Experiencing Ritual: A New Interpretation of African Healing

Experiencing Ritual: A New Interpretation of African Healing

Experiencing Ritual: A New Interpretation of African Healing

Experiencing Ritual: A New Interpretation of African Healing

Synopsis

Experiencing Ritual is Edith Turner's account of how she sighted a spirit form while participating in the Ihamba ritual of the Ndembu. Through her analysis, she presents a view not common in anthropological writings-the view of millions of Africans-that ritual is the harnessing of spiritual power.

Excerpt

When anthropologists do fieldwork, they try to participate in the life of the people they are studying, but there appear to be limits. Geertz wrote: "We cannot live other people's lives, and it is a piece of bad faith to try. We can but listen to what, in words...they say about their lives....We gain [our sense of other people's lives] through their expressions.... It's all a matter of scratching surfaces" (1986, 373). This is partly true. Indeed, it would be valuable if we possessed their memories, if we had the same personal background in the culture: we did not have that background. But there are times when an ethnographer involved in an event of ultimate concern to the subjects of her work goes deeply into an experience herself -- something which at least may be said to parallel theirs. Such an event is the focus of this book: a moment when I actually saw a spirit manifestation.

The story is complicated. To record it fully requires scenes of different kinds and at different levels (including my own personal drama) to be laid out as in a play, complete with social process and inner meaning; because this event, which was the moment of healing of an African woman, was nested in a complex social milieu consisting of the overlapped contexts of both the Africans and myself. The healing was effected by taking out the tooth of a dead hunter from the sick woman's body. As we shall see the Ndembu ritual theme was "coming out," just that, a theme played over and over again. It was a theme that affected the entire style of the ritual. In keeping with this I will come out with the whole story. "Coming out," "laying out," "speaking out," "revealing" -- such opening work was essential to the cure, and the same frankness had to include both myself (Edie) and my co-researcher Bill Blodgett, who were the anthropologists. Bill, an American, was about to finish his undergraduate degree majoring in anthropology and was later accepted in the graduate department of anthropology at the London School of Economics. The African doctors were Singleton Kahona and Fideli Benwa, and in fact, they have been named in the credits of authorship of this book since it is their material, their work of ritual, and their exegesis upon which the book is based. I myself was a . . .

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