Tag Archives: custom

Shaving Head after Father’s Death

Background provided by MN: MN is an individual who grew up in the Maharashtra state of India, where they learned 4 languages including Sanskrit. They recently moved to America for further education. This is a practice of MN’s specific culture, Hindu Brahman.

Context: As we talked about certain funeral proceedings, MN shared this information about the mourning period. This piece was collected in the early morning at the university as we were conversing about different cultural practices.

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

MN: “And also …like  if your father dies, the eldest son … who’s a boy … they cut their hair. Not completely … no actually … completely. If the mother dies, it’s the second son. 

Me: “What if you don’t have a second son?”

MN: “ mmmm … if you have a second son.” 

Me: “So let’s say you only have one son.”

MN: “The eldest son can choose to. They have a choice. It’s not compulsory, if you’re religious then you do it. Like … when my grandfather passed away, my uncle did it. It’s all a choice.” 

Analysis: This particular Hindu ritual is very interesting because it seems like a very spiritual and religious tradition. MN emphasizes two important aspects of this tradition: choice and religion. The son is not obligated to complete this ritual but is given a choice to perform it. In addition, the son can choose to perform this ritual based on his religious beliefs. The completion of this particular ritual is dependent on the son. Sons are not forced to complete this tradition, which emphasizes how it changes 

Another interesting aspect of this traditional ritual is the birth order of the performer. The eldest son is often seen as a great authority figure while the second eldest is perceived as a lower authority figure. This is telling of a patriarchal society that places higher importance on male heirs and their duties. The eldest son is seen as an authority figure, which is similar to how fathers are considered to be head of the household. After the father dies, the eldest son can choose to shave his head to commemorate his late father. Correspondingly, the second son can also shave his head to honor the death of his mother. The second son can be considered to be the support for the first son, much like mothers support their husbands. This ritual is only a portion of the funeral rituals that are performed by grieving loved ones, which reflects Indian values of family and tradition.

“Cracking an Egg” – Childhood Game

Text Transcribed from Informant

“Crack an egg on your head (mimes motion of breaking an egg on partner’s head), let it drizzle down, down, let it drizzle down, down, let it drizzle down, down.”

Context

Just like the “giving one the shivers” game, my informant learned of this custom/game in his elementary school years. Generally a student will say the text above outloud, while using their fingers to act out the actions being described in the text. When asked for his interpretation, my informant replied that this motion and speech based game, and other games like it, are called “giving one the shivers,” even though this specific one he knew simply as “cracking an egg.” He often played this game as a child, either reciting the words to other students and pretending to crack an egg over their head, or having the game recited to him and motions done upon him.

My Analysis

While I never played this specific game myself, I remember partaking in similar games to this as a child. I think the goal of the “game” is to provide the game’s participant an ASMR-like sensation. I think this folk game also speaks to the near universality of ASMR sensations, as well as adolescent inclinations to trying and recreate a head tingling sensation that doesn’t quite have a term for it.

Armenian Superstition About Newborn Babies

Explanation: Armenians have some superstitious custom not to show or introduce a newborn baby to friends, neighbors, or extended families for the first 40 days. It is believed that this is done for the safety and medical precaution for the baby, but it can also be done to protect the baby from the evil eye/ evil spirits.

Background Information: Widely popular Armenian custom for newborn babies. Almost every Armenian follows this precaution when they have a baby.

Context: The informant told me about this custom during a video call in which I asked her to tell me about an Armenian tradition/custom that she knows about.

Thoughts: As an Armenian myself, I have observed this custom being practiced in my own family when a member has had a baby. I think it is done to make sure that the baby is safe and healthy. Im sure it was done in the past because of the high infant mortality rate in the Armenian villages due to disease and malnutrition. This has translated to modern day even though, the chances of disease and malnurtrition in babies is much lower than before. I think the health of babies is so crucial for Armenians because of how important it is for them to continue on the Armenian culture/ heritage due to the Turkish attempt at genocide against Armenians in the early 20th century.

Armenian Tradition on Saint Sarkis Day

Explanation: Saint Sarkis day is celebrated on January 11th every year. St. Sarkis is believed to be the warrior patron of love and youth. There is a tradition where it is believed that an Armenian girl who is single should eat a homemade extremely salty cookie on St. Sarkis day. The saltiness of the cookie will make them very thirsty but they should not drink water so that when they go to sleep thirsty they will have a dream where a man will bring them water. In the dream, the guy who gives her a glass of water will be her future husband.

Background Information: Armenian tradition practiced on St. Sarkis day by young Armenian girls who want to see who their husbands will be.

Context: The informant told me about this proverb during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about an Armenian tradition that she knows about.

Thoughts: I believe that as the patron saint of love and youth, a good way to celebrate St. Sarkis Day is to incorporate love and youth into the holiday. I think this tradition also shows the importance and pressure that is put on Armenian women to be marriage minded. It could have roots in misogyny as there is no salty cookie for males to eat and see their future wives. I believe that this is done because women have always been expected to be submissive, strive for marriage and children, and to put other aspirations to the side. I think that this idea has changed a lot in the Armenian community, but traditions like these give a glimpse into what society was like a long time ago.

Honi Ihu/ Honi Honi (Hawaii Custom)

Context: KS was born and raised in Hawaii. She’s a really close friend of mine and is a senior at USC, studying psychology . I went over to her place one day and I asked her about some customs in her culture. She told me about honi ihu/ honi honi while she cooked dinner. 

YM: So what is a big custom you and your family have ? 

KS: Theres honi ihu/ honi honi which is just a hug and kiss on the cheek..both people at same time…that comes from the old belief of sharing the ha or breath of life

YM: Can you tell me about the breath of life in your culture?

KS: When I was young my auntys side of the family would always say honi honi and then proceed to do the mutual kiss on the cheek..honi means kiss

KS:I learned in school that this comes from the older tradition of touching noses and taking a deep breath when you meet people..this is called sharing the ha/ha which means breath

YM: What does it mean to you?

KS: To me when you greet someone with a honi honi it just expresses a genuine sense of both love and respect.

KS: I use it for family and close friends from there. It is a gesture that was taught to me by my mom, aunty and grandma..Hawaiian side.. that also makes me feel closer to them and other people from Hawaii 

KS:Since this is not how you greet people in American culture…it is a sort of bonding activity?…like I usually want to greet people with a hug because that is just how I was raised…. the whole handshake concept was very strange to me at first

YM: Awww that is so beautiful, thank you for sharing 

Analysis: I thought this was a beautiful custom. From what KS told me this custom was updated throughout the years, going from a touching nose to greet to mutually kissing both cheeks with a hug. The custom is practiced this way because the purpose of the customs is to share the breath of life. This belief and custom is similar to the eskimo kiss called kunik and the Maori greeting called the hongi where people actually touch noses to greet each other. It’s interesting how this culture decided to adapt or change up their greeting throughout the years. Either way kissing both cheeks and hugging is definitely a more intimate way to greet one another compared to American culture where a handshake is sufficient to greet someone. It seems this custom serves to create a bonding experience and well as promote more unification within the culture.  *****

For another version of this custom, please see pg 407 of Marriage Customs of the World: An Encyclopedia of Dating Customs and Wedding Traditions, 2nd Edition [2 volumes]: Volume 1, Edition 2, by George P. Monger