Tag Archives: Rituals

Eritrean Wedding Day 2: Melsi

Background provided by DG: DG was born and raised in Redlands, California. Both of their parents were born in west Africa, but more specifically Eritrea. Eritrea is located on the Horn of Africa and adjacent to the Red Sea. They belong to a specific tribe of Eritrea, called Blen (spelled Blien). DG also identifies as being part of the Habesha ethnic group, which describes Roman Orthodox Christians in West Africa. After the war broke out, both of their parents migrated to America.

Context: DG was approached about folklore, which they shared in the middle of the day. They were very enthusiastic about sharing parts of their culture because not many people are aware of Eritrean tradition and culture. They explain some general details about Eritrean weddings, which span for a minimum of three days. The first day is known as the Day of Blessings.

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information):
DG: “The second day is … like the actual thing … they go to church. Umm .. cause we’re all Christian (laughs). And then, at the end of mass, they were like a crown … and like … a cape … like bridal cape … and they walk out of church wearing this. It’s like … more religious thing. They wear that thing and … take photos. This is like … the most American part of the wedding … like the bride is wearing like … a typical American gown.  Uhhh … when the bride … groom … walk in … they don’t have .. like a typical announcement. Like … the men … all the men enter … and the women stand in … like a procession and there’s like … a procession into the venue. Like everybody is standing outside and everybody enters … together. The men begin … then its the groomsmen … then the bridesmaids … then the bride and groom come in, together.  All the women are holding flowers as they … like  enter, so … like that procession … it … ALWAYS happens … like in American weddings I’ve seen they say “ Welcome, Mr. and Mrs.”, but … they never do that. It’s … like somebody always has like a … drum … it’s like a big drum and it goes like (rhythmically taps the desk to make a baaa-dumm baaa-dumm noise), then they sing … like … uhhh “Marshala, Marshala” (in sing-song voice). They always sing that song … it kinda means … like … umm welcome … or something. They sing and they dance, then they sit.  Then the bride and groom eat, and everybody eat.  And then everybody dances to Tigrinya music, the WHOLE time. And then … also … typically… they don’t do this so much anymore, but in a lot of weddings it’s called a gorshaw (spelled gorsha) … in a VERY traditional wedding they do gorshaw, where like … the bride and groom eat … the maid of honor … and the like … ummm … best man, they feed the bride and groom. They don’t touch their food, and that’s like called gorshaw … like …when someone else feeds you … is called gorshaw … cause its like a hand food … so like … they feed them. It doesn’t normally happen on the first day … cause like  … its much more traditional for the second day, cause that’s much more traditional. And then …  when there’s like … cake … in a VERY traditional … like when I see wedding videos from Eritrea … the bride and groom stand up after they eat the cake … and feed all their guests, and their guests feed them. Like that’s a very traditional thing, in the Eritrean culture, everybody is always feeding everybody. The second day it’s called a Melsi (proceeds to spell it M-E-L-S-E) … and like on that day … the majority of that day … the women are getting ready … because they have to get their hair … like braided … in traditional braids. And they also get … like henna. Like traditionally, you’re not supposed to get henna until … you’re like married … so he bride gets it all over their hands and feet … but like … the most someone who is not getting married can get is like a little dot right here (uses index finger to point to the center of their palm) … but like … yeah. They get their hair braided, henna, and like everyone wears sooyahs, which are like … cultural dresses. And that’s like the bridesmaids … and the groomsmen. You can also … I went to a wedding … where we were … like chiffon … it was my cousin’s wedding … and we wore like … chiffon. That’s like … much more fancy than … like a Sooyah. It’s kinda … like another party … with the same procession, but like … the bridesmaids at a certain point … do like a boon ceremony (spelled bun), which … is … like … coffee … and like the bridesmaids .. we  do … like a … dance … we’re supposed to do like a dance around the bride. We … uhh … carry  … like all the materials to make coffee. Everybody … like … dances around the table … and the … like older women make coffee, for like … the bridesmaids and the bride, not for the men. ONLY for the women. It’s like very traditional. Then … yeah … they’re married … and people party … Also people drink a lot of … uh soowah (spelled siwa),  Habesha alcohol.  Typically, someone … like … in the family makes it, before time. And they put it in bottles, and the bottles have … like stickers that have … have photos of the bride and groom. Then we eat ingerat (spelled injera), that’s like a traditional Eritrean dish.”

Analysis: Weddings are often big events. DG explains many of the intricacies involved with Eritrean weddings. The second day, Melsi seems to be the focal point of Eritrean traditions. The subtle variations of the traditions DG mentioned demonstrates the dynamic nature of culture as it relates to nuptial ceremonies. It seems like Eritrean weddings are occasions that involve the whole community in an extremely intimate event. The wedding also emphasizes the various stages of maturation, especially with the Bun and henna.

Afikomen Ritual

In Jewish tradition, during Passover, um, there is like this big long dinner called a seder… One part of it, that is fun I guess, is the Afikomen, which is, at the beginning of dinner, you are supposed to take the middle piece of matzah and break it in half. And you eat one half of it now, and the other half becomes the Afikomen. So it usually comes in this fun cloth bag and the adults hide it, and the kids have to find it and ransom it back. People have gotten like, money from the Afikomen, and I always got like a dum dum lollipop. It’s kind of like the desert, there are other deserts, but the traditional dessert is the Afikomen once it’s found.


The informant is a college student discussing different family rituals that their family partakes in, leading them to bring up this specific tradition. The informant is explaining this ritual when discussing Passover, and how this is a common ritual that takes place during this time. 

Personal Thoughts:

This is an interesting ritual as it shows the overlap in folklore, since this is both a ritual and a game that takes place. From this, one can gather that this is not only a specific tradition to this family’s folk group, but also one that many folk groups take part in for Passover, as the informant discussed how this is a common ritual that many families participate in. As the informant mentioned, there are also variations to this ritual, children will get different prizes from the Afikomen. This is reflective of the multiplicity and variation of this specific ritual, and how when practiced by different families, or folk groups, that there may be different visions of this, allowing for the tradition to continue on. 

Kai Society Burnings

TG is a 25 year old graduate student and cultural forensic anthropologist. She grew up in Maryland and currently resides in Tennessee. She was an active member at her university.

Context: Kai Society is a secret university society at Longwood University where they encourage university involvement and service. However, it is very exclusive and secretive; no one knows who is in Kai. TG was not a part of this organization and as far as she knows does not know anyone in it either.

Transcript (discussed over the phone):

Collector: What is the connection between the Burnings and senior students?

TG: To start off, the organization started around 1900 and recognize students and faculty that do great things at the university. Kai has burnings where they make a fire and stand around it wearing robes that conceal their identity. At the end of each spring semester, all of the senior members of the Kai have the option to reveal themselves and this is the only time you can do it. You either wait 4 years to reveal yourself or you never do. The society’s purpose and its cult-like characteristics does not make much sense but they are an inherently good group.

Thoughts/Analysis: What makes Kai different from other service and recognition groups outside of its cult-like approach is that they do not want to be identified. This is unlike typical organizations who even have social media accounts to promote themselves and make them seem more open. However, the way that there is a rite of passage ritual for the seniors that is not public is interesting. Senior pranks are public and light-hearted and the Kai burnings are serious and mysterious.

Snow Day Magic Rituals

TG is a 25 year old graduate student and cultural forensic anthropologist. She grew up in Maryland and currently resides in Tennessee. She says this ritual occurred often in the winter months when she was in elementary school.

Context: TG experienced many snow storms throughout her life, the most notable one being the North American Blizzard of 2010. TG loved the snow as a kid, but like many other kids, loved no school more.

Transcript (discussed over the phone):

TG: When I was younger, maybe in third or fourth grade, whenever the forecast said there would be snow we would do three things: flush ice down the toilet, sleep with a small spoon under our pillow, and wear our pajamas inside out. If we did this then there was a greater chance that we would have a snow day.

Collector: How did you and your classmates know to do this?

TG: We were told by our teachers. They’d tell us to do those things so we could have a snow day, they wanted one too I guess. Oh! And everything had certain meanings to them, the ice down the toilet represented the snow, the spoon represented the shovel that was not big enough to shovel all of the snow, and to me the inside out pajamas just represented disorientation.

Collector: Did you actually do those things every time there was supposed to be snow?

TG: Oh my goodness of course! I didn’t wanna have school just like the teachers. I loved doing those little things and hoping we’d have a snow day.

Analysis: This is especially important when considering the geographical location of this superstition. It also being children’s superstition shows that children also have their quirky and interesting rituals that they do that reflect sympathetic magic. These rituals reflect how children are influenced by their teachers and families. These children will grow up to pass this on to the children in their lives.

Coin Rubbing / Cao Gio

Main Piece: Coin Rubbing / Cao Gio

“It is a piece of traditional Asian medicine and the prospect of it is, you take a coin, usually a bigger coin such as a quarter or silver dollar, and you use some type of oil or liquid that you can apply like vaporub, take that and you apply it to your skin, not to the coin, and it is performed on somebody’s back when they are feeling sick or cold. You put the coin on the persons back and you kind of scrape. There are a few variations, but for my family it has been that you go along the spine and outwards on both sides of the back. It leaves streaks on your back and the more red the streaks are after doing it continuously, that is the level of sickness that you have. The purpose of it is to get the bad blood to rise to the surface which is supposed to heal the sickness.”

Background Information:

The informant learned this performance from his parents. Both the informant and his parents are Vietnamese and this is a traditional Vietnamese ritual for healing those who are sick.

Context of the Performance:

This is performed on a person who is sick or is cold. It is a traditional medicine, so this would not be performed on somebody who is not sick.

My Thoughts:

I think that this is a very interesting folk medicine and I am very curious to find out whether it works or not. There are many different folk medicines, some of which work and some do not. If a folk medicine is proven to work consistently, it is taken into the field practicing professional medicine. This folk medicine reminds me of bleeding a person to get rid of the bad blood inside of them, but that was proven to not be an effective way of curing somebody from a sickness. Both are aimed at getting rid of the bad blood inside of a person, although bleeding a person literally rids the body of blood whereas this folk medicine only brings blood to the surface of the body, but it still remains underneath the skin.


For more information and versions of traditional Vietnamese coin rubbing, please see below.

Yeatman GW, Dang VV. Cao Gío (coin rubbing). Vietnamese attitudes toward health care. JAMA. 1980 Dec 19;244(24):2748-9. doi: 10.1001/jama.244.24.2748. PMID: 7441861.