Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pinning Birthday Dollars

Written by Azizi Powell

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

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).

{Pancocojams Editor's Note August 2, 2023: I revisited that website to see whether that link was still active. That photograph still shows, but there are no longer any comments on that page.] 

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.

Update 3/7/2013
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 Southern 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.
-Azizi, 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.
Click the "spraying money" tag for additional pancocojams posts about this custom.

Also, click for a 2017 pancocojams post about the custom of wearing (pinning) birthday dollars in the United States.


[Revised October 8, 2016]

Example #1: 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.

Example #2: Nigerians spraying Dollars in Europe ORIGINAL VERSION

Abraham Omokhuale, Published on Jan 19, 2015

Nigerians spraying Dollars in Europe ORIGINAL VERSION

Example #3: Edo Guys Spray Money Uncontrollably at an Event

Azu Trend, Published on Jul 11, 2015

Edo Guys Spray Money Uncontrollably at an Event

Example #4: Akobe performance @ Prince igiehon baby dedication Nederlands

jfroze djjeff, Published on Dec 8, 2015

Akobe performance @ Prince igiehon baby dedication Nederlands

Nigerians in Amsterdam spray money using a machine during naming ceremony

UTV Ghana Online Published on Jun 28, 2016
Nigerians in Amsterdam spray money using a machine during naming ceremony
This video and Example #4 documents that Nigerians in Europe practice the custom of spraying money. This video also documents the new custom of using a machine to spray the paper money.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. At my Yoruba wedding naira notes( Nigerian currency ) were pasted to the sweat on my forehead or tucked into my dress.Of course, when you are in Nigeria you are pretty much guaranteed of having plenty of sweat.Pinning may be a result of AC.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Sally.

    I take it that "AC" means "air conditioning". And I also take it that your comment about AC is as tongue in cheek as my comment that African Americans pin the birthday dollars to their dress or shirt tops because we are more practical than Yorubas. :o)

  3. I came across these comments that are included in the viewer comment thread of this excellent video on women djembe players in Guinea

    I am curious at to what is going on when those two people, a woman and a man, comes out periodically and touches the drummers... It happens so fast I can't tell what it is that they are doing. Anyone know??
    -Woeism3 ; September 2011

    I take that back... its two women and not a man.. anyway, yeah, what are they doing?
    -Woeism3; September 2011


    "Woeism3 In Mandinka (mandingo) society , when one is impressed by a djembefola's(drummer), style and skills , you motivate him by giving him whatever present you have (cola,water,food , or money).The two guys came and pinned money on the drummer's costum!

    Thats how they do it in many west african mandinka society , especially during the weddings , or new born naming ceremony!!!Hope i helped you!!!!PEACE
    -WitnessTheDevinel September 2011

  4. I love this post. I used to live in New Orleans and saw this a lot (and participated in it). Thanks for telling me where it came from.

    1. You're welcome, emmawolf

      Thanks for visiting this pancocojams blog!

      New Orleans culture is rooted in African culture in so many ways.

  5. Thank you for this article - a wonderful, well-researched discussion and resource. I've read a number of threads where urban legends persist regarding the pin a dollar tradition. This cuts right through all of that.