Tag Archives: folk object

Folk Object — Jade Necklace

Background:

Informant (W) is a 78 y/o Chinese woman living in China.

Main Piece:

(Interview is translated from Mandarin Chinese.)

I: Can you tell me more about the jade necklace you gave me when I was younger?

W: Oh, I remember that. Your cousin had one, so you were begging me to get one for you too.

I: Why do people wear it? Is there something special about the jade?

W: Jade is a very important stone in China. If you wear a piece of jade, it sucks out all of the impurities in your body (吸毒, lit. “sucking poison”). When you see a dark spot in your piece of jade, that’s the negative energy it took.

I: So it’s stored in that piece of jade forever?

W: Yes, that’s what the jade does.

Context:

This conversation took place over a phone call.

Analysis:

The jade necklace can be loosely defined as a folk object. The existence of a folk object is defined by how it’s used, which changes over time, and are generally created from natural materials. With its staggering popularity, something like a jade necklace is probably mass-produced and distributed, and most likely has a variety of uses, from purely aesthetic reasons to religious ones (many jade necklaces are Buddha carvings or have Chinese zodiac signs). However, the shape of the jade is generally a round circle or donut shape—folk objects usually are slow to change in its form. In what my informant tells me, this particular instance of a jade necklace also uses contagion magic. By contact with the skin, the jade is able to suck out impurities within the body (specifically what this entails, my informant did not specify). This act gives the jade a sacred purpose and a usage other than aesthetics.

Bracelet Against Evil Eye

Informant: My informant is a current sophomore at the University of Southern California. Her parents are from Jalisco, Mexico. However, she grew up in Denver, Colorado.

Context: The following is a conversation that my informant and I had over zoom. During the zoom we were discussing some of the lore that we share. The following is an excerpt of our conversation and my informant explanation of her bracelet charm against evil eye.

Text: “I wear this bracelet as a protection amulet for myself. The reason that I wear it is that it’s a custom that has been present for many years now. I don’t think these customs come from Catholicism, even though my parents are religious, but I think it has to do a lot with indigenous roots. The evil eye is negative energy such as bad vibes, and jealousy and to keep that away we wear a bracelet with an eye on it. [The informant takes her bracelet off and hands it over to me]. Usually, these are red, but mine on here is a colorful number of beads and if you look at the middle it has like a hand with an eyeball in the center it has a little like eyeball, and it’s not super detailed or anything, but it’s just a circle, and the like outer part is red and then the inner part is completely white with like a singular black dot. And basically, I wear this all the time, because at some point I really did just start believing that it was a positive energy that protects you from other people’s bad glares. Even my little cousins wear this. My mom and dad always told us to wear these-slash- they put them on us as babies to protect us from evil.” 

Analysis: Hearing of the evil eye from another person who practices it was very interesting indeed. I for one also wear these kinds of bracelets because as a small child my mom taught me that these bracelets work as small amulets to keep me safe. Seeing how my informant and I learned these customs, superstitions, and myths from our family show how much one relies on our culture rather and on professionals or science to believe whether something is necessarily real. Some might argue that this is the placebo effect, our minds are playing games to make us believe that this is truly a protection. However, whether it is placebo effect or not, these charms have demonstrated to play a big role in developing our beliefs in practices towards our future generation: our children.

One of the bracelet charms against evil eye that informant showed during zoom share.

The Buckeye Jar

Main piece: KP: Our team does have this tradition where usually once a week we’ll have this giant glass container, very pretty, engraved, it says “Ohio State Rowing” or whatever, and Ohio State has the Buckeye nuts, we’re “The Buckeyes”, and everytime you want to congratulate a teammate, or point out how hard they’ve been working, you go up in front of the whole team, you take a buckeye, and put it in the glass jar. So in the beginning of the year we have no buckeyes, and then at the end of the year we have a whole jar of them, and that shows how far we’ve worked, all year, how much we’ve helped each other, how much we like each other and support each other. 

HB: So you just go and find a nut on the ground?

KP: So we have a couple buckeye trees by the boathouse, so we got buckeyes from there. I think we bought some of them, but most of them were collected by our former head coach because he was weird like that and he liked to do that. But yeah, so that’s kind of cute. 

HB: How do you announce it [that you’re putting the buckeye in]?

KP: So you go up in front of the whole team, and be like “This one’s for KP for working hard during lift” and then you drop it in. 

Background: KP is a sophomore coxswain for The Ohio State University rowing team. After coxing competitively in Maryland clubs for four years, she was recruited to cox at Ohio, which she has now done for two years. She seemed proud of this tradition, and has actively participated in it during her time at Ohio.

Context: I asked KP if her team has any “lucky” objects or superstitions they do/interact with before competitions. While this is not either of those things, she believes that this tradition is one of her team’s most important ones.  She believes that it fulfills its purpose of showing how much her team cares for each other.

Analysis: This ritual serves as team bonding. The folk object; the fancy glass jar engraved with “Ohio State Rowing” represents the team itself; the prestige of the institution. Over the course of the year, as team members laud the actions of others, it becomes full. The metaphor there is then an obvious one of togetherness. However, this jar is not (in the opinion of KP) seen as important as the buckeye nuts, which are either gathered by the person who wants to reward their teammate or collected from inside the boathouse. The buckeye nut (and therefore being a Buckeye, as a symbol of the school) in this context has positive connotations. It is accompanied by another team member acknowledging hard work or skill level, and encourages other members of the group to bond or work harder so that they too can be given this compliment. One then wants to and takes pride in being a Buckeye, or a member of OSU, as it is something that has been earned and a title given to them by other members of their group.

The Victory Dance of the University of Texas Rowers

Main piece: When Texas [University of Texas] wins NCAA or they do well or something I think, they dance. They have this little, like, line dance kind of thing. They do this dance in their “unis”, so their rowing unisuits, they’re like leotards but for rowers, and then they have those on, plus these you know, standard cowboy boots. And they get these as part of the gear, so they get their rowing suits, their leggings, their shirts, and a pair of cowboy boots. So they’ll dance in those if they do well, onstage. And it’s kind of exciting, kind of entertaining, but sad if you’ve lost, which I guess is part of the fun. 

Background: KP is a sophomore coxswain for The Ohio State University rowing team. After coxing competitively in Maryland clubs for four years, she was recruited to cox at Ohio, which she has now done for two years. The Ohio State University rowers are currently ranked third in their region for rowing by the NCAA (though those rankings change frequently), but are Division 1. Texas, while not Ohio’s rival (which is Michigan), they are seen as “good” (according to KP), and a serious competitor. 

Context: A couple of months ago, I received a text from KP after a competition, who was upset that her team lost to Michigan. When I asked why, she explained that the loss is particularly “sad” when Michigan, Yale, or Texas wins; Texas because “they dance with their cowboy boots when they win. Which is kinda awesome but sad when they’re line dancing on a stage and you just have to look up at them in sadness.” When interviewing KP for the Archive about folklore in rowing (via Zoom, as she is still on campus in Ohio), I immediately asked her about this tradition. She had watched Texas do their victory dance at previous competitions. 

Analysis: Texas’s victory dance is a way to celebrate their (Texan) identity, distinguish themselves from other teams, bond with each other, and also glory in their victory in a semi-taunting way. The addition of cowboy boots to their uniform apparel, a stereotypical “cowboy” attire, is a way of representing the University of Texas and distinguishing them from the other teams, who are dressed in an otherwise similar way (it is important to note that while KP has only seen the Texas team perform this dance wearing cowboy boots, there have been videos posted online where they do the celebratory victory dance barefoot or wearing flip flops). While line dancing is not exclusive to Texas (and in fact its origins are believed to be from European folk dances), there is a connotation that line dancing today is accompanied by country/western music and performed by cowboys or ranch hands (i.e., working-class people). This is interesting because rowing itself has often been viewed as an elitist/classist niche sport, as it is an incredibly expensive endeavor in which to participate (in a later part of our discussion, KP refers to rowing as “classist” and “pretentious”). However, after further research, I discovered that the Texas team’s dance is often accompanied by the song “God Bless Texas”, so in this instance, the rowers choose to align their identity with state nationalism, and as an extension, their school (University of Texas is part of the State System, which is a governmental entity). Furthermore, the older rowers teach the incoming freshmen the dance. In a video I found online entitled “Texas Rowing Dance Tutorial”, the sophomore rowers were teaching the incoming athletes the dance. This practice would normally occur in person, but due to COVID, this rehearsal was done over Zoom, recorded, and posted to YouTube. The dance then also serves as a ritualistic bonding between members of the group and is perhaps even an incentive for them to practice harder in order to win so that they can then perform the dance in front of an audience. Finally, KP found the dance to be “sad if you’ve lost, but I guess that’s part of the fun”. Historically, victory dances have been used to both celebrate a victory and antagonize the losing participants. KP finding the dance sad, so much so that she believes that losing to Texas to be a particularly upsetting loss, shows that the victory dance is also used to make their fellow competitors feel lower, therefore elevating themselves. The dance is performed on a stage during the handing out of awards; all of the teams are required to stay there and watch. The practice of line dancing by the University of Texas rowing team therefore serves to show both state and team superiority over their competitors.

Clamshells as Folk Objects – Long Island, NY

Context:

Informant KC was a current undergraduate student at the University of Southern California at the time of this collection and was raised in the east end of Long Island, NY.

When speaking with KC, they told me how clamming is a source of income and entertainment for many living along/near the coast along the east end of Long Island. They mentioned how people use large rake-like tools to sift through the sand while searching for clams. Once the clams had been cracked open, emptied, and cleaned, KC explained how the shells are often “repurposed” as folk objects. After cleaning, the shells can be decorated, painted, or kept looking “natural.”

In listing the many unique uses for old clamshells they mentioned how they have seen them repurposed as…


Text:

  • Spoon rests
  • Ashtrays
  • Plant pots
  • Jewelry holders

Analysis:

After speaking with KC, I considered how these examples of folk objects help illustrate/represent the identity and interest of east end Long Islanders. Whereas outsiders might not understand the repurposing of a clamshell or mistake it for a commercially bought object, insiders (east end Long Islanders) have a different connection to these objects as reflections of their identity and customs. This leads me to believe that east end long islanders might hold shared values of sustainability and/or craftiness which are able to be expressed through these repurposed clamshells.