Tag Archives: customs

Los Encantados

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican
Age: 77
Occupation: none
Residence: Los Angeles and Mexico City
Date of Performance/Collection: April 24, 2020
Primary Language: Spanish
Other Language(s):

Main piece: 

The following was transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer. 

Informant: Well a popular game we played back then… I don’t know if you guys play this since everyone is on a screen now but back then we played outside. Have you heard of los encantados?

Interviewer: Oh yes that’s still a thing. I played with my cousins and with my sister in Mexico. 

Informant; Oh that’s good. So you know how it works. Do you want me to still tell you? 

Interviewer: Yeah I want to hear it from you. Can you describe how it’s played? 

Informant: Yeah of course. So you start in a circle and everyone puts their toes in and you do the little song to randomly pick the person who’s it. The other people have one minute to hide and after that minute… the person counting… she ends up or he… he or she starts searching for the others. The person who’s it must touch the person hiding and if they do then they freeze them. So they can’t move until someone else touches them. And the game ends when all the hiders are frozen or tagged. 

Background: My informant here was my grandma who’s staying with us during COVID-19. She was born in Guadalajara, Mexico but lives in the U.S. with us for the most part. She says that she did not have a lot of time to play outside because her parents wouldn’t let her out and would keep her busy with house chores, but that los encantados is one of the few games that she did play, especially with her 2 sisters. She’s known this game since she was a teen and encourages us to play outside like this game requires. She does not like that very young kids are on screens all the time. 

Context: On the last day I asked my grandma for any games in particular that she remembers from when she was young. Or a game that is played a lot in Mexico. And she said that she did not know of games but then she remembered los encantados. She proceeded with the game rules while outside. 

Thoughts: I find it curious that this game, which I think is the Spanish version of “freeze tag” still exists because it has been around for a long time. Times change and less and less young kids and teens do outside activities. Most of the time, they find some kind of electronic device to entertain themselves but I loved this game when I was younger. And I still see my younger cousins playing it so I feel like it’s a traditional and simple game that has withstood technological innovation. I find it pretty cool that it’s still known and people still play it. 

Flat Chopsticks

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Native Hawaiian
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angels
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context: MC is a Vietnamese undergraduate student at USC. She’s currently studying cinematic arts and is my friend. One day when we were hanging out I asked her if she had any beliefs she and her family followed. 

YM: So what are some beliefs or superstitious things you and your family follow? 

MC: Well a big one is that when we use chopsticks we always lay them flat when we aren’t using them. if they’re vertical that kind of means you’re offering to feed the spirits

YM: can you give more insight about the chopsticks belief ? Do you happen to know why this belief came about ?

MC: When we worship our ancestors, it’s tradition to bring them food like the dia de los muertos altar 

MC: So we stick chopsticks vertically to signal that it’s for the spirits…and they say not to do that in everyday life to not signal them if we aren’t actually offering it. 

YM: Would something bad happen if you were to leave your chopsticks vertical when you aren’t using them ? 

MC: Hmm I’m not sure, I dont think it’s bad as a spirit will try to haunt you but maybe you’ll invite spirits into your home because you’re offering to feed them, and no one wants spirits in their home !…. it’s just one of those things you aren’t supposed to do

YM: Yeah right ! so you believe this? 

MC: I don’t really believe it but since its tradition I still follow it 

Background info: MC identifies herself as Mein and she grew up following this belief, which was told by her mom and grandma. 

Analysis: It seems this folk belief sets up the way the Lu Mein people think about the world. Having done some research during a funeral one leaves the chopsticks upright because it’s a way to portray the ritual of incense burning which symbolizes feeding the dead or death in general. As well as belief, laying your chopstick flat is also a form of etiquette (custom) when eating. This belief and custom also seems to be liminal since it’s in between this world and the spiritual world. Since it has to do with the dead or death itself, not following this etiquette may bring bad luck. 

Korea’s First Birthday Tradition, Dol-jabi

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: Early 50s
Occupation: Housewife
Residence: South Korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 17
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

Main Piece:

This is a translation from a conversation with my mom about first birthday traditions in Korea. She is identified here as M and I am identified as IC.

IC: Can you tell me about Dol-jabi?

M: Dol-jabi is a tradition where you get the baby to grab something on their first birthday to predict their future. Like, they’ll become this kind of person or become someone who likes this. This has been a tradition for a very long time. First birthdays were a big deal in Korea because there weren’t many babies who lived past their first birthday due to the harsh, poor conditions of living many families faced. So, the first birthday Dol-jabi was celebrating the baby for living a whole year and predicting their future.

For you and your brother I placed a ball of thread, money, pencil and rice-cake.

Thread means that you’ll live a long life because the thread won’t snap. Money means you’ll become rich and pencil means that you’ll study well. Rice-cake means that you will grow up not worrying about food.

IC: What did my brother grab?

M: Your brother grabbed money and pencil. Normally, you grab one and it’s done but I waited for one more, because why not?

IC: Do you remember which one my brother grabbed first?

M: I think he got money first.

IC: What about me?

M: You grabbed thread first and then money. But nowadays, that has changed and parents will put a lawyer’s gavel, stethoscope, microphone and other various things to predict specific jobs since a pencil is vague.

IC: What I find fascinating about this is that a one-year-old baby don’t know anything, and they just grab something out of curiosity, but adults will look and be like ‘yay, our kid will become a doctor!’ It’s fun, but in a way also strange.

M: Yeah, that’s true but it’s just fun and traditional. That’s why we do it.

Background:

In Korean tradition, first birthdays are important and and dol-jabi is a traditional Korean activity. It can be somewhat translated to an occupational reveal activity since it is more specific to types of occupations now. But this translation would have been inaccurate during my generation and older as it wasn’t specific to an occupation.

Context:

This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I had remembered about my mom telling me about this tradition and thought it would be an interesting collection for this project.

Thoughts:

I think this tradition was supposed to be something fun for the parents and relatives to predict their child’s future. Because it used to be broad and related to general success in life, it was a casual activity. The kind of activities they place now has changed and I kind of feel a generational difference. With my generation the meaning of items were broad but now it’s specific to jobs and it’s more likely that it won’t be accurate.

Giving Monetary Gifts that End in One

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian American
Age: 20
Occupation: USC business student
Residence: Southern California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/19/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hindi

NA is describing an Indian custom around the amount of money you should give a gift. 

NA: There is also like when you give gifts, you don’t give like 50 or 100. You give like 51 or 101. It can be any hundred amount, but it can’t be like a ten is has to end in one. 

C: Is it related to luck or anything like that?

NA: I guess it’s so like that, Indian people see it as, when I give you 100 it’s like a hundred full stop. When you do 101 it is like money will keep coming to you. 

Context

NA is a 20 year old USC business student who comes from a Sindhi Hindu family from India. She grew up in southern California as an active Hindu going to temple and fasting on Mondays and active in her Hindu tradition. She is also my roommate and I asked her about folklore she had related to her Indian background.  This information was taken from a casual interview conducted with NA over Facetime. 

Analysis

One explanation for addition of the $1 is that it represents the continuation of wealth. It also makes the gift more meaningful by showing the recipient that not only are they providing money but also a blessing of the sort for you to be more successful in the future. Thus, making a gift that may seem somewhat impersonal more meaningful. I also found a tradition of giving a single Rupee coin when a larger monetary amount is not given. Thus, showing an aversion to the finality and absence the number zero represents. In contrast to the potential form growth represented through the number one. Additionally, even though zero comes before one, one is the number we start counting with. As a result, the giving of a Rupee coin is often giving on occasions that represent new beginnings, such as a wedding 

Dia de Los Muertos Alter

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican American
Age: 21
Occupation: College of the Canyons student
Residence: San Fernando Valley
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Interviewer: So you were saying about Dia de Los Muertes?

SR: Yeah so Dia de Los Muertes is like a special thing for my family and I didn’t really know about it until I was 13. I think I turned 13 when someone in my family had recently past away and they were like “oh, let’s start this tradition again.” We had made the alter, “La Obra” that when we put like the pictues of like our dead one and like the belief about it is that you get to spend that one day with them and like their spirit comes and spends a moment in our home. It is kind of like comforting thing as they are like beign in the other world. I guess it is also guiding them in a way too. I heard that you put a glass of water out. It is for like their long trip walking and it is, you know stuff like that. Giving them and offering them and offering them the things they like here on earth. And it could be like traditionally like a shot of tequilla or a ban de muerto which is very traditional and then like their favorite food which could be like pozole or tacos honestly, but we keep those out because our belief is that they actually do come into our household or wherever the alter may be and they spend that moment with us here on earth. 

Interviewer: So do you only do it for those who have recently died? 

SR: No, we do it for everybody. So I have I want to say my great, great, great grandpa and from that generation on, like people we have pictures for. It could be anybody.

Interviewer: And who taught you about it and showed you how to do it?

SR: My mom, yeah I think my mom. It is because my grandpa is buried in Sacramento and since we live in {somewhere in Southern California}it is like a long trip right so they only way she feels connected to him for that one day. 

Context

SR is a 20 year old student who attends college of the canyons in Santa Clarita. This conversation took place over a casual FaceTime call when I asked her is she had any folklore I could use for the database. She comes from a Catholic Mexican household and has lived in Southern California her whole life. 

Analysis

This excerpt shows the connection Dia de Los Muertos offers to the people that practice it with their loved ones that have passed away. The tradition in SR’s household was not brought back until there was a more recent death and was a desire to connect with them. Despite being focused on keeping the connection with a more recently deceased family members there is an emphasis on including all the people you can. Her great, great, great grandfather is someone she would never have met, but still earned his place on her alter simply by being a part of her family. Thus, showing the importance of family in Mexican culture and seeing the value in staying connected with your anscestors after they have passed on. Additionally, doing it for much older members of your family better ensure that those that come after you will do the same for you long after you are gone. 

Showering After Funerals

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian American
Age: 20
Occupation: USC business student
Residence: Southern California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/19/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hindi

NA: Um, also after funerals you have to take a shower. 

Interviewer: And this is everyone or just those who want to participate?

NA: And like some people will do to the extent that even when they get a phone call of someone dying they take a shower. 

Interviewer: Do you have any idea why or what it means?

NA: So my mom thinks it’s because in India like when you go to the funeral. You know here they like put preservatives and what not in the body. So there, there were no preservatives so there was a lot of bacteria and what not and so people were like, “oh my god, it is like on you” because you went to the funeral. Also, in India when you have the funeral they like they burn the body like in person. You know how here if you cremate, here it goes in a machine, but there they literally set fire to it and collect the ashes, so it is on you. So that also is why my mom thinks that you do it, but she is like not a hundred percent sure. She doesn’t know why people do it when you get the phone call, but I think it was like something that it was like every time you go to a funeral you have to shower and that was brought here and people just escalated it. 

Context 

NA is a 20 year old USC buisness student whose family is from India. She grew up in southern California and is still very connected with her Sindhi culture. She is also my roommate and I asked her about folklore she had related to her Indian background. This information was gathered from an informal interview conducted over Facetime.

Analysis

This ritual is about the right way to clean after a funeral or hearing of death. Potentially for both physical and emotional reasons. In India, there were likely practical purposes for showering from the smoke in the air from the burning of the body and the potential diseases carried in the body. However, it is significant the practice has remained after the practical necessity is no longer there. Furthermore, it is also practiced when only hearing about a death, therefore, there must be something more that keeps the practice alive. The showering may also be tied to “feeling dirty” after having an encounter with death. It may have started as a practical purpose, but has shifted to keep the practice alive. Potentially stemming from seeing death the body as impure and needing to regain that by washing yourself and changing your clothes.

It can also be a way of moving on after death. The funeral signifies the last goodbye to our loved ones and personal hygiene is likely to be neglected during the grieving process and funeral rights. After the rights are over, this can signify the need to start taking care of your own health and well-being again. 

Indian Holiday of Karva Chauth

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian American
Age: 20
Occupation: Business student at USC
Residence: Southern California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/19/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hindi

NA: Ok so there is this holiday called Karva Chauth and you have to fast for your husband’s long life all day until you see the moon and then you have to do this weird thing and nobody knows why you do this but like you take a flour sifter and you hold it up to the moon at the end of the day before you break your fast. Nobody knows why the hell you do this, but you have to hold it up to the moon. When you do that, you do it at night, and once you do that you can break the fast.

Interviewer: Okay, and who participates in this?

NA: So it’s is only women and it can be like women that are married, like I can do it for my future husband like I don’t even have to know him. It is just for the long life of my husband. My grandma did it, so my maternal grandma stopped doing it after her husband passed away and my other grandma when her husband passed away she did it for my dad, so she did it for her son. It’s just women and then some men will do it for my long life so I’ll fast with them, um but otherwise men don’t have to do it. They really don’t have to show up until the end of the night when you do that flour sifting thing.

Context

NA is a 20 year old USC buisness student whose family India. She grew up in southern California, but is very conencted with her Sindhi culture. She is also my roommate and I asked her about any folklore she had relating to her Indian background. This information was gathered from an informal interview conducted over Facetime. For further context related to this story she is a single woman who has never been married. 

Thoughts

This holiday emphasizes the importance of the woman’s role as a wife and mother in Indian culture. Although it is not unique to Indian culture, it shows the importance of the role of women while men do not have the same obligation as a husband to bless their wives in the same way. It also shows the power of rituals. NA and her family perform the ritual because they believe in its power. However, that does not mean they know exactly why the particulars of the rituals are there. Thus, showing the level of trust in what has been passed down through the generations and how that can be effective without knowing why. 

Additionally, this ritual shows the connection between femininity and the moon that is seen in many cultures around the world. It seems as though women are using their connection with the moon to bless their husbands, demonstrating the power of that connection. Fasting also is a common symbol of religious observance in the Hindu faith with many religious holidays involving a fast, and many Hindu’s fasting on particular days of the week to show reverence towards the corresponding god. 

Ghost Parties in Thailand

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Thai American
Age: 24
Occupation: Student
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 30 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: So, like, my family is kinda, like, the official designated ghost family in my village. And my family is from this very small, um, place, kinda outside of Chiang Mai, like 30 minutes outside of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Um. And so my mom, even though she was adopted– so she doesn’t have this official designation, but it’s my family, they basically take care of all the ghosts in the village. And the ghosts are like the ancestors of all of the families that live there and each generation, they have a special woman that they picked out, that’s like part of the bloodline, and.. it can’t be a man, it has to be a woman, and she’s like the keeper of the ghosts. Um, and so it used to be my grandma, and now it’s, um, its fallen to, like, one of my aunties, and now it’s with my cousin who– lemme tell you about my cousin, her name is {name}, and she has like a very severe, like.. learning disability.. So she’s the new keeper of the ghosts. And its, its, kind of interesting because, like, she can’t work, she can’t have a job, she can’t marry.. She’s very, very frail and very thin, but.. It’s kinda nice, cuz now she’s the one that has this responsibility. 

Collector: Right, right, she doesn’t need to… Does she makes money off this?

Informant: No, no, it’s not– it’s more of like a communal village position. But the village is like one big extended family. Y’know. And all of our ancestors are everyone else’s ancestors. And we have one little temple in the very center, y’know, we go to like, mass– it’s like Buddhist mass, basically, on Sundays. Um, so.. But anyways, every eight years there’s what we call like a ghost party. I missed the last couple cuz I was in school, um, but basically every eight years it’s like throwing a big party for all of the ghosts. Like, all of the ancestors, and you get, like, all the food gets spread out.. Spirits in Thai culture are very hungry.. They’re basically like, the ultimate hedonists, they just wanna consume everything. And so you give them, like, entire spreads of like chicken, and food, and like carnations, flowers, they love cigarettes, you get them a lot of cigarettes, they really like, um, whiskey, so you give them a lot of whiskey. Um, and it’s like, everyone gets drunk and gets together, and the process of getting drunk with your family members and your village, its like the spirits come, and they’re getting drunk, and they’re eating with you. 

Collector: This is all so interesting.. When, when you say taking care of the ghosts, you mean like giving them offerings, and keeping the altars clean? 

Informant: Yeah, so it’s kinda like that, it’s also kinda like, part of the spirit lore is like, they’re ghosts, so its like human ancestors, and another part of it is like, like, a lot of high-elf fantasy stuff, like, kind of speaks true to Thai culture, where like before the humans came, there were spirits in the forest. And these spirits are very old, and they had been there for like millennia. And they owned the forest, that’s their domain, and like, in Thailand, you know, we cut down the forest, we lived there and we farmed, and so we need to like, give back to the spirits. 

Context: The informant is a close friend of mine, and is a Thai-American young woman. She lived in Thailand for several years with her mother, before they both moved to Southern California.

Analysis: This is possibly my most exciting collection, seeing how I have a friend who has thrown a ghost party before. This experience is obviously personal to not only my informant, for also for the entire village. They do not differentiate their own ancestors from the village ancestors, which ties the entire village together, even after death. It is interesting that Thai spirits are considered to be hungry, as I have seen previous examples of hungry ghosts in Korea and Japan, all of which stem from Buddhism. I also find it interesting that only woman can serve the ghosts, as previously mentioned.

Filipino Funeral Etiquette

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino-American
Age: 24
Occupation: Electrical Engineer
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 28 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: Another story is something that happened to my dad when he was at a funeral. I guess the folklore part is that, uh, when you’re at a funeral, you shouldn’t be, ah, like, overly, I guess, happy-looking? Because it’s disrespectful to the dead, um, and, well, the way it goes is if you do that, then the dead person at the funeral will haunt you.

Um, so when my dad was at this funeral, I think it was a funeral– I don’t know if he knew the person, but he was with, ah, his own family members, and they were goofing around, i think they were like gambling in the back, while the funeral was going on. So, ah, that was happening, and then, all of a sudden, the, ah, corpse stood up– or not stood up, sat up in the coffin, and then it stared at my dad and his group, and I can’t remember if he said it screamed or not, but essentially it, after staring at them, it fell back down.

Collector: Do you know why it happened??

Informant: Well, because, ah, they were gambling at this person’s funeral! Because it was possessed by the ghost of the dead person, presumably. 

The worst part of it was that, uh, yeah, basically like a bit of a curse placed on them,, ah, I can’t remember what my dad said for the other people who were there, but he said for like a month, whenever he would, ah, close his eyes and try to sleep, he would get like flashes of the face of the dead person, just like staring at them. 

Context: My informant is a close friend of mine, and is a Filipino American young man. His father is an immigrant from the Philippines, and has extended family still living there.

Analysis: I wish I had had the chance to interview my informant’s father about this experience, as he apparently had personally witnessed it. It is interesting that when I asked my informant why this happened, he answered as if it was obvious– because his father had disrespected the deceased. This piece of folklore seems to act as a warning to never disrespect the dead at their own funeral.

Color Code of the Laces of Doc Martens

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino-American
Age: 23
Occupation: Student
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Piece:

Informant: So i just know, like, like, lace codes, like how you wear your laces in a certain– certain colors mean certain things, so, like, obviously white laces mean you’re a white supremacist, I think purple is– I think purple’s skinhead– yeah, white’s white pride, blue is you killed a cop, red’s neo nazi, national front– yellow’s anti racist, oh, i think purple’s gay pride, black is no affiliation. Yeah, I remember that.

Context: The informant is a close friend of mine, and is a Filipino-American young woman. She considers this to be common knowledge among the punk scene, though she acknowledges that each lace color could be interpreted in many different ways.

Analysis: As someone who is not heavily associated with the punk scene, this was not common knowledge for me. After doing some research, I found that an individual color could have many different (and sometimes, completely contradictory) meanings, depending on the region. Furthermore, many different folk groups seem to use this color code. Even the punk scene has numerous subgroups, so it quickly becomes impossible to assign a universal meaning for any color. For example, though my informant told me that blue laces indicate that you have killed a cop, I have found other sources saying that blue laces mean you support the police.

Many of the meanings my informant supplied me with are quite heavily involved in either fascist or anti-fascist groups, which suggests that lace codes are most heavily used by those who consider themselves to be “anti-establishment”. The SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) website confirms that, generally speaking, red or white laces indicate belief in white supremacism.

Racist Skinhead Glossary. (2015). Retrieved 2020, from https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2015/racist-skinhead-glossary