Tag Archives: Dead

The Day of the Dead

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican
Age: 76
Occupation: None
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/26/2020
Primary Language: Spanish
Other Language(s):

Main piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between informant and interviewer. 

Informant: The day of the dead for example. This one is very popular throughout Latin America too. And it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor… everyone celebrates November 1st and 2nd. There are festivals in the streets and everyone buys those skulls that your mom has as decorations. Some make them and paint them. And they’re very colorful. You can paint them any color you want and add a bunch to it so it looks nice. 

Interviewer: Do you make them or buy them? Or how do you celebrate it? 

Informant: We set pictures of them. We prepare their favorite foods and drinks. We get openwork paper and we adorn with sugar skulls and tequila… every family sets at least one bottle. Umm. bread too. Candles and wine and there. And that’s set before the 1st. And it’s there the 1st and 2nd. And on the 3rd day you don’t throw it.

Interviewer: Do you eat it? 

Informant: Yes, it basically means that your dead are sharing their food with you so you can eat. 

Background: My grandpa was my informant. He was born and raised in Guadalajara and did not travel to the U.S. until a couple years ago. He has lived in Mexico for about 70 years so he knows of a lot of Mexican traditions. He has been celebrating this one every year from as far as he can remember and that it’s a special day for him because he is able to feel the presence of his dead. 

Context: This conversation was held on the patio. I was playing basketball and I came to sit down and rest and my grandpa had been watching me and I asked him about a big tradition he does. I’m really close to him so it was easy to ask him for more information about a tradition or festival he celebrates for part of my collection project. He was very happy to help. 

Thoughts: I personally haven’t celebrated it but I know it’s a big tradition across hispanic cultures. Even in my family my grandparents are big on it and my mom to a lesser extent too. They make very good food and drinks and have a very nice and colorful set up these two days. They never talk to the spirits but it’s a way for them to remember their dead and welcome them for a family dinner again. Some people might think it’s spooky but it’s not. The dead are not mourned but actually celebrated. 

Waluhmaloo Bird

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican-American
Age: 22
Occupation: student/nanny
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 28 April 2014
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

The informant (L) is a 22 year old film student at the California State University Los Angeles. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma until leaving for college after high school. She attended camp many summers during her middle and high school years. She told me the story of the Waluhmaloo bird that is told at Camp Waluhili in Chouteu, Oklahoma. She had never seen a written version of this story, so the spelling of Waluhmaloo is just a guess. The story is told by the older campers and counselors to the younger campers (who are as young as seven) when they are taking their first hike to the Indian graveyard. L was both told this story when she was a younger camper and later told this story to the younger campers when she was older. Below is a paraphrased version of her story:

“The camp is on an Indian graveyard. When the white people were attacking the Indians a long time ago, the Indians needed protection. The magical Waluhmaloo bird made a deal with the Indians that he would protect their graves if they agreed to stop hunting the Waluhmaloo birds. The Indians agreed and even now, the Waluhmaloo bird protects their graves and will cause something bad to happen to you if you disrespect the graves. Before you enter the graveyard, you have to spin around three times and say out loud that you believe in the Waluhmaloo bird. Once you go into the graveyard, if you step on a grave, you have to say you’re sorry out loud to the graves. ”

This story seems to give something for the older campers to distinguish themselves from the younger campers. The passing of the story from older campers to younger campers is a rite of passage and effectively lets the younger and older campers share something. This story may also remain popular with campers over the years because it gives a way to deal with the tension formed by being so close to not only a graveyard, but a graveyard of what are now seen as a group that the American government and people treated very unjustly in the past. There is a hesitance within American culture to deal with the dead, as if remains somehow hold some special property. This is symbolized by the Waluhmaloo bird, who is there to make sure the graves are not disrespected. I am not sure if the camp is actually on or near an Indian graveyard, and I was unable to find any more information about the practice through internet searches. I don’t really think that the realness of the graveyard matters as long as the campers themselves believe it is there, and that it is real.

Cross yourself when you speak of the dead

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 30, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

“When you’re talking about someone who died, you have to do the sign of the cross after you say something, especially if you said something bad.”

 

My informant comes from an Irish-American Catholic family. Crossing oneself is a common gesture within this community, especially when talking of the dead. Although Catholics don’t technically believe in ghosts, the general consensus seems to be that speaking ill of the dead could lead to repercussions for the speaker. Crossing oneself could help with any negative effects of speaking ill of the dead. In addition, crossing oneself when speaking of the dead in general serves as a blessing and a way of commemorating the dead; it is a sign of respect.

Hungry Ghost Festival — Singapore

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Singapore and Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: March 23, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Chinese

Interview Extract:

informant: “So in Singapore, around August or September, I forget which month but somewhere there, we have this festival sort of, called the Hungry Ghost Festival. And it’s where all our deadancestors come alive again for a day, but we sort of like, celebrate it for a whole week kinda. And what we do is we buy lots of paper money…it’s like square paper with a gold leaf…impression on it, and we’ll fold it into shapes, like ingots. It’s kinda like origami. And this represents money, which we’ll dump into bins that everyone has. Not like every person, but like, every apartment complex or every house. Like any public complex or space, we’ll dump the paper money shapes there.”

Me: “What does the money signify, or rather, why would it be necessary on the day the dead come back?”

Informant: “Oh, well in Singapore, when someone dies, you’ll burn paper money for them, sorta like to send them off with good fortune and wealth. And we do the same thing for like, when our ancestors come back.”

Me: “I see. So what else do you. You celebrate for a whole week?”

Informant: “Yeah. We’ll burn incense, have lots of food. Like there’s cakes, oranges, eggs…boiled eggs, I don’t really know why, but boiled ones, and rice and fruits, and just like, donations or offerings. It’s for the dead. And it’s really one day but we have the preparation last a while and there’s concerts and performances too.”

Me: “It’s a bit like Halloween or Day of the Dead celebrations.”

Informant: “Yeah, kinda. You have something similar here. But ours isn’t focused on like, creepiness so much.”

Analysis:

The Hungry Ghost Festival is indeed like Halloween, a day in which past spirits are recognized, but it is also much more like the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, where past ancestors are treated with respect and given offerings. The ghosts don’t seem to pose any danger to the people celebrating, and are in fact welcomed since these are the old ancestors of families. The donations and offerings are there as signs of respect and a way to ensure comforts of passed family members. The fact that there are performances and concerts, as well as a whole community effort to make the paper money shapes, demonstrates that this is a bonding festival, bringing people together.

My informant was very eager when talking about this festival. She especially seemed to enjoy paper ingots that she would make and that the whole apartments would collect. It is a very neighborly tradition, and brings not only families close, but communities. The ancestors’ ghosts become a communal experience, instead of just focusing on personal ties. Everyone participates in buying the special paper, folding it, and collecting it, also showing that this festival is extremely inclusive, and unlike Halloween, does not limit who can join based on age.

Had my informant been back in Singapore this past year during the festival, I’m sure she would have joined in on the celebrations. It seems like a tradition heavily embedded into South Chinese culture, emphasizing money and food, the basic things needed to provide comfort and security. Evidently, it is a kindness to bestow these things to those in the afterlife as well as the living.

Feet First from the O.R.

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Italian-American, Puerto Rican
Age: 56
Occupation: Registered Nurse
Residence: San Diego, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 3.23.12
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish, Italian

When transporting a patient on a gurney out of an Operating Room, you must have them exit the room feet first. Never head first, because that means they’re dead.

Informant’s description of the practice verbatim:

“I was called overhead in my surgery center where I work as a Registered Nurse, to please come in and help in the moving of the patient from the O.R. table into the recovery room, which is where I work. And so I walked in and I hadn’t been there very long and I went to move the patient from the table of the O.R. to the gurney for transportation and as I went to pull the patient out it was natural for me to have the patient come out of the O.R. room door head first. And I was immediately pulled, they pulled back on the gurney they turned it around and said, “Oh no, no, no. You’ve gotta make them come out feet first.” And I said “What are you talking about?” and they said “It’s just what we do we never allow a patient to come out head first because when you’re coming head first out of the O.R. it means that you’re dead” and so I don’t know where that comes from and I don’t know if everyone uses that but the people in that O.R., in those operating room suites believe it.

I don’t believe it and I respect it so I wouldn’t do it any other way because they all believe it so I’m not going to change that. I would never dream of changing that… And they are very adamant about it. Really adamant about it. They’re like “OH NONONO” (laughs) I’m like okay, “Sorry!”

When you’re feet first your like about to step on the ground, so you would like. I dunno, so if you were to walk, you would step out, so if you were coming head first you were falling? I dunno but if you were to come feet first I guess you’re walking on your feet so then you’re not dead, you’re alive.”

My informant’s guess as to why feet first is necessary and head first means the patient’s dead is what I would think as well. I think that bodies at morgues are pulled out of temporary storage head first. Bodies in caskets are carried head first into churches and funeral cars. Maybe this practice has something relation to not handling post-surgery-bodies (which in a way resemble the dead) like the dead. A lot of folk belief exists among health professionals, but the O.R. is a particularly important place because every procedure, every surgery is dangerous and gravely serious, whether it’s for a boob job or something life-threatening. My informant has been an R.N. for thirty-odd years, and has been married to a surgeon for the same length of time, this was her first time hearing this rule.