Tag Archives: dancing

Eritrean Wedding Dancing Tradition and Money

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). DG also identifies as being part of the Habesha ethnic group, which describes Roman Othodoc Christians in West Africa. 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 a specific Eritrean wedding practice involving money and dancing. 

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

DG: “ During the wedding … like the whole time … like if you’re dancing really well … they like stick money on you. And, typically … people like … really favor the bride and the groom … and like the bride and grooms’ parents … cause they’re like the ones that … spend the money. Ummm …. And they’ll just … like stick money on your forehead … or on your shirt … or whatever. That means … like you’re dancing … well … they do that the whole weekend.” 

Analysis: This custom is indicative of many Eritrean beliefs and values. One of them being is art of dancing. Dancing is often considered it own language because it conveys emotions and attitudes in a very physical and performative manner. DG explained how this custom rewards great performances, but seems to place an emphasis on recognition amongst peers. Another Eritrean value is the supportive community. DG explained how many would favor the groom/ bride and their parents because they are spending money on the wedding ceremonies. The whole community comes together to not only suport the union of two individuals, but also provide some form of financial support in a possible time of need. Lastly, it seems like Eritrean people are very physically affectionate. They are not shy about showing their appreciate to others who are dancing well by placing money on others.

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.

Eritrean Wedding Day 2: Melsi

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). DG also identifies as being part of the Habesha ethnic group, which describes Roman Orthodox Christians in West Africa. After the 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. The first day is known as the Day of Blessings.

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information):
DG: “The second day is … like the actual thing … they go to church. Umm .. cause we’re all Christian (laughs). And then, at the end of mass, they were like a crown … and like … a cape … like bridal cape … and they walk out of church wearing this. It’s like … more religious thing. They wear that thing and … take photos. This is like … the most American part of the wedding … like the bride is wearing like … a typical American gown.  Uhhh … when the bride … groom … walk in … they don’t have .. like a typical announcement. Like … the men … all the men enter … and the women stand in … like a procession and there’s like … a procession into the venue. Like everybody is standing outside and everybody enters … together. The men begin … then its the groomsmen … then the bridesmaids … then the bride and groom come in, together.  All the women are holding flowers as they … like  enter, so … like that procession … it … ALWAYS happens … like in American weddings I’ve seen they say “ Welcome, Mr. and Mrs.”, but … they never do that. It’s … like somebody always has like a … drum … it’s like a big drum and it goes like (rhythmically taps the desk to make a baaa-dumm baaa-dumm noise), then they sing … like … uhhh “Marshala, Marshala” (in sing-song voice). They always sing that song … it kinda means … like … umm welcome … or something. They sing and they dance, then they sit.  Then the bride and groom eat, and everybody eat.  And then everybody dances to Tigrinya music, the WHOLE time. And then … also … typically… they don’t do this so much anymore, but in a lot of weddings it’s called a gorshaw (spelled gorsha) … in a VERY traditional wedding they do gorshaw, where like … the bride and groom eat … the maid of honor … and the like … ummm … best man, they feed the bride and groom. They don’t touch their food, and that’s like called gorshaw … like …when someone else feeds you … is called gorshaw … cause its like a hand food … so like … they feed them. It doesn’t normally happen on the first day … cause like  … its much more traditional for the second day, cause that’s much more traditional. And then …  when there’s like … cake … in a VERY traditional … like when I see wedding videos from Eritrea … the bride and groom stand up after they eat the cake … and feed all their guests, and their guests feed them. Like that’s a very traditional thing, in the Eritrean culture, everybody is always feeding everybody. The second day it’s called a Melsi (proceeds to spell it M-E-L-S-E) … and like on that day … the majority of that day … the women are getting ready … because they have to get their hair … like braided … in traditional braids. And they also get … like henna. Like traditionally, you’re not supposed to get henna until … you’re like married … so he bride gets it all over their hands and feet … but like … the most someone who is not getting married can get is like a little dot right here (uses index finger to point to the center of their palm) … but like … yeah. They get their hair braided, henna, and like everyone wears sooyahs, which are like … cultural dresses. And that’s like the bridesmaids … and the groomsmen. You can also … I went to a wedding … where we were … like chiffon … it was my cousin’s wedding … and we wore like … chiffon. That’s like … much more fancy than … like a Sooyah. It’s kinda … like another party … with the same procession, but like … the bridesmaids at a certain point … do like a boon ceremony (spelled bun), which … is … like … coffee … and like the bridesmaids .. we  do … like a … dance … we’re supposed to do like a dance around the bride. We … uhh … carry  … like all the materials to make coffee. Everybody … like … dances around the table … and the … like older women make coffee, for like … the bridesmaids and the bride, not for the men. ONLY for the women. It’s like very traditional. Then … yeah … they’re married … and people party … Also people drink a lot of … uh soowah (spelled siwa),  Habesha alcohol.  Typically, someone … like … in the family makes it, before time. And they put it in bottles, and the bottles have … like stickers that have … have photos of the bride and groom. Then we eat ingerat (spelled injera), that’s like a traditional Eritrean dish.”

Analysis: Weddings are often big events. DG explains many of the intricacies involved with Eritrean weddings. The second day, Melsi seems to be the focal point of Eritrean traditions. The subtle variations of the traditions DG mentioned demonstrates the dynamic nature of culture as it relates to nuptial ceremonies. It seems like Eritrean weddings are occasions that involve the whole community in an extremely intimate event. The wedding also emphasizes the various stages of maturation, especially with the Bun and henna.

Jingle Dress Origin

Main Piece:

Informant: So the story behind the Jingle Dress dance is about a girl who was really sick and her dad really wanted her to get better. And he had a vision or a dream, one of those two, and if you put a 100 shells on a dress, cause that’s how they used to make them, and if she dances for 21 days, or something like that, then she would be healed. And he did exactly what, uh, it told him to and she was healed. Not they call the jingle dress dress dance a healing dance. But, that’s just like one of the different stories of why it was like that. There are multiple stories and things like that. But that’s the one I heard.

Interviewer: What other variations are there?

Informant: Well, that’s the only one I know, but other people say there are more.

Background:

The informant is a ten-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in fourth grade. She is also an Old-Fashioned jingle dress dancer which originates from the Ojibwe people. It is referred to as a healing dance and can be seen at Native American powwows across the United States and Canada.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. I asked if she could describe for me the origin story behind the jingle dress dance. 

Thoughts:

One of the greatest gifts given to mankind was movement. Along with the ability to think, we are able to actively engage with our environment. As Albert Einstein said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” Dance has long been a part of human culture, and in many cases, a key component in ritual and prayer. The jingle dress dance emphasizes the healing properties that dance can have on the mind and body. There are many variations of this story, such goes folklore. The jingle dress dance comes from the Ojibwe people and can be seen at powwows across the United States and Canada.

Dancing With the Devil

The informant’s family had been a traditional Mexican family then they moved to America and expanded their culture here. His parents were born and raised in Mexico and learned many cultural forms of folklore with the informant who was born in America. He shared some of the folklore that he was told that stuck with him as he grew older and more wise and mature. 

The Dance

Informant…

“Their was a woman in Mexico who wanted to go to this dance but her parents told her no you cant go, but she really wanted to go so she snuck out at night to go. So she went out to the dance and she was having a really good time. Some point while she was at the dance she met a guy and he seemed really cool, he was good looking, and well dressed. She started dancing with him and the party went on around them it was raging and exciting and a typical dance environment. The party progressed and my grandma described it to me that they were ballroom dancing. She looked around and noticed that there was no one there but her and the guy. She realized that they were just dancing alone and by this time it was late into the night and every one had been gone. She thought it was strange and looked back again and it was just her standing there and the guy was gone. She realized that she was just dancing by herself the whole time and she was alone the whole night. Frightened, she ran out of the dance place because she was so freaked out by what had happened and where the strange man came from. When she ran out, there was a black dog who chased her all the way to her house. The mom came to the door just as the girl was about to get there and said ““where the hell have you been its 2 o’clock in the morning!”” The girl was screaming crying that a dog was chasing her so the mom beat the dog with a broom, scratched it on the eye and the dog ran away. The next day in the town there was a weird creepy man. The creepy man had a patch on his eye and it was bruised up pretty badly. The story infers that the creepy man is supposed to be the Devil.”

The informant also stressed, “the message it is trying to get across is you better listen to your mother because you might end up dancing with the devil or doing the devil’s work.”

The informant said that this wasn’t necessarily meant to have any meaning behind it, but once his grandmother told him this he was put on the right path and was so freaked out that he would be home every night by ten o’clock, or he wouldn’t talk to any type of stranger. This story was creepy enough to the point where he wanted to listen to his parents when they said no.

Analysis…

I was able to collect folklore information from two Latina descendants. In this culture it seems common where the stories are created for the children to get them to get on the right track. The legends, myths, tales, and family tales all have a way to persuade the children to act the way the parents want them to ask whether that is a scare tactic or giving the children a saint to look up to. In the culture I’m use to, it is common where stories are told to direct children in the paths that their parents want but it is more common where the legends, myths, or tales are told to confuse the older generations. We talk about the existence of aliens, Bigfoot, vampires, werewolves, or any other strange tales that are told to our older generations. It is interesting how the folklore is geared to attract different age groups of people.