30 October 2008
A ritual done over a specific length of time can become tradition, rooting itself into one’s culture and lifestyle. George Gmelch in the essay “Baseball Magic” describes rituals as being irrational and unemotional behaviors linked to an outcome. He finds when a baseball player has a good performance his rituals grow and are continued. Gmelch’s findings reflect that rituals fulfill one’s need for control over one’s environment. Similar to Gmelch, I have found that within my family the ritual of cooking soul food every Sunday has become a means of keeping my family together. By consistently performing this ritual a sense of control is established over the continual unity within my family. Unity is important because it is the basic structure of family, and is something that was not always a part of African American culture. Dating back to slavery, families were often divided in the slave trade and were never to be seen again. This division has had long-term effects on African American families to this day, where often it is seen that a father or mother is lacking and children are raised by extended family. My family came to California from the East Coast over 30 years ago, thus keeping the ritual of Sunday dinner alive has been a crucial factor in maintaining our unity as a family.
My family practices the ritual of having a large soul food dinner every Sunday at my Aunt Louise’s house. On October 26, 2008 I arrived at my Aunt Louise’s house in Los Angeles, California. Just before entering the house I was greeted by the smell of baked foods. As I walked into my aunt’s cozy medium sized home, I immediately saw the dining room table fully set for the guests. The mahogany table was covered with a cream and gold tasseled table cloth, cream plates rimmed with gold sat on the table near silver goblets with gold rims, and champagne flutes and silver utensils matched with gold handles. This elaborate table setting directly reflects the teachings passed down within my family of having wealth within one’s spirit. Gmelch states that routines are “comforting; they bring order into a world in which players have little control” (303). Just as baseball players need routines to organize their lives, my family is routinely reminded every Sunday that just because we don’t have money it doesn’t mean our minds should be impoverished. In the areas where control is lacking, such as finance, our family finds comfort from this reminder representing the riches we share as a family. Thus at this table, memories have been shared over the years and special occasions celebrated. After exiting the dining room I entered the kitchen where I saw a grey pot of cabbage with a large piece of ham inside, biscuits, macaroni and cheese, and baked chicken smothered in gravy.
The hot soul food on the stove indicated dinner was prepared and all the elements of Sunday dinner at my Aunt Louise’s house began to come together. I watched as my family members made their way to the food, dinner plates in hand. Within minutes everyone settled in at the dining room table. My dad began to tell everyone to hold hands and bow for prayer as he prayed for blessing over the food, which coincides with George Gmelch’s finding of how Latin American’s make the sign of the cross or bless themselves before every bat (304). As a Christian family the importance that has been placed upon giving thanks to the one who provided us with our meal is an aspect of the ritual implemented to purify the food we are eating. While the family ate, conversation was sparked and the “soul” food began to work its magic. The food we ate made everyone comfortable, warm and more open to each other. The known aspect of how this food affects us draws upon what Gmelch states about a fielder having “complete control over the outcome of his performance” and by cooking soul food a sense of control is established (305). Everyone knows my Aunt...
Cited: Chideya, Farai. “A Soul Food Journey from Africa to America”.
National Public Radio. 20 October 2008. 28 October 2008.
Gmelch, George. “Baseball Magic”. Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion: An
Anthropological Study of the Supernatural. Ed. Pamela Moro, James
Myers, and Arthur Lehmann. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008. 16-19
Robinson, Louise. Personal interview. 26 October 2008.
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