From Parang To Ponding: Basking in the Untraditional

by Eleanor Jewel

Have you ever experienced door to door Parang on Christmas morning?  A ‘ponding’ on your birthday? The offering of canang sari?  

I absolutely adore tradition.  The word itself brings to body and mind the immediate feeling of safe, sacred and protected space.  A space that is warm, joy-filled and connected. One that recognizes belonging and calls on us to look forward to time together.  Time that becomes yearned for over and over again.  

My path to revering tradition was long and wondersome.  It’s a challenge to recall any in my own family except for always opening our presents on Christmas Eve.  Tradition is very much the practice of connection – whether with your community, your family or your inner-self.  Perhaps my family had many traditions for which circumstantially I couldn’t recognize.  I come from a household of discord—a space filled with loud and silent screams generated both from chronic illness and severe dysfunction and trauma.  A space filled with isolation, interruptions and inconsistencies, or in other words, inherent barriers to the ability to establish, build or successfully practice, tradition.   

However, the absence of tradition at home made room for its abundance to be experienced elsewhere.  Those of us who grow up without deep running family customs feel a freedom that tradition-filled lives don’t always allow – the freedom to unapologetically miss holidays, birthdays and other “special” times of the year, to go off and seek spaces of connection out in the world.

And I have. Over and over, again.

I have been traveling independently for about sixteen years. And in that time I have been able to fall in love with the practice of tradition.  While many of my experiences involve being a voyeur to festivals and ceremonies, others have enabled me to be fully participatory. As I travel, it’s been the moments of participating in others' traditions that made me feel the most connected and thus most welcome.

My first Christmas abroad, spent with cousins in Tobago, had me out in the even-the-rooster-is-still-sleeping wee hours of the morning, knocking on doors & singing Parang (popular folk music from Trinidad and Tobago, originally brought to the island by Venezuelan migrants) to all the guests at the family’s Kariwak resort.  Afterwards, we gathered to open presents together while drinking my Uncle’s homemade sorrel and sharing stories of appreciation.  Safe & comforting tradition.

I spent my 29th birthday as a master’s student at the University of Ghana. By the time my birthday rolled around in February I had already become accustomed to the tradition of “ponding”—whereby anyone and everyone who knows it’s your birthday, soaks you with water.  I was happily drenched, not just in water but in friendship & love. Joy-filled tradition.

During the 4th of July this year, I was on a guided journey in Bali, Indonesia and was privileged to participate in the daily offering of canang sari (an offering a gratitude, composed of coconut leaves, bamboo and flowers, made by Balinese Hindus in an act of praise and prayer.) Sacred tradition.

The experiences go on and on, as I have been to five continents (and the Caribbean.)  With each new exposure to these rituals of connection, I develop a deeper and deeper insight into how I will one day be able to create traditions in my own home, including that of sharing in the customs of others around the world.