Tag Archives: ancestors

Yerba Mate

Yerba Mate is an extremely popular drink in modern culture however what many people do not know is that this drink has roots stretching back to regions in South America. My informant, who’s family is from Argentina, shed insight on the origins of this populus drink and its deeply instated traditions. The origin of Yerba Mate starts back centuries when ancient natives saved the lives of the moon god and cloud god (Yasí and Araí) from a jaguar. As a gift, these deities bestowed Yerba Mate seeds to thank the natives for their rescue. Yerba Mate was a drink which was then shared amongst the natives, being passed around for all to enjoy. It was very unique to have a drink which coincides with being a social occasion. Yerba Mate is more than just sharing a drink, it is about sharing life’s simple pleasures. 

Yerba Mate proves to demonstrate cultural and historical significance with deep roots stemming from the South American country of Argentina. The cultural tradition of consuming Yerba Mate stretches back centuries to ancient indigenous peoples, who received the seeds as a gift from deities in gratitude for saving the lives of celestial beings. This origin story imbues Yerba Mate with a sense of sacredness and communal importance, as it symbolizes a connection between humanity and the divine. Yerba Mate transcends mere refreshment, serving as a social and cultural practice that fosters both community and shared experiences. The act of passing around the drink amongst the community reflects the importance of camaraderie and hospitality within indigenous societies. This reflects in our modern society today, emphasizing the role of Yerba Mate as a conduit for bonding and interpersonal connection.

Tomb Sweeping Festival

Informant: N.N

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): N/A

Age: 19

Occupation: Student

Residence: Burbank, CA

Performance Date: 04/26/2024

N.N is 19 years old and is from Burbank, CA. I am close friends with his brother, so N.N is an acquaintance of mine.  I asked him if there are any festivals or rituals he participates in regularly. He tells me about the Tomb Sweeping Festival that his family participates in every year as well as the funeral customs they do during the festival. 

“Every spring break, around March or April, my family and I go to Thailand to celebrate the Tomb Sweeping Festival. It’s a tradition that’s been part of our family since I was thirteen. During the festival, we visit the altars of my great grandparents and clean them meticulously. It’s not just about tidying up; it’s a whole ritual. We bring offerings for my ancestors—my grandma’s parents. These offerings usually include their favorite foods and flowers. One of the most vivid parts of the festival is when we light firecrackers and sparklers on their altars. We then pray in Thai because our ancestors, grandma and mom used to live in Thailand. My mom and grandma always remind us, “If they weren’t alive, you wouldn’t be here”. I think they say this to instill a sense of respect and gratitude towards our ancestors. To them, and now to me, it’s important that we acknowledge and remember where we came from. Honestly, I think it’s a beautiful way to remember and pay respects to those who have passed away.”

Their Tomb Sweeping Festival reflects deep cultural values of respect, remembrance, and family ties. It emphasizes the importance of honoring one’s ancestors and acknowledging their contributions to our current lives. This ritual also shows the value of continuity and connection across generations, which reminds us of our heritage and the cycle of life. It’s a way for them to bond over shared history and instill a sense of gratitude for the past even in younger generations. The festival also embodies Chinese cultural values such as filial piety, showing their cultural roots.

Pan de Muerto

Context: the informant, A.F., is a 21 year old USC student. Her family is Mexican, when asked about rituals or festivals, she brought up Dia de Los Muertos. Before she explained her family customs, she did give me a small disclaimer, saying that a lot of this feels normal to her, and so she wasn’t sure what would/wouldn’t matter.

Text: The informant explained that when her family celebrates Dia de Los Muertos, they always buys a specific bread, known as “pan de muerto”. She described pan de muerto as a round sweet bread with a cross on top; along with this, she explained that her family also makes the favorite foods of their loved ones who have passed. When asked if she leaves some out for ancestors, she told me that they do that alongside eating it. Her family puts up an altar in their house with photos of loved ones who have passed, decorating it with their favorite foods, candles, and a vibrant flower that her family calls “cempasuchil.” She told me she wasn’t sure what flower it was exactly, but she thought it was a marigold. To offer the bread and food to them, her family places it on the altar.

Analysis: Pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, is a typical part of Dia de los Muertos festivities, as is creating an altar for the living to offer things to their dead loved ones. The act of placing food on the altar for them seems like an idea based in homeopathic sympathetic magic, in that items given to photos of loved ones will also be given to their spirits in the afterlife. As the photo looks like the person, affecting it in some way will also affect the person, even once they’ve passed. The bread itself, to the informant, is essentially just a normal sweet bread, but the intent behind offering it is what matters, rather than anything special about the bread.

We’d Better Go In

Nationality: American
Primary Language: English
Other language(s): n/a
Age: 78
Occupation: Retired Nurse
Residence: Bountiful, UT
Performance Date: 11/25/2023

Tags: Ghosts, Ancestors, Family, Hospital

“I remember when my dad was in the hospital, dying of bone cancer. He was simultaneously stricken with horrible Alzheimer’s, which meant he could never tell you his pain level to give any indication of the necessary dosage for his medication. Therefore, he was under perpetual surveillance. My sister, her husband, and I paid him a visit at some point in time. My husband was out of town, otherwise, he would have been there too. I remember us three sitting outside on the porch, it was an old-folks hospital so they had porches like that, positioned right in front of the entrance to my dad’s room. We were talking about the ball game we had watched the night prior and some family gossip when all of a sudden, my brother-in-law said in the calmest tone, “B. just walked in, we’d better go inside.” B. is my older brother, well, was my brother as he died a few years back. Naturally, I was shocked when my brother-in-law reported his ghost entering my dad’s hospital room. We did as he suggested and went inside to see my father in an otherwise empty room. The nursing staff arrived shortly after, just as my dad’s eyes went big – he looked startled at something on the ceiling – and just a short three minutes after we walked in, Daddy died.”

Context: This story is from CV talking about her brother-in-law, GP. CV reports GP has always been a spiritual person, frequently recounting his encounters with the dead and ghosts. Before this occurrence, CV believed that when we die, familiar people come and “pick us up.” This story, then, was a confirmation of that, as her brother, B., supposedly came and picked up her father. She claims his eyes bulged and he looked shocked just before his passing, as he could see B. standing there to collect him, but nobody else could.

Analysis: This is a sort of ancestral ghost story, reminiscent of many religious perspectives, particularly Christian, of the afterlife. Dealing with the liminal moments just before a person dies, this tale gives an optimistic take on what happens after we die. That is, we rejoin with our deceased relatives and watch over our living ones. Many elements, such as the naming of the deceased B., walking inside the hospital minutes before CV’s father’s passing, being isolated from the hospital room, and the nursing staff arriving nearly simultaneously make this story difficult to explain via coincidence. However, I am okay with that, as I’d rather accept a positive afterlife over one filled with horror and eeriness.

Eritrean Wedding Day 1: Day of Blessings

Background provided by DG: DG was born and raised in Redlands, California. Both of their parents were born in west Africa, but more specifically Eritrea. Eritrea is located on the Horn of Africa and adjacent to the Red Sea. They belong to a specific tribe of Eritrea, called Blen (spelled Blien) After war broke out, both of their parents migrated to America.

Context: DG was approached about folklore, which they shared in the middle of the day. They were very enthusiastic about sharing parts of their culture because not many people are aware of Eritrean tradition and culture. They explain some general details about Eritrean weddings, which span for a minimum of three days. 

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information):

DG: “ So, the first day is … like … the day where they get married, where the bride and groom get blessings from their elders. Ummm … typically there’s A LOT of dancing. It’s like … shoulder dancing (raises shoulders up and down, almost like  shrugging)  … and like … they like kneel over their ancestors … and do their … like prayers.  They also dance with a stick like this (proceeds to pump fist in the air in a very rhythmic manner) … but there is also at one point …. I don’t know the cultural significance of it … but the bride and the groom … individually … like sit and everybody dances around them and they get this white blanket … it’s called a Gabi (proceeds to spell G-A-B-I). And they’d have someone sit with them … so for … like the bride, a little boy sits with them … and like the groom … a little girl sits with them … and they take the Gabi and throw it over (motions as if casting a net over an object) … and like that I guess. You go up … like that … and put it on like that … while you’re singing.” 

Me: “ So … is the Gabi … like … a cloth … or … is it ….?” 

DG: “It’s like a blanket. It’s … like handmade … I wanna say it’s like a cheese cloth, but like … it’s not … it’s cotton. It’s … like … multi-use. It’s like bringing .. the bride and … groom together like bringing the bride and groom over the threshold … or something like that .”

Analysis: This portion of an Eritrean wedding emphasizes the union of two individuals through symbolism and customs. The Gabi seems to be a tangible unifying object that close family and friends use to represent their approval. It seems like past, present, and future is represented in this ceremony. Ancestors are honored and respected. The married couples celebrate their union with loved ones. The young boy and girl who sit next the groom and bride are symbolic of future happiness either to have children or for the children to be happily married.

For more information about traditional Eritrean weddings including images please visit https://omar-safeer.blogspot.com/2014/08/wedding-tradition-in-eritrea.html.