Folklore and Folklife Traditions in Down Jersey
Down Jersey originated as an old sailors’ term for fishing grounds located “down the Jersey shore,” according to Millville, New Jersey story teller, Jim Albertson.
The variety of groups living and working in South Jersey are amazing. As
Jay Greenblatt, President of the Alliance Colony Museum has said, "This part
of the state is a place where people have been coming for a long time 'for a
second chance,' a place to start over."
This certainly applies to his family, whose ancestors came from Russia before the turn of the century to help found the first Jewish farming colony in New Jersey. This process continues today, with the arrival of Asian Americans, as well as Mexicans and many other emigres from Latin American countries, Asia, Africa and Europe.
The exhibit is organized around four themes:
- "Welcome to the Down Jersey Folklife Center at WheatonArts"
- "What is Folklife"
- "Where is Down Jersey?"
- "Down Jersey Folklife Traditions"
The last category is presented by displays, photographs and text delineating regional, occupational, and ethnic traditions practiced in the eight southern counties of New Jersey. The artists and tradition bearers represented in our exhibit have a wide range of talents and skills that they practice and perform.
In South Jersey, traditions are as varied as the groups of people
who live here. They include regional skills, such as weaving a split-oak
basket or building a lifeguard’s shore boat, as well as activities that
celebrate a group’s culture, such as Japanese origami, an African American
family reunion, or Puerto Rican jibaro music and dance.
Some area traditions, such as a harvest display at a roadside farmers’ market, are widely known. Others, such as making mochitsuki (rice cakes) to be eaten on New Year’s Day, are observed mainly by people from a specific culture (in this case, residents of Japanese American descent). Taken together, these diverse traditions form a composite picture of the farms, the Pinelands, the shore, and the cities where people work and live.
Supplementary educational brochures could be provided upon request. These materials discuss the importance of traditional arts and culture in maintaining group identity and in fostering self-esteem and pride in one’s heritage in a group’s members. The traditional process itself is explained with exhibit examples as illustrations. The underlying message is that everyone is a member of groups that know, practice, and pass on traditions, including families, ethnic groups, fraternal organizations, neighbors in a community, and colleagues at the work place.