Sometimes people consider a custom as a cultural fail because they don't realize where the custom comes from and what it means. That's what occurred on this website that I happened upon: Poorly Dressed-Seriously Questionable Syle Moments http://cheezburger.com/4674067968?utm_source=embed&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=sharewidget
That post, which is titled "Dolla Bill Fashion, Victim #2", features a Black woman & Black man seated at a bus stop in Houston, Texas (as noted by the signage in the photograph). The Black man looks at the heavy set middle aged Black woman who has a number of dollar bills pinned to the top of her sleaveless dress.
Although a few people ridiculed that photograph, a number of other commenters identified the practice of pinning dollar bills on a person's dress or shirt top as a birthday custom that is particularly practiced by African Americans in a number of different states (although more commenters in that discussion thread mentioned New Orleans, Lousiana than any other location).
A blogger named Heather posted two comments that provide information about the custom of pinning birthday money. Here's one of those comments:
May 16, 2011
This is an old New Orleans tradition. It is rooted in our African American culture. This is not a “new” ritual at least not to those of us from New Orleans. And, although it’s roots are in the black community, everyone in NOLA celebrates with this tradition if they are so inclined. It doesn’t matter what color you are! We are a gumbo of people in NOLA who truly assimilate and appreciate each others culture, i.e. jazz, creole cooking, etc....
You all may be interested in reading this. New Orleans has deep ties to West Africa due to slave trading. So, this makes sense:
It’s also a West African custom to give money to musicians and dancers while they are performing. Paper money is given in appreciation of the performance. The dollar bills, or other paper money, are either laid at their feet or put in their clothing. This is called “dashing” or “spraying”.
That custom-and the West Africa custom of dashing newlyweds with dollar bills at their wedding reception-are also done in the United States and other places where West Africans live. These gifts are expressions of appreciation and good fortune.
These traditions of “dashing” are probably the source of the custom among some African Americans of giving people (especially children) celebrating their birthday gifts of dollar bills. Those dollar bills are then pinned to the birthday celebrant’s shirt, blouse, or the dress top (near his or her heart).
Lastly, many New Orleanians were scattered to the four corners of this country during Katrina. Some of our New Orleanians evacuated to Houston and have remained there. Hence your picture.
I'd like to add a friendly correction to the comment that Heather wrote.
If I understand it correctly, "dashing" isn't the same as "spraying" or showering a person with paper money. Instead, "dashing" means to give a person a small token of your appreciation. For instance, waaay back in the 1980s, I met an American who had traveled to West Africa, and was selling African clothing & artifacts including small traditional African musical instruments. I purchased some things from him, and he dashed me a few items.
Other than that slight correction, I agree with what Heather wrote.
Here are the comments that I posted to that discussion thread (with minor revisions):
September 29, 2011
The custom of spraying money is a traditional Yoruba custom for special occasions such as birthdays, and weddings. Paper money is placed on the honoree’s face and floats down to the ground where it is collected by a designated person. As Heather mentioned in her comment above, “spraying” (dashing) was done to shower good fortune on the honoree-that good fortune literally and symbolically is represented by the paper money that is supposed to come down like rain upon that person.
The African American custom of pinning dollar bills to the birthday person (for adults, it seems to me that the honoree is usually female) derives from that Nigerian custom. Maybe African Americans are more practical than Yorubas. We pin the dollar bills on to make sure that none goes missing-and a dollar bill is pinned on the top of a person’s dress or shirt to indicate that it’s that person’s birthday and to therefore receive other dollar bills from those seeing that pinned money (whether they are known or unknown to the birthday celebrant).
This custom of pinning money is found among some African Americans in the city where I live, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. However, I don’t remember it occuring in my hometown of Atlantic City, New Jersey. I don’t think it’s done in every African American community, but it’s not just a Southern custom (though it could have been carried to the North, Midwest, West, and other USA regions by Black folks who lived in the Souther USA.
It’s likely that this custom of pinning birthday dollars on your dress or shirt top occurs more among working class or poor African Americans.That said, pinning dollar bills to one’s dress top (or shirt) is definitely not a poor fashion statement. It’s a cultural thang.
September 29, 2011
I wrote that "spraying money was done". I should have written that "spraying money was & still is done..."
Also ditto what Heather wrote about the Nigerian tradition of people spraying drummers and other musicians with paper bills to signify their appreciation for their music.
I also agree with those who wrote that this is a custom among some waitresses and some Latinos (who as was mentioned above, may also be dark skinned), as well as some White folks. However, I want to reiterate that I believe that this custom originated in Nigeria and not among Latinos from Texas or elsewhere...
To quote one more commenter from that "Poorly Dressed" blog:
April 21, 2011
Yeah! It’s a birthday tradition! Don’t be hating on it. It’s fun and you get to wish strangers Happy Birthday and contribute a buck. It’s something that works better for teen girls and children, but this lady seems to be doing just fine.
Here's a video of a Yoruba birthday celebrant being sprayed with dollar bills:
Nigerian Money Dance
Uploaded by kjbrown3 on Dec 19, 2010
At this 50th Jubilee - Money is sprayed on the birthday celebrant. This is a joyous custom reserved for significant occasions such as a wedding, child christening or a funeral.
Here's a video of a groom at a Yoruba engagement (wedding ceremony) being sprayed with money and then in turn spraying the woman singing:
Sam & Abiola's Engagement 18
TheLatom78, Uploaded on Dec 30, 2009
There are 41 videos on YouTube of this couple’s traditional Nigerian engagement [wedding & reception].
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2011/09/why-i-started-wearing-african-dresses.html "Why I Started Wearing African Dresses" for another video of this same wedding engagement.
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