Suggestions for Folklife Fieldwork and Presentations: Folklife Genres

Because folklore is so pervasive, folklorists have organized folk traditions into a number of categories, termed genres for research purposes. The names for the genres may not be the same as those used in a community. The following genre list is intended to jog your memory and help you think of individuals in your community that have these skills or knowledge. This list is not exhaustive. You may also encounter new, unexpected ideas and cultural traditions in the context of your research. Discovery is a hallmark of the fieldwork process.

The genres presented here relate specifically to Louisiana culture. Many of them correspond to folklife genres found elsewhere. Each region and community has its own unique heritage, depending on its geographical, historical, and cultural context. These genres are presented as a springboard for identifying the many forms of cultural expression in your own community or region.

Folk Music And Dance

Musical Styles: British/African American (old-time country, hillbilly, bluegrass, country blues, rhythm & blues, fife and drum, rockabilly, work calls [calling the cotton press, railroad work, house movers, street vendors]; French/African Cajun/Creole ballads, Cajun, zydeco, jurè, swamp pop; New Orleans jazz, Mardi Gras Indian chants, marching bands; Spanish: Isleño ballads or décimas; Music of the Church: shape-note singing, spirituals, gospel; Native American music: social, ceremonial, groups and individuals, call and response.

Instrument Making: fiddle, fiddlesticks, banjo, mandolin, accordion, guitar, frottoir, spoons, triangle/t-fer.

Dance and Movement: two steps, waltzes, breakdowns, secondlining, square dance and calling, ethnic dance such as Czech, Hungarian, and Asian.

Crafts / Material Culture (tangible items)

Farm Crafts: blacksmithing, wheelwright, whipmaking, cornshuck weaving, basketry, (split oak, sedge grass, pine needle, rivercane, palmetto), shingle (shake) riving, making horsehair ropes, saddle and harness making, well digging, barrel making (cooper), gourd dippers and birdhouses, handle making, other traditional handmade implements, branding livestock.

Hunting, Fishing, and River Crafts: making knives, blowguns, wooden slat traps, bird traps, hoop nets, crab traps and nets, shrimp nets, cast nets, fish hooks, net needles, boatbuilding (dugout, pirogue, flat boat, Joe boat, rowing skiff, Lafitte skiff, lake skiff, trawler, lugger), hide tanning, gunmaking, shrimping, oystering, fishing, duck blinds, palmetto houses, handfishing (for catfish), paddle making, hunting horns, duck calls, alligator trapping, crawfishing, decoy carving, making hunting horns, rope knots and items, other traditional handmade paraphernalia.

Other Occupations: oilfield work, railroading, logging and sawmills, truckers, piloting (boats and crop dusters), deckhands, curing Spanish moss, ranching, trail rides, rodeos, brickmaking, barbering, tailoring, tinsmithing.

Domestic Crafts: cornshuck mops, yard brooms and sedge brooms, carved bowls, quilts, crochet, tatting, embroidery, rag rugs, soapmaking, furniture making, rocking chairs, straight back chairs, chair bottoms (hide, split oak, cornshuck), willow furniture, cowhorn spoons, turtleshell dippers, gourd dippers, gourd birdhouses.

Decorative Crafts: Acadian brown cotton weaving, weaving, Hungarian and Czech embroidery, baby bonnets from wedding handkerchiefs, model boats, Native American beading, Easter eggs, woodcarving and whittling, walking sticks/canes, boxes, chains, gunstocks, etc.

Traditional Toys: flying jenny, whirligig, tops, boats, whistles, flutes, doll furniture, dolls (cornshuck, rag, Spanish moss), puzzles and teasers, slingshots.

Ritual Crafts: Mardi Gras costume and maskmaking (Cajun, New Orleans, and other towns, Mardi Gras Indians), floatmaking, All Saints Day wreaths, iron crosses, Zulu coconuts, Benevolent Societies ribbon baskets and sashes, St. Joseph Day altars pastries.

Folk Architecture: Plantation and small farm buildings, stores, churches, houses (most common regional house types are dog trot, shotgun, bungalow, I-house, Creole cottages, northshore houses, bousillage).

Landscape Decoration & Use: Fencing, bottle trees, yards and gardens (decorative and agricultural), graveyard decor (traditional tombstones and grave decoration).

Other Occupational Crafts: Carpentry, house painting, tinkering, tinsmithing, masonry, plastering.

Foodways (Traditional techniques, recipes, and aesthetics of and beliefs about food harvesting, preparation, and preservation): Favorite regional foods such as cornbread, peas, fried foods, wild game, Drying and canning of fruits and vegetables: relishes, jams, jellies, preserves. Butter-making and syrup-making. Butchering: hog, beef, game butchering, meat preparation, sausage making, smoking, grist mill/grinding grains.

Customs and Beliefs

Religious Rituals: St. Joseph Day altars, processions, Blessing of the Fleet, traditional wedding marches and customs, (pinning money on the bride and groom), chanted sermons, Easter Rock, river and lake baptisms, wakes, funerals, Chinese and Vietnamese New Year's Dragon Dance, good/bad luck.

Traditional Occasions: Dinner on the grounds, dances, parties, bonfires on the levee, fish fries, crawfish boils, Easter egg knocking, cemetery cleanings, religious events, entertainments, gatherings, funerals and wakes, memorial days, family reunions, barbecues.

Games and Children's folklore: Counting rhymes, jump rope rhymes, variations of hopscotch, handclapping songs, competitions (fiddling, hog catching, preach-off), Italian bocce ball, bourre, marbles.

Agricultural Customs: planting, cultivation, and harvesting lore and practices; farmstead and plantation layout.

Folk Belief and Omens: weather, luck, illness, death, love, marriage, supernatural, etc.

Folk Medicine: Curing, treaters/traiteurs, herbal knowledge, midwifery, etc.

Oral Traditions / Verbal Arts

Legends: stories about local people or folk heros (Ben Lilly, Jesse James), place names, or local strange phenomena, urban legends such as "The Hook."

Personal Experience Narratives: memorates, anecdotes, family history, narratives from occupations such as logging, railroading, farming, oil fields, riverwork, etc.

Ghost Stories: (also called scary or haunt stories).

Tall Tales: improbable or exaggerated stories; may include hunting and fishing stories.

Jokes and Riddles

Proverbs or "old sayings."

Sermons: includes those preached by ministers who have learned their art through observation and participation in traditional ceremonies.

Oral History: descriptions of traditional life, historical events and people, etc.

Folk Poetry: autograph book verse, tongue twisters.