"Forest of Bliss" was meant to give a feeling of what it was like to be an anthropologist by just plunging you
into a strange world.
Banares is a holy place for hindu's, the city of temples, many hindu's believe it is one of the best places to
die. The film is essentially about life and death, full circle, like the riddle of the sphinx.
There is one central way to arrive at anthropological knowledge and that is by being there and in some way
or another makes us uncomfortable.
Being there is also not just the "here" that we know, we need to have some anthropological difference, you
need to be on the outside looking in and be able to see it as strange. you experience something as a weird
strange place, there is also something familiar going on that you relate to and that is what freud called the
Anthropology is about seeing the world as uncanny, it's about being able to find the events that pop up and
surprise you, it allows to shake loose something about ourselves so we can see ourselves more clearly.
The film is about life and death and death in life.
How does knowing less tell us something more?
Archeologists can often infer more about the people of a civilisation through bones and ruins than from
people because from the outside they can look at things, others may not notice.
Takes us to a very important point of anthropology the sense of otherness.
It can considered that the forest of bliss is considered inherently dishonest as it takes a modern place and
making it seem like they only care about primitive things. It does not give a clear idea of what a place such
as this is actually like.
Ways of anthropological knowledge.
Ways of knowing
Field work: Anthropologits work in place that are strange collecting data is different for each
anthropologist but one thing they all have in common is hanging out participant observation.
Anthropology like all of the human sciences, we are the tools. the challenge is becoming aware of this and
using this for your own purposes. Ethonographies are thick descriptions. writing about being there.
What do anthropologist know?
look at the questions in tandem, what do we know and how do we do this?
Forest of Bliss Gardner uses his camera to see things in a different way juxtapose that with the following
film. The Ax Fight is an ethnographic film by anthropologist and filmmaker Tim Asch and
anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon about a conflict in a Yanomami village called Mishimishimaboweiteri, in
"The Ax Fight" is composed of three consecutive segments, each of which depicts the same
event. Although this may seem redundant at first, it artfully represents the layering of
ethnographic storymaking and multiple perspectives on an event. The first layer is the raw footage of the
event. Completely unedited, viewers hear and see everything the cameraman heard and saw, including
commentary which Tierney later uses to support his argument that Chagnon choreographed the event for
the cameras. The second segment is more didactic. Chagnon, through the use of a voiceover, gives order
to the events by explaining the demographics of the village, the villagers' and visitors' relationships to each
other, and the rationale behind the events themselves. He also clears up confusion caused by the film
crew's gossip about the roots of the conflict. With maps and diagrams clearly made in the 1970s, Chagnon
and Asch illustrate the kinship structure of the Mishimishimaboweiteri and the patterns of conflict and
resolution of the village. In the third and final segment, Asch and Chagnon present the viewer with the
finished product. Gone are the conjectures about the cause of the fight and Chagnon's complaints about
being used for his soap. Viewers are left with a polished linear story that illustrates both the complex
lineage systems of the Yanomami and their "fierceness" when provoked.
A fight broke out in Mishimishimaboweiteri on the second day of Chagnon and Asch's stay in this village in
1971. The conflict developed between the villagers of Mishimishimaboweiteri and their visitors from another
village. The visitors had formerly been part of Mishimishimaboweiteri, and many still had ties with members
of that village. Their friends in Mishimishimaboweiteri had invited them to return, but other factions were
not pleased with this, reflecting a persistent tension in this large village of over 250 people. The visitors
refused to work in their hosts' gardens, yet they demanded to be fed. One visiting man beat a woman who
refused to give him plantains from her garden. She ran screaming and crying back to the village, where her
sister comforted her while her brother, her husband, and his relatives attempted to settle the dispute, first
with clubs and then with axes and machetes. Eventually the fight cooled down, as one man was hurt,
others placed themselves between the two groups, and women hurled insults at each other. The event lasted about half an hour, ten minutes of which were filmed. The film is constructed of four parts.
The first consists of an unedited version of what the cameraman saw and the sound technician recorded,
including the filmmakers' comments (Chagnon complains at one point "that's the tenth person today that's
asked me for my soap"). The apparent chaos of these first ten minutes is clarified in the second section, in
which Chagnon explains the sequence of actions in the fight, the relationships between the actors, and how
the filmmakers' initially confused interpretation of the events became coherent. The third section diagrams
the lineages in the villages involved to illustrate the fight's relationship to longstanding patterns of conflict
and alliance within the village. Finally, in an edited version of the fight, we see how the editors' hands shape
the "reality" we view. We are reminded of the tension between the need to produce a smoothly flowing film
and an informative document while maintaining the integrity of the event.
The Ax Fight thus operates on several levels. It plunges the viewer into the problems of Yanomamo
kinship, alliance, and village fission; of violence and conflict resolution. At the same time it raises questions
about how anthropologists and filmmakers translate their experience into meaningful words and coherent,
Yanomami fight between the Yanomami but will make sense later.
sense o complexities of ilfe in a small life
confusion of the unedited filming
kinship structure must be mapped out to understand the argument
• Relationships/who you are is related on kinship or no kinship
• Kinship is the imp entry to relationships
Goal of the movie: to understand what happened by examining and analyzing relationships
the film’s explanation is more objective than the Forest of Bliss
very presence of the anthropologist made the people fierce
he gave the people axes that they were fighting over – anthropologists introduced an outside factor
into the society that made the people fierce towards one another
the people were not prone to being fierce but anthropologists made them fierce
observers change the observed
Geertz – Cock Fight:
he wants to understand meaning
shagnan wants to know facts about social life but Geertz wants to know meaning – they want to
know about same thing but different ways Ex. Pg 84 he wasn’t accepted by the people until they saw him running in fear like them seeing
the police – so he had to act like them to be accepted
certain things are unintelligible until we experience them
Maya Deren – The Living Gods of Haiti – Ethnography filmed in Haiti 19471951 – Divine
blackandwhite documentary film about dance and possession in Haitian vodou
possessed people – even the anthropologist is possessed
participation in the ritual connect her to the people and the people to each other and the deity
creole expression to walk together – Haiti amalgamated to a common religion so that people pray
each individual is doing the same thing yet not copying each other creating a big impact
3. Ways of Anthropological Knowing
Participant observationWays of anthropological knowing EthnographyCultureObjectivity/subjectivity
Meaning (as discussed in the texts so far) Making of the Forest of Bliss
“Everythging in this world is a eater or eaten…”
The movie begins with predator dogs eating their prey implying that in order for one to live, another needs
to die referring back to the quote that everything in the workd is either an eater or is eaten.
Gardner showcases a traditional Hindu’s life by the Ganges Unfolding the religious bliss of a priest’s daily
life in Benares and the laborious lifestyles of men working
he uses movie as an ethnography to convey the Hindu culture
where sick people are believed to be cured by prayers and holy water/medication
Stray animals are feeding of whatever they can find on the streets for survival while people hunt goats
Men beg on the streets for money
The surprising part of the movie is the indifference of the characters present to their surroudings –
indifference to the dogs feeding on corpses and other dead animals, crows landing on floating corpses,
people begging on the streets…the struggle for survival
Lecture 2: Strangeness and Depth
What is like to be an anthropologist emerged in a field?
Film: Forest of Bliss (Robert Gardner)
Movie about life and death, Hindu lifestyle in Venasi.
Hindus prefer to die here
How do I feel when I watch this film? Making of the Forest of Bliss
Interestingly enough, I want to analyze this film like I would in my English lit class, but I
can’t because I know what the rituals and symbols mean and stand for.
Sound of water makes me feel a sense of continuity…of what is unknown to me.
When I saw the prey being eaten by the predator I almost got the goose bumps. And the quote from the
Upanishads “Everything in this world is eater or eaten, the seed is the fruit and the fire is the eater.” Added
to this feeling.
Familiarity: when I saw the strand of hair on the man’s head, I could recognize that he was a Brahmin ▯
from the caste of Priests.
Man with cigarette surprises me as it seems like they live in/near Holy Shrine near the Ganga river and are
performing religious rituals.
Deep panting when speaking, makes them seem exhilarated or exhausted from some reasons I don't know
yet ▯ sustains my interest (curiosity)
Only the men pray and conduct religious rituals. Social stratification of society.
Women don't look up to camera and only look down and arrange flowers to string.
When conch is blown after prayer, I feel a sense of comfort, and homeliness.
I have never seen “Hindu remedial work” being conducted to wake someone from a certain type of slumber
Dragging dead animals for sacrifice seems so normal here, while for me it is quite shocking, as I have
grown up in an environment where animal abuse is neither accepted nor tolerated.
Songs with dholak remind me of my childhood.
Celebration of death makes me raise my eyebrow, decorating body with pink cloth and flowers and
revolving around the body, taking its blessings (aashirwad) and heightening of music all adds to
strangeness of scene. Releasing body into the water ▯ not normal, usually the body is cremated.
Ends with religious prayers, and in the same light that it started with, repeated sounding of rowing a boat,
and heading off into the faded blue.
Also interesting was that as an anthropologist, I was trying to connect myself to the society I saw. Trying to
In terms of the riddle of the sphinx:
Dogs eating prey: what goes on 4 in the morning
Cane: symbol of mediation (3 in the night) and …
Boy with the kite: the kite is in the air sort of a mediator
Knowing less is more. As anthropologists, we don't know much about unknown places but, we can
understand the society more to a sense than those in it themselves: the locals. Making of the Forest of Bliss
Understanding of the “Death in life” in a society where we ourselves are deathdenying. Becoming Strange 09/12/2013
How do we compare the familiar and the strange to ourselves?
What seems familiar to us becomes strange ?
How can we compare others to ourselves?
Article: Alternating Sounds by Boas
Boas’ critique is of the philologist, who were extremely racist saying that the native speakers could not
even speak just because they were speaking a different language
Native speakers of different languages heard different sounds
Anthropological way of doing things is to look at context.
Boas argues that philologists didn’t pay attention to the context and so used their own context,
pronunciation schemes to learn the native languages.
boas said that you cant just go to a society and pick out words to understand the language and
Philologists are making up their own sounds because they don’t understand exactly what the natives are
Context is the complex whole for anthropologists
how much context plays an important role in understanding anthropology is a debate
Article by Mead: Coming of Age
What we think is natural or unnatural is cultural..such as thinking that adolescence is stormy and
premarital sex is bashful
we consider some things to be inappropriate and unnatural because of our culture
Article: Nacirema Becoming Strange 09/12/2013
What we assume to be natural such as health become cultural.
Film: Microcultural Incidents in Ten Zoos by Birdwhistell
• American anthropologist Ray L. Birdwhistell pioneered the analysis of nonverbal communication
with the invention of “kinesics,” a new field devoted to the decipherment of body language across
cultures. His work included an elaborate system of symbolic transcription for human movements,
and he proposed that virtually any gesture, no matter how seemingly minor or incidental, might
have expressive potential. Cinema played an important role in kinesics; after recording everyday
social activities on film, Birdwhistell later employed the footage for motion study, sometimes
performing the interpretation live in classrooms by using an analytic 16mm projector allowing for
slowmotion, freezeframe, and replay.
• Though Birdwhistell produced a number of documentaries and filmed lectures around these
concerns, his most inventive work is undoubtedlMicrocultural Incidents in Ten Zoos . The
film uses footage of families interacting with animals at zoos throughout the world: London, Paris,
Rome, New Dehli, Hong Kong, Tokyo, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. This material is then shot
off an auditorium’s screen as Birdwhistell lectures to a meeting of the American Anthropological
Association on the meaning of each gesture, while instructing t