Across the Boundaries of Belief: Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion

By Morton Klass; Maxine Weisgrau | Go to book overview

for dangerous encounters--embodied the ideal symbolic meaning of the celebration of a quinceñara: submission, virginity and control of the female body, which require "appropriate" dress, language and social relationships with the same and the opposite sex.

The cases of Ester and Juana show that this rite of passage entails tensions between different aspects of male and female sexualities. Female sexuality should be controlled, kept away from male "wandering" (i.e. philandering). But at the same time virility is measured in relation to a man's capacity to attract and dominate the opposite sex ( Wade 1994: 129). Female sexuality--when manifested in circumstances of male "wandering"--becomes threatening to family order because it is deceitful and uncontrolled ( Martin 1990: 478). Yet some girls may actively look for sexual encounters. The fifteenth birthday celebration, then, becomes a theatre for different and often opposed female identities, as is the case in some other rites of passage related to female puberty ( Wilson 1980: 621).

The cases of Milena, Sabrina, Juana and Ester show that the same ritual can enhance different aspects of womanhood in relation to the life-styles and religious beliefs of girls' families. A celebration held by a family involved in the CEBs (such as the family of Sabrina) tends to be less ostentatious than one held by those only involved in more "traditional" Catholic groups (for instance, the family of Milena), because savings may be invested in a daughter's education or in the acquisition of valuable commodities, rather than in the fiesta.


Conclusion

As we have seen, the fifteenth birthday celebration has acquired new meanings in the language of the CEBs. These new meanings emphasize the priority of communal identity over family and individual "protagonism" Priests and their assistants criticize "traditional" fiestas as expressions of an idea of the family as a "competitive" unit which wishes to increase its social status.

The performance of (and, indeed, the failure to perform) the fifteenth birthday celebration clearly carries a meaning of social differentiation and transformation of female social status; however, the ritual also constitutes an important moment in the process of female identity and self-perception because it opens up a time of negotiation within the family concerning control over, and definition of, the female sexual body. This phase ends with married life, when the time of "illusion"--the time of suspended disbeliefs--can be extended no longer. CEBs' discourse--which often de-emphasizes issues of gender hierarchy in favour of ideals of the communality of the "poor"--fails to a certain extent to grasp the importance of the body and embodied experience in the ritual in the formation of female identity. Instead, it emphasizes the roots of the ritual in a "mythical" past which, rather than stressing the singularity of specific villages or ranchos, enhances the communality of memory.

The drama of the ritual constructs the female body through images of virginity and metaphors of the body as a vessel to be preserved intact. The time of "illu

-128-

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