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by: Sharon Stambouli


Sharon Stambouli
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About this Document

This study guide includes everything in the videos from Module 2, as well as the summarized chapters from the book and key terms. It also includes the reading with highlights and side notes.
Anthropology, Myth, Ritual and Mysticism
Jean Muteba Rahier
Study Guide
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This 16 page Study Guide was uploaded by Sharon Stambouli on Wednesday September 7, 2016. The Study Guide belongs to ANT 3241 at Florida International University taught by Jean Muteba Rahier in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 75 views. For similar materials see Anthropology, Myth, Ritual and Mysticism in Anthropology at Florida International University.

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Date Created: 09/07/16
ANTHROPOLOGY, MYTH, RITUAL AND MYSTICISM CHAPTER 2 STUDY GUIDE SUMMARY The ways a society perceives and interprets its reality is known as its worldview. The worldview provides an understanding of how the world works; it forms the template for thought and behavior; and it provides a basic understanding of the origin and nature of humankind and its relationship to the world. People express their worldview in stories. Myths are sacred stories that tell of the origin of the world and humankind, the existence and activities of gods and spirits, the origin of human traditions, and the nature of illness and death. They tell how to behave and how to distinguish good from evil. Myths are thought to recount real, historical events that took place in the remote past. They provide the basis for religious beliefs and practices. Myths can be both written and oral. Written forms tend to be very stable through time, and changes that do occur are usually deliberate changes that are the consequences of translation or scholarly discourse about the meaning of particular words and passages. Oral texts are recited, and this recitation often has the characteristics of performance. One of the consequences of the oral transmission of stories is that they are frequently unconsciously altered with each generation, which explains the existence of different versions of the same myth within a society. There are many ways of interpreting myths. Functional analysis sees myths as forces that help to maintain the society. Structural analysis focuses on the underlying structure of myths. The psychoanalytic approach sees myths as symbolically expressing unconscious wishes. Certain basic themes are common through the world. Origin myths provide answers to the questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What is our relationship to the world? These stories play an important role in laying out the culture’s worldview. One common element is the birth metaphor, in which the world is born from a god or goddess or by creation out of chaos, darkness, or the void. Tricksters are part human, part animal. They are adventurers, seekers of sexual pleasures, lazy, dishonest, and impulsive. Yet tricksters are responsible for creating or bringing into the world many elements, often as a by-product of some other activity. Hero myths are stories about culture heroes who, through knowledge and mastery of certain skills, are able to bring about marvelous results. GLOSSARY Apocalypse: Ultimate devastation or the end of the world. (p. 46) Archetype: A main character of the collective unconscious. (p. 42) Collective unconscious: Inborn elements of the unconscious that are manifested in dreams and myths. (p. 42) Folktale: A traditional story that is a part of the tradition of a society; not considered to be true. (p. 31) Legend: A traditional story about past events that is considered to be true; usually contains an element of reality—a known character, event, or place. (p. 31) Monomyth: A theme common to many myths that tells of the adventures of a culture hero. (p. 51) Myth: A sacred story that provides the basis for religious beliefs and practices. (p. 31) Social charter: A story that establishes the proper organization and rules of behavior of a society. (p. 36) Trickster god: A god who gave humans important things or skills, often by accident or through trickery. (p. 48) Trickster story: A story involving a trickster deity. (p. 48) Urban legend: Contemporary story about people and events that never occurred, but are presented as real. (p. 31) Worldview: The way in which a society perceives and interprets its reality. (p. 29) ‘Off the Veranda’ (film) Brief Summary The documentary predominantly talks about Bronislaw Malinowski who is known as one of the founding fathers of Anthropology (more notably ‘Social Anthropology’) and he was more well-known for theorizing methods of studying the natives through modes such as participant observation and detailed note- taking. The documentary highlights his most famous case study of the Trobriand Islanders and how he approached to study them in the most effective way possible. There were many expressions of personal ideas, emotions and feeling, coupled with a nice blend of interpretations of the behavioral aspects of the tribesmen which he later conceptualized the idea of ‘functionalism’. The documentary also provided a very interesting mix of concepts such as human survival, co-operation, exchange (social and economic), kinship ties, magic, and research methodologies, coping with death, ancestor worship, and religion, family as well as sex relations. The documentary ended off on a grand note by leaving the audience to not only think about but also appreciate the legacy left behind by one of the greatest Anthropologists of all time, Bronislaw Malinowski. I aim to discuss the content depicted in the documentary by factors and I will attempt to offer my personal reflections as well. Points for Discussion Malinowski’s Research Methodology As mentioned in my brief summary, Malinowski conceptualized his research methodology into what is known as ‘participant observation’, which radically changed the conduct of research at that time period. The documentary showed the transition of ‘armchair research’, which usually was void of direct interactions with the subject of study, to ‘participant observation’ which stressed on the importance of ‘lived experiences’, learning the language of the people being studied as well as mingling and interacting with them. Through this method, Malinowski was able to get a very strong grasp of the kind of ‘everyday experiences’ that the Trobriand Islanders lived through as well as gaining a sense of symbolic meanings attached to their actions and behavior at every part of the day. Although the documentary was able to effectively capture Malinowski’s feelings of ‘loneliness’ and ‘depression’ in the initial stages, the knowledge he gained from the method, very much helped to set a ground- breaking framework for social research and methodology. I was able to learn that for Social Anthropology, it would be essential to document the everyday lives of people and their attached social meanings and subsequent actions to best understand them and the culture that they are placed in. ‘Participation Observation’ is certainly a key approach to the study of people especially Natives where you would begin as an Outsider trying to study them and the best possible way to study them is by living with them. Malinowski and Functionalism The idea of a ‘function’ became relevant to Malinowski’s studies of the Trobriand Islanders when he saw that in the tribe, most if not all aspects of social life were designed for achieving basic human needs. These biological needs were characterized subsequently by derivative requirements and led to action-oriented patterns such as co-operation, exchange and economic pursuits. The establishment of central groups and Kinship systems subsequently led to the formation of social institutions with the aim of settling basic human needs. I saw the idea of functionalism in Malinowski’s studies to be very relevant as he looked at every of the Trobriand Islanders’ actions as a symbolic and meaning- making act all centred upon the idea of settling basic human needs. However, it made me think about the same concept of ‘basic human needs’ in the context of a Tribe, juxtaposed to a modern state where the stark contrast in characterization of the everyday lives, completely changes the meaning of ‘basic human needs’. The institutions that help the individual to achieve these basic needs will then be structured accordingly to the definition of the basic needs. ‘Magic’ / Coping with Death The documentary adequately covered the aforementioned themes with regards to Malinowski’s observation of the Trobriand Islanders. Malinowski discovered that in everything the tribesmen did, magic was used as a way for them to start their activities on a good note and ensure that all ends well. Beyond that, magic represented a belief in something beyond that could not be explained in human terms but had a lot to do with supernatural beliefs. Similarly, existence and eventual death of people is something that has always fascinated the human being and coping with the grievances of death can sometimes be quite overwhelming. We saw in the documentary how there is a ritualistic process involved in the death ceremony as the tribesmen smear ashes on their body, wear ‘death necklaces’ and shave their heads bald. With regards to magic, I interpreted it as a way to cope with problems in life that may seem beyond our control to solve. Leaving the issue in the hand of supernatural powers and then tying your best to solve the issue, takes a lot of stress off the minds of individuals and you can concentrate on the activity proper and to the best of your ability. Also, I felt that more than the ‘power’ of magic on its own terms, I saw that the ‘belief in magic’ is often the stronger one which makes the individual more hardworking and eventually to complete the task well. On the issue of death, it has always been a mystery to man to understand existence and ceasing to exist sometime later and indeed, the case study of the Trobriand Islander chow us how expressions of mourning are still very much necessary to cope with death. Comparing this with the modern world, the Trobriand Islanders are still a little more ritualistic in expressing their mourning but in any case, these expressions are necessary to cope with death. “The Kula Exchange” “The Kula Exchange” is system of exchange involving annual inter-island visits between trading partners who exchange highly valued and venerated shell ornaments namely the soulava (necklaces) and mwali (armbands) that circulate in opposite directions. A highly ritualistic process with inter-weaving elements of magic as well as fostering and maintaining friendship ties characterizes the exchange expedition. What I found very interesting about the exchange ritual was that when one tribe passes their ornaments to another tribe, their excitement and emotions should be hidden and concealed. The reason for this is that the emotions should be concealed because some day, the receiving tribe may have to give up the ornament to a guest / visiting tribe. I got the idea that in life, nothing is ever permanent and that the human being is always subjected to changes around him and his subsequent adaptation to the situation must be present. That understanding of ‘reduced expectations of permanency’ on the part of human beings is very important so that he does not get disappointed when he has to give things up. “The Kula Exchange”, even though is set in a very tribal context, is very relevant to the modern world of understanding that not everything in life is permanent. We can even draw links to understanding human relations, as a temporary affair till death strikes so that we are better able to cope with death.


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