Tag Archives: folk object

Udala~ Folk Object/Legend

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Nigerian American
Age: 56
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/30/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Igbo

Context: Udala Tree is a folk object/legend native to my dad’s village of Onitsha. He knows about this legend because he is a titled man just like his father before him, hence why knowledge was passed down to him.

C: Udala tree is a sacred tree in Onitsha that can only be used by titled men[Ozo title and members of Abalenza] who are the spiritual and cultural leaders within the village. The Udala tree is a powerful tree that is kept as a means of communing with one’s ancestors. Titled men receive what is called an Osisi, which is made from parts of the Udala tree. The Osisi is a staff that has immense power as it too is a means of communing with one’s ancestors and is connected to the Udala tree. No portion of the tree can never be given as a gift because it holds immense power that could possibly be used for evil doing and should not be given to those without the proper understanding of its potential.

Thoughts: I think this is really interesting and is something that I never really understood until now. Growing up my dad was always telling my brother and I stories revolving around his childhood and in particular my late grandfather who was a titled man who was widely respected in his village. Similar to my grandfather, my dad is also a titled man and is designated as a spiritual and cultural leader within his village and in our family as well. The description of the Udala tree is eye-opening because it represents a sacred folk object for men like my dad. Tapping into my memory, one instance stood out to me that became more clear because of the description of the power held by titled men. I remember that my dad would refuse to pray when he was angry. I never really understood why, but in seeing the power he held it makes sense[i.e. It would not be wise to pray angry because you could unintentionally wish harm or do harm to someone out of anger during prayer].  I am unsure in my dad’s description, however, as to whether this tree is real or only a legend passed down by titled men. I know there are some things that my dad refuses to tell me because I am not yet ready to learn or even understand the things that he does, but I hope to eventually verify whether or not this sacred tree is in fact real.

Mardi Gras Cups

--Informant Info--
Nationality:
Age:
Occupation:
Residence: New Orleans
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/20/20
Primary Language:
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

SG has been to Mardi Gras almost every year since she was a little kid. Decorated plastic cups are a typical throw in every Mardi Gras Parade. Parades, known as Krewes to the locals, each have a unique name and theme to them. Riders in each parade have “throws”, which are items riders throw off of floats. These commonly include beads and doubloons, but what is solemnly talked about is cups. Cups are a collectible item during Mardi Gras as they have more value than most other throws. Not only can you keep it as a memorate of a parade, but you can use it for years to come. Families collect these and use them as normal drinking vessels in their homes and lives. Go in any cabinet and next to the glass cups you will find various Mardi Gras cups themed to each parade.

A Swig of History: The Mardi Gras Cup | Where Y'at
https://www.whereyat.com/a-swig-of-history-the-mardi-gras-cup

Context:

SG is my mother and has been to Mardi Gras with kids since I was born. She is from New Orleans and attends every year. This was taken during a conversation with her in our backyard while reminiscing Mardi Gras. She still collects cups and send me them each year.

Thoughts:

As a New Orleanian and a avid fan of Mardi Gras, as I have been many times before, I did not realize that this was not much of a practice outside of New Orleans, collecting cups to use throughout the years. For instance, after my first year at USC, I missed Mardi Gras for the first time in my life. As a response I got my parents to ship me a King Cake and some decorated cups. In the house I was living in, I used them frequently, and people always commented on the designs on the cups calling them unique. I was so used to using the cups that I never took a moment to think about the designs. Each design reflects the idea of that parade. Krewe D’etat, a parade devoted to a satirical take on the previous year, would have cups that mock events from the last year. Krewe of Muses, an all female parade, would have cups with feminine symbols such as the iconic red lips symbol of the krewe. Each design is unique and can only be gotten if one attended that parade in that year.

Muses Decorated Heels

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: New Orleans
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/20/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

According to EG, a resident of New Orleans, Muses is one of the first all female parades in Mardi Gras. To set it apart from the other parades they started throwing decorated heels. Each rider decorates their own shoes and put their spin on them, with glitter, writing, and designs. It turns into a pretty sculpture of a shoe. Each rider decorates 10-12 shoes and throws them off of their float during the parade. She has caught 3 shoes in her time at Mardi Gras and she considers it a symbol of New Orleans Mardi Gras. Because of muses other parades have started to throw other items like it. Other parades like the Krewe of Tucks and the Krewe of Nyx throw decorated toilet plungers and purses respectively.

Context:

EG is a college aged resident of New Orleans. She was born there and has lived there her entire life. This was collected in a conversation at my home. She has been to Mardi Gras every year since her birth and considers it to be a central part of her life.

Thoughts:

I, also being a resident from New Orleans, understand this piece of folklore very well. The heels thrown from the float are a sub-genre of what is know as throws, or things float riders throw off a float during a parade. Beads and Doubloons are what people mainly consider as Mardi Gras throws, but there are many more. Cups, spears, and as EG mentioned, heels and other decorated items are all throws that separate one parade from another. I think the main reason for these throws is that each has a distinct item that not only tells a story of the rider and the parade, but something you can only get if you participate in or go to the parade during the season.

Fraternity Pinning

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: NA
Residence: Chicago, Illinois
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23, 2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): NA

 

*In order to anonymize the fraternity and keep its secrets, it will be referred to as Zeta.

 

Abstract: Fraternity brothers in Zeta are given two separate pins at different times. The first they receive while pledging and wear for the whole semester until they ceremoniously throw it off of a cliff. The second they receive as initiated brothers and wear at their leisure.

 

Background: ZB is a collegiate student and brother in the Zeta fraternity. He grew up in Chicago, but goes to school in California. He joined his fraternity his freshman fall semester and is currently finishing up his sophomore year. He does not know when pinning started, but knows the tradition of wearing it and its significance. The topic came up after fraternal folklore was discussed in class, and I was curious about it, so I asked one of my friends in a fraternity if he could give me any insight.

 

ZB: At one point early on in pledging, we were given this pin that we had to wear. Like all the time. We could not be seen without it on. It had like three little stars and signified we were pledges of Zeta. Not only to other brothers, but also the campus. So like we wear it all semester then um, I don’t know if I should go into detail. We get driven to this cliff where we basically learn a lot of the lore of the house and things we were wondering all semester, then we throw all of our pins off the cliff into the ocean. It is a tradition for this ceremony. Houses across the nation bury their pins, but since we are in California, we used the ocean. It was really cool because the pin brings the national fraternity together, but we had our own little way of getting rid of it at the same cliff since our chapter started. But after initiation we got this new pin with a diamond and three stars on it. And our names on it. So it was pretty cool. Like an upgrade.

 

Interpretation: The pin was a method of identification. It was, for the entire semester, identifying the pledges of Zeta. They were not brothers, but pledges. The pin itself makes those who wear it proud to do so because they really have no other choice. If they want to be in the fraternity, they must demonstrate that they will wear this pin proudly. It seems like a test of loyalty early on to ensure that those who want to enter the house are willing to identify with and stick with it through thick and thin.

The ceremony holds a lot of meaning. Due to the location of the university, the fraternity was able to put their own spin on the nationwide tradition. This personalization gives brothers something to differentiate themselves with the national fraternities. While being part of a nationwide brotherhood can bond people across borders together, having individuality gives reason for the brothers in that specific chapter to bond to each other.

The symbolism of burying the pin, or in this case, throwing it into the ocean, signifies that the pledges are now done with pledge process and ready to move on. However, they must always remember that the pin never disappears, nor should the values or lessons they learn throughout pledging.

The Best Banana Bread

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian American
Age:
Occupation:
Residence: United States
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/23/2018
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Telugu, Urdu, Hindi

  1. The main piece: The Best Banana Bread Recipe

Banana Bread

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Etc.

“Basically, I have a sweet tooth, and, uh, my wife really loves me, and she knows I love banana bread. She meets a lot of people in her office, because she’s a physician. Even though she doesn’t like me to be eating desserts, one of her patients is a good cook, especially in baking, and when she found out she had a banana bread recipe from her mother, my sweet wife asked her for a copy.

“The patient gave my wife a printed banana bread recipe, and we never made a copy of that. Now, we’ve had it for 20 years, and it has all kinds of flour and oil stained on it. Whenever there’s a special event, like Father’s Day, we pull it out. In every bite, I smell my love for her!

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This piece of folklore is interesting because it combines a recipe with a physical artifact, used over and over and passed from person to person. The oil and flour stains on the photographed recipe show the great use it has been put to. The recipe has almost become a folk object, because instead of ever looking at a photo or copy of the recipe, the informant’s family must pull out this exact object when baking banana bread.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American male, who grew up in an urban setting in India with three siblings. While he moved to the United States over 30 years ago from India, many of his family members still live there, and he enjoys maintaining his links with them through his heritage and Hindu religion.

Evil Eye Talisman

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 66
Occupation: Attorney
Residence: San Jose, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2, 2016
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): French

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has kept an Evil Eye talisman hanging from the rear-view mirror of her car. During a celebration for my mother’s birthday, I pulled my grandmother aside and asked her the Evil Eye’s significance, following which she explained:

“Many years ago, two of my friends spent some time in Turkey. When they came home, they brought me an Evil Eye as a gift. All over Turkey, they put them outside of their door or inside of the car, and it is meant to ward off spirits by scaring them away. The superstition is that you cannot throw it away after someone gives it to you, that would be like inviting the evil spirits in. I have been in my car before and had people stop me and give me praise for keeping the Evil Eye visible, then show me where they keep theirs.”

I was somewhat familiar with the superstition surrounding the Evil Eye before talking with my grandmother, and knew that belief in the protection offered by one was prevalent in Greece. Hearing that her Evil Eye is from Turkey and that many other Americans have commented on the object (the informant, my grandmother, is from northern California), leads me to believe that this superstition is present in a great deal of cultures. Offering the object to someone as a gift encourages them to engage in the superstition surrounding it, because the object will remind the receiver of the giver while also supposedly serving as protection. Even if the owner of the Evil Eye does not necessarily have a deep-rooted belief in spirits, the object is significant in that it can offer a sense of comfort for the owner to suppress any worries that the spirits do exist, without the owner having to do anything more than keep the talisman somewhere close by. I myself am considering asking my grandmother for one to keep in my car, just in case.

Soul Pole

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/22/16
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Piece:

It was this wooden stick–kind of like a paddle, kind of like a stick–whenever someone was out of line the prefect (a senior who had authority) would threaten to get the “Soul Pole” and beat them with it. This is no longer a tradition.

Informant & Context:

My informant for this piece is a student at the University of Southern California who graduated from the boarding school (Cate) from which this folk object originates. His knowledge of this phrase dates back between 3 and 11 years ago, though it is reasonable that it has existed for longer. He said that the use of the folk object had been discontinued after it was discovered by the schools faculty.

The object references social periods in which a room was occupied by seniors and underclassmen, in which the seniors had direct authority over their younger peers.

 Thoughts:

This is a folk tradition in which older students beat up younger students for disobedience. This was a sacred object used to conduct an act of hazing that could only occur at the school given the confinement into the school’s campus of the students and lack of adult supervision. The result of these circumstances was apparently the rise of a new hierarchy with a strict judicial system in the fashion of Lord of the Flies.

Claddagh Ring

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Irish-American
Age: 76
Occupation: Homemaker
Residence: Dallas, Texas
Date of Performance/Collection: March 15, 2016
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): n/a

“Part of our Irish heritage is the story of the Claddagh ring, and that was originated in a little place near Galway, Ireland and uh the Claddagh ring is generally made of gold or silver, it has a heart in the middle, with a hand on either side holding the heart, and there is a crown on top of the hear, and it symbolizes love, loyalty, and friendship. And uh, many people in Ireland use the Claddagh ring as a wedding ring, both for men and women, and uh its also a lovely gift to give people you love, and so for me, I have given Claddagh rings to my granddaughters, all three o them, and I think they like them very much, and I think its just a wonderful tradition.”

 

Informant: the informant was born in Chicago, and attended high school and college there, graduating with a degree in English. After marrying and having one child, she moved to Dallas, Texas where she raised three children with her husband. She is of Irish descent, her father being from Ireland, and her mother was born in Wisconsin after her parents moved from Ireland, and her heritage and tradition are very important to her. She is a grandmother of five children.

 

Analysis:

Something that is very dear to the informant is her Irish heritage. She feels great pride for her Irish descent, and does her best to demonstrate this by practicing several Irish traditions. I believe that the tradition of passing along the Claddagh ring to her grandchildren exemplifies this wish to preserve Irish traditions while showing how much she cares for her grandchildren. Despite the traditional sense of using Claddagh rings as wedding rings, in using it as a gift to her granddaughters, she is exhibiting her promise of love, loyalty, and friendship to them, as well as passing on a tradition, most likely in the hopes that her granddaughters will pass it on to their daughters or granddaughters.

The time in which the informant gave her granddaughters Claddagh rings is also significant. She gave the rings when each of the granddaughters had been confirmed in the Catholic Church. This is significant because the Irish are historically Catholic, thereby making Confirmation in the Catholic Church an important initiation ceremony. Because the granddaughters were “officially” and “fully” Catholic upon receiving their rings, they were also more Irish, in a sense, due to the emphasis of the Irish on Catholicism. This is because of the tensions between Irish Catholics and British Protestants, tying religion to nationality in this aspect.

Also, this highlights a certain aspect of folk objects. In Ireland, many tourists are attracted to the Claddagh rings. They are sold in many stores, especially those aimed specifically at tourists, which demonstrates how folklore can make quite a bit of money. The popularity of this item comes from the enchanting legend that surrounds its making. The story of the love of a blacksmith for his lover was supposedly prompted him to make this ring while he was working on a pirate ship, for he had been kidnapped and taken from his love. It is a powerful story of love that encourages people everywhere to buy this gift for those they love. This widespread story led the production of the Claddagh ring to expand outside of Ireland itself.

This practice also brings up the question of authenticity. Some may consider buying the Claddagh ring in America inauthentic. The informant also made sure that the rings she gave her granddaughters came from Ireland, which from her perspective was what constituted an authentic Claddagh ring. Despite where the ring was made, however, its meaning is transcendent, because through the action of giving this ring to a loved one in order to demonstrate love, loyalty, and friendship, the legend of the Claddagh ring is commemorated and passed on despite the heritage of the giver or the land in which the ring is made. Overall, this tradition has become very popularized, and it means a great deal to the informant as it passes on Irish tradition in the promises of love, loyalty, and friendship.

The Coming Together of Matzo Ball Soup

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Polish, Bulgarian, and German
Age: 52
Occupation: Security Engineer for Wyndam Hotel Group
Residence: Milford, PA
Date of Performance/Collection: 02.18.2016
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Original Script: “Every year…even to this day, we made Matzo Ball Soup for high holidays. It is basically, the chicken soup of the Jewish people. It is my favorite traditional Jewish dish and the recipe has been passed down for generations…Every year, I go to the grocery store and get everything I need: the chicken—the whole thing cut up—, the celery, carrots, onions, fresh dill—none of that pre-packaged crap—celery salt…Then I go home and take out a huge soup pot that can hold 12 gallons. I put everything in the pot…have my kids, and husband help…it is a long process that can take up to seven hours. After it is cooked I let it cool and I make the matzo balls and add it to the soup. The next day, when it is time celebrate, I heat them both up together and it is delicious! It is usually always eaten to the bottom of the pot, but if there is a left overs I freeze the soup to heat up for later. My family, my kids, my nephews and nieces, love it. It is something everyone looks forward to when we get together. I don’t only make it for high holidays, there is always an excuse to make it…when I am sick, when my kids are sick, when my husband is sick, hell, when I just want to eat it, I make it.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Cheryl grew up in a predominately Jewish household in Skokie, Illinois. Her stepfather’s, Obbie, mother had witness the holocaust and he had also lost a sister to a concentration camp, which concentration camp is unknown. Very proud of his Jewish heritage, Obbie, Cheryl’s mother—Riki—, Cheryl’s siblings—Victor and Hope—and Cheryl grew up a very conservative Jewish family—celebrating all of the Jewish high holidays such as: Yom Kippur, Shabbat, and Passover—as well as attending Synagogue every Sunday.Cheryl had learned the recipe from her mother, and has been something that has been passed down through the generations of their family. To Cheryl, she not only loves the Matzo Ball Soup because of its taste, but she also enjoys the fact that it is something from her whole family enjoys and is something the family can do together.

Context of the Performance: High Holiday food—a food usually made in correlation with Jewish holidays.

Thoughts about the piece: After interviewing Cheryl, and having a Jewish heritage as well as tasting her Matzo Ball Soup myself, I can understand her fondness for the soup. However, I believe the soup is also associated with the coming together of a group of people with the same religious background and is associated with a group identity. The preparation of the soup has become a family tradition as it is performed over many years—thus it became a tradition that celebrates the heritage of the Jewish people. It is also interesting to note that those performing and the audience are the same people—the family, albeit that more of the extended family is associated with the audience as well. The cooking of the Matzo Ball Soup can also be associated to that of a ritual that is in the beginning of a sequence of events for a festival. (It can also be observed that the freezing of the Matzo Ball soup can be considered the closing ceremony. What is interesting is the fact that is traditional meal is something the family makes when someone is sick, or they just want to eat it. Perhaps, performing the cooking of the soup after the time and place of festivals make the family reminisce on being surrounded by family—which in turn makes them feel better. Thus, Matzo Ball Soup becomes a folk material object.

Homemade Russian Scarf

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American/Russian
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: University of Southern California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/4/15
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Russian

Russian Scarf

The informant’s parents are both from Russia, having grown up in a small town outside of Stalingrad. Though Rachel was born here, the recentness to which her parents moved has caused them to enrich her life with lots of Russian culture. In going to her house one weekend, I noticed several of the scarves like the one above laying around and inquired as to what they were. She explained that they were head scarfs her mother made that women often wore in the countryside of Russia. When I asked her why, she explained that the Orthodox Church is a very big part of Russian culture and women were required to wear them to Church. She also said that they symbolize that a woman is married.

She then showed me other scarves that her mother made. I thought this was really cool, as in America there are very few things that people make besides the occasional knitted item a mother or grandma might create. The informant told me that her mom would go out and buy special fabrics then knit the fray on the edges of it to give it a more decorated look. She further explained that her mother learned this from her grandma, and that girls in Russia would always learn from their grandmas and mothers how to make scarves and clothing items such as these. The scarf is still a big part of Russian culture in the countryside, and its very common to see woman wearing them when at work on a farm. I asked if the informant knew how to make these, but she explained that her mother has yet to teach her, though she’d like to learn at some point in her life. I really liked my friend showing me this part of her culture and thought the designs of many of the scarves were beautiful.