Tag Archives: folk practice

Water on the Hands

Text:

“Ok, this is semi-ritual, semi-ceremony in Thai culture, like with the festival I mentioned earlier, water is really important and so I guess on the Thai new year and also just other sometimes random special occasions water will be used to like give–bless, bless your elders. So what happens is like you normally have this golden or like silver bowl, I’m forgetting what it’s called, but you have like a bowl and you fill it with flowers and water, and you take like a smaller little bowl. Oh I remember its called a

Thai:ขัน
Phonetic: K̄hạn
Transliteration: Water dipper
Translation: Bowl

and you just scoop a little bit and your elders (your parents and your grandparents) would hold their hands out and you would pour water over their hands. And when you do that you are supposed to say good things like ‘I wish you good health,’ and with the Thai new year obviously you would say ‘I wish you good luck or good health for the next year.’ And the water is representing like forgiveness and you’re also asking for their forgiveness for, like, all the bad stuff you may have done to them in the past year. So there’s that. And it also becomes relevant during like a funeral when like you will similarly pour water onto the deceased hands when they’re in like the casket. And similarly, when you approach them you are supposed to ask for forgiveness for any wrongings you’ve done to them throughout their entire life and you just kinda pray for them and wish them good luck whatever happens to them after their death.”

Context:

Informant (WP) is a student aged 19 from Chino Hills, California. Her parents are from Thailand and Laos. She currently goes to USC. This piece was collected during an interview in the informant’s apartment. She learned this from her parents and her extended family. She interprets it to represent forgiveness and cleansing.

Interpretation

Water is used to represent the cleansing of a moral sense in different cultures’ beliefs around the world. Where this one differs is in the belief that the person washing is being forgiven, not the person being washed. The water in the ritual does seem to represent forgiveness and cleansing, and when it’s done seems to align with the amount of time associated with the forgiveness. At the new year, it is used to forgive a year’s worth of wrongdoing. At a funeral, it’s used for a life’s worth.

100 Days of Life

Text:

“When the baby is a hundred days old or something, yeah, the parents put like different objects in front of the baby each meaning like a different career or something lets say there’s like a book meaning you’re going to be a scholar or money meaning the baby is going to get rich and you see which one the baby picks as a way of predicting its future.”

Context:

Informant (JG) is a student aged 19 from Beijing, China. Although she was born in Los Angeles, she has spent most of her life living in China. She currently goes to USC. This piece was collected during an interview over breakfast in the dining hall. She’s seen this on tv shows and knows people who practice this tradition. She thinks parents want something psychic to guarantee success for their children.

Interpretation

As (JG) mentioned, this belief is largely meant to guarantee success for the baby. None of the options are negative; there isn’t an item that symbolizes bankruptcy or homelessness. This reflects a larger belief that whatever the baby picks is what they will have in life, so best not to lay anything negative in front of them.

Nian New Year

Text:

“I guess some Chinese stories and traditions have different meanings in different parts of China. For example, we like exchange red packets for new years and the reason why its red is cause in Chinese mythology there’s this monster that shows up every new year I forgot the reason but yeah in the story there’s a monster that shows up every new year and apparently, it’s scared of the color red which is why everything is in red. The monster’s name is:

Chinese: 年獸
Phonetic: nián shòu
Transliteration: zodiac
Translation: year

and if you translate it into English it means year. I don’t know the story, but thats also part of the reason we have fireworks is to scare the monster.”

Context:

Informant (JG) is a student aged 19 from Beijing, China. Although she was born in Los Angeles, she has spent most of her life living in China. She currently goes to USC. This piece was collected during an interview over breakfast in the dining hall. She learned this in primary school. She doesn’t have any interpretations for its meaning, she just thinks it’s there to preserve New Year traditions.

Interpretation:

This folk belief demonstrates how elements of festivals and folk practices may be “rationalized” by other elements of folklore. In this instance, the possibility of a monster is what drives part of the folk practice. It also encourages the people to keep the tradition going.

Rings predicts the gender of a baby

Background: The informant has a daughter.

LR: There is some belief that if you put a ring on a piece of string and you hold it over a pregnant woman’s belly, it spins or swings, and if it swings it’s a girl and if it spins it’s a boy. We did it because our baby wasn’t cooperative in the ultrasound.

Me: Where did you do this?

LR: Just in our apartment or wherever we were living.

Me: Just for fun? Like it wasn’t for a baby shower or anything?

LR: Yeah, it was just kind of like oh I wonder if we could actually, like, find out because we really wanted to know and so I think we tried it and I don’t remember if it worked or not.

Me: Do you know if many people do this?

LR: Back when I was pregnant, you only got one ultrasound, I feel like now people have multiple ultrasounds so it’s probably a little bit less likely to happen now, but back when I was having a baby, it was as frequent so a lot of people actually used to do it. This is actually a tradition people would try, to see, especially if they couldn’t have an ultrasound to see what the baby’s sex was, a lot of people tried to do this.

Me: And you said it’s a ring, is it any specific ring?

LR: I feel like it’s usually your wedding band, and I think it’s the mother’s band. We tried it because we’d heard about it.

Context of performance: This was told to me over a Zoom call.

Thoughts: I think this is a really interesting belief given that it is a fully 50/50 chance that has no bearing or knowledge on the sex of the baby. It’s also notable that it is so tied to the development of technology and that it was very common before pregnant women started getting more ultrasounds. I wonder if the use of the wedding band has any sort of significance of a promise to the baby since it represents devotion and eternity in a marriage.

Moonshine custom

Background: The informant was born and raised in Western North Carolina. He has lived in North Carolina his whole life. He wanted to share some Western North Carolina traditions or knowledge. He specified that this really only takes place in the rural areas of the state and that this isn’t common knowledge outside these areas or in the more urban areas and cities. This knowledge was passed down from his father.

If you’re ever walking in the mountains, the woods, and you ever come on a live still that’s cooking moonshine as you speak (this is just basically taking corn and mix and you cook it and it converts. Then you take it and run it through copper pipes and you get it cool and cool the alcohol and that becomes corn liquor–also known as moonshine), you have to be really careful. Sometimes it’ll be booby trapped and if not what you’re supposed to do is, you see the still, get a stick and put it in the fire to say you’re going to help it and keep it going. This signals to anyone that might be watching in the woods with a shotgun that it’s okay and you’re not here to cause trouble.

Context of the performance: This was explained to me over FaceTime.

Thoughts: I am also from North Carolina but I’m from a city so I had never experienced or even heard of this kind of thing. This is so interesting because it reveals that the cooking of moonshine itself is a sacred tradition and the punishment for messing with moonshine is potentially getting shot. I didn’t know it was such a protected tradition or secret. I have alway felt some selective pride in being from North Carolina, but I felt like I was coming from an etic perspective. It shows that within the state, lifestyle and knowledge of traditions varies very much by region and that certain parts of the state will share very different common knowledge and unspoken rules than others.