Tag Archives: god

Good Friday Penitencia 

Background: The informant is a 59 year old woman. She was born in Pampanga, Philippines and moved to Los Angeles when she was 29-years-old. The informant still frequently speaks to her family and occasionally visits her family in the Philippines. The informant grew up as Catholic in the Philippines, converting to evangelical Christianity during her time in Los Angeles. She was exposed to the tradition when living in the Philippines. 

Context: The context was that, it was Good Friday, and the informant was reminded of her traditions, and how they differ from America.


EM: For Good Friday, do you know what they did to Jesus when they, how do you call it, you know they hit Jesus on the back, how do you call it?

Me: “Um, whipping?”

EM: “Whip them? Whip Jesus right? … So in my country on Good Friday, it’s like penitence, they call it penitence, I don’t know what the word penitence means. In Tagalog, we call it penitencia, it’s like, like hitting themselves to suffer, thinking that God will forgive them of their sins so what they do is on Good Friday, they [men] go and they cover, you know, they act like they’re Jesus that they, uh, someone will cut the back of their their back with uh, how do you– laser, is that a laser, or like a blade, they cut their skin on their back and then they have this little, like a whip, like a made up whip, made of bamboo, like little tiny bamboo, and they hit themselves, like hitting their, um–”

Me: “So basically they create like this blade or like some tool made out of bamboo and then they whip themselves?”

EM: “Yes and you can, it’s gruesome because you see blood all over their back. One of my brother did that.”


Informant: Though a portion of her religious tradition, the information found the process to be very gory and gruesome. Her tone was very uncomfortable and she didn’t seem to enjoy speaking on it.

Mine: Penitence is the act of wishing to repent for one’s action, which may result in self-flagellation, also called self-penance, which is the action of whipping or beating oneself in order to repent. By committing the action on Good Friday, it parallels how Jesus was crucified, by both being extremely bloody and gruesome. Though the men are whipping themselves to repent, given the holiday, it also seems that they are trying to inflict pain on themself in order to take the pain away from Jesus, though he lived a long time ago. It seems to state that since Jesus suffered on Good Friday, everyone should have to suffer alongside him. In this bloody way, a covenant is formed with Jesus, that they will be together. Also, it forms a strong bond with the other men who are committing self-flagellation because they are all suffering and going through a harrowing experience at the same time. The informant’s description of it as gruesome reflects that one doesn’t have to enjoy every single aspect of their culture. There is not a homogenous brain in everyone, rather people are able to make decisions on what they like or dislike based on their own preferences.

To see another version, Tiatco, A. P. & Bonifacio-Ramolete, A. (2008). Cutud’s Ritual of Nailing on the Cross: Performance of Pain and Suffering. 58–76.

Pork over the Pali Highway

Background information: OLP is a 21-year-old student at Georgetown University. in They were raised in the Bay Area, but currently live in DC for school. Their parents met in Hawaii, and they were born in Honolulu. They visit frequently with their family, and their dad was raised there. OLP is white, Filipino, Mexican, and Japanese American.

OLP: You aren’t supposed to take pork over the Pali Highway in Hawaii. This comes from the Hawaiian myth that the goddess Pele had, like, a bad breakup with her boyfriend who was a pig god. So they divided the island between them, so taking pork from one side of the island to the other can anger Pele. This is pretty well-known in Hawaii but I’ve also heard from friends of my parents who said they’ve taken pork over the pali and their car broke down. The superstition says you won’t be able to finish your journey and you might be surrounding by spirits. A lot of locals take this very seriously and I think it’s an important way for people to show respect for Hawaiian traditions as well.

Me: So your family and family friends all observe this practice when you visit?

OLP: (laughs) Well…I’m vegetarian so yes. But yes, especially since so many people have had experiences where, like, something has happened if they tried. And it’s just good to respect things like this sometimes.

This is one of the only pieces of folklore that I collected in which someone had heard the same story directly from multiple people. I think this is very interesting, because it shows that these practices are alive and well, and that although Hawaii is often just seen as a tourist spot or getaway, there are traditions and cultures that need to be respected there. I think it’s really important that pieces of folklore like this – things that come from a time before a specific place or culture was colonized/occupied – continue to be shared and made known.

Ako Bog Da (Croatian Folk Saying)

Informant Context:

Ace’s grandparents immigrated to America from modern-day Croatia around the year 1912. They lived in the Midwest, and later permanently settled in Richmond, California, where many Slavic families—particularly those of Croatian and Serbian descent—lived together, working in the coal mines and on the docks during the Great Depression and into the Second World War. Ace recalls the families engaging in political arguments, singing traditional songs on stringed instruments, and navigating linguistic and cultural obstacles in America.

The interviewer met with Ace at his Bay Area home, where he returned after serving in the military during the 1950’s. 


INTERVIEWER: So, there were these little phrases that are either… Croatian, or… kind of, mutated Croatian? Over the years that, um…

ACE: Mu-*Mutilated* Croatian. 

INTERVIEWER: Oh! [Both laugh] That, that um… that we were talking about a little bit before we started recording—of um… just kind of like, family sayings? Do you remember any of those in, in your family? 

ACE: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Kind of, what they sounded like and approximate translations? 

ACE: One of the things that they said every day… “Ako bog da”: “If it’s God’s will”.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, interesting…

ACE: That’s all you lived your life. 


ACE: “Ako bog da”. It’s not about your goals [begins laughing] and plans–

INTERVIEWER: [begins laughing] Yeah.

ACE: –and whatever! You know, a-and I, and I thought that was an [unintelligible]teresting [dimension of it (?)] They, they… they, they never thought about the idea of, you know, uh, striving to become successful. 

INTERVIEWER: Interesting, yeah.

ACE: Yeah. Their whole life was [shrugs] “Ako bog da”! If God wants to give you children, you’ll have children. If you don’t, you don’t. If he wants you to have… more money, you’ll have more money. You know? Uh, you work hard. You… you know, you honor—you follow the ten commandments. [Yes(?)] so you want to—you got to remember the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism is… [You(?)] Catholicism lives by a set of rules, you know?


ACE: Protestantism takes the position, “Well, you know, once I… I have Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior—um, you know—and I believe that, you know, [hand knocks table, microphone]I… that… his grace and, you know, go through all the theological points. Uh, the significant difference is that Catholicism says that “Yes, you’re“… there is this idea of being saved. Uh, I *was* saved, I *am* saved, I am *being* saved [hand knocks table, mic]. It is a progressive process in Catholicism. 


ACE: So, you know, “Ako bog da”. [both chuckle] “If God wills it”. You know, you don’t tell God you’re saved. He tells *you*. [begins laughing]

Informant Commentary:

Throughout his interview, Ace related Croatian practices to the prevalence of Catholicism in the Croatian culture. Many of the arguments he recalls between the Croatian and Serbian families living in Richmond were rooted in either politics or religion (particularly a split between Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism). This suggests that Ace recognizes religion as both a force for unity and a force for conflict. Ace also specifically relates this folk saying to an ethos in his family. Personal ambition is always secondary to forces, usually divine, which are outside of one’s control. Therefore, the best course of action is to, as Ace says, “follow the Ten Commandments”, which flow from the same divine source.


Like many folk sayings, “Ako Bog Da” is a piece of implicit advice. Though the saying itself implies the fundamental uncertainty of future life events, Ace’s commentary uses this uncertainty to suggest a call to action. The fundamental uncertainty of future life events, coupled with the assertion that God wills certain events to come to pass and others not to, is meant to compel the listener to “work hard” and “follow the Ten Commandments”. Considering that Catholicism was used as a means of defining a folk in-group (Croats) and a folk out-group (Orthodox, Serbians) among Ace’s community, it is worth considering also that “Ako Bog Da” follows in the footsteps of many folk sayings, as implicit advice to continue practicing the beliefs of the folk group, and therefore maintain its discreteness from others.

“Atithi Devo Bhava” – Indian Custom

Informant’s Background:

My informant, SV, is a recent graduate with a Master’s from the University of Southern California. He is 25, was born in Hyderabad, Telangana, India, and moved to the United States to attend a graduate program at USC. Post-graduation he remains in Los Angeles hunting for a job.


My informant is my roommate and a close friend of mine. I asked him if he could share some Indian traditions, customs, or folklore with me.


SV: “Ok so… there’s this thing in India which is… predominantly for the Hindu culture, which is in one of the ancient Hindi texts called “Atithi Devo Bhava” which roughly translates to “guest is equal to God”. So the… in India the guest is considered holy and usually when they’re entering your house, when you invite a guest over there’s a kind of ritual kind of thing which is similar to like when your in-uhh… like you’re… when your inviting a God into your house there’s certain like religious things that they do. Like there’s something called an “Arti”, and then they usually like, uhh.. like light a lamp and then they sort of do a prayer and then they invite the guests over and then the guests usually are treated very respectfully and they’re given like as much comfort as possible, and like the host will adjust as much as they can. So that’s one of the common… I guess like, ideas or traditions that Indians have, mostly the Hindus, but I think that sort of permeated once India tried to make it like a tourism slogan so it sort of permeated through all religions so… in general that’s the common thing, so… but I guess more modern it gets and more people err-like become… less religious some of the things like they have the prayer when they’re entering and stuff gets turned down or completely removed but it’s still like a thing where you treat your guests well.”

Informant’s Thoughts:

SV: “Overall, I think its a positive thing, uhm… Like mostly it’s like treating people well, which is always good, because India has a lot of issues about like the caste system and there are other issues so at least this is one of the things that like helps reduce some of this inequality and like helps people treat others well.”


  • Original Script: अतिथि देवो भव
  • Transliteration: “Atithi Devo Bhava” or “Atithidevo Bhava”
  • Translation: “The guest is equivalent to God.”


I thought it was very interesting how what primarily started as a religious custom and practice has been so widely and readily adopted by India’s tourism industry. A quick search for the phrase brought up dozens of restaurants, vacation destinations, and the like that all state “Atithi Devo Bhava” as being their mission statement in order to please their customers. The adoption and outward marketing of what was initially an intimate and kind religious tradition, and it’s transformation into a promise of service to outsiders in order to make India appeal more to foreigners seems bleak, but not unexpected for the tourism industry.

Dog Guardian or God Watching over the House in the Form of a Dog While Family is on Vacation

Because this interview exchange took place with my sister, I was able to ask in-depth questions about the events and beliefs she discussed in her stories. I remember the day she describes in her interview. We had just gotten home from vacation and a little dusty white dog met us at our car. We don’t own a dog and thought the animal was a stray. I didn’t think much of that event, but this experience had a large impact on my sister, who believes this dog watched over our home while we were away on vacation.


My sister said that God works through people and animals, and that during a conversation with our neighbor, she learned that the animal has been seen wandering around our house in the time we were gone. Our parents feared that the house would get robbed while we were away. They prayed that God would keep the house safe and that no one in the community would notice we had left.

My sister described how our parents would hush us any time we mentioned that we were going on vacation. We couldn’t talk about it outdoors, and while packing, we always kept the car closed to avoid showing passers-by a trunk full of suitcases.

One time when my sister and mother were not on vacation but rather at school and at work, the house did get robbed. They arrived home to find the door swung open and an alarm blaring. My sister said that this was a very bad experience, and that at first she couldn’t believe that the house had been robbed. She thought someone had come home early or that someone had left the door unlocked.

My sister said that she was not sure whether the dog was God or a messenger, but she did say that she believed it watched over the house while we were gone, and that she hadn’t seen it since.

My sister also mentioned that she is training for Confirmation, a sacrament of initiation in the Catholic faith that allows high schoolers to reaffirm their belief in church principles. She said that she had not met any other animals or people that she believed had watched over her. She also said that this might be because she considers herself capable and that she wants to take care of herself.

She also said that she did not come to this conclusion right away. It was only years after this event that she came to believe the dog had offered protection. She was pleased to know that God had watched out for the house when the family was away.


I do not share my sister’s belief in Catholicism but I do believe in signs. I remember this event and know that the dog made us nervous at the time. It was strange that the dog went right up to our car, and I do believe I saw the animal around the neighborhood after that day. This is an example of religious folklore. There are cannon Bible stories where God talks through a donkey to get his message across, such as the story of Balaam, the donkey, and the Angel ( Numbers 22:21-39 of Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition Bible)

You can find a version of this story here:


This story also relates to conversations about whether animals have souls.

This conversation took place over the phone, and the recording is very bad quality. It is important to note that our house is visited by members of a feral cat colony and other wild animals like squirrels and raccoons. These animals were not mentioned in the interview. The house is also located less than 100 yards from a homeless encampment of about 20 people.

I find it interesting that this is the story that my sister wanted to tell me most. She knows quite a lot about folklore from playing Dungeons and Dragons (see, “How Not To Play Dungeons and Dragons” in the USC folklore archive”) but this is the first story she shared when I asked her to think of a story for this archive.