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Lecture 11

ANTA02H3 Lecture 11: lecture_11


Department
Anthropology
Course Code
ANTA02H3
Professor
Bianca Dahl
Lecture
11

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21A.100
Prof. Howe
Symbolism and Ritual
It’s a huge topic, it could cover a whole course
1. Two examples:
a. Mariage ritual from the Kuna called “the dragging”
i. Bride and groom would not choose each other, but their parents
would arrange the marriage secretly. The groom’s friends would
traditionally surprise him and drag him down the street. (Now a
days, they don’t fight back so hard and they know ahead of time).
His friends run down the street with him yelling, “groom! Groom!”
and bring him to the house of his bride, and throw him in a
hammock. They throw the bride in on top of the groom and swing
the couple back and forth. Usually the groom runs out and then
they have to drag him back. After a couple rounds of this they
throw a burning brand in underneath the hammock with the couple
in it and that’s it for the day.
The next day, he and his future father-in-law go off to the forest by
boat and chop down a certain number of logs and prepare them and
then load them back into the canoe to bring it home. The groom
goes back to his own house and the father-in-law brings the wood
in. The bride then goes and takes the groom by the hand and brings
him back to her house and they are considered married.
If the groom wishes to avoid this, he can run away to another
village for 6 months.
For the most part, people think this ritual is great fun, but there are
important messages being conveyed.
1. Households are made up of a senior couple and their
daughter and their husbands. The whole work system is
based on fathers-in-law exploiting the work of their sons-
in-law.
2. But the fact that the son on law leaves the father in law to
empty the canoe full of wood symbolizes that the man is
not a slave, but he works in a partnership with the father in
law.
b. A second example from Prof. Howe’s family: Jumping the Broom
i. The night before the church wedding at the bridal dinner, there’s a
broom that the couple jumps over. But the new couple jumps over

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only after all the other couples in the family who performed this
ritual at their own wedding.
It’s an old tradition started by Prof. Howe’s great grandmother. The
broom is sent all over the country for various family weddings.
After jumping each couple ties a ribbon around the handle with their
initials and the date. There are now so many ribbons on the broom
that they’ve had to add an extension on to it. The oldest ribbons are
encased in plastic. At the wedding, everyone likes to look through
the ribbons and think back to the weddings that came before.
It sends all sorts of messages:
1. This is not something the couple does by themselves, the
couple is entering a family in a long line of marriages.
2. They also jump last in the line of couples.
3. There’s a stigma about divorce.
4. It is sometimes overwhelming for the other family.
c. Marriage rituals often send very important messages.
2. What is ritual?
a. It’s hard to define and set boundaries.
i. 2 basic ways of defining ritual:
1. a kind of action connected to religion
a. but lots of interesting rituals that don’t involve gods
or spirits
2. a ritual is something very repetitive
a. Famous movie of rebuilding a shrine in Japan that
involve bowing many many times
b. But repetition is not always the case
ii. You can also say that ritual is highly stylized, dramatic and
separate from every day life
iii. But you can always find exceptions
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1. The Nuer have many rituals that are performed so casually
that you wouldn’t notice them is you didn’t know to look
for it.
iv. Ritual is communicative, expressive action, often marked off from
every day actions
b. As a species, we have this way of talking to our selves and reminding
ourselves of values or traditions.
c. But animals also perform rituals
i. Baboons have ritualized ways of establishing power relationships
1. The top baboon comes up behind the next baboon in the
pecking order and pantomimes intercourse.
ii. Highly stereotyped activities in birds and mammals communicate
all sorts of social relationships.
3. What do rituals do for us?
a. Durkheim said rituals reinforce the cohesiveness and solidarity of social
groups.
i. We can see this everywhere.
ii. Emphasizes the strength, boundaries and unity of the group
1. Another Kuna ritual is for a girl’s first period.
a. The young girl sits in a small tent and all the men
on the community come to visit her and bring a
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