Tag Archives: belief

Kwanzaa Traditions

Context: The informant, a 19 year old college student, was engaged in a conversation about Kwanzaa and how her family celebrates this holiday.

Piece:

Informant: Um, ok. So, Kwanzaa. Um, I have celebrated it before. Um, it’s a family thing, my family celebrates Kwanzaa. Uh, I’m black, um ‘cause you can’t see me on the audio so just to make that… clear to all the listeners. Um, so basically it takes place the day after Christmas and it ends on January 1st. And it’s my favorite way to close out the year and basically it’s kinda a reflection on the whole year and each day it’s a different principle where you remind yourself of like um basically like whether or not you really perform those principles or not. One of them is Kujichagulia which is self-determination, they are all in Swahili um so yeah that’s a word we explore for a day— like how well do you fulfill your own personal goals. There’s also Umoja which is unity, um there’s seven of them yeah. So the traditions that happen are that every single night the whole family gets together and you eat a meal and you set the meal on an mkeka which is like a straw mat. And you eat specific foods— some foods we eat are corn, red beans and rice, soul food— things like that. And then we talk about the principle and then we light a candle on the thing— there is also a Swahili name for it.

Collector: So why is this tradition important to you?

Informant: Kwanzaa is important to me because um well for one it’s a way for me to connect to my African ancestry, which is something I don’t do in my daily life because slavery took that away from me. And on another hand, because um it’s one of the very few traditions my family has, we don’t do a lot of things every year, but like Kwanzaa and celebrating with the people at my church is something we have done consistently and so I value that we have kept that up

And uh yeah Kwanzaa was created in the 60s by a guy who is now shamed in the black community because he was put on trial for very brutally abusing women and he was a professor at some school in California, some university, I kinda wanna say it was CalState Longbeach or something like that. Um, but he no longer is a professor there and now is under harsh scrutiny from the black community and he is bad but Kwanzaa is good. A lot of people celebrate Kwanzaa but a lot of people shit on that man. And it was really big in the 60s because of the civil rights movement, and afterwards people stopped celebrating as much but I still do because of my family and my church.

Background: This informant is a black female college student at USC who celebrates Kwanzaa with her family regularly. She loves celebrating Kwanzaa because it connects her back to her African roots. She has often said that she feels the pressure from society and people around her to be “less black” and this holiday helps her celebrate just that.

Analysis:Kwanzaa is celebrated throughout the United States but because I am not part of the celebrating community, I was never taught about the traditions. This holiday in particular lends itself to folklore as the entire holiday revolves around the preservation of African culture and tradition. The fact that Kwanzaa champions principles is interesting as it passes along ideals through the traditions, emphasizing what people should focus on and influencing Kwanzaa celebrators’ everyday lives.

For other traditions practiced during Kwanzaa, see: Pleck, Elizabeth. “Kwanzaa: The Making of a Black Nationalist Tradition, 1966-1990.” Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 20, no. 4, 2001, pp. 3–28. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27502744.

Wet Hair Outside Superstition

“Leaving the house with wet hair is bad luck.”

Context: The informant is the grandmother to the collector and this spoken superstition occurred naturally during her visit to Los Angeles from Chicago. When the collector was leaving their house with wet hair after taking a shower, the informant remarked on their appearance poorly, by stating that wet hair outside is bad luck. The collector has heard this superstition on multiple occasions from the informant.

Informant Analysis: The informant said that when you get ready to leave the house after taking a shower, you should dry your hair with a blow dryer so that it is not wet outside. Although she did not say she believed it would cause bad things to happen, this little superstition was told to her from an early age. She noted that, while it may not be an omen of bad luck, having wet hair when you go outside is unmannered and sloppy. Every person, according to her, should learn these simple tasks as a child. By making it a superstition, it was her assumption that children would be more likely to listen.

Collector Analysis: Although I am no longer a child, I have heard her say this to me many times. I believe there are three ways to analyze this superstition: its formation, its content, and the speaker’s identity. To begin with its formation, it is interesting that this superstition is perhaps not meant to be viewed as a superstition at all, but a trick played on children. It is often the case that children choose to not follow the command of their parents or grandparents either out of the urge to rebel or the disapproval in the purpose of the command. In many ways, it may be seen as easier to have a child do something if it is not coming from the mouth of the parental figure. In providing a make-belief statement, that wet hair outside is bad luck, the command becomes an implication to act a certain way. The statement itself then sounds like an self-beneficial objective belief rather than a subjective parental belief on what one should do. Furthermore, if the audience of this command is for children, it is perhaps more likely that a child would believe in a superstition and act upon it than an adult would. If a child has greater tendency to believe in superstition, it would only follow that the utilization of superstition would work well in guiding their actions. While the formation of command into superstition changes the meaning completely, we can also look at the substance of the superstition itself– wet hair and outside.

The informant had grown up in New York and had moved to Chicago as an adult. One commonality between these places is that they both have extremely cold winters. Leaving the house with wet hair could be seen as dangerous and ill-advised if there is a greater likelihood of getting sick from the cold by doing it. If we parallel this idea to the common folk belief of putting on more clothes or,  you are going to catch a cold! , there seems to be some similarity between the two pieces of folk speech; specifically, the danger of being needlessly colder than one has to and cold being the cause of sickness.

Lastly, it is very informative to note the relation of the informant to the superstition. The informant was born in 1946 in a Irish Roman Catholic neighborhood where there were strict rules on how one should dress and style themselves. Her family was not wealthy by any means, so there was some emphasis on trying to not appear poor. Part of the not-poor-look was to always leave the house well-dressed with your hair styled and dry. In this time period, perhaps too generally speaking, there was more emphasis on presenting oneself to the world in a mannered way. In this regard, having wet hair when leaving the house was looked upon poorly because it could be mistaken for not having time, money, or self-respect. Today, the code of manners in the United States is much laxer. Wet hair would currently, at most,  connote that an individual took a shower.

Snow Day Ritual

Description

“You would hear there was a snow coming, a big storm, and in order to secure the snow day, you would do the pre-snow day ritual. What you would do is wear your pajamas backwards, then flush three ice cubes down the toilet. While the ice cubes were being flushed you would chant ‘I love snow days.’ The ice needed to be gone, your pants needed to be backwards, and then you had to do it until the ice cubes were gone. If it worked, you were a genius, and if it didn’t work, you were pretty stupid.”

Context

The informant reported that in Michigan, where they are from, snow days are incredibly important to school culture. This ritual would be used when the informant was in school, usually in the winter, to attempt to secure a snow day, which involved shutting down school for a day due to inclimate weather.

Analysis

A lot of students have been heard of doing this — I had similar snow day rituals that the students believed, often well into high school. I find this sort of thing very cool because where does it come from? At what point, after the invention of the modern school day began, did something like this start, and how did it become customary for students? My own personal idea is that it comes from other rituals to ward off evil, but is a children’s bastardization of that idea, creating their own.

 

Removing Evil Spirits from a Beauty Salon

Nationality: American / Bosnia-Herzegovina

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Serbian

Age: 54

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 10, 2017 (via Skype)

 

 

Sania is a 54- year old women born and raised in Bosnia-Herzegovina and emigrated to the United States over 34 years ago.  She is the owner of a beauty salon in New York City.

 

Many more people are realizing (and I have come strongly to believe) that energy, good and bad can affect everything in life, from health to work. A few years ago, my salon was having trouble with my website, e-commerce, phone lines, and we couldn’t figure it out. One particular day, my website crashed, for no reason, and the back up company said they had never seen this before, and lost their file as well. I told a friend who is also a famous photographer, and he brought in some energy healers.  They basically walk around the salon to check out every corner, mirrors, etc.  They then took my energy to be at the same sequence as me.. and little did they know there was an acquaintance who basically tried to steal my identity. They cleansed the mirrors, cleansed the windows (I was directly facing the church, which wasn’t good).. and used sage and diamonds and other jewels to cleanse the place. They told me my website would be running within a few hours.. sure enough that night my daughter called so excited because the pages of my website went up. By morning everything was running. Phone lines running well, etc. Now they come every few months to make sure things are ok. The last visit, they noticed one of the mirrors had something bothersome and they placed a card over the mirror (from a distance), and then my LOCKED French Doors flew open.  This never happens even if they were somewhat open! They said people look into this mirror when entering, and people carry all kinds of energy. It can be intentional or accidental. But good to use sage, at the very least for cleansing. These women are scholars from Brown, and I believe Harvard. I have become a believer, and they helped many people I have referred them to.

 

 

 

Thoughts about the piece:

This informant is a sophisticated American business owner that relates her success to her respect for old traditions. A similar Native American practice is described here: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-17875/a-sage-smudging-ritual-to-cleanse-your-aura-clear-your-space.html

 

 

 

 

Compliment or Curse?

Informant: The informant is Thomas, a fifty-five-year-old man who has lived in Westchester, New York for his entire life. He is a financial consultant for hospitals, has two children, and is of English and Russian descent.

Context: We sat across from each other at the kitchen table in Thomas’s house one afternoon during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: When I was little, my grandmother always told me about her belief that if I, or anyone for that matter, complimented something in her home, she felt that I wished her dead because I wanted the item. I was at her house one day when I was about twelve years old, and she had just gotten a new coffee table in her living room. I admired it, and she responded, “You wish me dead!” Then she went to my dad and said, “Your son wishes me dead; she wants my coffee table.”

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like this piece of folklore because after she died, my family said that I should be the one to get the coffee table. It’s still in my living room today, and every time I look at it, I smile and recall what she told me.

Personal Thoughts: I think that this piece of folklore is interesting because I had never heard of someone being offended by a compliment, or taking a compliment as a curse. What I like most about Thomas’s story is that his family got involved in accepting and appreciating the folklore after his grandmother had passed and gave him the coffee table. In a sense, the tradition can then say alive through Thomas.