Tag Archives: African

Waist Beads

Context: The informant is my sister (LC) who lives in Oakland and is a member of the diverse community there. The following text is transcribed from a phone call.

Main Text (LC): “I purchased these waste beads from a tent in Oakland. They are an old African tradition that has been brought over to America. Women wear them around their waist and they move if she gains or loses weight. They are kind of niché and cool and modern now while also being used as a weight-loss tool. The culture in Oakland added a new layer of symbolism to these beads by adding different chakras to the waist beads. Each color represents a different chakra and empowers the women who wear them in different ways.”

Analysis: These waist beads are a piece of material folklore that has come with its people to the United States from Africa. They originally more of a fashion piece but are now considered more culturally important to the African American community in Oakland and thus have developed new symbolism with the variations in chakra. The community in Oakland is very accepting and people love to share pieces of their heritage and ethnicity, which has created a mixing pot of folklore.

Caribbean Wedding Customs

The sacred nature of weddings in the Antilles of the Caribbean is often communicated with indigenous customs that take place before, during, and after the ceremony. “Jumping the Broom” is a right of passage for the newlywed. After vows are said before the church and the bride and groom have been pronounced husband and wife, they take a big fat leap over a wooden broom. Alternatively, this is done using branches or sticks of wood held together.

D: “I had to go out one time because they didn’t have no broom. And I went outside and put together some branches and sticks for them to use.”

Some other customs include throwing a handful of rice on the bride and groom (250)

M: To bring luck you sprinkle grains like rice or beans.

The act of scattering grain or beans ultimately signifies wealth. It’s believed to ensure financial stability for the bride and groom. In addition, sugar is used with water to mop the floors of the church prior to the ceremony. Sugar is used because it ensures there will be no disturbances and everything will be sweet. Salt is sometimes sprinkled at the entrance of the church.

M: Salt is put at the front to keep away negativity. My mom would do that for other people’s weddings.

The informant expressed that these customs are what make them feel far more in tune with their roots. These customs stem from African heritage and are most common in Caribbean weddings because of the lingering history of slavery. Jumping the broom was done amongst slaves centuries ago when marriage, for them, was prohibited so doing this signified union between the couple. If we look at this from another angle, seeing two people jump over a broom is the act of them physically taking a big leap over a big obstacle. They fight through it… together. That is why these wedding customs are so important to the informant’s culture. Every obstacle—whether it be oppression, negativity, or money—can be overcome and Caribbean wedding customs are here to instill hope for those who are making this big change in their lives.

The Significance of Yams in Nigeria


My friend grew up in Nigeria before coming to the US for college. He says yams are life in Nigeria.

Friend:“The yam is the staple food and therefore a measure of masculinity and wealth. If a family has a lot of yams, you’re rich because you can feed your family. This makes you a strong man. Yams are equated to life in Igbo culture. Nigeria is the leading producer of yams in the world, so of course they are a big deal to us.”

Me: Do you still have family who farm yams?

Friend: “My father does not farm yams, but my grandfather did, and his father before him. When my grandfather got married, he had to present his yams to my grandmother’s family to prove he could provide for her, which is a fairly typical custom in Nigeria.”

Me: Is there anything specific about how yams are farmed that makes them special?

Friend: “On some farms in Nigeria, the women aren’t allowed to go to the farm until harvest time. Then the women do all of the harvest work. It’s superstition I guess. There are many people today who still grow yams. Yams are featured at any big gathering or at any holiday meal.”


Analysis: Many cultures have some form of staple food. For the Irish, potatoes are an important part of sustenance, and therefore are a large part of how people live. Because of this, a simple food like a potato, or yam, can come to have symbolic meaning.  What a family produces in terms of yams, and how it relates to masculinity is extremely interesting, given that yams are an unpredictable measure of success. One year, the harvest could be plentiful and the weather perfect. The next year, however, bad luck could lead to very few yams. Another aspect of this folklore worth noting is that while the men do the initial farming, the women do the harvesting. Perhaps this relates to the hunter/gatherer trope, but a man’s worth relies on work which is half done by women.

“Every day is for the thief, one day is for the owner.”

Subject: Yoruba (Nigerian Proverb

Phonetic Script: “Kwa ụbọchị bụ maka ohi, otu ụbọchị dị ka onye nwe.”

Translation:” Every day is for the thief, one day is for the owner.”

Interpretation: You can lie, cheat, and steal, but one day, you will be caught.

Analysis: This proverb shows the values of the Igbo people. Virtue is better that self-interest.





Main piece:

The mail man one, “Mailman mailman do your duty here comes a lady with an african booty she can do the pom pom she can do the twist most of all she can kiss kiss with her red hot lips k i s s i n g”

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

It was one of the rhymes the kids knew. It wasn’t a favorite but it sticks because it’s the most ridiculous one out of them all. Learned it in 1st grade from some female peer in her class. Informant thinks this one is ridiculous and doesn’t know why little kids sing it because it’s a little inappropriate.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It’s a hand clapping game for little kids to sing together.

Personal Analysis:

The “african booty part” is kind of racist. Even the informant said that it’s a weird song to think about. As a kid, she just went along with what the others were doing. I think it has a lot of strange connotations that kids don’t know about. I don’t think this has anything to do with Africa, but I wonder why American kids sing it. Why is it the mail man’s duty to kiss the lady? It’s actually really uncomfortable to think about. “do the pom pom” isn’t even proper grammar. I wonder who was the first person to start this song.