Monday, April 23, 2012

Cat’s Cradle, a Folk Game:

There are games that we seem to never seem to forget no matter how old we become. Many of the games we learned as children growing up in America were brought here from different countries at different times. One such folk game was Cat’s Cradle. 

This hand game consists of one or two players trying to make certain patterns by interweaving the string with their fingers, sometimes passing it onto other players. Anthropologists started studying all types of string games around the 1800’s. Dr. Alred C. Hadden and Dr. W.H. Rivers changed the study behind this historical game. In their research they found certain patterns, which sparked their idea of making a language with the string figures. Historically, it has been shown that there are similarities in string games played in East Asia, Africa, the Arctic, the Americas, and Pacific Islands.
Cat’s Cradle, like other folkloric elements, can reflect the history of the country that it is played in. Each country has its own name for the shapes that are made with string. By looking into those names and string patterns specific animals of a region can be identified.  For example, the Inuit made shapes of the now extinct Wooly Mammoth. 

In some cases the designs were believed to be able to thwart evil spirits or bring good luck. And in the non-play activities of Greek philosopher Heracles, the string was used to develop certain knots and slings relating to the human body. This idea was further developed in the 4th century by Orbanasius who created  string figures that demonstrated how to set and bind a broken jaw. 

The beauty of folk games, like every other facet of folklore, is it’s ability to adapt to the times and needs of the people it is found in. 

To learn the steps of playing Cat’s Cradle check out this website! 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Folk Art Heals Disaster

Folk art, like every other form of folklore, is very powerful. It reflects the beliefs and customs of a particular society. Along the way folk art in particular can help express feelings or emotions that can’t be written or otherwise put into words. The mixture of visual textures, colors and shapes can impact people to feel something they might not have been feeling. This is especially true during times of hardship.

Folk art, unlike ‘fine art’ can be created by anyone – although there is a growing number of folk artists who have devoted themselves to perfecting their folk craft. Folk art can combine any number of everyday items. Think painted water cans, quilts, or weather vanes, for example. This folk way of depicting something has the ability to bring people together, help them heal, and even distract them from a variety of hardships, including natural disasters that leave countries, communities, families and individuals with nothing.

At the Museum of International Folk Art in New Mexico, the current The Arts of Survival: Folk Expression in the Face of Natural Disaster exhibit highlights the way folk artists have helped their communities recover from these natural disasters: the Haitian Earthquake; Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast; floods in Pakistan; and the volcanic eruption of Mt. Merapi in Indonesia.

Carnival masks, scrolls, paintings, or vodou flags retell the trauma and the drama and, in this way, help to make the pain of these events more manageable.
Art in general can help the world understand unfortunate circumstances. Folk art that reflects the traditions (and materials) of a specific region help to explain who is affected by the disasters and how. Folk art can also encourage victims to face the difficult realities of the disaster and this can help them move through a range of feelings and emotions.

Folk artists show their own emotions about the natural disasters in ways that people may not have understood. They become spokespersons and help illustrate the stories behind select events.

The Arts of Survival: Folk Expression in the Face of Natural Disaster close on April 29th.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Black Pepper & Other Spices

The food we eat forms the basis of our food lore. What we believe about our food – how to grow it, prepare it and serve it – all go into food lore. Around the world, customs and traditions have been built upon food which is, undoubtedly, one of the most important elements of our survival.

Holidays and other gatherings that note rites of passage or seasonal changes always include communal eating in some fashion or other. No matter what region of the world you are in, you will find there are many ways to spice up your food.

One of the more common spices is pepper.

Contrary to belief, pepper isn’t just found in the tiny little grains that are put on top of salads. Pepper comes from a flowered plant that is dried and made into a seasoning. It is generally found in India or in any tropical region since that is where the plant flourishes. Ground into powder it has been used as medicine and is actually the world's most traded spice!

Referred to as “black gold” because of its importance and how highly sought after it was, it was often the specific treasure explorers sought. This "king of spices" was so valuable that in ancient Greece and Rome it was used as currency and even as recently as 19th century Massachusetts; it was the source of wealth for some of America’s first millionaires.

Spices in general enhance the flavor of foods. Here are some common spices:

· Anise: a very sweet spice, often described as a licorice-like taste. Hippocrates suggested using anise to control coughing and King Edward IV slept on linen perfumed with anise.

· Caraway: the oldest known spice that was even sometimes used as medicine. It is called "Roman cumin" in the Far East. King Richard II's master chefs combined caraway with coriander, garlic and pepper in their recipe records, Form of Cury.

· Cinnamon: This Indian native spice is definitely a kitchen staple. It was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs. Arab traders brought it to Alexandria, Egypt, where it was sold to Venentian trades.

· Paprika: made from dried red chile peppers. Christopher Columbus is credited with bringing it to Europe. By the 16th century, it had reached the Balkans and then soon migrated to Hungary.

What’s your favorite spice? Let us know!

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Modern Folk Heroine

One of Today's Sports' Heroines: Sara Cunningham

The world of folk heroines is changing. To keep up with the times, we are discovered new brands of folk heroines. As always, they come in all shapes and sizes and reflect our elemental beliefs about such values as hard work, honesty, and love. We admire these women because they not only show us ‘how to do what it right’ they also inspire us to be our best.

Sonoma State University intern Megan Cunningham has many folk heroines. One of them is her older sister. At my request, she agreed to write about this runner. It’s easy to see why she’s a folk heroine:

Running is one of the healthiest ways to get in shape and stay fit. There are so many different things you can do with running- interval training, hill repeats, a light jog, or a hard fast paced run. Many people hate the thought of running and it takes a lot of effort to get up and go, but once you finish a run the feeling after is a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction which is an amazing feeling.

My sister Sara Cunningham is 24-years-old and has been playing sports since she was five-years-old. She started focusing on running cross country and track after entering high school. She fell in love with it and continued her running career at San Diego State University where she graduated in 2009. She continues to run every morning of the work week at 6am before she goes to her full time job. Occasionally she also runs on the weekends. This effort shows her dedication to a long-established exercise regime.

When others hear that she runs that early in the morning every day, they are shocked, surprised and impressed. “I run for many reasons. It keeps me active and healthy, it's a great way to get rid of my extra energy, and I genuinely enjoy it,” Sara says.

Another reason she runs is to give her dog, Medley exercise. Medley is a terrier who has a lot of energy and loves (and needs) runs and walks. He usually has tons of energy and needs exercise every day. However, there are days when Sara has to force him to get out of bed but once he is up, he is ready to go.

Along with running my sister tries to eat healthy by cooking for herself instead of going out to eat. Luckily she is always excited to try a new recipe. Aware that she is responsible for her own well-being, she also takes time for other healthy activities. Besides running, she enjoys beach volleyball, soccer, hiking and going to the beach. As her younger sister I have learned a lot from her healthy habits and have become an avid runner just like her.

Megan didn’t mention that she’s also a very good soccer player and is a member of Sonoma State’s Sea Wolves.