Folk Life in Alabama

Folk Life in Alabama has a very rich history and includes several different categories.

It includes cultural products as well as artistic expressions that have been passed down through generations.

It can be passed down by families, communities, and even regions, and included topics such as food, music, dance, stories—a lot of them, remedies, hunting and fishing customs, as well as numerous traditional arts.

Some of these arts include quilting, woodworking, pottery, and basketry, and its traditions constantly evolve.

Folk life in Alabama includes both rural and urban traditions, and has contributions from extremely diverse cultures, regions, art forms, and even religions.

Because of the geography of this historic state that ranges from the Gulf Coast to the Black Belt region as well as the Wiregrass, it has yielded, and continues to yield, traditions that represent these very distinct environments and their rich histories.

The Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowellThe Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell

What Exactly is Folk Life in Alabama

When people use the term “Folk Life” in Alabama, what actually do they mean?

To some people the term might mean “folklore” or folk culture”, or traditional culture instead of the most common term.

However, all of these terms actually refer to the same concept, meaning traditions that we have learned from people that we know, in other words, not from books, television, or from school.

It is also defined as living traditions that are currently practiced and passed by word of mouth, observation over time, and space within groups such as family, ethic, social class, and other type classes.

But what does this really mean?

It means traditional stories, songs, customs, activities, objects, as well as beliefs that people pass along over time.

A lot of times, we don’t even remember when or how we learned these types of traditions; we just learned them in our “everyday life”.

In other words, we hear or see somebody else doing something in a certain way, and then we start to do it say it like they did.

Traditions like this don’t necessarily have to be “old” to be considered Folk Life in Alabama, and it is not “old-fashioned” or “ignorant”.

Instead, it is done today as well as having been done in the past.

Everyone from this historic State or that have lived in the State for some time, has some form they can call there “own”.

What makes it even more interesting is that while some things stay the same, it can also change a little from generation to generation.

It can also change from person to person, as well as from place to place, depending on where you live in Alabama.

These traditions can also be “anonymous”, which means that we don’t know the name of the person who started a tradition.

They also happen in groups or communities of people who share the same traditions.

In fact, you may not realize it, but your family is considered a “folk group”, as well as your friends at school, church, or your social functions.

Your job, age group, gender or ethnic community can also be considered to be “folk groups”, and these groups do not to be big.

In fact, a lot of the Folk Life in Alabama and its traditions are often small groups within a group and understand what their traditions and culture mean to each other.

People with-in these groups understand exactly what their culture and traditions are, and how important their culture is to them.

The people within the groups are called “insiders”, and people not in these groups are called “outsiders”.

The insiders are group members, the outsiders are not.

Fried Green TomatoesFried Green Tomatoes

The Common Genres of Folk Life in Alabama 

The most common genres of Folk Life in Alabama include legends as well as lore, and they include the following categories.

  • Myths
  •  Legends
  • Tall Tales
  • Folktales
  • Place-name Anecdotes
  • Folksongs and Ballads
  • Superstitions
  • Festivals, Holidays, and Parades
  • Dances, Music, Arts, Crafts, and Architecture

Folk Life in Alabama has to begin with myths, and these include divine and supernatural beings.

Legends include traditional stories that center on historical events that often involve local or legendary heroes, heroines, as well as monsters, including ghosts or haunted places.

Tall Tales are close behind as they are very similar stories to the above two, and tend to “exaggerate” the lives of the local people involved.

Folktales are often traditional stories that are most often fables or fairy tales that occur outside of reality, and they often involve animals or other symbolic creatures as their main characters.

Place-name anecdotes are best described as traditional stories that explain the name of the location, and Folksongs and Ballads are traditional stories told in a song that conveys these myths and legends.

Superstitions are also a big part of Folk Life in Alabama, and even if there is absolutely no real proof or scientific accuracy in them, the “insiders” believe none the less.

Festivals, holidays, and parades reflect the local community involved, and certain dances, music, arts and crafts, as well as local architecture, distinguish the community or regions as the “home” of the activity involved.

Folk Fiddle PlayersFolk Fiddle Players

Other Common Genres of Folk Life in Alabama

  • Dialect and Speech
  • Food
  • Traditional Medicine

Dialect and Speech lead this list of common genres of Folk Life in Alabama, and this includes the two main cultural regions in this historic State, the Midland traditional culture region, and the Lower South traditional culture region.

The Midland region covers the northern part of the state from just above the Black Land Prairie to the Tennessee border, and the Lower south includes the remainder of the state.

The Midland and Lower South culture regions can be defined roughly by their specific varieties of speech pattern, called “isoglosses”, which are determined by word usage and pronunciation.

Linguistic distinctions are more easily recognizable in the vocabulary of “folk” speech patterns, and experts have identified two dialect regions, the Midland and Southern, while others have divided the state dialect and speech into the Upper South and Lower South.

Food is perhaps one of the most important of all the genres, as for example Lane Cake speaks to the women’s role in the State during the Progressive era.

Banana Pudding signifies the early banana docks in Mobile, and Peanuts reveal a long history of African American heritage in the state.

This includes George Washington Carver, the boll weevil, as well as the wiregrass.

Sweet potato pie symbolizes the Civil Rights Movement and Soul Food in Montgomery, and Gumbo reflects the Creole culture on the Gulf Coast.

Traditional Medicine also plays a major role, and all center around the nationally recognized herbalist Tommie Bass, who lived his entire life in this historic State.

His scholarly as well as very popular books and television features were highlighted nationally by the Wall Street Journal. 

Crafts at the Alabama Folk FestivalCrafts at the Alabama Folk Festival

Lore’s and Legends of Folk Life in Alabama

Lores and Legends also play a major role in the Folk Life of Alabama, and here are markers and locations of the most popular.

  • The Boyington Oak
  • Hal’s Kingdom
  • Henry Wells
  • Legendary Oaks
  •  Lick Skillet
  • Renfroe’s Ghost
  • Trickem

The legendary Boyington Oak is located in Mobile, Hal’s Kingdom is located in Jackson, and Henry Wells is centered on Carrollton.

The Legendry Oaks is in Spanish Fort, Renfroe’s Ghost is based in Livingston, and Trickem is in Town Creek, Alabama.

Folk Life in Alabama also includes activities such as shrimp net building, Watch Night, Old Time Fiddle, and Gospel singing.

It also includes the Vietnamese lion dance, storytelling of all kind; the Poarch Creek shell carving, pine needle basketry, duck decoys, and layer cakes, just to name a few.

Yes, this culture is very rich and very much alive today in this historic state.


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