She would give us “love gifts,” which could come on any day of the year but they always ended up coming the week before or the week after my birthday. There were different reasons for different holidays…Halloween celebrates the devil so that one’s obvious. Christmas was for different reasons…Jesus wasn’t born in the winter or the snow so Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate it.

Thoughts: I knew that Jehovah’s Witnesses were very dedicated to their religion, in a way that goes above and beyond other sects of Christianity, but I wasn’t aware that they are devout to the point where they don’t celebrate any holidays that would take away from Jehovah. It’s interesting to hear this from someone who grew up directly around it but wasn’t and isn’t an active practitioner in the Jehovah’s Witness religion.

Mitmit Ceremony

Background: The informant was born in the Philippines to a Filipino mom and a white dad, and spent his childhood, from age 2 to 13, from 1966-1977. Yap is a small group of islands in Micronesia, of which he grew up on the main island of Yap. I was told of this legend over the phone. 

Informant: A mitmit is a Yapese ceremony … a ceremony that… or rather a festival that signifies an exchange of wealth. Dances are performed, in this case, this is a stick dance, a bamboo dance and this next photo is men and boys bringing or delivering—and you can see, there’s stone money in the background—they’re bringing shell money, which is made out of mother of pearl shells, and they’re hung on a piece of coconut husk twine. So what they’re doing is they’re presenting this… well all of this money, really, currency, to another village.

Me: Why are they presenting it? What’s the significance of that exchange?

Informant: Yap has a very, very stringent caste system, not unlike the caste system in the Hindu tradition. There’s no concept of priests or Brahmins like in the Hindu system or the concept of an “untouchable,” but the caste system is based on another legend actually, and the caste system is based on villages, well actually, municipalities. 

Within a municipality, there are a number of villages which contain a number of family units. Frankly, the outer islands of Yap as well are included in this same caste system. There is a ranking system, a social hierarchy if you will, that is based on one’s municipality and even further, there is a village that holds the highest caste ranking within a municipality.

There are the municipalities of Tomil and Gagil, and those are the highest ranked two in Yap.

A mitmit is a celebration of a number of things however, but a very common reason for it, particularly if someone in a lower caste village slighted someone in a higher caste village. One village is paying tribute to another village or the chief of another village, so they bring these offerings of stone money—to the extent of which they can transfer it. 

In addition to the dance, there is a long procession of offerings. The stone money, again to the extent of which it can be carried, and the shell currency on coconut twine. 

Me: So, would you say a mitmit is a way for a village to atone? And does the mitmit have to be “accepted,” or is it unspoken that after a mitmit happens that all is well between the villages again?

Informant: Yes, and all is better after the gifts are accepted.

Me: Has it ever happened where the gifts aren’t accepted?

Informant: I am not aware of gifts being refused, I think the point is to overwhelm with lavish gifts so as to truly atone.

Thoughts: I’d never heard of a mitmit before, and it really shows the diplomacy and the level of respect that holds true between the villages. It’s hard to imagine a culture where disputes and issues were solved with a ceremony and then put to the side, and it’s beautiful that it’s a festival and ceremony where people can enjoy themselves while also atoning and solving their issues or disputes that they may have had.


Background: Informant was born in the Philippines, on the island of Cebu, to a Filipino mom and a white dad. He sent his childhood in Yap, in Micronesia, but spent a lot of time in the Philippines as a child as well and is fluent in Cebuano, a Bisayan language and grew up playing games with his mother, who was born and raised in Cebu. The following is a children’s game that the informant played as a child, which was then passed down to me when I was a child. We spoke about this game over the phone.

Pito-pito ubod

Kan-on pulos budbud

Sud-an pulos utan

Piesta’s kadagatan!


Seven-seven small fish

Rice all sticky rice cake

Viand all vegetable soup

Fiesta at the beach


Seven small fish

Rice for sticky rice cake

Main course for vegetable broth

Fiesta at the beach

Informant: Pito-pito means seven, and ubod is a small fish. 

Kan-on is rice… ka-on is food, and kan-on is “that which you eat,” which also means food which is kind of silly, but it also refers to rice. Kan-on pulos budbud is “rice for sticky rice-cake.”

Sud-an, when you eat, you always have kan-on (the rise, the base), and sud-an is “the thing which you eat with your rice,” so sud-an could be anything. For example, teriyaki chicken or adobo is both sud-an with rice, which is the kan-on. There’s usually a connotation or implication that there is vegetables. But, sud-an pulos utan is “main course for vegetable broth or soup.”

All the phrases are silly and backwards, really… it doesn’t make sense grammatically. The second and third stanzas would be grammatically correct if they were flipped.

Budbud para kan-on

Utan para sud-an

Piesta’s kada gatan is a fiesta at the beach. Pista’s is really just the “filipinization” if you will of the Spanish word fiestas.

The whole thing is really just silly, but someone would hold out their hand and the other person would put their pointer finger in the center of the other person’s hand. The person with their hand outstretched would sing the lines as slowly or quickly as you want, you can play with the tempo on the first couple lines and then when the line “piesta’s kada gatan!” Is said, the person singing would close their hand while the second person tries to pull their finger away so their finger isn’t trapped.

Thoughts: I remember playing this game as a child, and this is the first I heard of the meaning behind it. I find it interesting that it’s all food-based lyrics, though it’s not entirely surprising as Filipino culture is centered so much around food, but it’s funny that even in a children’s game that’s fairly nonsensical with no relation between the lyrics and the actions, food still is still at the focal point.

God is Bowling

Background: Informant was born and raised in Florida, where there are very frequent thunderstorms, and this was told to me in person.

Informant: My mom would always tell me whenever there was thunder in the sky that God was bowling… and there’s a lot of thunderstorms because I’m from Florida, so she said it a lot.

Me: Do you think she said it to lighten the mood or make you less afraid as a child?

Informant: Oh maybe…I never thought about it that way, but maybe? It definitely made it feel less intense thinking about bowling instead of thunder.

Thoughts: This is something that I’ve heard before and I always found it kind of funny and sweet, but the religious undertone is interesting in it as well. Being a little kid who was afraid of thunderstorms because of the loud unexpected noises, thinking of it as a game of bowling played by god definitely lightens the mood and giving a younger kid a cartoon-like image for the phenomenon of thunder can put a child at ease and even though logically it doesn’t make too much sense.

Seeing Butterflies

Background: Informant has a lot of family that lives in California and was raised religious, more on his father’s side, his mom not as much, but still spiritual. Informant went to church weekly and did all the required sacraments, also going to school for Christian formation and education. This was told to me in person after a conversation about family members who have passed on.

Informant: Most… well, not most, but a lot my family is… well they’re up there.

*informant points at sky*

And a lot of my family is also buried at the cemetery plot right by Griffith Park. Whenever we go to Griffith Park, my aunt, we’d always call her Ta-Ta, loved these monarch butterflies so much, and whenever we go to Griffith Park, we always see this specific type of monarch butterfly… we always think it’s Ta-Ta.

Me: Aw, that’s sweet. Would you see the butterfly in general? Or was it ever in a specific place?

Informant: We would always see the butterfly on her gravestone and by her plot specifically. It always feels like a sign. 

Thoughts: I think it’s really common for people to associate signs with loved ones who have passed, and butterflies in particular are said to be a sign from deceased ones that they’re still with you and/or watching over you and sending love from the “beyond.” It’s sweet that it has that association for so many, and to me it always begs the question of whether people see butterflies more often when they’re hoping for a sign from a loved one or if there is somehow a correlation between butterflies and graveyards and there are truly more butterflies at graveyards.